Healthy Copyright ©2012 Lee Gerstmann
Revised 2015
Special thanks to Dinda Wulan Sari for the cover image.
Chapter One:
     I was frustrated with my Uncle Arthur’s family. When I visited them, my one consolation was receiving a fifty cent can of soda from Arthur as his way of thanking me for getting him a glass of water every ten seconds. When I had arrived on Friday afternoon, my cousin Julia, Arthur’s daughter, was barely awake. Usually, she would be playing a video game on her television play station but the air conditioning system broke so she had hardly waked up when I arrived. Luckily, they had left the front door unlocked.     Arthur was not home until later that evening. His wife, Muriel, could no longer walk and he was in no condition to take care of her so she was now in a convalescent hospital where he was visiting her that afternoon. When he returned finally at nine o’clock pm, he brought frozen Salisbury steak dinners, though he had a whole freezer full of them accumulating for months. Shopping helped him forget briefly his depression. One specific flavorless brand of Salisbury steak pleased all three hundred and fifty pounds of him. Julia was somewhat less heavy at three hundred and ten pounds. Her favorite food was canned raviolis. Whenever Arthur cooked, he would wink and say, “With a little bit of olive oil, this food will turn into authentic Italian cuisine.” However, he had no cooking oil whatsoever so he put water in the skillet and shrugged, saying, “You have to do the best with what you’ve got.”
     That was an example of my usual weekend in Antioch, California. In Oakland, where I lived, life was comparably better. At least there were slim people in my neighborhood. My judgment about Antioch was clouded by over exposure to my family so everyone looked fat, including my mother at three hundred and forty pounds. I decided not to visit her because she was busy showing inspectors from the affordable housing bureau that her apartment was clean even though her neighbors made continuous reports that her place was filthy. Now, as I entered the public library, I felt better after I noticed a good looking Asian woman in the reference area, by a back wall.
     She was talking with a man.   I realized, by the way he was dressed, he was able to attract someone pretty.  He had on a buttoned dark blue blazer and matching slacks and shoes.  I was wearing a loose gray sweatshirt and black jogging pants and white sneakers.  My appearance was average and that was fine in Antioch but I figured I would never have a chance with the woman.  She was wearing a tucked in white button shirt with rolled-up sleeves and blue jean shorts with a black belt.  Her style was the type I daydreamed about.  A tucked in shirt showed an understanding of sexiness and professionalism.  The rolled-up sleeves were merely an extra detail that complemented the appearance as long as the outfit was assembled well.  She knew what she was doing and looked great.  There was definitely a difference between me and the type of man who knew her.  However, if I was unable to include her in my world, at least I could pretend to be a part of hers by looking at a book by a shelf close enough to where they were standing so I could hear their conversation.
     As I did so, I heard her ask, “Remember to cut out the sugar, okay?”
     The man nodded.  “I’ll try but it’s hard to do what I know I’m supposed to do.”
     She asked, “If you know you’re a candidate for diabetes, don’t you want to step out of the campaign?”
     “True.  I wish I had you as my nutritionist.”
     She shrugged.  “Anybody can ask me questions.  I don’t believe in having a practice in an office and charge people for advice that should automatically be common knowledge.  But people believe in credentials so they don’t like to get information unless it’s from a medical doctor.  A lot of people are scared to approach others.  It’s silly.”
     He laughed.  “It could be the sugary foods they eat that cause it.”
     “That’s part of it.”
     “Well, thanks for talking sense with me.  My father will thank you also.”
     “Make sure to say hello for me.  Also, tell your wife Lillian I said hello, too.”
     “Okay.  Bye, Peni.”  He waved and walked off.
     “Goodbye, Mark.”  She continued standing by the back wall, as if waiting for something. 
     I was concerned about my family’s eating habits and figured I had a chance to find out about how they could obtain better food choices.  Something told me to gravitate towards her.  I approached her and introduced myself.  “Hello.  I heard you talking.  My name is Ernest Fiedke.”
     She extended her hand and smiled.  “Hello, Ernest.  My name is Peni.”
     I gave her my hand and she shook firmly.  I asked, “Are you an expert on nutrition?”
     She rested her hand at her side while still gripping mine.  Our hands lingered together while we talked.  She answered, “I have an interest in nutrition but I never got a degree in it.  However, I did work for a health food center when I lived in Honolulu.”
     I nodded.  “That’s interesting.  Are you Hawaiian?”
     “I was born there but my full name is Peni Ria Maya.  I’m Indonesian.  My parents came from Medan and they arrived in New York separately.  My father arrived in 1965 and my mother in 1967, when they met in Queens.  It was coincidence they were both from Medan.  They didn’t know each other there.  They dated a while in Queens and then got married in 1969.  They moved to Hawaii in 1970 and had me in 1972.  I never visited New York but I moved to California three years ago because Hawaii was a little too hot for me.  My parents love the weather there but I prefer here in the East Bay in Oakland.  I live just a couple of blocks from the library.”  She laughed.  “I seem to have told you a lot about myself for a first meeting like this but I trust your energy so I feel safe.”
     Her grip remained firm and seemed tighter as if her aura was handcuffing me to her.  There was nothing wrong with that feeling but it was certainly a first-time experience for me.  If her shirt had been not tucked in and she was not as good looking, I would have felt offended as if I was being kept.  However, I was seemingly drawn to her, as if I was tired of experiencing my usual boring environment and wanted to elevate my level of possibilities.  I said, “The reason why I wanted to talk to you was because you were mentioning eliminating sugar from one’s diet and I just came back from Antioch where I visited my Uncle and my cousin.  His wife is in a convalescent hospital and my Uncle is extremely depressed about it so he visits her every day and gets home late with cheap canned food like raviolis and frozen Salisbury steak dinners.  That’s the only stuff he and my cousin eat.  At least his wife gets a somewhat better nutritional set of meals from the hospital, though the food is not great.  She gets orange juice and apple sauce and cut-up pieces of carrots and corn for vegetables.  My Uncle and cousin never eat fresh foods or any kinds of fruits or vegetables and they both weigh over three hundred pounds.  I go to visit them on occasion and spend the night so they feed me dinner but then, when I get back home here in Oakland, I feel better because the whole vibe here is much lighter and a lot cooler temperature-wise.  Over there, there’s nothing to do except watch the bums get drunk in the parking lot by where the big supermarket used to be.  I wouldn’t even ordinarily go there except my mother lives there too. I also have an adoptive family whom I feel more connected to though I have not seen them in a while and they’re scattered in different states.  I’m making up for the extremely long amount of time I spent purposefully avoiding my blood relatives by visiting them. My mother’s eating habits are unhealthy but at least she’ll eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sometimes.  In a sense, she’s getting some fruits and vegetables.  She will eat salads if someone makes them for her but she constantly smokes cigarettes and she stays in her house all day.  But, at least she has a place now.  She had been staying with my Uncle, her brother, until she was finally chosen on the list for affordable housing and got a decent apartment for cheap in a not-so-great neighborhood.  She feels good being on her own.  I guess I’m also telling you a lot about myself.  I figured I might as well be fair because you explained who you were quite a bit.”
     She smiled.  “It’s because we’re linked.  There’s a clear channel of energy flowing from me to you and vice versa.  We have a bond and we could probably tell each other anything.”
     “Oh, yes.  That reminds me of why I wanted to talk with you.  Whenever I visit my family, I feel a weight being put on me because they eat junk food and don’t have any goals or dreams.  My cousin at least plays video games and watches movies on her DVD player so she does do what she can to entertain herself, but they all sit at home and stare at the walls.  Their health issues and their eating habits are probably the most exaggerated cases I’ve seen of stifling their desires.  It’s as if they’re waiting patiently twenty years for a broken down rusty car to start so they can finally head to the hardware store and buy nails.  I don’t want to be like them but I appreciate them as people and I am concerned.  I sense that my eating habits are not so great.  I think that, if I changed my diet, I would eventually overcome a lot of negative elements.  I feel like I’ve stayed on the basement floor and I want to elevate myself up to the penthouse.  Do you have any recommendations on what’s best to eat and how to overcome the cravings of junk food?”
     She nodded.  “I know what you’re asking me and I will answer your question but first I have to explain something.  Our souls are particles of energy.  When a soul enters a human body, it becomes limited not only by the confines of the human system but by life itself.  Your soul was part of a larger entity that is part of the life force of the universe.  Entities split into fragments.  Each fragment becomes a soul when it enters a human body.  Your life force existed in the astral realm already before your body was made through procreation between your mother and your father.  Bodies are directly related through families but souls are a different matter.  Your life force is connected to the life forces of your family but only because everyone on the planet is connected.  But, you are an individual soul in your personal human body.  Each soul has certain life lessons to learn, according to how much it has learned throughout its life journey.  If this sounds complicated to you, I can clarify it by saying you are not responsible for your family’s problems.  They are where they are because of certain life lessons and decisions.  Your introducing yourself to me proves you are seeking a higher life experience than your mother and Uncle and cousin.  You have not mentioned your father or much about your Aunt.  It’s not a necessity that you tell me but I am curious about them.”
     “My biological father is one of eleven possibilities.  I have not met any of them so I can’t say how they are personality-wise.  My mother never married.  My Uncle’s wife, my Aunt, has a whole story of her own like a fifty-year-long horror movie but at least she is not fat.  She’s like the family miracle in that sense.  I feel fortunate being brought up by a different family.  They have their problems and quirks also but they have goals and dreams and lead lives that are satisfying to them.  I have more in common with them than with my blood relatives.”
     She smiled.  “That is one way you can tell your life plans were destined to be different than those of your biological family.  Their souls needed to go through certain earthly experiences.  Fate allowed you to ride on a different path.  It’s not only an issue of having the right diet or learning all the lines of a Shakespeare play.  A lot of ailments and physical issues like obesity come from an accumulation of various types of neglect and denial.  For whatever reasons – and there could be many – they chose their paths.  You are still choosing your path.  I am really happy with your choice because I am benefiting from it.”
     “That’s interesting.  Are you saying it doesn’t matter what I eat and I’ll be healthy anyway because of my life plans?”
     “I’m saying that your life will improve because of your life plans.  Part of those plans involves your conscious decision to eat healthier.  Eating healthy is much better than gorging on even half of what I can imagine your family is eating tonight and I’m definitely not enjoying the image.  A good way to eat healthy is to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.  Make salads with some dressing.  Add a little fish or cottage cheese for the small amount of animal-based protein you need.  Rice and beans can also provide decent protein amounts.  Not all canned foods are bad.  A person who eats canned kidney beans and canned beets is going to be healthier than a person who eats only canned raviolis and canned pie filling.  Processed sugar is unhealthy but, if I was forced to gulp down a bunch of granulated cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, I would go with the cane sugar because, in an ironic way, it’s more of a natural product.  An exception is sucrose which is fruit sugar and good for the brain.  If I notice an all-natural fruit juice with sucrose, I’ll drink it.  Our bodies need fruit.  Salt is a mineral our bodies need but not in the large amounts we consume.  If we had no salt whatsoever, we would have serious problems.  Generally, if you have an approximate one fourth or one fifth of a teaspoon of added salt a week, you’ll be fine.”
     I said, “Thank you for telling me this.  Perhaps I knew some of it already but it seemed more official coming from you.  I hope I haven’t took too much of your time.”
     She shook her head.  “Not at all.”
     “Again, I’m glad I met you.”
     I noticed she was still gripping my hand so I shook it and said, “Maybe we’ll see each other later.”
     She smiled.  “I’m sure we will.”
     I tried letting go but she continued clinging tightly.  I kept pulling but could not get free.  Now, I was feeling kept.  I said, “I have to go now.”
     “No, you don’t.”
     I was annoyed.  “Yes, I do.  We can talk another time but we’ve spent at least a half hour talking and I noticed the time is getting late and I have things to do.”
     She sighed.  “Meaning… what?  Are you going back to your family or some silly routine you’ve just explained you no longer want to be in?”
     “I didn’t say I was going to do that.”
     “But that is what you plan to do.  Luckily, we’re connected.  I can keep you from making a mistake.  I need you, too.  I’ve also planned to elevate my life to a higher level and you’ve come during the right time.  A rule of the universal life force indicates that particle souls eventually bond together and become whole again.  We find our connections through bonding.  I sensed that your soul was a particle that split from the same entity as mine.  Now that I’ve found you, we can transcend to the next level.”
     I was feeling extremely nervous and kept pulling as hard as possible, hoping to escape.  “This is rather freaky.  You can’t attach yourself to me.”
     “There’s no way I can let you go.  You’ll probably run off and I’ll never see you again.  All my hard work trying to synchronize my dreams with my reality will be for nothing.”
     “I didn’t say I wanted us glued together.”
     “You can’t go back to your mundane world.  I won’t let you.  I’m a part of you.  I’m the part that is saving you from what you’ve known before.  I’m helping you make new decisions.  It’s hard dismissing old habits but you’ll succeed because you and I are ‘we.’”
     “So, what are ‘we’ supposed to do, now?”
     She shrugged.  “Let’s find out.”
Chapter Two:
My situation seemed to depend on her next move. So far, I was limited by her grip. Her rolled-up sleeves provided a source of power related to that style’s symbolism indicating she was a hard worker. The tucked in shirt provided an effect of professionalism. Her hand clued me in on how everything related. I was stuck. Since I had not planned on us standing there all day, I asked, “What are your suggestions?”
She said, “We have to figure out the best way to adjust. This is new for me, too. I’m imagining there will be difficulties we need to overlook. Right now, our best bet is to ignore any negative setbacks. After we’ve been together a while, fate will reorganize our pattern and situations will gradually synchronize in harmony with us.”
I said, “Maybe we should walk outside.”
She smiled. “Now, you’re thinking like me.”
