The Our Little Secret Travel Agency — Chapter 26: The Kiss

Ah! Saturday morning! It’s one of those enchanted mornings. 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, 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 will and can 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)

Music Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EG1l5LVYp4Q
Herb Alpert, “This Guy’s In Love With You”

To Be Continued in Chapter 27

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

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