Tangent

If you’ve been reading along here for more than a few years you know that every now and then a little hiccup comes along and a new story just pops up. Well, this is a hiccup. A new story that has absolutely nothing to do with the 88th Key or Come Alive or…anything else. It just is.

And it’s about 25 pages so not real long and not too brief. Maybe time for tea? Probably.

Enjoy.

Tangent 

Life is really kind of funny, ya know? Like how many unexpected things come up and slap us on the face – almost like right out of the blue – except maybe we’ve been setting out little breadcrumbs all along the way? When you look at it that way, well, that little slap on the face almost seems inevitable, kind of like we planned it that way. That would almost make a weird kind of sense if we were actually smart enough to pull something like that off. Yet it’s funnier still how many of these consequential slaps remain just out of sight – and then at just the wrong moment they strike. We go through life and never hear anything from them, but then – like meteors that narrowly miss the earth – sometimes our little breadcrumbs cruise on by and we remain blissfully unaware of how utterly close we’ve come to annihilation. Or…we come full circle and trip over our trail of breadcrumbs and despite all our so-called smarts we remain in no position to effect any sort of positive outcome. That’s just life I suppose, yet I’ve always been a little more proactive about the things I am aware of to let even the littlest things slip by. But there’s a catch here, and it’s a biggie: you have to be, at the very least, aware of the world unfurling around you. If you aren’t…well then…you have no one to blame but yourself – even if you aren’t a total control freak.

Which, of course, we all are. Yet in a way being a control freak has contributed to the nature of our success, as well as more than a few of our personal failures along the way – but that, too, is just life. After all, everyone has to be something, so why not be a control freak?

Yet through it all I keep coming back to the idea of circles.

Yeah, circles.

But cut me some slack here, because while I’m not exactly sure where I’m going I have a feeling it’s someplace interesting. Circles are like that, I guess.

+++++

Didn’t Elton John write something about taking me to the pilot for control. Yeah, that one. Take me to the pilot of your soul. You get the drift – of the song, I mean? Well, I look back on all that time in college and think I wanted to get a handle on the whole soul thing, and I did right up to the exact point in time when my brother was killed in Southeast Asia, on a dark and stormy night all his own. I know that’s when I first started thinking about circles, anyway.

See…my brother was a full-fledged member of the war corp, yet I was well on my way to becoming some kind of rock ’n roller when I got news that his life had reached an unexpected end. He’d been flying off carriers in A-4 Skyhawks; he’d been flying one of the very first missions in early ’66 to go after shipping in Haiphong Harbor – when a Russian SAM removed him from the ledger. 

There was a place I used to go up north of the Golden Gate, and I drove out to that cold little beach after my dad called to let me know I didn’t have a brother anymore. Lost out there in a fog, I tried to picture him alone in the middle of the night in one of those jets, here one second and gone the next – literally just gone – and then all these other memories of him came back in a dull roar that maybe sounded a little like surf out there in the mist. Throwing the football in the backyard with him, my fingers so cold they hurt and smoke from a million wood stoves hanging  in the air. Learning to drive with him by my side, all patience and so full of confidence because he was such a good teacher. Such a good friend. Maybe that’s what big brothers are supposed to be, in the world as it’s supposed to be, anyway. Friends. Role models. And sure, yeah, teachers. And Doug was all those things. I was lucky, and even then I knew it.

Because when I was a spud I had friends whose big brothers were bullies, who we avoided like the plague. You know the type, I’m sure, maybe even if you were one. But sitting out in the fog on a cold rock with Pacific tides rolling-in all I could see in my mind’s eye was some kind of missile warning light blinking red and then a few last seconds of dawning awareness – that my brother knew his life was about to end, that the light he had carried through his life was about to go out, and I wondered what he thought and felt in those last few seconds of his life. Work the problem? Fight the inevitable until the very end? I’d never know, of course.

Because a couple hundred pounds of high explosive had turned him into purple rain, little bits of death slipping into the ooze and out of my life. One more point of light switched off in a sea of flickering stars disappearing in one black hole after another.

+++++

I was playing keyboards a lot back then, kind of a college side gig to earn money for pizza. But the group I was with had cut a second album and we were getting a reputation. And that’s when I showed up for a gig with my long hair long gone. I was, I told them that afternoon, joining the Navy, headed up to Washington State for OCS and then, hopefully, on to flight school. I was following in my brother’s footsteps, you see. Walking along the remains of his circle.

I remember the looks of stupefied disbelief on faces of people I’d called friends for more than a few years, then the sense of betrayal in their downcast, red as stoned eyes. I wasn’t war corp, they cried. I was one of them. How could you do such a thing…?

I had a girlfriend, of course. Joyce. Joyce of the long red hair and deep green eyes, her batik skirts that always swept the floor. Patchouli. I remember clouds of patchouli most of all when I thought about her. I loved her, of course. As a matter of fact she taught me how to love. Not the mechanics but the soul searching embrace of love. Probably the best song on our last album together was all about her, about the way she moved, about the way she made me feel inside when she smiled at me just so. She was a light acoustic number, all gentle chords wrapped up in little love-knots, and I always felt closest to her when her music came to me.

I had a little green Porsche back then, a new 911E I’d picked up a few week before all this went down. I bought the car with the money from the album, and Joyce picked it out. In a way I guess I always thought it would be our car – because I couldn’t imagine life without her. She was my circle, if that makes sense. 

I can still remember throwing a few bags in the front boot and getting behind the wheel of our car, looking around at the life I’d had, at the life I was turning away from. Driving away from familiar streets I turned on more time and got on the I-5 Northbound, bound for Someplace I’d Never Been Before. 

Two days followed, tow days of thinking about how much I wanted to kill the people who’d killed my brother. Two days to come to terms with the fact that I’d already started to hate the person I was becoming.

+++++

NAS Whidbey Island became my home after Berkeley, especially after doing hard time in OCS and then Pri-Fly in Pensacola. Like my brother I went into attack aircraft, in my case the A-6E Intruder, and after my initial squadron orientation and readiness training ay Whidbey I was assigned to VA-165 and sent to Southeast Asia. I won’t dwell on this part of the circle but in my mind I avenged my brother by plastering targets all around Hanoi and Haiphong, but even if such a thing was truly possible I have to admit now that I found no pleasure or satisfaction in anything about the experience. If anything I felt more empty than I ever had, but Death is like that. Maybe I was just bitter now, probably because the whole vengeance thing proved nothing at all. Then, as the war wound down I couldn’t wait to…do what? To do what…exactly…with the burned-out husk of my life?

Stay in the Navy? I used to go up to the hangar deck then aft to the fantail and I’d stand at the rail and watch the churning water down there in the dark. My brother was down there now, a part of the sea again. What would he have wanted me to do, I wondered?

No. The Navy wasn’t going to happen. Not to me. The Navy had taken his life and was chewing mine up slowing. Each cat shot in the night, every bombing run, the night traps and the endless endless endless stress of living up to everyone’s endless endless endless expectations. About the best thing I could say about flying is I didn’t have to look into the eyes of the people I killed, but that didn’t mean all those broken circles would leave me be; no, they came calling in my nightmares, where I least expected them. Where there was no place to hide.

I’d kept in touch with some of the guys in the band and one of the guys wrote back and told me the group still wanted me. But Joyce, he wrote, my red headed green eyed girlfriend and the love of my life was long gone, married to a realtor and I realized she was well beyond my reach now, but yet somehow that loss felt like a reward I all too richly deserved. 

Staring down into the churning sea behind an aircraft carrier is a strange thing, especially so at two in the morning. Your mind dances in phosphorescent chaos and there are no stars reflecting off the echoes of fleet-footed memories. You are alone with the cold truth of the sea, her eternal nothingness an all beckoning gravity singing her siren’s songs you could swear you’d heard before – maybe in another time, or another life…

There was a piano in one of the squadron ready room on the Connie, a beat up old upright tied off to a bulkhead, and I went to her on my last night aboard and played Take Me To The Pilot. I mean I really banged it out, five years of hate pouring through my fingers into the poor old thing and when I looked up there were a couple dozen pilots standing there in awe, maybe because I’d stopped playing when I left Berkeley so no one knew I played. I finally told my shipmates about the group I’d been in before all this flying shit and no one could believe it. “What the fuck are you doing out here,” they asked. 

“I hate the world and I want to set it on fire,” I replied – and everyone laughed.

I mean, really, who wouldn’t? Who knows, maybe we all wanted something as insane as that – each in our way, but whatever, it was good for a laugh.

But not me; I wasn’t laughing. In fact, I’d never been more serious in my life.

+++++

After signing some papers that part of my life closed like a bad book. I found my Porsche and got her ready to roll and then threw my bags in the front boot again and after a little soul searching on a beach turned onto the I-5 once again and this time headed South, only when I got to Berkeley I looked at the offramp and shook my head then just drove right on by. It was time to go home so home I went. Back to Newport Beach. Back to standing in line at The Crab Cooker on Friday afternoons with mom and dad, back to catching up with old friends from high school. I went up to SNA, that’s Orange County Airport to the uninitiated, to one of the flight schools there and I talked about maybe teaching or something like that but one of the owners asked me why I hadn’t considered the airlines.

Because I hadn’t. No reason, really. Maybe I just didn’t want to be a bus driver, I think I said and that made everyone laugh. Everyone there wanted to be a bus driver…

So anyway, me being me that’s exactly what I did.

+++++

I ended up at TWA because I thought maybe flying internationally would be more interesting, and who knows, maybe it was. I started off in 707s, well, actually the 707-320c, and like all the new hires back in the day I drew the really glamorous routes during my first few years. In my case it was JFK to LAX – which is, believe me, about the most boring route a commercial pilot can get saddled with. Two years of boring and I was about ready for a career change. Maybe something exotic. You know, maybe something along the lines of dental hygiene or plumbing. 

Then I drew JFK to Stockholm.

Lots of blonds in Stockholm, right? That had to be a good thing, right?

I was happy again and all thought of going to dental hygiene school vanished. But within a year the word was we were going to drop 707s and transition to L-1011s for most of our trans-Atlantic European routes, so it was back to school – then a year after getting my type I went back to school to work on my transition to captain. To four stripes. The promised land of commercial aviation.

And I ended flying out of Boston Logan for the rest of my career, flying the TriStar to either Heathrow or Charles De Gaulle, though occasionally to Frankfurt or Munich. It was fun work, satisfying in its way, yet all this flying stuff has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Well, almost nothing, but circles are like that. You gotta follow the breadcrumbs, ya know? You gotta go where they take you.

A lot of people think that cockpit crews work as teams, like two or three pilots working together all the time, and there was a time when this was true. The problem with such groupings is simple enough to understand, though. When people work together all the time relationships develop. Some relationships are good, some are not so good, while others may grow toxic and mean-spirited – but none of these relationships end up creating a competent cockpit environment. The end result of all this is you really never know who’ll be working with you until you show up at the airport and get your manifest and load-out from the dispatch office. 

Getting to know the people you fly with is not exactly discouraged, but neither is it encouraged. Call it a gray area. Inviting some of the guys over to watch a football game is sort of okay, while screwing one of the flight attendants you fly with is kind of a no-no. Assuming male-female gender combinations in the cockpit happen more frequently these days – as opposed to when I was flying – screwing your co-pilot is about the worst thing cockpit crews can do today. Period. I have to assume that the same principle applies to male-male or female-female hookups as well, if you know what I mean…but I’d rather not go there.

Still, you get to know the people you do fly with. If, for instance, you fly with John Doe three times a month you kind of pick up where you left off, talking about his farm in Indiana or his son’s interest in wearing stockings and high heels. And you might fly from Boston to Paris with one First Officer and Flight Engineer and then have an entirely new crew for the return. Again, you just never really knew who you’d work with, but even so – over time, anyway – you began to know quite a bit about the people you were flying with.

Everything is inevitable, ya know? Like points on a curve. More breadcrumbs along the way.

+++++

Mike Elliot was one such character. He was a couple of years older than I yet he’d never expressed any interest in moving up to captain. None. He didn’t want the added responsibility, he told me once, or all the extra pressure that went along with the position. And, as it happened, Mike’s attitude wasn’t really all that unusual. I met a number of First Officers over the years who were comfortable where they were, the same with a whole bunch of Flight Engineers. Mike was usually down in the dumps about something his wife had done to him and he was, generally speaking, a very unhappy fella.

On one trip to Paris, Mike’s wife, a petite fire breathing dragon named Isabel, joined us on the flight across from Boston; they were going to spend a few weeks in France on vacation – together – and yet Mike was despondent about the whole thing.

Because, as it turned out, Isabel was a total control freak. Not a casual misanthrope but a real balls-to-the wall man-eating hell-bitch sort of control freak. She’d been a dancer of some sort, ballet, not exotic, and even I could see she was cute. Or, well, maybe once upon a time her looks had covered up certain character traits. When I met her the first time, and it was on that trip, all I noticed was an uncertain meanness in her eyes, and a tendency to mock everyone and everything around her – her husband Mike most of all. After being around her for about five minutes I realized she was a toxic compound, really mean to the core, and I couldn’t wait to make my excuses and get away from her. Which was exactly what I did, too.

 Then again, I was flying back to Boston the next morning and had to hit the sack fairly early; Mike had no such luck and he was stuck with the bitch, and it didn’t take a lot of imagination to understand where all his existential despair came from. Anyway, after we cleared customs I found the crew shuttle to the hotel and left Mike and the hell-bitch to enjoy their vacation together.

We typically got into CDG, or Charles De Gaulle International, a little after six in the morning, and I usually didn’t go back out to the airport until nine the next morning, so my routine in Paris was fairly casual. Check in at the hotel then head down to a favorite bistro for a quick breakfast before a long walk to nowhere in particular followed by a late lunch and then heading off to bed, and that’s exactly what I did that December night.

Except in the middle of that night I jumped out of bed, startled by the pounding drumbeat of someone banging on my door; and there was Mike in a bath-robe, all bleary-eyed and blitzed out of his mind, crying and halfway out of his mind. I was, on the other hand, shaking from yet another nightmare, and that was before Mike’s fists started hammering on my door. Anyway, he said he couldn’t take it anymore. At least that’s what he said between ragged sobs full of pointless accusations and pointed recriminations. He couldn’t, he said, spend a dime without her approval. He couldn’t eat a thing she didn’t approve of first; at dinner that night she’d ordered his meal, told him what he was allowed to drink and even the people sitting around them had noticed her overbearing crudeness and it had gone downhill ever since.

Yet there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, and certainly nothing I was willing to say about matters. In truth, I didn’t know Mike all that well and I sure didn’t know his wife, which, if nothing else, meant I really didn’t know both side of the story. By the way, getting pulled into this kind of drama without knowing the true dynamics of the relationship is, in my experience, a toxically stupid thing to do and besides, it was two in the morning. I helped Mike get a room then trudged back up to my own and promptly passed out.

Sleep was, however, not to be. Probably less than a half hour later I sat up in bed, my ears ringing like church bells as even more furious pounding on my door woke me – again. Yes indeedy, I was a really happy camper. Only when I went to the door this time I found a vampire bat named Isabel frothing at the mouth in rabid fury on the other side of peephole.

And even as I opened the door to my room she tried to push her way in – not with much success, I might add – and then she demanded to know where her husband was. I pointed to the open doors that led to my balcony and said as politely as I could that when her husband had heard her banging on the door he had decided to jump, then I slammed the door in her face.

I listened to the stream of four-letter invectives as she made for her broomstick and yes, I smiled, not really caring what the witch was thinking but nevertheless somehow quite pleased with myself. And, if I was lucky, or so I thought, I might even get two more hours of sleep.

So…and this in no way accounts for what happened next, I went and packed my overnighter and caught the next crew shuttle back out to De Gaulle. I’d had enough of their drama and I’d had just enough sleep to get me through the day. Yet I halfway expected to read about Mike in the morning edition of the International Herald-Tribune. You know, something like ‘American Murders Vampire Wife, Throws Decapitated Body From Eiffel Tower.’ That sort of thing. But no, nothing happened. Matter of fact, I didn’t fly with Mike again for a week or so.

Something told their vacation just didn’t work out, ya know…?

+++++

So…after signing off on the manifest and load-out in the dispatch office at CDG, I made my way out to the airplane on the early side because I wanted to stop off for breakfast at Maxims. I always loved their ham and cheese omelet and made it a point to drop by for breakfast whenever I made the CDG-Logan run, and with a decent breakfast under my belt I went on out to the gate to get the day going.

And that’s when my life turned upside down.

Red hair. Batik dress. Sitting in a cloud of patchouli. Joyce. Joyce of the green eyes.

Sitting with a young girl. Sitting there expectantly – just like she was waiting, for me.

Because, as it happened, that’s exactly what she was doing.

+++++

Maybe the first clue that something was wrong came when she ran into the pilot’s arms.

She wasn’t the skinny little thing he remembered, either. As a matter of fact, he thought she was rather plump. The bags under her eyes came as a surprise, too. Still, the pilot seemed to take hold of the moment and he helped her back into her seat and gave her a tissue to wipe away the tears that had come as a surprise.

+++++

“Joyce? I can’t believe it’s you!”

“I know, I know,” she said between sniffles. “I just really need to see you, to talk to you.”

And about this time I notice the teenaged girl sitting next to Joyce. Then I noticed her eyes. Which for some reason reminded me of my own mother’s blue-green eyes.

Fuck.

What was that sound? Cosmic tumblers slipping into place?

“Joyce? What is it?” I think I managed to say – as I looked at the teenager.

“We need to talk,” she repeated, now gasping for air.

“I can see that,” I sighed, wondering where I’d packed my heartburn medications. “Are you on this flight?”

“Yes, your dad helped me.”

Okay, like that was a big help. “Okay, okay,” I said. “Can we talk – once we get to Boston?”

She nodded before she hauled a wad of soggy tissue up to her nose and began playing something that sounded an awful lot like The Ride of the Valkyries.

Not exactly knowing what else to do I looked at the teenager and held out my hand. “Hi. My name’s Jim. And you are?”

“Tracy,” the girl said – and rather sullenly, too – as she took my hand in her’s.

Then Joyce looked at me and shrugged – as if the gravity taking hold of us had grown too strong to ignore. “Jim…she’s your daughter.”

I think there’s something about those cosmic tumblers – like they make an unmistakable, almost imperceptible little clicking noise as they slip into place. You can feel them, too, right in the middle of your heart.

+++++

They were flying coach but I took care of that and moved them up to the front of the plane before I disappeared into the cockpit. I was so early I had the space all to myself – until one of the flight attendants, a sweet thing I’d known for years came in to go over the cabin manifest.

