Out of the almost Seventeen hundred bars in LA., Rhea narrowed her search down to twenty-seven. Knowing that a fifty-something year old Mexican woman wouldn’t be mixing Twinkie-tinis at the Skybar or pulling drafts at Barney’s Beanery or keeping it neat at the Frolic Room eliminated close to a thousand. Adding in the geography of LA and transit times, that knocked out another six hundred.
Rhea started at eight at La Golondrina. It was Friday night. The popular place stayed open until eight-thirty. Weird. Especially for a tourist place but that’s the way it was. She knew Myrna probably wouldn’t be there but La Golondrina was on Olvera Street and walking Olvera was a good place to start – walking Olvera was also, for Rhea, a self-inflicted wound.
The trinkets and sweet treats sold at the brightly-colored wooden vendor booths hadn’t changed in twenty years, making it easy for Rhea to let the pain of her past memory there fuse with the goal of the present. Pain always focused Rhea, as did guilt. And the three-buck taquitos with green sauce at Cielito Lindo momentarily took the edge off. She bought two classic ones. She took them to a little green table and dug in. Heaven. Not wasting the moment and thinking ahead, she took out a little paper notepad she carried and a pencil and jotted down a few words: Young. Creamy, Hot Mouthful – about the creamy tang of the signature sauce that blanketed crispy curled tortillas and the promising guy who was dipping them into the fryer.
Downing the last bite, she walked across the brick path to the famed La Golondrina. The bar area was packed. The two bartenders were male. “Is Myrna on tonight?” Rhea asked one of them. “Who?” he replied. Rhea waved him off; knowing it was a long shot to ever expect to see a woman bartender working an old-school Mexican restaurant.
Next up, she crossed Alameda and went into Union Station. The deco Traxx restaurant had an old bartender who looked like Nosferatu. But they didn’t have a Myrna.
The third, fourth, fifth and sixth bars were scattered over a few blocks around downtown. All bartenders were men except for one transgender Russian woman. None had heard of a Myrna.
The seventh was a dark-red old-world bar in a classic Chinatown joint that featured Mu Shu pork, Won Ton soup and lots of plum sauce. Behind that small bar was a snake-skinned old dame named Madame Wu. Rhea asked her over a sidecar if she knew of another woman in town who poured named Myrna. Her dyed-black eyebrow barely raised. But it raised in recognition of the name Myrna. Ignoring Rhea, she moved down the bar to pour a shot of Chartreuse for a ninety-year old dancer. Rhea now had an answer. Myrna Saldano was real. And local.
It was last call. Rhea left three-fourths of her sidecar on the bar and left.
Once home, Rhea forced her mind away from bartenders and darkness and tried to finish her taquito review. She fished the notepad from her purse and jotted some more thoughts down. She liked using paper. She’d been using paper to take notes ever since she got her first notepad from Strickland when she was sixteen, a terrified kid looking to him for hope on the darkest night of her life.
“…write down anything you remember.” He’d told her as he wrote his phone number on the pad, “Anything at all, then call me. Anytime.”
She wished she could call him now and tell him how sorry she was for letting him down. But she couldn’t. She wrote. She had to make a lot of it up… “–a sinewy gaucho casually walking by bought me three taquitos with extra heat for five-twenty-five and he sprung for a Champurrado. In the back of his Camaro parked in a lot on Main, he turned me into a liar for every time I’ve ever said “no” to a man or a meal that could set me on fire..” She hated making it up. She wanted it real. She found a snack sized bag of Maui potato chips and turned on the tv. Not much was on her basic cable. OVC. News reruns. Old PBS shows. She settled on a Huell Howser re-run. He was visiting Porto’s Bakery. It was an entire show about cakes: Mango cheesecake. White chocolate raspberry mousse. Kiwi merengue torte. Grand Mariner with chocolate ganache. Lemon curd pound cake. Vanilla custard cake with pineapple filling… she should have turned it off but her mood was dark and so she watched and let her mind be pierced with thoughts of her sister.
A pledge break reeled her mind in. She turned the tv off and went outside to the courtyard. It was late. All the apartments were dark. She sat in a plastic chair by the pool. The only sound was the constant whisper of cars driving by outside.
A moving shadow startled her. A young coyote darted from behind a trash bin enclosure. It stopped when it saw her – stared her down, unafraid. Finally it skulked away and slipped out between the rails of the courtyard gate, heading up Laurel, toward the hills. A greeting came to it from somewhere in those hills, the sound of its entire pack howling. It died down. Rhea shivered. She looked at her phone. Three AM. When the quiet settles into the cracks of the night and the ghosts in the air kiss your skin.