The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 3: Jerinda


Morgana is lying comfortably on Dr. Valenzuela’s couch. The cocoon-like setting and Dr. Valenzuela’s gentle voice soothe her almost instantly. Her cathartic crying jag has drained away into a deep sense of peace that is almost a stranger to her. A detached stillness settles upon her entire being. Her eyes close slowly.

“So, Morgana, tell me about Jerinda, and of course, what has happened to her.”

“Well, Dr. Valenzuela, it’s a long story. How much do you want to hear?”

“That depends on how important Jerinda is to you. Judging by your reaction, I’d say she is a key player in your life. And if she figures THAT prominently in your life, then maybe I’d better hear the whole story. You understand that this is not mere idle interest on my part, but rather one of the conditions for your Adaptation—the client should be emotionally stable. Since we are a travel agency, it is very important to us that we provide our clients with the very best and the most enjoyable travel experience possible. We like to think of this requirement as a baggage limit.”

Morgana managed a weak smile at the “baggage limit” metaphor.

“Alright, then, I’ll start at the beginning. I met Jerinda years ago at church. Her daughter, Mitzi, and my daughter, Gerri, were the same age—10 years old–and in the same youth group. We found each other because we were like twin skunks at a lawn party in this incredibly snooty menagerie of pious social climbers. The only reason we both stayed was because it was the ‘in’ church in town. They had a youth program that all the kids just HAD to belong to. We both shuddered at the thought that our daughters would be such slaves to peer approval, but you know, at least it was a good, safe, wholesome environment. Both Jerinda and I thought that the perfunctory bible thumping was pretty vacuous, and how we hated those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets that the kids wore! When they were not around, we would say things like, ‘What Would Jesus Drive?’ and “Who Would Jesus Divorce?’ and much worse things which I won’t bother recounting for you right now. But truth be told, it provided both girls–and my son, Travis, who is two years older than the girls–with an endless array of fun, supervised activities. You know, I didn’t consciously realize it then, but that church experience filled in the gaps in our kids’ personal lives, and for them, it was really great…and great for Jerinda and me as well.”

Dr. Valenzuela tapped her pen on her notebook a couple times. “Oh, did you and Jerinda eventually discover that you had a spiritual connection with the church?”

Another peaceful smile from Morgana.

“No, we were way too irreverent for anything spiritual to happen there–at that church, I mean. But we did find a better connection to each other. Jerinda and I used to solemnly walk the kids to the ‘Childrens’ Chapel’ and instead of going down the hallway to the left to enter the adult worship service, we would turn to the right and duck out through the back door, practically running down the street to a little coffee shop that was always empty at that hour, but would be crammed right after the service was over. Every Sunday, we would drink bottomless cups of coffee and eat French fries with endless squirts of watery ketchup, compare our lives, divulge all our secrets, laughing and guffawing. We quickly became each other’s best friend. We did things with the kids, too, but since we both had jobs with flexible hours, we managed to get together just by ourselves during the day at least a couple times a week. We would walk around the Lake and talk about everything—recipes, movies, double chins, the latest gossip, our kids, cellulite, our kids’ school projects, sugar substitutes, clothing disasters, vacation plans, relatives, shoes, dental work, the latest weight loss miracle, hair styles, our jobs and thigh bulge, stuff like that.”

“Just like a sister,” commented Dr. Valenzuela. “What a gift to have someone like that in your life! So what’s Jerinda’s background?”

“Jerinda is an ex-waitress who is now married to a physics professor, Chlaus Zaugg, whose latest specialty is something called, ‘the Singularity.’ She met him on ‘Arista,’ a dating website which pairs up non-geek, but geek-loving singles, with geeks who would like some companionship, and of course, a loving relationship, or at least some sex, or something approximating sex. It was inspired by the television show, “Stank Eye for The Sloppy Guy.” Both parties have to be open to change, particularly the geek, and it is understood that the geek will not only allow him or herself to be “improved,” starting with a makeover managed by the non-geek, which is the most noticeable change, and the continuing with improvements in diet, exercise, etiquette and attitude. The geek also assumes the financial responsibility for these changes. People jokingly referred to it as, ‘Tweak a Geek.’ I don’t know if it’s still in operation.”

