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Shadow of Light Excerpt                                            (18 or older only)

PART I—The morning sun was just coming up and casting a strange sepia tone on the rear yard—the fair slope of the hill, the magnificent heritage oak and … so many memories.

I was stuck there in Claire’s kitchen leaning over the glassy counter of black granite writing on a string of paper towels, afraid to move, afraid to stop and get some decent paper for fear I’d lose … something—my indiscretion, my vulgarity, my passion, maybe even my mind. Nah, that was gone a long time ago—a deluge, no bridges left. No boats or life vests, no paramedics or channel 7. I was on my own.

Oddly, I always felt I was destined for something other than ordinary, something indignant, retaliatory, maybe even righteous. But there was my humanness to admonish me, even chastise me, like humanness does. That’s where drink and drugs come in—to beguilingly help dismantle the machine, disable humanness and transform it into something better.

The truth is most of us are dealt mediocrity. The trick is finding something new to do with a middling hand—unconscionable fatalistic alternatives aside. I mean, we’ve got plenty of obesity, depravity, sloth, and all the rest. What does it really take to turn ordinariness into something golden, something bright, something worth the effort and the time, the fucking time?—because that’s the limit, after all. Time: the ultimate naysayer. No one bests time. Not even H. G. Wells. Nope, not even him.

I looked down at my bare feet on the dark wood floor of Claire’s kitchen. Pretty good looking feet, I guess—no stubby, deformed toes. They were kind of long, actually—my toes.

And the drink and the drugs?—well, they’re only beneficial if one is willing to undeservedly slap a complete stranger right in the face. Only someone as fuck it as that can take those ever lovin’ vices beyond mediocrity and a blind hangover with bruised knees.

Was I that fuck it? Was I fuck it enough to go all the way?—Yeah, maybe—well, ninety percent of the time—ruffling feathers, fanning flames, and ignominiously appalling my family. What a mess. Sadly, that miserable, whining ten percent that remained had proven strong enough to keep my strings of paper towels locked in a drawer. And for how long?

All too often I weigh all I’ve gained to all I’ve lost, but peace eludes me. The strength, the stamina I thought I had … I don’t know. Maybe I needed new stars.

And Claire, dear Claire …

“For God’s sake, David, what is keeping you from doing this? Can’t you remember?”

“Please, Claire. Remembering is not my problem.”

Finding a way to cast off the bow was my problem—how far along to go, how deep, all I saw with my eyes closed. A skinny, frightened boy, about ten or eleven, a head of dark curly hair, wearing a sort of tunic belted at the waist. He was scared, so scared, but he just could not run any faster. And still he could hear the pursuant feet drawing nearer as the sandy columns passed him like so many shadows against the sun. No! He tripped up, but quickly recovered then glanced back in horror!

I sat straight up, waking in a sweat, nearly out of breath. Again. Damn it! I These dreams are making me … Agh!—the phone!—jarring the shit out of me, that startling tintinnabulation that pinched every nerve even when I wasn’t already suffering from shortness of breath.

“David, you’ve got to talk to Cheryl. You guys can patch this up. You know you can.”

“For Christ’s sake, Deborah.” My sister didn’t even say hello. “You’ve got to let this go. Cheryl and I have come to this decision together. It’s done.”

“But Mom is beside herself. Catholics just do not …”

“Deborah!” I was sharp. “Don’t you dare start with that Catholic shit.” I dragged a hand down over my face.

“David!”

“And don’t say one word about me saying shit, either. You know very well how I feel.” Jeez. And that little boy again—running for his life this time.

“David, it’s just … Come on. Since Daddy’s been gone, you know how she is.”

Yeah, I knew. When my dad died, my mother was devoured by her Catholic-ness.

“She’ll get over it in time.” I looked at the clock on the bed table then my pager and, “Shit! I’ve gotta go.” I hung up then ran and hopped in the shower.

Deborah, my sister, she liked Cheryl, my very-soon-to-be ex-wife. We were … Well, we were DINKs according to my brother, Charles—double-income-no-kids. But it wasn’t funny. We were always gone from each other, Cheryl traveling all over the world as an international banker and I on location somewhere or other. Four years of marriage, and so much forgiveness in the beginning, but … It was she who initiated the divorce, calling me from Tokyo just minutes before some guy knocked on the door and served me. Jeez, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Maybe not that bad.

