The Hawley Envisionist by Lee Gerstmann
Ó2017 Lee Gerstmann
Cover image courtesy of Kody: http://www.fiverr.com/kodysteps2
Stanley Ross had a strange premonition that today would encompass something unexpected. He was at a party hosted by his friend, Andre Frey, in the small town of Hawley where there was apparently one café but no one, not even the residents, could find it. The grocery stores were houses with vegetable produce on the front lawns.
Andre’s house was better looking than the others on that street. He had studied architecture at Columbia University when he lived in Harlem. When he made the move from New York to Pennsylvania, he settled on a remote place which was at that time cheap. He bought a house paid in full with cash from money received in an inheritance after his father died. Andre had been the one child, out of six, that did not ask his father for any loans or favors but was always willing to help him during the last years when Stephen was less abler to take care of himself. Andre received the bulk of the inheritance. He had thought of splitting his share equally with his brothers and sisters but he suddenly decided that his father had given him a gift. He would cherish the gift in his father’s honor.
Stanley said, “This is a nice area. I wouldn’t mind living here.”
Andre nodded. “You should have seen my house before I improved it. I have a car so I can go into Scranton and shop. You would have to pick nuts and berries from the trees and vines for your trail mix. There’s nothing up here and, after a few days of enjoying watching the birds flying around, you wouldn’t be able to stand it anymore.”
“Maybe I would like it if there were good looking women as neighbors.”
“This is the North East. Either people are very slim or very not slim. Whether or not the women in Hawley are good looking is up to interpretation.”
“In other words, I wouldn’t like them.”
“Not unless you like to spend a lot of money on food. Could you help me get everything set up?”
Stanley assisted Andre by putting chairs in the living room and rearranging other furniture so there would be plenty of room for people to walk. Stanley enjoyed doing so. He remembered that Andrew knew some interesting people. Probably, a number of them were good looking women and that would not be a matter of interpretation.
There were ten guests, other than Stanley. Andrew invited eight of them and guests invited two. Stanley somehow talked with a man named Lloyd Eugenides. He did not remember how that started. Perhaps Andre introduced them. Stanley preferred to think Thomas imposed on him. That seemed to be what happened. Lloyd talked about interesting subjects. Stanley was not offended but, while Lloyd talked, Stanley was looking at the women. Two were overweight. They wore dresses. Stanley figured they were neighbors. Three were slim. Two wore bulky sweatshirts and jeans. The other wore a sweatshirt also but it was tucked into belted jean shorts and the sweatshirt sleeves were pushed up. Stanley was aroused. He felt as if the situation was metaphysical. How often did he see a woman tuck in a sweatshirt? Most of the women in his neighborhood, back in California, did not even tuck in regular shirts.
Lloyd said, “The difference between rock and jazz is rock groups aren’t classic in the same way jazz performers are. Other than The Beatles who have become historic as well as classic and are an exception, most of the other groups, especially any group from the Nineteen Eighties, are more nostalgic than classic. People listen to them now but that won’t be the case twenty years from now, on account of how musical trends shift in the rock genre. But Miles Davis and John Coltrane will still be listened to and not simply for classic or historic reasons. People want to put on Kind Of Blue. People want to hear A Love Supreme. Jazz has more lasting power than rock. Would you agree?”
Stanley was looking at the woman wearing the pink sweatshirt and blue jean shorts. He heard Lloyd but he was not fully enthusiastic about having a conversation on music. He would much rather talk about women’s fashion but, if he did so, he might dispel some of the magic he sensed was happening. He figured something unusual would transpire. He did not know what it would be but he knew it would be something.
Lloyd frowned. “It looks like you’re preoccupied.”
Stanley shook his head. “I don’t mean to be. Let me ask you, do you live around here?”
“I live at the end of this block, yes.”
“I’m wondering if any of the women here live in the neighborhood.”
Lloyd turned his head. “Emma and Myla, the two wearing dresses, do. Emma lives next door to me. Myla lives next door to Andre. Why?”
“I was just wondering. I was trying to figure out if the women here are good looking.”
“You mean, the women at the party?”
“No. Well, yes but not. I know that a few of the women at the party are good looking. I meant the women in the neighborhood.”
“You think Emma and Myla are good looking? I agree. Do you want me to introduce you?”
“Why not, if you like them?”
Stanley did not want to say any more but he had to clear up the misunderstanding. “I think the other three are good looking.”
Lloyd nodded. “Well, they are friends of Thomas Berriault. Thomas has known Andre since they were kids. One is Martha and the other is Stephanie. I don’t particularly think they are attractive but if you do I can introduce you to them.”
Stanley figured he would appear strange if he did not allow Lloyd to introduce him to the women. He said, “That would be good.”
Of course, neither Martha nor Stephanie was wearing the pink sweatshirt. Martha’s sweatshirt was blue and had a hardware store slogan on it. Stephanie’s sweatshirt was yellow and had a picture of a kitten on it. During the course of the conversation, Stephanie pushed up her sleeves, which looked a little bit sexier, but he was more intrigued by the other women whose sweatshirt had the name of a college on it. She talked with an older man who was bald plump and wore a three-piece suit and glasses. Stanley figured she was being polite. She could not be attracted to the man.
Martha did most of the talking. Stephanie would occasionally tell Stanley he was cute. He wanted to excuse himself. Whatever happened would be blocked if he did not alter the course of the situation. He needed to go out the front door, alone. Then, after ten minutes of solitude, he would feel refreshed and let the thing happen. He did not know why he made that conclusion but it seemed right so he would not mess with it.
Martha said, “It’s better to eat organic food, like cruciform vegetables, like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsley, beet tops, radishes. All that good stuff… My brother has a fatty liver. It’s from all the processed junk food he ate as a kid. Yuck! No wonder he’s pudgy. You don’t have a pudgy belly. Do you eat healthy?”
