There aren’t any fireflies in Los Angeles. Everyone knows that.

But I saw them that night at the café. And, okay, I might have been a bit, you know, fucked up, but I’m telling you, I saw them.

I think it had something to do with Lance Rey.

Okay, it had everything to do with Lance Rey.

I first met him at Bill’s Body Works, a car lover’s paradise down a dirty alley off Pico Boulevard.

My nephew Joey was the reason for the encounter.

Before all of this, I had a normal life. I had a decent job as a server in a fancy restaurant ($200 a night in tips), a great apartment over-looking the wealthy side of Rancho Park, and every year, I went on a two-week vacation to Mexico. Might not have been the height of excitement, but it suited me just fine.

And then I walked into Bill’s Body Works.

I’d worked late the night before and Jules had cruelly telephoned at 8AM, pleading with me to watch Joey, Jr. for just an hour. Really, just an hour, it was a promise.

“Please, Lana. Big Joe’s taking Ben and Sarah to soccer, so it’ll just be Joey. Piece of cake, right? He’ll be sweet.”

Oh, sure. She’d get an hour gyrating to a Jane Fonda workout with a bunch of sweaty women and I’d get to chase after Joey. I wasn’t sure which one sounded worse.

Behind the near-hysteria of Jules’s voice came the high-pitched screams of children, and Big Joe yelling “shut up.”

Just to get off the phone and escape the noise, I said I’d do it.

Now, with an hour to kill and Joey at my side, I wondered why I’d said yes, yet again, to my sister on a lazy Saturday morning when I could have been home in bed. To top it off, the bad feeling I’d had in my stomach when I woke up was getting worse. I prayed I wouldn’t throw up. Just in case, and not wanting to do it in full view of the street, I propelled Joey down the alley, yanking on his arm when he tried to jump in an oily puddle.

A Rottweiler barked behind a wire fence at the end of the alley, becoming ever more frantic as we neared, jumping up and down and clawing the fence.

“Don’t touch, just say hello,” I said, wondering why I even bothered, since Joey never listened to a word I said.

Joey ran in front of the fence, making commando noises at the dog chasing after him. Sure enough, he was inching closer, thinking I wouldn’t notice.

I pulled him back. He screamed and kicked me in the shin.

“Shit!” I yelped.

“Hey, son, don’t treat your mom like that,” called a lazy voice.

Startled, I turned to see a man sitting on a beach chair in the dark entrance of the garage. He got up now and ambled over, holding a beer can with one hand and scratching at his belly through his greasy overalls with the other. “And maybe don’t use that kinda language back at your boy, if you know what I mean,” he added with an amiable wink.

“He’s not my…” I started, but he cut me off, already on to his next topic.

“And don’t you worry. Killer wouldn’t hurt a fly. Not unless you was a burglar or something bad.”

He gave me a slow look up and down. “And I can tell you ain’t that. Am I right?”

I rolled my eyes. “Come on, Joey.”

Joey resisted. “That your dog?” he asked.

The man nodded and scratched his stomach some more. He took a swig of beer and belched loudly, eyes widening with mock surprise. “Well, excuse me.”

Joey laughed and imitated the belch.

Never. Having. Kids. That had always been my mantra. And now, here I was.

Mingled with these noises came a “cock-o-doodle-do!”

I raised an eyebrow. “You have a rooster back there?”

“Sure do. Chickens, too.” He reached down and tousled Joey’s hair. “Wanna see?”

Joey hooted with pleasure and I shrugged. If it would keep Joey’s interest, I’d do it. That’s how desperate I was.

Together, we followed the man into the dark interior of Bill’s Body Works, my hand firmly grasping Joey’s.

Skeleton cars littered the ground, insides torn out like body parts in a war zone. Joey oohed and ahhed, saying hi to the mechanics as if they were long-lost buddies. They said hello back and eyed me hungrily. I found myself looking back at the entrance, reassured that it wasn’t far away.

We reached the far side of the garage, where a cage stood on a table. Inside sat three fat hens.

“There they are,” said the man, swelling with pride. “Best investment I ever made. Rooster runs free out back. Keep the hens in here and let ‘em out every once in a while—wouldn’t want you to think I was mean or nothin’. Anyway, haven’t had to let the rooster at ‘em but once. They just keep layin’ them eggs. Can’t quite figure that one out, but there it is.”

