Lots of problems with my so-called good eye the past week or so, with another procedure just done and another scheduled for next week, all this in what is beginning to feel more and more like a desperate attempt to save my eyesight. So anyway, looking at the screen now is like looking at a chalkboard through Vaseline, but I can still see text if enlarged to (really-really) large font sizes, so hey ho and away we go, riding the slippery slope all the way to the operating room one more time!
Anyway, that’s why the chapters are getting so short. Endless apologies!
Apple Music is great. Listening to music like this is kind of like one long trip down memory lane. Or maybe more like YouTube, so I follow a thought while constructing a part of the arc for this story – and inevitably one thought leads to another and pretty soon the music becomes something more or less like a series of guideposts in the night. You reach one then strike out for the next, pretty sure where you want to go but open to all the possibilities along the way. Does that even make sense?
So, right, one last thought before I let you go. I’m trying to lay out a fictional tale that in many respects is following the trail I cut through life. I’m trying, in some respects, to be true to memories (that are fading fast) of events that I’ve repurposed to fit this science fiction storyline, but taking a deep trip through your memories isn’t always a painless experience. You hit a memory sometimes that has more exposed raw nerves than you thought possible, even after so many decades – (but hey, that’s why I buried it in the first place, right?) so this trip is kind of arduous and not without risk. Writing about my own experiences climbing in Colorado and Switzerland left me shaking more than once, because not all memories are happy memories.
But I’ve discovered a really neat thing along the way, too. Memories are stored in Technicolor detail, and deep inside the memory warehouse there are guideposts everywhere you turn.
Music? Try the Pat Metheny Group’s album Offramp (1982), the first song: Barcarole. But don’t stop there…
Part I: When The Sky Falls
San Francisco California 24 December 1963
Tilda Sorensen fought through the feeling again, pushed it aside as best she could. Of suffocating under the weight of all Anders accumulated miseries, of his divergent, almost messianic need to return to Denmark so that he could slay his demons. But…what demons were waiting there to consume him? And where did these demons reside – if not only in his mind?
Saul had mentioned ‘survivor’s guilt,’ something he’d only recently learned of when he’d talked to survivors of the holocaust in Tel Aviv. How some who’d been interned and who’d lost family or friends during that time, and who had somehow survived their ordeal, returned to freedom only to find all their waking moments consumed by feelings of anguish and, yes, guilt. Could it really be so simple? Had Anders simply internalized all the grief he’d felt about the people the two of them had left behind when they fled Copenhagen, and now, somehow, had all that angst metastasized into what for all intents and purposes looked like a psychotic break?
Or had Saul’s recent visit sparked some of this? And then, what of Imogen? They’d not often visited the Callahans since they’d moved down to Monterrey Bay – but then Saul returned to their lives too – again. Had Saul and Imogen together been the catalyst? Because John Kennedy sure hadn’t played such an outsized role in Anders life; in fact, prior to three years ago they’d never even heard of the man – so to put all this down to Kennedy’s assassination was sheer folly…and she knew it.
But Saul was gone now, returned to Copenhagen after some sort of upsetting news had sent him packing on the next train. And now, Lloyd Callahan had just returned from Japan. And, apparently, without any sort of preamble at all Imogen had picked him up at the commercial wharf and taken him straight to their ‘new’ house in Potrero Hills.
But tonight was Christmas Eve and the Callahans had invited her to the new place – and after endless deliberation she’d not been able to come up with any sort of convincing reason not to go. Besides, it would be Ted’s first Christmas Eve dinner party, and at ten years old perhaps it was time to let that happen. Beyond time, really. Anders had simply shunned anything and everything to do with Christmas, his anger stemming from the endlessly crass materialism of the buildup to the actual day. In the Sorensen house Saturday morning cartoons were cause for real concern now, as the house was flooded with commercial jingles advertising a nauseating parade of warlike toys, from G.I. Joe to some kind of board game called, for God’s sake, Battleship! Even the networks’ evening programming was overrun with Prime Time Specials featuring Hollywood has-beens hosting one variety hour after another, each one complete with at least one house-drawn sleigh pulled by a team of massive Clydesdales, and all this hooey magically appearing in Sunny Southern California, complete with falling snowflakes – which, if the rumors were to be believed, consisted of low-speed fan-driven mashed-potato flakes!
“Not in my Goddamned house!” Anders shouted when commercials for talking dolls flooded his living room.
