Sorry for the delay. Been a rocky week.
A few Music Matters to get us started here, so grab a cup of tea and settle in. Lots to think about here, so go slow and enjoy the ride.
(Delius, Upon Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring)
(Pat Metheny Group, Above The Treetops)
Part III: The House With No Windows
Povai Bay, Bora Bora, French Polynesia 24 December 1996
Taggart didn’t know what to think. He’d never run into an orca before, let alone one that seemed so consciously intent on controlling an otherworldly event like what was taking place off the yacht’s stern. The Kid, as everyone had taken to calling William Taylor these days, was standing on the swim platform in open-mouthed wonder, thunderstruck by the sight of Debra surrounded by a pod of swirling orcas.
“What the hell is going on, Hank?” Taylor whispered, his muted words almost unheard over the sound of the thrashing going on down there in the water.
Taggart stood beside the kid and shook his head. “I wish I knew. It doesn’t make sense to me, either.”
“So you’ve never seen anything like this before?”
“Shit, Slick, I ain’t even heard of anything like this before…”
Then almost as quickly as the orcas came, the clustered females simply slipped under the water’s surface and disappeared – and the big male swam to her side and cupped her next to his body and carried her to the swim platform. Taggart jumped into the water and took her from the male yet he could tell she was unconscious simply by the way her head seemed to bob along on the surface of the water.
“Give me a hand, Kid.”
Taylor grabbed Debra’s hands and effortlessly lifted her up onto the platform, then he laid her out and cradled her head on his lap as Taggart came up the shaky little ladder.
“I’ll go get some towels,” Taggart said, darting below and flipping the breaker for the shower on the platform as he passed the chart table. When he got back aft again she was shivering and just coming to, so he tossed aside the towels and turned on the shower and set the temp to a nice amniotic warmth and began hosing her down, warming her slowly.
She sat up and opened her eyes, saw Taggart and flung herself into his completely surprised arms.
“Are you okay?” Taggart whispered into her ear, holding her close – breathing her in.
Taylor grabbed a towel and began drying her and only then did she seem to realize she was in Taggart’s arms, not William’s. She pulled the towel close and wrapped herself up as Taylor handed her another.
And at that point Taggart realized the big male orca was still just off the stern, still looking intently at – Debra – and not knowing what else to do he walked over to the edge and knelt there, waiting. “What is it, boy? Something else you got on your mind?”
But the male didn’t move…he just seemed intent on watching Debra – and William – until, perhaps a few minutes later, it turned and looked at him.
“Now why do I get the impression you know more than you’re letting on?” Taggart said, standing now and still staring into the orca’s eye.
It swam over to him and then it’s head – and a third of it’s body – came out of the water…until they were eye to eye, staring at echoes of the reflections passing between them.
He saw a ball of stars in the orca’s eye, and out of the ball a pulsing light.
“What is it? What are you trying to tell me?” he said to the orca…
But then Debra stepped close to his side, and she was holding her hand out, touching the side of the orca’s face.
“I hear you now,” she sighed. “Tell the others that I understand. I’ll be ready.”
And with that the big male fell away and slipped into the inky blackness and was gone.
Taggart turned to her, his face a mirror of the wonder he felt: “Hear…what, exactly, Debra?”
But she shook her head, her hand still out as if still touching the orca: “He will be back for you, Henry. When you are ready to see.” She turned and looked at William, her skin now beyond pale. “I think I need to go below,” she said – just before she collapsed and began falling again.
Taggart caught her and held her up until Taylor got an arm under her and lifted her up into his arms. “I’ll get your bunk ready,” Henry said as he dashed below.
“C’mon, everybody!” Ted Sorensen crowed, banging on the companionway hatch. “It’s Christmas…let’s open our presents!”
William turned to face Debra, both still under the sheets after a long night’s sleep: “I thought y’all were Jewish?” he said. “We’re doing Christmas?”
Debra opened her eyes and her hands went to her womb, to the certain knowledge that something was now fundamentally different “down there.” She turned to William and smiled, brought a hand to the side of his face. “Good morning, my love.”
He kissed her hand – just as Ted opened the door to their stateroom and burst inside. “Come on, you two. Into the cockpit, now, or by golly someone is gonna be walking the plank!”
“Dad? Would you mind if we get some clothes on first?” Deb sighed.
“You two are naked? And not even engaged? Okay Taylor, you’re first off the plank!”
Sorensen shook his head and started topside. “Dina? How long ’til we have cinnamon rolls?”
“Taggart!” Ted shouted. “You comin’ – or sleeping in?”
“Yeah, soon as I get Dina’s pubes out of my nose,” Henry yelled back.
