Tag Archives: Literature

Babylon Revisited (Fitzgerald)

“Babylon Revisited”
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I.

“And where’s Mr. Campbell?” Charlie asked.

“Gone to Switzerland. Mr. Campbell’s a pretty sick man, Mr. Wales.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. And George Hardt?” Charlie inquired.

“Back in America, gone to work.”

“And where is the Snow Bird?”

“He was in here last week. Anyway, his friend, Mr. Schaeffer, is in Paris.”

Two familiar names from the long list of a year and a half ago. Charlie scribbled an address in his notebook and tore out the page.

“If you see Mr. Schaeffer, give him this,” he said.”It’s my brother-in-law’s address. I haven’t settled on a hotel yet.”

He was not really disappointed to find Paris was so empty. But the stillness in the Ritz bar was strange and portentous. It was not an American bar any more–he felt polite in it, and not as if he owned it. It had gone back into France. He felt the stillness from the moment he got out of the taxi and saw the doorman, usually in a frenzy of activity at this hour, gossiping with a chasseurby the servants’ entrance.

Passing through the corridor, he heard only a single, bored voice in the once-clamorous women’s room. When he turned into the bar he travelled the twenty feet of green carpet with his eyes fixed straight ahead by old habit; and then, with his foot firmly on the rail, he turned and surveyed the room, encountering only a single pair of eyes that fluttered up from a newspaper in the corner. Charlie asked for the head barman, Paul, who in the latter days of the bull market had come to work in his own custom-built car–disembarking, however, with due nicety at the nearest corner. But Paul was at his country house today and Alix giving him information.

“No, no more,” Charlie said, “I’m going slow these days.”

Alix congratulated him: “You were going pretty strong a couple of years ago.”

“I’ll stick to it all right,” Charlie assured him.”I’ve stuck to it for over a year and a half now.”

“How do you find conditions in America?”

“I haven’t been to America for months. I’m in business in Prague, representing a couple of concerns there. They don’t know about me down there.”

Alix smiled.

“Remember the night of George Hardt’s bachelor dinner here?” said Charlie.”By the way, what’s become of Claude Fessenden?”

Alix lowered his voice confidentially: “He’s in Paris, but he doesn’t come here any more. Paul doesn’t allow it. He ran up a bill of thirty thousand francs, charging all his drinks and his lunches, and usually his dinner, for more than a year. And when Paul finally told him he had to pay, he gave him a bad check.”

Alix shook his head sadly.

“I don’t understand it, such a dandy fellow. Now he’s all bloated up–” He made a plump apple of his hands.

Charlie watched a group of strident queens installing themselves in a corner.

“Nothing affects them,” he thought.”Stocks rise and fall, people loaf or work, but they go on forever.” The place oppressed him. He called for the dice and shook with Alix for the drink.

“Here for long, Mr. Wales?”

“I’m here for four or five days to see my little girl.”

“Oh-h! You have a little girl?”

Outside, the fire-red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs shone smokily through the tranquil rain. It was late afternoon and the streets were in movement; the bistrosgleamed. At the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines he took a taxi. The Place de la Concorde moved by in pink majesty; they crossed the logical Seine, and Charlie felt the sudden provincial quality of the Left Bank.

Charlie directed his taxi to the Avenue de l’Opera, which was out of his way. But he wanted to see the blue hour spread over the magnificent façade, and imagine that the cab horns, playing endlessly the first few bars of La Plus que Lent,were the trumpets of the Second Empire. They were closing the iron grill in front of Brentano’s Book-store, and people were already at dinner behind the trim little bourgeois hedge of Duval’s. He had never eaten at a really cheap restaurant in Paris. Five-course dinner, four francs fifty, eighteen cents, wine included. For some odd reason he wished that he had.

As they rolled on to the Left Bank and he felt its sudden provincialism, he thought, “I spoiled this city for myself. I didn’t realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone.”

He was thirty-five, and good to look at. The Irish mobility of his face was sobered by a deep wrinkle between his eyes. As he rang his brother-in-law’s bell in the Rue Palatine, the wrinkle deepened till it pulled down his brows; he felt a cramping sensation in his belly. From behind the maid who opened the door darted a lovely little girl of nine who shrieked “Daddy!” and flew up, struggling like a fish, into his arms. She pulled his head around by one ear and set her cheek against his.

“My old pie,” he said.

“Oh, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, dads, dads, dads!”

She drew him into the salon, where the family waited, a boy and girl his daughter’s age, his sister-in-law and her husband. He greeted Marion with his voice pitched carefully to avoid either feigned enthusiasm or dislike, but her response was more frankly tepid, though she minimized her expression of unalterable distrust by directing her regard toward his child. The two men clasped hands in a friendly way and Lincoln Peters rested his for a moment on Charlie’s shoulder.

The room was warm and comfortably American. The three children moved intimately about, playing through the yellow oblongs that led to other rooms; the cheer of six o’clock spoke in the eager smacks of the fire and the sounds of French activity in the kitchen. But Charlie did not relax; his heart sat up rigidly in his body and he drew confidence from his daughter, who from time to time came close to him, holding in her arms the doll he had brought.

“Really extremely well,” he declared in answer to Lincoln’s question.”There’s a lot of business there that isn’t moving at all, but we’re doing even better than ever. In fact, damn well. I’m bringing my sister over from America next month to keep house for me. My income last year was bigger than it was when I had money. You see, the Czechs–“

His boasting was for a specific purpose; but after a moment, seeing a faint restiveness in Lincoln’s eye, he changed the subject:

“Those are fine children of yours, well brought up, good manners.”

“We think Honoria’s a great little girl too.”

Marion Peters came back from the kitchen. She was a tall woman with worried eyes, who had once possessed a fresh American loveliness. Charlie had never been sensitive to it and was always surprised when people spoke of how pretty she had been. From the first there had been an instinctive antipathy between them.

“Well, how do you find Honoria?” she asked.

“Wonderful. I was astonished how much she’s grown in ten months. All the children are looking well.”

“We haven’t had a doctor for a year. How do you like being back in Paris?”

“It seems very funny to see so few Americans around.”

“I’m delighted,” Marion said vehemently.”Now at least you can go into a store without their assuming you’re a millionaire. We’ve suffered like everybody, but on the whole it’s a good deal pleasanter.”

“But it was nice while it lasted,” Charlie said.”We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us. In the bar this afternoon”–he stumbled, seeing his mistake–“there wasn’t a man I knew.”

She looked at him keenly.”I should think you’d have had enough of bars.”

“I only stayed a minute. I take one drink every afternoon, and no more.”

“Don’t you want a cocktail before dinner?” Lincoln asked.

“I take only one drink every afternoon, and I’ve had that.”

“I hope you keep to it,” said Marion.

Her dislike was evident in the coldness with which she spoke, but Charlie only smiled; he had larger plans. Her very aggressiveness gave him an advantage, and
he knew enough to wait. He wanted them to initiate the discussion of what they knew had brought him to Paris.

At dinner he couldn’t decide whether Honoria was most like him or her mother. Fortunate if she didn’t combine the traits of both that had brought them to disaster. A great wave of protectiveness went over him. He thought he knew what to do for her. He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything wore out.

He left soon after dinner, but not to go home. He was curious to see Paris by night with clearer and more judicious eyes than those of other days. He bought a strapontinfor the Casino and watched Josephine Baker go through her chocolate arabesques.

After an hour he left and strolled toward Montmartre, up the Rue Pigalle into the Place Blanche. The rain had stopped and there were a few people in evening clothes disembarking from taxis in front of cabarets, and cocottesprowling singly or in pairs, and many Negroes. He passed a lighted door from which issued music, and stopped with the sense of familiarity; it was Bricktop’s, where he had parted with so many hours and so much money. A few doors farther on he found another ancient rendezvous and incautiously put his head inside. Immediately an eager orchestra burst into sound, a pair of professional dancers leaped to their feet and a maître d’hôtel swooped toward him, crying, “Crowd just arriving, sir!” But he withdrew quickly.

“You have to be damn drunk,” he thought.

Zelli’s was closed, the bleak and sinister cheap hotels surrounding it were dark; up in the Rue Blanche there was more light and a local, colloquial French crowd. The Poet’s Cave had disappeared, but the two great mouths of the Café of Heaven and the Café of Hell still yawned–even devoured, as he watched, the meager contents of a tourist bus–a German, a Japanese, and an American couple who glanced at him with frightened eyes.

So much for the effort and ingenuity of Montmartre. All the catering to vice and waste was on an utterly childish scale, and he suddenly realized the meaning of the word “dissipate”–to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something. In the little hours of the night every move from place to place was an enormous human jump, an increase of paying for the privilege of slower and slower motion.

He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.

But it hadn’t been given for nothing.

It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember–his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont.

In the glare of a brasseriea woman spoke to him. He bought her some eggs and coffee, and then, eluding her encouraging stare, gave her a twenty-franc note and took a taxi to his hotel.

II.

He woke upon a fine fall day–football weather. The depression of yesterday was gone and he liked the people on the streets. At noon he sat opposite Honoria at Le Grand Vatel, the only restaurant he could think of not reminiscent of champagne dinners and long luncheons that began at two and ended in a blurred and vague twilight.

“Now, how about vegetables? Oughtn’t you to have some vegetables?”

“Well, yes.”

“Here’s épinardsand chou-fleurand carrots and haricots.”

“I’d like chou-fleur.”

“Wouldn’t you like to have two vegetables?”

“I usually only have one at lunch.”

The waiter was pretending to be inordinately fond of children. “Qu’elle est mignonne la petite? Elle parle exactement comme une Française.”

“How about dessert? Shall we wait and see?”

The waiter disappeared. Honoria looked at her father expectantly.

“What are we going to do?”

“First, we’re going to that toy store in the Rue Saint-Honoré and buy you anything you like. And then we’re going to the vaudeville at the Empire.”

She hesitated.”I like it about the vaudeville, but not the toy store.”

“Why not?”

“Well, you brought me this doll.” She had it with her.”And I’ve got lots of things. And we’re not rich any more, are we?”

“We never were. But today you are to have anything you want.”

“All right,” she agreed resignedly.

When there had been her mother and a French nurse he had been inclined to be strict; now he extended himself, reached out for a new tolerance; he must be both parents to her and not shut any of her out of communication.

“I want to get to know you,” he said gravely.”First let me introduce myself. My name is Charles J. Wales, of Prague.”

“Oh, daddy!” her voice cracked with laughter.

“And who are you, please?” he persisted, and she accepted a role immediately: “Honoria Wales, Rue Palatine, Paris.”

“Married or single?”

“No, not married. Single.”

He indicated the doll.”But I see you have a child, madame.”

Unwilling to disinherit it, she took it to her heart and thought quickly: “Yes, I’ve been married, but I’m not married now. My husband is dead.”

He went on quickly, “And the child’s name?”

“Simone. That’s after my best friend at school.”

“I’m very pleased that you’re doing so well at school.”

“I’m third this month,” she boasted.”Elsie”–that was her cousin–“is only about eighteenth, and Richard is about at the bottom.”

“You like Richard and Elsie, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes. I like Richard quite well and I like her all right.”

Cautiously and casually he asked: “And Aunt Marion and Uncle Lincoln–which do you like best?”

“Oh, Uncle Lincoln, I guess.”

He was increasingly aware of her presence. As they came in, a murmur of “… adorable” followed them, and now the people at the next table bent all their silences upon her, staring as if she were something no more conscious than a flower.

“Why don’t I live with you?” she asked suddenly.”Because mamma’s dead?”

“You must stay here and learn more French. It would have been hard for daddy to take care of you so well.”

“I don’t really need much taking care of any more. I do everything for myself.”

Going out of the restaurant, a man and a woman unexpectedly hailed him.

“Well, the old Wales!”

“Hello there, Lorraine…. Dunc.”

Sudden ghosts out of the past: Duncan Schaeffer, a friend from college. Lorraine Quarrles, a lovely, pale blonde of thirty; one of a crowd who had helped them make months into days in the lavish times of three years ago.

“My husband couldn’t come this year,” she said, in answer to his question.”We’re poor as hell. So he gave me two hundred a month and told me I could do my worst on that…. This your little girl?”

“What about coming back and sitting down?” Duncan asked.

“Can’t do it.” He was glad for an excuse. As always, he felt Lorraine’s passionate, provocative attraction, but his own rhythm was different now.

“Well, how about dinner?” she asked.

“I’m not free. Give me your address and let me call you.”

“Charlie, I believe you’re sober,” she said judicially.”I honestly believe he’s sober, Dunc. Pinch him and see if he’s sober.”

Charlie indicated Honoria with his head. They both laughed.

“What’s your address?” said Duncan sceptically.

He hesitated, unwilling to give the name of his hotel.

“I’m not settled yet. I’d better call you. We’re going to see the vaudeville at the Empire.”