The name, “Tweak a Geek” elicits a chuckle from Dr. Valenzuela. “What about the non-geeks? What kinds of changes do they have to make?”

“The non-geeks have to pass a series of interviews and submit to psychological testing. They also have to take a three-month course in life coaching skills. Jerinda was able to skip that part since she is already a certified life coach—and a good one, too! The non-geeks have to have certain personality characteristics like empathy, kindness, creativity, a positive outlook, and intuition. They also must be energetic and have the ability to motivate and inspire others. There are something like twenty traits you have to have. She also had to take a beginning course in physics so that she would have some shared ‘area of interest’ with Chlaus.”

Dr. Valenzuela, impressed with this strange dating service, says, “I find it somewhat curious that a woman like Jerinda would need to go through all that trouble to find the right partner.”

Morgana agrees with Dr. Valenzuela. “I did too, but if you really knew Jerinda, it would make more sense. Jerinda was always on the lookout for a really special guy, although her first priority was raising her daughter, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think she trusted any man around Mitzi. Once Mitzi was out of the picture, though, she began to think about a life partner. She wasn’t sure about what she wanted in a man, but she sure knew what she DIDN’T want! She has pretty good radar for identifying and avoiding the jerks, sexual deviants, married men who want a little something on the side, lazy luggards looking for a mother, and the ‘Barnacle Bills,’—that was her term for it—the guys that cling onto you and won’t let go. The last thing she wanted was a guy who sat on the couch in his underwear, eating cereal and watching cartoons in a darkened living room on Saturday mornings. Handymen were great when you needed them, but she really didn’t want a guy who spent half of his free time at the Tools for Fools Warehouse and the other half installing hundreds of square feet of pegboard to hang up all his steady stream of tool and hardware acquisitions. She didn’t want anyone who owned a rolling tool cabinet, a gun or a fishing pole, an SUV, CRV, ATV, or a motorcycle, and she really didn’t want anyone who insisted on sleeping with a big, smelly, dog. She has a sharp tongue and a plucky personality. Men really like her and women don’t know what to make of her. She’s so smart, and despite not being highly educated, most people always assumed she had a college degree. Believe me, she always does her very best. I admire her so much. I don’t know that I would have had that much spunk.

“By the time Jerinda met Chlaus, she was free again. She had already responsibly raised her fatherless daughter to adulthood, had two years of community college under her belt, was finally making some decent money with her own private practice as a life coach, and was now hoping to expand her horizons. At 39, she was one good-looking woman. Chlaus was, of course, an obsessed academic who spent no time trawling for women. It was really fortunate that the two found each other. She is a good person, and he was in need of someone like her. Money wasn’t the deciding factor for her, but let’s face it–it’s always nice when money is no object. He really loves her, but in a way, she’s just one more of his obsessions. She is faithful to him and truly adores and appreciates him, but because he thinks she’s the most attractive woman on the planet, he always suspects that she must be doing a little romantic dabbling here and there. That’s really the only thing about him that drives her nuts. She spends a lot of time reassuring him that he’s the only one for her. And that’s true. In fact, if she ever leaves him, it will be only because his jealousy will drive her to it.”

“How long have they been married?”

“It’s been five years already! Hard to imagine! She’s got an enchanted life with Chlaus, kind of a fairy tale actually—I think of her as the princess who kisses the frog, and he turns into a prince. Well, not quite a prince, but that’s how Jerinda sees him, and Chlaus couldn’t be happier.”

“So, is it safe to assume that you don’t have a very high opinion of ‘The Frog Prince’?”