That was good for a laugh all ‘round the boat, if only because Ted and Dina had kept everyone up all night with at least three repeat performances.
Henry dragged himself out of the forward v-berth and into the head, and after he brushed his teeth he made his way aft to the cockpit, carrying a large pitcher of OJ and some plastic cups up as he went, and he found Sorensen sitting behind the wheel with a huge red velvet Santa sack full of wrapped presents. Dina came up behind Taggart, followed by William Taylor a moment later.
“Where’s Deb?” Sorensen asked. “Isn’t she coming?”
“She was right behind me,” Taylor sighed, turning around and looking down the companionway into the galley. “Deb?” he called out.
He dashed below, calling her name…
Then…nothing but silence. “She’s gone!” he finally cried as he made his way into their stateroom.
Copenhagen, Denmark 13 April 1939
Walter Eisenstadt sat beside the wood stove with his oldest and dearest friend, Aaron Schwarzwald, in the cozy little library off the kitchen in his house. His fingers were stiff with age these days, the knuckles in his fingers now more than a little swollen, but he was still spry enough to make his daily walk along the waterfront, even on days like this one, even in the waning slush of a long winter. He had just come in from his walk, and as was usually the case on Saturday mornings, he’d picked up Aaron along the way. Both made the walk to the main fish market to check prices for fresh salmon, and as was the case on Saturday mornings, to stop and enjoy a coffee. Now they were in his library and he put a couple of pieces of wood on the fire and closed the fireplace door after giving the coals a good poke, and then it was time to sit beside his friend and talk about the world.
“We should have remarried, Walter,” Aaron said. “These spring mornings are too cold for such loneliness.”
“If I could sleep with a woman half my age, I think I might consider the idea.”
“If you could? Why can’t you?”
“I do not want to go to prison, for one thing. And besides, who wants to be seen with a woman so young? Everywhere we might go we’d be told how lovely our daughters looked! Who needs such nonsense, my friend!”
“I do,” Aaron sighed as he rubbed his knees. “My old bed feels so – empty – now. And so cold. And how good would a simple back rub feel…?”
Walter looked at his friend again and sighed. “What’s troubling you, Aaron?”
Schwarzwald took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled as he looked at the fire dancing behind the glass door: “All this talk of war. Perhaps I could bear the thought of it if…if there was not so much hate directed at us this time.”
“So, why not leave? Why not go to America?”
“I told you yesterday…”
“And I heard you yesterday, yet still I must ask. The war will end, Aaron. All wars end, eventually. Come back after the war. Resume your life, and…”
“And what? Turn tail and run away, only to return after all the maniacs have befouled our country? That is a cowards choice, Walter, and you know it.”
“It is a survivors choice, Aaron. You can not see to your patients if you’re dead.”
“I can stay here and treat my patients when they need me most.”
“Alright then. Yet you seem to have answered your own question.”
“No, no I haven’t, Walter. And I have no answer to their hate, nothing to explain such things.”
“Nor do they, Aaron. These Germans hate us without knowing what it is they hate, let alone why. They have been taught to hate, and probably by their parents, or by a friend or maybe even a teacher. It is like a disease that is passed from one generation to the next.”
“Do you really think it is as simple as that?”
“I don’t know, Aaron, but I really don’t if anything like this can ever be simplified. I do know that if you fill a man with hate and then give him a weapon he will use that weapon, and he will use it where he has been taught to use it.”
“That is exactly my point, Walter. Is not such a man evil, is he not a monster…”
“He is a man, Aaron. And all men are open vessels, to be filled with hate or love or a passion for learning or by a desire to kill that which is considered some kind of outsider. He is your fellow man, Aaron. He is the next patient waiting to see you, the man on the tram standing beside you. He is us, Aaron, just another man in all his imperfect glory.”
“Is that so? Evil is just some sort of permutation, something beyond the standard deviation? Or is evil in fact something more grim than that, more singular?”
“You mean…like innate evil?”
“Yes, exactly so! Something tangibly real, something more than a lost soul, something beyond redemption…”
“And, Aaron, what if there is? What would you do?”
“Is that what you wish to confront, Aaron? Evil itself? Is that how you want your life end…to be remembered for…?”
“I could care less how I am remembered, my friend. I want to look this monster in the eye. I want to see this evil for myself. Perhaps then I might understand…”
“What? Why on earth…”
Aaron Schwarzwald sighed and looked down at the mangled hand resting on his belly. “I think I have prided myself on being a rational man, Walter. A scientist. A surgeon, and now a psychiatrist. I have adapted to circumstance as my life changed,” he said, raising his ruined hand, “and yet this thing called Evil still eludes me.”