“Anything I need to know about?” she asked.

Really. No kidding. Like what would you say then, ya know? “Well,” I began, “it turns out a girl I was nailing back in college has a kid, and guess what? I’m the daddy. And…I just found out.”

“Uh, okay.”

“And they’re on this flight. I just put them in 2A & B. Would you take care of them for me, please.”

“Take care of them? What did you have in mind?”

I shrugged. “I don’t have a clue, Jill. As a matter of fact I’m feeling a little speechless right now.”

“You? Speechless? Wow, I am impressed.”

“Jill? Not now, please.”

“Okay, champagne and caviar it is. Anything else I need to know?”

I think I just shook my head, but not much else remains in my mind about the rest of that day. Once we got in to Logan and parked on the ramp at T5, I helped Joyce and Tracy off the plane and through customs, then Joyce told me to pick a place where we could talk for a while. 

“Where are you staying?” I asked her in reply.

“Nowhere right now.”

“Nowhere? What does that mean?”

“I was in Copenhagen,” she said, “but I needed a way home so I called your dad.”

“Uh, Joyce, you’re losing me. Do you guys have a place to stay or not?”

“No.”

“I don’t mean to split hairs, but are you telling me you don’t have anyplace to live?”

“Mom!” Tracy cried-out in exasperation. “Just tell him!”

“Tracy, just back off, okay?” Joyce whispered, her voice a coarse, jagged thing that seemed to have come from someplace way beyond tired. “Jim? Just get us out of here, please.”

Tired, yes, but I heard a rising tide of panic in her voice and now all of a sudden I realized I was looking at some kind of breakdown in the making. And, if I was reading the tea leaves just right my father had given his blessing to this meeting so I really needed to get my act together, and quick. I picked up Joyce’s bag and headed for the crew shuttle – with these two strangers in tow. We got to my car, an ancient Land Rover that I used to drive to the airport in winter, and I did the only thing that came to mind…I drove them up to my place.

I’d bought a little place in Manchester-by-the-Sea after I settled on Logan as my home base; it was new construction and bigger than I needed but it was almost right in the center of town and I could walk to almost everything I needed. I’d furnished the place as if a family might – had one lived there, though I knew not why at the time; maybe because it felt like the right thing to do? So, are you thinking breadcrumbs and circles yet?

And as I think I mentioned, it was early December and the mid-afternoon sky was lead gray, but the sky around Boston in wintertime is always lead gray – and cold. There’d been a couple of snowy days a few weeks prior but only the gritty remains were left on the margins of the highway leading out from Boston; it was, I guess, a typical New England winter’s day – which is to say it was depressing as hell. When I pulled into my driveway and hit the garage door opener the first words out of Joyce’s mouth concerned our little green Porsche.

“You still have it?” she cried, and for some reason seeing the old thing made her cry – again.

I got their bags to the rooms I thought they’d like, then went downstairs to wait for them, and Tracy came down first, and she found me in the kitchen popping the top on a Coke.

“Is there anything to drink?” she asked.

“All kinds of stuff in the ‘fridge. Help yourself.”

She found my last Coke and stood behind the sink and slugged it down, then she took a deep breath before cutting loose with a timber-rattling belch.

Nice first impression, ya know?

“So. You’re my dad.” Not a question, just a statement of fact. And she didn’t seem too excited by the idea, either.

“Uh, look, this is all news to me, Tracy. Have you and your mother talked much about all this?”

“Oh…only for the past ten years or so.”

“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Fourteen. I’ll be fifteen on the twenty-fifth.”

“A Christmas baby,” I said, doing the  math as I watched her. And yes, the numbers worked out perfectly. I could in fact remember the night I’d nailed Joyce that would have led to a December birth. I was, in fact, in Pensacola, Florida at the time she came into the world, and by then Joyce was supposedly hooked up with some realtor or something like that. “That always sounded like…” I started to say…

“Like getting short-changed? Christmas and your birthday on the same day so you only get half as many presents…?” She shrugged, then she walked off – into the living room, and there she plopped down onto the sofa and finished off a root beer. And then Joyce came down the stairs and straight away asked for a mineral water, just as Tracy fired off another wall rattling burp.

“Sparkling?” I asked, trying to ignore the eruption in the living room.

“If you have it. Please.”

“What about dinner?” I asked. “We’ve got a couple of good seafood places within walking distance, if anyone’s interested.”

“I’ve always wanted to try lobster,” Tracy chirped brightly. “Is there anyplace for that?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Joyce? What about you? Are you hungry yet?”

“Give me a half hour,” she sighed, trying to smile a little.

I handed her a Perrier after she sat beside Tracy, and it wasn’t hard to see my contribution to her features as they sat side by side. And it wasn’t too big a stretch to see my mother – as well as bits of me and my brother – in her profile.

And yes, this was all a little unsettling – yet I was still waiting to hear what this was really all about.

“So?” I began cheerfully. “I think you said there’s something you wanted to tell me?”

Joyce sipped her water, then put the little green bottle down on the table in front of her legs.

“Yeah, Jim. I’m sorry, I should’ve let you know about Tracy years ago but after I got married…”

“Did your husband know?” I asked…

…and she shook her head. “We hooked up right after you left, but I knew. And I never told him. Then during some kind of medical exam he learned he was sterile and that was the end of that. He filed for divorce about three years ago. I tried to keep up with the house payments but, well, that didn’t work out. That’s when I contacted your dad. He’s been helping us out a little…”

I think my hands were shaking by that point. I know I was upset, but just then I saw that Tracy was curling up inside, already extremely afraid something bad was about to happen, so I tried to let go, let Joyce get this out in her own way.

“…but we ended up losing the house. We tried staying with my mom for a while but that didn’t work out, either.”

“I can only imagine,” I sighed. I remembered Joyce’s mother. She’d been an alcoholic for as long as I’d known Joyce and I couldn’t imagine a worse place to raise a kid.

“You remember her?”

“She’s kind of hard to forget, Joyce.”

“Yeah, well, she’s worse now.”

“So…where were you living, when you were married?”

“Up on the coast,” she said – a little too evasively.

“I see,” I said, because I did see. ‘Up on the coast’ meant Humboldt County, the pot growing capitol of the known universe, which meant her realtor hubby had probably been knee deep in the trade. And she probably had been, too. And she was being evasive because, despite my time in Berkeley, I had always been considered uncool when and where pot was concerned. Then again, I was probably considered uncool where booze was concerned, or any other drugs, for that matter. Call me a prude or call me an asshole – it doesn’t matter to me what your excuses are – because I am the anti-drug. Always have been, always will be, and you’d be surprised how many pilots are exactly like me. Or…maybe you wouldn’t be…

“I always hated that judgmental tone,” Joyce sighed. “I can still hear the derision in your voice when you say ‘I see.’ We all could, ya know…?”

“I wasn’t cut out for that life, Joyce.”

“But you were such a good musician. I really never understood where all your anger came from?”

“I don’t either, but here’s the kicker. I really don’t care where it came from, and guess what? I’m not going to change anytime soon. I hope that’s not going to be a problem for you.”

And Tracy was getting smaller and smaller, turning in on herself the more I spoke, the more worked up I got, but it didn’t take a real rocket scientist to figure out that all the horror stories she’d heard about me were coming true. More than true. She was getting a front row seat to her nightmare-come-true…her asshole father in all his self-righteous glory about to explode and throw them back out on the street. Again.

But then…the circle started to close.

“Jim, I’m sick,” Joyce said. The green eyed love of my life. The girl I turned away from when I decided to destroy the world…

“Sick?” I said.

“It’s called a glioblastoma. It’s a…”

“I know what a glioblastoma is, Joyce. How long have you known?”

“About a month.”

“What’s the treatment plan?”

“Jim, I don’t have insurance. That’s why we were in Copenhagen.”

“What? Not even Medicaid?”

She shook her head and my eyes started blinking like a semaphore flashing out an SOS. I looked at my watch and went to the telephone and called a friend – who also just happened to be a lawyer. After a brief hold I explained the situation to him, right down to the Tracy thing, and he recommended we meet up for dinner and go over some options.

Joyce and Tracy were staring at me during this exchange, looking at me like I was some kind of lunatic-idiot-savior, and after I rang off I turned to them and was really quite taken aback by the sight of the two of them. Diaphanous little Joyce, well, not so petite anymore but still cute as hell, and our little girl. Two peas from the same pod. And just then it hit me. And hard.

They were the life I’d had within my grasp, and yet they were the life I never knew was within my grasp. I was angry as hell and totally unprepared for the sudden overwhelming love I felt for them both.

+++++

Marco Petrocelli was one of those all purpose lawyers everyone runs across sooner or later. He’d handled the closing on my house and beat a speeding ticket in municipal court for me. Well, more than one, actually. He played golf and liked to sail, which was how we became friends. Sailing. Not golf. A real fringe benefit of being Marco’s friend was his mom’s lasagna. His parents owned a fantastic little Italian cafe down on the waterfront and his mom’s lasagna was the stuff legends are made of. 

So we met Marco at the cafe and sat in a quiet little corner booth, and Joyce finally felt free enough to let it all hang out. Tracy did too, and I assume because she probably thought I couldn’t possibly hurt either of them in front of witnesses!

Sheesh. Teenagers.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the details, but as time was of the essence Marco thought the best way to get insurance for Joyce – and Tracy – was to marry her and get her on my group policy as soon as humanly fucking possible, because Massachusetts had the best laws in the country as far as pre-existing coverage issues were concerned. He volunteered to make it happen, too. 

So, here’s the scoop.

The day before I was this happy-go-lucky single guy with a nice job and no responsibilities. 

Tomorrow I was going to be married to my college sweetheart. I was going to be the father of a fifteen year old girl who was, quite literally, terrified of me. And, assuming the clouds of patchouli that seemed to ooze from their pores meant they were both potheads, I was going to be up to my neck in one hell of an ethical dilemma. 

Make them quit? Yup. That wasn’t an issue, at least not as far as I was concerned, yet…now I had to consider the probable results of coming down hard while having a rebellious teenager on my hands. Stupid I am not. Uncompromising? Yeah, probably, but not stupid.

I knew exactly what I needed. In fact, it was the only possible solution.

I needed a mother. 

No. Let me be clear. I needed my mother.

When I called home I realized I needn’t have worried. Their bags were already packed.

+++++

Yes. I know. Maybe I could have handled this on my own. Hell, who knows, maybe I should have…but that’s not how these circle things work.

But here’s the thing. My parents were good at the whole mom and dad thing, and maybe because the first thing they ever taught me to do was to listen. Listen to them. Listen to my teachers. Listen to my friends. So…I listened. And I because I knew how to listen I found it easy to learn. And I found that by listening to people I found it easy to learn all about them, and that as a result I hardly ever got into arguments or disagreements with anyone. 

Maybe it was too late to get Tracy over that hump, or maybe no one had ever tried to get her to listen, but all that fear coiled like a spring in her gut sure looked to me just like someone who didn’t know how to listen. She’s heard a lot of stuff about me but when it came right down to it, when she finally met me she had no clue how to listen to me. What she’d heard about me in the past kept her from hearing me when I spoke – and it was going to hurt us. She and me. And my mom was the best remedy to the problem I had, so why not at least give it a try…?

Why not, indeed?

Because as it happened they’d been on the sidelines for a few years. My dad had been involved for at least the last three years, and though he’d never told me about Tracy he’d done so only because Joyce had insisted he not do so. Now it looked like they were going to get to play the whole grandparent thing – and that by marrying Joyce I was going to make the game legit. How perfect! Instant family!

But wait a minute there, young whippersnapper. Your betrothed, your wife, has a glioblastoma, and in case no one has clued you in yet, this wife of yours, the one with the glioblastoma, is going to die. And probably within a year, if not a whole lot sooner.

In other words, this part of the story does not come with a happy ending.

+++++

I think it was a few days before Christmas.

Yeah. Mike and I were scheduled to do the CDG thing again.

And I know right about now you’re scratching your head and wondering where this is going. I got that. Yeah. But, well, you see…the whole Mike thing is wrapped up in this story in all kind of interesting ways. Like I said…circles are like that.

So, yeah, dispatch office, pick up manifest and load out and Mike’s there too, going over the METARs – the meteorological reports for the North Atlantic overnight – then we walked out to the gate and stowed our flight bags, woke up the aircraft then went down onto the slush covered ramp to do our walk-around. Yeah. Cold as shit and snowing like a son of a bitch. That about sums it up. Nasty outside, and getting nastier by the minute.

Back to the ‘pit and get the heat cranked up, program the INS and sign-off for the load-out, call the stews and tell them it’s time to close and arm the doors. Call Ground for a pushback and activate the flight-plan. Push back and start three then taxi to the active. Take off and climb out of the muck and work the SID to the airway. Routine. Pilots like routine. Routine is good. 

The time from pushback to takeoff to getting established on your airway is no nonsense time. There’s no extraneous chit-chat allowed. No ‘how’s the new pup doing?’ or ‘how’d that wisdom tooth thing go?’ during that phase of flight. You ‘aviate’ – period. You fly the plane and listen to ATC when they call out traffic. You fly the plane and look for traffic. Maybe a half hour later, when you hit cruise and the autopilot takes over, you start the whole idle chit-chat thing – assuming you want to.

As far as Mike was concerned I was pretty sure I didn’t want to.

Mike, on the other hand, wanted to. Hell, he needed to.

“I left Isabel,” he said like right out of the blue.

“Oh?” I think I said, not really wanting to go there.

“Yeah. The thing is, I got a problem.”

I turned and looked at the flight engineer, a crusty old dude who looked and acted like a civil war veteran, and he knowingly pulled the breaker on the CVR, the cockpit voice recorder. And voila, with Big Brother turned off you can vent to your heart’s content knowing the goons back on the ground won’t be listening as you talk about corn-holing your mother-in-law at Thanksgiving. Or…whatever…

“Oh?” I replied. “What’s up?”

“Well, see, the thing is…I’ve been seeing a dominatrix up in Beverly…”

I think I closed my eyes and looked heavenward, saying the only prayer that comes to mind in such situations: “Oh, God no…Why me?”

Then I looked at Mike. “No kidding? A dominatrix? What’s that like?” This, of course, I said in a remarkably non-judgmental voice. As in, “Oh, you like bananas on your Cheerios? Me too. Well, how about that! What a coincidence!”

“Yeah,” Mike continued, “I’m moving in with her next week.”

“Really? Doesn’t that seem kind of sudden to you?”

“No, no, not at all. She’s getting out of the scene, not going to be doing it professionally anymore…”

“She’s a…professional?” I think I asked.

“Yeah man.”

“Is that how you met?”

He nodded maniacally. “She’s great. I can’t wait for you guys to meet her.”

I turned and looked at the crusty old civil war veteran flight engineer – who was literally laughing so hard he was crying, only he had his fist in his mouth so he could laugh silently, and I don’t know why but I envied the old guy right about then.

“Yeah, you know, a few weeks ago she did me with a strap on and…”

And that was it. Crusty old dude burst out laughing so hard he started cutting cheese right there in the cockpit. In case no one ever cued you in on this, you can’t just roll down the windows on an airplane, not even up front, and cockpits are already nasty, confined spaces that smell of coffee, sweat, and spilled chicken-a-la-king – so adding old man fart to the mix just ain’t cool. And anyway, now I was laughing my ass off as I tried not to picture Mike on all fours with some leather-clad whack-job set to give him a colonoscopy on a No-Tell Motel bed. And it weren’t working. Not at all.

Then the head flight attendant called and wanted to know what was going on up here and that people in First could hear us laughing.

That put an end to the party and I told Mike we’d have to finish this conversation once we were on the ground.

C’est la vie, right?

So after we got to Gay Paree Mike told us all about this chick. All the whips and chains shit you’d ever want to hear, and then some. It was kind of funny, but then again it wasn’t.Having my ass paddled is not my idea of fun. Paying someone to paddle my ass seems like the height of insanity, yet Mike was full of so much love for this girl even I could see it.

Still, I had no clue, not really. I didn’t know the guy, not well, anyway, so about all I could do was laugh it off. Which is exactly what I did.

+++++

The next time I flew with Mike he had indeed filed for divorce and he had moved in with the dominatrix. I also learned that, surprise, Mike and Isabel had a…wait for it…a fifteen year old daughter, and now that kid was mixed up in this affair, too. I was, in a word, speechless. Did she realize what her father was into? Really…speechless.

Mike’s situation smacked – to my puritanical way of looking at the world, anyway – of a full blown middle aged crazy outburst of somewhat more or less epic proportions. Mike was in his forties and had a fifteen year old daughter and he’d been married to an absolute hell-bitch control freak and so what does he do? He hooks up with a professional dominatrix, and excuse the fuck out of me but isn’t a professional dominatrix a professional control freak? A paid mercenary control freak?

Man, I was confused.

Yet, well, my own life on the home front was already confusing enough.

Joyce was indeed sick, sicker than even I imagined in my most pessimistic imaginings. She’d be lucky to see June, at least that was the word her oncologists laid on me. My parents were doing their best to keep Tracy from falling apart – because, let’s face it, I was away on average four days a week, sometimes five or six, and Joyce wasn’t strong enough to handle treatments and raising a daughter.

Oh yes. Treatments. Surgery. Chemo. Radiation. All with the hope of giving Joyce an additional six months to a year. Tough call. After seeing what she went through I’m not sure I could do it, not sure I’d make the same decision, but when the sand is running through your hourglass at that speed time becomes a seriously interesting issue. As in: what would you do if you were almost forty and someone told you that six months was it. The party is going to be over and the lights are going out. Wouldn’t an extra six months to a year seem like the most important thing in the universe right about then?

And here’s one more piece of this little ever-expanding puzzle.

I’d begun falling in love with Joyce all over again. Whatever had brought us together back at Berkeley was still there. It was a palpable thing. My mom saw it first, then Tracy did. I felt it, or at least the beginnings of that resurgence, when I saw her sitting next to the window by the gate at CDG. Maybe because I’d only been with a few women since leaving the Navy, and nothing really serious had ever come along. Sorry, Jill, but I tried to be upfront, ya know?

And, oh yeah, I can talk all about her now so let’s get it out in the open right now. Let’s talk about that which we’ve ignored so far. Destiny. As in: Joyce was my destiny, right? And some mysterious force brought us back together, right? La forza del destino, nes pa? I’m still not sure I buy into all that stuff but there it is, hanging out there in the air apparent, just waiting for your casual refutation. Or mine, for that matter.

The thing is…I can’t. 