He looked at me. “Wanna see the eggs?”

I didn’t, but Joey yelled a big “yes,” so I followed after them, through the door and down a narrow corridor. Along the way, we passed the open door to an office and I had a quick view of the back of a bald-headed man, leaning on a desk and handing a check to a woman seated on the other side. In that split second, the man turned and stared at me, the brilliance of his aqua eyes causing my own honey-colored ones to go wide with surprise, as if an automatic reaction had been triggered and I couldn’t stop it. A wave of heat passed over me and I felt faint. I gulped in air, almost retching from the smell of gasoline, wanting to spit it out but holding back.

Desperately, I steadied myself as I walked to the end of the corridor, where a dirt-smeared refrigerator stood. With a flourish, our guide, who I’d now dubbed the chicken man, opened the fridge door.

“Wow,” breathed Joey.

Inside were row after row of eggs, the delicate, pure white shells shining like enormous pearls in the surrounding grime. I blinked. I loved pearls. I would never look at them the same again

“That’s a lot of eggs,” I said, trying to orient myself back to reality.

Joey whooped and reached up. “I want one!”

The chicken man beamed. He reached into the fridge, selected an egg and held it out to Joey. “Careful, or it’ll crack. The yoke’s real yellow, almost red, not like those store-bought eggs.”

Joey reverently took the egg. “Thanks,” he said, so politely I was shocked.

With his egg carefully held in both his hands, Joey happily followed me out of Bill’s Body Works. The chicken man waved goodbye and sat back down in the beach chair.

Even the slightly rancid air of the alley smelled better than the stuffy garage and I gulped gratefully, feeling somewhat better.

“Got the grand tour, did you?”

I turned to see that the bald man had followed us out. I judged him to be in his early fifties, powerfully built and exuding robust health and self-confidence. His face, with its high, broad cheekbones, wide, slightly-flattened nose, and sensuous mouth gave him the look of a Slav. He wore a form-fitting black T-shirt and his arms and neck were covered in intricate tattoos. Russian mafia, I wondered. Something sinister.

A blackness formed at the corner of my eyes. Was I going to pass out? I couldn’t do that. I closed my eyes and breathed slowly in and out, relieved when I opened my eyes again and my vision had cleared. The man was staring at me thoughtfully.

“See my egg?” said Joey, carefully holding it up.

I breathed in more deeply, grateful Joey had taken the attention away from me.

“And very nice, it is,” said the man, smiling at Joey. Relentlessly, he turned those aqua eyes back on me. “You’re not well?”

“I’m fine,” I snapped back. Why would he say that?

Crossing his arms, he tapped thoughtfully on his cheek a couple of times before nodding, as if remembering something. “Pearls,” he said. “You wore pearls.”

“Excuse me?”

“The night I saw you. You were wearing pearls. Very nice.”

I shook my head, nausea threatening to overcome me. “I’m sorry, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

He inclined his head, politely, “Perhaps I am mistaken.”

“Come on, Joey,” I said.

Joey and I made it out of the alley at last. We walked into the gym and I handed Joey over to Jules. She looked radiant and relaxed—and somehow even slimmer—in her purple and pink leotard and leggings. Completely unlike the harassed mother who’d entered the class just one hour previously. As always, I revised my previous opinion and thought maybe I might try the class myself. The resolve never lasted.

Joey reached out to hug me goodbye. As his arms wrapped around me, he squeezed a little too hard on the egg in his hand and it cracked. The insides spilled down my thigh and onto the ground in a slimy stream that, sure enough, was more red than yellow. Joey burst into tears.

“What the…?” Jules cried.

I couldn’t answer. Bile rose from my stomach. I really was going to throw up.

“I’ll call and explain. I have to go.”

I ran back to the alley entrance and threw up against the wall, stomach heaving painfully. I took a couple of tissues from my purse and wiped my mouth and leg. Leaning against the wall, I tried to steady my breathing.

I thought of the eggs. So many of them, dead and in rows. No one could possibly eat all those eggs. What would happen to them? They were some kind of trophy for the chicken man and it creeped me out to think of it. And those chickens, kept in that tiny cage.

I imagined the rooster strutting free and then those chickens…it just wasn’t right.

My heart sank as I saw the chicken man exit the garage and wave as if we were old friends.