“Eludes you? What do you mean by that, Aaron?”
“To believe in Evil, Walter, do you not first have to believe in goodness, in an Absolute Good. To believe in God, would you not also have to believe in His opposite? A destroyer of Goodness?”
“Since when have you believed in God, Aaron?”
Schwarzwald looked up at his friend and smiled. “Since you began speaking to me of this evil. If you are correct, if this evil is indeed something real – and not merely the product of an overactive imagination – then I want to see it for myself. I want to take a measure of this thing, I want to understand it for what it really is.”
Walter scowled, slowly shaking his head. “I’m afraid, Aaron, that the only way to truly know, let alone to understand such a thing, is to become as one with the thing, to embrace it fully. Is that what you want, Aaron? Truly?”
Schwarzwald scoffed, “Hah! So I am to be the anti-Faust, then? Is that how you see me?”
“That’s a fair question, Aaron, assuming this is what you want. Faust wanted to know everything, to possess all knowledge, and he was willing to make a deal with Mephistopheles to get it…”
“I do know the tale, Walter…”
“Oh? I wonder…do you, really? What you seek is almost the antithesis of Faust, Aaron. Can’t you see that?”
“Antithesis? How so?”
“You seek to know and understand Evil, so, in effect you wish to understand Satan, and I would have to assume that the only way you can approach such an understanding would be to petition God himself. To, in effect, strike a bargain, but this time with God…”
Again Schwarzwald chuckled. “Me? The Unbeliever? Petition God?”
“I don’t know how else you might expect to face Evil, Aaron, and walk away unscathed.”
“Unscathed? Walter, you have misunderstood me entirely. Surely you must assume that I would never embark on such a quest without knowing full well there could be no return…?”
Walter Eisenstadt looked at his friend and his hands began to shake, his vision grew dark and narrow: “You would stay here, in Copenhagen, knowing you will perish? Aaron? What is to be gained by such a…?”
Aaron smiled and shook his head slowly. “Ah, my friend, that is the bargain I must make, and the price I will have to pay…”
“To pay? Aaron, what are you talking about?”
“I must see to it that my Imogen survives this darkness, Walter. Nothing else matters.”
“Imogen? What has she to do with this?”
“Everything, Walter. Absolutely everything. And oddly enough, it is your granddaughter that will light the way…”
“My…what? Aaron? What are you talking about? I have no granddaughter!”
Aaron Schwarzwald looked away, looked to the sun rising over the city and he took a deep breath as the sheer majesty of the plan suddenly began to make sense to him, as inside that moment the staggering simplicity of his life grew crystal clear. “Oh, but you will, Walter. Only now…everything depends on her, and on what she does next.”
Povai Bay, Bora Bora, French Polynesia 25 December 1996
“What do you mean ‘She’s not down there!?’” Ted Sorensen screamed. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Where the fuck else could she be!”
Henry Taggart’s head poked up in the companionway. “Unless she’s hiding someplace I don’t know about, she ain’t down here. That’s what I mean by that, Ted.” Taggart added a little extra zing when he spat out Sorensen’s name, and the implied challenge wasn’t lost on anyone in the cockpit.
“William! Get down there and find her! Now!”
Taggart came up the companionway and made his way out of the cockpit and up to the bow; with one hand on the jib fuller he stepped up onto the pulpit rail and with his free hand he shaded his eyes and scanned the water around the boat. Shades of turquoise and cobalt, and all the water in the bay as smooth as glass, and that was all he could see…yet suddenly he thought of the orcas last night and once again nothing made any sense at all. He’d just seen her down below, snuggled up next to William and not at all wanting to leave the warmth of her bunk – and now…this had happened? People didn’t just disappear. Did they? Yet – how many people had encounters with Killer Whales like the one Debra had just experienced?
He hopped off the pulpit and went aft to the swim platform and checked the pressure on a SCUBA tank, then went to the edge of the white fiberglass and teak platform and looked into the water. He sighed as he pulled his mask over his forehead and then fins on his feet; he hooked the regulator to the primary and zeroed out the dive computer attached to the rig before he hoisted the BC vest up on his back and secured the velcro band around his waist. He patted the weights on the strap once and stepped off the platform and into the water, his field of view an explosion of bubbles before he sank beneath the surface. He popped the valve on his vest and inflated it a bit and hovered about fifteen feet beneath the keel as he equalized the pressure in his ears – and he saw he was about twenty feet above the white sandy floor below – so he circled the boat slowly, checking the sea floor and, really more than anything else looking for signs of something, anything, out of the ordinary.
