A Shadow's Need of LightA Story by Lina Rivera
Devon is an out of work actor who finds solace in his apartment and insular world.
A Shadow’s Need of Light
He wears a pair of ripped jeans, a gray shirt - gray from dirt - an appropriately holey shirt, sneakers with the tops ripped off so that his dirty toes are exposed, a headband with something indecipherable written in Chinese characters, and a sign stapled to his shirt that says Jesus Loves You. He talks to God.
Devon loves to watch him and listen to him. Sometimes he has important things to say and sometimes he’s being delusional - none of this matters to Devon. He has meaning. In fact, Devon would argue that he was the only person in the lifeless, escape induced, surreal, fake, real, all for profit, soulless, me me me, can’t breathe, choking on my own ego, someone love me please, city of Los Angeles that had meaning.
Today he was telling God that he was really the one in charge, that God needed to step aside and let him do his job since He was screwing everything up. God answered him and the man shook his head and argued his point further. Devon wondered if he could see Him too or if he just heard the voice. In his head, Devon thought God sounded like James Earl Jones.
The bus pulled up and Devon mentally said good-bye to the man as he waited patiently for the pack of people to get off. Allowing the rush to the open bus door to subside, he waited until most everyone was on before stepping onto the bus and paying the fare. Unfortunately this meant he had to stand on his ride all the way down Sunset Boulevard.
A car. That was the first thing he was going to buy if he landed this role. He was twenty-six and starting to give up. He’d get an audition, they’d like him, they wouldn’t call him back. It was no longer a habit. It was now his lifestyle. Sixteen blocks and an hour later, Devon got off the bus and walked to the two story white building that had beckoned him over the phone. He had to get this role.
After an awkward stumbling of names and a lame explanation of the role, he was pouring his heart out to the casting lady and the producer and he was doing a damn good job. She liked him. The producer liked him. At that moment he wasn’t Devon, college graduate, acting hopeful, dreamer, composer of thoughts, reluctant writer, Chase. He was Andy, star soccer player for England, womanizer, drunk, exciting, dined with the Tories and drank with Labor, Beckand. He had the physique for the part. Tall, thin, graceful - wait, were soccer players graceful? Devon prayed they were.
The casting lady said he was excellent, the producer said it was a beautiful audition. Even if soccer players by some miracle were graceful, Devon knew they were never beautiful. He stepped back out into the cloudless blue California sky with the sun beaming harshly off the white building. Horns honked, helicopters rumbled overhead, sirensbuzzed annoyingly in traffic as the cars refused to pull over and let them through and Devon needed to be rid of all the noise by the most expeditious means possible. He walked a few blocks to the Mondrian and got a cab back to his apartment. Gone in a matter of minutes was the money he had gotten from his last temp assignment, and well worth it for the comfort of quickly escaping back into the great indoors.
Devon had two best friends, or at least as best friends as you can find in LA. They were both in the biz. Which biz was a question even Devon wasn’t willing to explore. Steve was a tall blonde who worked in the animation department over at Warner and had all the girls in the office eating out of the palm of his hand. Devon met Steve in college in a set design class. He had been required to take it as a theater major and Steve, an art major, took it as an easy A to boost up his GPA. They were paired together for their first project, then became roommates the following year, then ended up being each other’s support system when they graduated. Devon wasn’t even sure if he liked Steve all that much.
Javier was also tall, but with curly brown hair that was cropped nicely around his head. He had been a child actor and then lost his appeal when puberty set in. Javier would explain that there was a real lull in teen movies in his pubescent years but Devon thought it had more to do with Javier’s drug use and drinking that had gotten him thrown into rehab at the age of twelve. Devon met him at an audition and Javier had offered Devon a smoke while they waited. Devon remembered the script because it was really good and he had desperately wanted the part. The story had been a mystery revolving around the death of a college girl. There were two men who were being investigated as suspects. The first, her boyfriend, a med student, who had been cheating on her with her mother and the second, her best friend who she had been cheating on her boyfriend with. Devon was auditioning for the part of the best friend. Javier - the boyfriend.
