page contents

The Look by Barry Jay Kaplan

Shannon and Alan wanted to live in Venice Beach, Shannon in particular. “The beach. The restaurants. The ocean! The ocean, honey. It’s close to the city but it’s not in the city. And if I have to go in, it’s an easy drive to the studios, well not Warner’s but...” She rested her head on Alan’s shoulder and looked up at him in a perfect imitation of Bette Davis slowly raising her eyelids to gaze up at George Brent in Dark Victory. Shannon had studied the scene in an Acting for the Camera extension class at UCLA. “And we deserve it, don’t we?”

There were a lot more reasons, most of which Alan agreed with and, though not at Shannon’s level of enthusiasm, with at least enough to please her. Pleasing Shannon was important to him, mainly as a measure of self-protection, because when Shannon felt unloved, which she usually did when he disagreed with her or didn’t want something as much as she did, watch out: pouting, sniping, bitching, moping, silence comprised the arc of her bad mood cycle. Alan preferred to agree with her, or at least to support her enthusiasms, even if it involved a certain amount of acting, which was what he used to do for a living, and its requirements came back to him when he needed them, so no sweat, fine.

“My husband is very handy,” Shannon was saying to the landlady in response to the beachfront duplex they had just been shown with the second floor wall of glass and a series of unfortunate plaster cracks in the ceiling. The landlady was escorting them back to their car along a front walk lined with salt-air loving white hydrangeas. “He eats those plaster cracks for breakfast!” Shannon added, a line she’d used before which always got an appreciative laugh and it did now.

The landlady recognized Shannon from Malibu Medical, currently in syndication, and thought Alan looked familiar too, which was in their favor. This was the first apartment they’d looked at in Venice Beach that they really wanted and Shannon was squeezing Alan’s hand, thinking that she could hardly believe their luck. As they approached their car, however, the landlady stopped short, her face hardening, and pointed an accusing finger.

“Is that yours?”

Shannon followed the landlady’s finger but all she could see was their peach-colored BMW and their adorable Westhighland terrier, Buddy, forepaws and nose pressed to the window. The landlady recited her no-pet policy and went back inside.

“Bitch,” Shannon muttered as they got into the car and drove off.

“How can people not like dogs?”

“It’s only the first apartment,” Alan said, hoping to calm her down. “We’ve got a whole list of things to see.”

As it turned out, the landlady’s response was only the beginning of a litany of similar responses: a non-negotiable no-pets rule.

Shannon held Buddy on her lap. “You’re ruining our lives,” she murmured as she rubbed her nose into his neck. “Do you know that? Do you know that you’re ruining our lives?” Buddy licked her face. “Is it even legal? Are they actually allowed? Isn’t it discrimination or something?” They cruised slowly along the street that ran parallel to the ocean they would most certainly not be living with a view of. “I mean, look at that sweet face.”

    She held up Buddy and thrust him at Alan, who leaned sideways from the wheel so Buddy could lick his cheek. “He’s adorable,” he said. “But you do see their point.”

    “I do not see their point,” Shannon said, as if the fact that he did meant he agreed with it.


    “OK! I see their point!” She hugged Buddy and turned away to stare out the window at the neighborhood they would not be living in.  “Their pathetic, prejudiced little point.”

    Buddy squirmed out of her grasp and wriggled onto Alan’s lap.

At the high school she’d gone to in Evanston, Illinois, Shannon was a stand out: a star on the girls’ field hockey team, dean’s list all four years and the one actor in the school’s extracurricular theatre activities who was definitely headed for something stellar.

    It took less than a year in Los Angeles for that promise to materialize: a recurring role as a paralegal and the star’s girlfriend in Lawless, and after that Malibu Medical in which she played a pediatric surgeon, and then a co-starring role as a realtor in Hot Properties on cable. Her talent agent, a woman who looked alarmingly like someone she had snubbed in high school, assured Shannon she was the Next Big Thing.

Shannon was a practicing Lutheran and did not blow her success on drugs and foreign cars and expensive shoes. She put down half the purchase price in cash for a small bungalow on Kilkea Drive in the flats of West Hollywood, and lived there until she met Alan, her co-star on Hot Properties. Alan owned a condo in Brentwood, and when they got married they decided first to buy a dog, whence Buddy, and second, to sell both their properties and buy something together, something at the beach, a house that was Theirs.  Until that happened, they spent most of the time at Shannon’s since hers was the one with the walk-in closet and the yard and parking for two cars.

The not completely unexpected cancellation of Hot Properties put a decided crimp in their plans. Alan was philosophical about it, turning back to what he did when he was “discovered”—carpentry—and actually getting jobs doing it, enough of them, finally—and with great relief—to give up acting altogether, something Shannon could not understand.

“But you’re so handsome,” she said. “How can you just throw all that away?”