But he saw little of interest – and nothing at all of Debra – with just a few small reef sharks a hundred or so feet away – lazily checking him out as he looked them over – and that was it. He popped some air into his buoyancy compensator vest and started to ascend when a flash of light caught his eye, something down deep near the sandy white bottom, so he hovered again and watched the area, looking for something, any movement that might help explain what was happening…
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the big male orca approaching, only now it was coming his way rapidly, almost urgently.
Then the male circled Taggart once, almost like a bird of prey bleeding off speed before he came in close for the kill – then almost cupping Taggart between his pectoral fin and his body, the orca began pushing Taggart up to the surface. And this did not go unnoticed by Ted Sorensen and the rest of the people standing on the boat.
“What the hell is going on down there, Taggart?” a red-faced Sorensen screamed, as the man was now clearly consumed with fear. “Are there Killer Whales down there, too!?”
But Taggart emptied his BC and sank beneath the surface again and the orca turned and tried to cut him off, to force him back to the surface, so he swam to the anchor rode and grabbed hold of it. Then hand over hand he pushed his way down to the sea floor, and all the while the orca swam in a lazy circle around him, now with Taggart looking at the orca warily.
Then he saw the shimmer again, something like light, or almost the opposite of light drawing his eye in. An area along the bottom seemed to distort and grow dim, then a charged pinkish sphere popped into the space – and Taggart could see Debra inside – curled up like she was lost inside a deep fetal slumber.
And she was not alone.
Then the orca swam up to the surface and took a breath before coming back to Taggart – and in no uncertain terms he extended his pectoral fin, his body language telling Taggart of grab hold and hang on. Taggart took hold of the extended fin and the big male carried him down to the shimmering sphere and dropped him on the sea floor – then it moved a few meters away and seemed to watch the sphere a little expectantly.
The creature Taggart saw inside was immense and covered in pink feathers, and it seemed to be waiting on him to do something. It almost seemed to beckon him, in effect asking him to enter the sphere, so he swam to the edge of the shimmering thing and settled on the sea floor, not sure what to do next. The creature seemed anxious now, using two hands to motion him to step inside, but Taggart really didn’t want to.
“But why?” he heard a feminine voice say – somewhere in the deeper recesses of his mind. “Why are you afraid of me?”
“Who are you?”
“That is unimportant.”
“What is important?”
“There are too many people here and we must get her back to a normal atmosphere now. Does this device you have on provide a means for two people to breathe?”
Taggart picked up the ‘octopus rig’ clipped to his vest and held it up for the creature to see. “Yes, but she needs to be conscious to use it.”
“Come inside, now. We must hurry.”
Taggart heard something in her voice that felt like urgent concern and that was all it took; he stepped inside the sphere and knelt beside Debra. Her body felt warm, almost febrile, as he lifted her to her feet, then he cleared water from the octopus rig and put it into Deb’s mouth.
“Okay,” he said, “she’s breathing on my air supply.”
“We will meet again, soon,” he heard the creature say – just before the sphere vanished…and then suddenly he was standing on the white sandy seafloor with Debra in his arms. Then Debra’s eyes popped open in disoriented panic and he held the regulator in her mouth until she settled down, and soon enough he popped some air into his vest to start his ascent –
But the big male appeared by his side again, offering his pectoral fin once again, and Taggart grabbed ahold and held on tight as the orca slowly made its way to the surface. Debra closed her eyes as the saltwater began stinging, and Taggart felt her holding him tightly – tight enough to provoke a confused rush of emotion.
The orca released them a few feet from the surface and Taggart finished the ascent, carrying Debra the last few feet up to the surface, and they popped into view about a hundred meters aft of the boat.Taggart added air to his vest and held her close – when he felt her quietly sobbing, before she rested her head next to his and caressed his neck…
“Thank you for coming for me,” she whispered, her voice hard to hear over the waves rippling around them.
“Glad to be of service, Ma’am,” Henri said – perhaps a little too obsequiously for the moment, but she laughed and kissed him on the side of his face. “Maybe we better not do this, ya know? While boyfriend and dad are watching?”
“What happened down there?”
“I’m not really sure, but it felt like I was gone for months…”
“Months? I hate to break it to you, but you’ve been gone for maybe a half hour…”
“I was on one of their ships, Henry. Earth was barely visible…”
“Okay…okay…let’s just get one thing straight right now. If you start talking about stuff like this your father is going to put you in the Funny Farm…know what I mean, Jelly-bean? Stop with the spaceship stuff right now…”
“I know, but I think they wanted me to tell you. And only you. You fit into this somehow.”
