Time for a little excursion down the rabbit hole. Ready or not, here it comes…
Part III: The House With No Windows
Copenhagen, Denmark 12 April 1939
Niels Bohr, Walter Eisenstadt, and Saul Rosenthal sat with Aaron Schwarzwald listening to Imogen as she played a few disjointed passages from her latest work, her Second Piano Concerto, a work still incomplete, yet Bohr nodded appreciatively as she played. “That is marvelous, a truly interesting passage,” he said at one point. “I felt transported, Aaron. She still has the gift…”
Saul smiled. He loved Imogen so much it hurt, yet on days like this he felt transported by his love for her, transported to a place beyond space and time. ‘But,’ he thought, ‘isn’t that what Niels is responding to…? To some place beyond…?’
Once she finished Imogen left her mother’s cherished Bösendorfer piano and went to the kitchen to help Krista, the family’s longtime housekeeper, prepare tea and toast to go with the fresh blackberry jam she’d found at the market earlier that day.
Yet it was Saul who was the first to speak once Imogen left the room. “Chamberlain is out. The vote will come any day now.”
“Thank God,” Bohr sighed. “This can’t come a day too soon. Any idea who will replace him?”
Saul looked down and shook his head apologetically. “Churchill,” was all he managed to say.
“Then it is war,” Aaron Schwarzwald said, his voice a faltering whisper.
“This war was never avoidable,” Eisenstadt said, and Bohr nodded in emphatic agreement. “Now we are all dancing to the madman’s tune, so perhaps it lies with old Winston now. He just might be the only man left who can put this djinn back in his bottle.”
“You can’t be serious,” Aaron sighed. “With Churchill in power all out war is all but guaranteed. This is a catastrophe!”
Bohr laughed at that. “The Sudetenland was a catastrophe, Aaron. Chamberlain was the catastrophe, so now it is up to Churchill to clean up Chamberlain’s mess. We can only pray that he is up to the task.”
Saul cleared his throat. “Professor Eisenstadt? You said you had urgent news?”
Eisenstadt nodded. “I have talked with Werner. He is certain the Germans will move on Norway. The heavy water project. That is the real objective.”
“So, it is true?” Saul sighed – looking first at Eisenstadt then to Bohr. “Herr Hitler wants to build this bomb you two have spoken of?”
“Yes,” Bohr replied, “but even so, Heisenberg is certain he can stall the program, keep it from achieving its aim.”
“I am not so certain,” Eisenstadt said, his voice flat now, “that I would be so willing to bet the future of the human race on Heisenberg’s certainty he can forestall the development of such a weapon.”
“Oh, der Führer puts much more stock in the occult,” Bohr said, his voice tinged with derisive sarcasm. “He may not even understand what such a weapon means.”
“I am unwilling to underestimate,” Saul said, taking in a deep breath as he spoke, “anything this Hitler concocts. He might be a madman, yet he has discovered the uncertain strength that resides within the dark underbelly of humanity. Professor? How certain of these facts are you?”
“I spoke with Werner last week. Why?”
“Face to face?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I assumed you wanted me to convey this information to His Majesty’s government. Or am I incorrect?”
“Can you get to Churchill? Directly?” Niels asked.
Saul nodded. “It will take some doing, but yes.”
“What about Roosevelt?” Eisenstadt said.
Saul shrugged. “Do you trust anyone else with this information, Professor? Hopkins, perhaps?”
“So, can you get this information to Washington?” Eisenstadt asked again – as he shrugged.
“I’d do better to go to Princeton. Talk to Albert and the others. You were just there, weren’t you?” Saul asked Eisenstadt.
“Last year, yes. Should I cable him?”
“If you think it’s safe to do so. But yes, I will go to London tomorrow and I can arrange to go on to New York from there.”
“You must be back by June,” Bohr sighed.
“The Wehrmacht will begin moving troops towards east in early summer.”
“Is this from Heisenberg, as well?”
“No. I overheard this on a train in Berlin,” Bohr sighed. “Two colonels talking – under the influence, I might add.”
“The east, you say?”
“Yes. I’d say Poland, from what they were saying. One of them mentioned that the secondary objective would be rounding up Jews.”
Saul and Aaron looked at one another.
“This will not end well, Aaron,” Saul whispered to Imogen’s father. “I beg you, please, leave now…while there is still time.”