“I saw you talking to him,” he said, popping open a fresh beer, liquid spraying out.

“Who?” I said, feigning ignorance.

“Oh, you know,” he said. “We always work on his Bugatti. Classy car for a classy guy.”

I stared blankly.

He shook his head, marveling at my ignorance. “Sweets, you can go home and tell your boyfriend…” He grinned lasciviously. “You got a boyfriend?”

I didn’t answer and he laughed.

“Anyhow, you can tell your friends you just had a conversation with Lance Rey, in the flesh. You know, the guy who wrote Moon Wars.”

He reached a hairy arm towards me, turning it to reveal a firefly tattoo. “Lookie there.”

I drew away, mumbling something incoherent and searching for my keys in my handbag. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing how shocked I was to find out I had just met Lance Rey. I wasn’t the star-struck type, but Lance Rey was in a class all his own. He had millions of obsessive fans, just like the chicken man. And lots of people, even some of my friends, had firefly tattoos. In Lance Rey’s book, a mutated firefly was implanted inside select people’s brains, and that’s how they traveled from one world to another.

The chicken man snorted and shook his head in disbelief at my lack of interest. “Sweets, you do know they’re making a movie of Moon Wars. That, I gotta see.”

“Yes,” I said. “I have to go.”

He nodded reluctantly. “Okay, then. Be safe out there,” he said, saluting me with his beer.

The rooster crowed. The dog barked up a storm.

“Hey, Killer,” the chicken man bellowed. “What we gonna do today?”

I made it to my car to find a parking ticket on the windshield. 50 bucks. I climbed in and leaned back with a sigh. I couldn’t stand much more of this.

It had been a mistake. A one-night stand.

Being a woman was so dangerous. Slipping up. Just one false move.

What were the odds?

Le Relais Basque.

It was just a café, for God’s sake. I’d been sitting there having a coffee. But then, how did I get in that back room, trance music, big screen flashing paintings. Michelangelo’s “God and Adam” from the Sistine Chapel. Da Vinci’s “Birth of Venus.” Bruegel’s “Fall of the Rebel Angels.” Creation and death. It was like the world had split in two. One moment, I was on one side of the wall in a composed setting. The next moment I was on the other side, jamming at that party.

I remember putting down my coffee cup and getting up to go to the bathroom. Next thing I knew, I was being handed a vodka and a little pink pill. It all seemed so natural. I took it without a second thought. After that, I was in the groove. I felt good. I looked good. Sinuous body, long, dark limbs, wild hair halfway down my back.

He came toward me like my dreams, putting his hands on my hips and we danced close. Words whispered in my ear, what were they? No matter. This is how it was for me. Sex with strangers. I’d done it more than once. And now, it was time to pay. Down the hall we went. Out a door and into a lane. Oh, the smell of sweet spring air, laced with rain, the sleepy trill of birds.

No, I would never do that. I would never go into a dark place with a stranger.

Yes, I would.

Fireflies. There had been fireflies.

There are no fireflies in Los Angeles. So that can’t be true.

We did it there. Air swirling with flashes of light until my entire body was ignited with heat.

Why couldn’t I remember him?

How did I get home?

Why did I do it?

It hadn’t occurred to me I’d get pregnant. A smarter girl would have rushed out and bought herself a morning-after pill. But the next day, it all seemed like a dream.

I hadn’t been on the pill because, well, I hadn’t had sex in…oh, I didn’t like to think of how long. Not since that last party more than a year ago and I didn’t like to think about that either. A bad habit of mine, not thinking about things that bothered me.

What made me throw away my reason?

Why, oh, why had I walked into that café? Down that hallway? With someone who was only a shadow in my mind?

My head fell onto the steering wheel and I groaned. I wasn’t strong enough, brave enough to have this baby. Conceived…where and by whom. I stared down at my stomach. What was inside of me? Girl? Boy? Alien creature? I shuddered. Why would I think that?

I thought of all those eggs in rows, maybe a hundred of them, and pounded my head on the dashboard. How I wished I’d never seen those eggs. I was sure they’d appear in my dreams at night. Dance before my eyes, grow, morph into something terrible.

I started up the engine, pulled out of the parking spot, and headed down Pico. I thought back over my encounter with the author.

You’re not well?

