ONEIt rained the day I said good-bye to my best friend; the kind of storm that was packaged in a San Francisco-like cold front. December in Santa Monica could blow in from the Pacific like the draft from a meat locker.Perfect funeral weather.Even posh Montana Avenue was dulled. The shops had lost their hard-fought elegance, and darkened and drowned by the weather, they melded into the worn sky like so many strip shopping malls.I kept my gaze downward as I stepped out of my Alfa. I was clutching a dark-red-and-brown vase—K-Mart Dynasty circa 1994—and trying to stay dry. I was looking for something to kick. A small dog, perhaps. A lawyer. I was feeling sorry for myself.The rain plunked down, rapping a disco beat on the brim of my baseball cap. Last night’s hangover was still trying to push my eyes out of their sockets from places inside my head I never knew existed.A dark sedan buzzed by suddenly, cutting a tight corner out of the alley in front of me as if I wasn’t there. Startled, I rocked backward, lost my footing for only a moment, and watched, as if in a dream, the pieces of the vase bounce off the pavement in every direction like popcorn, in hot oil.I stood over the shattered urn, the rain sheeting over the rim of my cap, and stared at the jagged-edged clay pieces now congealing with a fine, grayish-brown dust.It was all that was left of my dead cat.I watched until the last of his ashes rolled off the pavement with the rest of the rain water.
So much for respect for the dead, I thought as I stood in the rain long enough not to notice it anymore. I was mesmerized by the streaks of reddish-brown dye that ran off the cheap pottery, like blood from a new wound. I was thinking of bad omens and wondering if I was looking straight down at one.The rain was seeping into my skin now and I let it run over me for a while, catching a glance or two from the early-morning-omelet-and-cappuccino set that had come out of hiding for the day.It was still early, the day after Christmas, and the few people who did look up didn’t seemed to be in any better mood than I was. Maybe Santa had forgotten the Tiffany tea set. I didn’t care.I felt stupid standing there in the rain, my reflection staring back at me from the window of the corner barber shop. I tried to straighten out my kinky hair—gypsy hair, my mom called it—and ended up shoving it under my Giants cap; sweeping dust undef a rug.I yanked the hat downward, tugging the brim at a wellbent spot so it cast a half-moon shadow over my face, partially hiding my eyes by design. I didn’t like the way they could say more about me than I wanted most people to know. My nose stood out, too small and delicate, making my good family cheekbones give the impression I hadn’t eaten since the Giants left a pile of broken hearts and rubble that was once called the Polo Grounds.The rest of me fit more or less into a gray UCLA sweatshirt—part of a collection of items left by former lovers—and a pair of blue jeans which, like everything else, was hanging on to my skin like a new marine layer.I cursed myself for drinking too much, pressing my temples to stop the throbbing. As if it was going to make a damn bit of difference. I thought of that bottled-water commercial; something about having 365 days a year to change your life. Tomorrow, I could head up to the psychic bakery for some multigrain bread, a glass of carrot-pineapple juice with tofu for eggs, and a palm reading, then go home and jog a few miles. I could stop feeling sorry for myself and I could go out to the pound and get a new cat.I looked at my watch, squinted at it, really. Tomorrow was still a good day away.I peeked first before stepping back into the alley and circled behind to the back of Father’s Office, my neighborhood pub.Copyright ©1998 by Elizabeth M. Cosin. Excerpt from Zen and the City of Angels © 1999 by Elizabeth M. Cosin. Elizabeth M. Cosin is a former journalist who now writes for television in Los Angeles. Zen and the Art of Murder is her first novel.