But Aaron shook his head. “After all that I have said to you about this you still fail to hear me. I will never leave Denmark. Not ever. This is my home, but more than that, this home is the place where my heart and soul reside. These are my people, Saul, lives I have sworn to care for. You know this, Saul, so speak of it no more.”
Niels leaned forward and nodded to Aaron: “If anything happens, Aaron, please know that I will care for Imogen no matter what happens, and Werner knows how I feel about this. He will look after her should we be overtaken by events.”
Saul looked away when he heard that last bit of bravado. ‘If anyone gets overtaken by Herr Hitler,’ he thought, ‘there will be no safe haven…there will be only a last lingering twilight before a night without end.’
So many plans to make, so many contingencies. So much love waiting to die on the vine.
He watched Imogen as she walked into the room carrying a plate of toast and jam and he felt the last rays of the sun dance in this old room once again, even as a late winter’s snow started to fall in the twilight.
Beverly Hills, California 7 January 1992
These days Ted Sorensen went to the office only a few days a week and at most he’d spend a half day there. At the level he was playing, life was all about finding the right people to do the heavy lifting, and he’d set up the office in his new house to be at least as productive as his office at the studio. One of his secretaries had been permanently assigned to the house for a while, but he’d found her presence annoying and had sent her back to work for someone else. Now he kept in touch by fax and went to the office only when the most important duties called.
Sorensen really didn’t like getting out and mixing it up with people anymore, and for the last few years he’d led an ascetic’s life. His only indulgence was Debra, and he lavished her with all the attention and love he felt she deserved, and there was literally nothing she wanted that he didn’t immediately secure for her. The problem with all this was, however, quite easy for anyone to see, if anyone had ever bothered to look: Debra had patterned off her father and never really wanted anything beyond the simplest food and drink, so when her classmates wagged their tails about wearing the latest jeans or sneakers she simply couldn’t relate. Her clothes were classically stylish yet durable, and she always appeared neat and presentable – and what else mattered? What was status when you didn’t care about such things?
She’d had a few friends in elementary school but nothing lasting developed until she reached high school. Her mother had attended the Westlake School for Girls and that school had now merged with her father’s alma mater, The Harvard School for Boys, so it was only natural she attend – and this despite all her intellectual gifts. She could have attended college when she was eleven years old but Ted didn’t want to deprive her of all the experiences growing up and going to high school might provide.
Then he realized he’d never taken Debra skiing before. Or sailing. Or riding the trails around Sequoia on horseback. All the things he’d done as a kid growing up here or up north.
‘What the hell have I been doing?’ he wondered…
‘…but she never complains, does she?’
In fact, she seemed to live inside a world of her own, and maybe she did, he thought, because the world really wasn’t ready for someone like her. At least that’s what his own mother kept telling him.
“There’s nothing wrong with her, Ted. And I don’t think that she’s different, either. But there’s nothing I can point to that makes me think she’s imagining all this…”
He’d told his mother about the things she’d said, about the tall feathered visitors and journeys to oceans and stars, but now as she listened to Ted her heart filled with dread. So many varieties of schizophrenia were genetic transcription disorders easily passed along from generation to generation, and the thought that Anders’ own peculiar guilt-paranoia might be passed along to Debra was something that had kept her up at night.
So Ted’s call, when it finally came, wasn’t completely unexpected.
But what happened next was.
Ted had techs from the studio come in and wire Debra’s room with all kinds of state-of-the-art video recording equipment, with passive night vision and even infra-red cameras installed in the ceiling. He sat up one night and watched her sleeping – only one moment she was there in the bed and in the next instant she was gone. Simply gone. He’d run from his office and up the stairs to her bedroom and – yes – she was indeed no longer there.
She was, instead, in the shower. Drenched in sea water. Kelp wrapped around an ankle. And she was shivering.
He’d turned on warm water and picked her up, held her close until the coldness passed, but he noticed that everything about her now smelled of the sea. Her night clothes, her hair and even her skin, and he was terrified. Terrified enough to call his mother the next morning.
She listened, startled, as Ted spoke on the phone. And now terrified that her son was slipping into his father’s own peculiar psychosis. And so she came to the House With No Windows that afternoon.