Anyway, it’s supposed to look better when the woman files, right?—one of those double standard things, or maybe more like a double-edged sword thing.

I dressed quickly and flew out the door thinking, man, there’d better not be an accident on the 101. I had twenty-five minutes to get my butt to Reseda for a commercial. I was a makeup artist in the entertainment industry.

“First shots at ten, David,” said the Second—a petite, highly-strung I’m-all-about-meth-rehab-by-caffeine-right-now-so-don’t-fuck-with-me with three bum packs and two walkies—and she was pointing at her watch.

“Thanks.” I opened the door to the trailer. Hair was already inside. “Hi Jeff.”

“Jeffrey,” he very politely corrected.

“Right. Sorry.” I kept forgetting.

“Good morning David.”

I just smiled and … “Oh, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You finally found it,” I said as I put up my makeup cases.

Jeffrey had an autographed and framed picture of Audrey Hepburn propped up by the window—Holly in her little black dress with all those pearls and that cigarette holder.

“I love that picture,” he almost sniffled. “I forgot I loaned it to Richard.”

Jeffrey was still in mourning, so were a lot of people, though, Ms. Hepburn having died only six days before. Then there was a knock and the door opened—two men and two women, the Second right behind them pointing to her watch again. “An hour and fifty minutes, guys.”

John, Evelyn, Mike, Sara. Hi. Hello. Blah-blah-blah. The day wrapped soon enough, just a couple of driveway shots and some car interiors. We’d already spent two days in Mohave and Joshua Tree. It was a wrap for Hair and Makeup … and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Forget it.

Back home I was making arrangements.

“Yeah, Jerry, I really appreciate it. You know I do. Thanks, Man, for putting me up.”

“Come on, David. No problemo. I’ll see you in a little while.”

I put the last of my things in my car. And the bigger stuff?—well, a storage locker in North Hollywood already had my name on it. Then I stood in the driveway and took one more long look at the house—a vintage bungalow in Toluca Lake, big front window, arched entryway, bougainvillea, the pansies I’d planted to surprise her. Damn. Thirty years old and starting all over again.

I headed to Long Beach—the 134 to the 5 to the Santa Ana interchange and the 5 again to the 710 to the 405 and finally the Lakewood off ramp—good old LA—and another vintage bungalow.

Jerry’s place was built in the 20’s, a cute little Spanish-styled thing with one of those driveways made up of two narrow strips of concrete set apart by an equally narrow strip of grass—you know, just right for parking your Model T. He’d gotten the house for a song … for good reason. The plumbing was shit. And that was only the beginning. One thing led to another, as they do, and pretty soon the whole thing had to be taken down to the studs, the whole thing. He had to go live with his mother for four months, and boy did I kid him, but two months after that he had a brand new house. Wow. And in the front yard, one of the biggest yuccas I’d ever seen—probably planted when the house was built … the first time.

“Thanks. Yeah, right there is fine.” The last of my boxes were now in Jerry’s spare room.

“You want a drink?” Jerry asked as I followed him down the hall—the musculature of his broad bare back slimming down to narrow hips, in a pair of worn-out sweats, the easy swing of his arms—a solid figure of a man, six-feet tall with a mop of unruly dark hair.

“Yeah. Brandy, if you’ve got it.”

“Always. But I’m ahead of you. Forty-second anniversary of nuclear testing—well, tomorrow.” He looked at his bulky black watch. “A few hours—Frenchman Flat in Nevada, where they dropped that one-kiloton bomb. Assholes!”

I wanted to change the subject, maybe ask him which was funnier, mangos or cheese? Or if he thought I’d ever have kids. But didn’t. Besides, I knew I’d get an earful and just said, “Oh.”

“Also, when the crew of Apollo I was killed in that horrible fire.”

“Man, how do you remember all this shit?”

“Hey! Nuclear testing!” he blasted, his big dark eyes boring a righteous hole in me.

“OK. But what about Apollo I?”

“This is Long Beach, David. We’ve got man-made islands with their names on them out in the harbor—Grissom, White, Chaffee. Freeman, too, for a NASA flight instructor-slash-test pilot.” Then he told me where each of them was situated.