“There! That’s what I want to do,” Lorraine said.”I want to see some clowns and acrobats and jugglers. That’s just what we’ll do, Dunc.”

“We’ve got to do an errand first,” said Charlie.”Perhaps we’ll see you there.”

“All right, you snob…. Good-by, beautiful little girl.”

“Good-by.”

Honoria bobbed politely.

Somehow, an unwelcome encounter. They liked him because he was functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength.

At the Empire, Honoria proudly refused to sit upon her father’s folded coat. She was already an individual with a code of her own, and Charlie was more and more absorbed by the desire of putting a little of himself into her before she crystallized utterly. It was hopeless to try to know her in so short a time.

Between the acts they came upon Duncan and Lorraine in the lobby where the band was playing.

“Have a drink?”

“All right, but not up at the bar. We’ll take a table.”

“The perfect father.”

Listening abstractedly to Lorraine, Charlie watched Honoria’s eyes leave their table, and he followed them wistfully about the room, wondering what they saw. He met her glance and she smiled.

“I liked that lemonade,” she said.

What had she said? What had he expected? Going home in a taxi afterward, he pulled her over until her head rested against his chest.

“Darling, do you ever think about your mother?”

“Yes, sometimes,” she answered vaguely.

“I don’t want you to forget her. Have you got a picture of her?”

“Yes, I think so. Anyhow, Aunt Marion has. Why don’t you want me to forget her?”

“She loved you very much.”

“I loved her too.”

They were silent for a moment.

“Daddy, I want to come and live with you,” she said suddenly.

His heart leaped; he had wanted it to come like this.

“Aren’t you perfectly happy?”

“Yes, but I love you better than anybody. And you love me better than anybody, don’t you, now that mummy’s dead?”

“Of course I do. But you won’t always like me best, honey. You’ll grow up and meet somebody your own age and go marry him and forget you ever had a daddy.”

“Yes, that’s true,” she agreed tranquilly.

He didn’t go in. He was coming back at nine o’clock and he wanted to keep himself fresh and new for the thing he must say then.

“When you’re safe inside, just show yourself in that window.”

“All right. Good-by, dads, dads, dads, dads.”

He waited in the dark street until she appeared, all warm and glowing, in the window above and kissed her fingers out into the night.

III.

They were waiting. Marion sat behind the coffee service in a dignified black dinner dress that just faintly suggested mourning. Lincoln was walking up and down with the animation of one who had already been talking. They were as anxious as he was to get into the question. He opened it almost immediately:

“I suppose you know what I want to see you about–why I really came to Paris.”

Marion played with the black stars on her necklace and frowned.

“I’m awfully anxious to have a home,” he continued.”And I’m awfully anxious to have Honoria in it. I appreciate your taking in Honoria for her mother’s sake, but things have changed now”–he hesitated and then continued more forcibly–“changed radically with me, and I want to ask you to reconsider the matter. It would be silly for me to deny that about three years ago I was acting badly–“

Marion looked up at him with hard eyes.

“–but all that’s over. As I told you, I haven’t had more than a drink a day for over a year, and I take that drink deliberately, so that the idea of alcohol won’t get too big in my imagination. You see the idea?”

“No,” said Marion succinctly.

“It’s a sort of stunt I set myself. It keeps the matter in proportion.”

“I get you,” said Lincoln.”You don’t want to admit it’s got any attraction for you.”

“Something like that. Sometimes I forget and don’t take it. But I try to take it. Anyhow, I couldn’t afford to drink in my position. The people I represent are more than satisfied with what I’ve done, and I’m bringing my sister over from Burlington to keep house for me, and I want awfully to have Honoria too. You know that even when her mother and I weren’t getting along well we never let anything that happened touch Honoria. I know she’s fond of me and I know I’m able to take care of her and–well, there you are. How do you feel about it?”

He knew that now he would have to take a beating. It would last an hour or two hours, and it would be difficult, but if he modulated his inevitable resentment to the chastened attitude of the reformed sinner, he might win his point in the end.

Keep your temper, he told himself. You don’t want to be justified. You want Honoria.

Lincoln spoke first: “We’ve been talking it over ever since we got your letter last month. We’re happy to have Honoria here. She’s a dear little thing, and we’re glad to be able to help her, but of course that isn’t the question–“

Marion interrupted suddenly.”How long are you going to stay sober, Charlie?” she asked.

“Permanently, I hope.”

“How can anybody count on that?”

“You know I never did drink heavily until I gave up business and came over here with nothing to do. Then Helen and I began to run around with–“

“Please leave Helen out of it. I can’t bear to hear you talk about her like that.”

He stared at her grimly; he had never been certain how fond of each other the sisters were in life.

“My drinking only lasted about a year and a half–from the time we came over until I–collapsed.”

“It was time enough.”

“It was time enough,” he agreed.

“My duty is entirely to Helen,” she said.”I try to think what she would have wanted me to do. Frankly, from the night you did that terrible thing you haven’t really existed for me. I can’t help that. She was my sister.”

“Yes.”

“When she was dying she asked me to look out for Honoria. If you hadn’t been in a sanitarium then, it might have helped matters.”

He had no answer.

“I’ll never in my life be able to forget the morning when Helen knocked at my door, soaked to the skin and shivering, and said you’d locked her out.”

Charlie gripped the sides of the chair. This was more difficult than he expected; he wanted to launch out into a long expostulation and explanation, but he only said: “The night I locked her out–” and she interrupted, “I don’t feel up to going over that again.”

After a moment’s silence Lincoln said: “We’re getting off the subject. You want Marion to set aside her legal guardianship and give you Honoria. I think the main point for her is whether she has confidence in you or not.”

“I don’t blame Marion,” Charlie said slowly, “but I think she can have entire confidence in me. I had a good record up to three years ago. Of course, it’s within human possibilities I might go wrong any time. But if we wait much longer I’ll lose Honoria’s childhood and my chance for a home.” He shook his head, “I’ll simply lose her, don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see,” said Lincoln.

“Why didn’t you think of all this before?” Marion asked.

“I suppose I did, from time to time, but Helen and I were getting along badly. When I consented to the guardianship, I was flat on my back in a sanitarium and the market had cleaned me out. I knew I’d acted badly, and I thought if it would bring any peace to Helen, I’d agree to anything. But now it’s different. I’m functioning, I’m behaving damn well, so far as–“

“Please don’t swear at me,” Marion said.

He looked at her, startled. With each remark the force of her dislike became more and more apparent. She had built up all her fear of life into one wall and faced it toward him. This trivial reproof was possibly the result of some trouble with the cook several hours before. Charlie became increasingly alarmed at leaving Honoria in this atmosphere of hostility against himself; sooner or later it would come out, in a word here, a shake of the head there, and some of that distrust would be irrevocably implanted in Honoria. But he pulled his temper down out of his face and shut it up inside him; he had won a point, for Linc
oln realized the absurdity of Marion’s remark and asked her lightly since when she had objected to the word “damn.”

“Another thing,” Charlie said: “I’m able to give her certain advantages now. I’m going to take a French governess to Prague with me. I’ve got a lease on a new apartment–“

He stopped, realizing that he was blundering. They couldn’t be expected to accept with equanimity the fact that his income was again twice as large as their own.

“I suppose you can give her more luxuries than we can,” said Marion.”When you were throwing away money we were living along watching every ten francs…. I suppose you’ll start doing it again.”

“Oh, no,” he said.”I’ve learned. I worked hard for ten years, you know–until I got lucky in the market, like so many people. Terribly lucky. It didn’t seem any use working any more, so I quit. It won’t happen again.”

There was a long silence. All of them felt their nerves straining, and for the first time in a year Charlie wanted a drink. He was sure now that Lincoln Peters wanted him to have his child.

Marion shuddered suddenly; part of her saw that Charlie’s feet were planted on the earth now, and her own maternal feeling recognized the naturalness of his desire; but she had lived for a long time with a prejudice–a prejudice founded on a curious disbelief in her sister’s happiness, and which, in the shock of one terrible night, had turned to hatred for him. It had all happened at a point in her life where the discouragement of ill health and adverse circumstances made it necessary for her to believe in tangible villainy and a tangible villain.

“I can’t help what I think!” she cried out suddenly.”How much you were responsible for Helen’s death, I don’t know. It’s something you’ll have to square with your own conscience.”

An electric current of agony surged through him; for a moment he was almost on his feet, an unuttered sound echoing in his throat. He hung on to himself for a moment, another moment.

“Hold on there,” said Lincoln uncomfortably.”I never thought you were responsible for that.”

“Helen died of heart trouble,” Charlie said dully.

“Yes, heart trouble.” Marion spoke as if the phrase had another meaning for her.

Then, in the flatness that followed her outburst, she saw him plainly and she knew he had somehow arrived at control over the situation. Glancing at her husband, she found no help from him, and as abruptly as if it were a matter of no importance, she threw up the sponge.

“Do what you like!” she cried, springing up from her chair.”She’s your child. I’m not the person to stand in your way. I think if it were my child I’d rather see her–” She managed to check herself.”You two decide it. I can’t stand this. I’m sick. I’m going to bed.”

She hurried from the room; after a moment Lincoln said:

“This has been a hard day for her. You know how strongly she feels–” His voice was almost apologetic: “When a woman gets an idea in her head.”

“Of course.”

“It’s going to be all right. I think she sees now that you–can provide for the child, and so we can’t very well stand in your way or Honoria’s way.”

“Thank you, Lincoln.”

“I’d better go along and see how she is.”

“I’m going.”

He was still trembling when he reached the street, but a walk down the Rue Bonaparte to the quais set him up, and as he crossed the Seine, fresh and new by the quai lamps, he felt exultant. But back in his room he couldn’t sleep. The image of Helen haunted him. Helen whom he had loved so until they had senselessly begun to abuse each other’s love, tear it into shreds. On that terrible February night that Marion remembered so vividly, a slow quarrel had gone on for hours. There was a scene at the Florida, and then he attempted to take her home, and then she kissed young Webb at a table; after that there was what she had hysterically said. When he arrived home alone he turned the key in the lock in wild anger. How could he know she would arrive an hour later alone, that there would be a snowstorm in which she wandered about in slippers, too confused to find a taxi? Then the aftermath, her escaping pneumonia by a miracle, and all the attendant horror. They were “reconciled,” but that was the beginning of the end, and Marion, who had seen with her own eyes and who imagined it to be one of many scenes from her sister’s martyrdom, never forgot.

Going over it again brought Helen nearer, and in the white, soft light that steals upon half sleep near morning he found himself talking to her again. She said that he was perfectly right about Honoria and that she wanted Honoria to be with him. She said she was glad he was being good and doing better. She said a lot of other things–very friendly things–but she was in a swing in a white dress, and swinging faster and faster all the time, so that at the end he could not hear clearly all that she said.

IV.

He woke up feeling happy. The door of the world was open again. He made plans, vistas, futures for Honoria and himself, but suddenly he grew sad, remembering all the plans he and Helen had made. She had not planned to die. The present was the thing–work to do and someone to love. But not to love too much, for he knew the injury that a father can do to a daughter or a mother to a son by attaching them too closely: afterward, out in the world, the child would seek in the marriage partner the same blind tenderness and, failing probably to find it, turn against love and life.

It was another bright, crisp day. He called Lincoln Peters at the bank where he worked and asked if he could count on taking Honoria when he left for Prague. Lincoln agreed that there was no reason for delay. One thing–the legal guardianship. Marion wanted to retain that a while longer. She was upset by the whole matter, and it would oil things if she felt that the situation was still in her control for another year. Charlie agreed, wanting only the tangible, visible child.

Then the question of a governess. Charlie sat in a gloomy agency and talked to a cross Béarnaise and to a buxom Breton peasant, neither of whom he could have endured. There were others whom he would see tomorrow.

He lunched with Lincoln Peters at Griffons, trying to keep down his exultation.

“There’s nothing quite like your own child,” Lincoln said.”But you understand how Marion feels too.”

“She’s forgotten how hard I worked for seven years there,” Charlie said.”She just remembers one night.”

“There’s another thing.” Lincoln hesitated.”While you and Helen were tearing around Europe throwing money away, we were just getting along. I didn’t touch any of the prosperity because I never got ahead enough to carry anything but my insurance. I think Marion felt there was some kind of injustice in it–you not even working toward the end, and getting richer and richer.”

“It went just as quick as it came,” said Charlie.

“Yes, a lot of it stayed in the hands of chasseursand saxophone players and maîtres d’hôtel–well, the big party’s over now. I just said that to explain Marion’s feeling about those crazy years. If you drop in about six o’clock tonight before Marion’s too tired, we’ll settle the details on the spot.”

Back at his hotel, Charlie found a pneumatiquethat had been redirected from the Ritz bar where Charlie had left his address for the purpose of finding a certain man.

