Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 22: You Dropped a Bomb on Me

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Phew! That was close! By the time Rosie the nurse comes back into the room, Morgana has finished wicking the Boney Stalker Scotch out of Jack’s right ear with the red and white checkered cloth napkin that she’d pulled out of her purse, still stained with her Boney Stalker Scotch Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce from her lunch with Percival.

“What’s that, Rosie?” asks Morgana to distract Rosie from Jack, just in case the smell of the scotch has lingered in the air.

Rosie looks over to the blank screen. “Oh,” she says, “I don’t know too much about that, but I did hear the doctors and the techs talking today about the new computational software they’re trying out which is digitizing Jack’s brain signals—1,000 times a second! Can you believe that?”

“So Jack has been opening his eyes?” Morgana asks.

Rosie shakes her head. “No, he hasn’t opened his eyes once since he’s been here. That’s why they’ve been playing music instead of showing him images.”

“Really?” Morgana walks over to the monitor, and sees a little green blinking light. “What’s this little light all about?”

“That’s the indicator light—that means the program is still up. Wanna see what’s on there?”

“Yeah, sure….Why not?”

Rosie pushes one button on the side of the monitor, and a retro, feel-good dance song issues forth from a small speaker at the head of Jack’s hospital bed, which Morgana instantly recognizes as one of Jack’s favorites.

This was Jewel’s favorite song, too! How could she forget?

Jewel, one of Morgana’s three older “beautiful” sisters, was her favorite for such a long time.

Listening to the song, Morgana recalls the first time she had ever set eyes on Jack.

Morgana’s 16 years old. She’s bundled up on the couch, half lying down, eating a bowl of greasy popcorn she has made herself, burning the pot and filling their big, barny, Brooklyn kitchen with black smoke. Good thing she likes burnt things. It’s snowing outside and everyone else in the house is asleep. Jewel is out on a date with God knows who. Morgana savors the black, oily, cinder-coated popcorn, happily watching re-runs of The Twilight Zone.

The door’s lock springs open and there’s Jewel, tiptoeing and whispering, leading Jack through the narrow hallway past the kitchen and into the front room.

They don’t expect to see anyone in the front room, and neither does Morgana. All three hold their breath for just an instant. Morgana understands that Jewel would like to be alone with that guy, whoever he is, but Morgana doesn’t budge since she’s too embarrassed to be seen by a stranger, or anyone else for that matter, given how she’s dressed—as a ragamuffin, a refugee, an escapee from the Goodwill box. The clothes were not meant to be seen—they were just a means to an end—mean articles of clothing to put an end to her shivering response to the freezing apartment. The heat was always turned off at night, orders of the building’s owner who employs her father as a handyman. Bed was the only place you’d be safe from the deep freeze of those cold winter nights. They had electric blankets but the apartment’s wiring was so tentative that using them meant blown fuses, so the electric blankets were left on the beds unplugged.

The guy is looking at Jewel as if he could just eat her up. Clearly, he’s lovesick. Morgana thinks he’s a pretty good-looking guy. He barely looks at Morgana when Jewel introduces him to her.

Jack doesn’t say much, but he sure does an awful lot of sighing. Then, as he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, Jewel tells Morgana to take her damned popcorn and get her sorry ass gone to bed already. Grateful for the opportunity to escape from her bad-fashion hideout cocoon on the couch, Morgana skedaddles off to bed, leaving the still-warm couch to Jewel and Jack and their amorous wrestling that she can only imagine will soon take place.

“OK,” says Rosie, her words punctuated by her shoes squeaking on the shiny floors, “this song is what they played for Jack today.”

Morgana walks back over to the side of Jack’s bed and sees his lip curl slightly exposing his incisors.

Morgana’s blood curdles.

Forgetting that she is standing safely at the side of Jack’s bed, she feels the chain link fence digging into her back. She has plastered herself into the fence in order to give a wide berth to the man who has just let his giant beast of a white Husky loose inside the park. It’s just about a block’s distance to the dog run which is also inside the park, so the man really shouldn’t have unleashed his dog just yet.

“Hi,” she says feebly, her knees almost knocking together. “Your dog looks like he’s going to attack me.”

The dog’s orbital ice-blue eyes are riveted to hers. His black lips are trembling and jerkily tugging upwards into a sneer as if pulled by some palsied demon puppeteer, ever-so-slightly exposing the beast’s long incisors, anticipatory saliva dripping onto the path.