She despised Ted’s house, everything about it. From the brooding menace of the exterior to the cloistered feel of the too-dark interior. The gallery circulation was indeed impressive, the various atriums botanically interesting but almost frightening in a deliberately fashioned way, as if those spaces had been drawn up to awaken dormant instincts – and in the most primeval way imaginable. The first time she’d stepped out to peer down into one of the swimming pools she’d felt the hooded eyes of silent predators lurking behind each and every frond; soon she’d felt naked and exposed and – hunted – and couldn’t wait to get back inside, back into the relative comfort of Ted’s insidiously dark living room.
“I don’t know how you can stand to live in a place like this,” she said as she stepped inside to the relative safety of the living room again.
‘Because I love how it makes you feel,’ he’d wanted to say, but of course he never could say such a simple truth to her. “Oh, you get used to the eccentricities,” he sighed at last – though somewhat remorsefully.
“I couldn’t do it. Never. Not in a million years.”
She thought Ted’s smile was a little odd just then. Or…more than odd.
Debra’s bedroom was located in one of the two-story towers, and there was a small study-sitting room on the ground level and a library marching up beside the stairway to her second floor sleeping room. Her studio now had hidden cameras installed everywhere – except for the bathroom, and a bank of Beta-Max VCRs kept a running log of any and all movement in her spaces. Tilly sat with Ted and watched the recording from the night before, still not sure what to expect, but when Debra disappeared from her bed Tilly felt her world lurch sideways.
“What on earth just happened?” she sighed, startled.
“She told me – this time – that she was in an ocean and there were icebergs everywhere. Apparently when she goes there she’s with a killer whale. I gather it’s the same one each time.”
“The same one? What do you mean?”
“Every time, well, you know, she’s with the same orca.”
“Are you saying this has happened more than once?”
“She told me it started in the other house and has been going on ever since.”
“Theodore! This is preposterous! Du begynder at opføre dig ligesom din far! ”
“Og hvad hvis jeg er det? Ville det være så slemt? ” he screamed in return, his face turning an angry sort of red.
She pulled herself inward, protecting herself from this unexpected reaction, then she turned to her son: “How long have you felt this way?” she asked softly, walls of professional distance sliding into place.
“Don’t you dare pull that goddamn psychotherapist bullshit on me, Mother!”
“You resent me for the divorce even now, don’t you?” she cried, wilting under the furnace of his cold gray eyes.
“Even now? Mom, there’s not a day since we left San Francisco that I haven’t blamed you! And that I haven’t hated you for what…”
“That is so unfair!”
“Unfair? And you – a shrink…think it’s fair that walking away from your husband, because he had a, a mental illness, was, was somehow the right thing to do? And you call that unfair…?”
“We were ruining each other, Ted.”
“In sickness and in health, Mother. Those are the words, remember?”
“He released me, Ted. He knew what was coming next.”
“And yet, look at him now? You call that…”
“We have better medications now, better care…”
“Care he should have gotten from you, his wife!”
She turned away, knew he was right, yet she knew she was right too. A classic double bind, no way out. She turned to face her son again and sighed. “What would you have me do, Ted?”
“There’s nothing that can undo the past, Mother. Nothing we can do. We can only finish what you set out to do with father…to tear him down – until nothing of us remains.”
“Is that what you think? Ted? Really?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think anymore, Mother. I asked you to come over and look at these tapes because I want to know what you think I should do.”
Tilly pulled back from the brink and nodded as his words took hold and registered. “You said she has encounters with people of some kind?”
“Very tall, covered in feathers. Pink feathers.”
Tilly laughed at that. “Ted, this all sounds like a little girl’s fantasy. Surely you don’t think…”
“Of everything I know about Debra, Mother, the one thing she has never done is lie to me, about anything.”
“Nothing. People lie when they fear something – isn’t that what you always told me? That lies are a kind of response to something we’ve done, or even not done. So…I’ve simply removed anger from our lives, and so in a way I think I’ve removed fear. With no fear truth can flourish, right? I seem to recall hearing you say that once or twice,” he said, his voice full of bitter irony.
“Oh, Ted, if only our lives could be so simple…”
Ted shrugged. “I’m an expert in anger and fear, Mother. I grew up watching Father’s fear. And the anger you showered on him as a result.”
She shook her head, trying to keep her focus. “The best thing we can do, Ted, is to monitor these images and see if these creatures present themselves. I cannot, however, imagine that anything like this is even possible.”
