A Visit: a novel

A Visit

A Visit: written 2017 by Lee Gerstmann

Cover image courtesy of Ann:


Chapter One

Visiting New York was a long-overdue treat. After spending the last six months in a day-to-day situation of high risk, in my apartment in Oakland, California, I could now breathe in the air of relative relief.

The situation began longer than six months ago but that was the amount of time when circumstances culminated into a specific dilemma. The root of the problem flower was my birth family. If I had not been born to the underage Eliza Goldman but, instead, to the more stable Kaufman’s whom I considered my real family, none of what I am reporting would have come to pass. However, the complicated situation had developed from a more concise essence.

The last six months had been spent with me helping my blood cousin, Janet Goldman, by letting her live in my apartment with me. I would not have done a similar deed if I had to do so for any of the other Goldman’s.

Janet was the one relative whom I considered not only a real family member but also a great friend. She had her problems – and no member of the Goldman’s was without many – but she also had the intelligence to assess her situation. She was obese but she did not pretend that three hundred and fifty pounds was not overweight. She did not know how to cook her own meals but she knew how to order food from a local restaurant when her father did not return home to cook. She knew that smoking cigarettes could wreck havoc on one’s health and cause the smoke detector to beep constantly. Other members of the family were not aware of those things. Everything from feces on the living room floor and walking around nude when guests visited to running out in the middle of heavy traffic and getting hit by a car to boasts about sexual conquests with other family members, they had first-hand knowledge of it. I did not grow up with them, in a household where hygiene and etiquette and sanity were totally dismissed. My cousin became caught in a predicament that resulted in what happened during the last six months.

The Goldman siblings consisted of Paul, who was married to Lily – both parents to Janet – and my mother Eliza and their sister Veronica. Their parents, Ernest and Mimi, died long ago so I knew them from stories only, told mostly by Paul. I had been in the health care system, living with Michael and Amy Kaufman, and their children Hal and Georgette, because Ernest and Mimi would not allow me to be a part of their family unless Eliza allowed them to adopt me and she would be my sister. Eliza figured that the best course of action would be to put me in foster care.

If not for a friend of mine, Howard Houston, I may never had resolved contacting the Goldman’s. However, he made a good point when he said, “The root of all things spiritual, according to any religious doctrine, starts with the mother.”

I replied, “But Amy Kaufman is my mother.”

Howard told me that my life would become happier if I gave Eliza Goldman the benefit of the doubt, even if the stories I heard about her family were true. I would bring some joy back in her life by meeting her again. He gave me several hundred dollars as incentive, some of which was for transportation costs, so I relented.

Howard and I searched in various ways for information on where she was located. Finally, after a couple of phone calls and arrangements made, my seeing her felt less like gold and more like tar, the nicotine kind. Aside from her constant cigarette smoking, her dishes were piled up from what seemed like years and her television set was always on in her living room, though she spent most of her time sleeping in her bedroom.

Paul and his family lived a block away from her. As to how his daughter and him could fit in the same room together was a wonder but Paul’s wife, Lily, managed to stay slim. She did not eat as much as Paul or Janet, probably because Paul usually cooked dinner right after using the restroom and forgetting to wash his hands. I noticed he would drop a steak on the floor before picking it up, apologizing and cooking it. I would not be surprised if half of his body weight was due to dirt stored instead of fat.

Veronica was a clean freak. She was not as slim as Lily but neither was she as heavy as Paul and Janet. She was approximately the size of Eliza, with some curve to the belly but still looking healthy enough. Of the times I visited either Eliza or Paul’s family, Veronica stayed away except for once when she visited my mother and I happened to be there. She was supposed to be the mean one, giving insults and usually forgetting to take her medication, so I figured I was not missing much if I saw less of her.

Even if there were times during my visits when I was irritated at Paul’s asking constantly for glasses of water when he had a full glass on a table right by his arm or Eliza’s wanting me to go to the smoke shop so I could buy her a carton of cigarettes, I felt a sense of reconciliation with them. I never did feel totally like I was a part of the family again but that was because I chose to regard the Kaufman’s as my family but I was not displeased with the Goldman’s assessment that the last piece of the family puzzle had been found.

Several years later, the first fatal tragedy came. Veronica died after a slow battle with cancer even though she had switched from eating conventional store-bought products to organic. The other Goldman’s were in favor of canned raviolis and cheap soda and no salads. They were afraid that organic food would result in their fatalities. Six months later, Paul’s wife, Lily, died from a heart aneurysm. Paul freaked out and decided he would live with Eliza and bring Janet with him. Eliza did not say no, especially after she had lived at his house years ago when she was at her most manic, but she was less than happy about it.

She lived in subsidized housing and the rules stipulated she could have guests as long as the word guest was not a euphemism for housemate. If the manager of the building noticed an unfamiliar person sneaking often in an apartment late at night, there was a problem. Cousin Janet preferred staying indoors and watching movies so her situation was easy enough for Eliza to handle. Paul could not sit down for any length of time. He was afraid he would die if he was not constantly on the move. He went in and out of Eliza’s apartment as much as five times an hour and he was not careful of closing her door quietly. She received eventually a written notice of warning from the manager. One day before she was going to make him leave for good, a friend of Paul’s arrived at her door and said that Paul got hit by a truck and was being rushed to the hospital.

Paul suffered brain injury from the accident. Eliza realized she had the opportunity to make Paul a ward of the state. She was not quite as concerned about Janet’s situation yet but Eliza knew Janet would need to leave eventually. There was the possibility that something could happen to Eliza.

Janet was under the impression the city of Antioch would find a low-income apartment for Paul and her. She was not aware that Paul had not paid the lot fee for his space where his mobile home was in the trailer park. He skipped six or seven payments before he had impulsively decided to stay with Eliza. He had used the excuse he was grief-stricken from his wife’s passing and needed to be around family but there was a possibility he received notice to vacate the premises. He was never exactly forthcoming with whole truths about anything financial.

He stayed in the hospital for one month before he died from an operation on his stomach which was an independent problem from what happened during the accident. The list of complications concerning his body were too long to list. In my opinion, he knew he was not going back to Eliza’s apartment and his wife was not coming back to life so he allowed himself to let the breaking down process begin. He had probably wandered out in traffic that day so he could let fate take its course.

Even if his actions were often irrational and he caused more problems than solutions, he had a sense of what he considered goals to achieve. My mother never strove to do anything other than leave on the television and smoke.

One day, while I was at home in Oakland, I received a phone call from Eliza. She said she needed my help getting her apartment in top-notch condition for the housing inspectors. She had one week in which the place had to be totally clean. When Veronica was alive, she would visit Eliza and she insisted the two of them clean the apartment. After Veronica died, Eliza made no effort whatsoever to do any type of cleaning. I had not visited her shortly after Paul died because she smoked even more cigarettes than usual and smoke was thicker than blood; too thick.

I agreed to help. I attributed my choice to do so on temporary insanity. I knew she had a messy place but, when I arrived to assess the mess, the place looked overwhelmingly bad, I knew there was no way I could get it even one-tenth clean but I said I would see what I could do. Eliza would be no help. Janet could have done some cleaning but she told me she hoped Eliza would fail. She blamed my mother for telling Paul he had to leave, which caused him to have the accident. If the only way she could get revenge was to sit quietly and watch Eliza panic over the condition of her place, she would gladly do that.

The plan was for me to stay over for the week, do some work, watch television at night, perhaps buy a pizza or fried chicken as incentive. That happened for two days. During that time, Janet and I could not stop coughing and I was feeling especially weak. I cleaned the basic garbage from the rooms and did the tons of dishes in her kitchen but that was all I could do. My energy was completely sapped. Add the Antioch heat, the not-so-great food choices and the interest level of conversation with Eliza which was not at all, I had to leave. I asked Janet if she wanted to stay for a while at my apartment and she said yes.

When I told Eliza that Janet and I were leaving, she smiled and said, “Okay, honey. Thank you for coming over. Take care.”

I was puzzled by her reaction but not unhappy about it. I figured she had been more concerned about the manager discovering Janet staying there than the cockroaches. I had voluntarily taken care of a bigger problem.

The rules at my place were stricter than at Eliza’s. I was allowed five overnight guests a month and anything beyond that would entail a fee. I was not about to pay any fee and I was not certain how long she would stay. I figured maybe a full week or two. Janet needed to be in a smoke free environment. Since she was comfortable staying indoors anyway, the manager would not guess she was there.

One week after she was at my apartment, the manager of Eliza’s hotel called me to say that Eliza died. The inspector found her body lying in bed, as if in a position to watch television but instead watching the spirit world. Her body seemed to be at peace. When I heard the news, I was more concerned about Janet’s situation than anything else.

After the phone call was over, I told her the news. She said, “That’s too bad. She could have stopped smoking.”

I said, “There was a lingering energy of death that I felt even while we were there when I tried to clean her place.”

“You did all that you could do. Nobody could have gotten that place clean. I hate to say it, Patrick, but I’m sort of glad she died. She wasn’t very nice to me when I stayed with her.”

“How did she treat you?”

“I felt like a slave. She had me go to the store for her because she always ran out of cigarettes. I’d go but, when I came back, she had me go again to get matches. I asked her why she waited until I came back and why didn’t she mention the matches the first time and she said she didn’t know. She was stupid.”

I nodded. “She did the same thing to me a few times.”

“Also, when she asked me to paint the walls of her living room and I said I didn’t want to do that, she told me that I was lazy and a fat jerk.”

“Wow. That’s a shame. Why did she want you to paint her living room?”

“I have no idea, Patrick. She had cans of green paint which she stored in her closet. She said she had that paint in there since the Nineteen Sixties and it was time to open the cans and put the paint to use.”

“That is even stranger than her usual strangeness. She didn’t live there in the Nineteen Sixties. She moved in that place around eight years ago.”

“I know.”

“Even if there was any reason for you to paint her place, there’s no way to do it with all the junk in it.”

“She wanted me to put everything – the junk, the furniture, everything – outside on her little porch while I painted.”

“That porch is just big enough for two people to stand on without squeezing together. There’s no way anyone could put her stuff out there.”

“I know.”

“Also, why green?”

“She said green was the color of broccoli.”

“She never ate any vegetables. Why would she talk about the color of broccoli? That is beyond any normality.”

She shook her head. “Patrick, I’m just glad I don’t have to stay there with her and that craziness any longer.”

“I don’t blame you. Did any of them think about teaching you survival skills? Did they think you’d be at home forever?”

“My dad said he was looking for another place for us to live because he was tired of paying the rent at the trailer park. I asked him if he was going to sell the mobile home and he said he would give it to a friend of his, Christopher.”

“He was just going to give it away? I mean, I can understand not wanting to pay those fees but he owned that home. He could have sold it and used that money to rent a regular apartment.”

“He wasn’t thinking right. Mom had died and he just wanted out of there. He said someone else could handle cleaning up the place and dealing with the manager.”

“So, he figured a man named Christopher was the answer? Who was he?”

“Christopher was a patient at my dad’s dialysis center. He told my dad he owned a lot of real estate. Whenever I saw him, his jeans were dirty and his shirt looked like a snot rag.”

“Sounds like he obtained all that property by people giving it to him.”

“I know. I miss my dad but he was crazy.”

“Well, I need to get some Vodka and cool my engines and think about all this. I hope you won’t mind.”

“No. Go ahead.”

For the next six months, she stayed at my apartment with me. She received government disability payments and she was very willing to put that money towards rent and food. I was able to pay for good meals in restaurants. We both liked sushi and we both figured we needed to get healthy after our stay at Eliza’s House of Death. We continued coughing and feeling drained for two whole months until finally we were better.

The situation was working relatively well. I made sure that Janet went outside at least once a week on a neighborhood walk with me so she was not always indoors. The time slipped by until I had eventually received a notice from my manager informing me I was breaking the rules of the lease agreement by having a boarder. I could have explained the situation and how Janet was just a long-term temporary guest but, instead, I asked my sister for help.

My sister, Georgette Kaufman, lived in New York. Our brother Hal died two years ago and our parents, the Kaufman’s, had died fifteen years ago. Georgette was able to find a group home for Janet. I breathed a sigh of relief when the situation was over. Georgette arranged for me to visit her and her husband, my brother-in-law William Kennedy, for two weeks. The trip was meant as a reward for my having gone beyond the normal call of duty for a family member. As far as I was concerned, I felt more like I had won a contest.

Chapter Two

Georgette worked at Columbia University and lived close by, on Morningside Drive, with her husband, William Kennedy. She handled international affairs with teachers from all over the world. Her job, which seemed important and interesting, was not exactly clarified to me. She talked with professors but what was the extent of the conversations? Was she responsible for giving certain teachers positions in the university or was her role more like a hostess chatting about our country’s traditions? If the natural progression of her explanation about her job led her to divulge details about what she actually did, that would be fine; and it was fine if it did not.

