Back then, she and Cal were living in the shed, and they thought they might be there for good. Neither knew that they'd eventually have a house to move into.
They'd stumbled upon the shed, searching for a good spot to settle, and its presence had saved them. The truth was, they had been clueless, some might even say reckless, about their plan. They were headed for open space, and that was all. "I just want to go away," Cal had first said to her. "I can't stand how awful everything is here."
Because she understood, Frida hadn't asked him to elaborate. He could have meant L.A.'s chewed-up streets or its shuttered stores and its sagging houses. All those dead lawns. Or maybe he meant the closed movie theaters and restaurants, and the parks growing wild in their abandonment. Or its people starving on the sidewalks, covered in piss and crying out. Or its crime; the murder rate increased every year, and the petty theft was as ubiquitous as the annoying gargle of leaf blowers had once been. The city wasn't just sick, it was dying, and Cal had been right, it was awful.
The shed had been a sound-enough structure: the walls, floor, and ceiling made of wooden planks, a roof covered by six tires, held together with baling wire. Cal had said, "Let's move in," to which Frida had replied, "Yeah, sure, nice outhouse." But she knew this shed was better than anything the two of them would be able to build on their own. Cal had done construction on his father's farm and, a little later on, in college, but he'd never built a home.
"I can do it," he'd told her as they moved their stuff into the shed. He said they could sleep there as they built an expansion. "I can do it with your help."
"That's what I'm worried about," Frida answered. "You and me, alone."
At first, that's how it had been. August hadn't found them yet, nor had the Millers, their closest and only neighbors, a few miles to the east. They later learned that Bo Miller had built the shed, years before. Their first four months out here, Cal and Frida had spoken only to each other, and sometimes that was the hardest thing, more trying than the planting or irrigating or the labor it took to build the rudimentary outdoor kitchen. Though she'd tried to prepare herself, Frida couldn't believe that they were really alone. Just the two of them.
One afternoon, at the end of their first summer, Cal had just called her over to the shower, a plastic receptacle heated by the sun that they'd secured to a tree branch. They had done this back home, when the gas bills got too high, although they'd hung the warmed water in the shower stall. Now they were outside. Everything was outside; it was like they were on an eternal camping trip.
That day the air was still warm, but with a sharpness to it that hinted at the chill to come. Frida looked forward to autumn; she actually liked collecting wood and making a fire as Cal had taught her to do. It seemed almost romantic. But Cal had warned her that she didn't really know what cold felt like. And he was right; she didn't.
"Go ahead," Cal had said, his hand on the plastic. He was confirming its temperature, and all she had to do was turn the plastic spigot.
Frida thanked him and pulled her dress over her head. She no longer bothered with underwear or a bra. She liked being naked outside. Right then she tried to catch her husband's eyes, maybe shimmy her shoulders and bite her lower lip. Remind him how nice the line of her hips was. She might even say, Hey there, and smile.
But Cal had already turned away. He had the next task on his mindthe first one, perhaps, being his wife. In their four months out here, Frida had become a problem to solve, and once solved, she was invisible to him.
At the time, Frida imagined herself describing the moment. Maybe to an old friend or to her mother. Or online, as she used to do until their last year in L.A., before electricity became too expensive, before the Internet became a privilege for the very few. She had once kept a diligent online record of her life; she'd had a blog since she'd been able to write. Her brain couldn't just let that habit go, and in her head she said, There I was, naked, my hair falling over my shoulders. But he didn't care! He had become immune to my nakedness. The phrase was so silly, so melodramatic. Immune to my nakedness. But it was true. Cal wasn't looking.
Excerpted from California by Edan Lepucki. Copyright © 2014 by Edan Lepucki. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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