From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
Some weeks ago I shared the opening chapter of my novel Inside Moves, and a number of readers wrote to say they were sufficiently inspired by that opening passage to read the book and/or listen to the audio version narrated by yours truly. And those responses have inspired me to post the first chapter of my third novel Louie & Women published by Dutton in 1983.
Louie & Women has an unusual structure, each chapter composed of a Third Person narrative followed by a woman’s voice continuing the story. Four different female characters take turns telling their sides of the unfolding drama. In the audio version of Louie & Women, Beth Richmond, one of Mendocino’s finest actors, brilliantly assumes the character of each of the three women and one girl who tell the tale, and I feel honored Beth agreed to narrate the novel.
In 1988, Louie & Women came tantalizingly close to being made into a motion picture with a screenplay by yours truly. By tantalizingly close, I mean the financing for the film, several million dollars, was withdrawn on the day principal photography was set to begin, the stellar cast assembled and raring to go when the moneymen changed their minds.
The hardback edition of Louie & Women was not promoted and barely distributed to bookstores, so sold very few copies. But despite the book being little known, Dell acquired the paperback rights and brought out a lovely paperback edition of Louie & Women in 1984. On the first page of that fairly rare paperback, among the several reviews, is the following from the Los Angeles Times: “You can’t help but love the landscape of this book. It is paved with real California gold. Todd Walton is such an accomplished writer and believes so strongly in his vision that the reader puts down this book fairly dazzled.”
Seen from the road, it appeared to be nothing more than a large, gray plastic bag that had blown out into the field and lodged among the heads of iceberg lettuce. It was, however, not a bag but a poncho, and beneath its wrinkled exterior there lay a man named Louie Cameron.
An old brown backpack served him as both pillow and windbreak, and the inflatable pad beneath him made the lumpy ground tolerable for sleep. He had a flashlight to read and write by, dried fruit and nuts to give him nourishment, and a tiny gas stove should he desire his water hot. He lacked only company, and given the dimensions of his canopy, it was not a lack that grieved him much that rainy evening.
It was April of a very wet year in California and the lettuce harvest was at its height. Louie had been picking the heads for two weeks, going into Salinas in the evenings to see movies, to eat good Mexican food and to watch the beautiful women promenade down Main Street.
In the morning, Louie would head for the coast. He had worked hard, saved a little money, and now he wanted to sit on the sand, to soak his aching feet in the cold water, to rest a while before moving on.
When I was in prison, I used to lie awake, looking at the ceiling, waiting for a certain sound that I would be sure was Louie coming to take me home. He would move like a shadow past the guards, open the door, lift me from my bed, wrap me in black silk, and carry me out into the night, without anyone knowing.
When I finished my time at Chowchilla and moved back to Santa Cruz, I’d lie awake in the same way. I’d wait for my children to settle into sleep and then I’d listen for an engine sound, his old Volkswagen coughing as it shifted down from third gear to second.
But I don’t listen for his car anymore. Now, I wait for the dog to bark. Louie doesn’t like Dobermans, so he’ll stay out on the sidewalk until I come for him. I’ll put on my white kimono, go downstairs, open the door and look out at him for a long time. I want to make him wait, like I’ve been waiting for three years now. Then I’ll walk slowly down the path, stopping before I get too close. He’ll be dying to come in, but the dog will be there, keeping him out.
I never get to the part where I forgive him. I can’t conjure up how that will be. There’s just this jumble of pictures and words and anger, so I don’t know what I might do. I can’t help thinking my life would have been better if he’d stayed in Santa Cruz and waited for me.
Then again, I know he couldn’t have stayed. Everything he owned, everything he believed in, was taken from him because he didn’t know how to fight. I’ve tried to hate him for leaving, but all I can hate is his leaving. Hating Louie would be like hating a child for not knowing that fire burns and things can break.