“All right,” I groaned as I put up my hand. I didn’t want to hear another word about it.

He started to put the bottle away, but looked back at me sideways and, “Do you want me to leave it on the sink?”

I just stared at him.

“I’ll leave it on the sink.”

Gingerly I fell into one of the over-stuffed chairs in his living room, careful not to spill my drink, took a huge burning swig of that brandy then let my head fall back against the chair.

“I-ee!” My pager rumbled in my pocket. New batteries always got me.

“Man, when are you going to get a wireless phone?”

“My mother,” I said as I looked at my pager. I didn’t get up, shoved the thing back in my pocket, then took another hit off my drink.

“You gonna call her back?”

I just stared at him again.

“OK. You’re right. I remember Christmas.” It was his turn to put up a warning hand.

Jerry wasn’t there, but he’d heard plenty from me. Cheryl was absent; spending the holiday with her parents back east—the onset of our separation. Understandably, I was not in a holiday spirit, and my greater apathy was viewed with distress by my mother and two sisters. My brother, Charles, and Deborah’s husband, Mike, rightly stayed out of it. And the two boys—Mike and Deborah’s kids, only paid attention inadvertently during the VHS of The Wizard of Oz. At several points during the festivities I was taken aside by my mother, then Deborah, then my other sister, Diane. Oh, please. Then we had an argument—me against everyone else, as usual. And yeah, they were hurt when I brought religion into it, especially on Christmas Eve, but jeez, they had to know I would. I usually did. I couldn’t help myself—the holiest Christian days of the year based on pre-existing pagan holidays. And even though I don’t like using pagan like that—I mean, the word only means an unpopular form of worship, it was a word they could understand.

The truth is I just wanted to leave, and an argument was the surest way to get what I wanted.

As I walked away from my mother’s house that night—the house where I’d grown up, the weakest part of me wanted to go back and explain my denunciation of religion—especially Catholicism, the unholy segregation religion inflicted, and other things, but … it was no good. Anyway, I’d already said all I could ever say.

“You want to order a pizza?” Jerry ran one hand across his chest.

“Maybe later.”

“David, it’s nine-thirty now.”

“Oh, nine-thirty. That reminds me.” I sat forward a little. “I’ve got a reading tomorrow night at seven-thirty in Hollywood, that hole on Highland. You remember. Do you want to go?”

“Man, you and your poetry.” Jerry shook his head, playfully smirking. “No wonder Cheryl left you.”

I just stopped.

“Sorry, David. Just trying to …”

“Forget it. It’s OK.”

“Look, I’ll be in Downtown LA tomorrow, meeting up with a friend of mine over at the Times—you know, that Iraq no-fly zone thing. Anyway, I can meet you.”

Jerry was a freelance journalist and had just gotten back from DC for the Inauguration of our 42nd President, Bill Clinton—talk about a full time job—a phone, two pagers, a computer and the noisiest damn printer—honestly, I was sure that one of these days the thing was going to get up and bark before it bit me in the leg, and papers and stacks of books and maps all over the place. He had enough frequent flyer miles to fly a family of five around the world and back again. And he did have a way about him, sometimes thoughtless, but not on purpose. He was better on paper, and a big-hearted guy, honest and well … he had integrity. I’d known him and his family forever. But that was it.

“I’m gonna go for a walk.”

“System?”

“Yeah, you know, a walk and a cup of coffee and another walk back. I’ll catch you later.” At the door I paused. “And Jerry, thanks again, really.”

“Hey, remember kiddo, no problemo. Go on.”

Five blocks and walking wasn’t even starting to threaten my unrest, so I stopped for a pack of cigarettes, even though I hadn’t smoked in four years. And to steer clear of the LBC, I went all the way down to Ocean Blvd, even crossed it—all six lanes—and stood at the grassy strand at water’s edge—Bluff Park. It was late and the harbor so still, so beautiful reflecting the islands and the Queen Mary and … I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling … I don’t know, not exactly lost since signing the last of the divorce papers, but more of a neither-here-nor-there sort of pensiveness—not even that steadily. And the black water, the quiescent surface of the bay—there was something pure, something undeniably calming and healing about water, and I took it all in. Mmm, the air crisp and …

“Jesus Christ!” I yelled, hurrying to cover my face with my arms.