William looked like he could have been in a rock band in Liverpool during the nineteen sixties. He was a professor at Columbia. He used to be a psychologist years ago. Teaching was a more rewarding way of presenting his views because he was not limited to a specific patient’s case. He could talk about the ideas of the major psychologists like Freud or Jung or Laing or Fromm within the context of a classroom. He also taught a humanities class, giving lectures on a wide range of subjects like the use of trauma in mainstream media and the comparisons between commercialism and impressionism. He told me that I could sit in on one of his lectures during my visit. I replied that the only thing about college I did not like was the tuition fee but the college vibe was something in which I was extremely interested.

Since my last six months dealing with Janet were filled with stress, Georgette wanted to make sure I was ready free and clear to get out of Oakland for a while. She asked, “Are you sure everything is okay? Remember when your next door neighbor kept hounding you for money?”

I answered, “He moved away to Wyoming.”

“That’s good. Do you remember that other friend of yours who used to own a restaurant and then became homeless and begged you to let him crash at your place? Did he also move to Wyoming?”

“No. He’s still around but he’s found another place to live. He’s squatting with a group of people, none of whom work and all they do is try to find ways of obtaining beer.”

“Sounds intriguing… but I hope not intriguing enough for you to want to get involved with them.”

“No. That stuff was in the past. Things are better now.”

“You say that and I want to believe you but you have to admit you’ve been through an awful lot during this year, having to deal with members of your birth family passing away like dominoes and then Eliza going unexpectedly. It was brave what you did for Janet but I would not have blamed you if you had decided never to be involved with any of those people ever again.”

“I couldn’t turn my back on the one person with whom I could count on to tell me the truth about what the relatives were like and the things they said. When I needed to borrow money she let me have it and never insisted on when I needed to pay her back. Of course, her fear of going in a living situation where everyone was a non-relative was a bit much for both of us to take but thankfully she saw reason before we would have had to 51/50 her.”

“Yes. I wasn’t in physical contact with her. I’m in New York so I wasn’t as stressed as you probably were.”

“I mean, I can understand missing one’s family but none of them were any kind of role models and there was always a new catastrophe every hour. I already told you about the feces and how I’d have to make sure they washed their hands before making dinner. Sometimes they already started cooking something before I could say anything.”

“I remember, unfortunately. You were not brought up like that. Our family was dysfunctional in a lot of ways but we managed as best we could and we didn’t have to worry about if we forgot to put on our clothes before going out to get the mail. When you told me about what your uncle Paul did that time, I was like… oh, it’s too much!”

I laughed. “I knew already what type of situation I could be getting into when I chose to have contact with them. I found myself able to observe everything like a scientist watching a strange patch of mold suddenly appearing where it shouldn’t grow but the mold keeps growing, getting taller and then, at six o’clock PM, it calls everyone to come eat dinner.”

“Ha ha! I’m glad you have a sense of humor about it. I don’t know if I would have. Anyway, let’s discuss everything you need so you can get on the airplane and have a good flight.”

She asked if I had my identification card. I answered yes. Now, I had it. Two years ago, I did not. I had not figured I had a problem. Before I had lost the card, I had one but it had expired several years earlier and I used the excuse that I was too lazy to renew it. So, if she spent time asking if I had luggage, clean clothes, deodorant and various other things that other people would not imagine being without, there were reasons. I was not as bad as the Goldman’s but I had to admit I had a few of their behavior traits. Most of those traits had been conditioned out of me through diligence. There were a number of years when my parents, Michael and Amy Kaufman, had indulged in a few drinks too many and sometimes preferred to buy bottles of good alcohol when the choice was either to do that or pay the electric bill. Either Hal or Georgette would help financially during those times when I was a teenager. I had a mindset that life would always get worked out and no situation was unsolvable. After I saw the Goldman’s in action, I woke up. I renewed my identification card and have not lost it since.

Another aspect of the trip was more metaphysical. I had visited New York ten years ago and the whole scene was magical. There were book stores selling books that I had a difficult time finding in California. There were mothers, with their families, who looked like fashion models. The location of the state was higher up than California and I felt higher in quality when I was there. A regular moment in New York could have been a movie scene in any other area. I was hoping to be reacquainted with some of the magic.

There were other details about New York that made me feel as if serendipity was merely a fancy name for little pleasures a person had a right to experience once in a while. In California, I was self-conscious about my looks. I thought I resembled Buddy Holly instead of Clark Gable. When I visited New York, I noticed gorgeous women holding hands with men who looked like me; or they were walking alone, staring at me with fond gazes.

I loved how women dressed in tucked-in shirts, especially with belted jeans. In California, I was lucky if I saw more than two women do so in one day. In New York, if I saw twenty women wear that style in an hour, it was a slow hour. Some women also wore tucked-in sweaters, like in those old Escada ads in magazines like Elle and Vogue, or the rarer tucked-in sweatshirt with pushed-up sleeves, worn by a woman who composed herself as if she did that every day and had not thought twice about it. In California, a tucked-in sweatshirt would be viewed as something strange like a purple chicken in a marching band. I realized life had an assortment of many different people. That was why I did not run from panic the first time I noticed members of the Goldman family do things very disturbing. They were behaving in their business as usual ways.

The plane ride seemed longer than my first trip. Maybe the length of duration was the same and my memory could not be an accurate guide to what happened. I spent most of the time listening to music on my cell phone until only two more hours before we landed and then only four more hours.

When I arrived finally and met Georgette and William at the airport, she looked older until I adjusted to the difference and then she seemed younger. He looked exactly the same. He had the appearance of one who always looks good, even in older age, and no amount of wrinkles would change that. He could have looked fifty at age twenty but he would continue to look fifty at age two hundred.

As we rode to their house, Georgette asked, “So, does any of this look familiar to you?”

I said, “I’m not sure. It’s now night time and I was last here during daylight hours. I remember the orange and yellow leaves on the trees, definitely not something I’d see in California.”

“Well, it’s been ten years. I wouldn’t expect this to be all up front in your memory.”

“This seems like a second date with someone, after the ice was broken and now I can focus on things with less anticipation.”

William smiled. “Oh, you’ll find something that will cause you to feel anticipation. I’ve lived here for over twenty years and I still haven’t gotten bored of it.”

I said, “I am curious if the bagels are really better over here or if that’s a myth.”

Georgette nodded. “You can definitely find out. There’s some great bagel places within walking distance from where we live. There’s Absolute Bagels on Broadway between 107th and 108th Street. There’s also cafes that serve bagels and coffee if you want to just sit and read like what the students at Columbia do.”

William winked. “So that’s why they aren’t attending any classes. They’re in cafes, sipping coffee and eating bagels.”

I said, “Maybe, but they’re probably reading one of your books.”

“Quite possibly. I’ll have to check my bookshelves and see if any of my books are missing. You can’t trust students these days, especially the ones who like to break into professors’ houses and steal their books.”

Georgette and I talked about how sad we felt when Hal died. He was a talented guitar player who knew a few big-name musicians in the San Francisco area. He never did much with his music other than make a few demo tapes back in the nineteen seventies, which were rejected by the major record companies. He worked at various jobs, making enough money to get by so he could afford a small run-down apartment in San Rafael. He did not do much in the way of going out and having fun. He allowed himself to eat at a restaurant once a week as his trip of adventure. He chose not to visit with his old high school friends, some of whom still played in small bands at the local pubs, because he thought they were silly to believe they had a chance at the limelight this late in the game. They were over forty years old and should grow up, according to him. He acted as though he wanted to suppress any sense of youth he still felt.

Georgette explained that she still liked to sing and sometimes performed in a small cafe when the place was closed for the evening to the general public. The owner arranged for her to sing for him and five of her friends during an informal half-hour concert.

She would bring her piano player, a co-worker at Columbia. She would sing jazz standards. She said, “I took to heart what happened to Hal and I told myself I wasn’t going to stop doing what I loved to do. I have no interest in touring or playing in a large nightclub but Freddy, the guy who owns the cafe, lets me sing and I love it. As long as you have the passion to do something, I say go for it.”

I said, “Maybe that’s what I’m feeling in New York, the energy of passion. Just from the little bit I’ve noticed so far, people seem to have an acknowledgment of their own existence. They may be more caught up in themselves than in noticing anyone around them but they have an awareness of self. That’s what I sense. In Antioch, the only stores are convenience stores and dollar stores. There’s a mall but there are no little hidden gems or places for anyone to go to and have fun. It’s all overweight families who work every minute and get tired and spend their leisure hours watching sports on television. The energy is almost non-existent. There’s no sense of individual purpose. If there’s any art in Antioch, it’s the art of waking up and facing another monotonous day.”

Georgette nodded. “That could be why most of the Goldman’s were like they were and stayed that way until they died. Eliza had an electric keyboard, right? But you said she never played it? Maybe she had talent but there was no one who appreciated it and she decided to give up. Is that possible?”

“She played a few things for me and she was creative but, from what other members of the family told me, she was always a little bit off and never wanted to seriously pursue anything.”

“We were lucky. Mom gave all of us piano lessons and dad exposed us to good books. We had the choice to pursue art. I think that the Goldman’s might have benefited from being exposed to more art.”

“I could answer that but it would take too long.”

We all laughed. Finally, we made it to their house. After the car was parked and we went inside, William said, “That wasn’t such a bad ride.”

I said, “Not at all. You have a nice place here.”

He nodded. “Feel free to look at whichever books seem to your liking. As you can tell, I’m a book junkie.”

“You and me both.”

He took a book from the shelf and handed it to me. He said, “I don’t know if your literary tastes run towards the surreal but I definitely recommend her. I’ve met her and she comes on campus occasionally. I think she lives around here. Check it out.”

The book was called “Energy Mirrors” and the writer was Ann Nowak. Her picture was on the back cover. I noticed she was wearing a button shirt tucked into belted trousers with her shirt sleeves rolled up. She was good looking and dressed in a great outfit. The title “Energy Mirrors” was definitely interesting. I sensed that she was going to be my new favorite author. I was a believer in how energy and change were key components to the creation of the universe. Seemingly, an energy mirror was an energy source that reflected an identical or similar energy source. I let my imagination run wild by thinking that Ann Nowak was the energy mirror to people like me who were attracted to her style. When I read what the stories were about, I was amazed at how correct I was. Each story was about how fate intervenes in people’s lives, causing couples to meet, sometimes on agreeable terms and sometimes violently. I looked at the writing. I was tired from my long trip and did not want to delve too deeply into the stories until tomorrow, but I could immediately tell that she crafted her literature as attractively as she crafted her appearance. I said, “Thanks for sharing this, William.”

He smiled. “You’re welcome. Maybe I could also arrange for you to meet her.”

Chapter Three

After we ate dinner, which was excellent, I looked more at Ann Nowak’s book. The first story, coincidentally enough, was called “Cuisine Cousins” and was about food. First, there was a detailed description of a meal. Writing about food was the easiest form of skillful prose. Most people can conjure images of how a meal will taste. A ham and cheese sandwich will be more than just those four words: they will be a yearning in the stomach. I enjoyed reading about food, especially after I ate. Ann’s descriptions were interesting and odd:

“Bernard had happily tasted the tomato-chocolate souffle: ‘Did you add any cream to that?’ shouted his fat cousin Florence who was engulfing oyster and jam shooters all afternoon. ‘In a minute, bitch!’ cried the irate chef, ready to add the steam from his ears into the mix. ‘Cream of mint, I suppose’ he sneered, ‘and let me not forget the agave nectar in the vinegar cake!’”

The story is about two cousins. Neither can find a romantic partner so they spend time with each other, indulging in the one thing they have in common: eating. One cousin, Florence, is apparently obese, causing her to feel she is overlooked by “most of the handsome men who could sleep on her stomach.” Bernard, the chef, is described as “a little bit husky, but more like corn, not pillow.’ Each meal is more important than the last. Bernard and Florence blame their “pathetic excuse of a gene pool” for their sorrows so “they figured early on to eat all the happiness, however mildewed it became.” They decide one night to tell each other their favorite recipes but they get increasingly angry during the telling:

Bernard says, “Add a cup of fish oil to the can of hominy. Include eggs and licorice; beat until not smooth so I can hit you over the head with it!”

Florence says, “A pinch of vanilla, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, cashews, asparagus, cottage cheese, maple syrup, dandelion root, a bit of your stupidity, your bigotry, your humanity and blend them together until you die!”

The story ends when they walk towards each other, carrying knives, ready to “taste the other person’s screams.” Some people would consider such a story to be disturbing but I thought about some of the dinners I had with the Goldman’s and how they behaved. Ann’s story was a comic retelling of what I experienced, although the real life version was less fun and caused me to get sick during the meals.