Moving nary a muscle, the dog seems poised as if on a hair trigger, ready to spring into action. Holding her breath, she shifts her eyes to the man, wordlessly beseeching him to put the damned dog back on the damned leash already.

The man regards her with a cocky tilt of his head, and says, “Yeah, he sees you as a threat,” as if she had been charging at them, wielding a machine gun.

He snaps his fingers, and the dog is released from his “sic” stance. The dog trots away, turning his head back to make sure that Morgana is still plastered to the chain link fence.

“Hey,” calls Rosie, “are you OK?”

Yanked back to reality, Morgana finds herself gripping the side rails of Jack’s hospital bed. She can only imagine what her face must look like.

“Uh, yeah, I’m fine, thanks.”

“You had me a little scared for a minute—you’re face looked like you’d seen a ghost!”

“Well, actually, I had a really scary encounter with a mad dog in the park yesterday, and that’s what I was thinking about. I’m okay now. Thanks for asking.”

“OK, well, here’s the feed. Are you ready to see it?”

Morgana nods her a “yes,” and Rosie pulls a chair closer to the screen for Morgana so she can sit down a watch the reconstructed images from the day’s scans.

“Here, sit down—you’ll be more comfortable, just in case you’re feeling a little wobbly. And, drink this!”

Rosie has filled a small paper cup with water from the sink which she hands to Morgana.

She starts the feed while Morgana sips the water and watches intently. The music plays as the video reveals a very slow scan of a woman’s naked torso. Huh, there’s the navel, the waist, the ribs, the breasts, the neck, the lips, the hair, and then the face comes into view.

“What? No, it can’t be! No, dear God, it can’t be!” Morgana covers her face with her hands.

Rosie stops the feed, and says, “What’s wrong?”

Morgana takes a few deep breaths, and downs the rest of the water before continuing.

“Before my husband and I first got together, he and my older sister, Jewel, were going together. Then, my sister broke up with him, started seeing this other guy, got pregnant, and then ran away with the guy and eloped. We were all shocked, but not as shocked as Jack. He started coming around to see me when my parents weren’t home, and one thing led to another, and well…let’s just say that I was madly in love with him just because he was the first guy who ever paid any attention to me, and he was pretty cute, too. Plus, I felt really bad about what Jewel did to him.”

“So what does this video have to do with your sister?”

“That’s Jewel’s face in the video!”

“Well, this is Jack’s memory of her from all those many years ago, so what’s the big deal? I mean, it’s not like you didn’t know that they were a couple once.”

“The big deal is that’s Jewel’s face—not from 31 years ago, but exactly what she looks like RIGHT NOW!”

Morgana can barely stand up, but somehow she makes it to her feet.

Not really caring that Rosie is still staring at her in disbelief, she turns to Jack and makes a fist as if to punch him in the face.

She stops herself, and slowly uncurling her right hand, she looks at him and says, “You piece of shit!”

She looks at Rosie, who is still at a loss for words, and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I really meant to say…,” and turning back to Jack, she says, just a little bit louder:

“You WORTHLESS piece of shit!”

Illustration Credit: http://www.edvardmunch.org (Madonna, 1894 by Edvard Munch)

Music Credit: Music video by The Gap Band performing “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” (c) 1982 The Island Def Jam Music Group

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Filed under Magical Realism, Science Fiction, The Our Little Secret Travel Agency-The Novel

Happy Birthday, Chris!

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I wish I were there to make my cake
And some vegetarian oddity to replace a steak,
And after stuffing ourselves we’d decide to take
A meandering walk around the Lake,
Where I’d point out the weird snails that come every season,
And we’d come up with theories explaining the reason.
Then I’d ask you the latest way of not using “groovy,”
And approaching “Grand Lake,” we’d pop into a movie,
After which we’d spend an hour or two,
Discussing the plot and the point of view,
And many digressions, to name but a few,
And all other things related thereto.
But the only time we would disagree
I with you or you with me,
Is whether a comma belongs here or there,
But in the end, we wouldn’t care,
Except that Daddy would take your side,
Leaving me as the one that you two would chide.
All I know is that it’s so much fun
To have this wonderful friend who’s also my son.

Photo Credit: The Barbra Streisand Forum

 

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All’s Fair in Love and Splitsville

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We bought our groceries at the Piggly Wiggly
And at home together we’d put them away.
We’d kiss and hug and get all giggly,
Never thinking at all we’d change one day.