I was both worried and aroused by that comment. When I was younger and spent more time indoors reading books and listening to music, I wondered how another person viewed life. I knew that I was me and everything I experienced was related to my understanding that I could never be anyone else. I assumed others felt consciousness similar to how I did. However, I knew that opinions varied, depending on one’s circumstances and feelings. If I had the chance to “be” another person whom I thought was attractive, would I benefit from the experience? Would I have made a discovery on the varied degrees of humanity? If that was becoming the case and I was finding out the ways of Peni, I had done so by penetrating a path I could not escape. Ironically, I felt a sense of freedom beyond my limits. Before I met her, my freedom was based on permission granted to pursue whatever road of boring routine I chose. Now, since she was more desirable than anybody else in my immediate social world, I was restrained by higher quality. However, since we were separate people, my opinion mattered. I said, “You might not know this but we could still be mentally connected without this physical handshake trap.”
She said, “Oh no. You’re not going to become lower level again. The reason we need to keep together is because life is more interesting when two people are physically touching.”
“Eternity is a long time, though. We could take breaks.”
“The most arousing thing is the grip that never releases. You’ll discover yourself feeling a metaphysical arousal more fulfilling than anything you’ve been through before. The arousal will increase as time goes on. If I stopped, so would the arousal. What you’re experiencing is healthy because it is a positive and different awareness. I need that, too. We’re receiving from each other.”
“But after a while you’ll feel annoyed with my constant complaints. I’ll ask you why you’re doing this and you’ll finally decide you’ve had enough of my bickering.”
“Not at all. I’m aroused by your concerns and griping. I like when you hope I stop.”
My constant shifting towards acceptance and reluctance had jammed so I panicked. I pulled as hard as possible while her fingers squeezed tighter. I stepped back a few steps so our arms stretched and looked like taffy that would not break. She giggled hysterically as I tried working free from her cookie jar hold. Now, I realized how crazy she had become, perhaps because I introduced myself to her. Maybe my energy caused her to become so. I was trapped in a mistake. However, we needed to discuss what was next. I asked, “Where can we go?”
She sighed. “I guess we could walk around Lake Merritt.”
“That sounds fine.”
Suddenly, my next-door neighbor, Matthew Socket, appeared by us. He was probably looking for a book and had walked coincidentally towards our direction. He said, “Hi, Ernest. Did you pick up the papers in your room, yet?”
I was embarrassed to hear him comment on a situation I wanted to keep hidden from public criticism. I answered, “I did.”
He nodded. “Your clothes smell relatively clean. Did you do laundry today?”
I noticed Peni seemed not to be listening. Even though we were connected, she had enough courteousness to let me have some privacy. To Matthew, I said, “These clothes were clean before I put them on today.”
His arms were folded at his chest. “They had to be washed before they became clean. You didn’t answer my question. Did you do laundry today?”
“Not today. Last week, I did a large load of laundry and a lot of my clothes are still clean from then.”
“You were supposed to go to the Laundromat and get a load of wash done. The apartment manager received several complaints about how you stink. Well, you don’t smell now so I guess that’s fine. But I notice you have a little bit of whisker stubble. Did you shave this morning?”
“No. I shaved two days ago.”
“You need to shave again.”
I was irritated. “What if I want to grow a beard? What if I want a five o’clock shadow? Why are you trying to tell me how to live my life?”
He shook his head. “You didn’t comb your hair, either.”
“Yes, I did! There might have been a wind outside that blew my hair a little bit. What business is that of yours?”
“I know you’ve improved a lot since I’ve known you but I don’t want any cockroaches coming in my room. When you eat food, you have to remember to throw away the sandwich wrappers and sweep your floor because cockroaches lay eggs.”
I felt Peni’s grip increase pressure, reminding me I could attract someone like her. I became more confident and explained, “Matthew, I got rid of a lot of my books and papers because I realized I had too many things for my small room. I’m keeping my stuff organized. I’ve been that way for a month now but you still don’t understand that. I mean, you do understand it to a point but you and the other tenants are focusing your energy on talking about me and trying to make my life difficult. I don’t do that to you or the other tenants. It’s not fair that I have to deal with people like you.”
He shrugged. “Nobody’s forcing you to keep living there but, even if you were to move away and go someplace else, no one would put up with your crap. I’m being a good enough friend to tell you because nobody else wants to say anything to your face. At least I’m letting you know.”
I sighed. “You’re letting me know about old news. If I had continued being that way, I could understand how you go on and on about old problems but you’re wallowing in the past and you sound like a stuck record.”
He frowned. “You’ve never stood up to me before like this. What made you change so suddenly?”
I pointed to Peni. “Things are getting better for me. I met Peni and she’s a positive influence. I bet you don’t know any women like her.”
“I know a few. There’s Laura who works with me at the pet store. We’ve gone out a few times.”
I nodded. “Okay, so you know a woman but does she wear her shirts tucked in?”
“No, she doesn’t like to wear shirts. She wears dresses.”
“Well, it sounds to me like Laura isn’t willing to go the extra mile to include a sexy look for you. You’re willing to go out with her because she’s available but you’re settling for what you can get instead of looking for what you want.”
He shook his head. “My main concern isn’t in the clothes she wears, if you know what I mean.”
“I do know what you mean and you sound just like my Uncle and most typical men who don’t think about what really arouses them. Let me ask you; do you think women look better wearing tucked in shirts?”
“I suppose so, now that you mention it.”
“Okay. Do you also find yourself not totally aroused when you’re around Laura, like life forgot to give you that perk similar to a cup of coffee?”
“No, because I’m thinking about what will happen when we’re behind closed doors.”
“So, you’re no better than my Uncle. He was tired of not having any girlfriends and his main objective was marriage. When he met the woman who became his wife, she had a lot of issues but he was focused on his goal and she was available. He was more concerned with his loneliness than his ideal mate. You like Laura because of what you want from her. If you found someone else who matched more of your preferences, would you prefer that?”
He sighed. “That’s like asking me do I want to be vice president of a bank instead of a cashier at a pet store and would I prefer to live by the hills of Montclair instead of downtown Oakland. Yes, of course, but that isn’t going to happen so I face reality. You’re objectifying women by what they wear. People can’t be pigeonholed that way.”
I pointed again to Peni. “If people were never viewed according to how they were attractive, there would be a lot more cases of mismatched couples. If preferences didn’t matter, people wouldn’t make the choices they do. Peni happens to know a lot about subjects I like. I didn’t have to look among the less sexily-dressed women to find if one of them had the same information and interests. She appeared already sexy. If you were to ask me if I have found my match, I’ll say yes. My Uncle found someone willing to stay with him and you found someone willing to keep you company. However, have either of you found your match? I have found my ideal in Peni, in every way. She also likes me, if you notice that.”
He shrugged. “Well, then I guess I have to say, ‘Lucky you.’ I’m curious about something, though. She’s been gripping your hand rather firmly this whole time, like an undercover police officer who wants to arrest you and doesn’t have handcuffs.”
I laughed. “Oh, she’s just rather flirtatious and touchy; doesn’t like to let go of hands once she holds them.”
He looked startled. “That sounds wrong. Are you in any kind of danger?”
“I thought I was until I realized I was already drawn to her. Her tucked in shirt and rolled-up sleeves are not common for a woman in my social realm to wear. Her look is an indication of her knowing more than me. She’s inviting me into realms where only a woman who looks that good can take me. It’s like a code of living that is obtainable only to those who are privy to a key and able to adapt to a life of one’s dreams. I am going to feel constant arousal of the kind I have longed for and never received. How would you feel if a woman wearing her type of outfit gripped you and refused to let go no matter how many times you pleaded?”
He shook his head. “I would seriously freak out. I’m afraid you two are under the full effects of your acid trip. I’m going to leave now before I’m initiated in your strange cult.” He ran off.
Peni sighed. “Is that how you think of me; as your ideal match because I’m wearing a tucked in shirt and my sleeves are rolled up?”
I answered, “I said those things so he would leave us alone. I’m a bit concerned about your grip. You seem to interpret my wanting to let go as a silly delusion I’ll get over as soon as I’ve eaten dinner.”
She shrugged. “You’re totally misinterpreting your own desires. If you feel so strongly attracted to how I’m wearing my clothes and can explain so intelligently the intricate level of arousal you‘re feeling, why would you then retract everything unless you’ve been conditioned so long by your boring experiences that your body automatically wants you to break away?”
I was nervous. “Maybe the time we met, four o’clock in the late afternoon, had something to do with it.”
“I think we need to go to the lake now.” She and I walked outside.
We strolled down the street. I realized suddenly how my attitude towards Matthew had differed while I was with Peni. He was usually able to intimidate me so I felt afraid to respond during his criticisms. Now, I was able to interpret him as on a lower level than where I was heading. His words seemed much less intense. He was probably scared of me. My situation with Peni was changing as if she was incorporating her feelings with mine.
We were now at our destination. Lake Merritt was an interesting counterbalance to how apartments and business buildings surrounded it. The water and jogging path was like the ironic core of a place not related to harmony or natural living. We sat on a bench and observed the water ripples. A psychedelic effect took place as the afternoon was getting later and the sun dimmed. I imagined two shades of blue-gray intermingling like gophers swimming on sand or liquid needles knitting patterns with liquid thread. I sensed an immediate connection between the lake and our hands. Her fingers were like firm foundations to my fluid activity. I experienced the sort of heightened awareness she mentioned. I wiggled my hand around the circumference of where her fingers were pressing, like a kitten caught underneath a complex set of piano strings. I felt like I was in a dream. I needed to figure out the physical and spiritual combination to unlock the code of her hand. If I succeeded to escape, I would not run off but stay there. She would understand she could trust me.
I kept slipping and sliding through the palm jungle. She giggled and said, “You’re so funny.” However, I would not be tricked by her compliments. I turned our joined hands like how people do in thumb wrestling matches. If she was determined to keep holding on, she had a challenge ahead. I wiggled extremely fast, making a fluttery bird pattern while she commented, “That looks cute.” I growled for dramatic effect. She laughed. Finally, I was tired so I stopped the movement. She smiled dreamily and said, “I’m keeping you.”
I realized that she thought I was her ideal as much as she was mine. However, she had not yet mentioned what was causing her need to secure herself to me. I imagined her problems were extreme if she wanted to resort to drastic measures. I wanted to ask her more questions but the cool breeze and ambiance of the lake were more conducive towards quiet contemplation.
After an approximate half hour, she asked, “Why do you think of my clothes the way you do?”
I answered, “Probably the same reason why you think of my hand how you do. You look sexy.”
She sighed. “I don’t think of your hand as separate from you. My clothes are separate from me. Why do you like my outfit?”
“It triggers a reaction in me.”
“But can you tell me what type of reaction?”
“I think you’re sexy because your clothes are tight.”
She laughed. “My clothes are not really that tight. They’re just regular clothes. I’m asking why you like my outfit because you seem to relate me to my clothes. I could have worn anything and I still would have been me. I’m attracted to you because of you. Why is my outfit so important?”
“It’s a fetish of mine. When a shirt is tucked in, the end of the shirt cannot be seen because it is in the pants. There is a mystery. How long is the shirt? Is it endless? Is it stuck and cannot come out? The rolled-up sleeves are just what I consider an interesting affectation of the wearer. The sleeves are like a spice that needs some type of food to go on. Without the tucked in shirt, the wearer looks like she is missing one specific element that helps her achieve that sexy look. I’m not saying that there are no other factors that make women sexy and I’m not saying a woman needs to wear her shirt tucked in every day but, if she wears that style on occasion, it is one element of her attitude that is missing on a woman who refuses to wear that style. In the same way, if one woman is willing to go out with a man and another woman will not go out with him, the man thinks of the first woman as having more of the type of attitude he finds attractive. She is wearing a mental outfit of liking him in that way. The other woman might like another guy so she is more compatible with somebody else. Even if your reason for wearing that outfit is not related to you looking sexy, it does relate in a way to sexiness because it turns me on. I just like it. There must have been something about me that attracted you, even if I don’t know what it is. Why are you asking me about my likes? Are you bothered by it?”
“No. I just want to understand more about you.”
“Okay. Well, I want to understand more about you, also. Can you tell me why you feel your life is in need of a higher level experience and why I’m providing it?”
“I will, but first let’s walk a while longer. It’s getting late.”
“That’s fine.” We got up and walked in the direction of where I lived.
Chapter Three:
If I was extremely serious about wanting my hand free, I would have screamed for help but I felt a change occurring in my assessments of what life could be. The energy from her grip enveloped me like a helpful guide assuring that everything would be okay. I noticed little differences while we walked through town. One woman I had noticed occasionally in the library had usually worn loose plaid shirts with rolled-up sleeves. Now, she passed us. Her plaid shirt was tucked in. The one difference in her appearance was surprising, especially since she smiled and winked at me, as if she gave an indication of recognizing the cosmic play going on. I interpreted her wink as a means of informing me my situation was accurately in line with how fate directed things. Perhaps she tucked her shirt in so she could be elevated to the status of believable advisor. Had she and Peni been synchronized in one certain realm of reality? Next, I noticed two young Asian women wearing tucked in tank tops and belted shorts, engaging in a thumb wrestling match while walking by. I figured there was more to what went on than I knew from my limited perspective. I felt an extreme sense of arousal as if in a state of ecstasy. That sort of experience was new to me but it seemed a reward for my years of patience waiting for a difference in my life. If a change was to happen, I needed to adjust my patterns toward it.
As we were finally approaching my apartment, I asked, “Can you tell me more about your theories and why our attachment to each other is so important?”
She nodded. “When we’re in your place, I’ll feel more settled and able to explain. I’m still a little bit high from my having these sudden revelations. I had not looked at my clothes the way you interpreted them.”
