ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Chapter 7: An uneasy ride

"Money Walks," a serial novel by 16 Los Angeles writers who will be appearing at this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, runs Monday through Saturday until April 24. The festival takes place at UCLA on April 25 and 26.

Traffic was awful on the drive to Bunny's house. They passed two accidents. Cars were honking nonstop; traffic lights stalled; a police officer with a yellow vest was eating a sandwich on the sidewalk with eyes drifting up to the sky.

Drivers were shouting, racing home to pick change from the depths of their sofas, but Bunny was a master at lane changes, and once she'd moved the Bentley over, instead of waving thank you, she made a kind of clapping gesture. She held her hands high, so the other driver could see. Clap clap! The oxygen tank sat next to her, on the driver's seat. She'd tucked it into the seat belt.

Angie crossed her legs, and fiddled with the knob on the glove compartment.

"What are you doing?" she asked. She flicked her eyes over to the side mirror to track Rudy's Mercedes. He was directly behind them. After Bunny had clapped at him, to thank him for allowing the lane change, he had done a little bow. Typical. He still had that sweetness. When they'd first met, Rudy would come by the cafe and leave tiny folded notes in the tip jar with Angie's name written on them in perfect capital letters.

The police officer threw her sandwich wrapper on the ground. Along with her wallet. "Give me your wallets!" she yelled into the street. "They mean nothing, now! Nothing!"

A teenager on a bike nearly ran her over.

"Doing?" Bunny said. She turned back at Angie. No roots, she noted. New dye.

"The clapping," said Angie.

"Oh, that," Bunny said. She peered into the left lane again and clapped at the next agreeable driver, then made a turn and drove slowly up a big hill. Developed houses, all alike, lined the sides. "Foreclosure, bankruptcy, mafia," Bunny said, pointing.

She looked over at Angie. "I've always done it," she said. "I used to be a performer, and

I think small kindnesses should be rewarded with applause."

Angie nodded. Her grandmothers were both long dead and she was starting to like Bunny, but it wasn't the right time to start talking about her problems, so instead she just tried to look pious. To settle her mouth into a pious position.

"Reverend Franco would value that," she said. She tried to think of what else a reverend might say. "Ahem," she said. "Oh," she said. "Excuse me. Sorry. I mean Amen."

Bunny slid her eyes over. They were nearing her house. Ahem? Some kind of old alarm flicked on inside her, and she put on her turn signal and pulled over to the nearest curb. The gold Mercedes seemed also to live nearby. How nice, Bunny thought. That dashing man who bowed -- maybe he likes older women with lively pasts? Maybe he's a new neighbor? But he seemed to slow down, as she pulled over, and then he moved forward with a feel of non-direction that made her interior alarm hiccup, loud, and oxygen began to suck into her lungs.

"Did you say 'ahem'?" said Bunny.

"Amen," said Angie. Her eyes widened. She wasn't sure if she should make a gesture to Rudy. She longed to go to her shift at the cafe. "Right? Isn't that right? I always get words wrong. Is there really 'men' in that word? Is it Anem?"

Bunny lifted up the oxygen tank and held it in front of her chest.

"You're no churchgoer," she spat. "Now why don't you step out of this car very, very slowly."

Bender's books include "The Girl in the Flammable Skirt," "An Invisible Sign of My Own" and "Willful Creatures." She will be on the "Fiction: Exiles & Outsiders" panel at noon April 26 in Young Hall CS 50 at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

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