We split the chores right down the middle
As fair and as right as rain could be.
But I’ve seen the light and I’ve solved the riddle
Of what went wrong with you and me.

All that sharing fifty-fifty
In the end drove us apart.
Now all we have left of what we had, dear,
Is the two equal halves of our own broken heart.

Splitsville is the place you’re heading
As your love goes down the drain
And I no longer think that a double sink
Will make it faster to drain the pain.

Give and take is a much better shake
Than cutting the pie in two:
Too late we know our big mistake
Was not saying, “I want more for you.”

Illustration Credit: Edushyster.com

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Publishing Julia, Better Late Than Never

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In Memory of

Julia Lerner Field

1944 – 2016

I met Julia in the mid-70s in the Quaker Commune on Glenwood Road in Brooklyn, New York. She had already been living there when I sought and happily took refuge in that big, old, rambling, gorgeous house still enjoying its heydays on a wide, tree-lined street. At the time, I didn’t know where or how I fit into that magical amalgam of Quaker, Jewish, intellectual, leftist, anti-war activist, gay, theatrical, zany, and other non-generic characters, but somehow, they all cobbled themselves into something we all kind of needed: not quite a family and not quite not a family.

After the Quaker Commune disbanded, Julia and another member of the Quaker Commune, Debbie Friedman, continued their friendship, sharing an apartment, and eventually getting separate apartments in the same building. They were great friends, but more like sisters, to each other. Every pilgrimage I made back to Brooklyn usually included getting together with both of them.

Julia was charming, cosmopolitan, so well-spoken and so well-read. She was funny and entertaining, and so much of what she said was punctuated with a something that bordered on a giggle. The dictionary definition of a “gamine” describes her perfectly: a slim, boyish, elegant young woman who is, or is perceived to be, mischievous, teasing or appealing. I don’t think I ever met anyone who wasn’t taken with her.

Julia was a natural-born writer, with the gift of gab, a keen eye for observation and a passion for language. After I started my blog a few years ago, I kept encouraging her to start her own blog and to publish her writing. She sent me a short piece she’d written on retiring, and I loved it so much that I begged her to let me put it on my blog in my Guest Corner. Although the idea appealed to her, she was uncomfortable with the vulnerability that comes from exposing one’s writing. I also know, however, that she would have loved being acknowledged for this wonderful talent that otherwise might not see the light of day.

As a writer, I feel that a writer’s voice transcends their death, and in spite of Julia’s reluctance to publish her work, both Debbie and I can think of no better way to honor her memory than sharing her voice and her humor with her friends, family, acquaintances, and even new readers.

We love you, Julia. And consider yourself published, because here it is:

 

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Julia and Frabjous

QUITTING TIME

By Julia Field

I decided to retire when I was 64. Although I had always planned on working ‘til 70, early retirement suddenly seemed a better choice than premature death.

An increased risk of premature death is what doctors, psychologists and other health professionals calculate for every extra cigarette you smoke, every extra pat of butter you spread on your (white) toast, every extra hour of TV (even PBS!) you watch plunked on the sofa. In my case it was every budget that had to be modified twice and thrice a quarter for the same government contract, every deadline marked “Yesterday, B.C.,” every extra hour of restorative slumber forfeited to the roar of the fire-breathing, dream-snatching clock radio.

A year or so before I made the big decision, my best friend Nina gave me a fat, illustrated, spiral-bound workbook about how to decide if you’re ready to retire. It had chapters on all the relevant emotional and economic issues, including worksheets on which to calculate formulas using your personal data. Figuring out how to retire was too much like work! I didn’t know how to assume the return on all my different asset classes; I didn’t know for sure if I could find a part-time job, to what degree I might be restless or bored or lonely, what kind of volunteer work I might like to do. My head was left spinning with those Excel logical functions I’d once tried, and failed, to master: IF this equals that, then TRUE; IF this does not equal that, then FALSE; IF THIS doesn’t know that it is not THAT, then WHAT???

Clearly, any book that tries to get you to predict your future is about as helpful as a storefront psychic. It didn’t matter if my asset allocations were aligned with Jupiter; neither I nor anyone else knew that the financial meltdown was on its way, and that all the boomers who had financial plans, and maybe even financial planners, were going to go bust.