I opened the door and we walked in. I shut the door. We walked towards the couch in the living room and sat down. “Is that good or bad?”
“Oh, it’s definitely good. I just hadn’t thought that way before, but that’s probably why I like you, because you’re letting me in on certain ways of thinking.”
I smiled. “That’s also what you’re doing to me.”
“So, we’re helping each other.”
“Correct. Could you tell me your reasons for why you’re wearing your clothes this way?”
“A button shirt just looks sloppy not tucked with shorts. I rolled up my sleeves so I wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to button them. It saves me about a half hour if I just roll them up. Plus, I looked in the mirror and thought I was presentable so I left it at that.”
“Good reason. Now, if you would not mind, could you please explain more of who you are and your ways of thinking?”
She smiled. “Sure. I was born in Honolulu, like I mentioned earlier. There’s the tourist trap aspect of it and it’s not the cheapest place for anyone to live by any element of the imagination but my family lived in an apartment complex owned by an older Polish man named Ambrozy Nowak. He understood poverty, having been brought up in a poor village in Konin. My parents also knew about hard times in Medan. My parents appreciated coming to America. They chose to believe in Christianity. That gave them even more a sense of humble traditional values. They were very strict about their ways of thinking because of what their experiences meant to them but they understood the importance of education. They wanted me to have some of my own views since I was being raised in an environment that was progressive compared to what they had growing up. I shared their sense of humility but in a different way. I became interested in how natural living could provide answers to our dilemmas. I had friends who would complain about a lot of mundane issues like why their neighbors wouldn’t grow lawns on their front yards or why so and so liked listening to crappy music. I noticed they ate a lot of junk food, especially chips and soda. I told them about healthy snacks like carrot sticks and bell pepper slices dipped in cottage cheese and salads topped with apple cider vinegar and pure olive oil. Some people never switched over to a healthier diet but others did and I noticed subtle changes. They didn’t constantly complain about other people. They seemed more content with their own lives. I wanted a healthier life for myself than what I already started having so I read up even more on nutrition and talked with friends who incorporated special diets in their curriculum. One friend had lived specifically according to a macrobiotic diet. Another friend was a vegetarian. They lived according to set doctrines and principles but felt a general sense of contentment as if their minds were their penthouses. They looked inward for their happiness. I thought they were good examples of people on the right path. However, I had a yearning to break free from specialized systems. I sensed that I needed a balance of physical and mental contentment. Nutrition was only a start. I was intrigued with how a telescope could magnify something far away and present it as if it was close. I was fascinated with the stars and the planets. I learned about quasars and pulsars. Then, I read about fusion in stars and how the sun generates energy through hydrogen fusion in what is known as a proton-proton chain. It’s somewhat complicated and I could spend hours telling you about it but I went from astrology to spirituality. I’ll make it as brief as I can by explaining that my extensive reading helped me realize our bodies and our souls are forms of energy. If certain components could combine to make something else similar to hydrogen and oxygen combining to make water, then interaction between human beings could create a fusion upon interaction with each other. I realized that circumstances were a form of physical activity and people created circumstances. Positive circumstances were created by positive people and negative circumstances were created by negative people. When I interacted with lower level type people, I felt lower level myself. I might have helped others feel better but they made me feel worse. I realized the key was to interact with people who would benefit me. When I moved here, I liked the diversity of people. It reminded me of the diversity that existed in Hawaii but I had to create new friendships here and doing so was hard. I have a few friends that I know really well but I feel I need another dimension to my awareness. I’ve been good at exploring possibilities but today, when you approached me, I was specifically looking for surety. I knew there were variables in the universe. I wondered if there was also absoluteness. When we talked and I shook your hand, there was a split-second of intense surety that surrounded me with the physical equivalent of the word ‘yes.’ I sensed the answer was in coupling. Then, everything resolved clearly. I realized there is something about your energy that is making me in tune with what is important. When you explained your arousal towards me, it woke up my understanding that my being needed by you makes me feel good. Does this make sense?”
“Yes but I don’t look at situations quite so academically. I search more for the creative element. Ever since I was a young kid, I had more interest in imagination than reality. Life represented restrictions in what was possible. Imagination did not have those restrictions because nobody said it was real. As long as you knew it was not real, you had permission to imagine anything at all. Then, later when I was older, I realized reality was a process in continuous creation. Just because yesterday happened a certain way, today could be created in a different way. If a woman never wore her shirt tucked in during the past but she decided today to tuck it in, she created a difference in her usual pattern of reality. I’m using this as an example. A lot of women won’t try the tucked in look because they think, ‘It isn’t me.’ Outfits can be done in creative ways. I’m attracted to women who incorporate a lot of tucked in sweater and tucked in sweatshirt outfits into their routine as well as shirts because they understand the artistic criteria for looking attractive. I now realize the same is also true for hand grips. The way someone’s hand envelops the hand of another can be a source of beauty, especially when it grips firmly like how you are holding on. You’re incorporating a certain position of your fingers like a work of art. The possibilities in life, regardless of what the possibilities are, can be transcended to another level like how an acoustic folk song will sound different when played on electric instruments. I happen to find thumb wrestling intriguingly erotic because the flow of the hands between the men and women who are engaged in a thumb battle are constantly fluctuating like spiral activity or a kaleidoscopic choreography of hands never breaking contact. If you are willing, we could thumb wrestle. That would give our hands something to do.”
She shrugged. “That sounds okay, as long as we use our other hands. This grip is an assurance of our connection. It’s my center of surety so I cannot mess with it.”
“Wow. You’re extremely serious about this, aren’t you? What would happen if I found a way to escape?”
She looked worried. “Please don’t refer to it as something to escape from. This isn’t a trap. It’s a progression of something positive. You’re moving away from the negative patterns of the past. It’s not healthy to continue communication with people who won’t provide you with the level of transcendent circumstances you need in order to better your life. As cruel as it may sound, you have to abandon those negative creeps, not because their ways are negative with everybody but because they are negative to you. When a rare situation happens, your best bet is to continue relationships with others who create similar types of positive experiences both for themselves and you. Then, more of those situations will be generated. As long as you clear away the trivial excess negative filler in your everyday surroundings and focus on the existing and positive experiences with attractive people, you’ll feel like you’re in a life environment resembling a posh party with your favorite celebrity. Right now, you are generating the type of positive energy I need. I must stay with you so I can avoid the negative filler crap. Also, I’m doing you a favor by making you stay on track so you don’t deviate from your healthy new reality. As long as I stay with you, there will be a continuation of the positive moments you seek. They will consist of those previously rare encounters that have suddenly become everyday occurrences. Certain phenomenon has certain metaphysical behavior patterns. Our behavior patterns include the constant gripping of hands. If we were to break contact, I would feel as though life no longer had any purpose. All my theories about the differences and similarities between consistency and diversity would be for nothing.”
I shrugged. “You mention these rare moments but, if you’re constantly gripping my hand, my situation will be difficult with other women. They will interpret my making passes at them as a sort of cruel tease as if we’re all involved in a competitive game of bullshit where nothing is what it seems. In order for me to experience the sort of continuous positivity you talk about, you will need to understand you’ll have to incorporate a certain amount of leniency in your actions. You might have to let go of me if I manage to get a date.”
She sighed. “I know what you mean but one factor you keep forgetting is how you’ll keep experiencing these moments of positive consistency with me. If I continue to wear my shirts tucked in, which I have no problem doing, you’ll continue to feel the sort of arousal afforded to those few who have companions willing to keep constant contact with a mate. I’m showing you how determined I am to provide consistent arousal. With another woman, you’ll be taking a chance by assuming she’ll give you the same type of attention. If you keep complaining like this, I shall still hold on to you but I will feel angry and will be determined to force you into recognizing intelligence in the form of a touch. Either way, the process has been set and will never end.”
“Now, as scary as that sounds, you have to understand the lack of feasibility concerning wearing clothes non-stop without changing your outfit. The only way you can successfully continue wearing your shirt tucked in is if you leave those clothes on. Also, what if we have to go to the bathroom? How will we manage that?”
She sighed. “Right now, you’re trying to irritate me by mentioning certain setbacks that detract from the overall totally workable system I’ve contemplated. What you don’t realize is there are certain astral loopholes in life’s circumstances. Things can happen according to the synchronization with the event. If you must know, we can do those activities you’ve mentioned and not encounter problems. You’re being a real bitch, you know that?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t realize I just changed genders. You’re going to let go right now.” I tried prying her hand off mine with my free hand.
She slapped my free hand and screamed. “You’re not getting away. I’ve spent too much of my energy and determination to make this work. The next time you try breaking contact I’ll slap you on the face hard.”
I was not sure if she was serious. However, I tried prying my hand loose again and she slapped me on the face. The slap was not gentle. Then, she squeezed so tight it hurt. “Ow! You belong in a mental institution.”
She laughed. “You wouldn’t dare do that to me because you’d eventually feel guilty and wonder why you lost the good thing you had. You’ll wonder if your conduct with other women was the cause of you not succeeding in getting a girlfriend because you had used bad judgment and acted wrongly with women who love you. I more than love you. I am you. We are creating our own harmony outside of the realm of natural physics. Even if you did call the loony bin people and they put me in the mental institution, I still would not let go of your hand. You would have to sleep on a hard white tile floor with me. I would be fine but you would probably freak out and hallucinate that I was a spider glued to you.”
I got up from the couch. We walked into my bedroom. “I’m getting some sleep. You know where the front door is.”
She nodded. “I’m staying. You know where the lamp is.”
I wiggled my hand again, feeling quite angry. I yelled, “You’re a damn piece of bug paper.”
She sang, “Now we mix the batter, now we milk the sugar. La la la la.” She stuck out her tongue.
I stopped wiggling my hand. There was no point in continuing the same behavior. I figured I would close my eyes and do my best to sleep.
She got in bed with me. “Do you have maid service or will I have to hire someone to wash the dishes?”
“You’ve got nighttime derangement as well as your original insanity. I don’t want to say any more. You can mumble all you want.”
“You’re not treating me like a proper guest. Where are the milk and cookies? Do I need to purr? Will that make you start wearing cologne? You’ve got to do something about your name. I’ll tickle you with a toothbrush.”
“Will you shut up? If you are going to stay here, there are some ground rules.”
“Did you grind them with powder?”
“No. I added them to the fruit juice.”
“So, are you a vegetarian?”
“Only if you consider a banana a vegetable.”
“Are you a banana?”
“How the hell could I be a banana?”
“I mean a banananarian.”
“I guess I’m a banananananananarian.”
“I am you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“We’re not separate.”
“Fine.” I had no more to say. Luckily, she stopped talking or I feel asleep quickly.
Chapter Four:
I woke up earlier than my usual time. My electric alarm clock indicated six thirty am. Usually, I slept at least an hour and a half later. As I noticed the view from my bedroom window, something about my surroundings and my attitude seemed more upscale. I knew psychic synchronization aligned in my favor. I was not sure how but I felt not so much anticipation than patience. Throughout most of my life, I was self-conscious about having an opportunity to voice my opinions to family and friends. They were always ready to expound on their beliefs in such a matter of fact way that I assumed they knew more than me. Now, I was feeling confident.
Suddenly, I noticed someone sleeping beside me. Yesterday’s activities did not picture themselves clearly in my head. All I could remember was a vague recollection of something strange I probably wanted to forget.
My bed covers were still up to my neck. I had not shifted my body position. During the early morning, I wanted to savor the quiet time before outside activity was at its busiest. I wanted to prevent my moving around causing encouragement for others to follow suit. Yet, I was curious who my companion was. In a few minutes, I would examine the person more closely. However, I first wanted to assess mentally what was probable.
Most of my everyday encounters were with men. Others had no problem finding a mate but my circumstances indicated usually that my chances of meeting someone compatible were unlikely. Fate was choreographing my opportunities and positioning certain people in my path while circumventing others from appearing in my view. I was frustrated but kept up a good front with friends who would ask me about the latest story I was writing or my newest philosophical idea.
Now, how well did I know the person beside me? I doubted we had sex because I most likely would recall such an incident. I figured that, if fate decided to play its usual mischievous metaphysical tricks, the person would be a man. However, the energy did not feel male oriented. Something about the hairdo, though cut short, seemed female. I decided to pull back the covers and find out.
When I lifted up and pushed back the sheets, I could tell she was a woman. I also saw that we were both fully dressed. Her outfit gave me a sudden warm feeling of arousal and surprise. Her shirt was tucked in so she had an attitude about fashion that matched my fetish for women who dressed like that. My sense of having an upscale experience was ever closer and contradicted the usual circumstances of my biological family. My blood Uncle was married to a woman who was friendly as long as she was on the right medication. Otherwise, she was most likely to make death threats while holding a knife. Nowadays, she could not walk and that was on account of her whole history comprised of not getting up much except to go to the bathroom when company was around. Usually, she settled on doing her business right then and there, causing the sheets to smell bad. She wore dresses only and never tucked in a shirt in her life. When my Uncle met her, he weighed four hundred pounds. His long red hair and big beard and mustache made him look like a red Santa Claus. When he happened to go to the hospital’s psychiatric ward to visit a friend who had gone insane, he also met the woman who would be his future wife. She was wearing a bloody sanitary napkin pinned to her head for a hat. His life was as strange as other members of the family. I did not want to be like them. The woman next to me, wearing the tucked in shirt, helped me establish a sense that I was headed in the right direction.
She was wearing shorts so her wanting to look sexy was not passive. She apparently wanted to meet a man. Since she picked me, I was more worthwhile than I would have otherwise figured.
I moved her head more to face me and noticed she was Asian. I felt overwhelmed like a glass about to overflow with feelings of correctness.
As I was getting out of bed, her right hand moved with mine. She was seemingly shaking my hand, though without the handshake motion. Her grip was rather firm.
