They turned off Canyon Lake Drive and pulled the car to the side of the road. With the briefest of glimpses, the slightest of smiles to each other, they got out. His hand in hers, they walked past the barrier, paying little attention to the warning notices they had passed so many times before. The first time they went there they read the signs carefully; now they were background noise. The risk of fire was always there, and the restrictions to the hiking areas were never likely to be lifted – not as long as the sign on the hill remained standing.
Keeping a watch for snakes on that hot evening, they trod carefully through the dry grass, always using the forty-five foot high white letters as a target for them to concentrate on. The hike was silent but for the crunching of the grass under their feet and the occasional barking dog. They did not see anyone else around.
Finally, they reached their favourite spot: a tree which offered a little shelter from the burning heat, but provided a clear view of the sign. Looking down upon the neighbourhood the sign had once been synonymous with so many hopes, dreams and promises for the two of them. As he looked up at it, the sign still filled him with wonder: Hollywood had always been a fairy-tale land for him, where lives were changed, dreams made and hopes fulfilled. The move to Los Angeles was something he had wished for all of his life, and that’s where he met her. As they sat below the tree, he felt her looking at him. Reluctantly he drew his gaze away from the sign.
‘What are you thinking about?’ she asked.
‘How much of life do we forget?’
‘We’re not going to forget.’
‘I mean generally.’ His eyes drew her gaze up to the white sign on the hill, turning golden in the setting sun. ‘What about all the movies you’ve ever seen. How many can you remember? I mean really remember.’
She laid back in the grass and placed her arm across her forehead, shielding her eyes from the glare of the setting sun.
‘Enough, I guess.’
‘How do you know what’s enough?’
‘I don’t need to remember all of them.’
‘Why not? How do you decide which you’re going to remember?’
‘I guess the ones that made the most impact on me at the time.’
He stood then, turning his back to the sign so that he could look at her directly.
‘Exactly: at the time. Who’s to say that if you remembered it now, you wouldn’t remember it in a very different way, and things would be different?’
‘Nothing would be different. I’d just have a bit more Jimmy Stewart stuck in my head.’
‘Why would you ever want to forget Jimmy Stewart?’
‘Come and sit with me. What’s wrong with you?’
He sat down beside her in the grass. She pulled herself up on her elbows and studied his face. He stared straight ahead at the sign.
‘There are some movies I don’t want to forget,’ he said quietly.
She climbed on top of him then, straddling him. Holding his face to hers she kissed him softly on the lips.
‘Try to forget, just for a little while,’ she told him.
‘I never want to forget.’
‘I know,’ she kissed him again.
‘The newer movies aren’t the same.’
‘I know. They’re not supposed to be the same. Things change.’
‘I want things the way they were.’
‘I know.’ She pulled him tightly to her, nestling his head in her neck. ‘But the past is behind us and we have to move on.’
She felt a warm drop fall from his cheek on to her shoulder.
‘I don’t want to,’ he whispered. ‘I’m not sure I even can.’
He struggled to move from under her, so she climbed off of him. He stood and brushed the grass from his clothes, then started walking towards the sign. It was starting to get cooler, then sun moving behind the hills, but the heat was still oppressive, and the grass felt like burning rods as they whipped against his bare calves. She watched him walk away for a moment, but when she realised he was not returning, she pulled herself to her feet and hurried after him.
‘Where are you going?’ she called out.
‘I need to touch it.’
‘You know you’re going to get arrested – if you don’t kill yourself first.’
He continued striding purposefully forward, closing the distance between himself and the steep hillside on which the sign resided. Trying hard not to trip in the long grass, she quickly closed the distance between them and grabbed his arm, stopping him. When he turned to face her, she saw tears in his eyes once again.
‘I just need to remember.’
‘No one’s making you forget.’
He sat down then, amongst the long grass.
‘It feels like the memories are leaking away and there’s nothing I can do about it.’
‘You’ll always remember. Nothing will replace those memories.’ She took his hand and kissed him again, so softly, tenderly. ‘Make some new ones with me.’
‘Make love to me.’
She climbed on top of him and kissed him again and again.
‘I can’t,’ he told her.
‘We’ve got no protection.’
‘We don’t need it.’
‘I can’t do it again. I can’t go through that again.’
‘What about me? What about what I want?’
He looked up at the sign, the big white letters looking down at them.
‘You want new. You’re happy to replace what’s been lost with something new.’
She glared at him for a long moment and he stared straight back. The slap took him by surprise. He rubbed his stinging cheek as she continued glaring at him.
‘Never think I can ever replace anything,’ she said slowly, carefully. ‘I want new, yes. But not to replace what we had. Never that. I just want us to move on with our lives.’
‘I don’t know if I can.’
After one last, lingering look at him, she stood and started walking back towards the car. He continued sitting, staring at the sign, thinking about everything he had once had, trying to recall all of those memories that seemed to be slipping away, thinking about all of those movies he had forgotten over time and hoping to God that the same would not happen for all those memories of what had gone before and all that they had once had.