The next story is called “Naked Thoughts” about two “air memes of emotion without the physical people shells to hide them.” From what I could understand, these two “energies” become so intensely aware of their existence that they “packed up and left the people to whom they once belonged.” The energies do what is called “mm-talk.” “Mm” seems to be the closest way to describe “an unnamed understanding.” There are supposedly no sounds emitted or words spoken but the two energies “intuit the energy’s mm.” The story is written in odd fragmented sentences which are supposed to represent each flash of intuitive awareness as each energy “mm”s it, but there is no indication of whether an energy is male or female and there is a moment when the author hints at the possibility there is really only one energy “splitting into layers of opinions like onions and unions.”

Here is one paragraph: “Yes because we – almost felt – as if one – but here they – could only wish – which reminds – not them – but we should kiss – like years ago – before they became us – or estranged us – without the mm – of our mm.”

I was not able to understand everything but the story worked in a way I could not describe.

Another story is called “I Was Once Them” about a man who lives next door to a group of people who are in a complicated relationship. The man sits outside in his back yard, listening to when the neighbors – any combination of them – go outside to discuss something, “away from the others.” There is a fence dividing the two properties so the neighbors do not see the man who sits on a chaise longue and listens. The story is told by the man who is listening:

“I was once them. I was once all of them, with their convoluted resolutions, cowardly courage and cocktail-hour confusions. I had the feelings and I had the denials. I had the regret and I had the regret of regret. But, now. Oh, but now! I am cleansed! I am cleansed by entertainment! My neighbors put on a show for me, a show they do not know I see, because they do not know that they are who I used to be. But I remember the emotions so well! However, I know them as recapitulation, not regurgitation. That flavor tastes better when somebody else swallows it.

“Yesterday, Gwen told John she loves Gary. Gary told John he loves Martha. Martha told John she loves him. John told himself he loves me. But I will not love him back! Oh, but I do love his anguish. My not playing their game is a part of the play.”

As the story progresses, the narrator describes some of the conversations he hears but refuses to believe they know he is listening, even when his descriptions indicate they are aware he is listening:

“Poor John! Shouting at phantoms, coincidentally a ‘couch dweller of an older hunk named Carter.’ If only he knew how close he is – how actually identical he is – to describing me when he describes the cutie of his dreams, telling Greg, ‘I have a thing for my next door neighbor’ while Greg says, ‘Sshh! He’s listening!’ To that, John says, ‘I know he is.’ Such fantasies they imagine, hoping for a reality where I really do sit and listen to them, and I know they do not – even though I do – love him!”

The story gets stranger. The narrator, who is now identified as Carter, gets into a twisted thought pattern where he believes his neighbors are mimicking his old emotions, long after he no longer feels them, “because somebody has to.”

“He says he loves her and she says she loves another and that’s how I think, used to think. I am no longer them but they are me! What I said yesterday to Greg, when I was John, was ‘Gary, I know I am scrutinizing John too much when he talks about Carter, because I know I am only a replica of the Carter he imagines.’ Then, I told John, when I pretended to be Gary – who knows damn well he can imitate me better than I can imitate me – ‘He might as well wait for him to shut us up.’ Ha ha ha ha!”

I was able to finish that story, which became so convoluted it did not really end as much as it just stopped, and then I had to take a break. I had read literature like this in the past and I did not need to put those books down like I did Ann Nowak’s. Her work was not too challenging but it buzzed with energy. My buzz came from the knowledge she lived probably close to where Georgette and William were located, combined with how good looking she was, topped with the possibility of meeting her.

William walked in the living room where I had been reading. He asked, “Her book is a bit unusual, would you say?”

“Absolutely, but I think it’s great. Do you like it?”

“I do. There are some days when her stories would be a little too much but there are other days when it’s exactly what I’m craving.”

“How is she like in person?”

“Are you asking me because you want to meet her?”

“Do you want me to meet her?”

He laughed. “You saw her picture on the back cover and you fell instantly in love.”

“I haven’t even met her.”

“Not yet, but you really want to.”

“I mean, it would be okay.”

“You sound like meeting her would be you doing her a favor.”

“I don’t know. I’m mostly interested in her writing.”

“Aah, young love. You want to watch your darling Ann writing in her notebook, outside on the patio during the first rays of sunshine. You bring her coffee, kiss her on the cheek and ask, ‘What are you writing now, my dear?’”

“If I admit I think she’s good looking, will you stop?”

“You know I’m just teasing you. A lot of people like her. She’s a very popular subject of conversation at Columbia.”

“Does she ignore people when they say hi to her?”

“Not that. She’ll say hi. But some guys will want to get into a long conversation and she won’t say much unless she likes you. If she likes you, she’ll let you know.”

“Will she kiss someone?” I laughed.

“Not too far off. She’ll pat someone on the hand. She’ll stare and smile. I don’t believe she’s seeing anybody serious. She may or she may not like you or in that way. But it’s worth investigating.”

“Does she usually dress like how she looks on the book?”

“How do you mean? She isn’t wearing a Halloween costume.”

“Does she wear her shirts tucked in?”

“Hmm. Interesting you should ask that because, for some strange reason, I think I recall that’s usually what she wears.”

I nodded. “So, do you agree that the style is sexy?”

“Sure, on the right person. I’m not going to think Mr. Fletcher, the old professor of Russian History who’s bald and could be my great grandpa, as sexy, whether he wears a tucked in shirt or not, but yes it’s attractive to look neat.”

“Thanks for answering me about her. When I saw her picture, it helped as I read her stories.”

“If you would like, I can put on a video of an interview she did with Alvin Tannenbaum on a local news and culture show sponsored by the university. That way, you can watch her and get her ideas at the same time.”

“Okay. That’ll be great.”

The difference between a visit with Georgette and William, as opposed to the Goldman’s, was that any woman Eliza would suggest for me to meet would look like either my cousin Janet or the woman Florence in the story “Cuisine Cousins.” Dinner would be the difference between gourmet feast and poison. Tonight, we ate a home made chicken soup, very filling and heartwarming. The dining room was clean. There were pictures father painted when he was a young college student. I noticed a copy of a novel written by an old friend of our family named Adolf Turner, who went to art school with father and never made a big name for himself but, once in a while, a person could find a novel of his in an old used book store. The closest thing to a painting at either Eliza’s or Paul’s place would be the dirt marks on a wall. The only reading material was a paperback book, missing the front cover, on pet care. That was courtesy of Eliza who never owned a pet. She said she found the book in a dumpster on a day when she was bored. She could not remember anything else about that day. I asked her if she read it. She said she read the title, “How To Raise Flowers In A Pot.” I told her it was called, “How To Take Care Of Your Cat.” She shrugged and fell asleep.

William came in the living room with a video tape. He said, “It’s possible this episode hasn’t even been aired. The host is a professor and friend, Alvin Tannenbaum. He gives me copies of all the authors and psychologists in case I find the episodes useful when and if I need research for my study on the comparative paradigms of psychology and fiction.”

“Are you writing a new book?”

“In my mind I’ve got what I want to say but I haven’t put any of it down on paper yet. I’m still deliberating whether or not anybody cares anymore about books. I know that my study will be looked at by only a few specialists in the field of psychology who will quote one little sentence from it in their books which will serve another specialist who will quote those books. That’s how it works. Publish or perish. It’s not important if anyone reads the damn things, just as long as you can tell your bosses, ‘Hey, look at this. I’m published. You can’t fire me!’ I have tenure so I’m safe but I still like the idea of coming out with another tome. It’ll keep me busy when I start.”

“Didn’t you write the novel ‘Here If You See Me’?”

“Oh my. How did you ever manage to snatch that?”

“Georgette loaned me her copy when I was last in New York.”

“Now I’m wondering how she got a hold of a copy.”

“You mean you didn’t give her one?”

“I wouldn’t ever be so cruel.”

“I liked it. Did you ever read Gore Vidal’s ‘The Season Of Comfort’? It reminded me of that novel.”

“I’ve read Gore Vidal but not that particular book. But I have to thank you for that enormous compliment. You get the humanitarian award for best compliment to a shitty writer.”

“All authors hate their own work.”

“It’s true. Actually, here is the only exception to that rule.” He put the video tape in the machine and turned on the television. “You’ll see someone quite able to defend what she does. I’m going to get some sleep. Georgette already went to bed. She told me to tell you good night because she was too tired to tell you herself. Enjoy!” He waved and walked in the bedroom.

After the opening title – News, Authors and Some Jazz – I saw Alvin Tannenbaum on the left, sitting on a recliner. He wore glasses, had medium-length brown hair and wore a black three piece suit and tie with a white shirt peeking from underneath the suit jacket. On the right, sitting on another recliner, was Ann Nowak, wearing a white down jacket, with her sleeves pushed up past her elbows. The jacket was tucked into blue jeans with a black belt with silver studs. She made what would ordinarily look like a strange fashion choice an outfit of brilliance. Was this a purposeful tie-in to her surrealist tag or an organic extension of how she felt about herself and clothes? I figured maybe a bit of both.

Lloyd announced, “Welcome to News, Culture and Some Jazz – love me some John Coltrane ha ha – and tonight we have a treat. I’m Alvin Tannenbaum and our special guest this evening is creative writer extraordinaire Ann Nowak. Thank you for coming on the show.”

Ann nodded and said, “Thank you for inviting me. This room is a lot warmer than the ride over here. It’s starting to snow in Manhattan.”

“How true. Your newest book is a novel called ‘Warmed.’ You were writing about this room, I imagine, ha ha. The blurb of the novel states, ‘That look, that gleam, that toasted marshmallow of an eye gaze, bring Jacob Jackson and Katrina Kowalski to chance an accidental meeting in a public restroom located at an extremely famous music hall during a momentous performance which, fortunately, Jacob and Katrina miss; all on account of the touch of the finger on the other person’s wrist. Then comes a barrage of words, the grabbing of fingers, the use of handcuffs. They have – and you have – been warmed.’ Wow. That’s a very provocative description. Is that a play on words, ‘You have been warmed’ instead of ‘You have been warned’?”

“Yes, it is. The whole novel is a play on words, a dance, if you will. Each moment in our lives is a warning and a warming and a war to the moment past.”

“Is that a fancy way of saying, ‘Life goes on’?”

She sighs. “I don’t know if it’s a fancy way of saying ‘life goes on’, which seems a bit trite, perhaps? First, there’s a warning, a shouting out, ‘Hey, this is about to happen!’ and then it happens and the sheer immediacy of it warms you in its honesty. It is there. It is not hiding. It will never hide. The two people, Jacob and Katrina, are suddenly and constantly bombarded with the realization that life is filled with warnings and warmings. They become handcuffed together – first mentally and then physically – as a result of their bare-bones attraction to the now.”

“So, this novel – from how I interpreted its message – says that any two people can have a physical bond simply because they are two human beings who happen to be in close proximity to each other. Isn’t that a bit presumptuous, to claim that two people – who are not attracted to each other and may not even know each other – will instantly connect because they’re… just there?”

“Maybe in the case of you and me that might be true but in the world of this novel, which is a construct of fiction and does not pertain to the rules of our non-fictional reality, the answer is yes.”

“Do you wish it could be true in our non-fictional reality?”

“I am more concerned with the fictional world I have created in which I have total control and own everybody within its pages. Words are energy. All concepts – any concept – is energy. Our minds have light energy. So do our hands. If I touch you with my words, your mind will feel it. If I touch you with my hand, your body will feel it. Our actions – each one of us – are gifts. Even if you just stand on a street corner and do nothing else but stand, you are giving a gift to whoever watches you. Some people are not aware of the impact of their actions and they make consistently wrong choices because of that. I am proud of my stories and novels. I make people think. I create good energy.”

He laughs. “Well, I know you created something positive to happen to me when you talked about touching my hand. Any chance of that happening?”

“Maybe I will write about that in a story and give it to you when you’re feeling hopeless but seriously I wouldn’t touch your hand now. I’m selective with whom I share my energy. I’m talking to you now in context with this interview but there are not many people with whom I would like to share intimate moments.”

“Wow. I guess you could say I just received a rejection slip.”

“I guess you could and it’s nothing personal – except for how everything’s personal – because I take seriously how I interact with people and I don’t want to create undue excess connections that would take up too much of my time I could spend communicating with a person who is my type. But when I am in contact with that person, I can be very involved. I’m still in the process of figuring out even more productive forms of communication. You could say I’m looking for a companion.”

“When you find that special someone, I would assume you’ll make beautiful literature together?”

She winked. “At least.”

Chapter Four:

I had no idea my meeting Ann Nowak would happen so soon. I could imagine a hypothetical situation where we connected but the move from wishful thinking to real planning was a happy surprise.

