Mona pulled the faded sheet over the window. She’d come to the desert fifteen years before to activate her consciousness and now she found herself living in a condemned trailer on the edge of tourist trap that sold alien brand beef jerky and dried scorpions. Who had lived in the trailer before she began squatting there? A single coffee cup still hung on a hook in the tiny kitchen. The cup boasted stylized flowers stamped around the rim. Mona wished she had someone to have coffee with.
Mona wondered what had happened to those fellow pilgrims who had made the journey with her so many years ago. Henry had become a charismatic cult figure somewhere in Apple Valley. What started as a mail-order religion had become an actual compound. Mona recalled the basic tenets of Henry’s religion involved love and hard farm labor. She’d seen the barefoot adherents selling seed packets on street corners in Hesperia.
What about Sharon? Sharon seemed to be the most serious of the spiritual seekers Mona had met. They’d both quit their jobs in Sherman Oaks to find wisdom in the arid wastes. Sharon believed in everything, aliens, dowsing, Catholic saints, the psychic power of animals, Kabbala and angels.
Mona felt dizzy when she contemplated such a baroque spiritual universe. She wondered how Sharon could keep it all straight. Mona sought a philosophy more like the desert itself, something that could be streamlined like the rocks and stars and mountains. She longed for a severe Zen-like beauty . But she’d had some run-ins with some Buddhists in the Valley that left her feeling that Zen wasn’t a whole lot of fun. Was there any spiritual discipline that allowed for a few laughs on the path to enlightenment?
And so Mona’s spiritual trek had foundered. Unsure of what tradition to follow, she concentrated on work, first waitressing at a cafe and then cleaning rooms at a motel that looked abandoned. In some ways these jobs seemed like the spiritual work she’d been seeking more than her days of meditation in the Integratron. The repetition of making beds, replacing towels and cleaning sinks held some inherent honesty and discipline that appealed to her. But the cafe and the hotel eventually went under and Mona found herself a homeless wanderer.
She picked up a few hours selling souvenirs in the alien jerky shop. She washed in a narrow bathroom at the back of the store. Rick, the owner, had offered her the old trailer in his backyard. “I’ll even throw in a few blankets,” Rick added.
At night Mona lay on the floor looking at the stars through the large cracked window. Her eyes traced the hard edges of the constellations. Mona tried to find the cosmic lesson in selling alien jerky. She closed her eyes and saw the faces of the tourists that drifted around the shop. They were all seeking something too. A momentary distraction. A diversion in a landscape that forced them to confront themselves. Mona saw herself as one of them.
Maybe tomorrow she’d ring up some rock candy and incense for someone on his way to Vegas or points beyond. She might ask if they had room for one more in their car. She could find work in the city, or she might have a conversation with the driver that would profoundly shift her feelings toward God. As the stranger spoke, God would finally take on the contours of a physical being. God might finally have a face.
From her daily station at the cash register, Mona could see in the pupil-less ebony eyes of the alien mascot all the allures of the vast unknown. The mascot stood about five feet high. In his green hands he held a candy dish offering cheap lollipops to the patrons. Sometimes when she refilled the dish, Mona caught a vision of herself reflected in his black glass orbs. And she saw herself as a cosmic visitor might, with a degree of detachment and curiosity, but tenderness too for her own strange nakedness which stood out against the desert sun and melted into the desert dark.