“And if this is all some kind of elaborate fantasy? Then what?”
“Then we will take her to the clinic and let a pediatric specialist talk to her.”
“Do you have someone in mind?”
“I do,” Tilly said. “Amanda Patterson. She is most gifted, especially with girls.”
“Call her. Now. Have her join us for dinner tonight.”
Amanda Patterson was a psychiatrist, Dublin trained – and a kind of wild Irish beauty permeated everything about her. She knew Tilly Sorensen professionally, of course, but had never interacted socially with her so she was more than a little curious about this sudden invitation. Then…she heard words about Tilly’s granddaughter and possible hallucinatory episodes and everything slipped into place. This wasn’t a social call. This was work, she sighed. And she smiled, because that made sense.
She’d heard of Ted Sorensen, of course. He was one of the most feared personalities in Hollywood, a man who seemed to relish destroying the careers of anyone who stood in his way. And like everyone else on the West Side, she’d heard of this house. The House With No Windows.
Which of course told her everything she needed to know about the situation. Here was a man who had walled himself off from the world, from having to witness the consequences of his reign of terror. She imagined a little girl raised in such a house, a frail creature full of fear and lying to save her skin time after time, day after day. And night after night? Might she also not be a victim of sexual abuse, too?
But then wouldn’t her grandmother be complicit, too?
Oh, what an interesting evening this was going to be!
They met at house, while Debra was still at school. Something about a lacrosse game.
Ted told Patterson about his recent conversations with Debra, about the pink feathered visitors coming in the night, then he told her about the disappearance that had been captured on the video feed and about what he’d discovered in the shower…
…and Patterson seemed a little confused by that…
“You mean you actually found kelp around her leg?”
“I did, yes.”
“And you said you smelled seawater? In her shower?”
“So, is it not possible that she has discovered how to cut-off the video feed, and that she planted these items beforehand so that she could pull off this little ruse?”
“But…why?” Ted asked.
“For attention, Mr. Sorensen. Perhaps because she feels neglected in some way?”
His mind reached out to thoughts he’d only recently had, thoughts of ignoring her needs, and while Patterson’s words hit him, and hard, he couldn’t imagine Debra doing something like that. Not just for some attention.
During her freshman year at Harvard-Westlake Debra asked her father for permission to go on the school’s annual ski trip up to Mammoth Mountain, and Ted smiled when he remembered his first such trip. Good memories from those worst of times, not long after his parents split, and yet somehow it was those memories that carried him through the worst of it all.
“Of course you can,” he told her. “Funny, but I had no idea you were interested in skiing…?”
“Oh, yes, ever since Dina mentioned it once I’ve wanted to learn.”
“Dina? You mean my architect?”
“Yes, of course.”
“She mentioned skiing?”
“Yes. She asked if we wanted to go with her up to Lake Tahoe.”
“We? You mean she asked us?”
“Yes. You didn’t seem interested.”
“You know,” he sighed, “I only went a couple of times. I was never any good at sports, I never had the patience to learn, I guess.”
“I think the mountains must be wonderful.”
“We haven’t been? Up to Tahoe, I mean?”
And right away, when she shook her head, Ted knew that on so many basic levels he’d failed as a parent. He wanted to turn and feel Kat next to him, wanted to feel her steady hand on his, and he missed her most at times like this.
But Debra went on her ski trip and when she came back she seemed a different person.
There were the superficial things, of course – the sunburned cheeks and the healthy glow first among the things he spotted – but there were other, deeper changes, as well.
“You look like you had a good time,” he said when she bounced back into the House With No Windows.
“You look pale, Father. Like you need to get out in the sun.”
He had shrugged indifferently. “How’d you like skiing?” he asked.
“It was hard at first but on the third day, I don’t know, it almost felt like flying. Like I was a bird and I was drifting on air currents.”
He leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands over his chest. “I remember that. Fun, isn’t it?”
“Fun? It was more than fun, Father. There are people up there who live like that. They ski every day, they’re out there in the sun and the air and the sky is a part of their lives…”
“And our life isn’t, Debra. We have a different destiny.”
