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L.A. Lit 2000

Work in Progress

April 16, 2000

Bebe Moore Campbell is the author of the novel, tentatively titled "Taking Care of Business" or "Face Value," to be published next year by Penguin / Putnam. She is the author of the soon-to-be reissued "Sweet Summer." Previous works include "Singing in the Comeback Choir" and "Brothers and Sisters."

*

CLIVE BARKER

It's night in Coldheart Canyon, and the winds are off the desert.

The Santa Anas, they call these winds. They come off the Mojave, bringing malaise, and the threat of fire. Some say they are named after Saint Anne, the mother of Mary, others that they are named after one General Santa Ana, of the Mexican cavalry, a great stirrer-up of dusts; others still that the name is derived from santanta, which means Devil Wind.

Whatever the truth of it, this much is certain: the Santa Anas are always baking hot, and so heavily laden with perfume it's as though they've picked up the scent of every blossom they've shaken on their way here. Every wild lilac and wild rose, white sage and rank jimsomweed, every heliotrope and creosote bush. Gathered them all up in their hot arms and carried them into the dark channel of Coldheart Canyon.

There's no lack of blossoms here, of course. The Canyon is almost uncannily verdant. Some of the plants were brought from the world outside by these same burning winds, these Santa Anas; some were dropped in the feces of the wild animals who wander through--the deer and coyote and raccoon--some spread from the gardens of the dream palaces that lie almost hidden in the greenery: alien blooms these--orchids and lotus flowers--nurtured by gardeners who have long since left off their pruning and their watering, and departed, allowing the bowers which they treasured to run riot.

But for some reason there is always a certain bitterness in the blooms here. Even the hungry deer, driven from their traditional trails these days by the trampling of sightseers and by the tawdry glories those sightseers have come to view, do not linger here in the Canyon for very long. Though the animals venture along the ridge and down the steep slopes of the Canyon, and curiosity, especially amongst the younger animals, often leads them over the rotted fences and toppled walls into the secret enclaves of the gardens, they seldom choose to stay.

Perhaps it isn't just that the leaves and petals are bitter. Perhaps there are too many whispers in the air around the ruined gazebos, and the animals are unnerved. Perhaps there are too many invisible presences brushing against their trembling flanks as they explore the clotted pathways. Perhaps, grazing the overgrown lawns, they mistake a statue for some pale piece of life, and are startled, and take flight.

Perhaps, sometimes, they are not mistaken.

Clive Barker is the author of "Coldheart Canyon," to be published this fall by HarperCollins. His previous works include "Galilee: A Romance, "The Great and Secret Show," "Imajica," "Books of Blood" and "The Damnation Game."

*

AIMEE BENDER

On my twentieth birthday, I bought myself an ax.

This was the best gift I got in a decade. Before I saw it, shining on the wall of the hardware store like a lover made from steel and wood, I'd given up completely on the birthday celebration.

On my nineteenth, my mother had kicked me out of the house.

On my eighteenth, I had a party of two people and after an hour, both claimed allergies, and went home, sneezing.

On my seventeenth, I made myself a chocolate cake but since I didn't really want to eat it, stirred bug poison in with the mix. It rose beautifully, the best ever, and when I took it out of the oven, a perfect brown dome, I just circled the pan for a few hours, breathing in that warm buttery air. Some ants ate the crumbs on the counter and died.

Aimee Bender is the author of "Invisible Sign of My Own," to be published in July by Doubleday. Her first book was a selection of short stories, "The Girl in the Flammable Skirt."

*

STEVE ERICKSON

Sometimes I'm paralyzed by my love for him. When he calls me from his little bed I know I'm not supposed to answer because that's the way he learns to go back to sleep on his own. Every night when I'm putting him to bed I say now listen Kirk you're getting to be a big boy, you have to learn to go to sleep on your own, do you understand? and he says, Yes please. And then in the middle of the night he calls and, you know, I can't resist. It's the way he calls, not sleepy, not frightened, not crying, but very determined and aware and awake--"Mama?" I can hear the question mark so insistent it's not a question . . . it would break my heart not to answer.

In my heart he opens the door to this vast impassable terrain of fear. It's a fear stretching out beyond these young years of mine when mortality's supposed to be so inconceivable . . . and my own mortality is inconceivable, until I consider his--then it's existence itself that's inconceivable. How have moms down through the ages survived their love for their kids? The thought of his mortality is abysmal to me.

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