Lance Rey had said that to me. The most successful writer in the world. I’d read Moon Wars in high school. And then three more times. The hype over the book and now the coming movie was beyond belief.

I swerved and almost crashed. I gripped the steering wheel, reducing my speed to a crawl. Horns blared and I speeded up a bit.

I remembered something else. He’d said he’d seen me in pearls.

I drew in a sharp breath. It was true. He had seen me.

I’d been wearing my grandmother’s pearls that night at Le Relais Basque.

What had happened to me?

I parked in the driveway of my apartment building, under the hanging bougainvillea. I got out and leaned against the car and closed my eyes, steadying my breathing. When I opened them, aqua eyes stared back at me. I almost screamed. I felt his body all over again, how he had given me pleasure.

Pearls.

Pearl-white eggs all in a row.

And Lance Rey.

Fuck my life and all my reason. Was I carrying Lance Rey’s baby?

What were the odds?

I got back in my car and drove all the way across town to Hollywood. To Le Relais Basque. It was just past noon. Men in caftans sat outside drinking glasses of strong, sweet tea, smoking shisha and gossiping. Conversations stopped and they stared at me from under heavy brows as I passed through the doorway. Wind chimes sounded. Fans whirled overhead.

What was it about this place? Like I’d stepped into a hookah lounge in Marrakesh. Faded oriental carpets on a cement floor, intricate paintings of symbols and Arabic writing on the walls. I navigated my way through the crowded room, pushing past the tiny tables. There was a short hallway at the far side of the café, a door to a kitchen on one side, a bathroom on the other. At the end, a steep, narrow staircase led to a second floor. I knew that was where Adonai, the owner of the café, had her apartment. I looked left and right, up and down. WTF. Where was the party room? The door leading to the lane?

There was no room and there was no door.

I turned to leave and almost collided with a waitress coming out of the kitchen, carrying a tray laden with baba ganoush, pieta bread, and more glasses of tea.

“Fuck!” she cried, righting her tray.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.

She gave me a hostile look. She was chewing gum and had heavy black eyeliner, dead white skin, and red lips. She was pretty enough, like an angry little pixie, short black hair, short black skirt, white cotton shirt, big black boots.

Before she could escape, I said, “Hey, isn’t there a door to a lane back here.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What’s your problem?” she said.

“I don’t have a problem, I…”

“Then get the fuck out of my way,” she said.

I hadn’t been in her way, but the point wasn’t worth arguing. She moved forward and I followed after her.

I walked back through the café and out the front door. The sun was higher in the sky now and the cool morning breeze was gone. I searched this way and that. There wasn’t a way around the building. Whatever was back there, I couldn’t reach it.

I returned to my car and drove home.

Forget all this craziness. At least for the moment, I had no answers. The only thing I knew for sure was I was pregnant. I might not remember the details, but the test had confirmed the fact. And if that wasn’t enough, my doctor had concurred.

Back home, I threw up in the toilet. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I looked the same as I had yesterday.

But everything was different.

I imagined trying to explain to my sister the circumstances under which I’d become impregnated. I’d just have to lie.

I looked down at my belly. Touched it lightly. Then pressed my hands down firmly.

Would I have this this baby, conceived in such a terrifying and somehow magical way? I thought of how the egg fertilized in my womb would grow and become my very own child and I’d love her and she would consume my life, for better or for worse, ‘til death. In that moment, inexplicably, I knew it was a she. And I knew who the father was. Knew inside the deepest part of myself. Somehow, Rey had led me down a secret lane, to a secret place where strange and wonderful things had happened. And I had loved it. I would do it again. And again. Just for that transcendent sex.

How could I turn my back on all of this and go on another yearly vacation to Cabo?

I jumped when the phone rang.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“You’ve been doing some digging.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You will come to me.”

“Okay.”

“Tonight at dusk, a car will pick you up. No need to take anything. All will be provided.”

The phone went dead. I stared at it.

A light flickered in a dark corner of the living room. I blinked and it was gone.

A firefly’s tail contains two chemicals, luciferase and luciferin, used by scientists to detect life in outer space. Fireflies gather at doors. Certain kinds of doors, attracted to what lies beyond. They can be used to navigate paths to other worlds.

But there weren’t any fireflies in Los Angeles.

Of that, I was…

No longer sure.

***

For all installments from Firefly Lane, click here.