I had watched the interview last night, up until the part when she said she was looking for a partner. I was tired and wanted to save the rest of the show for when I was fully awake the next day. I remember thinking that my turning it off right then was also an aesthetic choice. She talked about being picky and not wanting to connect with people who were incompatible. I might have fit the description. As long as I did not have evidence to the contrary, I could not assume anything.

My rest was relaxing and peaceful. I did not suffer from the effects of a sour aching stomach which usually plagued me every day at home. I was used to it and drank Vodka in the afternoon, listening to music while my cousin watched movies on television. If I had not drank alcohol, my stomach would probably have ached less but I needed an outlet for escape. Janet was a nice person but her interests were centered on a specific movie actor and she watched at least three or four of his films every day. When she was not watching a movie, she was listening to top forty hits that made me cringe. My tastes in music were in the classical vein like Dmitri Shostakovich or jazzy like Anthony Braxton. Teenybopper singers with single letters like T or numbers like 2 as first or last names did not appeal to me. She was ultimately a part of a clan that wallowed in artificial things. My way of distancing myself from it was by drinking Vodka.

Janet was not a fan of the type of food I ate. Fish and chips were my favorite, with vinegar as a dipping sauce. She did not like vinegar. She did not like mustard on hot dogs or onions in salad or cayenne pepper on fried chicken, all things I loved. She could handle sweet honey barbecue sauce on ribs and mayonnaise was fine on tuna salad so we had a meeting of the minds with those foods. She did not know how to cook. She could put sliced pieces of ham and cheese between two pieces of bread and serve it as long as everything was in front of her with no wrapping needed to be opened. I made the meals. I did the best I could with the bland itinerary. That could have also caused my sour stomach because there was not enough of the type of ingredients that made for healthy intestinal flora. One could assume that a mild meal was a healthy meal but, taken to the Goldman family extreme, it caused illness and obesity.

Such had been the influence of birth family. When I found out that my brother-in-law William arranged for me to meet with Ann, I could not help but feel gratitude for his picking me up from my muck and putting me where a lot of lucky people go.

I had woke up around nine o’clock in the morning. When I went in the dining room, Georgette smiled and said, “Hello, sleepyhead. Breakfast is ready if you’d like some.”

We had scrambled eggs and cheese, two slices of ham each, pieces of cup-up banana and a glass of orange juice. The view from the window was nice, reminding me of life in Marin County when I was a kid. What if I could go back to that type of experience and consider the last fifteen years as a side trip that I barely remembered?

As I ate the last of my breakfast, William said, “I talked to someone this morning.”

I nodded. “Anyone I know?”

“Ann Nowak. I told her you were reading ‘Energy Mirrors’ and, before I could lay it on thick and make you out to be this dazzling celebrity, she asked if she could meet you. Here’s her number. She’d like you to call her as soon as possible.” He handed me a piece of paper.

“Should I call her?”

“Well, I think you should call her first and then, if that doesn’t go as planned, I think you should call her.”

“What should I say?”


I was nervous. A bad situation seemed more like business as usual but a happy situation was less familiar. I was not prepared to handle it. “What I mean is, how do I introduce myself? Will she know it’s me?”

“She said she is eagerly awaiting your call and she hopes you call soon because she’s waiting right now by the phone.”

I nodded and went to the phone. I dialed the number. After the first ring, she said, “Hello. I hope this is Phillip.”

“Yes, it is. You’re Ann Nowak, right?”

“I am. Would you like to take a walk with me this morning? I’d really like to connect.”

“Okay. Right now, I still haven’t finished waking up or getting dressed yet. It’ll take me about a half hour to charge my batteries so I can be my regular self.”

“I understand. How about you can call me again when you’re ready to connect? I can give you the address to my place.”

“Sounds good. If my voice seems nervous, it’s because… I don’t have a great excuse. I just sound nervous.”

“Nervous means you’re alive. I wouldn’t want to meet someone who was a dead lump.”

“Oh, shucks. I was going to ask my dead lump to join us. I guess I won’t now, ha ha.”

“That’s funny. You sound cute.”

“Thanks. You do, too.”

“Awesome. Please hurry. I feel you are already here and I want your body to catch up to the feelings.”

“Okay. Call you soon.”

“Thank you.”

I hung up and ran in the guest room. I wanted to show her I was conscious of appearances. I picked a blue button shirt and black jeans with the sleeves buttoned because, though I liked the rolled-up and pushed-up sleeve look on women, I thought that it was strange on men. I did tuck in my shirt because I did attribute that style to manliness. Ann would probably think I looked sexy wearing it.

If she had been a Goldman, she would consider an old moth-eaten muumuu to be dressy. They wore loose faded sweat clothes with stains on them and the contents of half a dinner clinging on the front of the shirt. Paul had a whole closet full of clean impeccable business suits which would have made him look professional but he was afraid to try them on because they no longer fit him. he wanted to avoid them ripping. He wore sweatpants with large gaping holes in the front and he never wore underwear. Sometimes he went on his errands with no shirt on and cockroaches crawling all over his stomach. He would walk in the middle of the street to avoid bumping into anybody on the sidewalk. Cars had to swerve to avoid him. When I visited the Goldman’s, I did the opposite of what I would do with Ann. I made sure to wear clothes that would not be affected by the dirt and dust in their apartments. I would dress the opposite of good. I would make sure to pick things that had a few stains so I could indirectly say there was no way I would look spiffy for them. They did not even notice. They would compliment me and say I looked great.

The amount of time I took getting ready was ten minutes. Even fifteen minutes would be rude to a woman like her who was not just any person but an author and not just any author but a good looking female author who was eager to meet me. I thought I felt a little bit of what she meant about my energy. I was feeling hers. Perhaps we were sharing a psychic connection.

When I called her back, the conversation was short. I told her I was on my way and she gave me her address. She lived merely eight blocks away from Georgette. If I had been in Antioch, I would have been walking a half hour. New York’s blocks were shorter so I walked no longer than ten minutes.

Her place looked quaint and classy. There were a few steps leading up to a porch. The other houses did not have porches. I knocked on the door. An older man answered. He was wearing a tuxedo. He said, “Hello, Mr. Kaufman. Miss Nowak is inside. Please come in.”

“Thank you.” Her house reminded me of the type seen in an art movie, where the main character is psychologically screwed up and about to have a fit but everything around him is elegant, causing a contrast between the person and the architecture. Ann did not look like she had any problems. She walked towards me with her hand extended, wearing a pin-striped white button shirt, tucked into dark blue jeans with a white belt. Her sleeves were rolled up like a business person’s. She was very sexy. She said, “Hi, Phillip. I’m looking forward to talking with you.”

I walked towards her and she shook my hand. Instead of letting go, she kept shaking. Her grip was not firm but it was exact. I knew she wanted me to continue holding on until she decided to stop. As far as I was concerned, the longer the better. I felt not only her hand but her stories also.

“So, how do you like your stay in New York so far?”

“I think it’s magical. I was here ten years ago and I still have great memories and I’m glad I’m back.”

“Yes. New York is great. Where do you live?”

“Oakland, California.”

She nodded. “I was there once. I think the area was Piedmont Avenue. I was invited to hear a friend speak at UC Berkeley and my friend lived in Piedmont. I would like to go there again.”

“Piedmont is a pleasant street, a little more upscale than the rest of Oakland. I live more in the downtown area by 14th Street and Broadway.”

“Okay. So that’s where I’ll be going, by 14th Street and Broadway.”

“It’s more like the rest of Oakland. I’m not saying it’s spectacular or anything. But it’s okay.”

“But if you live there then that’s where I’m going.”

“You mean, when you visit again?”

“Yes, when you leave at the end of the week.”

I was not sure if she was joking but I had trouble thinking she was serious. She sounded like an old grandfather in a movie, telling his grandson, “You stick with me, kiddo. I shine the shoes, you tap dance for the customers and someone will discover us. We’ll be rich and famous. Bigger than Mr. Rockefeller.”

She looked at me as if she was waiting for my response. I did not know what to say. Her handshake was still going like she was using it to inform me I agreed to something and could not get out of it. She raised her eyebrow as if wondering why I did not speak so I said, “There’s only one ticket. I don’t have another one for you.”

She shrugged and smiled. “Okay. Then, maybe something else can be worked out. Would you like to sit down with me?”


She walked, pulling me with her. The room was white and so was the couch, in contrast to the rest of the house with walls like silver and black marble. We sat down. She said, “William tells me you write stories too. Is there a place where I could find them?”

“There’s a few in some small periodicals but none are big name publications. Most don’t even qualify to be included on the list for the Pushcart Prize. But I might have one or two back home. When I go back, I can make copies and send them to you.”

“That’s possible. You could also tell me about some of them.”

“Suddenly, I was nervous because my stories were about subjects that were too close to this situation for me to want to mention. I said, “I can tell you more later but for now they’re about people meeting.”

“Okay. Now I know. It is not as though that’s a common subject, people meeting. It’s just as unusual as stories about fathers and sons. You don’t have to hide. I want you to expose yourself. Tell me about your stories.”

“I’d probably feel less nervous pulling down my pants and exposing myself that way than telling you about the stories.”

“Okay. Do that.”

“I was just actually making a point. I don’t think I could really pull down my pants right now.”

“Then tell me about your story. Any story. You read some of my stories. I have not had the same privilege to read yours. Please tell me at least a little bit.”

“Well, if I tell you what I usually write about you might not know what to think.”

“That’s what’s happening right now. I’ll know more how to think after you tell me.”

I shook my head. Enough was enough. I would just say what I would say and let her deal with it. “I write stories about women who meet men and they shake hands and the women keep shaking and don’t let go.”

She nodded. “Does this story have a name?”

“One is called Awkward Partners. It’s about a business man on a vacation with his family and they need to get gas for the car. They’re in a really remote area next to a highway which has miles and miles of nothing. The man gets gas and then goes inside the station to pay for the gas. The old woman keeps telling him he looks like that old star Burt Newman. He does not want to correct her because he wants to get out of there. Something about the place seems too weird. However, right before he leaves he has to use the bathroom. He gets the key to the bathroom and uses it. When he comes out, a younger woman is standing there and says, ‘You can give it to me.’ He gives her the key and she extends her hand and thanks him. He shakes her hand and she grips very tight and will not let go. He tries to let go but she keeps holding on, laughing like she now has the voice of the old woman. The old woman says, ‘Missie, do your thing! She’s a good partner there, yes mister!’ His family is outside, honking the horn of the car impatiently. His wife screams, ‘Let’s go!’ He tries frantically to pry his hand out of Missie’s but she just laughs viciously and keeps on shaking and that’s how it ends.”

“That’s beautiful. Now, why wouldn’t you want to tell me that?”

“Maybe because you’re shaking my hand for a long time.”

“I don’t see why I would be bothered by that story idea.”

“I also describe Missie as wearing a white button shirt and black slacks and her shirt is tucked in. I like how women look in tucked in shirts so most of my stories have the good looking women wearing them.”


“Does that bother you?”

“Nothing about you bothers me.” She put her other hand on top of my hand that she was still holding and rubbed the back of it. “People get so nervous about connecting. People need to attach themselves to others more.”

“Kind of like how you’re attaching yourself to me, ha ha. A little joke.”

“You don’t have to be nervous.”

The butler came in the room. “Peter is here to see you.”

She shrugged. “Fine.”

A tall young man wearing a loose black T-shirt and blue jeans, with curly brown hair and glasses, walked in. He pointed to a watch on his hand but did not say anything. He was straight faced.

She said, “Peter, meet my guest. This is Phillip.”

Peter said, “The time…” He sounded impatient.

She smiled. “Thank you. Is that all?”

He rolled his eyes and sighed but did not answer.

I figured there was something going on that I did not want to be in. I said, “I can come back later.”

She said, “Stay.”

“No. I really think I should go.”

Peter said, “I would.”

Ann frowned. “Hey!”

Peter looked at her as if to ask, “What?”

I got up from the couch. Ann was still holding my hand with both of hers. I said, “Please let go.”

She said, “No. You let go first.”

“I don’t want to be a jerk. That’s why I want you to let go first.”

He folded his arms. “You don’t want me involved.”

To him, I said, “I apologize if I did anything to offend you.”

Peter said, “You just saved yourself.”

Ann said, “Oh, come on now. You weren’t going to follow him and do something?”

He shrugged. “Good idea.”

Ann looked frightened. “Oh, come on, don’t hurt him!”

He smiled mischievously.

I pulled free. I thought she would keep me from letting go but that did not happen. Peter’s calm and cool stance of menace disturbed me. I walked out without saying anything. The butler nodded sadly.

I looked back for a split second as if to give my final acknowledgment at least to the building. Peter was standing outside by the doorway. He took a picture of me with his cell phone.