I stood up and walked a few steps but I could not go any further. My hand was caught in hers. I tried prying it loose with my other hand but her grip would not relinquish. I kept pulling for a few minutes until she finally opened her eyes and smiled. She said, “Good morning.”
Now, I remembered how we met and what went on. She had indicated she would never let go of me. Yesterday, my feeling was like panic. Today, though, I was more frustrated. I said, “It will be a good morning only if you let me get through the day doing what I have to do.”
She crawled over and sat on the side of the bed. “Sure. What will we be doing?”
“I need to visit my family. I usually do that every Thursday.”
“Fine. Do you think they’ll accept me?”
“I don’t know but I have to go to the bathroom and I have to take a shower. You have to let go of my hand so I can do those things.”
She shrugged. “I have to go to the bathroom too. We can work it out. You can go first and then me.”
“I’m not going to the bathroom with you there.”
“Then, hold it. I’m not letting go of your hand. Come on. I need to use it.” She stood up and walked towards the bathroom, pulling me with her. She unfastened her belt, unbuttoned and pulled down her shorts and underwear. She sat on the toilet seat. “It’s really rather easy to do this. I don’t know why you don’t want to try it.” She pulled off a piece of toilet paper and wiped herself. Then, she stood up and pulled up her underwear and her shorts. “I need you to help me. I need you to tuck in my shirt while I’m holding these so then I can button them. Okay?”
I shrugged. “You can do that with both hands.”
She sighed. “I’m using both hands. Mine and yours.”
I laughed. “No. You’re going to use both of your hands while I use both of my hands to applaud you.”
Her voice got louder. “Don’t be difficult. Unless you want me walking around with my shirt not tucked in, you’ll help me.”
“I thought you didn’t view fashion so strongly as that.”
She rolled her eyes. “I never wear my shirts loose. I always tuck them in. It’s just a habit, okay? I wore them that way when I went to school and I got used to the style and never stopped. I hadn’t thought about it until I met you. Now, I realize why you like it so much. I’m becoming more like you. Come on, please help me!” She squeezed my hand even tighter until it hurt.
She loosened the pressure. “Thanks.”
I sighed. “At least that’s one way to get me to do what you want.”
“It’s bugging me to see my shirt like this. Help me tuck it in.”
I was actually delighted at the opportunity to be involved hands-on with her shirt tucking. I felt probably like how one would feel collaborating on a song with one’s favorite famous rock singer. I nodded. “Okay. Get ready.” I had a hold on her shirt.
She sighed with relief. “Thanks.” She pulled the shorts up more to waist level while I stuffed the shirt in all around the waistline. Then, I pulled the button side of the shorts towards her while she did the same with her side and I fastened them. I held the buckle end of the belt while she threaded it through the other end and pulled tightly. I grabbed her end of the belt while she positioned the clasp of the buckle. I threaded the belt through the loops. She smiled. “Yay! We did it! Shake my hand.” We shook for an approximate ten seconds. When we stopped, she gripped tighter to assure me she was not about to let go.
“I just have to pee so I won’t need to unfasten my belt.” I unzipped my zipper.
“Do you need help with that?” She reached as if wanting to grab my penis.
I guarded my crotch area with my other hand. “No, I can manage.”
“I just wanted to touch it.”
“You’re touching enough.”
She pouted. “Okay.”
I finished what I had to do and adjusted myself and zipped up. “I’m assuming later you’ll want to hop in the sack in an official love-making way.”
She shrugged. “We can do that now.”
“I told you I need to see my family. Do you smell okay?” I checked and she did.
She winked. “You smell fine, too. I can’t wait to meet this family of yours and shock their world. I feel like I’m starting my life again from scratch. Thanks.”
I shrugged as my answer. Somehow, for me to say, “You’re welcome” seemed inappropriate.
She sighed. “Now, what are we up against? Who are we visiting?”
I knew her coming along was an inevitability during our current situation. I was feeling enthusiastic about the opportunity to show my family a new element in my life that they would have never imagined could exist for me. People usually did not literally stick together twenty four hours each day. My family had a certain way of thinking based on their habitual lifestyles and my shocking them with the new development would cause their thinking to move in another direction. I said, “I guess we ought to visit my mother first. She’s been concerned I haven’t found a steady girlfriend or marriage partner and I can only imagine what she’ll think when she meets you.”
She nodded. “Probably an old school Jewish mother, right? Wants the son to become a doctor, marry a nice lady from the same neighborhood and have twenty kids, five to become lawyers, seven to become priests and eight to be handymen for when she needs someone to put new shingles on her roof or fix the kitchen sink.”
“Not really. Even though they are Jewish and I’ve been raised Christian, there’s nothing really old-school or traditional about them except their in-bred cultural guilt coming from the sensibility that suffering breeds humility. My mother just wants to see the family name passed down.”
“That’s usually the cause of a lot of people who eventually get married. They don’t really think about whether or not they are really ideally compatible. They marry out of convenience because they know each other and they are both willing to try the experience. However, marriage would merely be a redundant ceremony in our situation, like trying to make water wetter by adding water to the water. It’s already wet. We’re already one.”
“So, do you view us as naturally married without the contract?”
“I view us as one organism that split apart and has now gotten back together. Anyway, after your mother, who else will we meet?”
“Probably my Uncle and cousin. My Aunt is in the convalescent hospital, like I told you, so we could visit her too if I feel we should make the extra trip. If you’ve never been to Antioch before, you might not get used to all its lovely charms and I mean that sarcastically.”
“It’ll be fine because you’re with me. You should look at everything now from the perspective of my being with you. It’s a whole new way of thinking.”
I was slowly appreciating the metamorphosis we were going through. I still thought her constant grip was a bit extreme but I understood the philosophy behind her actions. Her stance that we would stay together touching forever became a bold statement of pushing past hesitation and sticking with firm conviction. However, that did not mean I would not take the opportunity to escape if it was an option. I knew that firm convictions were strongest at their freshest. She could have been exaggerating her motives until trust could get established. I would wait until she became bored with gripping me. I would not rush the issue. I asked, “Are you also going to wear that outfit every day? Are there other clothes you have that you will eventually put on?”
She nodded. “Of course. I’ve thought of that. I might have to change grips with you when I’m removing my shirt because I won’t be able to take it off completely unless I rip it or cut it. I don’t want to do that to a good shirt like this.”
“Are all your shirts long sleeved?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I’m just wondering if you always roll up your sleeves.”
She thought for a moment. “I haven’t always done that but, within the last couple of years, I’ve pretty much always rolled up the sleeves of my long-sleeved button shirts and pushed up the sleeves of my sweaters and sweatshirts.”
“Do you occasionally tuck in your sweaters and sweatshirts?”
“I don’t know if I’ve done that too much. Probably I’ve done that with a light sweater but not my sweatshirts. But I’ve always worn tucked in shirts underneath them. “
“That’s cool. I’m about ready to go. My mother’s place is okay and the hospital where my Aunt stays is pretty clean but my Uncle’s house is messy. When we get there, you’ll meet my cousin and she might be more involved with playing video games so I usually do a lot of talking and it cheers her up somewhat. My Uncle, when he gets there, is like a giant boulder with a head and arms and legs. There is not so much an actual body shape than a circular mound that walks. He’s a nice guy and can be entertaining when he relates some of the strange stories the family has gone through but he also gets depressed and spends a lot of the time staring at the ceiling and crying. I don’t know what he’ll think about you. It might help him take his mind off of his wife’s predicament. We’ll just have to find out.”
She smiled. “Well, I’m up for meeting them.”
I nodded. “Thank you for coming.”
We headed out.
Chapter Five:
Peni and I rode on the bus to Antioch. I felt negative energy from others who were physically unattractive. However, I was not bothered by it. I knew people could make mistakes. They might have wanted to be in experiences similar to us. When we arrived at the stop closest to my mother’s apartment, I realized she would be unable to fathom what I was going through. Then again, that was what I wanted to see.
Antioch was not a town known for well-dressed individuals. We were going against the informal sloppy dress code. I was still wearing my loose sweatshirt so I qualified as looking like I lived there but Peni was gripping tightly onto me so I thought of myself as an extension of her.
The lack of scenery, aside from a few stray sprigs of weeds, was typical but Peni and I were delighted with the opportunity to appear like royalty amidst peasant ground. We cared less if we fit in the environment.
I knocked on my mother’s front door. We had to wait several minutes for her. She was probably smoking a cigarette in the back yard. Finally, she appeared, smiled and said, “Hello, Son. Um… I see you’ve brought company.” She laughed in a way that left me wondering whether it was meant humorously or condescendingly.
We walked in. I said, “Mother, this is Peni. We’re an item.”
Mother looked puzzled. “Item as in… broccoli? Or, item as in… sex?”
I answered, “Item as in two parts of one whole. You understand math, right mother?”
She shook her head. “I understand five pennies make a nickel but I don’t understand what you mean.”
Peni giggled. “Your son and I are going through a progressive type of relating. We are physically stuck together. Maybe, since you were with eleven guys during the time you had him, you can understand the benefits of sticking with one man.”
Mother sighed. “You’re talking about my past. I was not a rampant sexual deviant like you might think. The guys I had been with were a part of my friendship field. I don’t know what you‘re talking about.”
Peni nodded. “Never mind. I didn’t mean any ill will. I’m just reassuring you I’ve got your son in my close clutches. He will never get away from me.”
Mother frowned. “You’re Asian. Son, don’t you want a white woman?”
I shrugged. “Do you know any slim white women who wear tucked in shirts?”
“Well, there are plenty of decent white women around. Some might be fatter than others but they would be devoted to you if you were sincerely interested in them.”
I pointed to our joined hands. “Peni’s more than interested in me. She’s attached herself.”
Mother’s eyes got wide. “Oh no. She’s got you into something weird. I cannot abide by that. You have to let me help you.”
Peni sighed. “You’re probably off your medication and need help understanding what’s going on. That’s okay. But, your son and I are in for the long haul. You cannot split us apart.”
Mother called for her cat. “Lumpy! Come here!”
Lumpy was underneath the living room sofa. He crawled slowly out as if not sure whether the scene was safe. Mother picked him up and petted him.
Mother said, “You need to find another plaything, miss. My son is not a victim you can control and make into your own shape.”
Peni shrugged. “You’re quite silly, you know that?”
Mother shook her head as if it was about to explode from her shoulders. She looked like she wanted to say something but could not find the words. She was weird but not in a creative way. Her family became walkers or sitters or smokers and they could not understand anything beyond that routine. I was having fun disturbing her world. I asked, “Why don’t we all sit down so we can get to know each other?”
Mother said, “That’s alright. I have the ingredients to make coleslaw. You two can sit while I make a salad.”
Peni nodded. “So, your son is correct, then. You do eat vegetables on occasion, right?”
Mother sighed. “The coleslaw will be for the fireman’s fund. I like a couple of the firefighters and they might show up and take the coleslaw if I make it for them and I talk nice to them on the phone.”
Peni asked, “Do they know you? Do they know what you look like?”
Mother shook her head. “I’m only talking about coleslaw. There’s nothing sexual involved about it. I’m an old woman. My time has come and gone. Okay, I did drugs when I was younger and I didn’t take proper care of my health. That’s why I’ve been fat. My whole family’s fat. You can’t blame us for what nature intended. My son has been blessed with slim looks, probably on account of whomever his father is.”
Peni and I sat on the couch. Peni asked, “Why did you sleep with so many men back then?”
Mother sighed. She sat on the other couch. “I felt I wasn’t receiving enough love or attention so I looked for it wherever I could.”
Peni nodded. “What were your favorite books? What were your favorite groups or musicians or composers?”
“I don’t know”
“You didn’t really read anything or listen to music?”
“Not really.”
“So, you had no culture in your life?”
Mother smiled. “There was culture. My dad liked beef cutlets cooked in the pressure cooker with peas and carrots.”
“Your culture was food?”
“My mother cooked Mexican dinners. She was more of the cook in the family. My dad didn’t really do a lot of cooking. He looked for women to be with, if you know what I mean.”
Peni frowned. “But, didn’t he already have a wife, your mother, who could be with him in that way?”
Mother shrugged. “I don’t know. Mother was busy cooking food. My brother Arnold stayed home all day and peed in a tin cup because he was too lazy to go to the bathroom and my mother felt sorry for him so she made him extra portions of food. Arnold used to be fed on a potatoes and milk formula. My mother thought he was too skinny as a little kid and needed to be fatter. We all grew up with the idea that food was love, except I also thought that sex was love.”
Peni nodded. “Are you still in contact with any of the guys you were with?”
Mother sighed. “That was a long time ago. Back then, it wasn’t the fashion to exchange phone numbers or get names. I pretty much judged the men by the sizes of their…”
Peni shrugged. “I get it. You didn’t have a sense of consistency as far as staying with one lover. You were scattered with whoever you could find.”
Mother frowned. “I didn’t say I was scatter-brained.”
“I didn’t say that, either. I said ‘scattered’ as in not staying in one place with one lover.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Of course we didn’t walk around the room during… you know. We stayed in one spot.”
“No, I’m not talking about during sex. I’m saying you didn’t have just one lover. You had a lot of them.”
Mother shook her head. “Are you talking smart with me? Of course I had more than one lover, Miss Potato Fry… and I notice my son has strayed from his own group of people so he must be playing the field, too.”
Peni frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You’re Asian and he’s white. There are plenty of nice women in his own race he could date.”
I again asked, “Do you know any around here who are not fat and who wear their shirts tucked in?”
Mother said, “There’s more to a woman than just her size, and why does her shirt have to be tucked in? Aren’t you going to take off her clothes when you do it with her? I would think the fewer amounts of clothes on a woman, the better.”
“I don’t think that way, mother. The clothes are sexually appealing and, in order for me to feel good about who I’m with, she has to have a good appearance.”
