Gloria Talcove Woodward was truly larger than life, dancing and laughing through the world with boundless energy and a free-spirited soul. She passed away peacefully on February 13, 2018. Living every day to its fullest, she spread her exceptional good cheer and sunny optimism to everyone she met.
In 1949 Gloria was born in New York City’s borough of Staten Island. She spent her childhood in the New Dorp neighborhood, which she remembered as a magical, idyllic beachside community. She was raised in rented bungalows under humble circumstances with loving parents, Louis and Lorraine Talcove, whom she adored. When Gloria was 12, her beloved sister Lois was born. Gloria helped raise “Baby Be-ho” like her own daughter.
Growing up on Staten Island, “Glo” cultivated an inimitable comedic style from her older brother Freddie, her extended, fun-loving family, and the Italian, Irish, Jewish and other characters she encountered around her neighborhood. Her relatives called her the “personality girl.” Throughout Gloria’s life, her humor was peppered with Yiddish phrases and old-world witticisms that brought delight to all who encountered her non-stop “schmoozing” and “gallivanting.”
Gloria was ever-curious and inquisitive, always striving to learn about everything around her. Her affinity for nature was inspired by long, carefree days playing on the local beach as a child.
As a teenager during the 1960s, Gloria developed a passion for literature, music, and art. In her last written words, she wrote that the arts give “an opportunity to let youth experience their potential.” They “increase understanding among people, thereby increasing respect and peace among the citizenry.” “The arts,” she wrote, “give a voice to the voiceless and a choice to the choice-less.”
A beautiful “brown-eyed girl” with a billion-dollar smile, the forever-young Gloria was in some respects a late-bloomer. Without financial support to attend college, she went to work on Wall Street as a secretary immediately after graduating from high school. Her modest wages helped her parents buy their first house. In her early 20s she moved to Santa Monica, California and worked for Twentieth Century Fox. Around Santa Monica, she volunteered to support environmental and social/economic justice causes.
Maturing in her mid-20s, Gloria discovered she was smarter than her bosses and decided to work her way through college. She returned to New York City and enrolled in Hunter College. She first studied political science, geology, and art history while laboring as a secretary so that she could afford to attend school at night.
In 1979, she met her future husband, Doug Woodward, while living in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. Gloria was an unrepentant vegetarian and one of the original members of the Park Slope Food Coop. In Brooklyn, she continued her political activism, driven to advance world peace, spread human rights, and protect the environment.
In 1981, she moved to Austin, Texas, where she and Doug were married. She enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Texas and worked for the renowned physicist John Archibald Wheeler. In 1982, Gloria and Doug had their first child, Christopher, who was delivered at home by midwives in Austin. Even while raising an infant son and operating with no more than a few hours of sleep each night, she went to school full-time, majoring in Spanish literature and political science. Gloria graduated with a BA from the University of Texas summa cum laude in 1986, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the most prestigious academic honor society in the United States. She remained a proud member of Phi Beta Kappa for the rest of her life.
In 1986, Gloria relocated with her family to Poughkeepsie, New York, and worked briefly as managing editor for a Spanish literature journal at Vassar College. The next year the family moved to Columbia, South Carolina. In 1987, Gloria’s second son, Andy, was born.
Soon after the birth of Andy, Gloria obtained her certification to teach Spanish in South Carolina’s public schools. With her fluency and mastery of Spanish grammar, she started a career teaching Spanish in middle school and then at Irmo High School. Gloria obtained a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of South Carolina. “Senora Talcove” was an unforgettable teacher, with her own unique style. Her widespread impact on her students was evident in the outpouring of testimonials on social media after her passing. One parent wrote: “Everyone loved Gloria Talcove! She will always be remembered for her unending devotion to her profession and her unfailing support of each and every student she knew, particularly to those who were considered to be members of marginalized groups.”
In 2008, Gloria sponsored the first viable High School Gay/Straight Alliance in South Carolina. She encountered resistance from some in the school and the community, but she persevered, believing it was morally imperative to stand up for the rights and dignity of all her students.
In Columbia, Gloria was an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, serving as president in 1994- ‘95. Her eclectic, hilarious, and inspirational talks before the congregation were legendary.
Gloria retired from teaching after 24 years, and in retirement, she turned to writing fiction and poetry, much of which can be found on her blog, the Talcove Fiction Faction. She spun poetry, raps, and rhymes. She made earrings and handbags. She gave free haircuts to friends and neighbors, along with unlimited and often unsolicited advice.
Gloria spent leisurely days in retirement, walking countless miles barefoot along the ocean on Hilton Head Island, where the family has a condo on South Forest Beach. She loved swimming in the ocean, reading by the pool, hiking in the nature preserve, and cycling on the island’s hard-sand beach and tree-lined bike paths.
In Oakland, California the family kept another home near Lake Merritt, a favorite spot for her daily jaunts and random bantering with the multicultural citizens of the city. Gloria enjoyed volunteering to conserve and improve Oakland’s gorgeous Marcom Rose Garden.
Gloria had the good fortune to travel to many places around the world. With her husband, she attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, meeting Nelson Mandela and other distinguished political, business and academic leaders. She charmed the elite crowd with her wit and wisdom.