Why then, in the spring of 2009, after the financial meltdown, when the DOW was 7,000-something, did I take the plunge? Contrary to my cynical, pessimistic, depressive nature, I decided to look on the bright side. I figured that because I was 64½, not 70, my 401(k) would have those extra years to recover. Time is money, right?

Even though I regrettably didn’t have a pension, I proudly didn’t have any debt. I live in a rent-stabilized apartment and am a devout homebody. Besides, I thought, once you retire, you don’t have to save! You only have to strike a balance between spending and conserving. I was sure I could do it. I prayed I could do it. I knelt at the side of my beloved bed, and thanked God and FDR for Social Security, and the Devil for Medicare Part D.

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The first few weeks of freedom were liberating and paralyzing. It was May, so taking walks along the park and spending afternoons at a sidewalk café were delightful. But something was lurking in my lizard brain: my former preoccupation with how long I could bear to work changed into the existential question of how long I could afford to live. I kept following the market, dividing my stash by a number that was an average of all my deceased ancestors’ life spans. I had become my own retirement workbook! IF TRUE: you will become a bag lady by your 77th birthday, IF FALSE: you will have to find a sugar daddy by your 76th.

What balanced these spells of anxiety was how well rested I became. Protracted Traumatic Sleep Deprivation was a thing of the past. Almost every day was a snow day. I could have breakfast at noon, I could fume and curse over the Times Crossword until I finished it with my third cup of coffee. I took up knitting and writing, started reading novels again, saw friends and movies in the afternoon. I even got a job, two days a week, through Nina. It was her way of making up for giving me that workbook.

I was smart enough, however, not to join a gym. Jumping jacks are overkill for a heart aerobically stimulated by regular doses of sticker shock.

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“Shoeshine”

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“Frabjous”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I support two handsome, solipsistic cats and, per month, their kitty litter costs far more than a big family’s supply of toilet paper. So I started nickel-and-diming myself: I walked an extra six blocks downhill (and back, carrying the bags, uphill) to a supermarket where I could save 30 cents here, 50 cents there. I tried several brands of supermarket coffee (I know, that’s almost an oxymoron) and got used to asking for my senior discount at the stores that offered them. No Kindle for me – you had to feed it. I got myself a library card, my first in decades. I put off certain purchases to push them past my credit card closing date. (Yes, I know the monthly closing date on my only credit card.) I spend carefully so I don’t have to reduce my nest egg too often. But then I think, if I keep putting things off, I’ll have less time to enjoy them. The Money/Mortality Trade Off lives forever, it seems.

It’s a rare day that I don’t deal with some issue that poses a question of time, values, death, and/or desire. I do not have the answers, but neither does Pope Benedict, who on the issue of early retirement alone I consider a kindred spirit. But I offer this advice to every sleep-deprived sixty-something working stiff desperate to call it quits:

Be prepared to take as many months as necessary to sleep your super-annuated ass off. Even though you can’t earn money while you’re sleeping, you can’t spend it either.

(Written sometime in 2013)

Note from Debbie about Julia’s cats:  Frabjous is now residing under his new nom-de-chat of “Pierre” at my friend Seth’s where he’s keeping an old kitty company. Shoeshine has been with me since the end of July. Myrna (one of Debbie’s cats) beats him up every day 😿 but then Smudge (the other one of Debbie’s cats) gives him a kiss😻

Note from Gloria on behalf of our sweet Julia: Thank you, Debbie and Seth, for keeping both Shoeshine and Frabjous (a/k/a “Pierre”) out of Kitty Heaven!

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Debbie Friedman, including this one:

Julia and Debbie, BFFs

Julia and Debbie, BFFs, 1982 at 180 Berkeley Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday to Andy

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The chocolate cake
That I love to make
With peanut butter frosting,
And my vegan lasagna
That’s inside out
Would all seem quite exhausting
To some regular person who is not you
And lucky for me that you’re one of the few
Who likes what I cook,
Even if it’s just guck,
And the proverbial fat that we chew.

So I miss you on your birthday
And every other day
That you’re not here and I’m not there
But in my heart you stay,
Sitting at the kitchen counter
While I invent some new weird dish.
That such sweet fun would never end
Is what for me I’d wish.
And for you I wish the best of the best
To enjoy the good fortune
With which you’ve been blessed
And to stay happy and sweet
And free from strife
With a cute orange cat
And the most wonderful wife.