Mother pointed at Peni. “Do you think she looks good? Son, she’s Asian. Didn’t you see that? Also, what’s with this damn handshake grip?”
Peni answered, “I mentioned before that we are stuck together.”
Mother yelled, “What the hell does that mean? Are you kidnapping my son for ransom? Why don’t you let go of him? Here, I’ll give you five dollars so you can order some noodles or some fried fish or whatever the hell you people eat.”
Peni shook her head. “I don’t want your money. If you’re stupid enough to think I’ll let go of your son’s hand because you’re giving me five dollars, I will take it but only because I get the feeling that’s the only thing you’ll give me. I certainly don’t believe you’ll give me any appreciation or love.”
Mother sighed. “The only reason I’m not getting up and separating the two of you is because I need my walking energy for when I go outside and smoke my next cigarette. Otherwise, my son would be free of you.”
“Free of me, huh? What would he then do? Grow up to be three hundred and sixty pounds? You could boast that you’re the slim one. He needs me. The rest of his family can’t give him what he needs. I think that’s a shame. You know, he visits you out of a sense of compassion for what you’re all going through but all you can give him in return are your vibrations of angst and depression. Also, your prejudice isn’t helping, either. He chose me because he saw in me what he needs and I chose him because he provides what I’m looking for, as well. We’re mirrors reflecting each other.”
Mother pointed at the door. “How about if you just leave? I’m not happy with you right now, Ernest. You could have brought over a nice white woman but instead you bring someone who’s of a different ethnic group because you’re trying to insult me. You think I abandoned you during those years you were with the McEwan’s. At least you changed your last name back to Fiedke so I can’t fault you there. But I still think you’ve got issues and it hurts me to see you do this. I’m a human being and I make mistakes. What you’re doing isn’t funny. You might believe you’re having a good old sailor’s time hanging out with Miss Heart of the East here but you’ll wake up sooner or later, hopefully sooner, and see the error of your ways. I just don’t want you to do what I did, son.”
Peni rolled her eyes. “This is pathetic. You are obviously a part of a backward culture if you think that ethnic differences have anything to do with compatibility among souls. Your son is only related to you because his physical body came out of your physical body but he and I originated from the same entity. I’m not letting go of his hand because of how the astral realm works. I’m giving a message to the cosmos that both Ernest and I have figured everything out. We don’t need to continue living different earthly lifetimes once we’ve finished this one. We are ready to rejoin the entity we came from. You might not understand this stuff but it’s true.”
Mother shook her head. “You’re not talking sense. Entities? There’s the Trinity, if that’s what you mean. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
Peni smiled. “I respect all religions and I have trouble with people who think they have the only beliefs worth having. However, even though I used to grow up with the Christian ethic of the Trinity that you’re talking about, I now realize that Jesus was teaching something that has been misrepresented through thousands of years of translation and alteration. When he talked about being united by faith, he was referring to understanding, not faith. What he meant in his teachings was the idea of being one with the universal life force that makes for all creation. If there was such a thing as a hell, it was a psychological hell felt on Earth through confusion. This world is merely one step in the whole astral plan and we all learn through it. We have different lifetimes and we go through different thought processes and incarnations during our different lifetimes. You are going through a certain life cycle that has ignorance and prejudice as its base. Your sense of Christianity is not silly but it is also a product of what level of life you are on. I don’t want to say that God doesn’t exist but I don’t hold the conventional belief most people have about God. To me, God is an energy source radiating throughout the universe and we’re all a part of it.”
Mother shook her head. “You’re on drugs.”
Peni shrugged. “You’re one to talk. What kind of drugs are you on? Processed foods? A part of why you’re not doing so well is because you are conditioned by the food you eat. I mean, look at you. You’re not exactly the bill of health, you know. If drugs screw up the mind, the wrong foods screw up the body and alter people’s attitudes. If you wanted to get healthy, it’s not too late. You might not get slim but you can prevent yourself from causing more damage to your body by eating better foods.”
Mother sighed and pointed again at the door. “Get the hell out of my house both of you. I have okay eating habits and if I want any of that Fu Manchu medicine mumbo jumbo, I’ll go watch one of those commercials advertising the ancient Chinese secret.”
We walked outside. I said, “I’ll see you later, mother.”
Peni said, “And I’ll be with him.”
Our next stop was Arthur’s house. He would probably be more understanding towards Peni and so would my cousin but even they were limited in what they were able to accept. I was less concerned with how she was holding on to me and more concerned with how I could finally break away from my family.
Chapter Six:
We headed towards Arthur’s house. Peni sighed. Her breath entered my mouth and lungs. The experience felt like true collaboration. After we left my mother’s apartment, my anxiety went away. Part of why I first had conflicts with Penny was because I had been brainwashed by my previous circumstances. Not many people were brave enough to confront newness as boldly as her. I told myself I was not going to visit my family ever again after today. My decision felt like I had removed a heavy coat I had worn for years. I considered my adoptive parents, Richard and Sasha McEwan, to be my real family even though they were no longer living.
The reason I first stayed with the McEwan’s was because my blood mother had me when she was sixteen. Her parents, John and Kathy Fiedke, told her they could not support yet another young person. They had a hard enough time buying the amount of food Arnold craved and my mother was eating more and more, also. At the time I was born, she was slim and attractive. However, shortly after I was born, her parents insisted she put me in a foster home and she continued on her journey through sex and food and drugs until she weighed two hundred pounds. While she was strung out on drugs, the county administrator of social services would not let her visit me. She became more depressed and got fatter until she weighed close to three hundred pounds. By the time I visited her again after all those years, she weighed three hundred and forty pounds. Her appearance was an unpleasant surprise but I was willing to overlook it because attitude and personality were most important in a person. However, her attitude did not fare much better than her looks.
I had not known she had a brother, Arnold until she mentioned more about the Fiedke clan. I mentioned I changed my last name to Fiedke again after the McEwan’s died. I wanted to acknowledge I still had parents who were alive. She was relieved.
My Uncle had a difficult life. When he was two years old, his mother and he had rode in a cab and the right-side door opened. The taxi driver had not locked the door. Arnold fell out and hit his head on the pavement. He went into a coma for six weeks. When he finally woke up, he craved a lot of food. He screamed and cried if he did not get his mashed potatoes with gravy or his chocolate cake with ice cream. He became quite fat rather early in life. Now, when I visited him, he often asked me to give him glasses of water. The requests came ten an hour, even though he already had a glass of water still full right next to his arm.
As Peni and I walked, I said, “Probably it’ll only be my cousin home. My Uncle spends a lot of time with his wife. I hear he wants her back. The hospital may very well release her because he’s been helping her with leg exercises and proving he is capable of giving her care.”
Peni said, “That would be good. No one likes staying stuck in a hospital.”
“Right now, I’d say it’s only academic which is worse, the hospital or his house.”
“Still, I wish her well.”
We arrived at his house and I knocked on the door. Arthur answered. He looked sad and said, “Come on in.” Peni and I entered. Arthur extended his hand. “How do you do? I’m Arthur.”
Peni shrugged. “I can’t shake your hand because I’m permanently attached to Ernest.”
Arthur nodded. “No problem. I’m an engineer. I can fix most things.” He grabbed both our hands and tried separating them. However, he was not able to do so. “Damn, your hands are wedged in tight, aren’t they?”
Peni answered, “It’s a metaphysical gluing process. You can’t undo it.”
Arthur pulled harder, straining and grunting. “The hell I can’t! How did you get this way, anyway?”
Peni shrugged. “I decided we needed to stay like this so I’m refusing to release him.”
Arnold’s eyes got wide. “She’s holding you hostage, Ernest. Damn, I ought to call the police!”
I laughed. “There’s no need for that, Uncle. I can handle it.”
He let go of us. “It’s not alright! People need their freedom. I’ve heard of prisoners of war and this is close. She’s making you a prisoner of her war, whatever it is. Women’s lib? What is it? I have to look for the phone.” He searched around the living room.
I asked, “Why are you home this early, anyway? Don’t you usually see Muriel around this time?”
As he continued looking for the phone, he said, “Muriel’s cracking up. The hospital put her on a different kind of medication and a lower dose of it. She saw Julia and called her a fat bitch and a bunch of other names. Julia ran out of the hospital, crying.”
“So, did that happen today?”
“No, yesterday. Today, I went there and she said she’d stab me as soon as she found a knife. The scene was not pretty. Where’s the damn phone?”
His dog, Butter, ran towards him and humped his leg. Arthur tried wiggling his leg so Butter would let go of him but the dog felt content holding on to his master.
Peni smiled. “It seems we’re not the only ones who’ve found our real match.”
Arthur yelled, “Damn you, Butter, I’m not your bone.”
Peni said, “You might as well call the police on your dog.”
Butter stopped humping Arthur’s leg and ran towards a steak on the floor by the couch. He chewed on it.
Arthur ran towards him. “Butter, damn you! That is my dinner! I saved my dimes and nickels for six months so I could finally buy some choice steak. You’re really doing me a disservice by pretending this is yours.” Arthur bent down, attempting to take the steak out of Butter’s mouth, and his pants fell down. He had on no underwear.
Butter let go of the steak and jumped up with his tongue trying to lick Arthur’s crotch. Arthur stood up and walked quickly in the kitchen. Butter followed him.
Peni sang, “Arthur’s got a girlfriend.”
Arthur screamed, “Stop that, Butter! Where’d I put the damn phone?”
Julia walked in the living room. “Is something wrong, dad?”
Arthur said, “Stop Butter.”
Julia walked in the kitchen. Peni and I stayed in the living room. We could not see them. We preferred that. Julia yelled, “Oh, my god! Why the hell is he doing that?”
Arthur shrieked, “I don’t know why!”
“Well, why did you teach him to do that in the first place?”
“Damn it! It’s not like I actually taught him anything. He must have looked it up in a dog handbook or something.”
“Well, don’t you think you’d better get up off the floor?”
“I’m looking for the damn phone!”
She laughed. “Between the cracks in the floor?”
He screamed, “At this point, I don’t give a shit where I look! Your cousin has a woman keeping him prisoner of war.”
“I doubt that. It looks like they’re in love.”
“What the hell do you know about love? All you do is stare at that book of Pat Paulsen pictures all day and sleep with that Pat Paulsen papier-mâché puppet you made in high school. I can see why your mother called you names. You’re not smart.”
“Well, she threatened you with a knife when you offered her an unopened can of raviolis with a ribbon on it.”
“It was a sign of good tidings! Also, she didn’t have a knife. She was looking for one. There’s a difference.”
She sighed. “Right now, you’re sort of a boob. You want a dangerous sociopath home and you’re too lazy to push your dog away.”
He screamed, “I’m looking for the damn phone so I can call the police!”
She laughed. “Whatever.” She walked in the living room. She waved. “Hello, Ernest. As you can see, my dad is in one of his moods. He’s so out of it, he can’t even think straight to push the dog away.”
Arthur yelled, “What part of ‘I’m trying to find the damn phone’ don’t you understand?”
She said, “The ‘It’s not there’ part.”
“Well, it isn’t, so what do you want me to do about it?”
“I don’t care one bit what you do. You’re looking for the phone. I’m not.”
“Well, do you know where it is?”
“Yes, I actually do know where the phone is but you’re so damned stupid I figured you might as well figure it out yourself.”
“Where is it?”
“At Ann’s house. She’s Ernest’s mother and your sister.”
“What the hell is it doing there?”
“I don’t know. You loaned it to her.”
“It’s not a cell phone. It’s a land line phone. Why would I unplug it and give it to her? She doesn’t have a phone jack at her house.”
“Beats me. She said she wanted it and you were stupid enough to give it to her.”
“Well, how can we get it back? I need to call the police.”
“Why don’t you push the dog off you and go to her place and get it?”
“I will as soon as I can! The damn dog won’t get off of me!”
She shook her head and waved. “Forget it, dad. I’m going to talk with Ernest and his friend.”
Arthur yelled, “Butter, how much longer are you going to do that?”
She smiled. “Why don’t you sit down?”
Peni and I sat on the couch. Julia sat on the chair across from us. I said, “I guess Arthur isn’t so pathetic after all. He’s getting a sort of love.”
She smiled. “That’s one way of putting it.”
Peni introduced herself.
Julia nodded. “Nice to meet you. I’m Julia.”
Peni asked, “Has your mother always been on medication? Have you ever seen her having a breakdown?”
Julia laughed. “In our family, having a breakdown is like having milk and cookies. It’s the only thing that makes life a little less dull.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Tell me about it. I’m always at the point of exhaustion, either from my weight or from my dad acting nutty like now.”
Arthur yelled, “I know why you’re doing this, Butter. You want me to give you my steak dinner but I had to save up for six months so I could buy that steak for twenty dollars. You’re not getting it!”
Peni shrugged. “At least he stays with his firm convictions.”
Julia said, “Only when Butter gets on top of him.”
I said, “I’m thinking of not visiting the family anymore. Not because of you, Julia, but because of my mother and Arthur. It’s just way too much stress for me. I decided at first to be involved with family because I hadn’t been but now I feel like inching back.”
Julia smiled. “Well, it looks like you’ve found love and she definitely doesn’t resemble any of us. So, if you decide not to see us again, I’d understand.”
Peni sighed. “I wish I could come up with a good excuse to prevent you from thinking that way, Ernest, but the truth is I agree with you. I think you need to get out of this environment. The good thing is, where you go, I’m coming with you.”
Julia winked. “It looks like you’re glued to him.”
“Not technically but I’m keeping my grip firm because our world will fall apart if we let go.”
Julia shrugged. “Well, to each his or her own. As long as you’re okay with it, Ernest, I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s a little strange, I admit, but what in life isn’t strange, especially with what I’ve seen in my experience?”