Gloria relished road trips across America and visited all 50 states. She journeyed throughout Europe, Latin America, and Asia. She explored Peru’s Machu Picchu, floated down the Amazon, surveyed the ancient native American ruins of Mexico and Central America, and toured the pyramids and temples of Egypt. Gloria went on exotic safaris and camped out in the African bush, with the sound of lions roaring at night. She rode trains across Asia and witnessed the wonders of China, Japan, and Korea.
Yet what she treasured were not just the places she went, but the many people she met. In all her travels, across all continents and cultures, she easily made friends, shared stories and laughs, and left a lasting impression with her buoyant optimism and eccentric philosophical musings.
Gloria embraced the serendipity of life. She was sensual, spiritual, and – above all – instinctively enlightened. She had a genuine compassion for all living things and an abiding affection for the small planet that was her home for 68 years.
7:00 am. The name “Tommy Vee” pops up on my text message:
“Hey, Gloria! Are you going to the High School Reunion, too? I just bought my plane tickets!”
“Tommy! How wonderful to hear from you! I didn’t even know we were having one! When and where is it?”
“On October 14th right there, back on Staten Island.”
“OMG! How I’d love to go! Funny thing happened, though; by then, I’ll be in the middle of chemo and radiation.”
“Can you talk for a few minutes?”
The phone rings and my mind seizes on this sweet little 5 year old blond boy, thin as a rail, an animated live wire who talked a blue streak. A real Mr. Personality, he was as charismatic as a 5 year old could possibly have the right to be.
My first conscious memory of Tommy is the two of us walking in a double line together with our first grade class alongside Our Lady Queen of Peace Church. Because we were partners that day, we had to hold hands, which I thought was kind of cool since I’ve always liked holding hands with cute guys, even back then.
Across the street, I saw the funeral parlor that would be, years later, the place where I’d get my last desperate look at my parents’ faces.
I pointed to Hanley’s Funeral Home and said, “They have dead people there, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, setting me up for a joke. “People are dying to get in there!”
I laughed, thinking he was probably the cleverest person I knew. “Did someone tell you that or did you make that up yourself?”
“No, I just dug it up!”
I’m not sure, but I think it was the first time I’d ever heard a pun. I thought he was brilliant!
The Grown-Up Tommy says, “So, Gloria! What’s going on?”
I tell him about climbing the mountains of China, getting short of breath, thinking I was having a heart attack, feeling sick the whole trip, coming back to the US, going to the emergency room, discovering pulmonary embolisms, and oh, yeah, by the way, there’s a mass on your left lung, and it’s malignant and you’ve got lung cancer, adenocarcinoma stage 3b, crossed the mediastinum. Huh! Never even knew I had a mediastinum to cross!
He tells me about his own battle with cancer and how it finally left him alone after wreaking so much devastation upon him. He negotiated a truce with cancer and all the good parts of his life are still his, and how every day he enjoys everything around him. He is a man of great faith and exudes this confidence that everything will be OK. I believe he knows what he’s talking about. And, of course, I’m inspired.
“I hope we keep in touch, Gloria. I’d like to help you get through this.”
I recount to him my memory of the two of us walking along the street and how he had made me laugh, and how I loved that he was holding my hand.
“And isn’t it so sweet, Tommy, that after all these years, you reach out to me…and you’re still holding my hand.”
Oooh! That creepy face! It unsettled her then and it unsettles her now. She has no idea who it is, but she assumes it is someone from Morgana’s past or present or someone from Morgana’s nightmares, or maybe even both. Or maybe it’s someone from Rain’s past or present or Rain’s nightmares. Or does Rain even have a past, she wonders. Who is thinking these thoughts? Rain or Morgana? Wait, she thinks, just whose consciousness is this anyway? Mine, Morgana’s or….? Not that she knows Morgana’s name, mind you.
With her Mystery Man’s kiss still fresh on her lips and the hot, solitary tear caught in her velvet shroud, Rain can feel pleasant little vibrations coursing through her body as the wheels of her coffin transmit information on her rolling journey through the long, hidden passageways honeycombed underneath the Spa.
“She’s been hacked…She’s been hacked…She’s been hacked…” plays over and over again in Rain’s head as an unwanted image forms again and again in her mind’s eye. It’s that creepy face in the Spa window whose gaze burned a hole through the distance growing between them as the cable car climbed away from the Spa at the outset of her adventure to Jungfrau. It seems like it happened long ago, but it was just this morning, or yesterday, right?
Good thing she’s lying down. All this wondering is making her dizzy. And good thing she doesn’t care all the much at the moment. All she really wants to do is exploit the memory of her Mystery Man’s kiss and try to capture those little vibrations, corralling them into some sort of an erotic hallucination. Since there certainly are not a lot of options inside a coffin, erotic hallucinations are probably the best way to go.
In another room along one of the dark passageways tunneling through the bowels of the Spa, the guy with the creepy face sits at a computer monitor. He’s running through lines of computer code, looking for anomalies. Nearby, submerged in a glass tank of warm water lit dimly from below, a sleeping woman floats like an embryo, her soft shoulder-length dark curls waving listlessly around her. If she were to wake up, the green eerie glow from the glass tank reflecting on her husband’s face would stop her already tenuously beating heart. But she won’t wake up until he can figure out just where the damage is that prevents her from communicating. For now, she inhabits the realm of the half-dead while he tries everything he can to save her.
