Lonesome Pilgrims By Andres Rovira If one were to ask Jose Torres what he did for a living, he would say he was an entrepreneur. Once at the top of his game, owning endless Mexican restaurants in LA, dubbed the King of Mexican Food by The LA Times. Jose sold these restaurants and spent all of the profit on meaningless toys. Now he’s filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy and living in the Seaside Inn Motel. His two daughters are playing with their smart phones during the separation trial, as he searches for their smiles from across the courtroom. Jose has big plans for the future though, with his kitchen themed restaurant idea, designed to capture that kitchen table feel, where you can toast your own bread beside a TV set playing Leave it to Beaver re-runs and a window facing a paper mache backdrop of a front yard and suburbia beyond. A brilliant idea, his best one yet and if that doesn’t work out, there is always the ice cream-filled fortune cookie covered in chocolate idea that he could patent. Yes, Jose will be okay, he just needs to set his mind to it like someone told him in ancient history, possibly his father, possibly a character in a movie. But he doesn’t need to start now, no, he could wait a while before pitching the idea, maybe take some more time off because he was once the King of Mexican food and the King needs some time to decompress. Besides, one cannot rush art. Georgina Mills is originally from Pasadena but her mom wanted her to apply to med school. Now she’s known as George and you can find her sleeping on a truck in Venice Beach. Somewhere along the way, she lost her shoes and never bothered to find them. Barefoot and liberated, George sells stencil art for the passerby tourists and beach dwellers and makes occasional sand sculptors of mermaids and other sea creatures. For a few extra bucks, George holds a sign outside a medical marijuana clinic, advertising their services and she usually spends that money on her weekly marijuana bags. George spends a lot of time with freestylers, cheering them on in their rap circles as they mutter incoherent rhymes that only rhyme because they couldn’t find a better word to rhyme with, but George never understands what they say anyway. George is a lesbian these days, sleeping with Charlotte on the bed of her truck under a star-less sky. Charlotte is another artist, who dabbles in pastels and turned George’s hair into corn rose but Charlotte isn’t the only woman George is sleeping with. At night when George is laying in the sand with some nameless woman, she finds herself crying uncontrollably, startling her sex partner, who asks with concern what is the matter, but George kicks her away and tells her to leave. One day, George’s mother finds her at the edge of the sand stenciling what appears to be a detailed clown fish and can’t bring herself to approach her daughter, only marvel at her talents and the sad expression on the clown fish’s narrow face and the way the pencil dances over the paper in an expert ease. She debates the approach, but instead goes back home and never sees George again. Forrest Silver is a six-figure movie producer in The Jungle. Everywhere Forrest goes, he is followed by a sea of sequins and pinstripes, beautiful women in cocktail dresses and suited men who talk to themselves with Blue Tooth earpieces. His table of 20 is always reserved in front of the band or on the balcony facing the thousands of glimmering LA lights, that remind him of the fireflies he used to chase with her in the old Idaho farm.
The women rub their feet on his crotch under the table. Forrest can easily have all of them and he does, simultaneously, and in the middle of the night he slips their naked sleeping bodies off him and smokes a cigarette on the balcony, thinking of the fireflies, thinking of her and wondering where she is. Forrest travels to Vegas on his private jet and the people he travels with indulge in cocaine, and Forrest joins them. Forrest often excuses himself from his masses for a bathroom break, where he locks himself in a stall and plays with his zippo lighter. He burns his flesh and fingernails, just to see what it is like to feel again. The feeling of pain is just how he remembered it. Forrest walks every red carpet there is in Hollywood and during every movie premiere he wonders what she would think of his films had she been in the theatre with him, holding his hand, moving her streak of hair away from her eyes like she always did. When his name appears in the credits, and his masses applaud their mentor, Forrest is paralyzed in his velvet chair, looking beyond the silver screen to a place devoid of celluloid, a place where fireflies are mistaken for constellations, a place where she shows him what a kiss feels like, a place he once called home. Darika Esmerian grew up in a small town in Armenia. Now the DJ at The Leopard Lounge refers to her as Eden as she struts out on the catwalk. Her English is poor but she knows how to say such phrases as “You want dance?” and “I can make you go crazy, baby,” and she says them with clarity. Darika is not the most attractive dancer at The Leopard; her thighs are overweight and her breasts are small and pointed, but her beauty can be found in her deep emerald eyes, eyes that are disregarded in the harsh red lighting. Guests shake their heads at her and look away when she offers them a dance. In the backroom, the other girls share outfits with each other but they never seem to share with Darika, or talk much to her anyway, so she keeps to herself most of the time. Sometimes Darika looks in the mirror and visualizes her breasts growing larger. She runs her finger along her thighs and pretends that she is a magician and with the flick of her magic finger, the fat is gone. With her earnings, Darika bought an anklet with a shiny frog on it. She always liked frogs and she wears it when she dances. On the catwalk she tries to copy the other girl’s movements but she is not as agile and strong as the others, so she does what she can with the pole and slowly unclothes herself. She looks down at her audience, nursing their drinks, politely slipping crumbled dollar bills onto the stage and she keeps hoping they notice her emerald eyes, but they don’t seem to be looking. Jose looks up at Darika and can’t help thinking, that is someone’s daughter up there and can’t imagine his own daughter reducing herself to such a low class profession. George smiles for Darika and pities her unenthusiastic dancing. This one is shy and for that, George throws her two dollars. In the VIP section, Forrest excuses himself from his masses and takes a seat at the catwalk. Forrest notices the frog around Darika’s ankle. She had one just like that. He likes this Eden girl. She has taste. Just for that, Forrest slips her a dollar. Darika finishes her dance and collects her four crumbled bills from the ground and puts them in her handbag as the DJ thanks Eden and ushers in the next dancer. In one fleeting instant, the four strangers share a sense of community, one they haven’t felt in a long time, each one’s loneliness the other one’s entire, and in the flutter of a firefly’s wings, the moment is lost.