A gale force came from out of nowhere, trying to spin me round, nearly knocking me over. Man! And I looked around, turned around, and again. No cars. No trucks. No private jets. Jeez! Then I looked up toward the Convention Center—nothing—then down the promenade, but way down—a man walking the other direction, dark hair, dark clothing, a longish coat … I think. That was it.

I roughly ran my fingers back through my hair a few times—not believing for a second that it was going to look very much better, straightened out my jacket—a black Armani, a real vice—then headed for Pine … and System.

System was a mutation, a film noir bistro, an underground café at street level … and a gallery, but not just of art and music, people, too—people who ran outside the mainstream—arty, eclectic types—actors, artists, poets, all with a slender dress code of black. Fine with me.

I stood at the short fence in front of the place and looked through the window, past the glare of the pink and blue neon sign above, and absently opened that pack of cigarettes—still the same. Comforting that.

Turning around, I leaned my ass against the top rail of the fence as I lit up and dragged hard. Yeah, baptism by nicotine. Then I hit it again and waited for … I don’t know, remorse, I guess, but … Hm. I stood away from the fence and looked up at the sky. It was so beautiful without the noise, just the faintest breath of the harbor. And Orion, the iceman’s constant escort, the mighty hunter who never missed an opportunity to show off his inestimable prowess. What a guy.

After a few minutes, I crushed my cigarette under my boot then went inside—ah, cloves and espresso, a soul-soothing aroma. And Orbital’s Chime in the background, that was good, too.

Taking a seat along the wall in one of System’s slim cane-back chairs, I immediately surrendered—sort of like crawling into one’s bed after a long time away from home, the feel of the cool sheets slipping over your bare body, every slim hair ruffled by the fabric, the familiar crush of the pillow beneath a way-weary head, the paint roller mark on the ceiling … and the comforting smell of things past. Yeah, I sighed.

“David! Right?”

What? Oh, the waitress—a cute sort of Wednesday Addams—plain black dress with a white collar, black tights, a short black bob ala Betty Boop. She was standing beside the table.

“Excuse me?” I blinked a few times.

“You were the makeup artist on a movie I did last year. I was only an extra, but …”

“The convict movie, the coming of age movie, or the …” None of them were out yet, all in post, and working titles often changed, so that was the best way to …

“The second one,” she bubbled. “I was one of the girls in the classroom for a week.”

“Ah, yes.” I was a little dispassionate. “You were the one in the red sweater, the one who wore those false eyelashes.”

“Yes! Thank you so much for remembering,” she practically squealed.

Then I was snide, “The one who kept calling me Eddie.”

“Sorry,” she kind of winced, “but Eddie and the Cruisers was my favorite movie in high school, and you look just like him.”

“I don’t think so.” Except for that one still—the movie poster with the mic at the side of his head, the darker one, though, less definitive. Jerry even thought so. But I wasn’t going to tell her that. Because I did not look like Michael Paré … and neither did that still.

“No … yeah, you do … except … well … you’re way prettier … like maybe his sister.”

His sister. His six-foot-two-and-some sister. Great.

“So!” she sparkled.

“So,” I started right back at her, unsure of … “Um … I only want a cup of coffee.”

“Of course!” She outright squealed this time, bounced as well, but all at once. “OK, you got it. But I’m going to make a fresh pot.”

“That’s great. Thanks.”

So commenced the grinding foreplay of the coffee maiden, and I hard pressed my fingers through my hair, but now for a different reason. I was not in the mood for flirtation. In fact, I wasn’t in the mood for anything that sounded or even smelled like relationship—not even a one-night stand. Then again … She was pretty damn cute.

I leaned my head back against the wall and … “Oh, for goodness’ sake!”

My pager again, but I recognized the number as non-hostile and went to the back to use the payphone.

“Hey, Paul. How ya doin’? You almost done cuttin’ that thing?”

“Yeah, it looks great. And you’re not going to believe this, but I need more footage.”