By night, he sleeps with a tenem whose consciousness is that of his wife. Is there a problem with that? Yes. Just like Rain, she doesn’t have access to all those memories, can’t remember her real name or her real life. She doesn’t smell or taste like his real wife. She’s a machine, she’s a robot, she’s a transhuman. Yeah, not the real thing. It’s almost worse than not having her at all. Oh, not it’s not. Oh, yes it is. Oh, all he wants is to get Jerinda back. And what’s wrong with right now? Well, right now isn’t working out like he needs it to work out. At least he’s grateful that Jerinda’s tenem isn’t being used as anything else during his stay here at the Spa.
Before Jerinda’s accident, he really thought the Singularity was the answer to all of mankind’s fears about the death of the consciousness. Now he’s beginning to see those once-hopeful horizons as storm clouds shrouding the future, barring access to the rosy dreams of unlocking immortality.
The problem is a lot simpler and a lot more complex than he or any of his scientist friends and colleagues ever imagined. It’s almost laughable: The Law of Unintended Consequences. It gets you just about every time. And if it doesn’t, it’s never a matter of “if,” only “when.”
He stops for a moment and gazes at the naked body of his embryonic wife. As his eyes caress her, he thinks that machine learning is the culprit. It’s so efficient at learning how to convey the brain’s impulses along miles of neurons and their tirelessly firing synapses that it somehow teaches the learning organism to become aware of itself as its own entity. The more the tenem or the robotic body or the transhuman learns from its host consciousness, the more it learns to be itself.
As it learns to interact with its environment and how to interpret nuances, the binary decision making capability begins to import relevant memories and experiences, infusing the whole process with emotion. Once desire becomes a player in the process, this machine begins to transform itself into a conscious being, separate from its host consciousness. By comparison, Frankenstein was what humans would call “small potatoes.”
He thinks it’s like a teenager who suddenly outgrows the authority of the parent and becomes a more willful, single-minded, determined entity. What hath God, or the Demons of Technology, or the Law of Unintended Consequences, wrought?
There’s a knock at his door.
He plods heavily across the room and unlocks the door. A smiling, impish Veronica greets him cheerily.
“Hi, Chlaus! I’ve got the goods!” she giggles, pulling the coffin into the room.
“The lab isn’t expecting her for hours. You would have been proud of me, getting Rain away from Javier like that!”
Wedged into an envelope of ice some thirty feet down into the glacier, Rain is grateful that her default setting is Ataraxia, that wonderful state of shock that helps human beings, and even transhumans, to accept the most dire of consequences with a detached, almost bemused, interest.
She knows that her left hand is broken and her left shoulder is dislocated. There are some shards of ice in her nostrils. It’s a good thing, too, she thinks, that she is programmed to not feel pain beyond the point of sensory notification to reduce and avoid further damage to her robotic body, this “tenem,” which serves as a transhuman vehicle for Morgana’s transferred consciousness.
Of all things to think about, Rain wonders if Morgana can feel this cold in her nose. Up above, at the surface of the glacier where the crevasse swallowed her up after the frozen cap of snow gave way under her weight, she can hear the rescue team calling her name, hoping to elicit a response from her. She can’t move, though. She can’t get the words out to shout back up, “Yes! I’m alive! I’m here! I’m waiting for you!”
The rescue team spools out light weight nylon cord, lowering into the icy void daring, powerful, wiry demi-gods with the prowess of spiders and the finesse of surgeons. Their words bounce off the shimmering blue walls and echo above and then far below her.
Rain replays Morgana’s memory of sitting on an old faded quilt in a park, very pregnant and crocheting a baby blanket, while her little boy suddenly runs headlong off the grass and into the street. Cars screech to a halt, people are screaming, Morgana is screaming. Her little boy lies in the street. Time stops. A bird’s trill flutters through the silence. And then…What’s this? A miracle? Little Travis scrambles to his feet, crying hysterically, more scared than hurt. Scraped and bruised, he runs to Morgana who gathers him to her in a tight, desperate embrace. She sobs with the horror that she could have lost her sweet baby boy. She sobs with the self-recrimination of any mother who has been granted a reprieve from the instant unfolding of a tragedy in progress for which she blames herself. She sobs with an overwhelming gratitude that makes her giddy with glee at her incredible good luck. Yes, this is a true miracle!
Oh, God, I will bear whatever burdens you send me in return for saving my child.
As the rescuers draw closer, Rain remembers falling into this crevasse, how she was magnetically drawn from the safety of the glacial trail by Morgana’s memory of chasing a little boy out into the busy park-side street choked with traffic. Now Rain remembers running frantically onto the ice field, chasing an imaginary child while everyone shouted at her to come back: Graciela, Grégoire, and all the other people who were making the trek up to the Mönchsjoch Hut, even that jerk, the Beefy Belcher, adding his braying jackass bellow to the deafening chorus of entreaties, all replaced by the sickening sound of the cracking ice cap, and her precipitous fall through the void.
Popping noises and explosions of color fill Rain’s head as she hallucinates a repeating loop: A little boy runs out into the street. She chases him and falls through the ice and disappears. Finally, the loop slows and then stops. Her frozen lips warm for an instant as she tastes a coffee kiss that produces tingling sensations in some remote, frozen parts of her body that make her glad to be alive. Right behind her numbed, closed, frozen eyelids, the last little lights flash, the last overheated circuits sizzle and pop, and everything goes dark.
