FYI: The Hollywood sign originally started out reading HOLLYWOODLAND as depicted in the picture below. ;)
Beverly Hills, California
A clap of thunder shook the bed frame, shaking Isabella awake. With a gasp, she sat upright in her bed, gripping the silk sheets in her trembling hands. The inky blackness of the night cast dancing shadows on the walls. Streams of rain ran down the window panes. She glanced around, her heart pounding as a shiver ran down her spine. Isabella hated storms. Always had. Here in Southern California, thunder and lightening were rare. She’d never gotten used to it. My poor heart is much to old for this, she thought, breathing deep to calm herself.
But had it been only the thunder that had awoken her, she wondered, or had it been something else?
She was about to sink back into her pillows when her husband’s form—passing by her open doorway, caught her eye. “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence,” he was calling out in the darkness. Isabella jumped out of bed, pulling her silk wrapper over her shoulders.
“Oliver?” she called, her long dark-graying curls cascading down her back. She spotted him slipping out the french doors that led to the balcony. He left the doors open; rain washed in. Isabella closed her eyes against a bright flash of lightening. The thunder that followed shook the walls and rattled the mirrors. Oliver turned to look back, his eyes blind to the sight of her. Yet, the look that she found etched across his old face rooted her where she stood. Her eyes were wild; the dementia taking full possession of him. Panic gripped her and she ran after him. “Oliver! Oliver, get back here!”
As soon as her bare feet hit the wet floor of the balcony, they went out from beneath her—sending her sliding into the marble banister. Her head hit the stone with a solid thump. She cried out in pain, bringing her hand to her temple. When she looked up, she was stunned to find Oliver climbing up a ladder to the clay, tiled roof. Where had the ladder come from? Her heart jumped in her chest. “Oliver! No!”
“So God said to Noah,” he was crying out over the storm, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth!”
She leaned out over the banister, looking down at the wet ground so many feet below. “Help!” she screamed, helplessly. “Somebody help me!” But she knew it was in vain. Who was going to help her? Hadn’t Doctor Whitely tried to tell her that she could not handle Oliver by herself? Hadn’t he tried to convince her that she needed to hire someone to stay at the home and care for Oliver? For both of them? And hadn’t she refused?
Looking back to the roof, Isabella grimaced against the rain and found her husband down on hands and knees, pulling himself to the steep gable of the roof. She held her breath, unsure of what to do. He was going to fall to his death! What kind of maniac climbed up to the roof at seventy years of age? In the middle of a storm, no less!
She shook her head. What kind of maniac, indeed!
“Make yourself an ark,” he was shouting, “make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out!”
“Oliver!” Isabella screamed, voice fierce. “If you don’t fall off the roof and kill yourself, I will!” She clenched her jaw, and started up the ladder, her arthritic knees protesting. More than once her toes snagged in the wet chiffon of her night dress and she feared she would loose her grip—plummeting to the balcony below. She groaned through chattering teeth. The tabloid headlines would read: Hollywood’s famous Oliver Sweetly, trailblazer of ‘talkies’ falls to his death! His wife tumbling after. It would be Tinseltown’s twisted version of the Jack and Jill nursery rhythm.
“I am going to bring flood waters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish!”
She reached the top of the ladder and stared up at her husband perched on the gable. With trembling arms, she pulled herself onto the slick clay tiles. Her heart pounded and her breath came in short gasp. “Oliver!” she managed, ignoring the thunder of her heart. Lightening flashed. “Don’t you dare move!”
“The Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.’”
Carefully, Isabella crawled on all fours to where Oliver was perched. His wild white hair was plastered to his withered face. His pinstriped pajamas clung to his skeletal body. “Oliver, darling!” she breathed, breathless from fear. She brought herself up to sit on the thin gable. She glanced at the stormy sky, certain they had made themselves lightening rods. “Oliver, look at me!”
Her husband blinked three times before turning to look at her. Then, slowly, a smile curved his shivering lips and he reached out to take his wife’s hand. “Oh, hello there, Love,” he said, kindly.
Anger seized her. Suddenly, she pictured herself throwing her husband off the roof. “Hello, Love? Is that all you have to say for yourself? Oliver, just what on God’s green earth do you think you’re doing?”
“Waiting? For what?”
“The ark, of course.” He squeezed her hand. “Don’t you worry about a thing, my dear lady. We will be saved, you and I.” He smiled at her and Isabella suddenly forgot that they were soaking wet, sitting on the roof. She loved that smile! When has she last seen it? “I can tell just by looking at you,” he was saying, “that you are righteous in God’s sight. He will not let you drown.”
“We’re not going to drown, Ollie,” she said, softly.