They had ended up reading together in front of the director. It was the dramatic scene where the two men confront each other and begin a game of accusations as the very astute detective looks on. Devon was excited about the part and really played into the tension and excitement. It was exactly the kind of drama that he felt was missing from his life and he appreciated being lost in a complicated world. Devon felt differently about that kind of drama a year later when Javier cheated on his girlfriend with her mother and then found the girlfriend in bed with Steve. She and Steve had been best friends for years.
Javier tended to drop by whimsically which annoyed Devon when he wanted nothing more than to be left alone to enjoy the comfort of his apartment. He had spent a lot of days in Ikea picking out the perfect furniture to give it the eclectic look that he felt his life should exemplify. Unfortunately his life fell short, but the furniture looked great. Javier was complaining about a part that had almost been his but the director had decided he wanted a more recognizable actor instead. Devon just nodded in understanding and tried to give him words of encouragement as Javier paced back and forth in the living room twirling a pen in his hand. He had told Devon when they were first getting to know each other that his chain smoking was attributed directly to rehab. Devon told him that he didn’t care as long as he never smoked in his apartment - hence the twirling pen.
Javier felt suffocated and went to the window to open the shades. Devon quickly got up and closed them and Javier looked at him curiously and then in understanding. Devon liked his apartment as an enclave from that mess out there. He had already been out and he didn’t want to deal with it anymore. His apartment had a lot of books, and a lot of notebooks and journals, and odd pieces of décor, like a vase in an abstract sun shape and a ceramic sculpture that resembled an amoeba…or a sponge…sometimes he thought it looked like caramel that was pressed and carved into an inorganic form. He really liked it.
Something about his apartment was safe, lacking of drama, simple, peaceful. Javier said he was bored and that they should go do “something”. The elusive “something” that the three of them always felt they should be doing but weren’t even sure what it was. Steve liked to go to bars and Javier liked to clubbing and Devon liked to go to the movies and since they could never agree on what to do they usually did nothing at all. Not that Steve ever went out with Javier and Devon, and Javier wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with Steve and Devon. Javier and Steve had an unspoken schedule as to when they could monopolize Devon’s time. Right now it was all Javier.
They ordered in from a little Mexican dive down the street and when their food had arrived sat in front of the television and commented on the day’s music video events. That led to the inevitable dream talking of starting their own production company, making videos and casting themselves in them. Javier said he could be one of the backup dancers and that Devon could be the leading guy in all the videos. Devon nodded and laughed and knew that unless Steven Spielberg himself fell from heaven into their laps with the script to end all scripts, any ideas that required financial backing would never be realized. The only one of them that had any money was Steve. Javier’s money disappeared coincidentally around the time his father went missing. It happened when he turned eighteen and thought that all the money he had made in his younger years would be in a bank account waiting for him. Javier doesn’t care much about talking to his dad ever again, but he still has an undying hope that the money will miraculously turn up.
Javier made Devon think about how lucky he was. Though sometimes he made him think he was insane for sticking to the dream of acting. Devon’s parents were still married, living in Michigan, the perfect 2.5 kids, white picket fence, nosy neighbors, apple pie existence that Devon found critically mundane. So much so that he packed up after high school and road tripped it with his dad across the great outdoors of the U.S. the whole time thinking of Kerouac and knowing that it was those kinds of experiences that would stay with him forever.
After they ate, Javier went outside for a smoke and Devon breathed easy and enjoyed the loneliness. His air conditioner fluttered off, his refrigerator hummed a vibrating melody and the clock on the living room lightly ticked the seconds away. He turned his attention back to the TV and enjoyed living vicariously.
It’s turning into dusk and Devon loves this time of day best. It’s the most notable transition of his day and he feels as if everything starts to take their natural progression into his favorite nocturnal event - sleeping. He loves the play of lights from the television against his dark walls full of movie posters - Star Wars, Reservoir Dogs, Swingers, Moulin Rouge, Trainspotting - what he wouldn’t give for a break, for that one role that could put him onto a poster in someone’s haven.
He turns the TV off and walks to his room turning on the small lamp that helps to illuminate his room for practical reasons while still keeping it comfortably dark. He lies down and stares at the walls and starts to make out patterns caused by the shadows of the objects in his room. He sees a ramp, and then a valley, and then Guyana, and then the head of a hammerhead shark and then he has an epiphany. He is a shadow. He can transform himself into anything at any given time as long as there was a light on him. He didn’t exist unless there was a light on him. He needed a light.