I held her in the shower before her surgery, and that was the night she asked me to shave her head. I always loved her hair so the idea of cutting that away from her really hurt us both. But there it was, reality. And sure, yeah, reality is a close cousin to destiny. I get that. And at times reality is inescapable, a weight on your chest you can’t shove aside, so with scissors in hand I cut her hair and placed the strands in a big zip-lock baggie to we could drop them off at a place that made wigs for chemo patients to use later on in their treatment. Later on, when those lucky souls were well on their way to a remarkable recovery. Only Joyce wasn’t on that road, and that was about all I could fathom as I put a fresh blade in my razor and began lathering her skin, then shaving her smooth.

After I finished I just held her. No words came. No words could possibly suffice. Standing there under the hot water all I knew is I wanted to hold on to her for something like forever. I hated myself for ever leaving her. I loved her for finding me again, for trusting in me enough to pass her future on to me.

I thought about destiny a lot those days. Mine and, oddly enough, Mike’s. 

I know. Circles are funny. Yada-yada-yada…

+++++

Because about a month later I learned that Mike had, quite literally, bought the farm. Well, he and the (ex-)professional dominatrix – and I wish I was making this up – along with her ten year old daughter (!) moved into an ancient farm house in the hills not all that far from my place. Isabel, his now ex-wife, and their fifteen year old daughter moved into an apartment in Boston and that was, I reckoned, that.

Oh, yeah. That. What a word.

But there’s that whole destiny thing lurking around out there, ya know…? That old saw about not counting your chickens before they’ve hatched? Yeah. As in: don’t fuck around with destiny, because she’ll kick your ass every time.

+++++

I guess it was April. Joyce was not doing well and Tracy was acting out at home and in school – and even my parents were struggling to keep up with Tracy’s constantly shifting moods. Joyce helped when she could, which was more than I managed on my two days a week at home, but Tracy was foundering and we all knew it.

Then late one night the phone rang and of course I picked it up…

…and I heard screaming in the background and a girl trying frantically to talk to me…

“Hello!” I said.

“Hi, it’s Angela. Is this Jim?”

“I’m Jim,” I said between the gales of screaming insanity I heard in the background.

“I’m Mike’s daughter, he told me to call you.”

“Oh?” Why is it that whenever destiny calls your first reaction is to say something clever like ‘Oh?’

“He’s in London and he said I should call you when I need help!”

“What’s wrong, Angela?” I think I said, molten steam seeping from my ears.

“Something’s going on with my mom. She’s not acting right…”

“Is that her screaming?” I asked.

“Yes, she’s acting really weird…” and then she stopped talking – and I’d assume she did so when the sound a smashing glass cut off her train of thought.

“What’s your address?” I asked, pen in hand.

When I hung up my dad was standing there looking at me with that “What Now?” look in his eyes.

So I told him and off we went, the Lone Ranger and Tonto off to save another damsel in distress one more time and I think the entire time I was driving into Boston Little Miss Destiny was laughing her fucking ass off.

+++++

The apartment was in tatters. So was Angela. As in bruised and battered.

Isabel was a whirling dervish and somewhere completely off this planet. One look around and dad grabbed Angela and took her down to the Land Rover; I talked Isabel down from wherever the hell she was and got her to Mass General.

One of the ER interns, probably fresh from a psych rotation, wanted to put her in a straight jacket and into a rubber room – but calmer heads prevailed. Angela helped provide a decent history, some of which I could verify, and it turned out that Isabel had started acting weird about six months ago. So as fast as you can say magnetic resonance imaging Isabel was off for some pictures of her brain and just wouldn’t you know it…?

“That’s a glioblastoma…” the attending neurologist said – about two hours later. “They’re really quite rare.”

“Oh, really?” I sighed as my gut pulled another barrel roll. “Imagine that…” Actually that was about all I could manage at the time. Maybe because I was too busy getting Destiny’s foot out of my ass.

+++++

This whole Circle of Life thing sometimes leaves me a little flummoxed. 

You’re born, you live, then you die. I get that. Your life is just one small part of a larger circle, like an arc…or a segment, if you will. If you don’t have kids the circle ends with you. If you have a bunch of kids then a whole bunch of new circles spin-off of the original, yet somehow all these new circles are a part of the original, like fused atomic nuclei. Like planets orbiting their home star over eons of time.

Only Isabel and Joyce were fusing now. United by cancer, united in fighting the good fight. 

And Tracy? Wild, unmanageable Tracy?

She became Angela’s new best friend, her coach and savior. It all came together naturally enough after that night. Those two teenaged girls decided they’d get through this whole cancer thing together, and just like that – problem solved. Cosmic tumblers?

Don’t get me started.

When Mike got back he surveyed the carnage he’d let slip under the door and I think he took stock of his life and found himself wonting. So…Mike being Mike and all – he moved Isabel and Angela into the farmhouse with the (ex-)professional dominatrix and her ten year old daughter. But as mentioned Isabel and Joyce were now on the same trajectory and Mike, overwhelmed – or overrun  – with feelings of guilt could hardly keep up with his own feelings. So we – Mike and I – took turns taking the girls to the oncology clinic for their chemo, then their radiation, and Mike and I – now picking our way carefully through the same jagged, heart-stopping terrain – grew closer and closer as death itself came closer and closer to our respective circles.

And that’s when Destiny decided to come in for one more kick, this one aimed squarely at the heart of the matter.

+++++

The (ex-)professional dominatrix – Sybel was, I believe, her nom de guerre – called me at the house one morning, but Dad took the call.

“Jim,” he called out a minute later, “I think you’d better take this one.”

Mike was flying that day and Sybel woke up with a bad pain in her pelvic area and would I mind taking her to her doctor in the city? And, oh yes, her daughter Sadie would need someone to look after her.

“Mom?” I called out in desperation.

I mean, really, wouldn’t you?

So…I picked up the (ex-)professional dominatrix and drove her to her clinic in the city and she asked that I stay with her in the room when her doc did an ultrasound. Then her doc asked that I wait outside while they did a quick colposcopy to get a tissue sample. An emergency procedure was scheduled for five the next morning, and I learned then that Sybel had a high-grade small-cell neuroendocrine cancer. Stage 4, by the way, we soon found out. The surgeon told me that this was a very rare cancer and I’m sure by now you know exactly what I said next.

“Oh really? You don’t say?”

When I picked up Mike at Logan later that afternoon I got to explain the known and unknown intricacies of high-grade small-cell neuroendocrine cancer to him – while he broke down and apart and crumbled into a million shards of thin glass – as I drove him through the city to Mass Gen and to the crumbling remains of his passion play. Little was known about this cancer at the time, I think her doctor mentioned to him in passing, only that it was invariably fatal. No, he didn’t say that. Doctors really are not that obtuse. Anyway, Sybel soon started on some sort of generic chemotherapy but again, little was known at the time about this type of cancer and it was just a shot in the dark. She starting sinking fast by early summer, and so too did Mike.

For the life of me I can’t really remember why I bought that little house on Saw Mill Circle. I was single at the time and if you’d asked if I planned on getting married I’d have shrugged off the question as the deranged musings of a lunatic. Maybe, I told myself, five bedrooms and four baths was great for resale value. The house had three main floors, too, with a big master on the ground level, four on the next, while the third floor was finished out as a great room, but which, thankfully, as it turned out included a full bath.

The third floor turned into the hospice floor by that summer as one by one our gathered arcs drew to a close. Marco busily went over contingencies, with Sadie’s real father the first real unknown we had to confront. Also, as it happened, Mike’s divorce wouldn’t be finalized while Isabel was still alive so Angela would remain with him regardless. Yet by early summer Sadie and the other two girls were doing well together – and this is where all that talk about circles and atoms and planets comes into play.

Who knows what pulls us together, what tugs at our orbits or what comes along and tears us loose, pulls us into new orbits, new ways of being, new lives out of the old. My father could see all this at the time but maybe that was because his own arc was closing. We didn’t know it at the time, of course, and even though death didn’t come to him for a few years, he still knew. He was always wise about those kinds of things, and maybe that’s why Joyce reached out to him in the first place. Of all the people in the universe, she reached out for his warm, steady hand and he pulled her back into our orbit, kept her stable until she could find her way back to me, to her real place in the world.

Mike? Who the hell knows. I sure don’t know how to reconcile what went down with him. Sometimes middle-aged crazy sounds about right, but not others. Still, if he’d never left Isabel and if he’d never found his new orbit around Sybel’s little star we’d have never had Sadie join our own circle. So…see what I mean? This whole circle of life thing is pretty daunting and none of it makes the slightest sense – until it happens.

+++++

Joyce was a wisp of herself the last time we drifted into the shower – together. Standing there as one under the water it finally hit me: I couldn’t let her go. No way. She was confused all the time by then, and some days she hardly knew where she was, or even who I was for that matter. Still, there’s something about warm water, something almost amniotic, womblike and comfortable. I loved to hold her there, smell her hair, even as short as it was. Her skin on mine, an attraction stronger than gravity, the pull of what was meant to be. How could I let go? How could I ever? Even when I did so many years ago. 

Some mistakes you can never make right, no matter how nice the water feels. 

Tracy couldn’t do it. She’d come up to the third floor and the smell would hit her and she’d start to cry as he turned and fled to her room. The last few times days it was sheer will that pulled her up there to her mother’s side. Her fear was palpable. So was mine.

Joyce stayed those last days in a blue recliner with an IV hooked up to a port in her chest, and she was receiving fluids and nourishment through that line. The hospice nurse came by one day and dropped off some morphine and instructions on how to do it – and when, but there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell I could pull that trigger. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask Tracy or even Mike to do it, so when the time came, when Joyce was slipping into that place you might charitably call agony, we called the hospice agency and waited – no longer knowing how or what to feel. I sat with Joyce as she passed, but Tracy couldn’t do it. My mom stayed with her. My father stayed with me. We held her hands and it was all so easy. So gentle. So final.

As human beings we really have no words to say goodbye in moments like these. You do the best you can knowing words will never be enough.

But Joyce had figured that one out a long time before she grew ill. The song I wrote for her, the music we made together? All of it now on a scratchy old vinyl record hastily transcribed to binary bits on a shiny silver disc, and she asked that I slipped headphones on her head when the time came and so I played that music, our music, while she slipped away. It was music we’d made together so many years ago – yet I could see those moments unfold in her eyes as the crystalline notes made their way to the place where memories hang on the longest, and I could feel all the stories of our life come together again, all right there on one last sigh.

+++++

I’d gotten used to sleeping with her, to sleeping with someone in my bed, and the loneliness I felt after she left us was unbearable. The cold sheets, the utter quiet of night without her breathing next to me. Tracy, of course, felt pretty much the same way and so she decided she just had to have a dog. 

So…why not get two dogs? One for her bed – and one for mine?

Only someone should have talked us into something more practical than Bernese Mountain Dogs. I mean, really…

Anything other than Bernese Mountain Dogs. Bernese Mountain Dogs know how to do one thing really well: they know how to drool. Drool by the bucket load. They eat a lot, too – which means they shit small Volkswagens all over your yard. They are, however, terrific cuddlers…and frankly that was all that mattered.

Because Death still had a grip on our little house.

Sybel and Isabel went next, and they passed on the same day. Don’t ask me the how or the why of such things because I do not know. Never have and never will. 

Mike went up to the farm the day after his love died and cleared-out all his belongings and put the property on the market. Then he didn’t even ask, he just moved in with the rest of us. I called the guy who built the house and we converted the third floor into an apartment for him. And that, as they say, was that.

Marco had a little sailboat and we carried all our ashes out into Mass Bay. A few minutes after the deed was done a whale and her calf scooted by so close we could her them breathing and there it was again, that whole circle of life thing. It was everywhere that day. In the air, in the sea, in the eye of a passing whale. Like there was more to live than mere survival. I could feel the love in that whale’s eye, the love for her calf, her love of life. Who knows, maybe she felt what was in our beating hearts, and maybe I was looking into the beating heart of that truth when I stood looking down into an aircraft carrier’s churning wake.

Mike dated once or twice but nothing ever came of it. I think he was afraid any woman he touched would turn to cancer and that her ashes would blow away on the next sea breeze. He kept flying for a while, at least until Sadie graduated from high school, then he retired and started teaching kids to fly. By that time Sadie and Mario Petrocelli were a permanent fixture down on the waterfront, and once she started working at the restaurant as a waitress that was it. Within a few years she alone possessed the secret to Mama Petrocelli’s lasagna and there she would remain, spinning off to form new circles of her own.

Angela went to NYU and then to med school. She’s an oncologist now, and lives up in Portland, Maine, yet the funniest thing about us, the really odd part of our story, is that I love Angela and Sadie as much as I love Tracy. We came together inside a shifting moment in time, a moment when old circles completed their arcs and new circles seemed ready to start, but we, all of us, we fused under the pressure of the moment. We came together, just like families have come together throughout all our time on this planet. 

I watched my father’s circle close, then my mother’s. And I watched their circles close with three girls and a slightly insane pilot there by my side because, hey, that’s what families do. When we’re together now everything feel whole and good and right with our world, and I don’t know how else to describe things. We just are.

Tracy thought she wanted to be a pilot for a while, until she heard me play the piano anyway, and then, after she really listened to the two records I was a part of she decided she wanted to be a musician. And despite all my best efforts to change her mind she turned out to be a decent keyboardist, even if she still burps too loudly. 

All these spinning circles come together at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and everyone comes and spends a month or so here when the leaves are green and the breezes are soft and warm. Even Mike comes by every now and then, usually to pick up a grandkid and bounce him on a knee, but sometimes just to pick up his mail. It’s home, after all is said and done.

I married Jill, the flight attendant I’d futzed around with before Joyce came back to me. It took me a while to get there but we weren’t meant to live alone. We go down to Petrocelli’s at least once a week and eat Sadie’s lasagna, and on Sundays Marco joins us for brunch. 

Jill and I like to walk out to a nearby beach – it’s called Singing Beach for some reason – and even in winter we like to walk through the snow and watch the sun come up over the water. Sunrise and sunset, points on an arc describing and defining circles of her own design, yet even so a part of who and what we are, what it means to be alive, even if we are but little tangents to her steady arc. Jill and I walk down to the sand and the sea with an old Bernese Mountain Dog by our side, and she barks at passing whales.

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Forgotten Songs From An Ordinary Life, Chapter 9

BROKEN ROAD-1

A modest chapter here, long enough for a cup of chamomile tea. Lots of snow on the ground around the house, and the air is quite cold, too. It is, I think I’m trying to say, perfect weather to curl up with a pup and read. Or listen to some quiet music – as the snow falls…

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 9

Beverly Hills, California                                              1 July 1976

Anders picked up the telephone and dialed Tilly’s number. He did not need to look up the number; it was by now as often dialed as any number he called, but there was otherwise nothing at all ordinary about this particular call. Or, for that matter, this particular day.

When Ted picked up the phone Anders felt a little wave of relief. “Ted?” he asked. “Got a minute?”

“Sure Dad, what’s up?”

“I wanted to know if you could come up this weekend.”

Ted knew his father’s voice – and his moods – well enough by now to know that something was wrong. “Uh, well, Kat and I were going down to the marina this weekend. They’re having a big fireworks display down there…”

“Okay. That’s fine. What about coming up early tomorrow evening and I’ll get you back out to SFO on Saturday morning?”

“It’s important, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Is Saul going to be around?”

“Yes, this concerns him – as well as you…and the Callahans.”

“Okay, Dad. My last class gets out at noon-thirty, so I can probably make the one-thirty on PSA.”

“Sounds good. I’ll pick you up at the usual place.”

“Okay, Dad, see you there.” Ted clicked the receiver and then dialed his mom’s office, and her secretary picked-up. “Hey Margie, Ted. Is Mom free?”

“Yup, I’ll put you through.”

Tilly had just wrapped up her last patient for the day but getting a call from Ted was a little out of the ordinary on a weeknight, so she was instantly on guard. “Ted? Is something wrong?”

“Not sure, Mom. Dad just called. He wants me to come up tomorrow afternoon…”

“What about Saturday with Katharine and her father?”

“Coming back Saturday morning?”

“Just one night? That is strange. You want me to give him a call?”

“No, I can handle it.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. He said Saul was going to be there, the Callahan’s too.”

“The Callahans? Really?”

“That’s what he said.”

“What flight are you taking?”

“I’m shooting for the one-thirty.”

“Okay. I’m coming too.”

Ted sighed and shook his head. “You sure you wanna do this, Mom? He might get all wound-up again, ya know?”

“I know,” Tilly said. In fact, because of all the scheduled bicentennial celebrations she was halfway expecting Anders to be in rare form. “Are you and Kat going out tonight?”

“No, she’s got an MCAT study session Saturday morning.”

“I thought you had something going on with Sam?”

“No, that’s next weekend.”

“Well, looks like you’re stuck with me for dinner, Kid. Anything sound good to you?”

“How ‘bout Gladstone’s?”

“She crab soup, right?” Tilly said, grinning at Ted’s latest obsession.

“How’d you guess?”

“You’d think that maybe I know you by now, right? Maybe just a little?”

“Maybe so, Mom. You never can tell, though…right?”

She sighed – then scowled. “You know we loved each other, right? Things just got out of control.”

“Yeah, Mom, I know.” But, he sighed to himself, control was always the operant word, wasn’t it?

+++++

Almost everyone met up at the Little Dutch House before heading down to the wharf, where they picked up Harry before walking down to Scoma’s for brunch. No one seemed talkative, and even Harry seemed caught off guard – or was he simply annoyed – by all the unasked for importance attached to this impromptu gathering. Imogen, for her part, seemed more than a little nervous, and for some reason that made Tilly put up a few more walls of protection.

Anders ordered two bottles of riesling to go with a couple of platters of chilled seafood, and after their waitress left them he cleared his throat and looked at everyone seated around the table. “I am sorry for all the drama, but I have some news.”

“Dad?” Ted said, and though still not sure what this was all about his father’s voice sounded more than somber. “Are you okay?”

“Me – okay? Why yes, of course, but wait – this has nothing to do with my health. In fact, if I may get to the point, I have decided to go home and I wanted to tell each of you personally.”

“Home?” Tilly said, more than a little interested now – but still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But Anders merely shook his head. “I am going to Israel,” he said. “To our home.”

“Israel?” Ted cried. “But Dad – why…there?”

“Because,” Anders said, “I have grown tired of having to look behind myself, of waiting for the ‘stab in the back’ – again.”

“Again?” Ted asked.

But it was Saul who spoke now. “The stab in the back was Herr Hitler’s favorite saying, Ted. That Jews in the Weimar Republic stabbed all Germans in the back by agreeing to surrender when – and how – they did.”