Love,
Mom

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 21: I Ain’t Got a Clue

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Morgana is clueless that the Rubber Man has spent the night in her stairwell and has watched her coming and going and sleep-walking and falling on the stairs, enjoying immensely every jiggle of her ass that he was lucky enough to catch. Oh, yeah, sa-WEET Jesus, oh, yeah!

Shaking off the gloom of the stairwell, she breathes in deeply, almost tasting the damp leaves of the trees and the freshness of the cool air. Outside in the bright sun, life resumes around her. Cars trawl by, their heavy-duty speakers vibrating at decibel levels that would loosen the fillings in your teeth. Ah, another gorgeous day!

“Running” past Morgana on the sidewalk, seemingly to the infectious beat of some hot-wired Reggaeton from a cruising pimpmobile, is the pudgy, pasty, huffing Mortimer, a 60-something year-old retired city worker who runs faithfully every day. Sweat pours off his bald head as he beams an ecstatic smile at the sky. A thin, torn wife beater tee shirt is pulled taut over his bulging belly, revealing a concavity the size of a quarter suggesting the deep abyss that leads to his navel somewhere deep within.

“Hi, Morgana!” he huffs, slowing down to synchronize his steps with hers. “How’s Jack doing?”

“Oh, hi, Mortimer! Thanks for asking. Jack’s back at the hospital again. They moved him back there a couple days ago so they can keep an eye on him and try different therapies.”

“Oh, that’s promising, I’d say.”

“Well, yes and no. They are actually more interested in observing his responses, or lack thereof, to different stimuli. I don’t want to sound jaded, but truthfully, it has more to do with their research than trying to cure him—which they would do, if they could.”

“I can emphasize with you,” says Mortimer, quite reverently. She represses a smile trying not to guffaw over the word “emphasize.”

“When my wife was so sick last year, and I would ask them when we could expect to see her improve, and they’d just say to me, ‘Well, we can’t say for sure, but we’re going to keep on trying whatever we can, and sooner or later, we’ll have something to tell you.’ Well, sooner came a lot sooner than I thought. By the time they figured it out, it was too…late.”

He stops huffing and breaks down. He turns to Morgana, his face contorted with grief. She holds him while he sobs. Her heart just breaks for him. She pats his back and for lack of anything better to say, just keeps saying softly, “It’s OK, It’s OK….”

Mortimer’s grief puts her on automatic pilot, and she is a little surprised how she says all the right things, as though she is standing outside of this grief, as if she were an observer to both his grief and her own. She manages all the right gestures, all the right facial expressions. She feels able to comfort someone who is drowning in sorrow. By the time she says goodbye to Mortimer, she feels lighter and in a very strange way, a lot stronger than before.

As Mortimer “runs” off slowly, she remembers to put herself back into regal countenance mode and squares her shoulders as she does a slight runway strut, careful not to exaggerate her movements. Before she knows it, she’s approaching the postage stamp-size park where she is to meet dear, sweet Percival.

Luckily, there are no honking geese today and no wayward shopping carts filled with personal belongings stuffed into trash bags. She sits on the bench where she and Percival sat just the day before and takes out two red and white checkered cloth napkins, which she unfolds and drapes over the middle of the bench. She pulls the jar of her Boney Stalker Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce out of her bag and sets it in the middle of the bench.

“Mind if I join you, Miss?” She looks up, and there’s Percival, grinning ear to ear, holding his tote bag emblazoned with the words, “Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea – Yoshio Taniguchi.”

“Well,” she says coyly, “actually, I was expecting Yoshio Taniguchi!”

“And my apologies, indeed! The problem is that he’s off judging a new building today, leaving only me to judge this BBQ sauce. Plus, when it comes to BBQ sauce, Taniguchi doesn’t have a clue! And if you should ever see him and if you should ever tell him that I said that, I will never talk to you again!”

“My lips are sealed,” she says. As their eyes meet, each imagines the other wishing it was their lips meeting as well, and they both laugh to save themselves the trouble of feeling awkward.

Unpacking his Taniguchi bag, Percival hands her a bottle of water and unwraps a giant sandwich which has been cut into four pieces. “I took the liberty of getting provolone cheese with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and black olives. You never know these days who is a vegetarian so I figured I’d play it safe.”

Percival takes two paper plates out of his bag and he puts them on the bench.

“Oh! That looks great! I haven’t had provolone in a month of Sundays!