Days had passed and sure enough he had not heard back about the possibility of being a star soccer player. He knew it would happen but he still felt disappointed, rejected, not good enough, a failure. Maybe he needed to work out more, maybe his body wasn’t athletic enough, maybe he looked too much like the starving actor that he was, maybe he looked too desperate, maybe - a lot of things.
A hot, new young actor was on Leno and all Devon could think was that he was older than Leno’s guest. He had passed that prime, young, age one needed to be to get the calls. Javier was at that age, but he had a history, a reputation that kept him down. Even though he was only in his late twenties, Devon felt old, like a has-been, used up and thrown away without a second thought or glance. He focused his invidious gaze on the young actor and studied him, tried to figure out what he was doing wrong just by watching his mannerisms, the way he interacted with Jay, the way he confidently crossed his legs as he told a story about his childhood.
Devon changed the channel when he realized he was obsessing, and as an indie movie flickered before his eyes he realized that he definitely needed to do something different. Something drastic was being called for. Something was pulling at him commanding him to take a risk, or not care as much, or care more than he did. Something…. But that something wanted him to leave his home and he realized he wasn’t quite ready for something just yet.
Steve insisted that Saturdays should not be wasted, and it was a beautiful day, and Malibu was calling their names. He said that Devon could use a tan and he was right, but it didn’t motivate him to get off his couch. Steve got a call on his cell that luckily distracted him enough for Devon to get lost in the A&E Biography he was watching.
Today seemed to Devon like the perfect day to watch other people on television, to study them further and learn what it was he was doing wrong. Steve got off his cell and looked through Devon’s fridge before sitting beside him on the couch. He told him he should at least take him to lunch but Devon shook his head and said that he was going to order something a little later. Steve is the kind of guy that doesn’t understand Devon. He never has and Devon has often wondered why they have remained friends.
Steve mentioned lunch and the beach again and Devon started to feel guilty and when he started to feel guilty he started to make excuses - he had to do laundry, he had to find some acting classes, he had to run some errands, he had to find his bills, he had to go through his bills, he had to throw away stuff he doesn’t need, he had to call the temp agency and see if they could find something for him, he had to call his parents, he had to watch a special show on TV. Steve just stared at Devon with a smile as he listened to him limn his daily existence and then Steve told Devon something that made Devon shut up and stare at Steve with wide eyes. Steve said he understood.
Devon stared at Steve waiting for him to say more but after a moment of silence turned his attention back to the television. But Steve had made his proclamation and now Devon listened to him as he talked about his fear of complacency. Steve said that his life didn’t make sense but he knew that he couldn’t fall into the trap - into Devon’s trap. Devon had never known Steve to be anything like him, but Steve was confessing all kinds of things. He would never stay at home like Devon because he’d feel like he was wasting his life away, there was much to explore and he was going to make sure he explored it, there were so many fascinating people to meet and that by meeting them his life advanced. Then he looked at Devon and told him that he refused to let his life remain stagnate.
Devon understood what he was saying and didn’t bother to hide the hurt look on his face. He would have been angry if he hadn’t been so resigned to his current situation. Devon knew Steve was right but he didn’t think friends should be so blunt. He was sensitive and it was a sensitive topic. Javier was never that blunt. But Devon’s intuition kicked in and he brought his knees up to his chest and laid his head on them looking at Steve with more curiosity. There had to be a catch. Why was Steve opening up to him like this?
The answer came in a swift sentence, a distracted look at the television, a quick side glance to see Devon’s reaction or thought processes and a final sigh as he faced Devon again. Devon waited for further explanation and Steve slowly gave it to him - how he wished he could just stay home and get lost and not have to worry about the front he put up and the reputation he had made for himself. He had to make sure to always be out there because he didn’t want to be forgotten and pushed to the curb, but if he could…if he could somehow keep the artificial love that he felt from the women he met and the fair-weather friends he made, while staying at home and not having to deal with the jealousies and the lies and the hurt emotions and the dramas of people’s day to day lives and the fact that he cheats and the fact that everyone else does too and the climbing the ladder bullshit that pays for his nice Westwood apartment and Mercedes Benz, that he would do it in a second. He wouldn’t have to think twice.