“So, Hitler blamed Jews for that, too?”

Saul smiled, a rueful, apologetic smile. “The word is scapegoat, Ted. Blame does not adequately describe what Herr Hitler was conjuring.”

“So,” Ted continued, “moving next door to ten million pissed off Arabs is supposed to be safe?”

“You misunderstand, Ted,” Anders interjected. “Israel is our homeland. God has ordained this.”

Harry cleared his throat – before he spoke next. “Anders, if you don’t mind me asking, just what are you planning on doing over there?”

“Teaching,” Anders said, though a little defensively.

Harry nodded. “Well, I for one will miss you.”

And for some reason this made Anders cry – just a little. “Thank you, Harald. You will always be welcome in our house.”

“Our house?” Tilda Sorensen said, her left eyebrow arching tremulously.

“Yes, Tilda. You see, I am getting married once I arrive,” Anders sighed as he shrugged unapologetically, perhaps even a little defiantly – though he was almost imperceptibly grinning…just a little.

“Dad!” Ted growled. “What the fuck!”

Tilly signaled their waitress and ordered a double martini, dirty.

Harry Callahan leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling, trying his best not to get up and leave the table – but only because he’d noticed his mother’s hands had begun trembling.

Yet…in the same instant Ted’s eyes were drawn to Imogen’s hands as well, and while at first he wondered why, it took just a moment for his eyes to drift to Lloyd Callahan and then back to Imogen. When his eye caught Harry’s upturned sidelong glances he realized the truth of the moment…there was something going on between Lloyd and Imogen…and in the moment he wondered how long it had been going on…?

Then he looked at Saul and watched him turn away, and Ted wondered what secrets the old man was carrying around – until he followed Saul’s eyes to another table across the dining room.

An Old Man in an odd looking cape was sitting at the table, alone, and he was staring at Imogen. 

And to Ted it seemed as if the Old Man was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

+++++

Ted and Kat met Sam Gold down at the Marina del Rey, at the end of a finger-pier behind a fence that belonged, apparently, to a sprawling apartment complex located just above the slips. Sam was talking to the yacht’s captain and chef when Kat led Ted up the boarding ramp to the main deck.

Though Ted had been down to the boat twice before, the sheer size of Sam’s latest toy simply left him awestruck each time he saw it. Her name was The April Fools, and she had been built in Holland a couple of years before by a consortium of naval architects and ship builders known as Feadship; she was the largest yacht permanently berthed in the marina and was universally regarded as the most luxurious yacht on the West Coast. At 178 feet length overall and with a permanent crew of seven – that usually lived on board –  The April Fools was also one of the few yachts on the West Coast that kept a Bell JetRanger permanently onboard. 

LA County was putting on the fireworks display that Saturday night, on July 3rd, and the plan was for the boat to head out into the open sea just offshore and watch the fireworks before heading across the channel to Catalina Island, where the yacht would moor just off Casino Point at Avalon Harbor. There would be more fireworks on Sunday night, leaving all day Sunday free for exploring the island, and after that display wrapped the yacht would return to LA in time to get everyone off to work. Sam would, not unusually, leave by helicopter after the fireworks display on the island – but only because he was slated to take his Gulfstream II to Paris early Monday morning.

Ted walked up and shook Sam’s hand, but Sam wasn’t having any of it; he took Ted in hand and pulled him into a deep hug, then he hugged his daughter before leading them to their stateroom. Most of the guests were already on board, all of them actors on this trip, but Ted and Kat had the largest guest stateroom and that had more than a couple of the actors pissed off.

By the time the crew cast off the lines the marina was full of little sailboats puttering out the main channel, everyone vying to be close to the end of the breakwater where the fireworks display was being readied, yet everyone in the harbor stared at The April Fools as she pulled away from her pier and made for the breakwater – probably because everyone knew she would be packed with Hollywood royalty…

…which immediately caused more than a few problems…

As it seemed every little boat had to see how close they could get to the yacht, causing the skipper to lay on the collision horn more than once. Little speedboats buzzed by, bikini clad girls waving from the bows as they passed – until a half dozen LA Sheriff’s Department boats showed up and chased everyone away.

The April Fools increased speed once clear of the breakwater and went about a half mile offshore, and at that point Ted and Kat walked up to the bow and stood facing the wind, Ted holding onto the varnished teak rails as the little ship crashed into a nice deeply rolling swell – sending spray fifty feet into the air. Ted turned and looked aft to the flying bridge and waved at Sam, then he turned to Katharine and held her close.

“How was San Francisco?” she asked. “As bad as you expected?”

“Maybe. I’m not really sure. Dad’s moving to Israel, and he says he’s getting married once he gets there.”

“What? Your dad?”

“Yup.”

“Do you know to who?”

Ted shook his head. “No, but he wants us to come over at Thanksgiving for the ceremony. Mom too.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Katharine sighed, laughing a little. “I bet that was good for a laugh.”

“I didn’t see anyone laughing, Kat. Not even Harry.”

“Oh – the cop? Was he there, too?”

“Yeah. Kind of unnerving too, if you know what I mean. He’s still carrying that hand-cannon in a shoulder holster.”

“I can’t tell whether I like him or not, you know?”

Ted nodded. “Harry is an acquired taste, Kat. How many times have we been to dinner with him?”

“Twice, I think. Always at that crab shack down by the pier.”

“Ah, yes. Beer, with seafood optional.”

“He can really pack it down, you know?”

“That’s our Harry. He ain’t happy without his Oly.”

“Oly?”

“Olympia Beer. Seattle’s finest, I guess, or something like that, anyway.”

The boat’s bow crashed into another large rolling wave and another wall of water flew out from the ship in a long, graceful arc – and just then another couple came up to the bow. Ted recognized the actor but for some reason couldn’t remember his name – but he nevertheles held out his right hand as the actor approached.

“Dustin Henry,” the actor said as he took Ted’s hand in his. “And you’re Ted, right?”

“I am. Nice evening, isn’t it?”

Dustin looked around. “Yeah. I guess. Look, Sam just told me you’re going to be co-executive producer on Falling Water, but that you’ll be making a lot of the casting decisions.”

Ted just smiled – if only because this was the first he’d heard of it – but he also knew how Sam worked these things. “What can I do for you, Dustin?”

“I want the lead. You haven’t committed to Redford yet, have you?”

Ted simply shrugged. “Nothing is written in stone yet, Dustin, if that’s what you mean.”

“Goddamn!” Henry cried. “It’s like fucking ice up here! How can you stand it?”

Ted simply shrugged – though he grinned just a little.

“Look,” Dustin pleaded, “could we talk this weekend? I have some ideas I’d like to go over with you…”

Again Ted just smiled and shrugged, not really sure what Sam was up to yet. “Why don’t we just enjoy the fireworks tonight, okay?” he added, concluding the exchange. He watched Henry deflate than walk back to the main saloon, but he noticed Sam was still up on the fly bridge watching him intently – but this time Same waved at him and Ted nodded in return. He knew not to ask what Sam was up to, and that Sam would tell him when he was good and ready – but then he turned to Kat and looked at her. She kept her eyes dead ahead and he instantly surmised she was in on it – whatever ‘it’ was.

“How’d the study session go?” he asked her – watching her reaction as he changed gears.

“Good. I had no idea there’d be an essay on moral reasoning, and it’s an important part of the test, too.”

“No kidding? Moral reasoning…for physicians? Now that’s a stretch…”

“Yup, that was a real surprise,” she sighed.

“You want to tell me what’s up with your dad?”

“No, not really.”

“I kinda figured, Kat.”

“I’m getting cold.”

“Yeah, me too. Getting rough out, isn’t it…?”

She turned and smiled at him, but that was all she’d give away that night.

But when everyone gathered on the aft deck to watch the fireworks Dustin stood next to him, engaging in pleasant chit-chat through the display, and then he and his wife sat next to Ted and Kat when everyone gathered for a late supper.

“That was really something,” Dustin said in his thick Brooklyn accent. “Almost as good as New York’s.”

“Hard to compete with all the tall ships in the harbor,” Sam Gold said. “That gave me goosebumps, seeing those ships against the two towers last night, but I thought the guys did a nice job here.”

“Yeah. Nice,” Henry said, and Ted leaned back and watched the interplay between Sam and this actor. But again he got the impression Sam was watching him, sizing him up – by how well he handled the situation…then…

“I’m headed to Paris on Monday,” Sam added. “Doing some location work with the crew. Ted? You think you could take some time off from your work and join me?”

Ted didn’t act surprised, not in the least – he just leaned back in his chair and looked at Sam: “No sweat,” he sighed, though he grinned – just a little.

“You didn’t happen to bring your passport, did you?” Sam asked.

“Of course,” Ted replied.

“Dustin? You bring your passport?”

“Yessir, sure did.”

“Well, Ted and I will let you know in the morning. Kat? Think you could entertain our guests for a while? Ted and I need to have a sit-down before I hit the sack.”

“Sure, Daddy,” she cooed.

“Alright then, if you’ll excuse us? Ted?”

Ted followed Sam forward to the midship stairway and they made their way down and aft to Sam’s stateroom, then to a little sitting area on the port side.

“You really bring your passport?” was the first thing he asked.

“I did, sir. Yes.”

“Mind if I ask why?”

“I always carry it when I fly.”

“Oh, that’s right. You went up to the city yesterday. How’d that go?”

“Okay, sir. My dad has decided to move to Israel, and he’s getting married again.”

Sam looked at him, his demeanor unchanged. “You okay?”

“I’m still getting used to the idea, sir.”

Sam nodded his leonine head, then he pointed to a chair as he took a seat and picked up a phone. “Lee, bring my cigars, and two glasses of Drambuie, rocks please.”

Ted sat and waited.

“How old are you now, Ted? Twenty-one?”

“Yessir.”

“Your teachers tell me good things about the work you’re turning in. Good ideas, sound thinking. You ready to get your hands dirty on a little project?” Sam said as he took his glass of Drambuie from Lee, his personal waiter/valet who was never far from his side.

“Of course,” Ted said, taking a second glass from Lee.

“You ever thought of acting?” Sam said as he fiddled with a cigar.

“Me, sir? Acting? Not on your life…”

Sam chuckled as he shook his head. “You’ve got the looks and you handle pressure well. You might do pretty good if the mood ever strikes…”

“It won’t, sir.”

“Well, let’s clear the air a little, okay?”

“Sir?”

“Look, I know you think I helped you into film school but it was all you. Once you were accepted, well, I asked a couple friends of mine there to keep man eye on you, to keep me posted on your progress – and they’ve had nothing but good things to say about your work so far.”

Ted looked at Sam and nodded, still not sure where this was headed but more than curious now.

Sam was enjoying this, the kid’s calm demeanor impressive as hell. Most of the ass kissers he dealt with would have been on their knees by now, but not Ted. This kid had ‘it’ and the idea filled Sam with a sense of wonder. Katharine had bumped into this kid, there’d been no prearranged agendas in play, no one running a con on him. No, Ted was the real deal and he’d just fallen into his lap. The kid needed a mentor, true enough, but Sam had known even then that he’d need an heir to the throne one day. Because time was running out and he’d begun to realize he couldn’t afford to waste another day. But first he needed to put the kid under some real pressure, see if he had the balls to take the reins – if and when…

“How are you and Katharine doing?” Sam asked.

“Fine, sir.”

“She tells me you want to set a date. Is that about the size of it?”

“Yessir.”

“Ted?”

“Sir?”

“How  many times do I have to tell you…my name is not sir. Got it? Not between you and me – understand?”

Ted nodded. “Okay.”

“If there’s something on your mind I need you to be comfortable enough talking with me to come to me with any problem you can’t figure out on your own. Don’t procrastinate, don’t let things fester. So no keeping things from me. Got it? No bullshit, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now, tell me what’s going on between you two?”

“I think she still wants to put off getting married until she gets out of med school…”

“And you’re still against that?”

“I am, sir – uh, Sam.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, med school is just the beginning of the process. There are internships and residencies to consider, and then who knows what after that and before you know it ten years or more is gone. Then what?”

“And those ten years? What’s so important about getting married that it can’t wait?”

“Kids for one, Sam. And then what else can happen in all that time. Maybe she meets someone else and decides I’m not the one…”

“That kind of shit can happen regardless of the time and place, Ted, and you can’t live your life in fear of shit like that. If your love is the real deal that kind of stuff isn’t usually a factor. On the other hand, having kids is a big deal, a solid commitment. You think the two of you are ready to take that on?”

“Not right now, no sir. But maybe in a few years, maybe after living together a couple of years, well, I think we’d know by then.”

“What? Living together? Or married?”

“I’d marry her tomorrow, Sam. You know that.”

Sam smiled and nodded. “Yes, that was clear the first time you showed up on my doorstep. You were smitten, always had it bad.”

“I still do, sir. She’s the one. I can hardly breathe when we’re apart.”

“Sure you’re just not horny?”

Ted coughed at that. “Sir?”

“I assume you’ve nailed her…more than once, right?”

“Sir?” Ted said, his face turning bright crimson.

“Ted? Get your act together. And I mean now.”

“Uh…”

“Look, Ted. Basic premise here, so listen up. When someone tries to fuck with your head like this they’re looking for an angle, a weakness they can exploit. Get you off balance, on guard, then while you’re flustered and weak…that’s when the big shit goes down. You’re an easy mark then, in that moment, and that’s when people take advantage of you. Got it?”

“Sam? What’s this all about?”

“A new flick. Working title is Falling Water. It’s kind of a World War Two romance thing but the script we’ve got is remarkable. I’m going to Paris to see if we can get Deneuve signed, and I want you there. But here’s the problem; because you’re young, people are going to try and fuck with you, fuck with your head…”

“Understood, but I need to know your objectives, sir.”

“My objective? Ted, my objective is to turn you loose and see if you can sign her.”

Ted nodded his head slowly. “Okay. I can do that.”

Sam’s eyes narrowed at that. “You know anything about Miss Deneuve?”

“Yessir. A little.”

“Well, that’s why Jack’s here. Talk to him. God knows he’s still infatuated with her, and he knows everything there is to know about her. How’s your French?”

“Decent enough. At least I think I can hold my own.”

“Well okay, we’ll see. Her English is, well, let’s just say she tries.”

“Okay. Is Kat coming with us?”

“Kat? No, why would she? This is work, Ted, not a vacation.”

“Understood.”

“Now, this stuff with your father…is it going to fuck with your head?”

Ted shook his head. “No sir, not at all.”

“Okay. Now, tell me, do you see Dustin playing a romantic lead opposite Deneuve?”

“Is it a comedy or a drama, sir.”

“Call me sir one more time, Ted, and I’m going to pitch your ass overboard.”

“Look, Sam, there are just a few people in the world I respect enough to call sir, and you’re one of ‘em. Cut me some slack, would you?”

Sam nodded. “Let’s call it a drama – with a little fun thrown in to lighten the mood. The male lead has got to be self deprecating and unconsciously funny.”

“Is he a soldier or a pilot?”

“Flyer. Now, what does that tell you?”

“It tells me I need to read the script.”

“In your stateroom there’s an envelope. Let me know what you think by six a.m. tomorrow. You don’t smoke, do you?”

“No sir. Never have.”

“Pot?”

“No sir.”

“Well, you’ve got some reading to do. See you at breakfast, and Ted…I’m sorry if I’m ruining your night.”

Ted nodded. If anyone could understand what Sam was up to it had to be Kat…yet when he made it forward to their stateroom he found the envelope propped on his pillow – and Katharine already fast asleep.

+++++

He’d never been on any kind of private airplane before so getting his initiation in a Gulfstream II was a bit of a trial by fire. Eight sumptuously reclining leather seats and with one stewardess to take care of them, Ted settled into the seat over the right wing and took the proposed shooting budget from Sam and quickly skimmed through the document, making notes as he read, so by the time he finished he hardly noticed that the jet was airborne and now headed northeast over Utah. He handed his notes and observations to Sam who quickly read through them before smiling and looking over at the kid.

“You know, Ted, I’ve got accountants, supposedly CPAs, and I’ve got lawyers by the score working for me, and not one of them has pointed out these problems to me. I saw them immediately, and apparently so did you, but I’m wondering why all these highly paid professionals are missing obvious problems like these. What do you think?”

Ted shrugged noncommittally, then he turned to Sam and spoke: “Hard to say, but lawyers profit by litigating, right, so is it possible that they feel like they can safely ignore these more complex, behind the scenes problems in the early stages of the process, because, well, who knows, maybe they’re hoping these problems will lead to more complex litigation down the road…”

“Once a project is well underway and I’d have more incentive to fight…”

“And so they get more billable hours. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

“It’s also illegal and unethical,” Sam sighed.

“So? Show me a lawyer who pays attention to those kinds of niceties and I’ll show you a starving lawyer.”

“Where’d you pick that line up…van Brunkle’s class?”

“Yeah, I guess. That’s just motion picture financing 101.”

“That’s also called cynicism, Ted.”

“Which doesn’t make it any less true, does it, sir?”

Sam turned away for a moment, measuring his next words carefully: “Sometimes cynicism is called for, but in the end I’d say rarely so. You have to surround yourself with people you can trust, Ted. If you can’t, well, all I can tell you is you won’t last long in this business.”

Ted held up his notes and looked at Sam. “So, what’s with these people?”

“New kids, just out of the film school. They’ll be working for you on this project, so it’ll be your job to figure out how – and why – they’re screwing things up…all while you’re supervising the writers and production designers and all the other little pieces of the puzzle…”

“And while keeping in touch with the studio, I assume?”

“Yes, that too. Let’s call it a trial by fire.”

“Okay.”

“Think you can handle it, Ted?”

“Yessir. Not a problem.”

Years later, Sam remembered the almost flat affect in Ted’s voice, even more so the look of pure determination in the kid’s eyes – like even as they spoke he was working out in his mind how to go about solving all the inevitable little problems that routinely plagued all poorly run projects. Yet Sam recalled his first project even as he remembered that all Ted had to work with was book learning, not experience.

“Okay, now about all this BS with my daughter and a wedding date. You both graduate next May, and the release date for Falling Water is June 25th, just a month later. She reports for orientation at most med schools in late July, so that leaves about a month. You want to push that hard?”

Ted turned and looked out the window over the jet’s wing and he sighed, then he nodded. “When push comes to shove, sir, getting married is the most important thing – at least it is to me.”

“What’s the most important thing to Katharine, Ted?”

Ted shook his head as he turned to look at Sam. “Going to med school.”

“And what does that tell you?”

“She has her priorities, and I have mine.”

“And your number one priority is getting married?”

“Yessir.”

“Why is that, Ted?”

“My parents, the way they broke apart.”