DEAR CHARLIE: You were so strange when we saw you the other day that I wondered if I did something to offend you. If so, I’m not conscious of it. In fact, I have thought about you too much for the last year, and it’s always been in the back of my mind that I might see you if I came over here. We didhave such good times that crazy spring, like the night you and I stole the butcher’s tricycle, and the time we tried to call on the president and you had the old derby rim and the wire cane. Everybody seems so old lately, but I don’t feel old a bit. Couldn
‘t we get together some time today for old time’s sake? I’ve got a vile hang-over for the moment, but will be feeling better this afternoon and will look for you about five in the sweat-shop at the Ritz.

Always devotedly,

LORRAINE.

His first feeling was one of awe that he had actually, in his mature years, stolen a tricycle and pedalled Lorraine all over the Étoile between the small hours and dawn. In retrospect it was a nightmare. Locking out Helen didn’t fit in with any other act of his life, but the tricycle incident did–it was one of many. How many weeks or months of dissipation to arrive at that condition of utter irresponsibility?

He tried to picture how Lorraine had appeared to him then–very attractive; Helen was unhappy about it, though she said nothing. Yesterday, in the restaurant, Lorraine had seemed trite, blurred, worn away. He emphatically did not want to see her, and he was glad Alix had not given away his hotel address. It was a relief to think, instead, of Honoria, to think of Sundays spent with her and of saying good morning to her and of knowing she was there in his house at night, drawing her breath in the darkness.

At five he took a taxi and bought presents for all the Peters–a piquant cloth doll, a box of Roman soldiers, flowers for Marion, big linen handkerchiefs for Lincoln.

He saw, when he arrived in the apartment, that Marion had accepted the inevitable. She greeted him now as though he were a recalcitrant member of the family, rather than a menacing outsider. Honoria had been told she was going; Charlie was glad to see that her tact made her conceal her excessive happiness. Only on his lap did she whisper her delight and the question “When?” before she slipped away with the other children.

He and Marion were alone for a minute in the room, and on an impulse he spoke out boldly:

“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material. I wish you and I could be on better terms.”

“Some things are hard to forget,” she answered.”It’s a question of confidence.” There was no answer to this and presently she asked, “When do you propose to take her?”

“As soon as I can get a governess. I hoped the day after tomorrow.”

“That’s impossible. I’ve got to get her things in shape. Not before Saturday.”

He yielded. Coming back into the room, Lincoln offered him a drink.

“I’ll take my daily whisky,” he said.

It was warm here, it was a home, people together by a fire. The children felt very safe and important; the mother and father were serious, watchful. They had things to do for the children more important than his visit here. A spoonful of medicine was, after all, more important than the strained relations between Marion and himself. They were not dull people, but they were very much in the grip of life and circumstances. He wondered if he couldn’t do something to get Lincoln out of his rut at the bank.

A long peal at the door-bell; the bonne à tout fairepassed through and went down the corridor. The door opened upon another long ring, and then voices, and the three in the salon looked up expectantly; Lincoln moved to bring the corridor within his range of vision, and Marion rose. Then the maid came back along the corridor, closely followed by the voices, which developed under the light into Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles.

They were gay, they were hilarious, they were roaring with laughter. For a moment Charlie was astounded; unable to understand how they ferreted out the Peters’ address.

“Ah-h-h!” Duncan wagged his finger roguishly at Charlie.”Ah-h-h!”

They both slid down another cascade of laughter. Anxious and at a loss, Charlie shook hands with them quickly and presented them to Lincoln and Marion. Marion nodded, scarcely speaking. She had drawn back a step toward the fire; her little girl stood beside her, and Marion put an arm about her shoulder.

With growing annoyance at the intrusion, Charlie waited for them to explain themselves. After some concentration Duncan said:

“We came to invite you out to dinner. Lorraine and I insist that all this shishi, cagy business ’bout your address got to stop.”

Charlie came closer to them, as if to force them backward down the corridor.

“Sorry, but I can’t. Tell me where you’ll be and I’ll phone you in half an hour.”

This made no impression. Lorraine sat down suddenly on the side of a chair, and focussing her eyes on Richard, cried, “Oh, what a nice little boy! Come here, little boy.” Richard glanced at his mother, but did not move. With a perceptible shrug of her shoulders, Lorraine turned back to Charlie:

“Come and dine. Sure your cousins won’ mine. See you so sel’om. Or solemn.”

“I can’t,” said Charlie sharply.”You two have dinner and I’ll phone you.”

Her voice became suddenly unpleasant.”All right, we’ll go. But I remember once when you hammered on my door at four A. M. I was enough of a good sport to give you a drink. Come on, Dunc.”

Still in slow motion, with blurred, angry faces, with uncertain feet, they retired along the corridor.

“Good night,” Charlie said.

“Good night!” responded Lorraine emphatically.

When he went back into the salon Marion had not moved, only now her son was standing in the circle of her other arm. Lincoln was still swinging Honoria back and forth like a pendulum from side to side.

“What an outrage!” Charlie broke out.”What an absolute outrage!” Neither of them answered. Charlie dropped into an armchair, picked up his drink, set it down again and said:

“People I haven’t seen for two years having the colossal nerve–“

He broke off. Marion had made the sound “Oh!” in one swift, furious breath, turned her body from him with a jerk and left the room.

Lincoln set down Honoria carefully.

“You children go in and start your soup,” he said, and when they obeyed, he said to Charlie:

“Marion’s not well and she can’t stand shocks. That kind of people make her really physically sick.”

“I didn’t tell them to come here. They wormed your name out of somebody. They deliberately–“

“Well, it’s too bad. It doesn’t help matters. Excuse me a minute.”

Left alone, Charlie sat tense in his chair. In the next room he could hear the children eating, talking in monosyllables, already oblivious to the scene between their elders. He heard a murmur of conversation from a farther room and then the ticking bell of a telephone receiver picked up, and in a panic he moved to the other side of the room and out of earshot.

In a minute Lincoln came back.”Look here, Charlie. I think we’d better call off dinner for tonight. Marion’s in bad shape.”

“Is she angry with me?”

“Sort of,” he said, almost roughly.”She’s not strong and–“

“You mean she’s changed her mind about Honoria?”

“She’s pretty bitter right now. I don’t know. You phone me at the bank tomorrow.”

“I wish you’d explain to her I never dreamed these people would come here. I’m just as sore as you are.”

“I couldn’t explain anything to her now.”

Charlie got up. He took his coat and hat and started down the corridor. Then he opened the door of the dining room and said in a strange voice, “Good night, children.”

Honoria rose and ran around the table to hug him.

“Good night, sweetheart,” he said vaguely, and then trying to make his voice more tender, trying to conciliate something, “Good night, dear children.”

V.

Charlie went directly to the Ritz bar with the furious idea of finding Lorraine and Duncan, but they were not there, and he realized that in any case there was nothing he could do. He had not touched his drink at the Peters’, and now he ordered a whisky-and-soda. Paul came over to say hello.

“It’s a great change,” he said sadly.”We do about half the business we did. So many fellows I hear about back in the States lost everything, maybe not in the first crash, but then in the second. Your friend George Hardt lost every cent, I hear. Are you back in the States?”

“No, I’m in business in Prague.”

“I heard that you lost a lot in the crash.”

“I did,” and he added grimly, “but I lost everything I wanted in the boom.”

“Selling short.”

“Something like that.”

Again the memory of those days swept over him like a nightmare–the people they had met travelling; then people who couldn’t add a row of figures or speak a coherent sentence. The little man Helen had consented to dance with at the ship’s party, who had insulted her ten feet from the table; the women and girls carried screaming with drink or drugs out of public places–

–The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn’t real snow. If you didn’t want it to be snow, you just paid some money.

He went to the phone and called the Peters’ apartment; Lincoln answered.

“I called up because this thing is on my mind. Has Marion said anything definite?”

“Marion’s sick,” Lincoln answered shortly.” I know this thing isn’t altogether your fault, but I can’t have her go to pieces about it. I’m afraid we’ll have to let it slide for six months; I can’t take the chance of working her up to this state again.”

“I see.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie.”

He went back to his table. His whisky glass was empty, but he shook his head when Alix looked at it questioningly. There wasn’t much he could do now except send Honoria some things; he would send her a lot of things tomorrow. He thought rather angrily that this was just money–he had given so many people money….

“No, no more,” he said to another waiter. ”What do I owe you?”

He would come back some day; they couldn’t make him pay forever. But he wanted his child, and nothing was much good now, beside that fact. He wasn’t young any more, with a lot of nice thoughts and dreams to have by himself. He was absolutely sure Helen wouldn’t have wanted him to be so alone.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Hapworth 16, 1924

The New Yorker, July 19, 1965

Link to PDF

“Hapworth 16, 1924” is another account of Seymour Glass delivered by his brother, Buddy. Six years have passed since he wrote “Seymour-An Introduction” and seventeen years have passed since Seymour’s suicide. Buddy has just received a registered mail from his mother, Bessie. Opening it, he discovered a letter written by Seymour to his family back in 1924. The letter is addressed from the infirmary of Camp Simon Hapworth, Maine, where Seymour and Buddy spent the summer when they were seven and five. “Hapworth 16, 1924” is an exact copy of that letter.

The Wasteland (Eliot)

“The Wasteland”
by T. S. Eliot

FOR EZRA POUND
IL MIGLIOR FABBRO

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

II. A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion;
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carvéd dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.

“My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
Nothing again nothing.
“Do
“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
“Nothing?”

I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”

But
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent
“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said—
I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

III. The Fire Sermon

The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother’s wreck
And on the king my father’s death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d.
Tereu

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
“Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

“This music crept by me upon the waters”
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
Wide
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

“Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.”

“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised a ‘new start.’
I made no comment. What should I resent?”

“On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing.”
la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest

burning

IV. Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

V. What the Thunder Said

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal

A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
DA
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
DA
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
DA
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih

Unbridled Fire

PDF Link (download available)

Unbridled Fire
a short story by
Robert Lampros

Jacob sat slightly higher at the table than his friend, Sunny, with whom he was speaking.  Sunny’s hands were placed flat on either side of the cloudy orange tabletop as he listened intently to the dream being recounted.

“She was waiting for me in the back of a small restaurant, kind of like this one, at a table, opposite an empty chair, and her friend Barbara sat to her left.  She was smiling a hidden kind of smile as I walked up to her.”

“You could walk, in the dream?”

“Yes,” nodded Jacob, “and when I sat down Claire leaned back and crossed her arms, like this.”  He folded his arms against his chest and tilted his head back, peering at Sunny through distrustful eyes.  “I don’t remember how it got started, but I had a book in front of me, uh…”

 After ten seconds or so, Sunny said, “A textbook?  A paperback?”

Jacob raised his eyes to meet his friend’s.  “No.  A schedule book, you know, a—what do you call those things?”

“A day planner?”

“Yeah, one of those, all filled with events and plans.  Every day had a box filled with notes, the entire year was mapped out for us with dates, vacations, parties, family visits and stuff, even big celebrations like New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  I kept flipping through the book for the best days, and reading the day’s events to her, trying to convince her, but she didn’t smile or move really.”

“Convince her of what?”

“I don’t know,” he laughed.  “Impress her, maybe.  To make her fall in love with me.”

“What was Barbara doing?”

“She might have been helping me look for days.”  Jacob stared down at his plate, at the half-eaten pile of french fries and swirl of ketchup.  “I woke up before Claire gave me an answer.”

Sunny followed him past the counter and register, then helped push his electric wheelchair over the ridge in the doorway.  They listened to the Classic Rock station on the ride home while Jacob nodded to the music, throwing punches at the air and shouting, “Alright,” when the songs got good.

“God bless you, brother,” Sunny waved out the window and sped away, the taillights blinking on in the blue evening haze.  Jacob watched the grey Chevy shrink and blur into the stream of humming vehicles, then spun and motored up the walkway toward the ramp and front door.

 All he had to do for the rest of the day was shower, get dressed, eat dinner, and go to sleep before ten o’clock.  His job at Makermart required him to be there at six sharp so he could scan the boxes after the flow team unloaded the morning deliveries.  After work he had basketball practice on Wednesdays and Fridays, and if he didn’t get enough sleep he’d be drowsy and lagging on the court.

The simple task of showering and putting on clothes took Jacob approximately three to four times longer than an able-bodied person.  Once he completed this process, he checked his phone, and seeing no new messages or calls, wheeled over to his desk, removed a bottle of tequila and plastic lime from the drawer, and commenced watching an episode of Attack on Titan on his laptop.  A team of warriors flew through the trees raining hell on a malevolent giant who had the power to regenerate his limbs and organs.  Jacob poured another shot, threw it back, and squirted some lime juice in his mouth.  His thoughts drifted to Claire and the dream again.  There may be some truth to it, he thought.  Sometimes he felt like he was trying too hard, and if she wasn’t into it, so what, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.  Then the green of her eyes washed over him, melted his indifference into a renewed determination to win her.  “I love her,” he’d say to himself, “but she better know I’m liquid metal.”