“No way.” Mel Brooks, he was not. Mel was known for too much footage. But who could blame him? When you’re having that much fun, why stop? And on the other side of the directorial spectrum?—literally from laugh-your-ass-off to shit-your-pants, Hitchcock, who shot only what he had envisioned. I mean, if you were in possession of a Hitchcock outtake, you were holding gold.

“Yeah, we’re going back to Big Sur. Just for a week—five days, actually. You know, the horses. I’m just trying to get you-know-who’s schedule. He’s doing Lion in Winter back home, but he’s … Well, he’s figuring it out. Anyway, I just wanted to give you a head’s up. You’re not on anything right now, are you? No, of course you’re not, or you wouldn’t have … Then, maybe not. Right. Well, I’ll get the scheduling locked down as soon as he gets back to me—next month, I’m hoping. I’ll get back to you. Or somebody will.”

“Great. Can’t wait. Yeah. I sure will. See ya.”

All right! Big Sur! God, I loved it there. Big Sur was … I don’t know, spiritual, I guess. How with words does one insinuate immaculate beauty? Where do you start?

And Paul, the Director—we’d worked together so many times, kind of grew up together in the industry. He usually called me personally, not some PA.

Wednesday Addams saw me coming from the back and went to get my coffee. She was all smiles … and fresh red lipstick.

“I wanted to wait ‘til you were done before I brought it.”

“Thank you.” I sat back down.

“Cream?”

“No thank you.”

“How about a muffin or a piece of cheesecake … on me?”

On you?”

“Hey.”

“Sorry. No thanks.” I was kind. “All I want is the coffee.”

“Well,” she sort of wiggled in her chunky black shoes, eyeing me a little sideways, “if you need anything else, anything at all, you just call … Ricci.”

“Thanks, Ricci. I will.”

She was off and I buried my face in my hands for a minute, pressing my fingers into my hairline and catching a whiff of that coffee. Mmm. Good to the last whatever it is. Never mind. I decided to stay. I picked up the cup and … Oh, yeah. That’s good. Then leaned back in my chair and lit a cigarette.

It was almost midnight. There were three other people in the place besides me and Ricci and the skinny collegiate behind the bar, two Goth lovers fawning over each other’s hands and a tattered local poet slumped over a dozen dog-eared pages. I looked up and down the long, narrow room, then to the featured art on the concrete walls—all of it fluidly angular and metallic, total Deconstructivism, more than likely created by a local artist, because System was famous for promoting  the artists of its own Long Beach.

Yeah, except for the art, System was just as I remembered—classic black and white checked flooring, smoky glass-topped café tables and those rickety little cane-back chairs painted black; the ceiling, too. And I leaned my head back against the wall and looked up at the corrugated aluminum conduits and alien light fixtures that shone eerily through the ghostly ribbons of smoke. The only thing missing was Jack Lemmon on the bongos and Stormy Weather.

Righting my head, I sipped my coffee and hit my cigarette, then looked across the room at the lovers. They were looking into each other’s eyes while their fingers played on the table—a thousand silver rings and black nail polish. Then I looked to the poet. He was watching them too. I turned away and …

Hah. Ricci was watching me. I broke down and waved her over. What the hell.

“So, are you working on anything at the moment?” What a line, eh?

“No. But I have an audition next Monday for a part in this play.”

“Go ahead, have a seat. Local theater?”

“Yeah, well, sort of. Santa Ana.”

“That’s close enough. Do you have any head shots with you?”

“Yes, I do!”

“Well, why don’t you give me a couple and I’ll give them to some people I just finished working with. They were talking about this upcoming … Well, you just get me the pictures, and I’ll see that they get them. OK?”

“Yes, yes! I’ll be right back.”

I finished off my coffee and lit another cigarette. Here she comes.

She handed me the pictures and started in pointing. “See these were done about six months ago and these were done about a year ago.” She was leaning into me. “I haven’t changed that much and they show two different looks, so they should …”

Purposely I let my fingers lightly pet the top of her hand and … “Does System still close at midnight?”

“Nice. Yeah, David. My girlfriend should be here in about fifteen minutes.”

“Your girlfriend.”

“I’m sure she’d love to meet you.” Ricci stood up straight and glanced the way of the window and … “Wow!”

“What?” I looked, too.

“Did you see that guy?”