Devon listened to Steve and nodded as he understood. He had wanted the drama and after tasting it decided he liked his simple life better. Then why was it that he so desperately wanted the drama again? They wanted what each other had but both defended their current situation. Excuses. It was all a bunch of excuses. But somehow Devon felt that Steve had the better idea - that Steve’s way of doing things was the way things were supposed to be done. Life wasn’t supposed to be stagnate and complacent. Was it?
Devon looked at Steve and thought about how if Devon was a shadow then Steve was definitely a light. A light that wanted to be a shadow - not just a silhouette, an ersatz of a more important being, a concept - but a full on shadow, to be bent and molded by light. Devon then realized that Steve didn’t know his true power, his true talent, his ability to influence others, his ability to influence Devon.
Javier can’t believe that Devon is going clubbing with him. He feels that if he blinks or says or does the wrong thing that Devon will change his mind and dash his hopes, so he stays out of the way as Devon tries to find the right thing to wear and throws some gel into his hair and then sighs in defeat and sits on the couch thinking this is all a bad idea. Devon’s stomach is in knots and he feels like he has to vomit, or breathe, or do anything but leave the apartment and go clubbing with Javier. But he’s dressed. He’s ready to go and Javier looks ecstatic and he hasn’t seen Javier look like that in a very long time.
Javier drives and Devon feels more anxious as the Viper Room comes into view. It’s Javier’s favorite night as he parks and tells Devon that the deejay on Saturdays plays the best techno, garage, drum ’n’ bass, this side of the hemisphere. Devon’s nerves calm a little as they get in with no problem. Javier knows everybody and everybody knows him and immediately drinks are put into their hands and girls whisper things into Javier’s ear and he leads them to dance with him and Devon panics because he’s left alone with a drink in his hand and has no clue what to do next. He sees a dark corner and heads straight to it knowing that dark corners are his friends. He sits on a bench and watches as the lights on the dance floor create many shadows and all of those shadows are moving and transforming quickly, vibrantly, without any thought. They are just being made as the seconds pass and Devon looks around him to see that in his dark corner the shadows are hidden, not being allowed to breathe in their element. Shadows need lights.
But he can’t. He can’t just bring himself to go to the dance floor, especially not alone. He realizes that it was all a mistake and that he shouldn’t be there and he needs fresh air, and he needs to feel important, and he needs to know that there is a reason for his existence, and a reason to be in the world, and a reason to live and love and play and cheat and lie and drama, drama, drama! He knows that he’s more than he allows himself to be, but at that moment he feels too insignificant, too unloved, too depressed.
He gets up and begins towards the exit when he feels his hand in another. Javier is pulling him to the dance floor and with a swift look and a shake of his hips has commanded Devon to start dancing. Devon is clueless but then one of Javier’s girls gets in front of Devon and starts dancing with him and he realizes that he once knew how to dance but at that particular moment every scintilla of knowledge regarding dancing has escaped him. He realizes that the situation is beyond him and Javier is urging him to play along and Devon wants to go home but the girl is really nice and really cute and seems to be understanding and drags him to the bar instead so that they can get another drink.
She models and acts and just ended a long-term relationship with a married producer. She’s been in some movie of the weeks and has two auditions in the upcoming week for pilots. She had a small recurring role in that one hospital drama and Devon immediately remembers the episodes and told her she did a great job. She stares at him smiling for a bit before shaking her head and taking a drink of her gin. He wonders what she’s smiling at but she talks more about how she’s waiting for the elusive make it or break it part and that she’s tired of LA and wants to move to New Mexico and find herself. Devon nods and is polite and doesn’t want to like her because he can sense the drama oozing off of her.
Javier comes over to the bar to get more beer and she excuses herself and Javier asks Devon how things are going referring to the girl and Devon just shrugs and drinks some more of his rum and coke. He didn’t really like drinking at all. Javier feels it necessary to share more details about the girl and the producer and how he knew her from parties and that aside from her coke habit and bad taste in sugar daddies she was a really nice girl. Devon told Javier he wanted to go home.
Devon could count the amount of people who had his home phone number on both of his hands. Everyone else he gave his cell phone number to, but his home phone was just for his friends and family. He was going to kill Javier. She wanted to meet up with him - have lunch. In LA, having lunch was like breathing. He gave her a plethora of excuses and she said she understood and that maybe they could get together some other time. He thought that was a good idea and then hung up.