Morgana’s eyes close more tightly. “No, I think he’s a great guy. He’s been good for her and she’s been really good for him. When she first met him, he was so dorky and awkward, unkempt and lacking in social graces. He used to wear these awful, high-water, sky-blue polyester slacks cinched way high up with a huge, ceramic, blue belt buckle featuring a sailing ship. The first thing she did was get control over his ‘wardrobe,’ if you could call it that. Then, she cut his long, tangled, greasy hair into soft, short layers, and trimmed that nasty beard of his into something of a showcase for his rather attractive face and features. Who knew he was a such good-looking guy? She then instructed him very emphatically on issues of hygiene and aesthetics, and insisted that he follow a very strict regimen of personal grooming and maintenance. She even taught him how to interact with people more smoothly in non-scientific, social settings.”

Dr. Valenzuela interjects, “So, Jerinda is the glue that keeps Chlaus all together!”

“Yes, absolutely! He realizes that and is quite attached to her. He loves her not only because she is his dream-come-true but also because he needs her to help him navigate the social side of his life, something he struggled with very unsuccessfully before he met her. Maybe ‘struggle’ is the wrong word, because there was no evidence that he had ever even thought about trying.”

“So, what’s going on with Jerinda now?” asks Dr. Valenzuela, tapping her pen once again.

Morgana brings the back of her hand to rest on her forehead and without opening her eyes, exhales a long sigh.

“Well, I guess it would be safe to say that she’s never been worse. She had a freak accident, and the only thing I know about her right now is that she is in Chlaus’s home town in Switzerland, in some medical retreat somewhere in the mountains, where Chlaus and a whole team of experts are trying to nurse her back to health. I’m worried sick about her. We’ve never been out of communication with each other for this long. I’ve contacted Chlaus by e-mail several times, and all he ever tells me is that things look promising but nothing much has changed. Her daughter Mitzi has been impossible to find, but I’m still working on it.”

“When was the last time you saw Jerinda?” Dr. Valenzuela’s anticipation was evident in her tapping pen.

“The last time I saw her was almost two weeks ago, the Monday before last. That was the day of her freak accident. That was also the very day that I told her all about my ‘escape’ plans with The Our Little Secret Travel Agency. She was intrigued by the whole process and was disappointed when I had to leave early to get to a dentist appointment.

“Jerinda continued the walk on her own, and according to eyewitnesses, she was on a long stretch where there were no other people, and, in an unbelievable, totally unforeseen two or three seconds, ‘The Rubber Man’ comes running out of the surrounding woods, grabs her by the shoulders and flings her into the water, some five feet below the surface of the walkway.”

“Oh my God!” reacts Dr. Valenzuela. “I just can’t imagine such a thing happening!”

Morgana concurs, “I can’t either, but it did! Had the water been deep, Jerinda would have suffered no more than an icy dousing and a ruined Prada bag, but unfortunately, the water was only two feet deep, and she broke her neck. The only reason she didn’t drown as well was that three joggers jumped in and pulled her out of the water almost immediately.”

Dr. Valenzuela taps her pen. “So what about the ‘The Rubber Man’?”

Morgana continues, “He disappeared into the woods, and despite the best efforts of the police, he has not been found. A photocopied drawing of him is posted on every pole and tree all over the city.”

“Does anyone know who this guy is?”

“Yes and no. He’s known to just about everyone who frequents the Lake as ‘The Rubber Man.’ He’s probably homeless, but who knows? He’s a wild-eyed guy with long, disheveled, blond/grey hair who wears a filthy French beret with a battered, black wet suit. He skulks around barefoot, mumbling and laughing. He usually hides out under the trees in the thickets surrounding the Lake.” Morgana can see him now, his raptor-like eyes burning through the foliage of his private vantage point, watching all the doting grandmothers pushing their precious prized progeny in ridiculously expensive strollers they bought themselves for just such a proud promenade. “Other than occasional panhandling, he never bothers anyone.”

“What about Jerinda do you think might have set him off? I mean, why her and not someone else?”