Stephanie smiled. “You’re cute.”
Martha continued. “Tiny houses are becoming popular. Get rid of the clutter and live simply. I have an uncle who’s saving the money and he’s going to buy a tiny house. He has tons of books and he plans on giving them all to me. What am I going to do with them? They’re all about how to start your own business and how to borrow money from banks. Do I want to relax outside and read those for fun? The answer is no.”
Stephanie said, “You’re cute.”
Stanley listened while they spoke to him. They misinterpreted his indifference for rapt attention. As Martha talked, she tapped the back of his hand with her finger many times. Finally, he blew on the back of his hand as a symbolic gesture meaning he received enough energy. Every time he did it, she touched him again, as if to say she was replacing the energy he blew off. Finally, he said, “I enjoyed talking with you but I have to do something.” He walked quickly outside.
Stanley needed only ten minutes and then he would be able to face everybody again. He attribute his weird feelings to the change of environment. He was not used to being around surroundings such as what he experienced during the present moment. He grew up in Antioch, California, with a mother who had not married and was not good at holding a job. Part of the time they lived in cheap apartments and other times they lived with his uncle, his mother’s brother, who was four hundred pounds, spent most of his time in a wheelchair even though he could walk, and his wife, who was slim, and their daughter, who was three hundred and fifty pounds. Antioch had very few trees or parks. The area was filled with dollar stores and gas stations. People were generally as obese as his uncle. Everyone ate cheap canned foods and soda. The vibe was mostly that of depression. Occasionally, drunks would hang out by a bench close to a parking lot, blaring loud music from a radio with bad static sound, yelling and singing out of tune to the music. Andre had been his one friend, his next-door neighbor, until Andre moved to New York, He suggested Stanley do so, as well. Finally, after enough time working odd job and saving his money, Stanley decided to visit New York for a week. He called Andre to tell him. Andre mentioned he now lived in Pennsylvania. Stanley changed his plan and flew to Pennsylvania, instead. Andre came tot the hotel in Scranton where Stanley was staying so Stanley could attend Andre’s party. Stanley was sensitive to the difference between Pennsylvania and California. Everything seemed so new. Now, after spending a few minutes outside, he would be able to rejoin the party.
As he turned to face the door, he felt something lick inwardly in him, as if an answer was given. The woman he liked was outside, with her hand extended. She must have noticed him earlier and planned to talk with him. Since she looked so good, he had trouble reacting normally. His instinct was to just stand there and wonder what she wanted. However, he knew that would not be the right move.
She said, “Come shake my hand, Stanley.”
He was embarrassed. He should have approached her without his needing instructions. Perhaps next she would inform him that he should speak and smile and breathe. Finally, he snapped out of his daze. He walked towards her and they shook hands. He asked, “How did you know my name?”
She shrugged. “I asked Lloyd.”
“How did he know my name?”
She looked at him as if to say she had no answer.
He laughed. “Probably Andre told him. What’s your name?”
He noticed her grip was firm and she was still shaking his hand. He was going to comment on it but did not know what to say.
She asked, “Want to come inside?”
They walked in together. She stopped the shaking motion but still held on. Stanley was intrigued.
Andres smiled. “So, you’ve met Kate.”
Stanley said, “Yes.”
Kate said, “Stanley’s going to like where I take him, later. He hasn’t been to Okinawa, the Japanese restaurant, has he?”
Andre shrugged. “I’m guessing he hasn’t.”
She nodded. “The next few days will be easy to fill with things to do but, after that, we’ll just have to wing it.”
“I know. It’s hard when you live in this area as opposed to New York. Scranton is okay but it’s nothing like Harlem or Manhattan. But I think he’ll adjust pretty well to the change.”
“I know. I just need to remember the discipline I am following. As long as we stay attached, the universal flow will be balanced.”
Stanley felt odd hearing the conversation. He asked, “What do you mean by staying attached?”
Kate said, “Our hand pairing. According to my religion, as long as we stay like this, I’m your wife.”
He became extremely nervous and tried to pull his hand free but her grip was like a vice and he could not escape.
He was not experiencing the situation. He had to believe that. Now, everyone was seated at different chairs, in the form of a circle, as if a meeting had taken place. Kate was sitting on a chair, gripping Stanley’s hand. Stanley stood up, as if in the middle of the circle, occasionally twisting and turning his hand one way and the other, hoping to figure out the solution to the puzzle lock. Everyone was discussing his situation.
Andre said, “The damage of Antioch has been already done. That town was poison when I lived there. He can’t go back.”
Kate said, “It’s a good thing I practiced those exercises combining physical and spiritual energy. I can keep my hand like this forever and no one can break the grip.”
Thomas said, “It’s a good thing Emma knew Kate. From what you told me, Andre, Kate would be perfect for Stanley.”
Emma said, “According to the Envisionist doctrine, we have inner knowledge we can tap into so we can already know what’s so.”
Kate said, “I was feeling empty with no direction so now my life has a purpose.”
Andre said, “That’s the advantage of living in Hawley. We are all Envisionists so we help each other.”
Stanley kept trying to pull free but to no avail. If only he could have not felt as though a change was going to occur, maybe it could have been avoided. However, he now realized that everyone at the party, including Andre, was part of a strange religion called Envisionism and part of their religious doctrine had to do with holds hand forever as the means of being married. If he screamed for help, any person outside who could come in would probably be an Envisionist also. That person would decide everything was okay. Stanley had two options. He could either panic and keep trying to escape or feeling lucky that he was attached to a woman wearing a tucked in sweatshirt. He could not decide. Both solutions seemed wrong and right.