His agent called him soon after on his cell phone to inform him that he had an audition Monday morning for a Home Depot commercial - yeah, because he totally looked like a do-it-yourself kind of guy - and that he would fax over the sides. Then Steve dropped by asking him to go to the beach again and Devon flopped down on his couch and wished the day away.
Steve sat beside him and asked him what was wrong and Devon didn’t know how to explain to Steve, of all people, that he was having issues with the promising start of his morning. He feebly attempted an explanation - something about how one should never get their hopes up because it makes failure that much harder, a diatribe about how auspicious mornings lead to disappointing tomorrows, and somehow he ended it with a random blurb about how Javier fell off the wagon. Steve made a remark about how Javier hasn’t been on the wagon for quite some time and that he just hid it well.
Steve then grabbed Devon’s cell and handed it to him. Devon looked at him with annoyance but Steve insisted that even girls with coke habits deserve a chance. Devon started a rant about how low maintenance people should never hook up with high maintenance people and Steve shoved the phone into his hand. Devon was nervous as returned her call and tried to regulate his breathing. She picked up and he took a moment before asking her if she’d like to go to the beach. He ignored Steve’s satisfied smirk.
Devon found himself nervous as to what he’d wear, and he suddenly remembered that he never felt confident at the beach to begin with. Steve could see Devon’s nervousness and tried to calm him by telling him that he’d be there and that there was absolutely nothing to fear of an innocuous beach outing with a girl he had already met. Devon brought up the coke habit and the sugar daddy and Steve laughed and said she sounded a lot nicer and much more morally grounded than the last five girls he dated. Devon knew Steve was not joking.
They were on their way to the beach and Steve took a left and Devon saw his homeless friend standing on top of a crate once again delivering his proclamations. He was yelling that it was a matter of time before the big earthquake came and that everyone needed to make preparations. The man’s motto for the day was a simple one: Live. Devon smiled as Steve sped down Sunset Boulevard, and after winding through the hills, the ocean came into view.
As Devon walked on the sand he looked at his shadow caused by the harsh sun light that made LA bright and surreal and smoggy and clear and unique and mundane. His shadow was walking along the ocean and then it began transforming into a longer shadow, a submarine, a possibility. He looked up to see her standing there with a smile and a clear, plastic beach bag in her hands. Steve quickly introduced himself and Devon noticed that the shadows had transformed again into a Pegasus, then Steve said he was going to find them a spot, and the shadows that were left became a phoenix. She seemed a little nervous as well as she thanked him for inviting her and Devon just nodded and smiled which made her smile even wider.
He surreptitiously moved his hand to hers and then grabbed it causing her to startle a little. She looked down and relaxed at the sight of his hand holding hers and then allowed him to lead her to where Steve had thrown down the blanket. Steve said he was going to get wet and gave Devon a wink as he took off running towards the water. Devon looked at her and then, for some inexplicable reason, told her that he really loved shadows. He started talking about how he felt he was a shadow and that he was waiting for a light to give his shadow some sort of meaning, just as the homeless man had the actual light of God beaming down on him. Devon knew he must have sounded crazy but he had opened the floodgates and was now just allowing the thoughts to spill into her ears. He didn’t realize until that moment how important it had been for him to share his feelings, his thoughts, his innermost pent up emotions with someone. He stopped suddenly and looked at her and then she quickly leaned in and kissed him. He was lost. When she pulled away he looked at his shadow and saw it tremble. He looked at her smiling, concerned face and made the decision to give the lamp before him a chance - even with the inevitable drama that she brought with her.
The sun set, Steve went out, and Devon took her to his apartment and watched as she pointed and commented at his things. She turned around and blushed as she confessed that she too loved to read and write and watch TV, but that she felt that she couldn’t let her life be stagnate so she forced herself to become a part of the living, breathing, being that was LA. Devon walked up to her and put his hands on her arms and reassured her that she, like Steve, like Javier, like his actual life, could do whatever they wanted, but when they needed to get away they were more than welcomed to his apartment - where they could sit, think, relax, be, vegetate, stop, sleep, exist. Devon smiled as she hugged him and he hugged her back. Yes - they were the lights, he was the shadow, and together they could all live happily ever after.
© 2009 Lina Rivera
Added on July 23, 2009
Last Updated on July 23, 2009