“There’s no one on this plane that can hear a goddamn thing, Ted. And there’s no need for secrets between you and me, not anymore. What happened with them, Ted? Why the urgency?”

“I’m not really sure I know the answer to that one, Sam, but it feels like my dad has been running from the Germans since 1939…”

“Germans? Really?”

Ted nodded. “But then came the anti-semitism in the city. Once he figured out that there were the same kind of people here in the States he started to come undone…”

“So that’s what led to his…”

“Yessir.”

“And therefore – the whole Israel thing. Well, that makes sense.”

“Does it? I mean, does it really? Israel is like this little island surrounded by shark infested waters, so will he really be that much safer over there?”

“I doubt it, son. Do you ever go to temple?”

“Not really. Not since my bar mitzvah.”

Sam nodded. “You might reconsider that decision, Ted. Katharine has been kind of tolerant about the two of you not going, but there’s a limit to her tolerance.”

“Sir?”

“Temple has played a large role in her life, especially after her mother passed. Don’t ask her to give up that part of her life, Ted. You won’t like the outcome.”

“Yessir.”

“Your father and Israel? He’s getting married there, I hear?”

“I think so, sir.”

“Any date set yet?”

“I think he’s going to try and make if over Thanksgiving break, sir.”

“Makes sense. I assume you’ll go?”

“I’d like us all to go, sir.”

“Me? I’ve never even met your father, Ted. That might not be the best…”

“Sam, I haven’t had a father in a long time, not really. That’s what divorce means, practically speaking, because I hardly know the man now.”

“He’s your father, Ted.”

“And so are you. Anders is a shadow now, sir. Someone I used to know, and more than likely someone I’ll rarely ever see after he leaves.”

“It’s a horrible thing when a father turns away from his family.”

Ted looked down, nodded his head slowly.

“But I suppose you’re correct. All of this is behind your desire to get married now. You feel the need to repudiate your father, to prove him wrong. Yet Ted, wasn’t it your mother who pushed for the divorce – after your father’s breakdown?”

“Yessir, it was.”

“And yet you don’t feel any hostility towards her, do you? Isn’t that odd?”

“She did everything for me, sir.”

“And yet you think your father didn’t? Given the circumstances, isn’t what he gave up all that he had to give?”

Ted looked out the window again, and at his reflection in the glass.

“I’m not trying to push you around, Ted, but sometimes cynicism blinds you to certain obvious truths, but more importantly cynicism keeps you from learning from your mistakes. In a way, cynicism is like a wall you build, brick by brick, between your soul and the wisdom we seek. And maybe cynicism keeps you from seeing your life as it really is.”

Ted turned and looked at Sam. “Did you lose family over there, sir? In the camps?”

“Of course I did, Ted. I lost six million brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. I lost every soul, just as you did, and your father, as well. That is the horror from which your father runs, Ted, and it is that which we acknowledge every Sabbath. So perhaps you’ll join us next week? Perhaps you’ll start to push aside the bricks in your wall?”

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Chapter 8

Doubtful I’ll be writing much for the next few weeks. Have some tea for me, would you?

A confused land in this section. Proceed with caution…

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 8

Beverly Hills, California 15 December 1972

She’d caught his attention the very first time he saw her; before a dance while walking to the campus dining hall. She was a few yards ahead of him and her legs were mesmerizing, yet so was her long, jet-black hair – which hung almost all the way down to her waist. She was wearing black tights and a black sweater, yet he noticed that the tights seemed to accentuate her legs’ every curve and sinew, and he simply couldn’t take his eyes off of her as she made her way to the dance. And even from halfway across the campus of the Westlake School for Girl’s he could hear outrageously loud music blaring from inside the dining hall – in this case King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man – and after going inside he kept a close eye on the girl, paying close attention to who she talked to as she started to mingle in the pulsing strobes.

After a few minutes of watching her and noting that no boys were drifting her way he decided to make his move – just as I Talk to the Wind started to play. He walked right up to her and held out his hands, and she seemed to settle easily into his embrace as they slow-danced through the number. By the end of the song the live band was setting up onstage, so Ted Sorensen leaned in close and asked Katharine Gold if she wouldn’t like something to drink. When she nodded enthusiastically they went out onto the commons and got a couple glasses of punch; with no real plan in mind they went and sat on a bench and talked for a while.

Katharine Gold was a peculiar sort, actually. Usually quite shy, when she’d seen this boy and the way his eyes engaged hers she’d immediately felt at-ease, so much so that she would recall, years later, that all her usual defenses had instantly slipped away. They’d talked and talked and in fact never returned to the dance-floor, content to sit and drift through these magic moments. And perhaps that magic was their common ground – because both recognized this kind of time for what it was. They’d read enough Shakespeare and Byron and Milton to know the score, and though – perhaps – both had doubted such moments in time were anything other than contrived contextual plot devices employed by unscrupulous writers, it didn’t take them all that long to understand that what was happening to them was indeed more than real enough.

Near the end of the evening she’d called her father to let him know that a friend would be driving her home from the dance, yet Ted took his time that evening, not racing over Beverly Glen at his usual breakneck pace – instead wanting to draw out their magic together, to make this moment last. By the time he turned right off Sunset onto Alpine he was already so smitten he could hardly concentrate.

“Turn right, into the next driveway,” she said then, pointing to an ornate iron gate flanked by walls of tall shrubbery.

And so turn he did, though in his trance still not yet realizing where he was. When he switched off the engine and went around to get her door, only then did he look up and take a measure of his surroundings – at the impeccable neighborhood and at her palatial house. Even by Beverly Hills standards this place was huge and he was instantly on guard, even as he held out his hand to help her out of his little Beemer.

“You better come on up. I’m sure Dad will want to meet you.”

And, quite uncharacteristically, Ted began to feel a little uneasy in his skin, even a little unsure of himself – because in his limited experience this place represented something quite unusual, even for him.

And as they approached the entry the massive front door opened, well before they got to the front porch, and Sam Gold stepped out into the ambiguous amber glow of flickering gaslights – and Ted’s heart just about stopped. Sammy Gold had been one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood of the 40s and 50s, and yet at the pinnacle of his career he had moved behind the camera and was now more well known for producing and directing only the biggest productions over at Paramount. And now here he was, his right hand extended in peace, yet when Ted took Sam Gold’s hand in his he felt just like an amoeba under a microscope.

Sam Gold was unlike any other man he’d ever met. He simply didn’t look the part of the doting father, either: urbane and articulate, he was slim and his short hair was bright white, combed neatly back. And while it was eleven at night Gold was still so elegantly dressed it defied description: ivory slacks and a light blue linen blazer, shoes that matched his slacks and that had to have been custom made in London…and Ted took it all in, processing what he saw, instantly calculating the odds of his surviving such an encounter whole and intact.

Yet after sizing the boy up Sam Gold took him by the shoulder and invited Ted into his home.

And into another world.

+++++

Saul Rosenthal came of age in a somewhat progressive reformed Jewish household, a fairly new tradition nonetheless though quite typical of Jewish communities in northern Europe during the first decades of twentieth century. His parents embraced confronting the unjust exercise of power with reason and compassion, and the two brothers – Saul and Avi – had learned to navigate through their adult lives in much the same way. Saul joined the Foreign Ministry soon after he graduated from University, while Avi, the more gifted mathematician of the two, naturally gravitated towards the exciting developments taking place in the university’s physics department. Both had been, of course, more or less infatuated with Imogen Schwarzwald for as long as they’d had hair on their chests, though both understood she enjoyed Saul’s company more.

Saul was the taller brother and he was considered the handsomer. He was a gifted athlete and an accomplished long distance runner all through school, and he simply took better care of himself. Where Avi was unkempt and often frankly neglectful of his self, Saul was always smartly dressed and clean. You might even say that Avi was better suited to the shadows of academia, while – perhaps – that’s why Saul was so well regarded in more refined circles. There is no doubt that this more polished demeanor contributed to Saul’s earning a posting to London soon after he joined the foreign service, in late 1933 – and this despite his religious background.

Yet almost immediately the European landscape shifted, as, of course, did Denmark’s.

And while some saw the shift for what it was, and what such a shift meant for the future of Europe, most Europeans outside of Germany simply turned away from the implications of Adolph Hitler’s meteoric rise to power. Even as the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei had grown more virulently anti-semitic in the late 1920s there was still a lingering disbelief in the air that all this could happen again, and that for all Hitler’s blustery talk he was simply nothing more than just another boorish, unwashed politician. The German people would soon come to their senses and turn back to the more progressive ideologies of the Republic. 

“They just have to, so just you wait and see…”

But there were many people, more often than not those raised within the lingering shadows of European anti-semitism, who took such men as Hitler – and the stated intentions of those close to him – with utmost seriousness. Avi and Saul Rosenthal were two such people; they watched and listened and learned all they could about Hitler’s rise to power and they soon saw it for what it was. They were also among the few who chose to act.

+++++

While Anders Sorensen sank deeper and deeper into his collective past, Tilly seemed to blossom as she more deeply accepted the traditions and customs of her new surroundings in West LA. And just one example of this dichotomy revolved around the holiday festivities at Christmastime. Anders was loath to recognize anything about the holidays beyond the simplest, most traditional expressions of Hanukah, while Tilly – during their first Christmas in Brentwood – put up a Christmas tree then went so far as to string lights around the eaves of her new home.

When, one evening after school, Ted asked her why she had felt the need to do this she had remarked offhandedly that she simply wanted to “fit in,” and besides, the festive atmosphere was all rather optimistic. And now, what with the war in Southeast Asia dragging on and on, she felt that more optimism was just what she and Ted needed most.

Yet when Ted made his monthly hop up to SFO on PSA he was as suddenly immersed in the ancient customs of a much more traditional Judaism, and now his “uncle” Saul was a more integral part of his father’s life. Yet as suddenly, when they went over to the Callahan house in Potrero Hills to celebrate Christmas Eve, he had to slip back into the uneasy space between the two religious traditions – and it was all somewhat confusing to Ted. Imogen hardly ever seemed to know how to react to Christmas, though Lloyd Callahan certainly got into the mood, yet Ted sensed that Harry had grown more and more ambivalent over the years, perhaps as the weight of the conflict within their little family took a toll on them all.

Yet Harry was a cop now. One of San Francisco’s finest. But Harry looked anything but happy. No one mentioned June, Harry’s old girlfriend, and when Ted asked Harry what it had been like in Vietnam all he got in return was a thousand yard stare. When the families gathered around the piano that Christmas Eve, Harry played Silent Night then ran upstairs to his old bedroom – and he didn’t come back down again, either. Yet it was Harry’s hands that had captured Ted’s attention; his hands, and the way they trembled and shook.

Maybe because there was something about Harry’s being a cop that really just didn’t fit – not that Ted knew any cops. Then again, Harry had joined the Army to fly helicopters then gone to Germany, and he’d only decided to go to the police academy after he got back from Germany. Had something happened to him over there?

Lloyd told him that after Harry’s return the Army called him up a few years later and sent him to Vietnam for some kind of special mission, so he hadn’t been over there the usual two years. Yet Ted sensed that Lloyd seemed to be apologizing for his son, almost making excuses for him after he left them sitting around the piano and the silent tree. But in the waning eve Ted had cast a sidelong glance in Imogen’s general direction and he’d recognized her downcast eyes – and then her shaking hands.

Who was these people reacting to? Her husband, his father? What secrets were crushing the love out of this house?

Then a thought came to Ted while they were driving back to the Little Dutch House after their Christmas Eve together. He’d been racing up Beverly Glen a few weeks before Thanksgiving and had been stopped by an LAPD motorcycle cop; he’d also not been completely deferential to the cop and watched, at first amused and then with growing alarm as the cop’s hands began shaking and his voice growing almost hysterically strident. What had at first been an innocuous encounter had grown, in the blink of an eye, into a life or death encounter, and he’d spent days after going over everything he’d said and done out there on the street, trying to figure out what had happened, and what he’d done wrong.

In the end it was the cop’s shaking hands that gave up the game. The cop had been using the power of his position to command a certain level of obeisance, and when Ted’s wasn’t forthcoming the cop took that as a challenge to his authority. Okay. Easy enough to understand, but there was more going on than just that. Again, Ted thought the shaking hands and tremulous voice were the key to it all, because he’d seen the same thing time after time growing up, usually whenever he’d encountered bullies on the playground. Because he’d noticed that when a bully came at him in school he could see the same kind of reaction: the bully’s hands and voice would shake, and the more you challenged them the more upset they became, but it didn’t take too much to figure out that these guys, these bullies, were really just scared. They were, in a word, cowards. The bullies he ran across at school were usually big, fat, and stupid, too – yet the motorcycle cop wasn’t. Then it occurred to Ted that the cop was hiding the depths of a certain kind of cowardice behind the implicit authority of his badge. And, oh yes, his gun, too. His hand had never left the reassuring comfort of that gun, and in Ted’s eye that made the cop a new, very different kind of bully. A more dangerous kind of bully.

So maybe that’s what it was about Harry Callahan that didn’t exactly fit the paradigm he had been constructing in his mind, ever since their last Christmas Eve together.

Neither Harry Callahan nor his mother didn’t appear to be the bully-type, at least they’d never acted like a bully around Ted or his family, so he immediately concluded that it was foolish to make bold, generalized statements like “all cops are bullies,” or “the motorcycle cop on Beverly Glen was a coward,” and neither of the Callahans acted like bullies. Yet as uncertain as he was now, there was one thing that had been made abundantly clear to Ted after his encounter with the motorcycle cop: if you didn’t have such power your life could be rendered meaningless in an instant by to those who possessed it.

And this was an important lesson to learn for a seventeen year old rich kid, a young man who had come of age in the lap of extreme luxury. He’d led a life shielded from this kind of reality by his mother, who took great care to shield him from the day to day life that other children experienced, especially kids raised in places like South Central LA – kids who lived just a few miles from their house in Brentwood. And who knows…maybe it goes without saying that when you grow up in one reality it’s almost impossible to understand what’s happening just a few miles away. 

Ted Sorensen watched the evening news as much as anyone else did. He went to a school that was quite literally tailor made to meet the expectations of the richest people in the richest city in America, the kids of movie stars and politicians and musicians, yet the students at his school all seemed peculiarly interested in ‘social justice’ these days, about discrimination and racism and more than anything else they wanted to understand Hate.

Ted Sorensen, you may recall, grew up in the shifting sands of the sixties. And don’t forget he came of age in Southern California, where good vibrations and strawberry fields colored the sidewalks, and where incense and peppermint almost covered the stench of more blood pooling under another Kennedy’s silenced eyes. And then, after Tricky Dick pulled a heist in the Watergate, the world knew the foxes were loose in the henhouse and suddenly there was nothing left to do but laugh at the absurdity of this life. So…everyone laughed, yet no one seemed to feel that anything was especially funny anymore.

What do you call that? Cynicism?

The cynicism of shaking hands?

Maybe. But something was different going on now. Like a rustling of leaves outside your bedroom window, something was stirring out there, something was waking up, coming alive. The sixties were dead and gone now, just like the blood on sidewalks at Kent State. Washed away, reduced to a footnote. Distance was making everything easier to swallow, even disillusionment – but for some, for kids like Ted Sorensen, this disillusioned landscape was nothing so much as it was a new kind of shadowland.

He ran into another bully at school after the new semester began. Another big, fat kid with piggish eyes and a vile tongue. This one didn’t push him around or try to pick a fight. No, this one spat words, and then the bully said that Hitler’s biggest mistake was not making sure that all the Jews were dead. Gas chambers and ovens had obviously not been enough…

Sticks and stones and all that makes a certain kind of sense, yet the hatred Ted saw in the bully’s eyes was unimaginable. He saw a cold, hard blackness in those eyes and he didn’t understand where it was coming from, why someone he hardly knew felt the need to say these things to him.

Ted was so utterly shocked by the outburst he hardly recognized that this bully’s hands weren’t shaking, that this boy’s hatred was a cold, dense place – and that quite suddenly he was in real danger. Again. 

Was Hate just another kind of power?

But if Hate was power, what was Love? 

As Ted Sorensen looked into the bully’s soul he knew only one thing – that this bully believed what he was saying. Things like Hate and Love were of little consequence in these shadows.

The only thing that mattered here was power.

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Adios for now.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Part II, Chapter 7

BROKEN ROAD-1

Ah…Happy New Year to you, and may all your pizzas have extra cheese and double anchovies!

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life

Part II: The Broken Road 

Chapter 7

Brentwood Heights, California                            December 1966

Tilly Sorensen didn’t wait for the ink on her divorce papers to dry; she took a position at the UCLA Medical Center that included a teaching position in the medical school and with those in hand she didn’t looked back, not even once. With her generous settlement, including full legal custody of Theodore, moving wasn’t an issue so late in 1964 she moved to Los Angeles and bought a small house just across the 405 from the medical center. She learned of two excellent private schools nearby and enrolled Ted at the one closest to home and within a few months they had both settled into their new routines.

On the last Friday of each month Tilly drove Ted out to LAX and there he hopped on a PSA 727 for the short flight up to San Francisco. He spent these weekends with his father except when the Forty-Niners played home games in the autumn, and he came up for all those games because his dad had season tickets.

Yet there weekends when his old man really wasn’t all there. Like the lights were on but no one was home. Tilly warned Ted there’d be weekends like that – she called these his father’s “time out for Thorazine Days” – and she had even advised her son how to handle things if he got wound up. Because Anders did indeed get wound up, as in really, really manic. These things happened, Tilly said, because patients with manic-depressive disease were notorious for not taking their medications as scheduled, and when they missed a dose the usual outcome was a manic episode.

She’d tried to live with Anders when he came home from the hospital, and while she knew – at least on an intellectual level – how serious manic episodes could become, she’d never expected to take the crash course in handling aggressive outbursts she’d been forced into after his return. Ted had been terrified by these scenes, at least in the beginning, because he simply didn’t understand what had happened to his father, let alone why.

But more importantly, like many kids his age Ted began to internalize his feelings, to bottle them up and keep them hidden from view. Out of sight, out of mind, right? And, like many kids his age the one emotion he internalized was guilt. As in…what did I do to cause this? Whatever it was, I must’ve been the cause, ya know?

Fortunately Tilly caught all the signs. Withdrawal into his room. No interest in school. Growing increasingly combative with his friends…all of the classic symptoms. So she didn’t wait to see how bad things were going to get, because after working the psych wards for almost ten years she knew how this game played out. When Anders was lucid, when he was on his meds, she talked with him about her concerns and in the end he concurred. An amicable split before his psychosis inevitably grew worse was preferable, because at least that way the boy would grow up with decent memories of his father.