The boxes dropped onto the conveyor and slid over the silver bars, the worn cylinders roaring, then faintly whistling, as the cardboard rolled past, and Jacob’s coworkers loaded the pallets on either side of the line.  He used his manual chair there since it was easier to maneuver in close quarters.  Once a pallet was ready to go out to the floor, the worker would raise a hand and he’d shoot over and scan the barcodes on each of the boxes.  Not the most awesome job in his opinion, but at least he could listen to music, and the people weren’t all unbearable.

“But it don’t make no difference,” he sang under his breath, “Cause I ain’t gonna be easy, easy.  The only time I’m gonna be easy’s when I’m, killed by death…”

“What you listenin’ to today, Jake?” his friend Shane asked, but he just kept singing and scanning the boxes.

When ten-thirty came around he grabbed his lunch and rolled outside to the employee smoking area on the south side of the building.  Early December in Milwaukee, the clouds of vapor billowed out from Jacob’s lungs as the turkey sandwich on his lap began to freeze.  He watched the cars gliding past beyond the creek encircling the hill on which the Makermart sat, and let his eyes drift down to the icy water.  The edges were frozen, jagged white borders constricting the dark green current, winding through the dense woods before the highway.  He didn’t move for a while, only sat, listening.  Then, at ten fifty-five, he quickly ate the frosty sandwich and wheeled back in to help stock and zone items on the lower shelves.

The Dial n’ Go shuttle picked him up at two and took him straight to basketball, and his mother’s friend, Susan, the woman he lived with, picked him up from there.  “How was practice?” she asked, folding the wheelchair and preparing to stow it in back of the van.  “You look exhausted, did you eat your lunch?”  Jacob hoisted his right leg inside and reached out to close the passenger door, pausing a moment to consider answering her question.  “Never mind, then,” she said when the door slammed shut.

“I got you those elbow sleeves you asked for, the kind with the pad.  They’re on your bed,” she called from the kitchen.

His head bowed, almost dropping on the empty plate.  “How many times have I told you—politely—to stay out of my room?”

“Oh, I know…”  Her attention focused on the task at hand, cracking and straining the yolks out of five large eggs for Jacob’s dinner omelet, part of a high-protein, low-calorie diet he’d started for basketball, and to help him get “insanely ripped” by New Year’s.  “I thought it’d be easier than having to carry them yourself.  Couldn’t help seeing those empty bottles in the trash.  I wish you’d quit drinking so much, young man.”

He raised his head, stared wide-eyed at the ceiling.  “Nine years, I’ve been old enough to drink.  I’ll be—”

“Thirty years-old in March,” she finished the sentence with him, rounding the counter with a plate of turkey bacon and a glass of milk.  “Please take it under advisement,” she smiled gently, “you drink enough tequila to drown a mariachi band each week.”

“And she’s racist, too.”

“Winters are rough sometimes,” she said, returning to the kitchen.  “The soul tends to weep and yearn for light.  Spring will be a time of waxing joy and renewal.”

“I’m happy to hear that, Susan.”

He deliberately waited until 8:05pm to call Claire.  She picked up the phone after one ring.  “Hey, Jacob!”

“Claire, how’s it going?  How was—”

“Not bad, you know—sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.  I’m in the middle of inking the next SkyWench issue and it’s stressing me out.”

Jacob paused a second.  “I saw the sample pages on your blog the other day.  It looks amazing.”

“Well, thank you, sir.  Should be one of the best ones yet.  Now all I need is some readers.”

“Hey, Claire.”

“Yeah?  Present.”

“Would you want to have dinner with me Saturday, at my place, maybe watch a movie after?”  He almost added, “I can cook a mean roasted chicken with sauvignon blanc,” but kept his mouth shut.

A few hours passed, and Claire said, “Sure.  I’d love to.  What time should I be there?”

“Eight, eight-thirty.  I’ll start cooking around eight.”

“Sounds great, Jake,” she said, possibly smiling.  “I’ll see you, Saturday night.”

After work the next day he hit the gym, but not too hard since he had practice the day after that.  He wondered if Claire might want to go to his game Sunday.  Depending on how their date went, asking her to the basketball game could be a smart move, but if he came on too strong she might brush him off like a charity case who got too clingy.  “Cute little Jacob,” he groaned, pulling himself up into a seated position on the workout bench.  “He thinks Claire’s gonna be his girlfriend.”  Opposite the incline and decline presses, a woman in dark grey spandex pants and a sports bra was doing alternating curls and watching herself in the mirror.  He eyed her for a moment, checking out her body.  Curvy and muscular, a large chest but not huge, a moderately pretty face, and straight black hair.  She caught a glimpse of him, glanced at his shoulders and arms, and smiled.  He smiled back, then her eyes moved to the wheelchair parked beside his bench, she flashed a confused expression, stole a glance at his legs, and turned back to her own reflection.  Jacob lied down and started his next set.

Tired, tired, tired.  So tired of this…  Waking up to pitch black alarm, smelling filth in a soiled diaper, dragging self out of bed, washing, grooming, dressing, for another day like every other God-damned day.  Another day of crawling.  Susan loves, cares, and toils for him.  Sunny loves him like a brother.  Claire laughs and gazes at him from time to time, soft beaming starlight in her eyes, soon to fade, or fall, displaced by cloud or shadow, unknown amusement shaping lips into a grin.

“Hold up, let me scan those,” he barked at Richard, who’d started jacking up a pallet near the back of the truck.

“Sorry, Jake.  Kind of want to get these done in a hurry.  They should let us scan our own boxes, it’d be way faster.”

“Management wants it this way,” he said quickly.

“You’d be out of a job though, huh?”

“And what a tragedy that would be.  Kay, you’re good to go, Dick.”

Half of practice was drills, exercise, and strategy, while the second half was a scrimmage game.  His team went all out during practice games unless they had an important real game in the next few days.  Sunday afternoon they were playing the West Allis Porcupines, so no one on Jacob’s team was very worried.  The scrimmage began as usual in a fun, even brotherly spirit of good-natured competition.

“Once in a while it’s the right play to pass the ball, lame legs.”

“I’ll make sure to tell your mom that later.”

“At least Jake actually makes a shot sometimes, Danny.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” his teammates laughed.

Jacob spun and launched down the left side of the court, hoping to snag a rebound and sail the ball to Nick or Max for a shot.  He locked chairs with Elliot at the three-point line and fought to break free, but by then his team had possession, storming up the court where Max lobbed one in from under the basket.

Susan waited in the parking lot at four, folded his chair, stowed it in back, climbed into the driver’s seat, and started the van.  “Your friend dropped by today,” she said quietly.  “She left you a comic book.  Said you’re cooking her dinner tomorrow night?”

He rolled down the window, spat on the pavement, and rolled it up again.  “Is that alright?”

They already had the soy sauce, vinegar, and carrots at home, but they still needed soy beans, soba noodles, and salmon filets, so they stopped at the EarthWay grocery by their house.  He had found the Ginger Salmon recipe on a gourmet cooking site, he told her, and thought a Japanese meal would go well with the film they were watching, plus Claire liked anime, sushi, and some Shibuya-kei music.  He appreciated Susan taking him to buy the groceries.  He also appreciated her finding someplace else to be tomorrow night from seven o’clock onward, so he and Claire could have the privacy they’re entitled to as responsible, non-threatening adults.

The comic she’d given him, the latest issue of SkyWench, wasn’t her best work, although Jacob respected what she was trying to do.  Previous issues focused more on the clashes between Mina’s skyborn clan of sister warriors and the rock-dwelling Scorporanths that fed on human beings, often indulging a nigh unquenchable thirst for human spinal fluid.  In this one all she did was fly from mountain to mountain on her Sordes, with a few of her warriors, on a quest to locate a floating island where the land was fertile and the Scorporanths couldn’t reach them.  Mina ends up finding it, then changes her mind, saying life there would be, “A thunderless dream, and hence a virago’s nightmare.”  Claire’s other readers might enjoy it, either way he intended to keep any negative opinions to himself.

She showed up just after eight while he was grating the carrots.  On his way to the door he hit play on the stereo.  He had considered listening to an album that he knew Claire liked, Stereo * Type A or This Will Destroy You, but before he started cooking went with Use Your Illusion I, not wanting to look overeager to make her happy.  She stood on the doorstep, smiling, for a couple seconds, and he said, “Hey, Claire.  You look…  Hazardous.”

Black sweater unbuttoned down the front, white v-neck t-shirt, faded jeans, frayed at the bottom, over a new pair of sambas.  No purse in her hands, gently resting at her sides, and a calm, radiant, almost sarcastic look in her emerald green eyes.  Dark brown hair streaked with blonde fell over one side of her face, curled slightly beneath her chin, and flowed in a crescent to the back of her neck.  Pale rose lips, round above with softly dimpled corners, delicate, ivory cheeks, and the faintest freckles on a nose sloping bravely from the quiet shadows round her eyes.

“Invite me in at your own risk,” she said impatiently.

He poured her a glass of the Merlot that Susan drank, set it on the counter in front of her, and resumed prepping the ingredients.  Most of the tables and counters were about half a foot lower than usual, part of the renovation done after Susan bought the house.  In spite of this, and the feature of Jacob’s electric wheelchair allowing him to elevate or lower himself somewhat, he couldn’t shake a nagging embarrassment as Claire watched him cook and talked about her friends, the work they were doing, their plans for the future, and hers, which were more like vague wishes really because she still didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she’d rather live overseas and teach English than keep slanging shirts and keychains at the mall, and listening to the same fake-azz pop songs all day.

“Don’t you have to speak a foreign language to be able to teach overseas?”

“Not really.  Besides, I could always learn.”

“Where would you want to live?”

“Europe, China, South America…”

“Why not Japan?”

“I think most people already have a working knowledge of English there.  If not they probably don’t need more teachers.”

“Wouldn’t you miss this place?  Milwaukee isn’t the best city in the world, but it’s way better than Chicago, or St. Louis.”

Claire laughed a single, ecstatic, “Ha,” and let her head fall on her forearms, lifted it again, and finished her wine.  “I just know my life here has been a tragedy.”

They ate quickly, laughing now and then at each other’s jokes.  The salmon was delicious, perfectly cooked according to him, though Claire thought it was too well done.  “I agree,” she told him, “couldn’t be better.”  The tv in the living room emitted an obnoxious buzzing sound when the previews started.  He nearly fell out of his chair trying to get to the entertainment center to adjust the wires.  Unplugging and plugging them back in fixed the problem, and the film began.  The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  He’d almost chosen Ninja Scroll, but after some deliberation ordered this one, not wanting to risk Claire getting freaked out—uncomfortable, rather—due to the abundant violence.  The movie amazed her right away, she slid over next to Jacob, who’d moved from his wheelchair to the couch, and put his arm around her.

“Farewell, Mina,” he called from the doorway, instantly regretting it until she turned, laughing, and blew him a kiss.  Later, as he was falling asleep, he assured himself that it was better not to have asked her to go to his game on Sunday, better still not to have made any plans at all.  Their date was good.  Maybe in a few days he’d call her again.

The game was a blowout, as expected.  His team, the Badgers, dominated the West Allis Porcupines for a 43 to 17-point win, then Jacob and a few of the guys drove to a nearby sports bar for burgers and beers.

“I’ll buy the drinks today, boys,” he said as they rolled up to their table.

“Why you gonna do that, Jake?” asked Nick.

“I feel like being nice, since when do I need a reason?”

Danny eyed him for a second.

“In that case I want the most expensive whiskey they’ve got,” laughed Tyler.

“Did you get lucky last night, bro?” asked Danny.

Everyone at the table stopped talking, and looked at him.

“I told your mom to keep quiet about tha—”

“Yeah, yeah, just answer the question.”

He stared back at Danny and looked around at everyone.  “None of your business, but yeah, I had a date last night.”

All the guys said, “Oooooh,” and started making dumb jokes, when the server walked over.

“You sound like a bunch of tween-age girls,” he yelled.  “Look, the waitress is here.”

They ate, talked, and laughed for almost two hours, watching the Admirals and some other games on tv.  Jacob and Danny drank shots of Jack until Danny threw up a little on his plate and disqualified himself.  At home later, Susan asked how the date had gone.  He declined to answer, only said, “Thank you,” and wheeled into his room.

It had surprised him that she’d consented to the date so quickly.  Susan treated him like a baby when it came to normal adult activities, like going out to have a few beers with his friends, crashing at someone else’s house for a night, and spending time alone with a woman.  He almost never did these things, but could remember a strange paralysis coming over her, a glassy-eyed intractability, when he wanted to do basic stuff like this in the past.  Last night was no problem for her, for some reason.  Maybe she finally realized he’s a real, live, grown-up human being.  Or was it something different?  Jacob double-checked the alarm time on his cell phone.  It’s possible she sensed the truth about him and Claire, that they were meant to be together, and she didn’t want to mess with fate.  Like playing with fire, he mused, dreaming off to sleep.