Chapter Five

As I walked towards Georgette’s house, I felt uneasy. Who was Peter and why did he take my picture? If he was a publicist for Ann and she was going to announce me as her new boyfriend, that would be a myth I could handle. There was something about Peter I did not trust.

I turned my head back. I wish I did not do so. I noticed him walking up the street, not exactly looking at me but still in my direction. I stopped. If he was going to play games, I would not play. He stopped also, putting his hands in his pockets, looking to the side like he was observing pretty houses. I decided to test him. I waved. He waved back. Uh oh. I continued walking quickly.

I was approaching Georgette’s house. I did not want to go inside because I did not want Peter to know where I was visiting. I walked past the house, on the way to Columbia University. I might not go on campus but I would walk through the main area of the city where a lot of people were.

As I looked back, I saw him walking quicker. I walked quicker. If what Ann said about Peter hurting me was true, I did not want to know how the job would get done. I was almost running now.

After a minute, I heard Peter say, “Hey.” The tone was calm like when a gangster says, “Let’s go for a ride.”

I was tired and did not want him to grab me and make me stop running so I stopped voluntarily. He was right behind me. He stopped also. He nodded and said, “Hello.”

I asked, “You’re not going to do anything to me, are you?”

He shrugged. “Are you frightened?”

“Sort of.”


I was not sure how to interpret his purposeful way of not allowing any calm to resolve the moment. I said, “If you’re Ann’s boyfriend, I wouldn’t know. I just met her today and we were discussing writing.”

He nodded. “Of course.”

“What’s going on? Are you upset?”

He shrugged.

“I guess then everything is fine?”

“We’re going for a walk.”

“I have to go home.”

He put his arm around me, squeezing tightly like a cane ready to drag a performer off the stage. “This is a great town.”

“Then perhaps you can go on your way and look at it.”

“Walk!” He made me go with him.

“Where are we headed?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

We continued walking. He gave no clue whether or not he would all of a sudden turn into a crazy criminal. He was definitely meaning to scare me. Regardless of whether or not the situation became violent, it was not meant to be viewed as a happy stroll.

We turned a corner on a residential street. He said, “We’re going to go somewhere and we’re going to talk.”

“Can’t we keep walking and talk?”

“Shut up.”

We continued walking until we reached a street corner with a wooden bench for sitting. He pointed to the bench and we sat down. He removed his arm from my back. I realized that he could grab me if I decided to run so I waited to find out what would happen.

He said, “We’re going to sit here for a few minutes, quietly, and then I’m going to tell you something.”

I stayed quiet. On the surface, at least according to whoever passed by, we were simply two gentlemen enjoying the early afternoon, looking at the view around us. If a person noticed one was straight faced with a look of impatience and the other seemed on the verge of panic, those details might change a person’s interpretation of what may be going on but most people did not care. Even if they did, they were looking at a fellow ready to scold a mischief maker who got caught. Very few people walked by and none looked at us.

I was feeling calmer if only because I was proving to him I was not causing trouble. I sat there and stayed quiet. He looked serious but maybe not angry.

Finally, he said, “We’re going to talk about Ann for a while and then you can leave.”

“Is there something wrong?”

“I’m not pleased.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

“You’re stupid. That doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.”

“Did Ann do something wrong?”

He sighed. “She’s a risk. We’re concerned she won’t finish her next book.”

“Are you her agent?”

“I work for her publisher. I got a call from Ronald, her butler. She is supposed to give us a part of her new book but you showed up.”

“She asked me to come over.”

“Whatever. She needs to send in something, if that means with or without you around.”

“Are you telling me I can’t see her anymore?”

“I’m telling you she has to do some writing.”

“Maybe I can tell her she needs to do that. I can offer to help her.”

“I could give a shit whether you talk to her or not.”

“It won’t hurt if I emphasize how urgent it is for her to do some writing. I could ask her to send you whatever she’s been working on.”

“If she sends us something within the next three days – and that means it’s in our office then – we’re good.”

“Why did you have to act all creepy? Why not just tell me what’s going on?”

“Shut up.”

“I apologize.”

“You’re still here? Go.”

As I walked back, he stayed seated at the bench. I was glad I was not hurt but I sensed he was the type of guy who made damn sure people knew he would not be chummy. That meant he would comfortably show an angry side if need be and most occasions need be that way. As I walked, I noticed, in the window of a used book store, an old-looking hardback copy of a novel by Ann Nowak called “Chasing That Dream.” There was a red price sticker of four dollars on the front. Without my knowing anything about the book, I decided immediately to buy it. The price was right. Considering everything that happened so far, I would be foolish not to do so.

I went in the store and picked up the book and walked to the counter. Nobody was there yet so I looked at Ann’s picture on the back cover. She was wearing a white zippered sweater tucked into black trousers with a black belt. Her sleeves were pushed up. I was wondering if I was really collecting Ann’s literature or her pictures. I looked at the novel’s description on the inside dust jacket: “As you read this novel, events will pass you by, events you should have noticed, should have chose. Too bad for you. However, not too bad for Pinky, the protagonist of this novel. She is an ordinary housewife in one of the most non descriptive cities in America where nobody acts any different than anybody else, or at least on the surface. Pinky knows there is a man who yearns for her, who does not know of his yearning, but who needs to be in contact with his feelings, and who better but Pinky to show him what he needs to know? Wearing a sheer blouse, tight skirt, red lipstick and a wig made of hay, Pinky carries a bottle of glue and sets forth to make her introduction. She is chasing that dream. Where’s your bottle of glue? Where’s your dream?”

Suddenly, a young woman, wearing a white long-sleeved T-shirt tucked into blue jeans with a brown belt and her sleeves pushed up, walked quickly to the counter and smiled. She asked, “You’re ready, cutie?” She looked at me as if her words were not meant simply as a term of endearment.

I said, “Yes.” I put the book on the counter.

She nodded. “I love her work. She lives close by. I try to dress like her. I don’t know if you noticed.” She had long blonde hair.

“Maybe I did. In what way were you referring to her style?”

She shrugged. “Well, maybe not. She’s wearing a sweater, I’m wearing a shirt.”

I felt odd about what I was going to say. I usually did not talk about my fetishes too often and almost never with women but she looked like she would be sad if I did not respond. “You have her style. It looks great on you. I love women who look great and tuck in their shirts.”

She said, “That’s so sweet. So, you think I look great.”

“I think women look great in tucked in shirts.”

“You said you like women who look great and who tuck in their shirts. So you like that my shirt is tucked in and you also think I look great.”

“I think that’s what I said.”

She nodded. “Mm. You think that’s what you said but you know that’s what you mean.”

“Can I just pay for my book?”

“No. You can also talk to me.”

I laughed. “I’m sorry but this has been a really weird day. I’ve had more contact with women who are desirable than I ever have.”

“Well, you’re going to have more. That is, if you think I’m desirable… which I’m sure you do.”

“Here’s five dollars. I don’t know how much tax is but you can keep the change. I just want out of here.”

“New York is a pretty big state with a lot of different types of people and I know damn well I’m not going to be the only woman flirting with you, but you said that’s already happened.”

“Are you going to take the money?”

She held out her hand. “Here.”

I gave her the money. She grabbed my hand and kissed it. I pulled my hand away. “I can’t handle this now.”

“My name is Stacy. What’s yours?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hey! Yes you do.”

“Okay. It’s Phillip.”

“I won’t bug you any more if you say we can have coffee sometime.”

“Okay. We can have coffee sometime.”

“Do you mean it?”

“I think I do.”

“That’s not concrete enough.”

“Okay. I’ll go out with you for coffee.”

“That’s better. At least now I know you’ll actually be true to your word.”


“Because I wasn’t sure at first. You were acting like you said you would go out with me for coffee only because I asked you and you knew I wouldn’t stop bugging you until you said you’d do it.”

“Well, that’s all in the past. Let’s not dwell on hypothetical things. I’ll go out for coffee with you.”

“Okay. When and what time?”

I figured I might as well get the coffee date over with as soon as possible. “Is tonight good?”

“Tonight’s best.”

“Okay. I can meet you here. What time are you off of work?”

“Five o’clock.”

“Okay. I’ll see you then.”

“But I don’t want you to leave now.”

“I thought you said I could go after we made the coffee date.”

“I really would rather you stay.”

“I actually have to go. Really.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later.”

As I walked out, I said, “I’ll be here at five.”

She waved and smiled. “Until then, Phillip.”

As I walked down the street, I felt odd. In one way, my inner desires were being met by women who were upfront about liking me and the experiences seemed like they should have stayed in dreams and not come out in day-to-day reality.

Stacy ran up to me. She said, “I’m not sure what you meant when you said you had to leave the store right away. You acted like maybe you were lying about the coffee date.”

I kept walking. “What the hell? You’re acting really kooky. Aren’t you supposed to be back at work?”

“I’d rather talk about this. If you said you would have coffee with me because I asked you but you will chicken out and not tell me about it, how could I trust you to tell me the truth about anything?”

“Do you act like this with everybody?”

“I have to act this way with you.”


“I can’t get through to you, otherwise.”

I sighed. “Listen! I want to explain something. You are a great looking woman who’s dressed sexy as hell and I’m not used to women being so flirtatious with me, especially not women as high quality as you, so I tend to freak out. But your nutty behavior isn’t helping me either. If you just calm down and accept that I’m going to come to your store at five o’clock, that will give me enough time to take in what’s been going on and I can act more like a regular guy, okay?”

“That sounds fine but I’m not able to relax. I feel disconnected and if I don’t get connected to something I’ll scream.” She held out her hand. “Just let me hold your hand. That’s all I need.”

I gave her my hand. “Okay.”

She grabbed it and held tightly. “Thanks. Now I feel normal. Let’s go for a walk. We don’t have to talk. Let’s just walk like this all day.”

“All day?”

“I said I need to connect to someone.”

“How long?”

“I can’t determine a stopping point.”

I shrugged. I was in a city that was far preferable to where I lived. Ann and Stacy were so far removed from the type of women Eliza and Janet were. If the opposite situation had been happening and I had to spend more time with Janet, I would not know if I could handle it. If I was being forced to hold hands with a woman I would probably not find in California, my problem might not be a problem.

We continued walking. Stacy’s grip was so tight it was threatening. I watched how her hand gripped mine and how her sleeves looked pushed up and her shirt wrinkled from being tucked in so tight. I felt aroused. A part of me was hoping she would never let go.

I asked myself what would happen if I tried an experiment? Depending upon Stacy’s interpretation of the moment, my plan could either backfire or succeed. I was not sure if she wrote stories or how much we had in common other than liking Ann Nowak’s writing, but there was no evidence she was not an artist. She was probably a lot like me.

I tried the test. I yanked my hand and she gripped tighter. Jackpot! To be stuck with a good looking woman was the best kind of stuck. I tried moving my hand around in hers, looking as her fingers clinched me like a lock without a combination. I could not discern whether or not she was annoyed. Her expression indicated she was merely watching where she was going, as if she forgot she was holding on and a part of her was on automatic pilot mode. I enjoyed moving my hand around, attempting to escape, while people were walking by. I thought to myself others would want what I had.

We stopped. Famiglia Pizza was across the street. I would ordinarily be hoping to buy a slice with sauce, mushrooms and anchovies but my hunger was filled by Stacy’s warmth. Other than her very tight grip, she was relaxed as if her problem was solved. I had moments when, after drinking Vodka, my inhibitions went away. I just did not care about future consequences. Right now, I felt the same way. Stacy was my Vodka. Later, I might have to free myself and she would fight me but right now I was not concerned.

We stood on the corner for what seemed like a half hour. Finally, I noticed a bench by the crosswalk where we could sit. I had not seen what was in front of me. I asked, “Would you like to sit down?”

She said, “Sure.”

After we sat down, I asked, “Have you read Ann Nowak’s book ‘Energy Mirrors’?”

“You better believe it. That’s what got me hooked. The story ‘Cuisine Cousins’, that was my cousin Brad. We never got along but uncle Daryl – Brad’s father – would treat us to all the candy we wanted so we’d eat and eat and that stopped us from fighting until all the candy was gone and then we’d say, ‘Hey, you stole my chocolate!’ or, ‘Hey, you stole my fruit and nut bar!’ Uncle Daryl would say, ‘Now, now there’s plenty of candy to go around. Here you go.’ He’d give us more and we’d stop fighting. Brad’s now four hundred pounds. He was always fat but not that fat. We still don’t get along but now at least we’re both old enough where we don’t fight. We just don’t talk to each other.”

“I have a cousin that’s like Brad but she and I get along.”

“That’s a good thing. I wanted to be like Ann Nowak, have her talent to write stories. I do write some but I’m not as good as her. She has long blonde hair like mine and I noticed she always tucked in her shirts so I did the same thing. If I wear my shirt tucked in, I can cope.”

