For twenty-two minutes, my mother deliberately omitted the fact that the police were waiting for me in the den with some questions regarding a murder.
After a long drive from L.A. down to San Diego, in Thanksgiving traffic hell, I parked my little red Mazda Miata in front of the House of the Moon. I angled the rear mirror and gave my face a quick check. Arranging my shoulder length blonde hair to look suitably timid, I smacked my lips several times to give them more blood and applied a gentle finger massage to the overnight pouches under my sapphire blue eyes.
My parent’s house was a wooden conglomerate of assorted architectural styles with one thing in common: asymmetry. The rainbow colored street facade sported one door, that’s all, no windows. From the front door, you stepped directly into the kitchen. There were two and a half stories on the left and two on the right. A mock porch was on the left of the building and a row of marble pillars and arches was on the right. Dad had made a clear statement with this house: ‘We. Are. Different.’ The neighbors with the perpetual worries about property values and zoning called it the ‘Moon-Shed’; the bitter neighbors spoke about the ‘Moon-Dump.’ My sister Sunny and I just called it ‘home.’
Dad had bought the property twenty years ago, when our parents decided to leave their hippie commune to give Sunny and me some home and social grounding. The house started as a simple Victorian, like many other homes in the Sunset Cliffs neighborhood of San Diego. Then Dad started remodeling. A little Hacienda and Adobe influence for the western part of the building. A restyling renovation with high windows on the second floor on the northern side and raw wooden logs for part of the roof produced an obscure construction that was somewhere between comfort and sore eyes. I always wondered why the zoning laws of the neighborhood never applied to our estate. One of life’s mysteries.
Before I was able to knock, Mom opened the door and gave me a hug.
“Honey, you look terrible,” she said, pulling me in. “Let me pour you a tea, Calendar girl.”
I threw my stuff on the big bench that in a former life had been part of a jury bench in a courtroom and leaned against the big interior live oak tree that was living partly inside the kitchen, partly outside.
“You must be exhausted. Your dad is not around; he had to help out at the soup kitchen and later he has to act as referee for the match of the Wheelchair Basketball team.” My parents were do-gooders to the extreme, I always felt awkward in my considerably lesser social engagements.
Mom busied herself in the kitchen, her usual self.
“Traffic! I sat for so long I forgot what my legs are for,” I moaned.
“For walking, my dear.” One of Mom’s virtues was that she never understood jokes, any of them. According to some unfathomable logic, she picked up one of the one-hundred types of tea she had stored on the shelf and prepared it with hot water in an old China teapot. Mom was close to sixty now and still hyperactive—the living proof that a vegetarian diet, daily red wine and a regular joint was the healthiest way to live. Mom was the ‘Stone,’ Dad was the ‘Moon,’ and that’s what had given us the family name ‘Moonstone.’
“How is the store going, honey?” Mom asked, handing over the steaming mug of oriental smelling tea. Sipping it made you feel teleported to a North African bazaar. Spooning in the milk meant carefully stirring in childhood memories, good and bad. The good ones in this house, the bad ones from the last months in the commune. I sipped the tea while it was hot. And I enjoyed it, as always.
Pushing back one strand of hair, I answered. “Fine, I presented at an upscale fair in Chicago last month. Found some new fans for my low-end collection. Closed the shop over the long weekend.”
Mom stirred in her own tea. “Any current companionship, my dear?” Change of subject, how subtle.
“Not really. There was this Santa Monica art dealer. He was nice but I found out I wasn’t his only art-girl.”
Mom gave that typical ‘What-can-a-mom-do’ shrug, summarizing the two points of friction in our relationship: 1) the style of jewelry craftsmanship I was following: what I called style, my Mom called decadent and 2) the lack of a permanent male attachment. Although the missing male attachment wasn’t her main subject, I had the lingering suspicion that the delayed output of grandchildren on my part was the real issue. Sunny and her children lived too far away in their redneck-Texan city to keep in constant touch—I was the only one nearby to grab-n-hug. As I gave Mom a hug from behind, she patted my hand and delivered her masterpiece.
“By the way, honey, there are two detectives waiting for you in the den. It’s about a murder.”