A very short but somewhat important chapter to enjoy with your evening tea. I’d not ignore the music, either.
UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco 22 November 1963
Anders Sorensen was closing a belly after removing several gall stones when he was called over the intercom by an ER doc: “Doctor Sorensen, I’ve got a ten year old boy with a hot lower right quadrant, nausea and vomiting…”
“How long,” Sorensen said, not looking up while he finished suturing the woman’s belly.
“Mother advises onset was yesterday morning.”
“Yessir, positive. X-ray looks distended, as well.”
“Ten years old, you say?”
“Yes, Doctor. Ten.”
“Okay, get him prepped and send him up. Parent’s with him?”
“Yessir. You want me to talk to ‘em?”
“If you could, please. I’ve got another case I’ll need to push back a little.”
“Right. Thank you, Doctor Sorensen.”
Anders looked up over his glasses at the surgical resident working with him this morning, a bright middle-aged woman named Sheila Ackerman, and he sighed. “Feel like working another case this morning?”
“Yes, of course. Would you like me to complete the notes on this one while you scrub-in?”
“That’d be fine,” Anders said as he looked up at the clock on the wall. “Call closing complete at zero-nine-thirty, and let’s talk over a couple of ideas at lunch.”
“Okay, fine by me.”
“I’ll bring her out now,” the anesthetist said.
“Fine. And Brad? Can you help on this next one? He’s young, and you know how I feel about…”
“Yeah, Doc, sure thing. I’m clear ’til noon.”
Anders nodded as he taped the drain to the base of his incision. “Perfect. This should only take an hour.”
Sorensen and Ackerman headed down to the physician’s dining room after the hot appendix, but as he stepped into the dining room they were met with pulsating scenes of pure pandemonium and unfettered chaos. Everyone seemed to be gathered around the two television sets in the dining room and Sorensen pushed his way through the melee to see what was going on – until he…
…saw Walter Cronkite telling the world “that President Kennedy is dead.”
Sorensen backpedaled from the screen, his mind reeling, then he was falling through the grabbing hands of hooded klansmen in a torch filled night, the world, his world, closing in on Kennedy, then he saw Gestapo agents running down a cobbled lane near the wharves in Copenhagen and he knew they were coming for him, pushing through crowds to get at him, to arrest – him – a simple surgeon. He was soon fighting for his life, pushing and clawing his way through white-coated klansmen, trying to get free and make a run for his life as images of cattle cars overflowing with emaciated Jews rushed through his mind. Then came onrushing echoes of endless nightmares as he felt his body giving way to another human wave, another nameless, faceless wall of humanity being herded into some kind of concrete shower facility – and yes, there they were. Pipes overhead, painted pipes full of gas, and that, he told himself, is where my death will come from. Rusty drains in a concrete floor painted gray…so when I die…when all our bowels and bladders let go…that’s where they will make us disappear…
He felt a pinprick in his left arm and he started to cry as he fell into another night…
“I don’t want to die here,” Anders Sorensen cried to the men and women gathering around his broken mind. “Not like this, not now, not here!”
Across the dining room an Old Man in a black loden cape looked on in horror, a deep scowl etched across his face. No one saw him wipe away tears from a twitching eye; no one saw him leave the room. Indeed, no one remembered seeing him at all.
By September, Saul Rosenthal had settled on a little brown bungalow over in Potrero Hills. He purchased the house and put the title into a trust for young Harald, and even before Lloyd returned from his latest trip to Asia, Saul had moved Imogen and ‘Harry’ – as the boy liked to be called – from that sandy, flea-ridden artichoke farm back to the city. With that accomplished he set about finding a location for The Rosenthal Music Company’s first international location, and the Sorensens helped him find just the right spot.
An old warehouse located nearby had caught Anders eye more than once – and he said because the building reminded him of home, like the architects had styled the front facade in a way that would have seemed perfect for a fin de siècle Danish waterfront. Built just after the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the main warehouse building was adorned with stone neoclassical elements, while the main office was a fusion of styles, from classical Greek to linear Bauhaus cubism. Better still, the main office had two principle areas, and Saul could easily see that the largest would make a perfect showroom for the high end pianos he wanted to showcase here in the city.
He closed on the building in the middle of November, and had just begun to assemble the designers and contractors necessary to modify the building to suit his needs when he learned that President Kennedy had just been shot and killed. There wasn’t yet an active telephone line in the building, yet his first instinct on hearing the news had been to call Anders – because something about his friend’s behavior the past two weeks had been troubling him. He seemed preoccupied with the past, with what had happened to Europe’s Jews in Poland and all the other occupied territories, and he came back from services almost distraught – with guilt!
Guilt? But why? What had he done?
Anders had been among the very first to recognize that both he and Tilda were in mortal danger just after the Germans moved into Poland; in fact, he had departed within days. He had done his very best to convince Aaron Schwarzwald to get his family together and leave with them, but to no avail. And now Aaron was dead and gone, crushed by the Nazi war machine, while Imogen had barely made it out of Europe alive. But Anders and Tilly? They had been living not just in comparative safety – but instead they had weathered the storm in the lap of luxury. Indeed, their life in San Francisco was hardly comparable to the life they had known in Denmark. Food was more plentiful and all the other material comforts were better, often much more so, and Saul had watched Anders nervously prattling on and on about Europe as he bounced around his Little Dutch House, and suddenly everything seemed to make sense.
Because he had listened to Anders talk about Kennedy. About how Kennedy was The Future. How the Cuban Missile Crisis had rattled the foundations of the post-war world order, and how Kennedy had shepherded the world out of the icy claws of yet another holocaust, a nuclear holocaust. Kennedy alone recognized the illiberal tendencies still alive in the world, forces still working to undermine democracies all around the world, so was it really a stretch to think that Anders had begun to build up Kennedy – in his mind – as some kind of new Messiah?
If so, how would Anders react to the news of Kennedy’s murder?
He was alone in the building now that the last architect had left, so he was a little surprised to hear the front door open and close again. “Sorry…we are not yet open…” Saul had just started to say – when he turned and saw the Old Man walking into what would soon be the main showroom – and in that moment Saul grew very angry.
Until he saw the expression on the Old Man’s face, and the sorrow in his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Saul asked, innate compassion stirring him to act according to his nature.
“Grandfather,” the Old Man sobbed. “Something dreadful is happening…”
The incongruity of the Old Man’s words penetrated Rosenthal’s consciousness. “Something is wrong with your grandfather? Is that what you are telling me? But…he must be – how old? And I am sorry, but that can not be…”
“You…” the Old Man gasped, suddenly struggling to breathe. “You are…”
“I am what?” Saul cried. “Who am I to you?”
“You are my grandfather,” the Old Man gasped – crying now as he clutched his chest and fell to the floor.
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.