“Would you believe she was the woman I saw this morning?”

“I can believe that.”

Chapter Six

A while later – I was not sure how many minutes – I realized I had either fallen asleep or so into the moment I forgot what had just happened. I was still sitting on the bench with Stacy. She held my hand, sitting relaxed with her eyes closed. She looked asleep but maybe she was not. I asked, “Are you awake?”

She did not answer. I tried letting go but her grip was tight. Was her body on automatic pilot? I wiggled my hand around in hers. She did not open her eyes but her hand stayed clamped. I figured a part of her was awake. I said, “Hey!”

She said, “Mm.”

“I have to go soon. Are you going to hold my hand forever? It’s getting late.”


“Come on, stop it!”

“I don’t stop.”

“Are you going to hold my hand forever?”

“Nanny nanny nah nah.”

“I’m staying for the week with my sister and her husband. They made dinner for me and if I don’t show up they’ll be worried.”

She opened her eyes. “We don’t want them worried, do we?”

“No, I don’t.”

“No, we don’t.”


“Refer to us as we, please. I’m now a part of you.”

I did not want to argue. If she was honestly thinking that she and I were now one because she became attached to me, nothing I could say would change her mind. I would have to wait until she was really asleep for me to get free.

She frowned. “Well, aren’t we going?” She got up.

We walked in the direction of Georgette’s house. I walked slowly, not sure whether I wanted to prolong the walk or felt embarrassed about arriving with Stacy. She smiled as if I was her husband. I was a bit creeped out at how she seemed to view this in her warped way. If I continued talking to her, maybe she would snap out of the weirdness. I asked, “How do you feel about the idea of collaborating on a story?”

“That would be fun. Are you thinking of us writing a story together?”

“It could work. When I wrote stories back in California, I first got coffee and then, if the cashier touched my hand when she gave me my change, I used that energy to write a new story.”

“That sounds really productive. I bet you’re full of ideas now from the energy I’m giving you.”

“I probably am, especially because of how you’re dressed. If you looked like my cousin, I wouldn’t want you to touch me at all.”

“Of course. A blood relative? That would be so twisted if you wanted a touch from her.”

“You may not realize this but your crazy behavior is actually a real-life counterpart to a character in one of my stories.”

“Crazy behavior? Why the fuck do you say that?”

“I don’t mean crazy as in you belong in a mental institution but crazy as in not going with the status quo.”

“I’m not crazy, you asshole! I’m very normal! I have a full-time job. I keep my apartment clean. I have a neighbor who doesn’t like the music I play. He slams his door when he comes home. I think he’s into some sort of demonic religion or something. I’ll freak out and bang my head against the wall and feel like cutting my wrists and have had bad thoughts about wanting friends of mine to get into harmful accidents but that’s only because of stress. I work. I live in subsidized housing but I work. Don’t ask me for details. I’m not supposed to tell. But I’m normal. If you think I’m crazy you’ll see crazy. You’ll wish you never met me.”

“You’re not going to hurt me, are you?”

“I’ll do whatever the fuck I want to do with you.”

“We’ve gotten on a negative track here. Let’s stay positive.”

“You’re the one who’s negative. Calling me fucking crazy. Fuck you!”

“If you think I’m bringing you back to meet my sister and her husband, you’re mistaken.”

“What? Why not?”

“You’re certainly not calm. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“’It wouldn’t be appropriate!’ How snotty that sounds. You make me out to be a tramp, like a piece of gum that got stuck to your shoe and you have to scrape me off before putting your princely feet on the royal carpet of the king’s house! That’s very insulting! Look at my hair. It’s long and combed nicely. Not all frizzed out with a bunch of wacky hair dye or flaking with dandruff. Look at my clothes. My shirt is tucked in. I’m not wearing a ratty old sweat-stained loose shirt with spit and puke on it and jeans with dog crap and heroin flakes on it. Is that how I should dress? Should I dress like your cousin? Does she look like that?”

“Generally, it was true for most of that family.”

“Okay. I’m not going to embarrass you. We’re going to your sister’s.”

“I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, I’m glad you did because now I’m never letting you go until we get to your sister’s.”

“So, if we go there, will you let go?”

“I’ll be on my best behavior and I’ll let go.”


“Goody good.”

I was not planning to take her to Georgette’s house. Instead, I would continue walking down various streets until she was tired. I would be tired also but my nervousness would keep me energized so I could walk forever. If she asked when would we arrive, I would say only a few more blocks. I could use my powers of persuasion and say things that would put her in her right mind.

As we continued walking, she dug her fingernails in my skin. I said, “Ouch!”

“It shouldn’t hurt because you’re just a figment of my imagination. I own you.”

“That does it.” With my other hand, I pried as hard as possible.

She screamed, “Hey!”

I noticed her other hand was carrying an open knife. I stopped trying to pry loose. She said, “Don’t fuck with me!”

I was in whatever I was in and there was no way out. Just like a prisoner on death row, news came about whether or not today was for the electric chair or a pardon. The prisoner had to deal with what was coming. I had to handle what Stacy gave me.

I was in this predicament with no help. If I brought her to Georgette’s, she and William could handle the problem. There would be three against one. Even if Stacy used the knife, the possibility of everyone getting stabbed was unlikely. Maybe my bringing family into potential harm would cause more problems and mistrust but the situation was already risky and there was no safe solution. We were one block away. I said, “My sister’s place is coming soon.”

She put away the knife. “I’m sorry I got upset, darling. You’re my sweetie poop.”

When we arrived and went inside, Stacy held on tighter. I figured that I would wait until absolutely necessary before pulling free. If she remained calm and the evening went well, she may actually let go. Perhaps that was her original plan. She had not been specific about anything. I would wait.

Georgette and William were not home. Stacy and I sat in the living room. She gritted her teeth and said, “This does not look like we’re meeting any sister. What is going on here?”

“They might be at work or they could be getting groceries. It wasn’t one hundred percent certain they’d be here.”

“I don’t like the looks of this. I’m feeling restless.”

Suddenly, the front door opened. Georgette walked in. Her expression was a combination of “Oh, great, you found a new friend” and “Uh oh, what’s a stranger doing in our house?” She said, “Hello.”

I said, “This is Stacy. We met at the book store. She works there.”

Stacy said, “Pleased to meet you. Phillip bought a book by Ann Nowak. She’s who I want to be so I’m latching on to one of her fans.”

Georgette laughed as if she was hoping Stacy was joking. “What bookstore?”

“Pure Shpiel.”

“Oh yeah! My husband, William Kennedy, has an account there. He’s a professor at Columbia.”

“Professor Kennedy! Yes! Phillip, you didn’t tell me Professor Kennedy was your brother-in-law! I could hit you.”

Quietly, I said, “Ssh!”

Georgette looked at first startled but then composed herself as if to say to me, “I trust you wouldn’t bring a lunatic here.” She said, “So, are you two on a – like – date?” She smiled.

I said, “Sort of. We have a lot in common and decided we might as well spend some time holding hands for fun.”

Stacy nodded. “Yes. I was anxious and didn’t know what to do and Phillip calmed me down.”

Georgette looked concerned. “Oh, what was stressing you?”

“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold his hand all day so I chased him down the street.”

I said, “Please stop saying stuff like that!”

Stacy shrugged. “Georgette knows what I mean.”

Georgette said, “Hmm. Well, would any of you like any tea?”

I said, “Okay.”

Stacy said, “Sure.”

Georgette went in the kitchen. The front door opened again. William walked in. He said, “Hi, Phillip.” When he noticed Stacy, his expression was a combination of “I’m so glad you brought her here” and “We’re going to have a talk later.”

Stacy said, “Do you remember me, Professor? You buy a lot of books on Russian history. Did you take my advice and buy that book of Dutch poetry I recommended?”

“I’m sorry to say I didn’t. Maybe I should learn Dutch before I buy it.”

“You could just read it for the beauty of how the words sound. Or you could read the translations.”

“There weren’t any translations. Also, I saw the book again when a fellow professor, who speaks Dutch, accompanied me to the store. He said it was a book about automobiles.”

“You mean there wasn’t any poetry in it?”

“All prose.”

“Well, automobiles can be poetic too.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt they can be.” He was trying hard to hide an expression of “Hurry and get her out of here.” He said, “Phillip, there’s a book I’d like to show you. Can you come here a moment? Alone?”

I said, “Excuse me, Stacy.” I got up and so did she, holding my hand and accompanying me.

William smiled. “Excuse us, Stacy. Phillip and I are working on a private project and we have to go over a few things.”

She smiled. “I won’t say anything.”

I said, “Excuse me.” I tried letting go of her hand. She held tight. “Remember what you said?”

“I say a lot of things.”

“Please let go.”

“I’m on my best behavior. Everything’s fine.”

William said, “I sense there’s a problem.”

Stacy said, “Don’t sense that.”

I said, “I might need some help.”

William said, “Hmm. Okay.”

Stacy shook her head. “There’s nothing wrong.”

William dialed a number on his cell phone. “This is going to be the publisher. Hello? Yes. My name is William Kennedy.” He mentioned his address.

Stacy frowned. “Your publisher doesn’t know who you are?”

“Yes. There seems to be a situation. A bit of trouble. We’re trying to get someone to leave.”

“You’re trying to get a character in your book to leave?”

“She’s not violent yet but her state of mind is in question. She’s in her – probably – late twenties, early thirties. Yes. She came home with my brother-in-law.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Yes, voluntarily.”


“The situation got… tricky. Can you please bring someone over?”

“You’re bringing someone over to read a book? I don’t think so.”

I said, “We can talk to Georgette.” We walked in the living room and sat down. Stacy smiled as if she had already forgotten the last few minutes. That was both comforting and eerie.

Georgette returned with the tea. She seemed aware that Phillip was on the phone about a predicament but was not sure of details. She asked, “Did I hear correctly? I was in the other room. Are you a fan of poetry?”

Stacy said, “I like prose more but sometimes I want to read something with broken lines. Poetry is like life. Each line is like a new minute, a break of the continuum. Prose is more continual, like a giant road that keeps going. In life, I like static but in writing I like structure.”

“Okay. Besides Ann Nowak, who are your favorite writers?”

“I like Jorge Luis Borges. Italo Calvino. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Julio Cortazar.”

“So mostly Latin American writers, except for Calvino who’s Italian.”

“I like writers who I can imagine having accents when they speak. If a writer can write well, his writing can outweigh any phonetic problem.”

“That’s interesting. You realize, though, that the works in English are translated by other writers.”

“That’s also really good. If a deaf man uses sign language to speak and an interpreter can make the words come alive, it’s similar. I like when writers need a little help in getting their messages across to people outside of their cultures.”

William spoke louder. “I don’t see how that has anything to do with it. When I say not violent now I’m emphasizing not yet. I’m trying to be as subtle as I can because I don’t want trouble. No, not you. I don’t want trouble with the person. I don’t have time to wait several house before anyone comes by. We’re going to eat dinner soon and I want the problem solved before then.”

Georgette asked, “Who is he talking to?”

I winked. “A publisher.”

“I don’t understand.”

I had to be direct. “He’s calling emergency to get Stacy out of here.”

Georgette got up and walked towards Phillip. “Honey?”

William hung up the phone. “Damn it!”

“What’s wrong?”

“They say that she has to be violent before they can come and get her.”

“Who? Stacy?”

“She can be a bit much.”

“Then why did Phillip bring her over?”

He nodded. “Let’s ask him. Phillip. How did you meet Stacy and why did you bring her over here?”

Stacy frowned. “You should drink buttermilk with cayenne pepper. It’s a great pick-me-up. It originated in Bulgaria.”

William shook his head. “Phillip?”

I said, “I saw another book by Ann Nowak and wanted to buy it so I did. Stacy’s a huge fan of her work and she talked to me about it.”

“That’s fine but it doesn’t explain the progression of a talk about books to her holding your hand in our living room.”

Stacy said, “I need his energy.”

“That sounds like something you’d say. Are you going to let go any time soon, as in ever?”

“I’m thinking about it.”


“I still can’t say.”

I asked, “William, do you think it would be a good idea if I take Stacy out for a walk? Somewhere authority oriented, if you get my drift?”

“Authority oriented?”

“The authorities.”

“Oh. Are you up for it? It’s sort of far on foot.”

Stacy asked, “What authorities?”

I smiled. “The publishing authorities.”

Stacy nodded. “Okay. I’m taking Phillip. He will never leave me.”

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. William answered it. Peter was outside. He asked, “Is Phillip Kaufman here?”

William said, “Yes. Who may I say is asking?”

“Peter Nicholas. I work for Ann Nowak’s publisher.”

William said, “Come on in.”