Her eyes narrowed a bit when she heard him speak those words, and perhaps because she had just come in from the sun and the wind was still in her hair his words seemed contrived, almost hollow. Yet in the next instant she understood her father was missing something, like his life was devoid – of life. She had lived her life completely walled off from this other world, yet she’d also been surrounded by music, and musicians, all her life. Musicians who, by and large, worked for her father. Well, for one of the recording studios her father owned.
Folk singers, rock ’n rollers, new wave and punk. She’d seen most of the heavy hitters at one time or another, sometimes in the studio but also at concerts – when her father felt compelled to attend, anyway. And she remembered something one of the hard-line ayatollahs in Iran had said once, when he banned rock ’n roll from Iranian radio stations.
In such music could be found the devil’s lair.
And at first she’d laughed, but soon enough she understood and she stopped laughing.
There was truth inside the rebellious spirit music conveyed, truth found in the same kind of Romanticism that had popularized Byron’s poetry and probably Jesus’s sermon on the mount. The truth they spoke was a universal truth and the truth had to come out, had to be set free – only in the way best suited to the moment. Of course the ayatollahs were terrified of The Beatles. There was truth in such music, the truth of the human condition, and those scared old men knew what could bring down their whole house of cards.
And standing there in her father’s house she suddenly realized that her father was scared, the same kind of scared. Scared of what was “out there” – which meant he was scared of things he could not control. Which led her to the single most terrifying thought she’d ever had: her father was scared because he could not control her, not even the music she listened to.
Her…life? Is that it?
Because ever since his parents had come undone he’d lost control of his life and he’d been trying to get everything all neat and tidy ever since.
But…does that really make since?
Mom died, they didn’t get divorced, so…
Mom died? So in a way she left…him. Is that when he lost control?
But that wasn’t his fault. And if it wasn’t his fault what was the point of trying to control the uncontrollable? Because…that’s what death is, isn’t it? But no, trying to keep someone you love safe and out of harm’s way isn’t unreasonable. But, oh, what was that song? Question? A question of balance? Was that it? Had he simply lost his way?
“Dad?” she said.
“Yes darlin’…what is it?”
He looked up at her, looked at the rosy glow on her cheeks once again. “Oh?”
“I met a boy.”
He smiled, but his hands started to shake a little. “And does he have a name?”
She shook her head. “It’s nothing like that, Dad. He was sitting beside me in the van and he fell asleep on my shoulder. I wasn’t expecting to feel what I felt.”
He relaxed – a little – and he pointed to the chair across from his desk. “Tell me about him,” he said, gently.
“He’s a senior, he got an early admission letter from Yale.”
“And he’s cute?”
She nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“And let me guess. He’s a good skier and he wanted to know if you could go back up to Mammoth with him next weekend?”
She nodded. “His parents will be there too.”
“Uh-huh. I’m just curious, but do I fit into this equation somewhere?”
“I was wondering if, well, if you wanted to come too.”
He grinned. “Is that what you were wondering?”
“Deb…I do not remember how to ski, nor do I have the slightest interest in relearning.”
“But why don’t you have this boy’s parents give me a call and we can see about you going with them.”
“Really! That’d be the boss, Dad!”
But he did go skiing with her that weekend, and several more weekends that winter. Though of course she never knew.
Amanda Patterson quietly watched the bank of monitors as Debra fell asleep, Tilly sitting beside her in the little control room. Ted remained in his office, not wanting to watch anything that might possibly unfold – again – because he was afraid what it might mean for his daughter. One way or another.
An hour passed, then another – before all the monitors went out. Then all the lights in the house…
“Ted! Come!” his mother cried as she stood and groped for the stairway. “Something’s happening!”
But it was almost pitch-black inside the house and everyone found it difficult to move through the darkness. Ted made it to the stairs first and started up but soon the way ahead was apparent. Deb’s room was suffused with pulsing shades of pink and blue and a faint crackling sound helped him find his way, until all three were standing in her room.
And a small, translucent sphere hovered in the air just above the girl’s bed. One moment the sphere glowed pink and in the next a pale lime green aura filled the room…
And Debra was gone. Not in the bedroom and not in the bathroom. Gone.
“Sweet Jesus,” Patterson whispered as she stepped back from the hovering sphere, “what is that?”
Ted leaned close to the sphere, his eyes at first lost in wonder – then filling with tears. “That’s my wife,” he said, just before their eyes closed. Just before they disappeared.
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.