To the right of the black marble steps, the ramp led up to the revolving doors in three parallel segments, with a couple feet of space between them.  Pushing hard up the first section of the ramp, Jacob’s arms began to tire, shoulders and triceps aching before turning to ascend the second, which he climbed more slowly, gasping at the start of each new push.  Halfway up the third segment and less than twenty feet from the top, his right arm gave out, and the chair swung back to the left, and struck the metal railing with a low, percussive ring, a sound that tensed and uncoiled, sweeping out through his surroundings and permeating the ground, walls, and buildings as if they were merely air.

The front entrance had a single automatic door by the top of the ramp, yet it didn’t open when he pressed the button.  Jacob clumsily wheeled in using his elbow to prevent the door from closing on him, rolled weakly past the vacant front desk, and continued across the spacious, warmly furnished lobby toward the row of elevators at the far wall.  The effort required to convey his chair across the floor seemed to increase with each rotation of the wheels, his muscles felt like dead weight, his lungs began to choke on the sour air, and his head, sweating, nauseous, clouded by exhaustion and despair, sank forward and hung limply on his chest.  He kept pushing.  One arm, both arms, one again, both again…  The lamplight in the room grew dim, and in the oaken darkness Jacob sensed the presence of his family and friends, pale, luminous figures, like spectators on either side of him, faces growing clearer, his sister and brother-in-law, with their kids, his physical therapist, his bro Sunny, Mom, Dad, Claire…  They were smiling, and crying, some of them, watching him push.  He raised his head.  The elevators appeared, blurry and quivering, just a few yards away.  The wheels squeaked on the cold tiles as he inched his way forward.  Susan stood to his left, quiet like the rest, silently cheering him on.  He looked at her and smiled, faced forward again, and propelled the chair onward with a final, broken cry.

The elevator doors slid open.  In a moment he was strong again, and wheeled inside with ease.  Four vertical rows of square buttons, twenty-five in each row and numbered one to a hundred, with several for the lower levels below, shone with amber light in front of him.  He pressed the button for floor eighty-two.  The car jolted and rattled into motion, swaying slightly as it rose, while the grid of lights over Jacob’s head cast bright floating circles on him and the elevator floor.

The car stopped and the doors opened.  He rolled into a dim, high hallway where a woman sat at a desk in a cutout to his left.  Her hair was sandy blonde, straight with dark roots, and she glanced up from her computer and smiled as he passed her.  A conference room at the end of the hall, illumined by floor-to-ceiling windows, drew him to its glass wall and door, which he pulled open, awkwardly entering, and wheeling past the empty table and chairs, he parked before the center window and stared out at the city and sunset.

Above the staggered buildings, the clouds swept down in orange, pink, and purple waves, like the break of a cosmic surf, static, though imperceptibly flowing, crashing to the earth from a separate encompassing world.  Within his heart, the softest change, a watered seed first parting, then peace, eternal dreams—

Knock, knock, knock.

Jacob turned as the conference room door swung open, and a man in his forties, eyes brown and steady, stepped in and walked over.  “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  My name is Buddy.”

“I’m Jacob,” he answered, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Do you mind if I sit down?  I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes, if that’s alright.”

“Your office, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Buddy, pulling out a chair and spinning it around to face the windows.  “This is a sort of common space, for people who work in various capacities for the one who owns the building.”

Jacob leaned forward to peer down at the avenues and minuscule vehicles not quite a thousand feet below.  “He must be… rather comfortable, if he owns this place.”

“Well, yes and no,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sometimes I think he’s in worse shape than the rest of us combined.”  Buddy took a second to gaze up at the clouds.  “You could call it a tragedy, and I tend to think of it that way, then, almost as quickly, I realize there was no tragedy, and nothing that happens was ever really tragic at all.”

After a long, unburdensome silence, during which the sunset breathed perhaps its finest breath, Jacob asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The man looked at him as though irritated, but not by the question, nor by Jacob himself.  “We only have a little time here.  I’m not sure you’re going to remember this when you wake up.  If you don’t mind telling me, when you were younger, did you have many dreams about running, or flying?”

“Running, yeah.  I still do once in a while.”

“And did those dreams feel very real?”

“Sure, probably the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had.”

On hearing this Buddy turned away, pretending to survey the rooftops, level and angled surfaces to the right of their towering room.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.  And that’s exactly why you and I are here right now.  You have a terribly important job to do,” he said, meeting Jacob’s eyes.  “There’s an infinity of ways to accomplish this work, but I’m afraid you alone are qualified.  You’re the lucky one who is able to do it.”

“Because I’m special.”

“Yes,” he nodded eagerly.

“Because I’m the bravest boy in the whole world, and God loves me so much and He’s so damn proud of me?  I’ve heard that one before, Buddy.  The lady who said it ditched me to take care of someone else’s kids.  I don’t need to hear that from you, and you know what?  I never needed her, either.  What’s the quickest way to get out of this fake-ass building?”

He didn’t respond, merely watched him for a moment with the same unfocused irritation, before fading away into blackness with the building, the city, and the evening sky.  Jacob awoke to the shrill chirping of birds in the dark outside his window.

The early shift at Makermart was painful on Mondays.  The majority of the flow team, and the entirety of the management, moped through the store on autopilot, performing their duties with alternating vexation and stoic misery.  Jacob didn’t feel too bad on this particular morning, in part because Sunny would be picking him up at two and driving him across the river to Pointer Arena to see the MMA fights that night.  He’d been looking forward to this for weeks, and so had Sunny, who’d studied Jiu-Jitsu and fought in some amateur bouts himself.

It was almost two-thirty by the time he arrived, as Jacob sat in the cold debating whether or not to call Susan.  “I am so sorry, man,” he said, jumping out of the driver’s seat and jogging back to open the hatch of his Sonic LS.

“I was about to give up on you,” he laughed, “thought we were gonna miss the fights.”

“No way.”  He removed a narrow aluminum ramp from the back of the car, anchored one end on the pavement, and did the same with another identical piece.  “My nephew had to go to the hospital, he got food poisoning at school, toxic bologna or something.”

“Is he okay?”

“Now he is, now that he puked his guts out.”

“Thank God…  Beware the poison lunchmeat.”

As they approached the Kilbourn Street Bridge, they decided to park and grab a cup of coffee and some food, and kill an hour or two along the river.  “Sorry I’m such a pain in the ass,” he called back as Sunny unloaded his electric chair in the parking garage.

“You’d be worth the trouble if you bought the food more often.”

Stopping at a Ringman’s not far from the bridge, Jacob paid for their coffee and scones and they strolled down the riverwalk as they ate.  Two young women passed them going the opposite way, walking a black Pit Bull mix.  The taller one smiled at Jacob, who grinned and said, “Hello, ladies,” forgetting he had a mouthful of blueberry scone.

“Real smooth, bro,” said Sunny, and they veered to the right, parked and sat by the railing.  The river wasn’t icy at all, even though he was pretty sure it was below freezing.  The two of them sat quietly for a minute, finishing their coffee.

“I had a date the other night.”

Sunny turned.  “With Claire?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“How’d it go?”

“How do you think it went?  I swept her off her feet.  She’s in love with me.”

“Where’d you guys go?”

“Stayed in, watched a movie.  I cooked dinner while she told me her life story.”

“What about the Sub?”

“She agreed to spend the night elsewhere, believe it or not.”  He glanced to his right.  “Shut up,” he said, shaking his head.

“Tell me you at least kissed her.”

“No—”

“Awww.”

“That would have been nice, though.  No, we just watched the movie, talked a little, and then she left.  She had a good time, though, I know that.”

Sunny peered down at the dark green water.  “And you were worried about that stupid dream you had.  I knew you’d be alright.  When are you hanging out again?”

“We didn’t make plans.  I don’t know, sometimes…”  Jacob’s eyes seemed to darken as he stared down through the bars of the railing.  “I think sometimes it’d be better if I lived alone.  I mean stayed alone, forever.”  He glanced at Sunny again.  “I’m not sure I could make her happy, especially someone like Claire.”

“You said your equipment worked just fine.”

“I hate you, bro.  I’m talking about long term, everyday life.  Do you remember, The Death of Superman?”

“The comic book?”

“Yes, the comic book.  It starts with a spiked fist beating the hell out of this thick iron door.  A big dude in a green jumpsuit busts out, and starts tearing through the forest.  Well, the Justice League hears about the damage he’s doing, and they come to bring him in, but he starts pummeling those guys.  Later Superman shows up, and Doomsday punches him in the stomach, then turns around and kicks him through a house, clean through a house.  Superman.”

“What’s this got to do with Claire and you?”

A flash of anger reddened Jacob’s face.  “Because no matter how they try to crush him, the dude keeps getting stronger.  Even Superman can’t stop him, unless he dies too.”  He searched Sunny’s eyes again.  “I feel like that some days, like Superman in that story.  Or maybe like Doomsday.  I don’t know…”

He watched the current a second longer, reached over and squeezed Jacob’s bicep.  “You might be like Supergirl in that story.  Come on, let’s go.”

Less than half the seats in Pointer Arena had filled up by the starting bell of the first fight.  Their tickets had only cost thirty-two dollars a piece, which bought them a view from about three hundred feet away from the ring—worse than most of the people there, but neither Jacob nor Sunny was too disappointed.  The first bout ended quickly, the favorite, whose reach gave him a dominating advantage, kept his stronger opponent out of range with his jab, and when he began getting tired hammered his head and face with hooks and crosses.  The next few bouts lasted longer, the fighters more evenly matched, and the last fight they saw raged for all five rounds.  One of the guys could draw and dodge punches with blinding speed, then he’d either counter or take his opponent down to the mat, but the guy kept breaking free, landing elbows or kicks while he got away, and the process would start over again.  Both fighters were swollen, bloody, and barely conscious by the end of the fifth, when the faster guy won by decision.  Sunny admitted on the ride home he probably couldn’t have beaten either one of them.  As Jacob rolled in the house at just past nine, Susan asked if it was a fun trip to the art museum.  “Sure was,” he nodded.  “You’d be amazed how exciting flower paintings can be.”

His morning routine the following day took an extra twenty minutes, since he slipped off the seat in his shower as he was reaching for the conditioner, and in his efforts to pull himself back up, his foot got caught in the plastic suspension bands, and he fell onto the shower floor again trying to free his leg.  Once he had, Susan knocked on the bathroom door in a panic, asking if he was okay.  Jacob inhaled and exhaled five deep breaths before answering, “Yes, I’m fine.  A minor accident, that’s all.”  He lay still a while on the floor of the shower, until he was reasonably sure that she’d gone away, then resumed the attempt to climb onto his shower seat.  By the time he’d finished getting ready for work, and wheeled out to the kitchen, Susan had prepared a fresh, hot breakfast of steak and egg whites, scalloped potatoes, and avocado salad.

“This looks delicious,” he said, surprised.  “I haven’t lifted for a few days, I don’t need that much protein.  Thanks, though, I appreciate it.”

“Figured I might as well,” she smiled from the sink, “having awoken to a loud, mysterious thud in the direction of your bathroom.”

“Yeah, I slipped off the seat trying to reach my conditioner.  No permanent damage.”

Turning off the water, she placed the last pan in the dishwasher and came to the table to sit with him.  “Why don’t you keep it where it’s supposed to be?”

“I do, usually.  I was…  Never mind, please.”

Susan gazed out the window, through the open blinds at a sparrow perched on the bird feeder hanging from a lower limb of the pear tree in their backyard.  A female cardinal soon alighted upon the opposite side and frightened the sparrow away, and a minute or two later a round grey dove appeared and scared the cardinal away.  She let her eyes drift down to Jacob beside her, dividing the last of the egg whites with his fork.  Her left hand flew out to brush the damp yellow waves of hair back over his ear.  His arm shot up to block hers and force it away.

Please don’t touch me.”  Swallowing the food in his mouth and setting the plate and utensils aside, he looked down at the table, turned to her and said, “Will you help me pack my stuff this week?  I need to move out.”

Susan flinched, almost invisibly, and sat up straighter in her chair.  Regarding, briefly, the kind certainty in his face, and focusing on the bird feeder again, vacant now, the seeds reduced to dotted, uneven sand between the glass, she covered his look with her own, replying, “Only if you take me with you.”

The rest of the week passed quietly and slowly.  He spent his free time at home, packing in boxes the things he needed to take with him, looking for apartments online, drinking, reading comics, and watching anime.  On Wednesday night, after basketball and a mildly bitter argument with Susan, Claire called to complain about not hearing back from him after their date.

“Hey, Claire.”

“Jacob.  How are you doing this fine evening?”

“I’m having a bit of a crisis, actually.  I’m having serious doubts about the existence of vampires in animated films and tv series.  They just aren’t scary, and vampire slaying isn’t nearly as cool as ninja warfare, cyborg-tech related espionage, supernatural kung fu battles—I’m doubting whether vampires should have a place in anime at all.”