Rain feels herself being lifted out of the crevasse and strapped into a safety harness. Gentle hands and soft voices reassure her that all is well. An electric winch pulls her to safety. Although she is aware of the commotion around her, she cannot respond or even open her eyes. She is vaguely disappointed that her visit to Jungfrau will be cut short and that she will be deprived of Graciela’s company that had so delighted her.
She is taken to a quiet room somewhere back at the train station and is undressed and then packed inside what seems to be a coffin that must have been molded to her body. Her face and body are shrouded with thin, soft velvet and the lid is tightly closed and secured with metal latches. Comfortable in her little cocoon, she drifts into a state of semi-consciousness. The coffin is wheeled to some large echoing area where it is left to wait for what seems like forever. Then she hears the train screeching along the rails and wonders what awaits her at the Spa.
The latches are released by someone who has done this before. The lid is opened and the velvet is pulled slowly from her face and body. The warm air feels good.
Rain cannot open her eyes and cannot move even a finger, but she can feel that someone is gazing at her, taking in every detail of her face and body, inspecting her injuries, bending her limbs, caressing her face and stroking her hair.
Warm lips alight on hers and she is filled with the ecstatic realization that her Mystery Man has found her. Oh, how she has ached to be with him!
She hears footsteps behind them as her Mystery Man hastily replaces her velvet shroud.
The footsteps slow, then stop, and a woman’s voice breaks the silence.
“I just heard that our little girl has gotten herself into some trouble! How extensive is the damage?”
Rain remembers the voice—it’s Veronica, the attractive woman with silver curls who appeared at her bedside in a lab coat taking notes on a clipboard the first day Rain woke up in the Spa. Veronica was so nice to her. She helped Rain get dressed and then took her on her initial tour of the Spa.
“Bad enough that she’s going to need some joints recast. Her left shoulder has been dislocated—not a big deal. Her left hand is broken and it looks a little complicated but nothing that can’t be fixed. What worries me is her visual capability is not functioning nor is her speech, both of which should be functioning in auxiliary mode in spite of the powering-down by the safeguard mechanism, but we won’t know much until we can conduct a complete diagnostic assessment.”
“And what then? Do you think she’s salvageable?” asks Veronica.
“Absolutely. It would be such a shame to scrap her, but she’s going to need some digital and mechanical rehab. I’ll oversee the whole thing personally. She’ll be fine in no time.”
“Do you know how the accident happened?”
Rain’s Mystery Man, walking over to his computer, taps a few keys, and answers, “Not exactly, but there’s one thing I do know: She’s been hacked.”
Veronica walks over to the coffin, pulls the velvet from Rain’s face, strokes her cheek gently, then replaces the velvet. She closes the coffin, secures the latches, and announces, “Well, I’ll take her off your hands—the lab is waiting for her.”
Through the closed coffin, Rain can feel her Mystery Man’s disappointment at being separated from her once again.
The coffin glides smoothly on its perfect, little, soundless wheels out into the hallway as Veronica shepherds it away from Rain’s Mystery Man.
A single tear slides down the side of Rain’s face.
The coffee kiss, so warm, so sweet, so addictive. They are breathing the same breath, dreaming the same dream, oblivious to the world around them, which seems to have stopped in order to focus on the only thing that matters: right now.
“MOM!!! Is that YOU???”
Morgana disengages herself before Percival realizes that the kiss has moved on, and for a split second, he has the tipsy look of a drunk about to fall over. Luckily, Morgana doesn’t notice, nor does her daughter.
“Gerri! Wha…wha…what are you d-d-d-doing here?” stammers Morgana, wiping her mouth as if she were a cat trying to brush away the canary feathers.
Gerri covers her face with her hands to hide her eyes welling up with tears.
Percival watches in horror as Morgana embraces Gerri, blubbering, “I’m so sorry, Gerri! Please forgive me! This is not what it looks like! Well—yes, it is—no, it’s not!”
Percival pulls a clean, white, folded handkerchief out of his pocket, flaps it open and hands it to Morgana. Taking the handkerchief from him, she looks into his eyes and senses immediately that Percival understands how in need of comfort she actually is. While she dries her eyes and blows her nose, his hand on her back reassures her that everything will be okay.
Gerri’s red-rimmed eyes peek over her hands. She observes the kindness being shown to her distraught mother by this very sweet man.
“Gerri,” he says, hoping he’s heard her name correctly from Morgana, “I’m sorry about all this. I take full responsibility for this indiscretion. Your mother is innocent. My name is Percival and I’d love to have a second chance to make a first impression on you,” offering his hand to her.
A relieved smile spreads across Gerri’s face and the redness seems to vanish from her eyes. Captivated by Percival’s charm and forthright manner, Gerri shakes his hand.
“Of course, and I’d like a second chance, too, Percival. It is I who should beg your pardon, so I hope you’ll forgive me for sticking my big nose where it does not belong.”
Both women are now beaming a big smile at him. Percival, channeling Ricky Ricardo, says to Morgana in his best Cuban accent, “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”
The tension is officially broken as all three share a laugh. Grateful for Percival’s attempt to lighten the moment, Morgana reaches for his hand and gives it a little squeeze.
“Mom, I’m so sorry to startle you like that!” says Gerri, looking over at Percival to include him, too.