“I have no idea, Dr. Valenzuela! I’ve thought about it and can’t figure out why. Jerinda is such a soft-hearted person, and I’ll bet you that she’s the only person who is ever nice to him. He’s so creepy and he just makes my skin crawl, but she must see something good in him that escapes me and everyone else. She always manages to give him some money or a piece of fruit or a candy bar. She talks so sweetly to him and smiles at him as if he’s normal. He’s always happy to see her, and she usually anticipates bumping into him each time she walks around the Lake, but it’s hit or miss.”

“How very tragic for poor Jerinda! And for you, too, in addition to already grieving your husband’s situation. You’ve lost two major sources of support.”

Morgana nods her head. “Yes, I feel awful about my husband, but during most of our marriage, he was not a source of support for me, and now, as much as I would never want my kids or anyone else who knows me to hear me say this, he’s a millstone around my neck. Jerinda, on the other hand, has always been a joy and a comfort to me.”

Dr. Valenzuela asks, “So, where would you say you are in the acceptance phase of both these horrible events?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Morgana is very direct: “With my husband, I’ve accepted that I will be his caretaker for as long as I can. I have different health care workers who come in and bathe him, administer physical therapy, respiration therapy, and tend to the majority of his needs. I’m just there to manage their coming and going, and to look in on him. I read to him a lot and talk to him about lots of things, but I’m not sure how much he understands. I’m hopeful that he’ll come out of this someday soon, but who knows? I have more faith that Jerinda will recover—maybe because of her indomitable, bouncy spirit and amazing spunk—and I do trust that Chlaus will do everything in his power to make sure that happens. When I think of how much he loves her, and considering all the resources he has at his disposal, I feel less worried. So, in answer to your question, aside from my breakdown just now about Jerinda—which I know I needed to have–I think I’m emotionally stable. At any rate, there’s not a lot I can do about either Jack, my husband, or Jerinda. Going forward, I think that hope will just have to be my mainstay.”

“Alright, then, Morgana. I’m also feeling a little more confident about your state of mind, and your ability to handle the Adaptation experience. But one more thing….What exactly did you tell Jerinda about The Our Little Secret Travel Agency?

Switching gears, Morgana steels herself to reconstruct the conversation she had with Jerinda that fateful day, about 3-D body printing. Her main preoccupation was that it sounded so…well, creepy.

To be Continued in Chapter 4 – Body Issues

Photo Credit: (Thandie Newton Medium Curls, 2013)

Music Credit: Tanya Tucker – Without you, What Do I Do With Me? (lyrics),



Filed under Proto-Novella, Science Fiction, Short Story Series

4 responses to “The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 3: Jerinda

  1. Jean

    You have a book going here.. Saturday Evening Post would’ve loved it!
    Awaiting next installment.


  2. I can always depend on you to be not only positive but laudatory! And don’t I love it! Got the next installment already mapped out.


  3. Georgene

    Oh my god, will you please hurry up & write faster? The suspense is killing me!

    Gloria, I’ve never read anything quite like this, and I’ve got to tell you that it’s mesmerizing! At first your descriptions of the travel agency and “the Adaptation” were slightly grotesque–creepy, sorta like a freak show that I couldn’t turn away from; but later the descriptions of how Morgana would feel after the visits–more confident, increasingly comfortable with who she truly is–led me to think that this would be a feminist morality lesson, and wouldn’t it be WONDERFUL if we (women) could experience what it feels like to be confident and beautiful while we were young enough for these feelings to guide the development of our lives?

    There are so many things I love about your writing, and I HAVE to think that you must already know what a talent you have–it almost feels as if I’m being patronizing when I tell you what I love because how DARE I assume I can pass judgment on such a big talent? But here’s what I love:

    I love your reference to an earlier era: the Vargas girls calendars, Betty Boop-ish Dr. Valenzuela, etc. It conveys a very particular image of women — maybe the images we grew up with, although I think we came along a little bit later than Betty Boop or Calendar Girls, for example. But I used to watch Busby Berkeley productions; that era is quite a contrast to the re-birth of a feminist era that happened while I was in college. This whole story makes some very strong feminist commentary.

