Kage Baker’s birthday is today. She would have been 67 years old – eye to eye with 70, and probably complaining about it.
I can’t quite imagine what she would look like at this age. The ways I have changed in the last 9 years are simply appalling, Dear Readers – Time has played so many tricks on me that it’s hard for me to imagine what I used to look like. I always figured that by this time we’d both look rather like apple dolls; however, I seem to have metamorphosed into a turnip doll.
Today, the heat that has been plaguing the Northern end of California has spread down the coast like marmalade, melting under its own weight. Los Angeles is besieged. We shut up the house in early morning, and turned on the AC as soon as the last float in the Galileo thermometer had plummeted to the bottom of the glass. Then we watched in fascinated horror until the temperature outside – as cleverly displayed on my computer – climbed inexorably up to 97 degrees. After about 80 degrees, the Galileo thermometer just registers freaking hot.
Kage would have loved it. She adored heat, as long as she had enough cold Coke to drink, and had located both her white silk pajamas and the standing fan with vanes like palm leaves. It was all accessory and settings with Kage; that was her author-by-the-seaside-in- intolerable-heat costuming, and once she was comfortable she could write no matter how hot it got.
The morning Kage was born, though – that was relatively cool and clear. Mild weather in the 70’s, and just a few clouds coming in briefly in the mid-afternoon. Suitable weather, I guess, for a baby girl to be born. It was the sort of opalescent weather than would make her birthday more years than not, as time went on; classical, for the L.A. Basin. Kage grew up under the pearl grey skies, raiding plum trees in her mother’s terraced garden; picking huge bouquets of the roses that grew on the edge of every narrow lawn; making bows from eucalyptus saplings and shooting at her brothers with arrows scavenged from a crazy neighbor up the hill who shot them down into the lower yards … eventually, she took over the cupola on the roof of her mother’s house, and started to write the stories that would make her name later on.
On grey days, the Cahuenga Pass below her windows would be brim-full of mist and roaring cars; anything could have been down there. On hot days, she opened all the windows and the room was full of panting wind, perfumed by the garden; the eucalyptus trees scattered leaf-shadows like fish across the walls. At night – to the East, the Valley was a sea of jewels; to the West, the few houses made the Hollywood Hills look like faerie garths, infrequent lamplight shining through the sides of the hollow hills.
I spent a lot of summer nights up there. Sometimes we slept on the roof, trusting to whatever looks after teen aged girls that neither rapists nor pumas would find us. None ever did, though the owls scared the hell out of a few times; in return, I think we ruined a few raccoons’ nights. We’d wake up in the eredawn, our sleeping bags and our hair gemmed with dew, and take off into the hills before the heat got too bad. We’d eat pizza slices and cold soda and imported chocolates in the Hollywood Bowl, where it was cool and green, until we called Mrs. Baker to come pick us up, oh please please please …
Weird to remember maidenhood so very clearly, now that I am so thoroughly a crone. We always sort of thought we’d sort of circle back to those days eventually – probably in golf carts or motorized wheelchairs, if we got too old to hike down the Pass. It seemed as likely as any other fate, when we were still scampering around the Hollywood Hills like a pair of cut-rate maenads.
If she had lived, we’d have given it a go, I fear. We had no sense at any age. Kage would have regrown her hair, I am sure; but I suspect it would have continued to come in white and silver-gilt, only retaining a garnet wash down at the tips of her braid. She’d be a little wrinkled. but I think not too much – she lost a lot of weight before she died, and her face was taut and clean-edged, almost adolescent. She swore that she would never lose her cheekbones again … she’d have aged into Granny Weatherwax, is what she would have done.
I’d have been Nanny Ogg. All I need to do right now is to bleach my hair white and get a bad perm. I’ve even got the red boots.
It would be so worth it, to risk broken hips and crashed golf carts in the golden summer hills: the way it was in the morning of the world, when all the floats were at the top of the glass and we knew we would live forever.
Happy birthday, kiddo.