So…Anders and Tilly kept things on an even keel, for Ted’s sake.

Yet when Tilly spoke of Anders she had nothing but wonderful things to say about the man, and her new circle of friends in Brentwood and Westwood always wondered about that.

“Do you still love him?” one of these new friends asked her once.

“Oh, yes. Completely. And I always will.”

“So…you aren’t going to remarry?”

“Heavens no! How could I do something like that to him!?”

Which was about the most confusing thing this friend had ever heard in her life.

But in this circuitous way, Ted grew to understand the foundations of his father’s disease. And in a curious way he began to look at everyone he met through the lens of a doting, almost overbearing psychiatrist, wondering what was wrong with them, and what these people were hiding. His was soon a cynical way of seeing the world, and some might go so far as to say the seeds of a dangerous worldview had been planted with these developments.

The missing piece of this puzzle was, of course, Anders. 

For just as surely as every planted seed contains a blueprint of the future, Anders had always been a gifted empath, a brilliant surgeon, and a supremely logical scholar. These character traits passed along quite easily, too, so much so that when Ted took the College Boards during his sophomore year at the Harvard School for Boys he scored a perfect 1600. And by then absolutely no one doubted his abilities, for he was, truly, a genius.

And though he could have easily graduated and gone on to college – before his fifteenth birthday – he decided to stay in school. Because he thought – again, he thought – he wasn’t ready for college yet. Probably because he was having way too much fun.

You have to think of Theodore Sorensen as a quite tall and very thin kid that looked a lot like Gregory Peck did at that age, or maybe even Jimmy Stewart. Girls didn’t simply swoon when he walked into a classroom; no, most usually squirmed in their seats and then crossed their legs, a dangling foot swishing away nervously – kind of like a white-tailed deer’s tail, you could say.

And in high school Ted finally developed his father’s innate ability to talk to people. He related to them, perhaps using his father’s empathic abilities, and everyone in school would remember him as an easy going if gangly-legged kid who was super easy to get along with. He had, you might say, no enemies, and in his high school yearbook he was described by one friend as ‘most likely to become a politician, probably the president of Argentina.’ This was not really a compliment.

As soon as Ted got his license Tilly bought him a little BMW, a ’75 2002 tii in British Racing Green with a tan leather interior, and soon enough everyone recognized Ted simply by the sound his little green Beemer made as he raced away from campus, headed up Beverly Glen bound for Sunset Boulevard – and home. He took his first date in high school in that car, and she would also turn out to be his last date because, as it happened, they fell so deeply in love during their senior year together that he asked her to marry him – only…“after we finish college.”

And that’s what happened, too – except by that time Katharine Gold had decided to go on to med school so she saw the wedding happening four years later than previously expected. Theodore Sorensen was, however, not amused. And even then Katharine knew better than to make Ted angry.

+++++

Saul Rosenthal hadn’t seen it coming, of course.

Divorce was an unspeakable thing, at least it still was in his world, so to learn of the Sorensen’s divorce ‘through the grapevine’ had more than rattled him. But, he thought when he first learned of the split, to abandon a sick spouse was just too much.

How could this have happened?

He had been spending, or so it seemed, half his time in Denmark and the other half in Israel, at least in the years right after the war, but his work in Israel was now done. Deciding to open the new Music Company location in San Francisco had already required more and more of his time so after he learned of the Sorensen’s split he didn’t need to make excuses to his staff – he just called SAS and booked another one way seat to Los Angeles.

After taking the train up from LA he found Anders in the ‘Little Dutch House’ packing boxes and profoundly depressed. Over dinner that evening Anders said he could ‘no longer justify the expense’ of such a grand old house and needed to put it on the market, so of course Saul did what Saul always did. He bought the property and leased it back to Anders, for a song. Then he went and purchased a little apartment building close to Fisherman’s Wharf and moved into a tiny studio apartment on the top floor. He, of course, paid cash. “It’s only money!” he told Anders after the deals were wrapped up.

“Yes, I suppose so,” Anders replied, “but not everyone bleeds hundred dollar bills, Saul. Where’d you find all this money?”

And Saul answered that question the way he did whenever someone was stupid enough to ask him that: “You don’t want to know,” was all he said, even to friends.

And perhaps that was because Saul Rosenthal was reluctant to talk about such things for a reason. He had helped resettle survivors of the camps first in Palestine and then, after 1948, in Israel. He was paid for his services by those who could afford them, and for those who couldn’t…well, he helped them, too. Still, he would have never made much money doing such things. And while the music company was a profitable enterprise, especially the rights management end of the business dedicated to publishing music scores, even that income wouldn’t have accounted for the staggering ledgers and balance sheets his accounts accrued in more than one Swiss bank.

No, not hardly.

Because Saul Rosenthal’s main preoccupation in life was settling scores, and that meant working for special interests around the world who wanted to see all the Nazis who fled Germany at the war’s end punished. Not brought to justice, but punished. Killed, by and large, as in extrajudicial killings not sanctioned by any government, anywhere. And by the mid-1960s Saul had made, literally, tens of millions of dollars doing exactly that, and at the height of his operation he commanded a shadow network that spanned the globe.

But all that was fading in importance now. Rosenthal wasn’t what most would consider an old man in the 1960s, but he was a man living in the valley of the shadow. He’d killed so many people during the war, and after, that he could no longer remember them all. He’d killed men. He’d killed women. He’d killed children, the children of evil men who remained out of reach – to send a message. And now he was paying the price, or at least he had been.

Until he met his grandson, Lloyd.

Whose father was someone he knew well, a boy named Harry Callahan, and that could only mean one thing. When he’d first gone to Canada right after the war ended, to help Imogen and that sailor get to Vancouver, he’d fathered her child – and yet he’d never known. Imogen – and Lloyd – never told him that Lloyd was incapable of such an act, that a war wound prevented such a thing from happening. And both had apparently decided to never tell Saul, Harald’s true father, of his paternity.

So, what to do?

Keep his distance, let time and destiny play their parts? Or remain close and shape the outcome? But how? What was destiny, after all, other than the sum total of uncorrelated events shaping an outcome?

Yet Saul Rosenthal should have never worried about such things, for he had already made his contribution to the arc of Harry Callahan’s life. A genetic contribution, a swirling combination of factors and traits that defines every living thing – even you. And yet the frightening matrix of Saul’s heartfelt empathy sat astride the hidden soul of a dispassionate killer, and both had already been set in stone within the boy, just as his mother’s brilliant, if tortured outlook had been settled in code within the spiraling double helix of his life.

In exactly the same way that Ted Sorensen’s life had been pre-defined. 

Yet these two sets of swirling strands of dancing nucleotides were destined to meet time and time again over the span of their existence – as each made their way down the broken road of time towards a final confrontation that stood to unravel the fabric of the universe.

© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Chapter 6

AA SM forgotten songs UCSF-1

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

Chapter 6

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?”

“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.”

“Interesting?”

“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.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Chapter 5

Arbeit SM forgotten songs UCSF-1

A very short but somewhat important chapter to enjoy with your evening tea. I’d not ignore the music, either.

Chapter 5

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.”

“Damn. Aure-Rozanova’s?”

“Positive.”

“Dunphy’s?”

“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?

Survivor’s guilt?

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.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Chapter 4

AA SM forgotten songs UCSF-1

Another short chapter here, perhaps time for tea.

Chapter 4

Los Angeles, California 15 August 1955

And perhaps not surprisingly, the Old Man remained on Saul Rosenthal’s trans-polar flight – and he’d not, apparently, deplaned at any of the intermediate stops even once – yet he was nowhere to be seen by the time the SAS DC-4 landed and taxied up to the Intermediate Terminal at Los Angeles International. And yet not one of the crew seemed to notice or, more precisely, to even care that the old fellow had simply disappeared. An exasperated Rosenthal collected his luggage inside the terminal then, still looking over his shoulder, he took a cab to Union Station to wait for his train, the usual early morning northbound Coast Daylight to San Francisco. Then, a few minutes after Rosenthal checked-in at the Southern Pacific counter, the Old Man reappeared once again – though he remained out of sight – both making the long walk out to the platform with the Old Man lost in the shuffling crowd while keeping a few meters behind Rosenthal. After Saul made it out to his car he then noticed the Old Man was now behind him again and – now both surprised and angry – he turned to confront him – yet before he could utter one word the Old Man simply vanished into thin air.

“What the Hell!” a startled Southern Pacific porter cried loudly – as he too had observed the disappearance.

“You saw that too?” Rosenthal said, turning to face the porter.

“Of course I saw him, Mister. I ain’t blind, ya know! It was like poof!” the porter said, making a little explosion with his hands, “ – and then he was gone!”

“He’s been following me for days!”

“Then I s’pose I feels right sorry for you, Mista.”

Rosenthal boarded the car and found his seat; he tried to regain his composure but as soon as the train began to slowly pull out of the station the Old Man appeared just outside his window, down on the platform again – only now he was waving up at Rosenthal – now, in effect, taunting him, and more troubling still, making no pretense to hide. Rosenthal glared at the Old Man as the train gathered steam, sure of only one thing now. This Old Man existed. He wasn’t some kind of shared delusion, because the porter having verified the sighting confirmed that. And if he existed, well then, the Old Man had to be vulnerable, didn’t he? All Rosenthal had to do was be prepared for the Old Man’s next visit – and then it would be time to turn the tables.

+++++

Anders and Tilly met him at the Third Street station in San Francisco, and together they took the cable car out towards the sea, all the way out to the Sutro stop by the hospital. The sun was shining bright in the late afternoon and a fresh sea breeze was coming ashore, so they walked the last little bit to the Sorensen’s ‘Little Dutch House’ – as it was now affectionately known by all who dropped by for a visit – and while Anders wanted to talk about conditions ‘back home’ no one had the slightest problem seeing that Rosenthal was, after almost three days of constant travel, now utterly exhausted. With that decided, Anders took Saul to the guest bedroom and left him to find sleep, then he and Tilly went to the kitchen to make their supper.

“Perhaps it is just me,” Anders said as he prepared a tri-tip roast for the oven, “but Saul looked quite unnerved, as if something or someone has been bothering him. Perhaps on his journey…?”

Tilly smiled, her trained psychiatrists eye taking charge of the moment. “I’d say it is not just you, Husband. Did you see his hands?”

“No? Fidgeting, was he?”

“Yes,” Tilly said as she prepared the baby’s bottle, adding: “and he kept looking over his shoulder, as if he was expecting to find someone following him.”

“You know his history as well as I. Do you think the Germans might still be after him?”

“I would not be surprised,” she replied. “The question that comes to mind, however, is simpler still. If he is in danger, does that not put us in danger, as well?”

Anders sighed. “So what if it does? He is our friend.”

“You will need to talk to him tomorrow, see what this is all about.”

“And what if he is in danger? Then what?”

“I’d not care so much if we were talking about just the two of us, but that is no longer the case. We have Theodore to think of now, and the new student will be arriving next week…”

“Dear God, is summer over already?”

Tilly shook her head as she checked the temperature of the formula on her wrist. “You would know that if you stopped working twenty hour days.”

“It has to be the Germans, you know? They will hound us to the ends of the earth. They will never rest until we are all dead and gone, shoved into their crematories…”

Tilly turned and looked at her husband, only now she almost imperceptibly shook her head. He was getting worked up again, growing increasingly irrational as dark hatred burned away at the edges of his soul. “Are you going to services tomorrow?” she asked, trying to divert his attention away from the immersive paranoia crowding out his thoughts.

Anders sighed, opened the oven door and put the roast in. “Yes, yes. I somehow feel a need to. Especially now.”

“Oh? Why now?”

“Because of Theodore. I must…we m-must work to instill in him the values we left behind, when we left our home.”

Despite her discomfort Tilly nodded. “Well, I’m off to feed the little monster. Could you wash the lettuce, please? Perhaps make that nice salad dressing of yours?”

“Oh yes, of course…”

She smiled as she left the kitchen but as soon as he assumed she was out of earshot the talking began again. He was speaking in Danish now, his thinking consumed by images of gas chambers and gestapo agents chasing them through endless night, and she leaned up against the wall, trying in vain to hold back the tears that always came for her at times like this.

She had to find a way to help him through his madness, but now that his outbursts were growing more vocally troublesome she understood that she was running out of time to act. What would happen, she wondered, if such an outburst came during a procedure? And when would the hallucinations begin, as they almost inevitably would? And if they did, then what would she be able to do? Such madness, if left unchecked, would soon grow to ruinous proportions, a conflagration of the soul that would take all of them down. 

She could, she realized, talk to him about these things and then watch his reaction. Promethazine might be warranted if he became combative – but the side effects of this drug would put an end to his surgical career. There were other drugs in development and many researchers both here and at Stanford were focused on this field, but if Anders was indeed drifting into schizophrenia any prognosis with a good outcome was hard to imagine.

She thought of little else as she fed Theodore, though at one point she had wanted to reach out to their rabbi – but instantly thinking the man under the robes probably had little patience for wives intervening in the affairs of their husbands. Was he simply another man caught up inside yet another paternalist cult, a misogynist hiding behind his musty old religion to justify a stale worldview?

She caught herself then, caught herself falling into what she now considered her own Old World thinking. ‘This is California!’ she told herself. ‘People don’t think like that! Not here!’

And Saul isn’t exactly a moron, she said, grinning at her own foolishness. ‘I can talk to him, see what he thinks. We have – all of us – trusted him with our lives, so who better to talk to about these matters…?’

+++++

He realized the instant he saw her that you didn’t need to be a psychiatrist to know that there was something terribly wrong with Imogen. She’d always been an impeccably dressed woman and had taken great care with her personal hygiene – but not now. Now she was a model of self-neglect. Her hair was a frightful mess and she smelled, badly. Her clothes were dirty, bordering on filthy, and there was dirt seemingly caked into the pores of her skin. When he leaned close to give her a hug he found that her breath was tinged with deep foulness, that her gums might be infected. Even Tilda seemed shocked, but then again he’d just learned that neither Anders not Tilda paid the Callahans much attention these days, not since Lloyd had bought this accursed house down amongst the artichoke groves between Monterrey and Carmel. Even the color of the house was foul! Putrid green, almost the color of pea soup – but with a dreadful white asphalt shingle roof, and there were quite literally flies everywhere! Huge black things with ferocious appetites!

Yet in a very curious way Imogen seemed rather happy.

Happy to be alone with her son – at least most of the time. Happy to be tending her artichokes and the almost endless blackberry brambles that encircled the property. She even had a piano, a dreadful little upright affair that sounded a little like braying donkeys, but it was in-tune and at least she was playing again. She had even, wonder of wonders, begun teaching young Harald the basics and he wasn’t bad. In fact, he was showing real talent, at least that was Saul’s impression after listening to the boy play for a half hour. But why Gershwin, for heaven’s sake! Chopin, of course. Debussy – if you must. But Gershwin? What would follow? Elvis, perhaps?

But just now Lloyd was away – again – and as it happened he was off to Japan and Hong Kong on one of his long trips, so he’d not return for more than a month and that put the seed of an idea to work. ‘I’ll buy a house up in the city, maybe put the house in the boy’s name. Entice her back to civilization that way, perhaps? And they can keep this wretched hovel, come down and play in the dirt when the mood strikes, all while still enjoying the fruits of civilization, only on a daily basis…’

“Imogen?” he asked – when Harry stopped playing. “Might we go for a walk? Just the two of us?”

She shrugged noncommittally – at least until Harry went over to play with Tilly and the baby – then she stood and grabbed a shawl and made for the door off the kitchen, leaving Saul to make his excuses as he chased after her. 

When they were well away from the house Imogen turned to confront her old friend – but when she saw the look on his face she crossed her arms protectively over her chest. “What is it?” she said. “What’s wrong?”

He walked up to her and took her hand in his. “Show me around, would you? While we talk?”

“Why? Are you going to tell me how ashamed my father would feel if he saw me now?”

“No, I wasn’t, but now that you mention it, would it matter how he felt?”

She shrugged. “What do you want to talk about, Saul?”

“The Old Man. The man in the black cape.”

She stiffened instantly, then turned to face her house. “Tilda told you?”

“She did. Years ago.”

“God damn the meddling bitch!”

“What can you tell me about him?”

“What?”

“I’ve seen him, Imogen. He followed me all the way from Copenhagen, on the airplane and through Los Angeles. I assume he’s nearby even now.”

“You…what? You’ve seen him?”

“Yes, and I know for a fact that other people have seen his comings and goings, as well. You are not imagining him, Imogen. He’s real. Very real.”

“Real?” she sighed, almost breathlessly. “Are you certain?”

“I am.”

And he had the impression, if only for a moment or two, that he’d been looking at her as if she was little more than a reflection locked away inside a mirror – and that somehow he’d just thrown a hammer through the mirror. Now he mirror had shattered before his eyes and fallen away, and what was left was the Imogen he’d known once upon a time, his irrepressible, brilliant best friend from Copenhagen. He looked at her and smiled – and then, quite unable to help himself – he enfolded her in his arms and held her as tears of relief came to them both.

And when, a few minutes later, she pulled away she was almost a different person than the disheveled housewife he’d first seen only an hour or so ago. Now her eyes were bright and searching, her native inquisitiveness shining through once again, but then she looked down at her hands – and shook her head. 

“Are these mine?” she asked, her voice full of the sudden awakening she’d just come through.

“They are. But listen closely, because I have a plan…”

“My dearest Saul,” she said, kissing his cheek gayly. “But of course you have a plan. You always have a plan, don’t you…?”

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Chapter 3

AA SM forgotten songs UCSF-1

A nice short chapter for you today, perhaps a half cup of tea long so nothing to get all worked up about. Not read the Eighty-Eighth Key yet? Well then, you might get lost on your way as we’re getting closer and closer to the main arc of that story once again. Have fun, and Happy Holidays!

Chapter 3

Copenhagen, Denmark                                        13 August 1955

Saul Rosenthal looked up from his morning newspaper, then he looked out his office window – lost in thoughts about The Magic Mountain. Thomas Mann had died the day before and he was surprised he’d found the news, well, more than a little upsetting. While Mann’s work hadn’t really exerted a tremendous influence on his own life, his books, especially his Zauberberg and Faustus, had defined the twentieth century for him and put the calamitous events of the 1920s and 30s into a context that still eluded most observers. More importantly, Mann had been a willing participant in a long running scheme during the war to broadcast news of importance to those caught inside Nazi Germany, and Rosenthal had funneled information to Mann for use in those BBC broadcasts, so in this minor way their indirect relationship lasted from early 1942 until the war’s end. They’d even met, though only briefly, after the war, when the author still lived in Southern California. Now Mann was gone and it felt to him that a great voice had too soon grown still. And somehow, in the moment Rosenthal read of Mann’s passing, he’d felt more than empty again, more like the world had suddenly proven itself hollow after all – then in a flash he remembered the same feeling had crushed him once before, for this was exactly how he’d felt just after he’d learned of FDRs passing.