Peni nodded. “Too true.”
Julia frowned. “I’m just wondering, though – and I hope you don’t mind my getting so personal – how do you go to the bathroom?”
Peni laughed. “Oh, let’s just say we were able to find a solution to that problem. We already used the bathroom this morning.”
Julia laughed. “Oh.”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
Julia shrugged. “So, are you going to miss us?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
“I bet you’ll miss the Antioch heat. Anybody would.”
Peni said, “I’ve only been here once but I’ve definitely had too much of it.”
Arthur yelled, “Butter, I might compromise and let you have that steak if you get off me right now! Thank you.”
Butter ran in the living room.
Julia said, “You might not want to touch him, if you know what I mean. I’m sure you could figure out what he was doing.”
Arthur walked out of the kitchen and into his bedroom. His pants were still down. “Damn dog. Don’t worry, Ernest. I’ll get you free. I’ll call your mother and tell her to bring back the damn phone so I can call the police and get you separated from your prison warden.”
I said, “As strange as I must admit my situation is, I’m really enjoying it a hell of a lot better than the crappy situation you are usually in. I’m surprised you are even regarding your everyday world as acceptable. I’m sure you would love being attached to someone like this.”
Arthur said, “There’s more than one type of prison, you know. A lot of wealthy criminals live in areas that are like country clubs but they stay there with the condition they can never get free or leave the compound. You’re just excited because you’ve been promised a lifetime of touch from a warden in woman’s clothing. If you and she ever break contact, and I’ll see to it that it happens, you’ll thank me. It’s better to be involved in a situation like the one I’m in. My wife is not here right now so I’m free for the moment from her homeopathic ways.”
Peni said, “The word is sociopath.”
He frowned. “But she’s not as social as she once was. She’s a homebody so she’s homeopathic.”
I grinned. “She’s homeopathic and you’re homo erotic.”
He shrugged. “I still feel erotic at times and, yes, I do prefer to feel erotic at home.”
Peni said, “You don’t know what the words mean. Homeopathic means healthy. Sociopath means crazy.”
He walked in the living room. His pants were up again. “You’re the one who’s crazy if you keep letting that kidnapper possess you.” He walked quickly around the living room. “Where’s the damn phone?”
Julia sighed. “Did you already forget it’s over at Ernest’s mother’s house?”
He yelled, “No, I didn’t but this is an emergency! I don’t want Ernest to get trapped in the type of situation I’ve been trapped in.”
Julia shook her head. “Thanks a lot.”
Peni laughed. “I can hardly be compared to your wife.”
Butter ran towards Arthur again and humped his leg.
Julia said, “Your friend is back.”
I shrugged. “Who would you prefer to cling to you, your friend or mine?”
Arthur screamed, “At least he’s not holding me hostage! Let go of him, you stupid woman!”
Peni shrugged. “At least you called me a woman.”
Arthur nodded. “I’m going to get a knife.” He walked in the kitchen.
I nodded. “I think it might be best if we leave now.”
Peni said, “I agree.”
We walked out.
Chapter Seven:
Peni and I walked away from Antioch for the last time. I felt a sense of “before” and “after.” The day seemed unusual. The sky had a brighter blue and the trees were synchronized with my happiness. Other pedestrians were frowning as though they noticed something wrong. We entered the bus heading towards the subway. An old black woman got on. She stood and said, “You’re not doing right.” I was content to let her words slide past me. However, my ignoring her had merely encouraged the woman to keep talking. She frowned and said, “I know what I know and you’re not doing right.”
She must have noticed something seen through a lower level reality. She kept staring at me and shaking her head. I finally asked, “What do you mean I’m not doing right?”
She nodded. “I know what I see. You’re living in sin with this woman, parading her around like you bought her at the store and you want to show everybody your prized possession. I don’t see a wedding ring on her finger. Brothels aren’t legal, no sir. If you picked her up at a brothel, you’ve got some accounting to do with the Lord. He won’t put up with nonsense, no sir. You two would be best to stop.”
Peni said, “The only one sinful is you, lady. We are devoted to each other and, not that it’s any of your business, we haven’t had sex, yet.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “Yet? I know what that ‘yet’ word means. It means you’re planning on doing something. Well, as long, sir, as you’ve kept your pecker out of the petunia patch, I can’t say anything untoward. But, my opinion still holds and I feel you’re going to be up to no good.”
I said, “Just so you know, the reason we’re not getting legally married with a ceremony is because we feel that certificates are wasteful pieces of paper. What we have is beyond marriage. If you notice, she is gripping my hand tighter than I’m gripping hers. Watch.” I tried pulling my hand loose while Peni held tighter.
The woman looked annoyed. “Oh my poor dear. You’re in one of those cults like the one started by Ramen Bagpipe Doodle or whatever his name is. Where did you meet her?”
“I met her in the library. She was talking to a friend of hers about nutrition and I overheard the conversation, I felt she could help me and now here we are.”
“Oh, no. She kidnapped you with those pretty words of hers. You fell for it and now she won’t let you get away because her guru would kick her out of the commune. You can’t fool me. She kidnapped you.”
Peni laughed. “You don’t see me with a gun or anything, right?”
The woman said, “But you’re not letting him go, either. I know all the serpent’s tricks.”
Peni smiled. “That sounds sexy. How big was the serpent and how hot were his tricks?”
I said, “Lady, look at how she’s dressed and then tell me I’m not with someone worthwhile.”
The woman shook her head. “The serpent comes disguised in cloaks of honey. You wouldn’t be tempted if his costume was ugly, would you?”
Peni said, “I’m not a ‘he’ and I’m not a serpent.”
The woman looked in front of her. “Driver, I think there’s a kidnapping on this bus.”
Peni yelled, “Mind your own freaking business, bitch!”
“Oh, my. The tongue on you. Driver, kick these two people off the bus.”
The driver stopped the bus. He stood up and walked towards the woman. He said, “I told you before, ma’am, one more incident with you and we’ll have to ask you to leave.”
She continued pointing at us. “He’s a kidnap victim.”
Peni shook her head. “No, he isn’t. We’re up scaling our life experience, unlike this woman who wants to continue wallowing in the rot of her mind.”
The driver nodded. “I know all about up scaling, young lady. I’ve read Architectural Digest. Have you ever heard of Michael Rubin?”
Peni shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
He nodded. “Well, he renovated a house of his own that belonged to him and his partner, David Kamp, up on Shelter Island in New York. They brought that 1920’s bungalow up to a higher standard that is in line with what you said about up scaling. You have to commend folk like that who do better with the materials they’ve got to work with.”
Peni smiled. “Okay.”
The woman yelled, “Don’t you dare insult me by telling me I have to get off of this bus! I’ll talk to whoever and however I want.”
The bus driver took the woman’s arm and lifted her so she stood up. He said, “Easy does it, miss. You probably need your pills or maybe you are a pill and you need someone to swallow you. Anyway, out we go. By the way, young lady, you might have heard of Jeff Franklin, the television and movie producer. He hired Richard Landry to spruce up his house in Beverly Hills. Sometimes it takes a team to accomplish a project if you know what I’m getting at.”
Peni nodded. “I do.”
The woman screamed. “Get your damned hands off me, you pervert. Heaven knows what you want with an old woman like me.”
He laughed. “What I want with you is a moving of your feet and a positioning of your body out the door so I can continue driving the bus in peace. You might be interested in the magazine Photo District News. They talk about a lot of successful collaborations between photographers and stylists. A lot of the world’s best images and concepts are the work of two people. Nobody can claim one of them kidnapped the other. They just make use of their combined efforts.”
Peni smiled. “I think you understand what we’re doing.”
The woman screamed. “It’s a kidnapping loud and clear between the serpent and a member of Jesus’ flock. Young man, you are a product of Jesus but you have a nasty serpent taking you away from the threshold of where you belong. Only the mighty Jesus himself has the right to kidnap you and make brainwashing into the path of goodness. You are shamefully trapped with a woman of deceit who will make you do all sorts of pleasurable things and warp your mind so that, when you come back to Jesus your mighty brother, he cannot cleanse your spirit properly ever again. Let go of him, you bitch!”
The bus driver put his hand over the woman’s mouth. He picked her up and carried her out of the bus. “Now, miss, what you need is a good story by a novelist who can teach you about fiction so you don’t go screaming your way into oblivious mayhem. You’re too old to let your ways make your lungs steam up like that with your piercing shrieks. You could have yourself a little bit of fun with Tom Robbins, a fine playful word-smith or William Kotzwinkle who always looks at life through a not too usual perspective. If books are not your thing, you could rent the movies with Jane Fonda or Sigourney Weaver, two fine ladies with a bit of angst and something to offer the viewer. Well, so long and good luck. Fat chance I’ll let you back on my bus.” He sat down and drove again
Peni said, “Thank you. A lot of people can’t understand alternative ways of thinking.”
The bus driver laughed. “Alternative ways of thinking? How about alternative realities? I have more fictional people living inside my head than the sum total of every living microbe in the universe. All you have to do is imagine the blank space and realize that all the characters of infinity exist in that space. As long as you know they exist, that’s all you need and you can say you know an infinite amount of people. There’s Bugsy Shoeleather from Tipsy Toe Contrary and Arnold Lemonalia from the Shoehorn Salami Mobile. There’s Anna Vamp from Crustacious on the Tandoori and McSween Tabernacle Smith from Ramsey’s Half-Priced Ghosts, to name a few.”
I said, “You have a hell of a lot better imagination than my Uncle or Aunt or cousin or my mother.”
The driver laughed. “Say, I have an alternate reality for those folks you just mentioned.”
I smiled. “I’d like to hear it. Their real realities are not to my liking.”
The driver nodded. “Well, get this. Your Uncle was a makeshift statue for the Periwinkle Capsicum Factory back in 1902 before they had teleprompter kittens and bumblebee guitars. He used to smoke those big fat things he called Donkey Legs but they were really Jewish saxophones with a dab of spit and vinegar to polish up the shoestring hamstrings. He bobbled his way on to a large anchovy and cottage cheese pizza and that turned him into a woman. That’s why Boston Baked Beans are not called Kansas Ketchup Worms.”
I laughed. “That sounds flattering if you can believe it.”
The driver said, “Your Aunt started as a caterpillar but they called her a wig because she found it hard to work under the table with those Rosicrucian members who handed her dog hairs and called them pieces of paper with button codes for Czechoslovakia. She finally got the balloon out of her teeth and a cold-bottled sailor hat sufficed. She inched her way to the soap dish. As she melted, she turned on the light.”
“Not unreasonable, considering her current state of mind.”
“Your cousin looks like a seagull but spits fire. This is all on account of a metaphysical protest against the rangers of the ice age who ripped up five dollar bills then handed them to their wives. One of those wives became your cousin and she saw her reflection in the corners of the door hinge. Ever since then, she’s been a bestselling author whose manuscripts are written on cabbage leaves.”
“Okay. That was original.”
“Your mother deserves a better tale. She started life in a conquest between the division of the soap flakes and the cannon run. One day, the weather turned mighty hot while remaining cold. The weather made a broom. She turned back the cats and drummed with the drapes while a bongo silence stifled the origami pizza with a soda flavor. There was never any question the broccoli turned ugly. She mothered her way out of a jam and into a pickle. All the jelly flavored meats covered the crusts of the canines and their cadavers. Something seemed sillier each minute so she honked her pick and ax and turned them into marshmallows. Of course, a little bit of potato soup with onion, and a drop or two of broth tears, never harmed her outcast look or the leg teaming up against the poodle and the next skirt. She flourished. The ocean promised ducks. Sometimes, a crazy quilt became the go-between so her name became battered. Her Uncle was Smörgåsbord King of Farts and he honored all the wishes of the pimples. In other lifetimes, she was in Albuquerque. She danced in the rain and hated her hair for its purple shining glow. She reacted strongly against any dough nuts not cooked with an Israeli measurement of chili peppers. Then, the punk rockers brought their honey and decorations and some ‘Jane Fonda’ and ‘Fly Petersburg’ signs. Whenever she fell on the wayside while coming up to the carpet, the Bean Head Nerd of the Kingly Pins threw turds out the window. He was hoping a car would wash them. Begonias were ordered in New Zealand and a drive-by drying took place. Now, the hair on the head was ordered big-time by the king of the restaurant. No one doubled back until they knew they would never return to pick up their pastry fillings. Breaking a monkey’s back became all the rage for a father who mended a golden throne on hearsay evidence. The crowd turned wild. The king took your mother and threw her on the bed in the comfortable date-size middle of the Atlantis diary. The milk was filmed having a bubble fit. She knocked on the door of the major chef and asked for her hopes back. None of them were returned undamaged but at least they escaped getting shattered into little pieces. That’s when she got her nose job. Most people don’t know this about the color black but your mother was the first one to cause its existence through the by-product of mail order. Someone ordered a noose but also special-ordered a prince-size copy of the dark feeling beside the event so she was able to slip both off. The horrible level of everything took on a side-winding turn. She was ordered out of the community. However, after a few more years, she metamorphosed herself into the metaphysical equivalent of a spiritual problem. That was when she started wearing belts and becoming lucky. She caused welts to turn eighteen and invented terminology for the Dawning Effect. No one cared too much whether she lived or died but they waxed her suitcase with margarine every day. Finally she walked down the street and said hello to somebody. The person looked back at her and she went her way while he went his. She saw a house and nodded. A dog barked. A goose stood still. A leaf fell from a tree. A cat came home. Kids went to get ice cream and fathers bought cigars. Some people bought magazines and others ate cake. There was one guy who wore glasses and another guy who wore a wig. One woman wore a dress and another wore pants and that’s when you were born.”
Ernest nodded. “Interesting. It definitely took my mind off the otherwise boring bus ride.”