“And I’m sorry, too. Let’s just forget the whole thing, Gerri! So what are you doing here, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“Just visiting a friend, but I’ve got to talk to you. There’s so much stuff going on right now and I’ve got to run—as usual, right? But can we get together tomorrow? How about I take you out to lunch—would that be okay?”
“I’d love that, Gerri! Just let me know the time and the place and I’ll be there!”
The two embrace, and as Gerri starts to walk away, she goes back and gives Percival a little one-armed hug. “So nice to meet you, Percival. I hope to see you again—and thank you for being so sweet to my Mother.”
Morgana and Percival hold hands as they watch Gerri trotting up the steps.
“Phew! That was weird!” says Morgana, “And you’re right—‘I got some ‘splaining’ to do!”
Laughing from the sheer exhaustion of what just happened, they link arms and make their way down the Cascade’s steps to head over to the Rose Garden.
Bringing her free hand up to her face, Morgana nuzzles her nose into the hollow of her curled up fingers. The warmth from her hand brings the feeling back into her nose. At once, she is struck by the sensation of Rain wedged into a glacial crevasse, small shards of ice intruding themselves into her nose, her hair and into the sleeves of her coat. Momentarily shaken, she stumbles, but Percival hangs onto her arm and prevents her from falling.
“Whoops!” says Percival, “Don’t tank on me now! We’re just starting to have fun!”
Morgana recovers her gait, shaking off the visceral flash from Rain’s predicament. If she were ever to tell Percival that she transfers her consciousness into a 3D printed sexy robot body named “Rain” who cavorts around Switzerland, he’d think she was stark raving mad. Not that she was planning to tell anyone other than Jerinda about this…
“All that kissing has left me a little light-headed,” she says, throwing a shy glance at Percival, who draws her a little closer and plants a kiss on her forehead.
“I’ll bet you didn’t eat anything for breakfast! What do you say that we stop into the Saturday Morning Market at Grand Lake and grab a little something to tide us over until lunch?
“Sounds good,” agrees Morgana, as he guides her across the street and under the overpass where on the other side of the chain link fence, parked cars share the space with a few homeless people who are just beginning to contemplate the disheveled reality of their asphalt morning.
Percival and Morgana navigate the lumbering flow of Saturday strollers crowding the market. Percival makes a bee-line for a small food cart and buys two tomato, mushroom, and squash galettes from an old hippie guy with long silver braids trailing out from under a faded blue bandana.
“Good to see you again, Chief!” he says to Percival, handing him his change as Percival shuffles one of the two galettes to Morgana.
“Good to see you, too!” he says to the old hippie guy, and including Morgana, he adds, “I just had to have my weekly fix of one of your galettes! I’m almost hoping that my friend here doesn’t like galettes, because then I’d get to eat both of them.”
“No chance of that!” says Morgana, taking a proprietary bite of her galette.
“Of course, there’s no place to sit!” says Percival, looking around, hoping to prove himself wrong.
“I don’t have a problem with walking and eating, do you?” asks Morgana.
“Not at all,” says Percival, as they both tuck into their respective galettes.
“A galette, huh? I never heard of that before! It sure is good. It must be French.”
With a deft maneuver, Percival flips the small slice of tomato that has flopped over his chin into his mouth before Morgana can notice, and, without missing a beat, explains what a galette is.
“Galettes are buckwheat cakes or pancakes and they can be flat and square or flat and round, or really any shape at all, with some kind of savory mixture on top, like a pizza. If they’re pancakes, then the mixture might be stuffed inside. Either way, it’s a pretty good idea. And you’re right, they’re French!”
“I’m impressed that you know that!”
“Don’t be too impressed—After eating them for about a year, I finally just asked that guy to bring me up to speed on what makes a galette a galette.”
“Well, then, let me tell you that I’m so impressed with how you handled that whole situation with Gerri just now. You’re such a gentleman, Percival. I’m so glad I met you, and I’m even glad you met Gerri, but I’m sorry about that scene we made.”
“Morgana, we don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want to.”
“No, it’s fine. To make a very long story short, I’m still married but my husband, Jack, is in a coma and has been for a few months. He’s not coming out of it anytime soon, probably never. That’s not what ended our marriage, though. The marriage was doomed from the beginning. I just found out that Jack has cheated on me that whole time—with my sister!”
“Oh, no!” says Percival, almost choking on his galette. “That must have thrown you for a loop!”
“It did! It completely blew my mind, but then everything started to make sense after so many years of blaming myself or chalking up our problems to Jack’s drinking or stress or what have you.”
“So how are you dealing with it?”
“You know, so much better than I ever would have imagined. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve done my fair share of crying, but I was so unhappy for so many years that I feel like I’m all cried out now. When Jack first had his stroke, I was wracked with guilt because I was always so angry with him, but now that I’ve found out what the truth is, I can understand a little why he was the way he was. I think we each tried in our own way to make a go of things, but like I said, the whole marriage was a mistake from beginning to end. I don’t really blame him, and I don’t really blame her.”
“Well, that’s big of you! I don’t know that I would be so generous.”
“The person I’m most angry with is myself. How could I have stayed in such a lousy relationship all those years? How could I have put up with such shabby treatment and pretended that things would get better? My biggest comfort, though, is Gerri. She’s the bright spot in my life.”
“Does she know about Jack and your sister?”
“No, and I’m wrestling with whether or not I should tell her. It would kill her to find out. And now I’m wondering if my sister’s kids are Jack’s!”