“And now, the moment of truth,” she says, pointing to the jar of her Boney Stalker Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce. “I hope it’s good—I slaved for hours over a hot stove! Actually, I didn’t but I sure had fun making it. The best part was looking forward to today.”

“I’m so glad you showed up! I wouldn’t have missed this for the world! I had a very important client show up unannounced just as I was leaving to meet you, and I had to tell her that I had another commitment.”

“Well, now I feel very important,” says Morgana, smiling at Percival.

“You are,” he says as he opens the jar and offers it to Morgana. “No, you first—I already know what it tastes like—and you’re gonna love it.”

“Don’t mind if I do!” he says, beaming at Morgana and pouring the sauce all over his plate.

“I see you’re a dipper! Good idea,” she says, following suit and pouring it onto her plate as well.

They both dip into the sauce with their sandwiches.

“Oh, this is soooo good I could cry!” mumbles Percival as he is stuffing the sandwich into his mouth. Morgana laughs so hard that she almost chokes.

“Whatever you do, Morgana, don’t choke! I’m CPR certified, but I warn you that I always break at least two ribs.”

“Only two ribs? What will we do with the rest of the BBQ sauce??”

Not that this repartee is that funny, but they are both laughing and gasping for air. Everything is just so good!

Between the two of them, they polish off most of the BBQ sauce.

“What are we going to do with the rest of the sauce?” Percival wants to know. He likes it so much, he could drink the rest if Morgana weren’t looking.

Morgana replaces the cap and hands it to Percival. “Here, put it in your bag and take it home. I still have another whole jar in the fridge.”

Just as she picks up the napkins and puts them in her bag, a disheveled man babbling incoherently sits down between them.

“Gee,” quips Morgana, “if it gets any more crowded on this bench, either our new friend here or I will have to sit on your lap.”

Percival looks at the babbling man next to him, and then at Morgana, as if he is sizing them both up, and looking at Morgana, he says with a straight face, “I guess you win since you’d be just about the right size.”

They both laugh themselves silly once again. Percival stands up and takes a few Italian chocolates wrapped in gold foil out of his bag. He hands one to the babbling man who stops babbling long enough to thank him, and one to Morgana.

“Oh, Percival! I love these! They’re my favorite!”

“Mine, too! Let’s take a little walk before I’ve got to get back to the office.” Turning to the babbling man, he says, “Have a nice day!”

Morgana is taken with Percival’s kindness and his sense of humor.

“So, Morgana, we know next to nothing about each other, but would you want to go to a movie or go for a walk sometime soon when we don’t have to both rush back off to work? That is, if you’re not married or otherwise encumbered!”

“I’d love to Percival. I’m more not married than I am married. It’s a long story but I’d be more than willing to tell you about it if you are still interested.”

“I’m very interested. So, would Saturday morning work out OK for you? We could walk over to the Rose Garden and then maybe take in a movie in the afternoon, but we can play it by ear.”

“That would be great! I live in Adams Point. Where do you live?”

“Near the Cleveland Cascade.”

“Well, then why don’t we meet at the Cleveland Cascade at the bottom of the steps?”

“Perfect! What time? Ten? Eleven? Twelve?”

“Let’s make it ten!”

“It’s a deal!” says Percival, beaming. He gives Morgana a quick hug, and as he turns to leave, he grins and says, “You don’t know how much I’ve enjoyed this! Don’t forget—Saturday at ten!”

Morgana heads back to The Pregonero. She’s so excited she can barely concentrate on writing her article on the Boney Stalker Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce. Of course, she makes up a bogus letter which she will answer for her Advice Lady column.

A few hours later, Morgana leaves the Pregonero just as the croaking Maddie is wiping down her work station at the Reception Desk with a pungent, nostril-searing disinfectant.

“Bye, Hon,” she wheezes, as she looks up from her daily desk ablutions. “You’re lookin’ real cute these days!”

Reaching for the doorknob, Morgana sings, “Thanks, Maddie!” and exits onto the sidewalk, making her way to the hospital to visit Jack.