The driver laughed. “There is one thing you can be guaranteed of. When I get to talking, I’m not boring.”
Peni said, “I’m drunk from hearing you talk.”
The driver nodded. “I’m feeling sort of drunk myself watching you two hold hands like that. I ride on this bus all day and a lot of times there’s no real excitement. But then I see you two who have been keeping contact the whole time you’ve been here. I can tell I’m observing something special. This is a moment I’m sure you’ve meant as unique.”
Peni said, “It’s becoming more regular for us now because we’re elevating ourselves. You have your imagination and it’s a natural part of who you are.”
He shrugged. “That’s true but how many beautiful Asian girls do I see wearing tight shirts and shorts? I would say almost never. I’m stuck driving this Route Sixty Five bus. You’re the only good looking lady I’ve seen on it. Fellow, whatever it is you did to attract her, if you write a book about it someday I definitely want to read it. Where’s my young cute lady? I guess I have to settle for another night of movies.”
The last stop was approaching. We all waved and said goodbye to each other.
I said, “Now we’ll have the contrast we need. First, we had the rickety bus ride with all the chatter and now we’ll be on the quiet subway with the well-behaved business people.”
Peni smiled and said, “Yeah.”
Suddenly, I heard Arthur’s voice. I turned and noticed my Uncle and mother walking with a police officer. Arthur pointed in our direction. They were walking quickly. Arthur said, “It was your mother’s idea but I agree with her. You’re being held prisoner and we’re going to help you.”
Peni ran, pulling me with her. “We need to get the hell out of here.”
Arthur yelled, “Run after them, officer!”
The policeman said, “They haven’t committed any crimes. I agreed to talk to them because I owe your sister a favor but I’m not going to run after them.”
Mother yelled, “Why not? My son is glued to an Asian woman and she’s said she’s going to hold on to him forever.”
The officer said, “That could be a figure of speech like, ‘I’ll never wash this hand again.’”
We inserted our tickets through the stall and ran down the stairs to the subway platform.
The officer said, “Now, I can run after them. Those stairs are for walking. They’re violating safety codes.” He went through the emergency entrance by the stall and walked quickly down the stairs. He saw us. He said, “Wait a moment. I have to talk to you.”
The subway car stopped just in time. We stepped inside and the car rode off.
Chapter Eight:
We rode on the subway. I realized my family would not have the mental capacity to fathom what we were going through. However, I would never have guessed my Uncle or mother had the intelligence to realize we would head for the subway. I was unsure if we had ditched the police officer.
My understanding of human nature led me to believe the worst. For example, my next-door neighbor, Matthew Socket, worked late. When he came home, he slammed his door hard. The vibrations from the slam shook my apartment. If I was in deep thought, the thought would disappear during the loud slam. He could not understand how I was affected by his behavior. His mannerisms and conduct were more like a gay person. I had no animosity towards those living that lifestyle but they seemed less focused on newness and more focused on familiarity. I might not have formed that opinion if my circumstances were different. Seemingly, there were those who were not content on living unless they included others in their inherent negativity.
Peni and I continued on our route. I looked out the window and noticed the sights. Much of the atmosphere consisted of brown hills with few trees except for the occasional housing complex. I wondered how people could stay cramped in living quarters surrounded by the energy of others who were situated merely by geographic convenience. Was most of life directed by outside forces considering themselves above human choices? Was any situation a mind game? I said, “I’m worrying about something.”
Peni shrugged. “I think we’ve escaped the police officer. What’s there to worry about?”
“I’m worried that we’re involved in a deeper illusion based on obsession.”
She nodded. “Maybe but we’re just going to have to deal with it.”
I said, “I haven’t seen your place, yet.”
“Okay. We’ll go there next.”
“Plus, are you working now? How will your boss react to our sticking together?”
She laughed. “I work part-time in a paint supply store. I only work a few hours a day so I’m not a part of the union. I don’t need to wear the company uniform or go by most of the union rules. I’m called a General Merchandising Clerk, a fancy word for clean-up person. Apparently, the term janitor is used only in places of administration like court houses or school buildings. I clean the bathrooms and straighten up the stock on the shelves.”
“When is the next time you have to be at work?”
“Well, today is Saturday. I was already finished Friday when I met you. I have Mondays off. I only work four days a week so next Tuesday is when I’m supposed to be back.”
“You say you don’t wear the company uniforms. Do they, by the way, have polo shirts they wear tucked in? Do you ever wear polo shirts to fit in with them?”
“They mostly wear painter’s smocks with the company logo on them. I’m not at work so I don’t even want to think about the company name but I’ll tell you because we’re being totally honest with each other. It’s Stevenson Paints. Our boss is the grandson of Bartholomew Stevenson, the founder of the company. Our boss is Richard Stevenson. Bartholomew Stevenson is still alive, however. He’s getting up there in years. He’s about ninety.”
“Is that your only source of income?”
“No. My family set up for me to get social security. When I was in Hawaii and worked for the health center, I had a lot of stress dealing with neurotic people. They had their odd ways of thinking and they hung out at the center all day. I finally developed a phobia about returning to work full time. Since then, I’ve had a decent enough income. My father felt sorry for me so he’s added a couple of hundred dollars on to my income. If I was to quit my job at the paint store, and I’m thinking quite strongly about doing so, we could live comfortably on what my dad gives me and the social security benefits. You won’t have to work again if you don’t want to because I could convince my dad we’re married and he’ll give me a couple of hundred extra dollars in your behalf.”
I said, “I only go to college. I haven’t worked, either. I mean, long hours. Maybe I worked at a recycling plant for school credits when I was a junior in high school but that’s it. Since my biological family was diagnosed as bi-polar, I’ve had that designation tagged onto me. I’ve received what I would call ‘crazy money’ for just being me. So, if we do become separated, and I think that’s not a bad idea, I can live without your help.”
She shook her head. “If you’re having doubts about us, I’m afraid I’ll have to use the ‘crazy’ designation to insure we never part. In a way, like it or not, we are conditioned by what we know. Even if there was a better way for us to communicate, it wouldn’t be right for me. I have made damned sure to focus my mind on this.”
I shrugged. “What if that police officer is here and he points a gun at us and insists you let go?”
“He’ll have to shoot because, like I’ve told you before, I am never going to let go. But, don’t worry about what we haven’t come across, yet. That officer seemed only concerned with talking to us. It isn’t a problem. Our problems are merely circumstantial like how to best make use of utensils when we eat and how we’ll find unisex bathrooms when we’re out in public.”
“I have the feeling we really won’t be in this forever. When you mentioned getting social security, it had me thinking how wrong we could be about all of this. You can’t see it because of your mental illness.”
She sighed. “One thing you always seem to forget is that situations don’t happen equally to people. You are attracted to me so what we are going through fits us correctly. I’m attracted to you too but I don’t have a problem with it so you’ll have to work on your conflict. It could be possible the energy of the people on the subway is causing you to feel bad.”
I had to admit to myself what she said made sense. According to the conventional definition of our surroundings, we were merely in an underground car with strangers. However, when my mind transcended again to the higher level, I experienced the joy we were feeling. I was still with an attractive shirt tucker and my hand was plugged into her hand so I was filled with her energy. The other subway riders were occasionally looking at us as if they sensed opposition to their harmony. We were seemingly in life’s version of a video game and the only way we would win was to keep playing. I said, “I apologize, Peni. It was not right for me to stick the mental tag unto you.”
She shrugged. “Our stop is coming up in a bit. Don’t worry about who’s staring at us.”
I said, “You’re dressed in a sexy way. I’m pretty sure no one else here is dressed like that.”
She nodded but made no verbal response. Others went back to reading their books or looking at news items through the Internet on their cell phones. I figured they might remember the afternoon we were on the subway with them but they would not admit so either to themselves or anybody else.
Suddenly, the police officer from the bus station was approaching us. He smiled and said, “Your mother wanted me to talk to you. I noticed you were both running through the area meant only for walking. That area’s designated ‘walking’ for a reason. It has to do with safety. You could have fallen on the steps and got hurt or you could have hurt someone else.”
I asked, “Is that why my mother wanted you to talk to us?”
He sighed. “No. By the way, my name is Officer Timothy Jacobs. You can call me Officer Jacobs. I was a good friend of your mother’s when we attended high school together. We still remain in contact from time to time. She was concerned you might be involved with an escaped mental patient and you were hiding the patient in your house with you.”
Peni shrugged. “I’ve never been a mental patient.”
Officer Jacobs nodded. “Ernest’s mother is now a little bit… not always in her right mind. She does the best she can but sometimes has her moments of… you know. From what I see, you don’t look or act like a mental patient. I could be wrong but I’m going with my gut on this one. Ernest’s mother, however, said you two were constantly gripping hands and she thought there was something strange about it. I notice you are gripping hands like you were when you were running away from me at the station. Are you glued together or something?”
Peni shook her head. “You wouldn’t understand it if you haven’t been searching for something and weren’t able to find it. I’d say we’re attempting, as best we can, to correct a wrong situation in the astral system.”
Officer Jacobs shrugged. “I only have jurisdiction in Contra Costa County. I can’t do anything outside of our solar system. But, seriously, I think, Ernest, your mother is concerned you’re caught in a trap not of your choosing.”
I said, “Well, Officer Jacobs, the same could be said for her. She’s really overweight and I’m sure that at least one hundred and forty pounds are part of a situation not of her choosing so I would suggest to her that she leave me alone.”
“I can tell her that but, as I notice how your girlfriend has been gripping you, it does seem to remind me of how a foreign spy grips a bomb. It does concern me.”
Peni said, “You have no jurisdiction to insist I let go of him. I’m not doing anything illegal. If anything, I’m a radical only in the aesthetic sense like the best artists and geniuses. Why are you a police officer, Officer Jacobs?”
He answered, “I’ve always been interested in the law. I saw movies as a young kid and I always cheered when the bad guys were put in jail. There’s something about justice I feel I’m impelled to be a part of.”
She nodded. “So, you’re deeply entrenched in a system that insists on concrete facts and doesn’t allow for creative interpretation.”
He shrugged. “You make it sound like the world is a prison. Isn’t that a bit extreme? I’m only thinking about legal justice. I’m not saying people don’t have the right to creative expression.”
She shrugged. “I have my doubts, though, as to whether or not you look at things from an artist’s viewpoint.”
He sighed. “I’m not here to argue whether or not I’m an artist. I’m here to check up on something my good friend, Ernest’s mother Ann, is concerned over. The more I talk to you, miss, the more suspicious this looks.”
She lifted our joined hands. “If you want to, you can interpret this as the point when I let go and you’re privy to an optical illusion. It’s all a matter of interpretation, anyway.”
“Miss, I think I’m going to have to ask you to let go of him.”
Our stop arrived. Peni stood up and said, “Okay. See, I’m letting go. Excuse me so I can move away from him.”
Officer Jacobs moved back.
Peni had not let go. She pulled me up and ran. We exited the subway. We went up the steps. The subway started running again before Officer Jacobs could leave.
Peni laughed. “Ha ha! We fooled him, Ernest! However, I’m afraid we’re probably up for a bit of trouble. He could have reported us so now we’ll have to be in what you’d call hiding.”
I was mostly concentrating on running and was not able to think much about our consequences. If I tried to stop, we would merely fall down. I did not want that to happen. I said, “I can’t think. Just do what you feel we have to do.”
We arrived at a park. She said, “Let’s sit on a bench and rest a while. I have my doubts Officer Jacobs put out a report on us as if we were criminals. Plus, I’m tired. We can think of our next moves after we’ve rested a while. Have you been to this park before? I haven’t.”
We sat down. I said, “I think this is the park close to Madison Avenue. It’s where people do exercises in the morning. Sometimes the drunks come here and sit and drink beer. I don’t think anyone will look for us here.”
Suddenly, a fellow stumbled by. He was young and had enough beard stubble to make him look older. He asked, “You notice that cement dragon by the kid’s swing area?”
I nodded.
He said, “The reason it was put in was to cleanse the area of impure forces. I can do chants that take away the serpents in our system and present us fresh and new.”
Peni nodded. “There’s a woman in Antioch who you could meet up with.”
He sighed. “Antioch is a long walk away but, if I started now, I could be there in a week if you give me her address.”
Peni smiled. “I was just kidding.”
He nodded. “That’s fine. It’s better, anyway, for me to be situated in Alameda County where I can do the most good to work the best magic. You have to boil stones for up to eighteen hours before they can get rid of their impurities. Stones have their own granular version of atomic energy and, even though they are not alive, they are not dead, either. You need to activate the cells of stones so they simulate a life conducive to compatibility with spirituality in the form of human beings on this skeletal planet we call Earth. The word Earth has cosmic origins based on runic knowledge. If you spell Earth using consecutive green and white letters, you remove the planet’s impurities.”
Peni smiled. “How much acid did you use?”
He frowned. “During what day?”
“Um… today.”
“Then, pick a day.”
He thought a moment. “March 29, 1975.”
She shrugged. “How much acid did you use, then?”
“Enough to cause unconsciousness in snakes and turn most mortal beings into hippos.”
I asked, “Do you view hippopotamuses as not mortal beings?”
He shook his head. “Hippopotamuses are mortal but hippos – as in the terminology of hip – are synonymous with aspects of the same runic knowledge I mentioned earlier. I sense, with you two, a purple aura like you’re seeking something. However, I wouldn’t ever want to swallow anything colored purple. What are you two hiding from?”
I was nervous. “We aren’t hiding.”
He frowned. “I’ll throw rocks at you and you cannot evade from the truth of rock power.” He picked up a stone. “I’ll be ready when you are.”
Peni sighed. “We were running from a police officer who wanted us to let go of hands.”
He stared at our hands. His face looked alarmed. “Kidnap victim! The officer was right! Wait a minute. Stay here while I call him on my mental phone.” He closed his eyes and stood still.