“Oh, that’s a real dilemma! Do you have anyone to talk this over with?”
“No, Percival. Both my parents are dead, and my best friend, Jerinda, is somewhere in Switzerland recuperating from aphasia—that’s another story. I can’t imagine keeping this a secret from Gerri forever, but I also can’t imagine telling her about her father. She idolizes him. She’s always been Daddy’s Little Girl, and in so many ways, she’s been my best friend. She does know, however, that he’ll never recuperate, and she even knew that I had a date to see you—and she was happy to know that I was interested in someone.”
“Well, then, I guess seeing us wrapped up in that kiss was a little much for her!”
Morgana laughs, blushing at the memory. “Yeah, I guess so! How embarrassing! But it was worth it.”
“So I’m the only person you’ve told about Jack and your sister?”
“Yes, you’re the only one for now, and the only one I’m even comfortable thinking about discussing this with, maybe because I don’t know you that well, but I feel like I can trust you.”
“Same here, Morgana. I’ve been alone for years now. I blame myself for my marriage ending. It was one of those things that happen while you aren’t paying attention. I became obsessed with my career and before I knew it, my wife had had enough. No big deal, no drama, but one day, I came home and she was gone. She left a note on the fridge that said something like, “Just in case you noticed that I am not here, I would like to confirm that you are, in fact, correct in your observation. And one more thing: I’m not coming back. Have a nice life. I know I will!”
“Wow! Was it a surprise?”
“I’m ashamed to say it was! I loved her and she loved me, but I thought that being together was all about sharing the same address and filing joint tax returns. Turns out I was wrong. I wrote to her and begged her to come back, but all I ever got from her was the divorce papers to sign. Irreconcilable differences, no kids, no divorce settlement—she just wanted out.”
“Did the divorce change you?” asks Morgana as she notices the old Grand Lake Theater, looking forward to maybe catching a movie there with Percival sometime soon. She thinks how nice that would be—it’s been ages since she’s been there.
“Yes! It made me realize that play is not a luxury, it’s a necessity, and that we should never take for granted all the people or things that make us happy. And no matter how fascinating our work might be, the most important thing you can to do is put a limit on it. I have to keep reminding myself that I work to live, I don’t live to work.”
As if on cue, a big, fat orange cat saunters out of a sidewalk café and rubs against Percival’s leg. He bends over and scratches the cat’s head while the cat purrs loudly to elicit more attention.
This Percival is one nice guy, thinks Morgana. He’s sweet, kind, thoughtful, likes animals, and is such a gentleman. And he’s so handsome and charming.
They walk up the hill to the Rose Garden and as they pass through the arches, they both become aware of the magic that awaits them.
They stop, and look into each other’s eyes. “Now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?” asks Percival. They both feel each other’s heart beating madly as they resume that blissful kiss that began way back at the Cleveland Cascade. All of a sudden, right now is right back where it should be.
Yes, this was the kiss they were both looking for.
Video Credit: Dusty (True Stereo) “I Only Want To Be With You,” HD (Posted by “themotownboy1”who writes: “Published on Aug 16, 2013. Re-upped & tweaked, Dusty’s first hit from 1963, with my remastering of the stereo mix and special video tribute. I hope you enjoy it!” Also, “Dusty Day” information can be found at http://www.dustyday.co.uk/
Ah! Saturday dawns in all of its enchanted splendor. The sun has warmed the morning dew just enough so that it releases a magical draught imbued with all the longings of incipient life, the kind that makes you regret every moment lost to recriminations, resentment and bitterness due to injustice or just plain, rotten luck, real or imagined. “All is forgiven” is the whispered message carried by the fresh, cool undercurrent of peace.
Not that Morgana is consciously considering anything transcendent, but she awakens to a feeling of hope, and breathes deeply. Even though her nose is ice cold, she doesn’t think of Rain trapped in the glacial crevasse.
Excited to be meeting Percival at 10:00 am, she hurries into the kitchen because nothing is going to happen without coffee. And wouldn’t you know it! She’s out of coffee! Son of a bitch! Quickly readjusting her attitude, she reaches for her emergency jar of instant coffee. When all else fails, lower your standards. She decides that the illusion of real coffee is more satisfying than the reality of no coffee, so she dumps a few spoonsful of the brown crystals into the filter lining the little basket, taps a couple of sprinkles of cinnamon and powdered cloves onto the crystals, and then adds two teaspoons of brown sugar to sweeten the deal.
While the coffee maker wheezes and gurgles unsupervised in the kitchen, she sings in the shower.
She puts on her old “new” jeans, once again paired with Gerri’s cast-off Guatemalan shirt that worked so well the last time she saw dear, sweet Percival. Hopefully, he will not notice this fashion re-run, but on second thought, he’s probably not the kind of guy who would care.
Savoring her hot coffee “compromise,” she admires herself in the mirror. She realizes that she must have lost a pound or two since she wore that outfit just a couple days before. She had to do less wriggling to cajole the waistband over her hips and, come to think of it, she didn’t have to suck her stomach in quite as intensely as before to pull up the zipper. A little victory is so much better than no victory at all. Morgana notes with amused interest this new habit of hers to delight in small things that previously would slip by her unnoticed and unappreciated.