“Sounds like you don’t understand the significance of vampires in folklore and modern literature.  Were you going to call me again after our date Saturday night?”

“I was.  Of course I was…  You think vampire legends are important enough to make all these boring movies and tv shows?”

“Which ones are you referring to?”

Jacob thought for a few seconds.  “Pretty much every vampire story ever told.”

Dracula is universally considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written.”

“Never read it.  Are you sure about that?”

Nosferatu, Interview with the Vampire, Blade, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, all spectacular films.”

Bloodlust was okay.  I just don’t see the draw for all these fans.”

Claire shouted something incomprehensible, then checked herself and asked, in a calmer voice, “What is it you don’t like about vampire stories?”

“Good question…  I think the bad guys get on my nerves a little bit, in a way they’re not meant to.  Villains are evil, threatening, destructive characters, that’s what makes them villains, but vampires have this weird fog around them, like they’re supposed to be, uh…”

She heard him snapping his fingers.  “Seductive?”

“No, not seductive.  Intriguing.  There’s always some mysterious cloud surrounding them, and we’re expected to be so intrigued by them.  I couldn’t care less what they do in the catacombs of their shadowy old mansions, in Transylvania or wherever.  The main characters seem drawn to them, mesmerized somehow, I don’t get it.”

“You’re not suspending your disbelief.”

“I shouldn’t have to.”

“They can fly, sometimes, turn invisible, run super-fast, they’re incredibly smart and strong, not to mention immortal—”

“Not impressed.  Give Spiderman a few thousand stakes, he’d exterminate every last one in less than a year.”

“To each his own, Jacob.  When are we hanging out again?”

They decided Friday night would be good since he planned to start moving his stuff out the day after.  Because of Claire’s artwork, he thought she’d enjoy a visit to the Art Museum, but the suggestion made her laugh and say she’d seen enough portraits and naked goddess statues in grade school.  In her opinion the Potawatomi Casino was a better place to go.  She got paid on Friday and she’d been working extra shifts to have enough to buy Christmas presents for her family and some of her friends.  Jacob inquired as to whether or not it might be wiser to postpone their trip to the casino until after she had bought the presents, to which she replied by saying she’d be outside his house at eight, and if he wanted to come with, then he shouldn’t be so critical.

The apartment he chose was in King Park, about a twenty-minute drive from Susan’s on the Lower East Side.  The fastest way to get there from her house was probably to take State Street across the river, past the highway, then cut over 14th to Juneau Avenue, and South a couple blocks to the Warsteiner Meadows apartment complex.  He spoke to the manager on the phone for a solid half hour on Thursday afternoon, listening to the myriad reasons why Warsteiner Meadows was an ideal place of residence for an individual with “special needs,” who may require “additional support,” and “extra assistance,” while “settling in to his first independent home.”  The guy sounded nice enough, but thoroughly demolished Jacob’s long-since-exceeded tolerance level for condescending, self-satisfied disability jargon.  Before hanging up the phone, and without using profanity, or even raising his voice, he asked if the manager would personally be willing to help him in the bathroom when the need arose.  He hesitated for a moment, and politely declined, before Jacob admitted this was merely a formality and he could easily make do on his own.

On Friday morning, as a result of an especially bad hangover, he took a full hour for lunch, sitting outside at the top of the slope overlooking the winding creek, bare woods, and highway.  He drew some puffs from his e-cig.  The echoing rush of broken air rolled up through the trees from the cars and trucks speeding by about a quarter-mile away down the hillside.  There had been times like this before, at different, crucial points in his life, when he’d had to follow through on a decision that would change everything, yet the more he searched his memory for those times, the harder he looked at his past, the more rapidly they slipped away, their roots dissolving into soft, cloudy pools of vague recognition.  The only thing for him to do was move forward.  Behind him lay nothing.  All he had or could hope to have depended on his doing what the tremulous flame in his heart kept telling him.  Be strong.  Stand up.  Get on with your life.

A light green Toyota Highlander pulled up to the curb outside Susan’s house at 7:15pm.  The pulsing dance of the music’s bass line flooded in through Jacob’s windows.  Wheeling over to the closest one, he split the blinds and peered out at the car in the streetlight, the beams from other traffic flashing silver off its hood and windshield.  “Who the hell…” he wondered, while also thinking Claire may have borrowed someone else’s car.

Coasting down the walkway toward the street, he saw the passenger window open and heard Claire’s voice yell, “Sorry, I’m early,” over the fading music.  As they left for the casino he learned that she’d traded with her brother, her Volvo in exchange for his SUV, for the next few months, or until one of them wanted to trade back.

“Hope you didn’t do this just so you could haul me and my chair around.”

“Not really.  That may have been part of it.  So what if I want to drive you around, you don’t want to hang out with me?”

He glanced over to gauge the seriousness of the question.  “Maybe I do.  I just don’t want you going out of your way to, uh…”  He looked down at his knees and uncreased brown boots.  “To accommodate me.  I could have fit the chair in your own car anyway.”

“I thought you were taking your electric one.  Someone’s pissy tonight.”

They drove in silence for most of the way.  After ten or fifteen minutes he asked what she was listening to when she pulled up to the house.  She didn’t tell him, just turned the stereo back on and let the album play.  As they swung into the parking lot she asked if he wanted her to drop him off at the front entrance, but he said no, they should find a spot and walk in together.

Inside the place was loud, chaotic, and aglow with hazy neon brightness, fluorescent webs of tubes and screens and flashing, melting shapes among the rows of slot machines and above on the walls and ceiling.  Kaleidoscopic patterns breathing in and out their various spectrums of electric light.  He felt dizzy at first, and failed to hear Claire when she asked what he wanted to play.  She gently squeezed his shoulder and asked him again.

“I’m gonna hit the Blackjack tables, clean this place out.  What about you?”

“I like the slots mostly.  I play 3-card poker sometimes, though, want me to come with you?”

“No, do what you want.  Let’s meet back here in an hour.”

A depressed-looking Asian lady slid a chair out of the way for him, and one of the supervisors carried it behind the row of tables.  He changed three hundreds for green chips and started betting twenty-five dollars a hand, bumping it up to fifty almost immediately, and at the end of the shoe he had only three greens left.  “Thanks, buddy,” he said, tossing one to the dealer, and wheeling to the ATM by the nearest cage.  He found Claire at a hexagon of gigantic slots to the left of the bar and told her he was headed for the poker room.  An arch-shaped, pulsating banner featuring the angry face of a black bull weaving side-to-side, expelling smoke from its nostrils, loomed at the top of the machine she was playing.  She’d meet him there in a while, she said, and wished him luck, then stretched over to kiss him on the cheek.

The 2-5 No Limit table he joined had just lost four players to a tournament starting at eight-thirty, leaving six players plus himself.  He played aggressively for the first twenty minutes, calling and raising a number of forty and sixty-dollar bets, and before long he’d increased his five hundred dollars to twelve hundred.  As soon as he decided to slow down and employ a more conservative strategy, the dealer gave him a 9-10 of clubs on the button, with three players having called the big blind.  He knew enough about Hold ‘em to know he had better raise here, and that it should be a big enough raise to scare away some of the players only trying to see the flop.

“Thirty-five,” he said, pushing the chips across the line.  The small blind folded, the big blind called, the next two players folded, and the guy in the 5-seat called.

“Three players in the hand,” said the dealer, a young woman with short red hair.  She burnt a card and turned over J, 10, 3, rainbow.  The big blind checked, the 5-seat bet seventy-five, and Jacob thought for a moment.

“Call,” he said quietly, dropping the chips in the middle.

The big blind folded, and the dealer dealt the turn card, the 10 of diamonds.  The 5-seat checked.

Jacob glanced at him from the 7-seat.  He had a headphone in his right ear and was reading, or pretending to read, on his phone.  About twenty-two hundred sat in straight, uneven stacks in front of him.  “One-forty,” Jacob said, pushing the chips across the line.

Although the 5-seat kept scrolling on his phone for a few seconds, Jacob noticed a change once he’d made the bet, like the guy relaxed slightly.  He took the earphone out of his ear and eyed Jacob’s chips.  “What you got there?”

“About nine, nine and change.”

“All in.”

Yep, he said to himself, checking his cards again.  Trip 10’s with a 9 kicker didn’t look too good anymore.  He shook his head, smiled at the 5-seat, and threw his cards to the dealer.

Outside the poker room an old man with his head bowed and hair down over his eyes sat on a bench, smoking a cigarette.  He didn’t speak when Jacob asked for one, just held out the pack and flipped up the lid.  The two of them smoked silently for a minute with their backs to the wall and tall glass windows.

“I’ve been coming here since the place opened,” he said.  “You start to learn things after a while.  You hear things, if you know how to listen.”

“I hear enough right now.  Thousands of dollars going down the drain.  What do you hear?”

Smiling faintly, he said, “The system’s rigged against us.  But ever so often, you know it’s a winner, and you can bet accordingly.  Bet everything you got.”  With that the man smiled again, stood up, and walked away, and Jacob returned to the table.

Not much happened for the next hour.  He saw some flops, bounced around the thousand-dollar mark.  The seats filled up to make it a ten player game.  Around eleven o’clock a fidgety bald guy at the opposite end took a run at the pot, when Jacob flopped the nut flush draw with top pair and a decent kicker.  He turned the flush and tripled up to just below three thousand.  At eleven-thirty he looked up and saw Claire through the glass, waving to get his attention.  Pointing to his wrist, he mouthed the word, “midnight,” and pointed out toward the bar.

The last hand he played was a K-J of hearts.  There was a raise of twenty pre-flop, which he called, then a re-raise to seventy, and he thought why not, I’ve had a good night.  The flop came Q, 4, 10, with two spades on the board.  The original raiser bet out, two-fifty, about the size of the pot.  Jacob called, the other guy folded.  The turn came, 9 of clubs.  His opponent, a guy about his age, blue hooded sweatshirt, detached, steady eyes, looked at him and said, “All in.”

“I call,” he said back, and showed him the straight.

The guy shot up out of his seat and covered his face with his hands, forced them down, and flipped his pocket queens over.  The river came, 3 of hearts, and Jacob left the table with almost seven thousand dollars.

On the way to the car, Claire asked what he would do with the money.

“I don’t know.  I’ll need some new furniture for my apartment.  Might buy Susan a necklace.”

Her face shone white and peaceful in the light from above the frozen parking lot.  “That’d be sweet.  What about me, where’s my necklace?”

They stopped behind the car, and he spun left to face her.  “I was thinking about buying you a ring.”

At the entrance to the casino a scream was heard, deafening in spite of the distance of its source, and just as suddenly, the night was quiet again.

 

Unbridled Fire (Buddy Glass scene)

Jacob turned as the conference room door swung open, and a man in his forties, eyes brown and steady, stepped in and walked over.  “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  My name is Buddy.”

“I’m Jacob,” he answered, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Do you mind if I sit down?  I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes, if that’s alright.”

“Your office, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Buddy, pulling out a chair and spinning it around to face the windows.  “This is a sort of common space, for people who work in various capacities for the one who owns the building.”

Jacob leaned forward to peer down at the avenues and minuscule vehicles not quite a thousand feet below.  “He must be… rather comfortable, if he owns this place.”

“Well, yes and no,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sometimes I think he’s in worse shape than the rest of us combined.”  Buddy took a second to gaze up at the clouds.  “You could call it a tragedy, and I tend to think of it that way, then, almost as quickly, I realize there was no tragedy, and nothing that happens was ever really tragic at all.”

After a long, unburdensome silence, during which the sunset breathed perhaps its finest breath, Jacob asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The man looked at him as though irritated, but not by the question, nor by Jacob himself.  “We only have a little time here.  I’m not sure you’re going to remember this when you wake up.  If you don’t mind telling me, when you were younger, did you have many dreams about running, or flying?”

“Running, yeah.  I still do once in a while.”

“And did those dreams feel very real?”

“Sure, probably the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had.”

On hearing this Buddy turned away, pretending to survey the rooftops, level and angled surfaces to the right of their towering room.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.  And that’s exactly why you and I are here right now.  You have a terribly important job to do,” he said, meeting Jacob’s eyes.  “There’s an infinity of ways to accomplish this work, but I’m afraid you alone are qualified.  You’re the lucky one who is able to do it.”

“Because I’m special.”

“Yes,” he nodded eagerly.

“Because I’m the bravest boy in the whole world, and God loves me so much and He’s so damn proud of me?  I’ve heard that one before, Buddy.  The lady who said it ditched me to take care of someone else’s kids.  I don’t need to hear that from you, and you know what?  I never needed her, either.  What’s the quickest way to get out of this fake-ass building?”

He didn’t respond, merely watched him for a moment with the same unfocused irritation, before fading away into blackness with the building, the city, and the evening sky.  Jacob awoke to the shrill chirping of birds in the dark outside his window.