Peni got up and pulled me with her while we ran. She whispered, “I don’t want to take any chances. So far, we’re had more than our fair share of oppositions.”
I said, “I agree.”
We ran towards my house.
Chapter Nine:
Peni and I were walking towards my apartment and I noticed more examples of Asian women wearing tucked in shirts. Some were wearing short-sleeved T-shirts and belted jeans. Others were wearing pin-striped button shirts and blazers with slacks and thin belts. I felt hungry. My craving for women was related to a craving for food. I yearned for one to touch my hand. I figured I would let go of Peni and offer my hand to another woman.
I attempted to pull free. Her grip stayed as strong as usual. However, I had the strong sense that today was when we would separate from each other. The feeling was as strong for me as my initial feeling I ought to introduce myself to her. I counted inwardly to three and felt a message coming from the cosmos as I yanked my hand harder. The message I received was that Peni would finally permit my release.
However, that did not happen. She was still holding on. I knew the situation was a metaphysical mistake. I figured there was a temporary error that would be corrected eventually. I now moved my hand up and down, left and right, trying to walk away, prying with my other hand and anything that would lead to my escape. She cried hysterically and screamed, “Stop it!”
I yelled, “This is insane! I have to eat soon. You have a job. I have school. You’re like a little kid in camp who holds hands with another kid because the teacher insists they pair up in groups.”
She said, “You don’t know how badly you’re trying to destroy my spirit by attempting to let go! You don’t understand our situation! We’re connected for life!”
“Well, when we both die, that’ll separate our bodies. I’ll be free of you.”
“My soul will hold the hand of your soul. You won’t get away from me.”
“Damn it! I have to eat something. I’m getting a sandwich.” I stopped wiggling. I figured someone in the sandwich shop would help me get free.
We walked towards the delicatessen on Jackson and Second Street. The place had exceptional sandwiches. The ambiance was serene and empty. We would be able to eat in peace. Then, I would casually ask the cashier if she would not mind prying Peni’s hand off mine.
Peni looked at the various compartments of meats and vegetables. She said, “I would like a turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese. For condiments, how about some onion slices and bell pepper pieces and a few slices of tomato and some avocado? Maybe a few bean sprouts also. I like mustard, too, the spicy brown kind and a few shakes of white pepper and some mayonnaise. I’d like it on sourdough sliced bread. That will be good.”
The cashier nodded and made Peni’s sandwich. She looked occasionally at us as if understanding something was wrong. When she handed the sandwich basket to Peni, she asked, “Are you sharing your food?”
I said, “No. I’d like to get a roast beef sandwich on rye bread with mozzarella cheese and extra mayonnaise, extra mustard and a few slices of jalapeño peppers. Maybe some lettuce and that’ll do it for me.”
The cashier nodded. “Anything to drink for either of you?”
Peni said, “I’ll get some mineral water.”
I said, “I’ll have a glass of milk.”
The cashier finished making my sandwich. She gave me the basket and said, “I’ll be there with your refreshments.” We sat down. She put the water and milk on the table.
Peni and I both thanked her and ate our food.
Suddenly, Matthew Socket entered the delicatessen. He glanced over and walked towards us. He frowned. “Please don’t tell me you won’t let go of hands even to eat.”
I shrugged. “She’s holding me prisoner.”
Peni shook her head. “He can go wherever he wants. I am not a burden to him. We go everywhere together. It’s our life plan.”
I said, “If you can free me, I’d appreciate it.”
He nodded. “Gladly.” He pulled at our joined hands as hard as possible but could not separate us. “Damn it! Her grip is like cement. There’s no way she could be that strong.”
She shrugged. “It’s part of our life affirmation. There’s a force stronger than us at work. It’s keeping us together.”
The cashier asked, “Is there any trouble?”
Matthew said, “I’m helping them with their situation. I know this guy. We’re neighbors.”
Peni asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have any super glue, would you?”
The cashier shook her head. “No. I’m afraid that wouldn’t be right to put on a sandwich. Your mouth would stay shut.”
Peni said, “I’m asking because I need it for my hand.”
“Are you telling me you’re making a hand sandwich? What for? Why put glue on your hand? If you’re going to bite your hand you should put on some mayonnaise and mustard and maybe a little pickle relish.”
“I need the glue for another reason.”
“Well, I don’t have any.”
“That’s okay. I can do without it.”
Two older men, one Asian and the other Caucasian, walked slowly towards our table. The Asian man said, “Hello, Peni.”
She looked surprised. “Father! What are you doing in Oakland? Isn’t this Mr. Nowak? Wow! Did you both come here to see me?”
Mr. Nowak said, “Oh, little Peni! I remember you. It has been a few years, has it?”
Mr. Maya said, “Ambrozy needed to come into Oakland to visit his ailing brother, Cyryl. Ambrozy invited me to come with him in case he needed help. He is getting older. I am not so young anymore, either, but I was willing to come. I am surprised to see you, Peni. You told me you lived in Sacramento. Are you visiting someone?”
She shrugged. “Okay, so I lied. I live in Oakland. How would I have guessed I’d see you?”
Ambrozy shook his head. “Lying to your father is never a good thing.”
Mr. Maya said, “Are you married, now, Peni? Is this gentleman your husband?”
She answered, “He’s more than that. We are one entity.”
Matthew cleared his throat. “I’m afraid, sir, your daughter has decided to, let us say, glue her hand to this man. He’s my next-door neighbor, Ernest Fiedke. I’m Matthew Socket.”
Mr. Maya said, “I’m Dumadi Maya.”
Peni sighed. “You’ve all introduced yourselves. How lovely. Can we both finish eating, now?”
Mr. Maya shook his head. “You are very rude and it looks like you have cracked up. Where has your mind gone, Peni? Why do you keep holding this man’s hand?”
Officer Jacobs approached us. “I’ve been wondering that also. I got a tip from your Uncle you might be here if you weren’t at home or the library. Your Uncle and mother are here, also. It’s taking them a little longer to walk. They are a bit slow. Are you this woman’s father?”
Mr. Maya nodded. “I am. This is disturbing. Has my daughter broken the law? Does this have anything to do with why she’s not in Sacramento?”
Officer Jacobs answered, “I don’t know anything about that, sir. All I can tell you is that the man she is with has not been able to free himself from your daughter’s grip.”
Mr. Maya frowned. “Peni! Let go of him right now!”
Peni stuck out her tongue.
Ambrozy sighed. “I don’t think you are Little Peni, anymore. You have become Rude Peni.”
Matthew said, “I tried separating them but they were stuck pretty good, there. Maybe you can free them.”
Officer Jacobs said, “I might try that as a last resort. However, there is not too much I can do unless they attack me. Around here, people gang up and protest police brutality. This is not really my jurisdiction. I’m here more as a friend of Ernest’s mother.”
Peni shrugged. “They’re going to have to eat their own sandwiches. I’m not going to contribute even more to their weight gain by letting them scarf down my food. Arthur might be disappointed, though. There are no choices for a ravioli sandwich on the menu. But Ernest’s mother might find a Stupid Bitch Special if she looks hard enough.”
Uncle Arthur and my mother walked towards us. They were breathing heavily. Arthur pointed at us. “They’re they are, Ann. I told you Ernest likes eating here. I remembered the address. Now that I’m here, I might as well have some raviolis.”
Peni said, “They don’t have them.”
Arthur stamped his foot. “Damn it!”
Officer Jacobs said, “I think we can all sit down, now, and discuss what’s going on.”
I asked, “Could you free me, please?”
Mr. Maya nodded and grabbed our joined hands. “I will free you, young man. My daughter will let go of you.” He tried pulling but could not release us. He let go. “Something has to be done.”
Ambrozy said, “I am too old and I don’t have the strength.”
Officer Jacobs said, “The objective is to find out why this is happening and see if we can talk about it rationally and calmly. I must respect that this is not a crime scene. There have not been any laws broken.”
Arthur shook his head. “None except kidnapping.”
Officer Jacobs sighed. “They’re technically just holding hands. Ernest seems to be able to come and go wherever he pleases and Peni follows him. That’s not a kidnap. It could be a lover’s spat but not a kidnap. However, before I jump to conclusions, I want to hear their side of the story.”
Peni nodded. “If you want my side, here it is. Officer Jacobs is going to become fat and depressed like the Fiedke family because he hangs around their energy too much. Father and Ambrozy, I suggest you walk out of here before you both become fat.”
The cashier walked towards us. “Are any of you going to order anything?”
Officer Jacobs said, “I might as well have something to eat. I’ll be able to think clearer on a full stomach. I would like a ham sandwich on wheat bread with radish sprouts and yellow mustard. I’ll have orange juice to drink.”
Mr. Maya said, “I’ll have a tuna salad sandwich on pumpernickel. Tomato juice for me, please.”
Matthew said, “That’s right. I almost forgot I came here to eat. I’ll have pastrami on rye, toasted. I’ll have Swiss cheese with that, and Dijon mustard, no ketchup. No mayonnaise, thank you. Lettuce, onions, spinach leaves, bean sprouts, banana pepper rings, olives, salt to taste. No pepper, please. Maybe a small squeeze of olive oil. That’ll do it. Green tea to drink.”
Ambrozy said, “I am a simple man. Salami, mustard and mayonnaise on a French roll and just a glass of water.”
Mother said, “I’ll have a chicken sandwich with honey barbecue sauce with a few slices of tomato. Sourdough sliced. A glass of milk.”
Arthur said, “I might as well take advantage of my opportunity now that I’m here. Who’s paying for the sandwiches?”
Officer Jacobs said, “I’ll pay for your sandwich.”
Arthur said, “Okay. Let’s make this a good one. I’ll have chicken, ham and ground beef with plenty of mayonnaise, yellow mustard, spicy brown mustard, oil and vinegar, ketchup, red pepper sauce, onions, lettuce, cauliflower, avocado, pine nuts, peanut butter, tomato, mashed potato, cottage cheese, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, Colby cheese, a little rock salt, a little sea salt, black pepper and white pepper on toasted white bread. I’ll have a chocolate milkshake to drink.”
Officer Jacobs said, “I never heard of that combination before.”
Arthur smiled. “It’s what my friends and I used to eat when we went to a gourmet restaurant as kids. We called it the Gentleman’s Junk Pile. We usually also added a helping of refried beans and egg whites to the mix but I didn’t want it to get too expensive for you because you’re paying.”
Peni shrugged. “Why not add cranberry sauce and strawberry pudding?”
Arthur nodded. “That’s a thought.”
Officer Jacobs said, “We need to discuss this situation. Ernest, how long have you been connected to Peni?”
I answered, “We met late afternoon yesterday and she shook my hand and hasn’t let go, since.”
Officer Jacobs said, “That’s interesting. It reminds me of a movie I saw with John Cusack and Diane Franklin called Better off Dead. She shook his hand for a minute or two while a fat kid wanted to tell her to come back home.”
Mr. Maya said, “This is not a movie. This is real life and I’m concerned my daughter is going through a mental collapse because of all the schooling she went through. I should have watched her studies more closely and questioned her when she said her new religion was astronomy. I think she really believes the answers to all our problems are in the stars. I am not a backward man. I understand the benefits of technology but I also believe in God. Our Lord is the true answer to our problems. My daughter cannot solve anything by holding on to this man’s hand.”
Peni stood up and said, “Excuse me but I have to use the restroom. I’m finally letting go, Ernest.”
Mr. Maya sighed with relief. “Thank goodness.”
Everyone got out of her way as she ran suddenly, pulling me with her, out the door.
Officer Jacobs said, “She did that before.”
As we were running down the street, I looked behind and noticed everyone following us. They were all running except for my mother and Arthur who were walking quickly and panting.
Mr. Maya said, “My daughter is a mad woman. If we don’t catch her, she’s going to hold on to her idea of craziness.”
Ambrozy said, “I’m too old to be running.”
Suddenly, a few more people were chasing us. We were apparently the only source of excitement in town. Everyone wanted to know where the action was heading. I looked back and noticed an approximate fifty people. Perhaps they assumed we were in a marathon. I asked, “Where are you going?”
She answered, “Away from them.”
“You might as well realize we’re close to the finish line, metaphorically. When they catch us, and I know they will, there are enough people following us to pull until we’re separated.”
She said, “Not anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“It could be thousands or millions and the result will be the same. You are me and I am you. Nothing is going to change that.”
As we were turning a corner, a drunken man stumbled in Peni’s way. When she stopped, everyone caught up with us. A large group of people stared with amazement as if they could not believe what they were seeing. They looked at us as if they were rooting for our continued connection because we were setting a precedent. However, Mr. Msya yelled, “That is my daughter and she needs help. Please separate her from crazy thinking.”
An approximate twenty or thirty people surrounded Peni while the same number of people did so to me. Those surrounding Peni walked forward and attempted to force her grip to slip. Those surrounding me walked backward, attempting to free me from her hold. However, her grip was simply not releasing. A few people walked up to our joined hands and proceeded trying to pry us open. Nothing worked.
Arthur said, “Ernest, when we get you free, you’re going to live with us. I talked with your apartment manager and he understood. Our next-door neighbor is Thelma Harper. She’s your age and she’s only three hundred and ten pounds like your cousin. She has a green card and wants to become an American citizen. She’s originally from Germany. She said she would look forward to getting married to you.”
Suddenly, I felt a different type of panic. My future would be worse than before. Of all the feelings I experienced with Peni, none were depression. I looked at her and she looked at me. We realized we had to escape the crowd. Staying together was all that mattered. Telepathically, we told each other, “Run!”
We managed to break free from them. Still joined, we ran faster than we ever thought possible. I looked at her and smiled. She looked at me and then at the sky. She mouthed the words, “Thank you.”


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