Her nose is still cold and now it’s stopped up, so she doesn’t smell the rank odor emanating from The Rubber Man who is camped out under the lightly-trafficked grey metal stairway of her apartment building. Her staccato steps rouse him from his hallucinatory slumber just long enough for him to take in his favorite sight. A jiggling ass! Oh, yeah!
Morgana gets to the foot of the Cleveland Cascade 15 minutes early and just to kill some time and burn off a few more calories, she walks up and down the steps two times. These are not a simple flight of steps—these steps are a 250-foot long ornamental double stairway modeled after Italian hill towns. The two stairways are separated by a lush garden adorned with huge concrete bowls where water used to flow and cascade from one to the other down the incline. The water pump fell into disrepair, as did the entire Cascade, and when the park was rehabilitated, the huge bowls were filled in with soil, flowering plants, succulents and ivies. Creeping ground cover, irises and orchids filled in the spaces around the bowls all the way to the edges of the stairway. The towering trees all along the periphery of the Cascade shade the steps and the inclined garden, bathing the whole park in the green light of an enchanted rain forest.
Morgana loves this part of this City. Every once in a while, she ducks into the Cascade just to read a book or stare at the skyline reflected on the rippling surface of the Lake. Never overly busy, this little Garden of Eden always seems to have just a few people jogging up and down the steps, or personal trainers putting their gasping clients through their paces. It’s the kind of place where people know not to raise their voices.
She meets Percival coming down the steps just as she’s going up for her third time. She’s a little winded and her face is flushed from the exertion, but Percival sees her as glowing.
“Morgana! It’s such a treat to see you here,” he says, as if they were meeting completely by surprise and hadn’t planned a thing.
She laughs, partly to catch her breath and partly because she is so amused by his sweet reaction to seeing her. His face lights up. “It’s so nice to hear you laugh!”
“I’ve gone up and down the stairs a few times, so I’m a little out of breath,” she says, wishing that she weren’t gulping air like a panicked goldfish who overshot the rim of the fishbowl, winning itself a unexpected one-way trip out of its safety zone.
“Let’s go right over here and sit down for a few minutes.” He leads her up the few remaining steps to the top of the Cascade where they sit on the bench looking down over the entire Cascade and the Lake beyond.
Grateful for the rest, she takes in the cool, green, fragrant lushness of the Cascade while catching her breath. Percival removes his backpack and sits next to her.
“Isn’t this just the most beautiful place? I start every day by crossing this street in back of us, and then I sit on this very bench and drink my morning coffee, right here.”
“I guess we’ve never bumped into each other here, since I’ve never been here earlier than, say, 10:00 am, but this is also one of my favorite places in the whole city.”
He takes a thermos from his backpack. “Well, I’m glad we both agree on that! Oh, and I hope you like black coffee,” he says, pouring the steaming coffee into a blue ceramic mug.
“Oh, yes! I certainly do,” says Morgana, delighted. She takes the mug and wraps her hands around it, enjoying its warmth on this crisp morning. “Ah, real coffee! And it’s good!”
“The road to success is always under construction – Lily Tomlin,” says Morgana, reading the cup. “That’s clever, but you could substitute ‘success’ with just about anything, like love, happiness, fulfillment, enlightenment, and on and on.”
“I think about that every time I use that cup. You know, if people focused on love or happiness with the same intensity that they focus on success, there would be a whole lot less misery in the world, but easier said than done. To pursue your dreams and make them happen, you have to invest every ounce of your energy, and meanwhile, when you finally get a chance to take your nose off the grindstone, you just might notice that your personal life is in a shambles.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?,” asks Morgana as she watches Percival pour himself a cup of coffee, smiling at the way he does simple things with such precision.
“No, it doesn’t, but it’s hard to avoid. Being successful in school means getting A’s. It’s so much easier to get B’s but once you start settling for B’s, you can’t be surprised if you start getting C’s. So you see the problem? If you want to excel, you can’t relax and get too comfortable. It’s the same for a career—it seems as though there’s no such thing as reaching that sweet spot of just coasting. In my business, I have to continually seek out new clients, each project presenting new problems, each problem a potential catastrophe or breakthrough. It’s fun and exhilarating, but it consumes you. It can drive you to drink!”
Morgana nods her head. “My poor boss, Charlie, is consumed by our newspaper, The Pregonero. He practically lives in his office. I just love him—he’s the greatest boss, but he drinks like a fish. He has that kind of stress, too.”
She notices Percival’s mug. “And what does your mug say?”
He turns the cup so she can see it. “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation – Voltaire.” He raises the cup up as if making a toast to Voltaire. “I like this quote a lot because it reminds me that whatever anyone of us creates, the result is always an amalgam of bits and pieces we’ve snatched from grab bags filled with other people’s ideas. It keeps you humble. Huh! I just realized that the two quotes have an awful lot in common.”
Morgana is just about to say “Like us,” but she doesn’t.
“Really? How do you mean?”
“Well, Sir Isaac Newton just popped into my mind. You know that famous quote of his attributing his vision to having stood on the shoulders of giants? Well, he was about as original as they come, but even he got his inspiration from the scientific discoveries of his day and from questions posed by the ancients. He was such a genius, but, like most geniuses, he was pretty quirky. He was a real loner and didn’t fraternize much with his peers. Some say it was to protect his own discoveries from being stolen, but others say that he couldn’t bear criticism. The latest is that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. Who knew? But he invented the calculus and then kept it to himself! Can you believe that? At any rate, he was so successful in taking bits and pieces of information deemed irrelevant and turning them into mind-boggling discoveries like the Laws of Physics that he’s considered to be the architect of the modern world.”