Alan shrugged. His good looks had gotten him into the world of acting and though he didn’t know much about it, he learned just enough to see that an actor was the last thing he was. It had always embarrassed him to say the lines he was given and he could tell from other actors on shows he did that his skills in front of the camera were laughably inept. Still, he was, as Shannon pointed out, handsome, and as long as he was making money at it, OK. As soon as his run of luck ended though, he was glad to put away his eight by ten glossies, pick up a hammer and saw, and do some work he was good at.

Shannon had no other ambitions but to ratchet up her fame, though Alan secretly doubted that she was that much more an actress than he had been an actor. Now that she was unemployed, being sent up for and getting an occasional guest shot on a sit com, she was barely able to control her anger. She was not used to things not going her way.

In addition to the disconcerting turn her career had taken after Hot Properties ended, the real real estate market had crashed, which was responsible both for the end of the series and the fact that neither of the properties they owned was selling, so that now they were out of work, and paying two mortgages. Shannon was adamant about not accepting either house as Home because neither one was Theirs, and she was determined to buy in Venice Beach because, as she told Alan so often: “After all we’ve been through, we deserve it.”  

When Alan came up with the idea of renting in Venice Beach until the market picked up, Shannon was so happy she thought she was the one who dreamed up the idea in the first place. They started looking for the perfect rental the very next day.

Alan was laying the mosaic tiles in a pool in the garden of a house in Nichols Canyon, when the cell phone vibrated on his hip. Shannon. She was sobbing.

“Honey, what?” he said. “I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

After a few gasps, she managed to say: “He’s gone,” before dissolving in sobs again.

“Gone? Who’s gone? Shannon? Who’s gone?”

“Who? Who!? Buddy!”

As she related the story to Alan, she had taken off his harness—“I can’t stand the noise of all that jingling”—and let him follow her around the house while she did her facial isometrics and got ready to go to her Pilates class. When she was ready to leave, she called out to him but he didn’t come. She remembered the time he’d wandered into the bathroom and a breeze had closed the door behind him and went now to take a look. No Buddy. She looked in every room. No Buddy. She squeezed Mister Turtle, sure the squeak would get him running to her: no Buddy. She was late, decided he was hiding somewhere, and started for her car, when she noticed that the back door was open. She ran outside and called him. Ran to the street and called him. Got into her car and drove around the neighborhood, calling him: Buddy! Buddy! Buddy!

No Buddy.

The next day: no Buddy.

Alan called the ASPCA: no Buddy.

Two days went by, three, four, a week, three weeks. She cried in Alan’s arms and Alan, who was clearly meant to comfort her, had to hold back his tears for his lost dog and let them out once safely alone in his car. He knew Shannon was upset, her tears told him that, and he would not compete with her as to who was more upset but he loved Buddy as he had loved no other living thing. Who else was as trusting, as affectionate, as glad to see him, as patient, as comical, as loyal and forgiving but that little dog?

The weeks went by. Shannon’s mood improved. They stopped talking about Buddy being found and one morning, Alan found all of Buddy’s toys in a sack next to the garbage at the side of the house. When Alan objected, Shannon said he was not “moving on.” It was true; he continued to imagine Buddy where Buddy used to be but was no longer: he saw him in the back seat of the car, felt him poking his nose into his shoulder as he drove, heard him scratching at the front door as Alan put his key in the lock, heard his nails clicking on the floor as he carried Mister Turtle around the house in his mouth, heard the little yips he made during his doggie dreams. He had a dream himself in which Buddy appeared in a small boat drifting out to sea, calling back to Alan: Don’t forget me. Alan awoke from that dream in tears.

“Time,” said Shannon, when he told her this dream.

And then, when three months had gone by and Alan was about to broach the subject of getting another dog, Shannon said: “I have something to tell you, Alan.”

Alan put down his coffee cup.

Shannon pressed her lips together, as if the thing she had to tell him was an actual thing being held in her mouth. Her lips parted. “Remember that day Buddy ran off?”

Alan sighed. It was worse talking about him than just thinking about him. “Sure I do.”

Shannon looked up at him in that way she’d learned at UCLA: the Look, she called it. He’d fallen for it when she’d first tried it but it no longer had much of an effect on him.


And suddenly he knew what she was going to say. A shiver went down his back. He had an immediate urge to get up and clamp his hand over her mouth. And yet he wanted her to say it. No, he thought. Don’t say it, but he knew she would; a history of her narcissism and ambition told him she would, just as he knew that once she did, he would have no choice but to leave her and not look back, and not just leave her but leave Los Angeles, leave this life he’d been living with her, go home if there was a home he could still go to, find something that wasn’t…this.

With a sudden rush that knocked the wind out of him, Shannon plopped herself down in Alan’s lap, her arms around his neck, her head against his shoulder. He felt the full cold dead weight of her. He looked down at her. She gave him the Look again. Don’t say it, he thought. And then, with a guilty little giggle, she did. 

Barry Jay Kaplan's recent stories have been published in Descant, Kerouac’s Dog, Bryant Literary Review, Upstreet, Talking River, Perigee, Amarillo Bay, Storyglossia, Brink, Apple Valley Review, Drum, This and others. My stories “His Wife” and “India” are Pushcart Prize nominees.