“No.”

“He was awesome pretty.”

“Pretty?” Again, pretty. Oh, brother.

“Yeah, awesome pretty, but definitely a guy.”

“Uh-huh.” I humored her. “Check please.”

“He was there. I swear.”

“OK. OK. I believe you.” I handed her a twenty.

“Just a minute.” And she headed off to the register. And suddenly I felt tired, or maybe just calm. Anyway, I wasn’t going to get laid.

“Here you go.” She started to hand me my change, but …

“It’s OK, you keep it.”

“But you only had a cup of coffee.”

“It’s OK.” I gently rolled up her head shots and slipped them into my breast pocket.

“Well, thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Oh, Ricci, are you working tomorrow night?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“OK!”

Cute girl. But for the calm that had suddenly come over me … and the girlfriend, I just wanted to get back to Jerry’s. It was almost straight up and, even more than before, it was not a good thing to be walking so near the LBC. Things went down after midnight in that part of town. And though Fourth was kind of edgy, it was the most direct route. I decided to jog.

Yeah, a nice steady pace; and good thing I was wearing my Docs, because I couldn’t have been running very comfortably in my Tony Lama’s—another vice.

Here we go—all the way back and nothing but curbs. In fact, I didn’t see a single car. Weird. Not quite Chariots of Fire. No surf and sand or Vangelis.

I slipped in quietly. Jerry had already gone to bed. I undressed and did the same. It felt good to get horizontal, but it didn’t last. I was restless again, wondering if I was going to be forty before I had kids. Damn. Up and straight to the kitchen, I poured a fat burning couple-of-shots of brandy down my throat then went back to bed.

And there behind my eyes was a room—beautifully appointed: red velvet, dark wood, and cut crystal, glamorous and dimly lit by a single oil lamp and a gently burning log on the grate. Pictures hung on the walls, pen & ink drawings of animals—a hippopotamus, a giraffe, and an elephant, each dressed in proper morning attire: spats, elegantly-tipped walking sticks, top hats, and delicately-strung monocles over pinstriped waistcoats.

And before a large beveled mirror that hung over the mantle, stood a man. His back was to me, but the side of his face was warmly visible in the mirror, his slender sideburns and moustache—maybe a goatee, thick, wavy blond hair, not shoulder length, a few teasing strands that curved at the side of his sculpted jaw line. He stood tall and slender and wore a loose white blouse ala Percy Shelley and trousers smooth and slim. He listened to another, but with consternation.

Punch! Hah!” barked the other. “I do not as a rule subject myself to such prejudicial and puritanical forms of journalism.”

“Then, Colin, you go against the rising tide.”

“Do I?”

“I believe so.”

Colin came hurriedly into view—a man of medium height and slight frame. He was handsome, a younger man with fine sandy hair. He paced about blustering.

“How can you, Sir, when so many of us with particular tastes are born to aristocracy? We have always had a great deal of influence in all things artistic and literary, contributing in many ways, not the least of which, monetarily.

“We are the most beautiful people in London. Do you deny it, Sir?—the best-educated, the most well-dressed. We look for the beauty that exists and extol its virtue. For a gentleman and a patron of the arts, sensual viciousness is of no consequence.”

“But it is the uneducated and unenlightened who keep the presses rolling, Colin. Whether they secretly agree with artistic opinion and its nonchalance concerning peculiar tendencies or the use of the poetry and literature of the day to fuel the fire of their backward opinions, matters not to the editors and publishers of these papers and books, but only so far as sales are concerned. They walk a very fine line between morality and the money they earn.”

“Sir, they have always walked such a line.”

“Yes, but since ’95 that line has been reduced to a hair’s breadth. It is worn and frayed, and when the subject is pushed, revenues and backward opinions will take precedence.”

“Please,” Colin took a sensuous breath then fairly cooed as he undid his shirt. “Can we not refrain from any more of these … utterly fatiguing discussions?”

The man said nothing, but only watched as Colin slowly approached him, the younger man’s eyes alive with new light as he seductively opened his shirt.

I woke with a fit, completely out of breath. And what was more, a hard-on. Christ! What next? I finished the job. What else was I going to do?—before a wad of tissues into the trash … and another cold lump of brandy.



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