“I’m really, really pregnant now,” she sighed, and she took his hand and put it on her belly…
“Fuck-shit-damn! You aren’t just kiddin’,” Taggart exclaimed. “You feel like you’re about to pop like…any time now…” He was looking at Sorensen and Taylor getting into the Zodiac and starting the outboard – without much luck…so far…
“I told you. I was up there for months.”
“Okay, I believe you, but here comes your dad. We’re going to need some kind of story to…”
“Dad knows about them. He’s met them, in the house…”
“What? Are you sure?” He felt her head nodding gently and he pressed his face into the wet hair on her neck, breathed her in. “God, you smell so good to me.”
“I know. You do too…to me, I mean.”
“We can’t do this, Deb. You and me, I mean.”
“Oh, don’t worry about all that. I already know what’s going to happen…to all of us. I’ve seen it all, everything that’s going to happen…”
“Yup,” she said, sounding almost like a little girl now…
He pushed her away and saw she in fact looked about five years old, yet within the span of a few seconds her appearance changed again, and in the span of a single heartbeat she looked to be a hundred years old…then in the next instant she was the girl her knew, no longer pregnant and her eyes full of infinite love.
“What’s going on, Debra? What’s this all about?”
She shook her head. “They’ll tell you when you’re ready, Henri, but you have to get away from my father. He’ll destroy you, just like he’s going to destroy William…”
They heard her father shouting over the sound of the waves and the outboard motor, and soon they were alongside, then William was pulling Debra up onto the soft inflatable’s tube. William wrapped a towel around her and Sorensen gunned the engine and turned for the boat – leaving Taggart to swim back on his own…
Then the orca appeared again, offered his huge dorsal fin – helping Taggart beat them back to the boat. He was waiting for them by the swim platform as the Zodiac pulled up…
“How’d you get…” Sorensen asked, dumbfounded. “I was going to come back for you…”
“No problem, Pard. Besides being extremely good looking and hot in the sack, it turns out I’m a pretty good swimmer, too.”
Dina Marlowe broke out laughing…but then again she’d just watched an orca circle Taggart and then bring him back to the boat, and by now she knew that some really strange things were happening out here. She jumped down and helped Henry shed his tank and BC before climbing back onboard, and she looked him in the eye as they met on the swim platform…
“Think you could teach me to dive?” she asked. “That looked – interesting…”
“Sure. No problem,” Henry said as he turned and helped Debra out of the unsteady inflatable boat, and she smiled at him as she passed – and Dina didn’t miss the look in her eyes, or in Henry’s either, for that matter. Yet Ted and William seemed clueless.
“What happened to you, Debra?” William asked as she sat in the cockpit, pulling her towel close as she settled into a curved coaming.
“I was hot and needed to go for a swim, so I went out the forward hatch and dove in. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause such a commotion…”
Sorensen looked at his daughter then at Henry – because the water here in the bay was exceptionally clear and he’d seen the shimmering sphere appear on the bottom, and both he and Dina had watched Taggart as he disappeared inside…
Yet it was William Taylor who had surprised him the most. Sorensen had watched as the Kid looked overboard and seen the sphere, but in his wildest dreams he’d never expected the reaction he’d observed.
Taylor had started shaking, then he’d whispered “Leonidas, Leonidas, oh – what have we done now. Can we never atone for our sins?”
It had taken him a moment to remember the name. Leonidas, the Spartan. What was that all about, Sorensen wondered? And why the hell did it look like the Kid recognized that sphere? And atone for what sins?
He’d turned to look at Dina, to see if she’d seen what he had.
Yet she was staring at him, measuring him and his response to the Kid’s words, then she had started to smile at him.
“What are you smiling at?” Sorensen had snarled, unsure of the things he saw in her eyes.
“Sometimes you are still like a little boy, Ted. And yet there are times when I can only see the fires of Hell in your eyes.”
“And what? This is a surprise to you?”
She’d turned her head away then, before she answered his question: “Maybe they are one and the same, Ted. The little boy might run from the flames, but you’ll grow old, just like the rest of us…and what happens then?”
“Just like the rest of us? That’s rich.” Ted had looked down into the sea again and he saw Henry and Debra emerge from the sphere. “My guess, dear Dina, is that, in the end, we all burn.”
“That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
He’d turned and looked up to the heavens and scowled. “We’re flawed, Dina. We shouldn’t even exist, yet we do.”
“And you’re going to change that, aren’t you? You’re going to bring us all down, make all of us burn in the fire you bring?”
He’d turned and looked at her, his eyes black and empty. Then he smiled, at her, at all humanity, and she’d felt her soul wither under the weight of his Hate.
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.
(Neil Young; Old Man)