 

Fits of Tranquility (poems)

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

“A great sense of connection with human nature and the human condition which I found refreshing…  A delightful read.  5 stars.”  – Lauren, LivingABookLife.com

“This book made me feel overwhelmingly good.  As a religious person myself, I felt like there were some lines that really resonated with me.  Even if you’re not religious, a lot of the poems deal with nature and the spiritual experiences that being outside can bring…  I definitely recommend.”  – Ashley, What’s She Reading?

“Each poem offers the reader something to reflect on that will lead to other meditative thoughts.  If you enjoy poetry, you will enjoy Fits of Tranquility.”  – Terry Delaney, Christian Book Notes

“Containing over 20 unique poems and short stories, this book ranges in topic from inspiring images of nature to thought-provoking stories filled with charming dialogue and everything in between…  I would recommend giving Fits of Tranquility a try.”  – Prairie Sky Book Reviews

“Ideas of hope, healing, joy, and faith mirrored in poems about family, lightening, life, and wilderness, the second part is comprised of prose about falling in love…  A book for avid poetry readers.”  – Jen Pen, Savurbks.com

“I enjoyed many things about this book, foremost is the author’s tone.  It is understated, but capable of conveying some deep thoughts quite effectively…  There is a religious perspective in this book, expressed with artistry, understatement, that avoids sentimentality.”  – Arthur Turfa, author of Places and Times

“One of my favorites is ‘Family,’ it describes the value in a heartfelt and touching way.  I also really liked ‘Invisible Arms,’ a vivid picture of how God protects us from physical and emotional harm.  I am a hopeless romantic so I appreciated the sweet moments described in the short stories.  I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading smooth thought-provoking poetry.”  – Ivory M, Beautyful Word

Fits of Tranquility contains a variety of styles and structures which makes this collection immediately more appealing to the poetry connoisseur.  Lampros’s poetry contains a sensitivity and emotional eloquence which flows gently through his work…  Fits is a superior collection and I recommend it to those readers who want to read beautiful, family-safe poetry.”  – Karen Jones, The Poetry Bookshop

 

Soft on the Devil, Chapter 3

Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com

From Soft on the Devil:

Chapter 3

     September turned into October and St. Henry got cold.  If you’ve never lived in the Midwest, our summers are super-hot and our winters are super-cold, and the temperate seasons of Spring and Fall don’t seem to last more than a few weeks.  I try to make the most of Fall by doing outdoor stuff like hiking or walking around one of the parks in town, chilling with a book on the patio of the coffee shop by my work, or going to one of my old high school’s football games.  Soccer’s my favorite sport but I like those games, it feels good to support their team, and I get to see my teachers and occasionally my old friends.
     A week into October, I went to see Meremac South vs. Concordia Academy, a team we usually beat pretty bad.  I sat next to my history teacher, Mr. Samuelson.  “What’s up, sir?  How are classes this year?”
     He squinted at me beneath his bushy caterpillar eyebrows.  “Ian Phillips.  Nice to see you again, young man.  Classes are fine.  The students… don’t change very much.”
     “Is that good or bad?”
     “Neither.  Both,” he laughed.  “I don’t know.  I have just as many slackers as I had when you were enrolled here.  I can’t remember, were you a good student?”
     “You gave me a B-.  I think you were being generous.”
     “What was your term paper on?”
     “The Civil Rights Movement, tied to the necessity for compassionate politics in present day America.”
     “There’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one,” he laughed.  “You might as well extol the benefits of waging peaceful wars.”
     “Speaking of politics, what’s going on with those fraud charges?” I asked.  “I saw something about it on the news back in June, but haven’t heard anything since.”
     “Hey, I just work here,” he said, turning up his palms.  “I’m happy to have this job.  Plenty of teachers like me have gotten the boot to make room for kids like you.”
     “Twenty-four isn’t a kid.  I wish it was, my parents might still give me gas money.”
     “How are they doing?”
     “You’ll have to ask them.  See you later, Mr. Samuelson.”
     Standing in line at the concession stand to get a pretzel before kickoff, I recognized the girl beside me from back in the day.  She’d gone to one of the other Meremac schools, North or East, I couldn’t remember.  I thought her name was Amy.  “Hey, it’s Amy, right?”
     She turned quickly, her reddish-brown hair whipping the front of her face.  “Yes!  Hi, and you are?”
     “Ian.  I used to go here, I graduated in 2011, the same year as you.  We had some friends in common I think.”
     “Sorry, I don’t know you.”
     “Like I said, we had some friends in common.  You went to Meremac North, right?”
     “How’d you know that?” she asked suspiciously.
     “We saw each other at parties and stuff.  We even talked a few times.  Ian Phillips.  You honestly don’t remember me?”
     “No, I honestly don’t, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t bother me again.”
     “Sorry, Amy, I had no idea I was bothering you.  I was just trying to be nice.  I won’t speak to you again.”
     We waited in line for another two minutes or so, side by side, extremely awkward.  She stepped up to the counter and ordered a hotdog and Diet Sprite, which was a relief since I half-expected her to ask the concessions guy to call security.  I stepped up to the counter as she was getting her change, and started to order a Diet Sprite too, because that’s what I always drink, but stopped in the middle of the word “diet” for fear she’d accuse me of being some kind of soda-order-mimicking-stalker or some bizarre thing.  “Di… et Pepsi,” I said, “and a pretzel with light butter, please.”  Amy walked away with her food.  After getting mine I went to sit on the upper bleachers where it wasn’t too crowded.
     The game was closer than I’d expected, with Concor-dia coming back strong in the second half.  A field goal in the final minute put them in tying range with thirty-four points to Meremac’s forty-one.  Our defensive line held like a brick wall, though, and my alma mater brought home the win.  On the way to my car I saw one of my old friends, Claire Hendel, talking to Amy as they walked toward the parking lot.  “Hey, Claire,” I yelled, running up and giving her a big bear hug, picking her up and spinning her around.  “It’s so good to see you!”
     “Ian,” she laughed, “put me down, you lunatic!  How are you?  Why don’t you come to The Haus anymore?”
    “Why, so I can get wasted and crash my car?  I just wanted to say hello,” I looked at Amy behind her, “since we were such good friends back in the day.  It’s great to know we all still love and respect each other, isn’t it?”
     “Let’s get coffee sometime, the three of us.  You know Amy, right?”
     “I do know Amy.  Hi, Amy,” I waved.
     She nodded silently.
     “Take care you guys.”
     “Bye, Ian.”
     About this time last year I started noticing symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder creeping into my daily routine.  When I woke up each day I felt obligated to perform my morning activities in the same specific order.  I’d wake up, use the bathroom, wash my hands, brew my cup of coffee, fix breakfast, take a shower, brush my teeth, apply deodorant, and get dressed.  If I started brewing coffee before going to the bathroom, or putting on deodorant before brushing my teeth, I’d be forced by an irresistible compulsion to stop what I was doing and return to the normal order.  One day I forgot to brush my teeth and apply deodorant before heading to work.  I didn’t realize it until after I’d arrived and clocked in, and all of a sudden it was like a door slammed shut, locking me in an airtight room.  I couldn’t breathe or talk or think straight.  Walking out from behind the café counter and back out of the store, I got in my car and started driving home to brush my teeth and put on deodorant, but made a U-turn around the circle and parked again, realizing they might fire me for bailing on them like that.
     Other weird stuff started happening at about this time, not only psychological stuff but also strange occurrences involving people I knew, and events in the world.  I had more bad dreams about Cindy showing up at my apartment and jumping out of shadows.  Some-times I’d think I saw her from a distance while I was awake, catch a glimpse of her rounding a corner, or looking out a window, or leaning against a building far away.  The people in my apartment complex gave me weirder vibes than usual, too.  That guy, Gary, who I chatted with on occasion, started saying scary stuff about the people he called, “the powers.”  He meant the government, the rich, the people on tv and in the news, and he’d talk like they were the enemy, saying things like, “America won’t last much longer,” or, “Someone better stand up to the powers real soon.”  It might not sound scary when I say it, but the way Gary said it felt like something horrible was going to happen.  And he wasn’t the only one, I sensed a dark, lurking anger all over town.
     This was around Thanksgiving of last year, ironically.  I remember thinking, if every city is feeling like St. Henry’s been feeling, maybe America really isn’t going to last much longer.  I kept on waking up, driving to work, and reading the Bible at night, which helped me to not worry so much.  I knew that the only true power is God power.  The devil can lead people astray from time to time and cause a fair amount of trouble, but at the end of the day it’s still the Lord’s world, and Christ alone is sovereign here.  I switched from reading Jeremiah and the Prophets at night to reading the Gospels, to coincide with the holidays coming up.  Having Christmas around the corner helped also, not just me but everyone.
     I saw the dark-haired lady, Mrs. Romero-Newstead, parked outside my work a few more times, just sitting and staring.  I didn’t go up and talk to her again in case she’d tell her husband a man at EarthWay was hassling her, and then I might have two groups of thugs to be paranoid about.  With the amount of money Mr. Newstead had you’d be able to order any kind of malevolent treatment you could imagine—not that he would, necessarily.  He may have been a perfectly nice and gentle person, I’m just saying what he could have done. 
     I saw Amy again around Thanksgiving, the week after in fact.  My old buddy, Scott, showed up at EarthWay to meet Claire for lunch one day.  Almost a year had passed since the last time I’d seen him, and he looked healthier than I remembered him, brighter, like an actor in the final shot of one of those prescription drug commercials.  Vera let me have a five-minute break to catch up with him.  I told him he looked good, like he was doing well and all that, and he said he’d given up booze and smoking and had started doing yoga, which had helped his aura considerably.  He said he’d been working for his uncle’s real estate company and had scored big on a couple good sales over the summer, and he’d leased a condo for the following year out here in the county, in Marine Echoes, a pretty affluent part of town.  He asked if I wanted to stop by that Friday for a dinner party he was hosting, with a few people from school and some other friends of his.  I said sure.
     The wine section of my store was having a sale on Cabernet Sauvignon, so I picked up a bottle to bring to the party.  It was between that and the Pinot Grigio, but the description on the label swayed me.  I have a bottle of the same wine right here.  “This selection offers a quintessential incarnation, complex in character with an inky hue, flavors of cherry, eucalyptus, and black plum.”  The condo Scott was leasing turned out to be right next to the lake, less than a hundred yards from the water.  Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees by then so you could see the reflection of the distant windows and passing headlights on the surface of the water.  The humming of voices and deep rhythm of a jazz record escaped through the windows and walls as I climbed the steps.  No one answered when I knocked so I turned the knob and entered.  Crowded room, twenty or so, a few of them looked to see who I was.  I made my way into the kitchen with the bottle of Cabernet.
     “You made it,” Scott greeted me.  “Thanks for the wine, looks nice.  Make yourself at home, bro.  We’ve got apps on the table, beers in the fridge, mixed drinks at the bar.  You know most of the people here, right?”
     “Yeah,” I nodded without looking around.
     “Sweet, man!  Glad you could come.”
     A second later he was gone.  I grabbed a can of Blue Moon out of the fridge and stood near four people by the front door.  A tall blonde woman without any makeup was talking passionately, saying, “It’s get what you can as fast as you can, legally if possible, or a way you won’t get caught.  We’ve actually gone back in time a hundred and twenty years with regard to regulations, and the majority actually thinks it’s a good thing.”
     “What do you think should be done about it?” asked a guy with a Jaxon hat and Elvis-style sideburns.
     “Honestly, we need people to step up and hold the frenzy feeders accountable for their actions.”
     As she was talking someone to my right called my name.  I turned and it was Amy.  “I was very rude at the game that day.  I’m sorry,” she said, almost shouting over the music.
     “Yeah, you were kind of rude,” I said, walking over.  “No big deal though, it’s not like we were best friends back then.”
     “I’d be highly offended if you had treated me like that.”
     “Really, it’s okay.”  Noticing the absence of a drink in her hand, I asked if she wanted a glass of wine.
     “Sure,” she smiled.
     Using a corkscrew on the counter I opened the bottle and poured a glass right away.  I know you’re supposed to let red wine breathe for a few minutes but that wasn’t really an option given the potential awkwardness of the time we’d spend waiting.  She took the glass and sipped the wine.  Over her shoulder some guys I didn’t recognize were staring at us from the opposite corner of the room.  The music was loud, dark, slow jazz, sax and trumpets moaning in ever-rising platforms of rigid sound.  “Do you want to take a walk?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” she nodded.
     We got our coats, walked down the steps, and down the drive toward the lake, the gravel crunching beneath our feet.  “I like the cold,” I said.  “I used to hate the winter.  Now it seems quieter, more peaceful.  You?”
     “No,” she shook her head.  “I’ll take a sunny day at the beach over a cold peaceful day anytime.”
     “The closest beach is a thousand miles away.”
     “That’s probably why,” she said.
     The shore was mostly sand and gravel, with fallen trees here and there, farther back from the water.  Amy and I sat on one of the fallen tree trunks.  I breathed a giant cloud of steam into the air.  She breathed a smaller cloud.  “Just sad,” she said.  The lighted windows of the houses on the other side of the lake bobbed and swelled faintly on the black surface of the water.  I sidestepped toward her, sat next to her on the tree.  I looked at her cheek, the reddish-brown waves of her hair, pure black in the night, she looked at her hands, then up at me, I leaned over, and kissed her.