But there were other pressing matters laid out on his desk that morning, as well. 

There was a new letter from Lloyd Callahan to consider; he’d written that Imogen was hallucinating more frequently, and now Lloyd was openly wondering if Tilda Sorensen, because of her long friendship with Aaron Schwarzwald and family, might be the best physician to treat her – given current circumstances. Saul sat back and considered the question, in the end deciding that in order to make the best decision he needed to see Imogen in the flesh. He sighed, thought that perhaps it was finally time for a return trip to San Francisco. There were simply too many other matters that needed his direct intervention there now, and after hesitating for months he realized he could no longer avoid making the journey.

Because most troubling of all, his brother Avi had just shown up at UC Berkeley – after a brief stint at a research facility in Israel, and that could only mean one thing. Sooner or later Avi would make his play for Imogen, and that when it was time Avi would remind all concerned that he had, after all, been married to Imogen before the war. With that trap sprung and his undermining the Callahan marriage accomplished, there was little doubt that Avi would force a return to Israel with Imogen in tow, so the question facing Saul now was how best to intervene – and stop that from happening. Could he simply expose his brother as the fraudster he’d always been and hope to expose him through subterfuge, or would he have to take more direct action?

Which was a course of action he really dared not take. Not now. Because of his brother’s political ambitions, Avi had developed contacts within the Mossad, so any action he took against his brother might lead to direct intervention, and that he simply could not risk.

But he kept asking one question over and over: why had Avi left Israel – now. He’d heard rumors of some sort of sexual impropriety, yet that kind of nonsense was very unlike his brother. Avi had made enemies, of course, both in Denmark and in Israel, but that only meant he’d have to devote precious resources to finding out what his brother had been up to.

Then again, maybe it was time to take Imogen over to Berkeley, and perhaps up to the Livermore labs, use his contacts within that community and see if she might not be welcome as a professor once again. It was worth a try, especially if she was losing focus again and falling into her peculiar hallucinations. Some blasted old man in a black loden cape, and with some sort of magic cane he used to control the weather! Really?

But…what if he could strengthen her grip on reality again?

What was the best way to do that?

Then he considered that it might be time to finally open the new store in San Francisco. He would need such a venture to justify his comings and goings there, and if he was indeed going to start meddling in Imogen’s life again he would need the cover such a going concern might offer.

“Ah, well,” he said as he brightened to the chorus of phantoms dancing in his mind’s eye, “perhaps it is time to visit young Harald again.” He liked the boy and thought he still might turn into a decent lad – with a little timely encouragement, anyway, so he thought about his options then called SAS and booked a one way ticket on the airline’s new trans-polar route to Los Angeles. Then he sent along a telegram to Anders Sorensen advising when to expect him.

Saul Rosenthal had worked behind German lines during the war and had inadvertently crossed paths with intelligence services since the war’s end, so he wasn’t completely unsurprised when he picked up a tail on his way to the airport in Copenhagen early the next morning. Was it, he wondered, the Mossad? Or had he angered the Americans one time too many?

But then at one point he thought he saw an old man in a black loden cape watching him, and yes, this old man had a curious looking cane in hand, too – yet the next time he tried to catch a glimpse of him the old man had simply disappeared. Rosenthal took a deep breath and tried to steady his nerves; he wasn’t typically given over to hysterical flights of fancy – yet he’d seen what he’d seen. The question lingering now, after the encounter and that bothered him all the way to the airport, was simply this: What would it mean to discover that Imogen’s ‘Old Man’ was real?

‘And what on earth could he possibly want from me?’

So, now he had another issue he needed to talk to Imogen about…let alone one more reason to keep his guard up as he made his way through the airport. But soon enough, as the shiny new Douglas DC-4 taxied to the runway and took off over the Baltic Sea, he pondered the voyage ahead. Denmark to Greenland to Nova Scotia, then on to Chicago and Los Angeles – just a day in the air compared to a week at sea to New York, then another three or more days by train to San Francisco. And no U-boats to worry about on this crossing!

He was lost in thought soon after takeoff, thinking about how he might go about opening his first real outpost of the music company, when the idea hit him. Imogen always seemed to best respond to life when she was writing music, but she had – according to Lloyd, anyway – lost all interest in composing.

But…why?

Yet even more importantly, what could he do to spark a renewed interest in music?

A new piano, perhaps? But no, there was no real lasting purpose there, was there? 

No, he had to…

…but wait. No, this is too simple, but what if…

…what if he could convince her to teach young Harald? Maybe that would give her a renewed since of purpose, and what if I can get her involved teaching again? Is that how I counter Avi? What else could I do to stop him?

The Sonata?

Could I get her to finish it?

But…what about the earlier concertos? Could we not sit together and score them? I could publish them, too, couldn’t I? That might earn her some serious money, too, so why not give it a try?

The stewardess served him smoked salmon and a cucumber salad and he sat back in his seat, rather pleased with himself. This was the first time he’d crossed the Atlantic by air and all in all it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. He pulled out his copy of Death in Venice and started in on the novella again, smiling as he thought about Mann’s well developed sense of irony, then he felt the urge and decided to try out the facilities. He unfastened his seatbelt and walked aft to the WC – and there on the last row he saw the old man in the black loden cape – and curiously enough the son of a bitch was staring at him with a wide grin spreading across his face.

© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, Ch. 2

AA SM forgotten songs UCSF-1

We’re running towards the edge of something a little like a convergence now. Perhaps a cup of tea is in order?

Chapter Two

San Francisco, California                                                 December 1945

Anders and Tilda stood beside the railway platform at Oakland’s 16th Street Station, waiting for the arrival of the Southern Pacific’s Number 12, the Cascade, inbound from Seattle and due to arrive in ten minutes. It was chilly out that Saturday morning as an unusual cold front from the northwest had pushed through during the night, dumping rain on the city and leaving a crisp, cloudless sky over the bay after it passed. Anders felt Tilda tremble as a gust whipped along the platform so he put an arm around her shoulder and held her close. She leaned her head into him and sighed, suddenly content despite all her concerns.

“I remember making this same journey,” she said. “It was so long, and so very uncomfortable.”

“It was not so long ago, you know? And you were uncomfortable?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean it that way. The journey from home, I mean. That first winter in Quebec…I hope I am never again as cold as we were there.”

Anders laughed at the memory, but then again it hadn’t seemed all that funny at the time. “I remember that awful stove. It put out enough heat to warm perhaps one room, and wasn’t that an awful apartment.”

“We were lucky not to die of pneumonia,” Tilda sighed. “I will remember nothing but the cold.”

“Well, life is much better here, don’t you think?”

“I have never been happier, my love.”

“I know. I feel the same way, and every day I thank God we made it here. This was the correct choice for us.”

“I hope I was able to set up the new apartment well enough. I don’t know what to expect.”

“It is just temporary, Tilly. As soon as her husband is finished with that school we will help them find a house; until then they must remain close to us. We will both be needed to look after her, I’m afraid. Rosenthal’s telegram was a shock, but at least she survived the madness.”

“Is he coming?”

“Rosenthal? Yes, soon. Perhaps by spring, but I understand he is working to get as many Jews into Palestine as he can, despite the rancid objections of the British.”

“I have a bad feeling about all that, Anders.”

“Many do. Displacing so many people will not be achieved without cost.”

“All the Jews should come here,” Tilda said, perhaps only half-jokingly.

“But California was never the Promised Land, was it?”

“Only because the desert fathers had never been here. One week in San Francisco and Israel would have been built here, or perhaps in Monterrey.”

Anders chuckled. “You might have a point,” then he cocked his face into the wind and listened. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“The train. Can you hear the whistle?”

“Ah, yes, I can…just.”

“I wonder what it is about that sound that is always so exciting?”

“Taking a trip, I think, is like getting away from all of our day to day routines, all our cares and worries…so maybe it is the hopeful sound of release?”

“You are so wise, Tilly. Yes, look right there!” he cried, pointing to the north. “See the steam, there, just above the trees?”

And yes, there above warehouses and neighborhood streets lined with bungalows pulsed vast geysers of steam – gray and black at times, then purest white…a procession of cloud-like billows rising into the blue sky – until the locomotive’s monstrously bright headlamp appeared as the train rounded a curve, then soon enough and car by car the entire train came into view. Anders and Tilda stepped back from the edge of the platform as the locomotive huffed and chuffed into the station, and then Anders looked for the Pullman sleeper that had come from Seattle.

“Which carriage is she in?”

Anders looked at his notes again, double checking his memory. “9034, a sleeping car. Ah, there it is!” he said, taking Tilly by the hand and stepping towards the car as a porter opened the door and set out his yellow step on the platform. People began filing out two by two, but they saw no Imogen Schwarzwald, and no husband with her.

Then at last a tall, almost gaunt man stepped down to the platform, then he turned and raised his hand to help a withered old scarecrow-lady down the steps…then Anders recognized Imogen and he his first impulse was to turn and run.

“My God,” Tilda whispered. “Could that be our Imogen? She must weigh fifty pounds, if that!”

Anders held his tongue but in that moment all the alleged horrors of Hitler’s Final Solution crystallized in his mind and once again his blind hatred of all things German came in a raging tide of acrid bile. His best friend, Imogen’s father, dead. Killed. Shot in the back of the head for providing medical care to resistance fighters, a captain in the Gestapo waiting in the wings to take possession of the professor’s house, then the captain turning up face down in a canal with a knife shoved into the back of his skull.

An eye for an eye, right?

That’s how the game has to be played now, right?

You don’t meet the enemy head on, on his terms. You slip around behind him, preferably under cover of night, then you slit his throat in his bed. You send a message along with your audacity: no one is safe. You cannot hide. That was the lesson Europe’s Jews had just learned, paid for with their dearest blood. That was the truth Europe’s Jews would carry with them as they returned home, to Palestine. And all that horror Anders Sorensen had hoped to push aside here in California just wouldn’t leave him. He wanted nothing to do with the old world, because he saw in California what every new arrival in California had always sought: he wanted to rejuvenate his very soul, to reinvent his life while he recovered the best facets of his other self, the life he had been forced to abandon in Copenhagen. Since the gold rush, California had become the land where people went to make their fortune, and then to enjoy the fruits of their prosperity in a land that truly was made of milk and honey.

But now Imogen Schwarzwald stood before him and everything he had run from came home in one thunderous crash, and in that sundered moment he felt all his hopes and dreams wither and die. Then he ran to her – and when Imogen recognized him she opened her arms and fell into his embrace.

“Oh my God, my sweet. What has happened? What did they do to you?” he whispered into her ear.

“You do not need to know such things, Uncle,” came her whispered reply.

“Oh my dear, I am sorry but I must tell you that you are wrong about this. I must learn what you learned of the people who did this to you, to see and feel what you experienced at their hands. I must know, you see? I must know so that it can never happen again…” He felt her grow hard and stiff so he pulled her closer still. “But not today. Today is for happiness, for you have made it to our home – to your new home – and you are safe now. I will let nothing bad happen to you ever again.”

He pulled away and saw her tears, but then he looked into her eyes.

And what he saw there left him reeling with uncertainty, for surely she was the most fragile human being he had ever seen, cast adrift on demon-haunted seas with no hope of finding a safe shore.

He pulled her close again, only this time he lifted her in his arms and carried her off the railway platform and through the station, then all the way out to his car, a black and gray Buick Roadmaster convertible, parked on the street with the top down. Imogen’s husband dashed ahead and opened the car door, then he helped Anders get Imogen seated.

Anders, seriously winded now, went to the back of his car and leaned against the rear fender, taking his time to catch his breath – and he used a handkerchief to mop his brow while he introduced himself to Imogen’s husband, Lloyd Callahan.

“You really did not need to do that, Doctor,” Callahan said,  his voice a deeply unsettling Scottish seaman’s brogue. “Imogen needs to walk, to regain her strength…”

“No, Lloyd, this was something I had to do.” Anders stood tall and looked at Imogen. “I should have never allowed her father to talk us into letting them remain in Copenhagen. I should have insisted they join us, all of them.”

“It is hard to imagine what she’s been through,” Tilda said, “but I couldn’t have imagined in my worst nightmares that a human being could look so frail…”

“Oh, really?” Lloyd said, startled by this stranger’s unwarranted tactlessness. “Well, you did not see her on the docks in Copenhagen, not like I did. Clothes like rags, her skin almost yellow and her hands caked with mud. She was on death’s door then and could hardly eat.”

“And yet,” Anders sighed, “here she is with you? Her mysterious savior?”

“Aye,” Callahan barked. “Many things brought us together, Doctor. Forces, you might say, beyond all our control.”

“Yes,” Anders replied, “fate is a strange thing. So many unexpected intrusions.” Unexpected, he wanted to say, like the unforced intrusions by those who truly loved Imogen. Like the man who by sheer force of will had protected her during her long confinement. The man who through sheer force of will carried her from the Bohemian mountains surrounding Theresienstadt back to the Danish coast, back to her home. But no, he would not speak of these things today, and perhaps he never would. This brutish sailor had no interest such truth, and he doubted such a man ever could. This boorish Callahan was, after all, a useful enough idiot, but he would, in the end, never do as a husband – or as a father. No, he would not do at all.

+++++

Within a year of his arrival in California, Anders had earned enough to purchase a nice little house on 6th Avenue between Hugo and Irving, and as the house was located very close to the hospital his old routines blossomed. Anders had always loved his morning walk to the clinic in Copenhagen and here, nestled up against the Sutro Hills, he once again felt comfortable enough with the neighborhood to resume the tradition. And besides all that glorious proximity, he simply loved his new home, a narrow three story affair that, for all intents and purposes, looked more like a Dutch home lifted from a canal in central Amsterdam than the usual American bungalow that lined almost every street here in the city.

But the real delight was to be found outside, off the rear of the house, for the area behind all the houses on the block had been given over to a huge common garden absolutely teeming with birds and enchanted little nooks to sit and wile away a sunny morning. As live-in maids were the rare exception now in America, the practice was frowned upon, thought of as some sort of vestigial remnant of slavery and so a major taboo. Still, he had found a partial workaround that had, so far at least, worked out splendidly. He had turned parts of the top floor of the house into a small apartment and he let out the room to needy medical students, a move with less than charitable intent because in lieu of rent the tenant would help Tilly out with chores around the house, including cooking evening meals in their spacious new kitchen. Naturally enough, all the tenants to date had been female, because it wouldn’t do to have a young man wandering around the house with his wife so close, and of course all had been Jewish.

He had, to date, found California exceptionally tolerant, and because of events during the war Anders found himself drawn to his faith in ways he never had in Denmark. He’d first found a reformed synagogue near his house and began attending, not telling Tilda and never wearing a kippah anywhere but inside the temple. In this way he observed the Judaic sabbath as best he could – given his obligations at the hospital – and it was months before he even broached the subject with Tilly. Yet she was immediately interested in attending services, claiming that since leaving home she had felt something missing from her life. Perhaps reconnecting with their religious roots was that something?

And yet when they first went to the temple together he caught himself looking over his shoulder more than once, as if he might find leather coated agents of the Schutzstaffel lurking in the shadows, watching and recording their every move. Even Tilda admitted to feeling as such…and that a kind of uneasiness permeated her every move when they went to observe their faith because, she had to admit, as a Jew she would forever be a stranger in a strange land. They talked to their rabbi about their feelings, and all the elder could do was commiserate and tell them that they were not alone in their fear. The only answer, the rabbi sighed, resided in Palestine.

Yet by the time the war came to an end they had both grown comfortable in their new skin. They felt like Americans. They contributed to the war effort freely and gladly, Anders bought war bonds and Tilly volunteered at the hospital, helping out as best she could by rolling bandages and doing other menial chores. Yet she soon began to regret her lack of higher education, and then to feel inadequate. 

But both Anders and their rabbi encouraged her to pursue her interests, to attend college and see where this new road might take her.

And this, she realized, was the real beauty of America.

She was no longer bound by stifling traditions, no longer limited to a role in society imposed on her by others. Because in the beginning she had simply watched the procession of young women boarders pass through their little apartment with little more than idle curiosity, but soon enough she talked to them about their own hopes and dreams as women in a male dominated hierarchy, and soon enough she realized that all hierarchies are meant to be challenged, but that in America such challenges were not doomed to fail.

So she went to Berkeley and she studied biology and chemistry and she proved to be an excellent student, if a little on the older side of the equation. Yet Tilly did not let even that dissuade her. Inspired by the women in the apartment on the third floor of their “little Dutch house”, she began to follow in their footsteps, and so no one was at all surprised, least of all her husband, when she was accepted at the medical school just down the peninsula in Palo Alto, at Stanford University.

Soon enough her routine was more than complicated. Tilly was up before dawn to make breakfast along with their medical student, and they all ate together as one family might, then she was off on the cable car to the little Southern Pacific depot to catch the morning commuter down to Palo Alto, and after school she did the reverse: catch the train then a cable car to the hospital, then walk home and prepare dinner. Maybe there was time to decompress before a couple of hours spent studying, then to bed for a few hours of desperately needed sleep.

Yet she graduated near the top of her class and began her internship at UCSF, and there the contours of her life took on the more urgent challenges and responsibilities of working inside a major teaching hospital, only now she could walk to work – with her husband. She matriculated into the residency program there, in psychiatry, and her life might have stabilized somewhat had not two people returned to her life.

Imogen Callahan went to Berkeley to teach once again, and Avi Rosenthal turned up at Stanford.

And then, against all odds, she found one morning that she was with child.

© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life, I

And so, the next part of the journey begins. Or is it the next piece of the puzzle? A cup of coffee might work well here, but who am I to say?

Music? A couple of pieces played a central role here. Try this one first:

And then there was this (but then again this album is always close to the edge):

I guess words matter. I listen and see memories take shape and the words you read follow and take shape. The muse finds you where she will, ya know?

forgottten songs image 1-1

Forgotten Songs From An Imaginary Life

Part I: When The Sky Falls

Chapter 1

Copenhagen, Denmark                    28 March 1939

The man looked out his office window and scowled.

“It is snowing already, Mette. I will need my coat and boots!”

“But you have another patient, Doctor. Am I to reschedule her?”

“Is it a new patient?”

“Yes. Something Baumgarten?”

“Something? Her name is Something?” Dr. Anders Sorensen scoffed. “Seriously?”