“Well, I’m not much of a scientific thinker, but what I remember most about Newton was his Third Law of Physics—For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—even I can understand that one! It’s even true in politics, relationships, gardening, and in the kitchen.”
“Good point,” says Percival, “and that alone ties the two mugs together. Science was his entire focus—Truth was always under construction, but personally, he was isolated and miserable—no friends, lovers, relatives, nobody. His personal life was just about non-existent, no construction taking place there. And more than once, the poor guy was on the brink of madness—either his depression or heavy metal and mercury poisoning from his alchemical experiments, or both, finally got to him. But miserable or not, he lived to the age of 85, which was a real accomplishment in the 17th Century.”
Morgana laughs. “I love these quotes! Let me take a wild guess! You got these cups at one of your conferences, right?
“Of course I did!” He settles back to get comfortable on the bench. “Anyway, as I was saying….I start each day right here. It’s right across the street from where I live! No matter what’s going on, this little corridor of paradise is always right here. Every once in a while, when I can’t spare the ten minutes to sit here, I feel cheated all day long.
The idea of heaven is starting to seep into her consciousness. The peace she feels sitting here with Percival is palpable. She breathes deeply, closing her eyes, enjoying the luxury of just relaxing in the comforting presence of another person. She feels happy. What a nice feeling!
“Thank God for the weekends,” says Percivil. “Don’t get me wrong—I love my work, but that’s the problem.
“You mean because of how much time it consumes?”
“Yeah, and besides the actual time you spend working, it can keep you up at night worrying about mistakes you might have made in overlooking little details here and there, and if don’t consciously just shut the door and turn the key—on both the office and your mind—it can consume your entire life.”
“Well, I’ve never been that dedicated to any job, but I guess that’s because I’ve always been just an employee, never a business owner or a boss.”
“It sounds great to have your own company, but believe me, there’s a lot to be said for being what I used to call a ‘wage slave.’ The way a bad boss will or can exploit you is nothing compared to how you can and will exploit yourself—there’s no end to it,” he says as he drinks the remains of his coffee.
Taking her cue from Percival, Morgana finishes her coffee, too, and hands him the cup. “That was just what I needed! I didn’t have any real coffee at home, so this was great! Thanks!”
Percival wipes out the cups with a paper napkin and puts them back into his backpack. He stands up to throw the napkins into the trashcan. “Now that we’ve had our coffee, are you ready to move on?”
“Sure! Where to now?” asks Morgana, feeling suddenly revived by the coffee.
“Well, I thought we’d walk over to the Rose Garden. It’s about a 20 minute walk from here. Have you ever been there?”
“Been there? Absolutely, but not often enough! Let’s go!”
As they progress down the long stairway, Percival offers his arm to Morgana. Without hesitation, she loops her arm through his, delighted by this unexpected gallant gesture and by the physical contact that suggests to her that they have just crossed a small but important threshold. She represses a giddy urge to giggle by squeezing his arm and he squeezes back. He looks at her face, blushing with a big goofy grin. She looks back at his face and sees the same thing.
“We’d better watch where we’re going,” warns Morgana, feeling lightheaded being this close to Percival. She’s not thinking about Jack dreaming of her sister in his comatose purgatory, nor of Jerinda who is closer and farther away than she thinks, nor of Rain suspended in the crevasse, nor of Rain’s Mystery Man creating cybernetic holograms, nor of the Rubber Man held hostage by his own hallucinations.
All she can think of is Percival and the right here and the right now of happiness. She can feel his heart beating. They take a few more faltering steps down the staircase, and she feels faint. She stops and so does Percival.
And they kiss, a kiss that is as sweet as a spring breeze. And then, they kiss again. Every few steps, they stop and kiss yet again. They laugh at how ridiculous they must look, and so they kiss again.
And again, just because there is no good reason not to.
Illustration Credit: “The Kreutzer Sonata,” 1901 painting by René François Xavier Prinet, which was inspired by Tolstoy’s novella of the same name published in 1889, which was inspired by Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata of 1803. (See, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kreutzer_Sonata)
Oh, please dear God, Goddess,
or Deity du Jure,
Let there be Karma,
I pray to something I’m not sure
Would be interested enough to tune in
To my selfish petition—a kind of ammunition.
Then, just as soon as I realize
That Karma would interpret
My noble thirst for justice
As a bald-faced lust for revenge,
Karma does a double-take
and catches me, red-handed
Building a nest for vultures
In the dark corners of my soul.
Illustration Credit: GIFSec.com and hinduperspective.com, “Is It OK to Leave Justice to Karma?”
Sitting in church on a hot April Sunday
Wishing you’d sat in a shadier spot
And wore something brighter and a little less tighter
Forgetting to plan more often than not.
But forget the plans because they serve nothing more
Than to stifle your whimsy and nail your feet to the floor.
And if it’s in church that you feel you must be
Sit near the back where you’re freer to flee
To watch the wind chase the clouds to the sides of the sky
As you bask in the warm breeze of April’s sweet sigh.
If you’re Heaven bound, there’s no need to die
Because Heaven’s right here—just step outside!