Before going into the hospital, she remembers the little bottle of Boney Stalker Scotch that she bought for Jack and quickly crosses the street to go sit on the park bench to collect her thoughts and to make sure the little bottle is still in her purse. After 30 seconds of rummaging around and poking her cuticles with her hair brush, she finds it, still safe and sound. Just so she doesn’t have to fumble with the damn thing in the hospital, she takes it out of its tiny paper bag, and unscrews the cap, breaking the little bridges to separate the cap from the pilfer-proof ring–after all, this is somewhat of a stealth operation and she’s got to be discreet. She would hate like hell to be discovered pouring scotch into the mouth of a comatose man. They’d probably think she was trying to kill him.

“Hang on, Jack,” she thinks, “I’m coming to give you just a little taste of what you’ve been missing so much more than you’d ever be missing me. I could probably wind up in jail if they were to catch me doing this, but given the given, a few drops of this rotgut sewer swill won’t hurt you at all, or at least not as much as what’s happened to you, to us, to our lives.”

Dr. Valenzuela, crisp in her white lab coat, bounces down the front steps of the hospital. By the time Morgana gets up from the bench and turns around to cross the busy street in front of the hospital, Dr. Valenzuela is already bobbing away with the steady stream of pedestrians. Like ships in the night, they miss each other once again.

Morgana locates Jack’s room more easily than the last time, and is surprised to find that there’s no one there but Jack. His eyes are still closed, but he looks rather well. She had expected to see him looking more gaunt.

It’s after five, so, as Rocky had hinted, now would be the best time to pour a few drops of Boney Stalker Scotch into Jack’s mouth. The bottle opens easily, thanks to her proactive bottle priming outside the hospital. Just to play safe, she goes to the door of his room, does a quick scan of the hallway, and sees no one who seems to be concerned that she is in his room. Alcohol-laced currents of cool air waft around her, and she returns to Jack’s side. At least the whole place already smells like alcohol, so hopefully, no one will identify the smell as Boney Stalker Scotch.

Her fears are greatly allayed as she remembers the scandal that made national news and prompted an investigation on the East Coast where many franchised restaurant bars had mixed rubbing alcohol with caramel coloring and sold it as premium scotch! The Poison Control officials weren’t all that worried about it—stopping short of a glowing endorsement, they said that rubbing alcohol was easily metabolized and produced a pretty good buzz. In fact, no one seemed particularly upset except for Alcohol Beverage Control and the Attorney General. It wasn’t even treated as a criminal investigation, but rather as a liquor license irregularity. The companies that produce scotch kept quiet about it too, since the less said, the better; after all, if rubbing alcohol could get the job done at a fraction of the cost? No wonder they didn’t make a big stink about losing thousands of dollars!

Emboldened by the memory of the scandal, she pours a few drops of Boney Stalker Scotch into Jack’s mouth, just a tad, and then checks his breathing. No problem. OK, just a little more this time. Her hand jerks as she is surprised by Rosie’s white nurses’ shoes making a sharp squeak uncomfortably close to Jack’s bed. Morgana notes that Jack’s right ear seems to be filled with Boney Stalker Scotch. Contriving a hasty cover, Morgana covers Jack’s face with her face and grabs his upper torso in an awkward embrace as if she is protecting him from an imminent explosion.

“Rosie, could you give us a few minutes alone, please? We’re having a private moment.”

“Oh, yeah, sure!” she chirps, and turns on her squeaky heels, exiting the room just as quickly as she appeared.

Phew! That was close!

Morgana twists the cap back onto the little bottle and throws it into her purse. She can almost swear that she sees the slightest of smiles on Jack’s face. No time to linger on his face, she takes one of the red checkered napkins out of her purse and twizzles the napkin’s corner to sop up the Boney Stalker pooled in Jack’s right ear.

“Jack!” she whispers, “I sure hope to hell you liked that! I damn near got myself good and caught.” She notes that Jack takes a bigger breath than usual and exhales more slowly than before. Oh, she hopes she hasn’t done something awful. If she could think coherently, she’d wonder what she was doing here, what she was doing anywhere, for that matter.

She stands there, regarding his face and combing his hair with her fingers.

She doesn’t have a clue that big, hot tears are sliding down her face.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcUeothSPyc
Lake Street Dive in the Studio: Rachael Price Sings “What I’m Doing Here” In One Complete Take

To Be Continued in Chapter 22

Illustration Credit: http://www.en.wikipedia.org, “Cluedo”
Music Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcUeothSPyc
Lake Street Dive in the Studio: Rachael Price Sings “What I’m Doing Here” In One Complete Take

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Filed under Science Fiction, The Our Little Secret Travel Agency-The Novel