Peter walked in. He stood still, frowning. “Hello.”

I said, “Hello.”

Peter pointed. “Her.”

Stacy asked, “What about me?”

Peter shrugged. “Exactly.”

I said, “She’s a big fan of Ann’s. I bought one of Ann’s books and she was working the counter. To make a weird story short, she insisted on holding my hand and has decided never to let go.”

“Sounds like I heard more than enough. Ann is asking for you. Do you want to see her?”

Stacy was excited. “Yes!”

Peter sighed. “Not you. Phillip.”

I thought about my options. Ann had held my hand also but she did not stop me when I let go. My reason for leaving was on account of Peter who now was okay with me seeing her. How could I get away from Stacy? I said, “I’d like to see Ann.”

Peter nodded. “Fine.” He approached Stacy and pulled at her hand. She screamed but he kept pulling and finally separated us. She ran out of the house.

I laughed. “Peter, thank you. I owe you one.”

He gave the slightest hint of a smile. “Right.”

I asked, “Is it okay if I go?”

Georgette said, “You’re only in New York a week. You might as well make the most of it.”

William said, “I just hope Stacy doesn’t return.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “Ready?”

I said, “Yes.”

Chapter Seven

There was a change of plans. After four blocks, halfway towards Ann’s place, Peter stopped and motioned with his hand for me to do so also. He called Ann on his cell phone. “Hello. Ann, I’m worried. You can re-schedule. It’s getting late. Phillip needs rest. A lot of things happened to him.” He waited, then continued, “He can come tomorrow. I think that’s best. You can have him all to yourself. I won’t be there. Okay?” He nodded and hung up. “She said you can visit her any time tomorrow. Come early if you want.”

I said, “Thanks. That’s going to help.”

“I know from the past what happens. You don’t want a repeat of what that other woman did to you.”

“Are you saying she can be like that?”

“She can get strange.”

“Will she be too hard to handle tomorrow?”

“I doubt it. Most of the time she is stable. When she’s in a mood, it’s usually for one day.”

I nodded. “Thank you, Peter. I apologize for thinking you were a creep.”

“I’m not your friend. I’m not nice. But I’m logical.” He winked.

I walked away and waved. He nodded.

When I returned to Georgette’s house, I made a cup of coffee and took a book from William’s shelf. The point was for me to calm down, adjust my composure and let the words flow like a movie. Books were good that way. They could provide silent entertainment. I opened the book and stared at the first page, getting ready to read but I took my time and eventually the next morning appeared. I must have fallen asleep.

The time was eight o’clock. I somehow felt that if I waited until nine o’clock to go to her house she would think I was late. The weather looked cold from the view so I figured I would get ready, go over there and get it out of the way. I would not worry about waiting for warmer weather. I was mostly a lover of cooler temperatures but when a morning became too cold, that was just as bad as intense heat. I wore brown corduroys with a brown rope belt knotted at the side and a light beige sweater tucked in and brown shoes and white socks. I tucked in the sweater on purpose, thinking that Ann and I had a psychic connection. She would wear a tucked in top also. If I was correct about the connection, she would be wearing a sweater. That was the metaphysical fiction writer in me. She could possibly wear a loose T-shirt and leggings. There was no rule stating she could not change her style.

I left without eating anything. I did not want any foreign influences on my situation.

As I walked to her place, the weather was not as cold as I imagined. I could have worn a T-shirt and felt a little bit of a breeze but not much. The view was still overcast in an English church sort of way. When I knocked on Ann’s door, she answered. She smiled. “Please come in. I’m so glad you made it early.” She was wearing a heavy pull-over sweater jacket tucked in and her sleeves were pushed up. She was also wearing belted blue jeans. I felt suddenly nervous with anticipation, wanting to know what she wore every day of her life and if she ever deviated from that style. I was not going to ask her but I was thinking of it.

She went in the living room and sat on the couch and said, “Please sit down here with me.” She had her hand out, offering to shake my hand. Today, since I was rested and had a preview of that behavior, I was not on my guard. I sat next to her and we shook hands. She shook for a few seconds then stopped the shaking motion but still held on. Her grip was not overly tight like Stacy’s. I could sense I would be able to let go whenever I wanted. I did not want to let go. Today, my body was in tune for the magical connection.

She asked, “Did you eat anything this morning?”

I said, “I purposefully avoided having any food. Sometimes when I eat at the wrong times or in certain places, my stomach isn’t too happy about it.”

“Certain places? What do you mean?”

“Sometimes I’ll go to nice restaurants and eat really nice food but then somehow I need to use the restroom. I think it has something to do with my throat.”

“It could be your throat chakra. If you’ve got any resentments or unresolved issues, your energy can get clogged like a sink. The results can turn physical. You might have some unresolved anger that makes it so you can’t eat at a restaurant without that problem. Do you think that could be it?”

“I know I shouldn’t just blame another person but I noticed immediately my problems were getting worse when I revisited blood family. I don’t think it’s true we need our relatives to help us find who we are. I think humans have evolved so we can get past our stupid ancestors.”

“Hmm. You must have resentment towards your family. I never met them and have no way of knowing if you are telling me the truth but I believe your feelings. Did they do anything traumatic to you? I notice you call them blood relatives. Do you have other relatives who are not by blood?”

“Georgette and William. I was adopted by the Kaufman’s. That was my choice and I’m glad I did it.”

“Okay. Do you know the history of your birth family? Could you tell me what you know?”

“My mother was Eliza Goldman. She had a brother Paul and a sister Veronica. Paul had a wife Lily and a daughter Janet. I met all of them. The only one still alive is Janet. I don’t know who my birth father is. The Goldman’s parents were Ernest and Mimi. I don’t know much about the grandmother’s side of the family but the grandfather’s parents were Isaac and Gretta. Isaac died shortly after Ernest was born so Gretta raised him on her own. She was adamant about not dealing with any gentiles. When Ernest married Mimi, she was Catholic. Gretta refused to have anything to do with them until Mimi converted to the Jewish faith, which she did until Ernest died and then she returned to Catholicism. Gretta visited them after Paul was born but she had a strange dual nature. She insisted people wear the most expensive clothes on the market but would only pay thrift store prices for anything. She made sure everyone’s house was neat and tidy in the extreme but her own place was a mess. She would throw out food from someone’s fridge exactly at the due date but kept food in her fridge for weeks after things spoiled. She refused to let anyone else wear a wig in her presence but she insisted on wearing wigs whenever she pleased. The family blamed her for why they became neurotic.”

“Did the Goldman’s – aside from Gretta – ever put any restraints on you?”

“I only knew my mom, Veronica and Paul’s family. They were very lenient, not only on me but on themselves. They let huge piles of trash accumulate everywhere, for one thing. I could be messy at times and I still can be but even I could see something was wrong.”

“Okay. Well, now let me tell you something. That energy, which was so chaotic and frustrating for you, it has gone – let us say – south and my energy is north. My touching you is removing all that other junk away and helping both of us. I notice you dressed up. That is very nice. When you care enough to dress well for yourself, you are able to let the wind blow all the unwanted yuck away. It’s just like expelling air. When your throat or your buttocks feels like a subway car with too many people in it, you release the pressure and feel better. When you read quality books of the imagination and stay away from really negative news stories, your mind feels better. I would like to help you feel better and you can help me do the same.”

“How can I help you?”

“Tell me about your philosophy. I would think you have ideas about how to live a good life.”

“I don’t know if this could be considered a philosophy but I believe that people who are good looking on the outside are inherently good looking on the inside and it was probably someone not good looking who screwed them up. There are many different perceptions of life and it is not up to one person to decide who is right and who is wrong. When a person tries to screw up your life view or get in your way, that person is an energy blocker. It could be as simple as you go to the cafe because you want to be waited on by a certain cashier who will smile at you and make your day happy but a friend approaches and says you should go to a cheaper cafe. The friend is only concerned about money and not the happiness you’ll get from a cashier’s smile. Plus, since you might not want to admit why you went to the cafe, your friend will not know what you wanted. So, in a sense, people are inhibiting themselves and not exploring what they want.”

She nodded. “I agree but I have another opinion that I would like to share regarding that. I feel people are not exposed to enough things so they only have a limited sense of what they want. If a man grew up his whole life eating meat as his source of protein and he suddenly one day gets a chance to eat peanut butter and he likes the idea of eating peanut butter more, he’s made that much of a choice but maybe he hasn’t tasted almond butter so he doesn’t know if he’d like that more than peanut butter.”

“I see what you mean. But I’ll add something else. I am intrigued with the idea of eating insects. They are apparently a good source of nutrition and the people who eat them like them but there are people who get weird at the idea of eating bugs. In a sense, a lobster is like a bug. So maybe other insects taste a little bit like lobster.”

“When I get to talking about food, I get aesthetically hungry. I love hearing about restaurants and recipes and exotic foods. Do you have any favorite recipes? I’d love to hear about them.”

“I’ll give you a few of the recipes I made for the Goldman’s. In the morning, instead of microwaving an egg until it got hard-boiled, I’d use their stove and make scrambled eggs and add grated cheese and chopped onions and clams and some pieces of lemon and garlic and ginger and white pepper. I would use just a little bit of salt because there’s enough salt in the cheese. In the early afternoon, I’d make macaroni and cheese and add mushrooms and put on oregano, marjoram, tarragon and savory and a hint of mustard. It came out really well. For dinner, I would bone chicken drumsticks and put them in a pan with kidney beans and pieces of sourdough French bread and add some salt, cayenne pepper, ketchup, tomatoes and black pepper. It came out really well. You can cook with bread and it tastes good.”

“What about music? Who are your favorite artists?”

“I like different individuals in a lot of musical styles. I am not a big fan of reggae because I just don’t care for the instrumentation. A lot of it sounds rigid to me like it needs to be that way and not change. The exception is Toots and the Maytals and I like some of Jimmy Cliff. But I’m not so interested in music that seems stifled. A lot of Bach and Beethoven sound rigid also. I like Brahms. I like Dmitri Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Schoenberg. A lot of modern day avant garde classical music. I like the more free form way of expression. I can close my eyes, turn off the part of me that judges and just listen. I’ll get hungry for more avant garde classical music and look into a lot of different composers, realizing I can’t hear everything and it’s hard to hear all the works by one composer. I’m like that with good avant garde jazz too. Anthony Braxton is one of my favorites. I also like some of Miles Davis but I don’t like everything. I enjoy folk groups like Pentangle and The Incredible String Band and I like modern day female country singers. Something about their music makes me think of waking up and smelling the fresh air and having a good egg, ham, potatoes and orange juice breakfast and then seeing my cutie wife in her tucked in plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves and belted jeans, while we live in a nice small town where everyone is friendly and nobody bothers anybody. I like rock, mostly the older stuff from the sixties and seventies, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Ten Years After, Iron Butterfly, groups that were psychedelic or bluesy hard rock. So, that about covers it. How about you?”

“I’d say I agree with you one hundred percent on the type of music I like but I’d say the way you feel about country music is like how I feel about jazz, living in my penthouse apartment, looking at the view of the city at night, having a master chef make my meals, a bartender to mix my drinks and a bunch of celebrity artist friends to mingle with. I could go to a fancy show, ride up in a limousine with a big-name movie director. When I listen to jazz, I imagine myself in that type of situation. I make my own mind movies.”

“I do, too. Now, since we’re touching, I feel comfortable talking about something if that’s okay.”

“I’m listening.”

“It has to do with my fetish for tucked in shirts.”

“Go for it.”

“I’ll imagine what a woman will look like when she wears a shirt tucked in. I’ll think about a woman who only wears loose shirts and I’ll feel she’s someone with the potential to be sexy but perhaps no one told her she could tuck in her shirt and look better. Sometimes when I’m in the store or the library or wherever and the person behind the counter is wearing a college sweatshirt with pushed up sleeves, I’ll think to myself it would be awesome if the sweatshirt was tucked in. Ninety eight out of one hundred times it won’t be but just that one or two times when it is, that just makes me look in amazement.”

“Do you have any other fetishes?”

“Long hand holds turn me on like when I see a woman with a child and the woman has her sleeves pushed up and she’s holding the child’s hand and the child wants to wander off but the woman grips tight and the child cannot run off. When the woman holds on a long time and walks with the child, I have nervous anticipation wondering how long will she hold on? That’s how I’ve had inspiration for some of my stories. I observe how people dress and how people touch. I think more authors should explore the realm of physical and visual possibility in their work.”

“That’s neat. Is that why you write about that stuff, because you’re turned on by them?”

“I listened to what Tennessee Williams said when he claimed that he could not write about a character if he was not sexually aroused by that character. I won’t go that far but I find it easier to write stories if the energy in me is based somehow on feelings of arousal.”

“So, can you write without needing that?”