    I love your vocabulary, vivid descriptions of people, and scenes. For some reason, the low rounded ceilings of Dr. V’s office caught my attention! And the enormous variety of body parts a client could choose from reminded me of putting together a mannequin, and this carried the connotation of some(thing)(body) plastic, stiff, artificial, “soulless,” designed for appearances. And your description of the kind of men Jerinda would NOT want — I loved the Barnacle Bills, and reference to men with rolling tool cabinets, guns, fishing poles, guys in underwear sitting on the couch eating cereal — OH MY GOD, you capture such visual stereotypes! You use terms and images that I’ve never heard of, never thought of, never COULD think of! You have a huge repertoire of marvelous adjectives that I never think to use. Aside from the story itself, your use of words makes for some exquisite writing!

    I love your irreverent humor! Almost split my sides laughing over Who Would Jesus Divorce? And the wonderful line “Twin skunks at a lawn party” and “tweak a geek,” the sky blue polyester slacks cinched way up high! One of my first employers was a very dorky (not geeky — I LIKE geeks, don’t like dorks, go figure!) anyway, this guy was a very dorky tall arrogant man who used to wear yellow polyester pants with a brown striped jacket. My best friend and I used to call him (of course not to his face) “The Over-Ripe Banana.”

    I love your very TRUE observations and social commentary, such as “political correctness at least errs on the side of being kind.” WOW!! And your comment about the “well practiced gesture of active listening” really captures our current culture, maybe especially the culture of Life Coaches (?). Like the idea of the Adaptation itself, your story spotlights artificiality and the importance given to appearances.

    Where did you come up with a name like Chlaus Zaugg? Or Jerinda, for that matter? Morgana takes me back to the Arthurian legends, and I wonder why you use the name “Calliope” — maybe another reference to artificiality, this time referring to the sound a calliope makes? The names you use make me suspect that you’ve chosen them very carefully, that they symbolize something, and I keep wanting to read something into these names. But Chlaus Zaugg really gets to me!

    I love the shock value in your writing: The Rubber Man appeared as suddenly in your story as he appeared in the park the day he threw Jerinda into the water. What an odd event! Gloria, what ARE you telling us, or pointing at? Or am I being too much of an English major-type, trying to read too much into things?

    Will the fact that Morgana told Jerrinda about the 3-D body printing and the Our Little Secret Travel Agency figure into Jerinda’s “accident” since the accident happened right after Morgana left Jerinda on their walk in the park? Why else would Dr. V. be so eager to know what Morgana told Jerinda about the agency?

    You weave together some very complex ideas — or hint at ideas: why does Dr. V. need to understand and impose a limit on Morgana’s “baggage”? Are you going to return to the idea of The Singularity? Jerinda’s relationship to Chlaus is fascinating — will we hear more about Morgana’s marriage and character and her past? Will you ever say more about Morgana’s “detached stillness” after her crying jag? That was such an honest, real image in a story about artificial images. And it was a beautiful, brief description of a real crying jag!

    Trust me–you’ve got something unique and very special in this story! A bit science-fiction, a bit romance literature, a bit of a morality lesson (what were those morality plays of yore called??), always colorful and literate. DAMN IT, GLORIA, develop this talent! I can still see this made into a full-length book or used to develop a weekly sci-fi or fantasy series (which my oldest daughter loves!!).

    This is simply great, and I wish I had more ways to tell you how great it is! I don’t usually like modern fiction, and I’ve never liked science fiction or fantasy, but I can’t put this story down!

    Enough!! I talk too much!



    • A million thanks, Georgene, for your extremely thoughtful and overly generous analysis and commentary! I’m flattered beyond description! All I need to do now is to convince everyone to feel the same way you do! I am so thrilled that you like the story that much! I can’t answer all your questions because I don’t want to create a spoiler effect, but I didn’t put too much time into the names. Chlaus Zaugg! Isn’t that a great name? And the Rubber Man! He’s someone that just jumped out of one of my nightmares, but I think I’ve seen him on the street, too. Again, a million thanks for posting this wonderful comment. I’ll be thinking of you as I write the next chapter, “Body Issues.”


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