“No, no, I just don’t have the file in front of me right now.”

“What is the issue?”

“Stomach pain, fatigue, blood in her stool.”

Sorensen growled and put his lab coat back on, then he put his stethoscope where he always put it – in the coat’s lower right pocket – before he walked into the nurses office to look over the file. He put on his reading glasses and quickly looked over the information the woman’s family physician had sent along with her file and then, before he had seen the patient, he asked his nurse to check on the availability of an operating room for tomorrow morning.

“How long a procedure?” she asked.

“Four hours and I will require two assistants. Preferably my residents.”

“Yes, Doctor.” 

Sorensen walked out into the clinic’s waiting room and looked around until he found the likeliest looking person. “Ina?” he said to the frail looking, ashen-faced woman sitting with, he guessed, her husband. “Shall we talk now?”

The woman had trouble standing and he rushed over to help her husband, and she leaned on them both a bit as she got steady on her feet.

“Are you feeling dizzy now?”

“Yes, Doctor. Very.”

He took her left wrist in hand and felt her pulse, then he checked her right wrist. “Can you walk now?”

“I think so, yes.”

He helped the woman to his exam room and then left her with his nurse to get into a gown, and he went out to talk with her husband.

“How long has your wife been feeling ill?” Sorensen asked after he confirmed the old man was indeed her husband.

“It is months now, Doctor, but she would go to our doctor.”

“Have you noticed the blood in her stool?”

The old man nodded.

“Has she been vomiting?”

Again the old man nodded.

“And there is blood in the fluid?”

“Yes, doctor, and much more this last week.”

Sorensen put his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “I will go and speak to Ina now, but you must be prepared for a hospital stay. Is there someone you can stay with here in the city?”

“Yes, Doctor. My son teaches engineering here, at the college.”

“Fine, fine. I will come and speak with you when I am finished.” Sorensen returned to his exam room and looked over the patient’s vitals, including an orthostatic pressure check, then he took his opthalmascope and peered into the old woman’s eyes and nodded.

“I am going to help you lay back now, and I want you to point to where you feel pain when I do.”

She immediately indicated the upper central region of her abdomen and Sorensen gently palpated the area she indicated, then he felt around the rest of her belly. “How is your appetite, Ina?”

She shook her head. “Not good. I have not been hungry for weeks.”

“What about red meat?”

“No, no…the idea makes me ill even just to hear the words.”

“Trouble swallowing, even when drinking water?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

He smiled. “Ina, I think we must go get an x-ray now, but I think it very likely that you have a cancer in your stomach. We need to see if the cancer has reached your liver, and if it hasn’t then we will need to operate as soon as possible.”

“And if it has spread, then what?”

“We will discuss that if and when the time comes. For now, I want you to keep thinking only of good things, about happy memories, okay?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Now we go to the x-ray machine.”

“Does this x-ray thing hurt, Doctor?”

“No, no, it is all quite painless. You won’t feel a thing.”

+++++

The snow was ankle deep and falling wet and heavy by the time he left the clinic; Sorensen pulled his coat’s heavy fur collar up to keep the wet snow from getting to his skin and causing a chill, then he put on his hat and pulled-on his fur-lined gloves before he stepped out into the blue light of evening. His house was only two streets away but the walk was just long enough to be bothersome on nights like this, and he tried to think of something, anything, other than this Baumgarten’s tumor. He would know more once he was inside, of course, but malignant spread was obvious on her x-rays – yet the liver was not involved yet so maybe there was hope for a decent outcome.

He stepped out into traffic and almost immediately a taxi honked its horn and slid to a stop on the slick surface, in the process spattering his legs with slushy snow. ‘That was too close for comfort,’ Sorensen sighed as he shook his head, then, as he stepped back onto the sidewalk, he nervously pulled his scarf tight – just as a stream of water puddled on his neck – before running down his back.

He shivered once then tried to concentrate again – on the traffic around him and on the slushy piles forming on the sidewalk – until he made it home, but when he entered he was surprised by the silence that greeted him. No servants to take his coat? And…the house smelled of fresh cut flowers – but no dinner? Where were the cooks?

“What is going on here?” he said to the silence, and when no-one spoke to his question he turned and took off his overcoat and hung it in the closet, then he shook off his hat and put it away, too. His gloves and scarf came off next, but just then he heard scurrying footsteps on the floor above, followed by the sounds of breaking glass.

He turned and ran for the staircase, made it up to the next floor in a mad dash, only to find his wife sweeping up the remnants of a mirror that had, apparently, just fallen off the back of a closet door.

“Are you alright!?” Anders cried as he ran into the bedroom. “I heard glass breaking and no-one is in the kitchen! What is going on here?”

His wife, Tilda, shook her head and smiled. “Must I tie ribbons around your fingers? We are going out tonight, in case you have forgotten. I gave everyone the evening off!”

“Out? Tonight? You didn’t…oh wait, yes, yes you did.”

“Yes, I did.”

“The recital? Or is it a concert this time?”

“She is only the daughter of your best friend in all the world, and already he forgets! Anders! You are hopeless!”

Sorensen shook his head, scolding himself. “Ah, yes. Imogen, her new concerto, at the concert hall.”

“You have had a bad day?”

“A bad afternoon. A bad case.”

“How early must you go in?”

“Four thirty in the morning. It was the only opening tomorrow.”

“Then we will just make a brief appearance at the reception after. We must get you home and to bed.”

“I hate to mention it, but what about dinner? Do we have plans?”

Tilda shook her head. “I thought we would go to Hugo’s tonight. There is time enough.”

He pulled the pocket-watch from his waistcoat and looked at the time. “Barely. We will need to hurry.”

“Then let us hurry…but you’d better call for a taxi.”

“I should tell you, in case you have forgotten, that you are the most beautiful woman in the world and that I love you tremendously.”

She smiled as she walked by, pausing only slightly and kissing him gently on her way to the stairs. He looked at her and smiled, because even now, after ten years, the sight of her thrilled him.

Copenhagen, Denmark 2 September 1939

Anders Sorensen looked over the patient’s chart, then up at the surgical residents standing around the bed. He seemed to all who looked at him very agitated, perhaps even a little angry, and in the experience of his residents this was most unusual. Sorensen was usually the calm, steadying hand, and he had never, in their experience, appeared fearful. But today? Yes, something was amiss. Or very, very wrong.

“Pers,” Sorensen asked as he consulted the chart once again, “the patient is two days post-op and now has a temperature. His abdomen is tender where?”

“Right upper quadrant, Doctor.”

“Which makes us think what, Matilde?”

“That there is the possibility of another stone, Doctor, perhaps in the hepatic duct?”

“And so we should do what, Stefan?”

“An x-ray with contrast medium should be our next procedure, Doctor Sorensen.”

Sorensen hooked the chart onto the end of the patient’s bed and nodded. “Let me know when you have the results,” he said as he turned and strode back to his office without so much as a word.

“Have we done something wrong?” one of the residents asked. “He seems offended by our very presence today.”

Stefan Jensen looked at the group then at Sorensen’s retreating form. He knew what was bothering Sorensen but now was not the time to talk about such things, not around all these loose-lipped, clueless students. 

All Denmark was on edge, after all. The Germans had rolled into Poland just the day before and already it appeared that both England and France would declare war of the Germans, yet now there were reports that German units were gathering along Denmark’s border. And both Jensen and Sorensen were, like many students and faculty here at the medical school, Jews.

So yes, of course Sorensen was agitated. Everyone of his residents had seen the dozens of photographs of German Jews forced to wear armbands, being beaten and harassed as they walked down streets in Berlin. And then they’d all heard the horror stories of homes and businesses being confiscated from German Jews – before some mysteriously disappeared. Hitler’s views, as well as those of all his myriad acolytes, were by now more than well known in Denmark, and so now, with Poland about to fall, the thinking was that when the Germans inevitably rolled into Denmark it wouldn’t be all that difficult to figure out what would happen to people like Anders Sorensen. 

Or, for that matter, to Stefan Jensen, but, then again, Jensen’s family had no intention of staying in Copenhagen and waiting for the inevitable. Even now his father was making arrangements to move the family to Canada by way of Sweden, and just last night his father had tasked Stefan with finding out if Professor Sorensen would like to make the journey with them. He’d penned a letter to that effect, charging his oldest son to deliver it to the professor as soon as possible.

And so, when Sorensen walked off towards his office, Jensen made up his mind right then and followed him.

But he hadn’t counted on having to deal with the Professor’s secretary-nurse, a ferocious creature who jealously guarded Sorensen’s privacy as well as his time.

“I need to speak with Professor Sorensen,” Stefan said as he came sliding breathlessly into the anteroom. “It is most important!”

“What’s this about, Jensen?” Anders said, as he had not yet made it all the way into his office.

“A personal matter, Doctor. A letter from my father, for you, sir.”

“Well. come in, come in. I have a few minutes…”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“How is your mother? I heard she was feeling ill?”

“Ah, better. Thank you for asking.”

“Now, what’s this all about? A letter, you say?”

“Yessir, from my father. About, well, Poland.”

“Poland? You don’t say? Well, you’d better let me have a go at it, don’t you think?”

“Yessir,” Stefan said as he pulled the envelope from his lab coat and handed it over.

“Do you know what this is all about?” Sorensen said as he took the letter from his young resident.

“Not the specifics, sir.”

Sorensen opened the envelope and read through the letter twice, taking a deep breath once then rubbing the bridge off his nose, trying to chase away too many hours without sleep with one futile pinch. Then he walked over to his office window and pulled it open, letting waves of fresh air wash through his stuffy little office.

“I love the smell of this city,” Anders said as he put his hands on the sill and leaned out into the air. “The sea, the market shops, the streets here around the university…life…I smell life…intoxicating life everywhere.”

“I think my father smells death, Doctor. Fear and death.”

“And there are few people in the world I respect more than your father. You know that, don’t you?”

“I do, sir.”

“What about you, Stefan? You have your medical degree now but your training will be incomplete, so what do you think of all this commotion? Such a departure will make for many difficult choices, and for us all, yet for you this decision may be more than a simple inconvenience.”

“I have heard that a German branch of the Gestapo has already formed here in the city, and that there are collaborators in all levels of the government ready to deal with the Germans.”

“Yes, I have heard this too. And lists will be made, knocks on doors will come in the middle of the night, as surely as the night follows day. Synagogues will burn, too – yet always under mysterious circumstances, of course – but by then all the Jews in Denmark will have disappeared. Stefan, I fear this new animal, this new kind of superman. And yet, I think I fear for our world most of all…”

“It makes sense to leave now, does it not, Professor? Before such a decision becomes too difficult, if not impossible. We risk much now, I know, but we do not risk the end of our families and our lives. We will endure if we leave. We will survive another season of man.”

“So, we must teach the horse to sing after all? Is that what you are saying, Stefan?”

“Yes, Professor. But what about the Schwarzwald’s? Do you think you can convince the professor to join us?”

“Professor Schwarzwald? Never. He will never leave Copenhagen, and he has told me so many times.”

“What about Imogen?”

Sorensen backed into his office and turned to face Stefan, a scowl creasing his face. “That will depend on Avi Rosenthal, of course…”

“I do not trust that – bastard,” Jensen said, almost spitting out that last word.

“She is not well, Stefan.”

“Imogen? I did not know this…”

Sorensen pointed to his head and shook his head. “Her father fears she is fast becoming schizophrenic. Apparently she is visited by an old man who whispers to her in the night.”

Jensen shook his head too. “She is such a talent, such a brilliant physicist. Her mind must be at war with itself.” 

“You have known her since…”

“Yes, since forever. Since before we started school together.”

“So…you know Avi well enough to…”

“I do. He is a prick who would sell out his mother…”

Sorensen held out his hand. “Enough. His father is a dear friend, as you well know.”

“I understand. What should I tell my father?”

“Tell your father…that all in all I would prefer Quebec or Toronto, but then again I would rather resettle in California over any other place. San Francisco above all.”

Jensen beamed. “Really? Well, this is excellent news!”

“Yes, go tell your father. Now, I have to talk to my wife about all this. It will come as rather a surprise, I should think. And before you run home, might I suggest you finish seeing to your patients, Doctor Jensen?”

+++++

Everything was arranged quite hastily, with travel under the guise of attending a surgical symposium in Philadelphia employed. And almost immediately the Jensens and the Sorensens traveled to Gothenburg to board to the Svenska Amerika Linien’s MS Kungsholm, leaving for New York City in early October, 1939. By the time the party arrived at the old red brick Stigbergskajen quay in Gothenburg, word was already circulating among the people gathered there that this would likely be the last passenger crossing from Sweden, and Anders Jensen thanked his lucky stars that he had acted as precipitously as he had.

Because of the fourteen hundred and fifty two people gathered on the pier that crisp autumn morning, most were Jews, and most were by now quite frantic. Frantic because all of the Jews gathered there feared that something would prevent their boarding the ship – and so prevent their escape. Already the Gestapo was monitoring air traffic within Europe, already they were plucking prominent Jews from aircraft bound for Lisbon, where the last Pan Am Clippers were departing mainland Europe for Miami and New York. Because, in a very real sense, these fleeing Jews were like desperately unwitting fish being forced into waiting nets, and this crossing on the Kungsholm appeared to be the last best way off the continent – simply because the Gestapo had yet to find a way of operating within neutral Sweden.

So by the time Anders and Tilda Sorensen cleared immigration and walked across the boarding ramp and into the ship they each felt a palpable sense of release. Walking up the grand staircase to the reception area they felt an ongoing cascade of conflicting emotion: regret and sorrow for leaving the life they had always known – then tumbling down the very real slopes of fleeing a deadly, ominous and incomprehensible force bent on their destruction. By the time they settled in their stateroom Tilda was a quivering wreck, so distraught she could hardly walk; Anders, however, pulled a prized old Meerschaum from his coat pocket then stepped out onto the promenade and slowly filled the bowl, watching the liner pull away from the quay as he lit the tobacco – a quieting ritual he had stumbled upon when he had been a surgical resident some ten years before.

When he was able, when his own hands had steadied, he returned to his stateroom and helped Tilda get out of her traveling clothes and into something more appropriate to walking through the ship for lunch, then he took her out to the promenade for an easy stroll in the freshening breeze. He put his arm around her and once again he marveled at the way they seemed to have been made to fit together. Everything about her felt so right, and it always had…from their very first moments together.

“We have made it, my love,” he said to her reassuringly, gently, and he felt her relax as easy-loose sensations arced through his arm into his soul. 

“You have decided on Toronto, I take it?”

“As a first stop, yes. The Americans have closed down immigration from Europe now, especially for Jews…”

“But why…?”

“It is the same story, my love. The same as it has always been, the same as it will always be.”

“So tell me again, please – why are we running?”

“To stay one step ahead of the hatred. To survive, to live and to love life while we are alive.”

“So? Toronto? And then what?”

“Do you remember Stefan Petersen, from my days as a resident?”

“Stefan? Of course?”

“He is teaching now at the medical college in San Francisco, and yet I have been in contact with him since he left Denmark five years ago. He has been trying to convince me to come join the faculty there, so I think this will work out – but even so we may need to be patient. Some doors will not be so easily opened now, not with all these new restrictions, but we will be safe in Toronto for the time being.”

Tilda looked across the sea to the faint shimmering coastline across the strait and sighed. “That is home, is it not?” she said, pointing across the water to Denmark in the distance.

“Yes, that – was – home.”

“Do you think we will ever come back?”

Anders shrugged. “Before this madness began I had thought about San Francisco as a home for us. About America. I was beginning to feel so hemmed in at the University, like my future there was predefined and limited. I thought about San Francisco and I felt hope, even a year ago, and now I feel our future is there, and that for us it will be bright.”

“I have always trusted you, my husband. Where you go I will follow.”

“And wherever we end up, I will love you with all my heart.”

She smiled and the sun peeked out from behind a scudding layer of fast moving clouds. “Do you think that, perhaps, they have food on this boat?”

“I have heard a rumor that this may be so. Are you finally hungry?”

“I am,” Tilda Sorensen said, her red hair streaming on sun kissed breezes, her green eyes alight with hope and happiness. “For the first time in days, I think.”

“Then let us find something! I am so happy you finally feel well enough to have an appetite.”

Still looking out to see, Tilda pointed to something in the sea, and her brow furrowed with sudden anxiety. “What is that?” she said, and as Anders followed her eyes he squinted and shielded his eyes with his left hand.

“That,” he sighed, “is a periscope.”

And as if on cue, a German U-boat surfaced a few hundred meters off the Kungsholm’s port beam, and she steamed alongside with her Nazi ensign streaming in the wind from her conning tower. Anders and Tilda and several hundred fleeing Jews stood at the port rail, all of them gathering in sudden fear, all staring at the submarine as if they were staring into the eyes of death itself, and soon enough all Tilda Sorensens’s happy appetites had slipped away on dark, errant breezes. The ship’s captain came on over the ship’s PA just then and announced that because of anticipated submarine activity the Kungsholm would omit her customary stop in Southhampton, England, and that they would be steaming directly to New York. He assured the passengers and crew that as a vessel flagged in Sweden they had been assured safe passage.

Anders Sorensen looked at the black submarine steaming alongside, the sub’s captain having decided to come closer still – perhaps to menace the Jews standing at the rail a little more – and his heart was filled with loathing. He did not, he realized, understand his fellow man. Hadn’t all the hate cultivated by the Church and Hanseatic merchant guilds finally dissipated once and for all? Why had the virulence resurfaced, and why now, and so suddenly, and with such malevolent intent? ‘What have we done to deserve this?’ he wondered – just as Jews all around Europe had for a thousand years.

Or did this hatred spring from another place, from a darkness within all men’s souls?

He looked down now, almost straight down at the men standing on the conning tower. Men in black leather jackets staring up at the Jews clustered along the Kungsholm’s rail, and he wondered what was on their minds, and in their hearts, as they looked up at these fleeing Jews. Predator and prey? Mindless pursuit? Or was there something darker at work here? And in the face of so much hate, would this submarine captain recognize something as inconsequential as Swedish neutrality?

The encounter lasted perhaps a half hour but the submariner had made his point.

Every time Anders went out to take a walk around the promenade he stopped at looked at the Kungsholm’s wake, for the periscope out there closing-in to end his life. Yet the submarine captain’s emotional victory was complete, if only because, for the rest of his life, Anders continued to run from images of that submarine and her torpedoes coming for him in the night, and in his nightmares he died a thousand times, and always in searing agony as the Kungsholm slipped beneath oily waves on her way to eternal darkness.

© 2021-2022 | adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as is always the case this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.