Only now – Anders wasn’t at home. He was still on that awful extended business trip; at least that’s what Tilly told their neighbors when his absence was duly noted. Even so, within a few days there had been an undercurrent of rumor spreading around the neighborhood, and this bothered Tilly to no end. ‘Bothered’ – because she’d dealt with inpatient psychiatric patients’ families on a day-in and day-out basis, and while she had always, in family conferences, tried to downplay the stigmatization families were going through, she had never really experienced it herself – not on such an intimate, first-hand basis, anyway. Now it was fair to say she understood the feeling all too well, and yet the sense of marginalization she felt soon transferred quite easily to Anders – as anger. And just to shake things up a bit more, there was always the Callahans’ Christmas Eve dinner to consider, as well. If Anders heard about that he’d lose it completely.
Anders had finally broken down and purchased a new Buick just weeks before the assassination, a silver Riviera replete with navy leather interior and even a wood grained center console, and Tilly loved driving around the city in the car, enough so that she had finally decided it was time to go out and get her driver’s license. She wasn’t a self-assured driver, not yet, but she was cautious and careful enough to make it just the few miles to the Callahan house in Potrero Hills for Christmas Eve.
Lloyd Callahan, despite all her apprehensions, appeared to be – on the surface, anyway – quite happy and not at all perturbed by the new house thrust into his life, and Harry was apparently still fascinated by ‘the girl next door,’ his so-called Looney-Junes. His father had returned from Japan with several new lenses for a Nikon that Harry was using all the time these days, and apparently with June, to document life around the city. So Ted and Tilly found Harry and June huddled over the lenses, checking out fields of view and apertures, whatever those were, and naturally enough Ted joined them and got into whatever Harry was into. Lloyd had invited a handful of single officers from his ship to join them for dinner, and the atmosphere was actually quite festive.
Imogen was busy in the kitchen making some kind of American style Christmas Eve dinner, so Tilly joined her there and they talked about Saul and Anders and all of life’s complexities. After dinner everyone gathered in the living room around a huge Christmas tree and listened as Harry played the piano, choosing, of course, several Gershwin tunes before he settled on a few Christmas classics – just because – then that was it.
Whatever Tilly had been expecting, the experience turned out to be a far lovelier thing than she’d imagined it might be, and as she was driving home she looked at Ted looking at all the houses with Christmas trees in living room windows and she wondered what he felt about Christmas.
“That was a nice dinner, don’t you think?” she asked when they were still a few blocks from home.
“It…was, yes. But it feels kind of strange, you know?”
“Strange? You mean, maybe like an outsider?”
“Oh, that means something like, well, you’re on the outside looking in, like maybe you don’t really belong.”
Ted nodded. “Not belonging. Yeah. The Jesus thing kind of feels like that.”
“But you know that Harry and Imogen and even Lloyd love you, right?”
Again, Ted nodded. “Say, you think we could, I don’t know, maybe like drive around and look at all the lights?”
“It is…it is pretty, isn’t it? The city, I mean…”
“Yes. Pretty. It’s interesting, too.”
“I wonder why it’s such a big deal. Decorating houses, putting up trees and decorating those, too.”
She looked at him, saw his mind working. “Where would you like to go?”
“I don’t know, maybe just drive around a little. See what we can see, you know?”
“I saw that Harry gave you a Christmas present. Did you open it yet?”
Ted nodded again. “Yeah. A bunch of short stories by Mark Twain. He said it was his favorite when he was my age.”
“That was nice of him. You still like him, don’t you? I know he’s older…”
“Harry? Yeah, he’s great. There’s supposed to be a good park near their house and he wanted to know if I could come over this weekend and throw the football with him, maybe go out with June and shoot some stuff.”
“Okay. I can drive you over if you like.”
“Ooh, there’s a nice one,” Ted said as they passed an old ornate Victorian fitted out in solid white lights. “Well, I was kinda hoping maybe I could take the cable car by myself.”
“You ready for that?”
“Yup. Harry and June do it all the time, ya know?”
“Okay. Maybe we can give it a try to together this weekend, see how you do on your own?”
“Mom? You think Dad would be too upset if we put up a Christmas tree?”
Tilly smiled. “Maybe if we call it a Hanukkah bush? Maybe we can even do some presents next year?”
Ted looked out the Buick’s window as they passed house after house adorned with all kinds of festive decorations, and for the first time in his life he really did feel like he was on the outside.
And he hated the way that made him feel, more than anything he had ever known.
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.