He nodded. “Oh, yes! Look out at this place!” With his free hand, Oliver motioned to the sprawling landscape lit for heartbeats of a second by flashes of white lightening. Isabelle looked out, startled by the sight before her. She’d never noticed what a view they had of Hollywood. But then again, when had she ever been on their roof?
“This land is corrupt,” he declared. “God will destroy it!” Then he looked at his wife, compassion once again in his eyes. “But you and I, dear one, we will be saved.”
She studied her husband for a moment, noticing all too well the haunting glow of madness hiding in the dark pools of his eyes like a sly thief. “Darling,” she whispered. “Do you know who I am?”
Again, he blinked three times, his kind smile faltering. When had he last known her? She could not recall. More than three months now, she was sure. Tears gathered in her eyes and she looked away. She could not bare the idea that he would once again think she was the housemaid, as he usually did.
Isabella turned back, her eyes wide—her breath caught on her lips. Oliver was looking at her. His smile gone and replaced by a frown. He glanced down at her, taking in her wet nightdress and silk wrap with a newly tattered hem. He reached out a trembling hand to touch her wet curls, limp and hanging in her chocolate colored eyes. “Isa?” he said again, confusion sending a quiver through his voice. “What are you doing up here on the roof? In the rain, no less?”
Laughter bubbled from deep within her and she threw her arms around him. “Oh, Ollie!” she declared. “It has been too long!”
He gripped her shoulders and gently pulled her away. Understanding flickered in his eyes. “When was the last time?”
“Three months, maybe.”
“And what does Doctor Whitely say?”
She hesitated. “There is nothing he can do.” It would be better if he didn’t know, but the look in his eyes implored her to continue. Voice barely more than a whisper, she said, “He says that you’ll slip away for longer periods of time, until—”
He brought a finger to her lips to stop her words. He nodded—understanding. Wrapping an arm around her trembling shoulders, he pulled his wife close to him and stared out at the darkness. Thousands of twinkling street lamps winked at them from the valley below. The first rays of dawn’s light filtered through the storm clouds and cast a pink haze on the HOLLYWOODLAND sign perched on the side of the distant mountains. The silhouette of palm trees stood against the salmon sky.
“Isa, Darling?” Oliver asked. “What are we doing up here?”
She chuckled. “Waiting for the ark.”
“The ark?” He raised a brow and peered down at her. She savored this tender, sacred moment. “Dare I ask more?”
“No, darling, just kiss me.”
He pressed a kiss to her cold lips. Isabella melted in her husband’s embrace, suddenly unaware of the drizzle of rain that remained and the chill in the salty air. She heard the distant caw of seagulls and a few car horns down in the valley, but mostly, she was aware of nothing more than the warmth of her husband so close to her.
Oliver pulled away and let his wife relax against him. “You could have been killed climbing up here after me,” he said, sternly.
“Could have? I still could be!” She laughed. “I have no idea how we will get down from here.”
“Isa, I am serious. I’m putting you in danger.”
“Of course not, Ollie. Don’t speak such things.”
“Isa, listen to me.” His voice strong, serious. “I must go away somewhere—to a home for people like me.”
“I won’t hear of such a thing!” She pushed away and crossed her arms in defiance. She didn’t care if she looked like a spoiled two year-old. She would not listen to such foolishness!
“These episodes will only get worse,” he pressed, “and one day I’m not going to come back, Isabella. You have to prepare yourself for the reality.”
She shook her head. “I won’t hear another word, Oliver! You are not going anywhere!”
“No, Oliver! This is our home! This place means the world to you!” She reached out and took his hands in her own, clutching them to her chest as tears welled up in her eyes. “Ollie…I cannot bare this world without you. Do you hear me? You are staying with me. I won’t hear another word against it.”
His eyes softened and a small smile played on his lips. “I am a lucky man to have you. Always have been.”
Isabella let her head rest against her husband’s chest. She listened to the steady beat of his old heart, content with the knowledge that it was still beating. Oliver’s cheek rest against the top of her head, the smell of his cologne tickling her nose. Fifty years they had called one another husband and wife. Fifty years they’d slept in the same bed, sat at the same breakfast table, cried tears with one another, shouted and grew angry, started and ended fights that matched that of any war— and found a new and deeper love with each passing day.
With the hills of Hollywood looming against the Pacific sky, Isabella and Oliver Sweetly held one another. The rain departed and the sun broke free of the dark clouds. Birds sang in the eucalyptus trees. A neighborhood dog happily greeted the new day with a song of his own. And with the last of the chill of the storm, a breeze swept over the lovers…and the moment faded away. Isabella smiled up at her husband, but her smile quickly faded. Oliver was staring with uncertain eyes out at the valley below. “God has spared us,” he said, his voice high and shaky. “But I must keep watch for the flood waters, dear lady. They will come very soon.”
A tear ran down her cheek.