“I have different intents with each type of thing I write. Some stuff I need to feel the hand touch of a woman before I can write it. Other times I can write about the hand touch without needing to feel it. Sometimes I have opinions about the world and I want to share those opinions with friends. Sometimes I feel troubled about something so I’ll write about it with hopes of having some sort of resolution. Sometimes I need to hear nature sounds to get the writing done. Sometimes I need quiet. Sometimes I turn on my fan. Sometimes I turn on the heat. It’s all different. But the one thing they have in common is the desire to create, as opposed to not doing anything.”

“Same here. Do books influence you?”

“They used to do so more outwardly and now they influence me in ways that are more subtle. I used to read books and think that some of what I read was great and I wanted to mimic it but other times I was annoyed at the writer for not utilizing what could have obviously been a good aspect of the story so I would write a story with the sense of utilizing those things. Is that what you do? You’re the published author. I’d like to hear about you now.”

“I went through certain stages with my creativity. I wrote some stuff with the idea I wanted to get it out of the way so I wouldn’t have to write that kind of stuff ever again. I threw out all of it because the point was writing away my toxins so I could come clean. I also wrote a lot of stuff that I guess I needed to write because it would do some good in the world, even if it did not make me feel good while writing it. It was like my sense of positive Kierkegaardian aesthetic, the good pain. I still have some of that stuff and it flows a lot better when I read it now than when I first wrote it. Later, I wrote stories that were meant to be like snapshots of normal moments taken out of context of the bigger picture. For instance, a building gets bulldozed but one wall stays untouched and good looking so the picture is taken of the good wall with just a hint of the rubble just inches away. The stories were about normal things, like a family dinner where everybody has a pleasant conversation but there’s just the barest hint a devastating tragedy took place and the conversation is a way of masking the sadness, but I had to write those stories in a way so once the reader knew the context of everything, the story would seem different upon second reading. Finally, I got to the point where I am now when I purposefully discovered new realms of thought and life, presenting both my art and my reality together. That’s why I feel comfortable continually holding your hand. I don’t think of my life as just a boring otherness to the writing. I realize that writing is just as much a part of being as living. I sensed that you’re looking for the same thing.”

“I had not thought about it quite as strongly as you described but yes I am. I’m looking for a way upward. Even if that means eating at a diner instead of a fast food restaurant or riding in a Trans Am instead of public transportation, I want to know what its like to do so. I want to have the feeling of tangible upscale quality. I’d love to be able to make a movie starring my fetishes and desires. Would you be willing to make that movie with me? If not with a real camera then in our minds?”

“I would be very willing to do that with you.”

Chapter Eight

After I visited Ann and we discussed collaboration and wrote an outline of a story together, I went back to Georgette’s. Ann said that she had enough energy from holding my hand so she could focus on writing the novel Peter was asking of her. She said my being there would distract her too much but she would like to see me again. Two other developments happened unexpectedly.

Georgette and William were invited for a visit to Montreal, Canada so they could talk with a professor named Edward Stone who was retired but taught psychology at Columbia twenty years ago and was William’s best friend and colleague. They had not seen each other for many years. Professor Stone wanted to collaborate with William on a psychology book based on newly discovered writings of Freud that had apparently contradicted some of the theories in his major writings. The airplane ticket was already paid for. They were due in Canada in two days. They rescheduled my flight home for the next day.

As that happened, Georgette received a call from a lawyer at Hagedorn, Thurm, Eagle and Norris in Antioch. Thomas Hagedorn was handling the estate of Paul Goldman. Mr. Hagedorn needed me to show up to the law office the day after I arrived home. He said Paul left his money to all surviving members of the family. Janet insisted on getting everything done as soon as possible. She knew I was in New York but she did not care. She said that if I did not show up, she would take my share. Mr. Hagedorn told her things did not work that way. She agreed finally to wait a day until I got settled from my trip.

Fate did not work merely on random occurrences. One incident could cause another incident to exist. From my experience with both parties, the Kaufman’s and Goldman’s, they were not similar in any way. Though I was a part of one family, I was inevitably related to the other and had to deal with that karma. I had to admit Janet was not in the way of my progress because I would have not seen Ann again before going home anyway. I wanted to blame somebody. I would like to imagine I could have stayed in New York later if Ann made the necessary arrangements.

I was grateful for everything I experienced in New York. The ambiance was like a different head space. My perceptions were changing from how I viewed life from an Oakland and Antioch perspective. As to whether or not the climate and architecture had anything to do with a person’s behavior, I was not certain.

After I returned to Oakland, I thought to myself, okay, there had better be something good in store for me, inheritance-wise. I did not doubt Paul would do something with his money that least benefited me. Janet would accept anything. She loved her father and was blind to his plans. When we both arrived at the law office the next day, Mr. Hagedorn told us what we received.

The will indicated ten thousand dollars were to be used to pay for a feast. The reason for that, according to Mr. Hagedorn who worked with Paul on his will, was Paul thought he never really did anything special for his family. He wanted to treat them like royalty, even if the treat was posthumous. The best way to do so was in a pavilion with fancy caterers and a band hired to play music. The money had to be used for those things. He did not trust us with handling cash. I figured how ironic that the least competent member of the family mistrusted us for being like him.

Janet picked the caterers, hall and all arrangements. The food was not great. The band was horrible. She was happy. I was furious.

A week later, I received a phone call from Ann. That was a nice surprise. She said, “With your permission, I would like to incorporate the story you and I worked on into the new novel. I’ll give you co-writing credit. Is that okay with you?”

“What’s the novel about?”

“It starts with a man who walks down a dirt road. The second chapter will be a scene in a schoolroom. Apparently, the narrator was sleeping during a lecture in class and the first chapter was his dream. The professor is not pleased. The third chapter is the man waking up in his bedroom, with another woman, a neighbor who he does not find attractive and shocked to see in bed with him. He asks what went on and the conversation gets very strange. The next chapter he’s back in the classroom. It continues back and forth, each sequence still being a dream sequence. I’m going to include bits of philosophy on what it is to dream and what sort of clues in our dreams should we look at to help us in our waking lives. I still have some polishing up to do. Because of certain legalities in my contract I have to credit it Ann Nowak with Phillip Kaufman instead of Ann Nowak and Phillip Kaufman but that’s only inherent in this case. If we collaborate again, I would like to make you full collaborator in credit. Would you like it?”

“Of course!”

I felt like I was finally going to have a life I could call happy. For me, creativity was everything. Even if I never became known from my work, I could be proud of what I wrote.

After my phone call was over, I walked to a cafe six blocks from my apartment. I preferred usually another place for coffee where the cashiers were women but today I entered Grounded because I wanted to sit quietly in an atmosphere that was comforting and conducive towards my mood. The usual cashier, Troy, lived in my apartment complex. On the occasions when we talked, he played his favorite music, classic jazz. That was what I heard when I walked in.

Troy was not there. A woman, with long reddish-blonde hair, was behind the counter. She was wearing an army green button shirt tucked into blue jeans with a brown belt and the sleeves rolled up. I figured I might go there for coffee more often if she worked there.

I ordered a large coffee, handed her two dollars, and she gave me fifty cents change, touching my hand in the process. A little bit of New York was coming into California.

She said, “I’ll give you your coffee when it’s ready.”

I said, “Okay.” I sat down. I brought my copy of Ann’s novel with me. I opened at a random part to see what the prose style was like. I wanted to wait until I sipped the coffee before reading it proper. The book had odd disjointed sentences, sort of like the story “Naked Thoughts.” The woman brought my coffee. She smiled. “Oh, I see you’re a fan of her work. So am I.” She stood there, smiling.

I was amazed and aroused but also cautious. I could not help but wonder if she was going to act like Stacy. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. “Yes. I enjoy ‘Energy Mirrors’ a lot. I just heard about her work not too long ago.”

She shrugged. “Do you mind if I sit down?”

“I don’t mind.”

“Great. You know, I haven’t read this one. I used to have ‘Energy Mirrors’ but I sold my copy to the book store when I moved from Berkeley to Oakland. I’m Tabitha, by the way.”

“Hi. I’m Phillip.”

“Do you live around here, Phillip?”

“I live down the street about six blocks away.”

“Really? What building? I live at the Edwards.”

“So do I.”

“Oh wow! I never see you there. That’s funny, isn’t it? But I only moved in last month.”

“I’ve been there fifteen years.”

“Cool. Well, now I’m certain we’ll see more of each other.”

“That would be nice.” I sensed she was more stable than Stacy. She was looking right at me, smiling, in a way that would have been disturbing if not for the positive vibes that I felt from her.

She got up. “I do have to get back to work but when I’m off at three o’clock, I’d like to hang out and talk with you. I’m new here and you’re the only person I’ve met who I find interesting.”

“Okay. I’ll be here then.” I was now too excited to read. Instead, I would look at Tabitha reach down to pick up napkins or stretch her arms to put away dishes. I would watch her shirt stretch tight when she moved.

Suddenly, a man entered the cafe, looking right at me. He smiled slightly. As he sat down, he kept staring. I wanted to ignore him but his gaze indicated he wanted me to know he was looking at me. Finally, he said, “Hey, there. I hear that there are some nice book stores in New York.”

I knew what he said was connected to my trip but I had never seen him before. I felt quite nervous but I did not want to show him so. I said, “I’ve heard that, too. I wonder how they compare to places in California.”

“Oh, I’d gather the places here are nice, not like Columbia University, but nice.”

“I imagine. I hear Columbia is nice.”

“It can be. It’s about as nice as a walk by Morningside Drive.”

“Thank you for telling me that.”

He smiled. “Oh sure. You can hold hands with someone special.”

I sighed. “Okay. Who are you? What sort of game are you playing?”

“I’m not playing a game. Maybe you are but I’m not.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I guess… I mean that it can be kind of upsetting to a pretty lady who likes literature and she considers you to be her new boyfriend and you let go of her hand and abandon her.”

I did not like the conversation. “Who are you talking about?”

He laughed. “You don’t remember? I’m talking about someone you should remember.”

“How can I remember if I don’t want to remember?” I said that because I wanted to be difficult, like he was to me.

He made a fist. “Listen, you punk! I am here to do a job and that job is make sure you do your job and your job is to resolve a situation with a woman who is very upset.”

“Well, if I don’t know who the woman is, why would I need to help her? There’s a lot of women who get upset. It’s not my duty to help all of them.”

“You’re a little shit! I’m talking about Stacy Taylor!”

“I know that. But she’s in New York. I only met her once.”

“You fuck! She attached her soul to you! When you left, you brought some of her back in California and she misses that part of her you’re carrying.”

I was nervous. Who was this guy, a new age bully? “You’re totally crazy.”

“Alright, you might think it’s crazy but your body is a receptacle that is holding something and that something belongs to her. You belong to her.”

“She isn’t getting it back.”

“I beg to differ. I’m going to walk out this door and you’ll not see me again but the consequences of what will happen… let’s just say I don’t care personally one way or the other. I care about doing my job and I did it so take care.” He left.

Tabitha frowned. “Who was that?”

I said, “Hopefully nobody.”

Suddenly, Stacy walked in. She wore a blue denim shirt with rolled up sleeves, tucked into black pants with a black belt. She said, “I guess I’m also hopefully nobody.” She held out her hand. “Take my hand.”

“I’m afraid that if I give you my hand you’ll never let go.”

“You’re right. Give it to me!”

“I’m afraid not.”

Tabitha walked towards her. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Stacy laughed. “Oh! I see we both know how to dress well so I’ll give you that much credit but I think I’ll stay.”

“This place is for paying customers.”

“I’ll order something.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Listen! I’m ordering Phillip to come with me! How much do I pay you for that?”

Ann Nowak and Peter entered the cafe. Ann said, “Wow! How lucky is this? I almost just decided to go to your place. I’m glad I went here first.”

Peter nodded quickly but did not say anything.

Stacy clapped her hands. “Yay! My favorite writer! You know I love your work! I tuck in my shirts just like you! I think I’m in love!”

Peter said, “She’s crazy.”

Ann shrugged. “Maybe. But maybe she’s creative.”

Stacy said, “I’m very creative. I would like to write a story with you! How about it?”

Ann shrugged. “Well, I’m here to see Phillip. Do you want to join both of us?”

I said, “Ann, I need to attend to a few things. How about if you and Stacy go somewhere and talk for a while and, in about an hour, we can meet up again?”

Ann shrugged. “Okay. Where do we meet?”

“We could meet here.”

“Okay. Ready Stacy?”

Stacy said, “Yes!” She and Ann walked outside.

Peter shook his head. “I can already tell I’m in for a disaster.”

I said, “I think you know I have no intention of being around either of them.”

He nodded. “Of course.” He waved and walked out.

Tabitha smiled at me and I smiled back at her.


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