 

Mere Christianity: The Three-Personal God

From Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity

2.  The Three-Personal God

The last chapter was about the difference between begetting and making.  A man begets a child, but he only makes a statue. God begets Christ but He only makes men. But by saying that, I have illustrated only one point about God, namely, that what God the Father begets is God, something of the same kind as Himself. In that way it is like a human father begetting a human son. But not quite like it. So I must try to explain a little more.

A good many people nowadays say, “I believe in a God, but not in a personal God.” They feel that the mysterious something which is behind all other things must be more than a person. Now the Christians quite agree. But the Christians are the only people who offer any idea of what a being that is beyond personality could be like. All the other people, though they say that God is beyond personality, really think of Him as something impersonal: that is, as something less than personal. If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market.

Again, some people think that after this life, or perhaps after several lives, human souls will be “absorbed” into God. But when they try to explain what they mean, they seem to be thinking of our being absorbed into God as one material thing is absorbed into another. They say it is like a drop of water slipping into the sea. But of course that is the end of the drop. If that is what happens to us, then being absorbed is the same as ceasing to exist. It is only the Christians who have any idea of how human souls can be taken into the life of God and yet remain themselves — in fact, be very much more themselves than they were before.

I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God. Wrong ideas about what that life is, will make it harder. And now, for a few minutes, I must ask you to follow rather carefully.

You know that in space you can move in three ways — to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body, say, a cube — a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line.  In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways — in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings — just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal — something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.

You may ask, “If we cannot imagine a three-personal Being, what is the good of talking about Him?” Well, there isn’t any good talking about Him. The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time — tonight, if you like.

What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God — that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying — the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on — the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kind of life — what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.

And that is how Theology started. People already knew about God in a vague way. Then came a man who claimed to be God; and yet he was not the sort of man you could dismiss as a lunatic. He made them believe Him. They met Him again after they had seen Him killed. And then, after they had been formed into a little society or community, they found God somehow inside them as well: directing them, making them able to do things they could not do before. And when they worked it all out they found they had arrived at the Christian definition of the three-personal God.

This definition is not something we have made up; Theology is, in a sense, experimental knowledge. It is the simple religions that are the made-up ones.  When I say it is an experimental science “in a sense,” I mean that it is like the other experimental sciences in some ways, but not in all. If you are a geologist studying rocks, you have to go and find the rocks. They will not come to you, and if you go to them they cannot run away. The initiative lies all on your side. They cannot either help or hinder. But suppose you are a zoologist and want to take photos of wild animals in their native haunts. That is a bit different from studying rocks. The wild animals will not come to you: but they can run away from you. Unless you keep very quiet, they will. There is beginning to be a tiny little trace of initiative on their side.

Now a stage higher; suppose you want to get to know a human person. If he is determined not to let you, you will not get to know him. You have to win his confidence. In this case the initiative is equally divided — it takes two to make a friendship.

When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others — not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as a clean one.

You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred — like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.

God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united together in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body.

Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God, is the whole Christian community, waiting for Him together. Christian brotherhood is, so to speak, the technical equipment for this science — the laboratory outfit. That is why all these people who turn up every few years with some patent simplified religion of their own as a substitute for the Christian tradition are really wasting time. Like a man who has no instrument but an old pair of field glasses setting out to put all the real astronomers right. He may be a clever chap — he may be cleverer than some of the real astronomers, but he is not giving himself a chance. And two years later everyone has forgotten all about him, but the real science is still going on.

If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.

 

Reconstitution (Full Screenplay)

Hoped for/ideal cast:
Jean Connelly:  Bryce Dallas Howard
Stanley Balto:  Denzel Washington
Wolfram Smidgen:  James McAvoy
Vera:  Kate McKinnon
President Lang:  Bryan Cranston

 

 

Reconstitution

A Screenplay by
Robert Lampros

 

View from the back of the White House Press Room, the platform is empty except for the podium and two flags, the chairs are filled, journalists making last minute notes and talking to each other.  In the left corner by the platform stands a Secret Service Agent, while the right wall is lined with cameramen holding shoulder-mounted news cameras.

Jean sits in the second to last row of chairs, holding a digital tablet, preparing to record audio and take notes.  View of podium from her perspective, over the heads of the journalists in the dozen or so rows in front of her.  She turns and looks back at the line of reporters standing behind the last row of chairs, they wait quietly for the President to appear.  Jean faces forward and sits up straighter, looking over the heads at Deborah, a woman in the first row of chairs talking quickly to the man sitting next to her.

The President enters the room and steps up to the podium.

PRESIDENT LANG    
January twenty-fifth, two thousand eighteen, will be remembered, not merely as a tragic day, but more significantly as a day when truth prevailed over falsehood.  The people who died in Dubthach Stadium yesterday, the fathers, caring patriarchs of bright, beautiful families.  The mothers, loving protectors and nurturers of vibrant, happy children.  The sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who all gathered to celebrate life together peacefully…  They came to watch a basketball game in the company of those they know and value most, their closest family and friends.

Jean thinks of something and writes a few notes on her tablet.

PRESIDENT LANG
The moment the shots began, and terror wrenched the peace of that atmosphere apart, evil struck a blow against the very fabric of our society—that which makes us one nation, one America.  Our freedom to assemble and enjoy ourselves without fear of oppression or violent attack constitutes the essence of what makes it such a blessing to be American.  Without this freedom the principles our forebears labored, fought, and died for, don’t shine through and illuminate this land.  But those principles did shine through yesterday, in the midst and aftermath of the violence, our better angels showed up and went to work.  The Koreston Police, Fire Department, the stadium’s security officers, employees, the shellshocked players and spectators at the game, and indeed the victims themselves, responded to the emergency with courage, strength, and a real concern for the safety and well-being of others at the scene.  A greater love prevailed yesterday, a selfless love, far truer than hate, doubt, or terror.  And no matter how they might try to destroy our love, the terrorists can not and shall not win, because the war’s already won.  Thank you.

Wolfram stands up in front of the platform.

WOLFRAM                
We’re only answering a few questions today.  This isn’t the time to discuss the attack’s implications for security, gun rights, or foreign policy, so please limit your questions to the shooting itself.

He steps aside.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Nods to a journalist in the third row.
Mr. Gregson.

GREGSON                 
Thank you, Mr. President.  Can you tell us more about Mizreb’s connections to KESG (pronounced key-sig), or other organized terror groups?

PRESIDENT LANG    
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are working with the Koreston Police and the suspect’s family to know more about his motives and possible involvement with active terror groups.  Mrs. Chambet.

CHAMBET                 
Have the authorities discovered evidence of Adnan planning the attack with anyone?  A student from the University, friend or family member?

PRESIDENT LANG
So far there has not been any indication of Adnan Mizreb having planned the shooting with a partner or partners.  His parents are hardworking American citizens.  His father is a pharmaceutical chemist, his mother sells dresses in a shopping mall.  These are typical Americans like you and me.  As the investigation continues, all pertinent facts will be released.  Deborah, why don’t you close the meeting today.

DEBORAH
Mr. President, considering this marks the fourth mass murder involving an assault weapon in the last twelve months, do you regret your failure to compromise on gun control during your first term?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at Deborah for a moment, then down at podium.

WOLFRAM
Surprised and angered, almost walks over to conclude the meeting, but hesitates.

PRESIDENT LANG    
Judging from what we know at present the suspect obtained the gun illegally.  While this particular type of rifle is available to purchase in a majority of States, I do not believe gun control restrictions would have played a significant role in preventing this attack.  That’s it for today, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform with Wolfram following.  Jean stands up as the room ignites with voices, texting, and phone calls.  She looks once more at Deborah and starts edging her way out of the row of chairs.

President Lang and Wolfram walk down a West Wing hallway toward the Roosevelt Room.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Straight for the jugular.

WOLFRAM
My fault, Mr. President.  I should have closed the meeting immediately after your statement.

PRESIDENT LANG
You’d think twenty-two bodies in the morgue would prompt a bit of respect from that woman.

WOLFRAM
All’s fair in war, sir.

They turn a corner.

WOLFRAM
Should we run the interview with Mizreb’s family, sir?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yeah, go ahead.

They enter the Roosevelt Room, where a Secret Service agent stands near the door, and two men and a woman sit at the table with laptops and papers in front of them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are we?

MAN 1            
Adnan’s closest friend at the University’s been talking.  He says they went target shooting a few times about an hour south of town, mostly corn fields and woods there.  He claims, and I quote, “Addie wouldn’t take the M4, only the .38 Special.  It was like the rifle was sacred or something.”

PRESIDENT LANG
What about the motive?

WOMAN                    
Sounds more like a Columbine than a religion or politically motivated attack.  These guys were angry, at their peers, at themselves, the faces they saw on tv.  Mizreb joked about making an RPG where the shooter could walk into the world of television and “shred the stars of his favorite shows.”

WOLFRAM
That’s cute.

MAN 1
The friend didn’t quite share his desire for carnage.  Jonathan tried to calm him down when he took it too far, change the subject to girls or video games.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are they on the source of the weapon?

MAN 2
We think he bought the M4A1 from a dealer in Chicago.  Mainly sells narcotics, but acquires a stray bag of firearms on occasion.  The thirty-eight we don’t know yet.

PRESIDENT LANG
Find out, please.

MAN 2            
Yes, Mr. President.

*       *       *

Jean drives on a street in Washington D.C., talking to Vera on speaker phone.

JEAN
Can you grab lunch today?

VERA
I can’t leave work, but if you stop by I’ll have André fix you something.  How’d the press thing go?

JEAN
President Lang made a beautiful statement about the shooting, then Deborah Elm burned him on gun control.

VERA
You didn’t ask a question?

JEAN
No, they ended the session after that.  I’ll see you at eleven, okay?

She walks into a busy news studio, past several side offices, through the main room, and past a news desk where two reporters are broadcasting.  Jean stands watching for a minute.

TODD
If your ride is bumpier than usual in to work today, you might blame potholes.

SHEILA
Seen them all over, turns out you may drive over fewer than normal right now.  CDN’s Monique Green has been checkin’ out the roads, and has more on why that is.  Hey, Monique.

MONIQUE
Via monitor.
Hey, guys, you know our warm weather has been really good for the D.C. Department of Transportation.  We’re driving along now on Brewster Rd. in northwest D.C., and we’ve got some potholes here on this stretch.  There are a couple of trucks in front of us—you know, the extreme freezing and then the thawing, that’s what makes the craters in the road.  Here we go, oh yeah, we got some, and then on the other side of the street here…

Jean’s boss, Stanley, stands beside her behind the cameras, and they talk quietly.

STANLEY
Smidgen sent an email, reproving the “shameful conduct” of Mrs. Elm this morning.

JEAN
Smiles faintly.

STANLEY
“In the wake of a national tragedy there is expected a modest level of dignified restraint, and reverence for the Office of President of the United States.”

JEAN
Did she respond?

STANLEY
Not yet.  Knowing her she will, though.

JEAN
May I have a word with you in your office?

STANLEY
Always.

They enter Stanley’s office and he closes the door behind her.  He pulls out the chair, walks around the desk, and they sit facing each other.

STANLEY
What’s up, Jean?

JEAN
I want to have a sit down with the President, one-on-one, to discuss his stance on gun control.

STANLEY
Stares at her a moment.
You want to have a televised conversation with President Thomas Lang about the one issue he’s refused to talk about for six years?

JEAN
Yeah.

STANLEY
You.

JEAN
Thanks a lot, Stanley.

STANLEY
You aren’t the most logical choice for an interviewer.

JEAN
I’m a D.C. journalist with a successful nightly program.  Whether he knows it yet or not he’s going to need to give America a thorough answer for his intractability on this issue, more than reciting the Second Amendment.

STANLEY
Probably so, but why would he sit down with you?

Medium closeup on Jean’s face as she looks at him, thinking.

Adnan Mizreb’s burial, a priest, a few government officials, police officers, and two groundskeepers stand around the closed casket in a cemetery on a quiet hillside.  Medium closeup on small headstone reading:

RESTING PEACEFULLY
IN THE ARMS OF GOD
A.M.
1999-2018

Also engraved on the headstone, a thin bouquet of flowers growing up the left side, curling slightly over the letters.

PRIEST
Reading from a prayer book.
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.  The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned…

View of Mizreb’s parents’ house from outside where a number of vehicles, reporters, and angry protesters line the street.  Inside the sunlit living room, Mr. Mizreb sits on a couch with luminous window blinds behind him.  We see through the lens of one of the cameras being used to film the interview.

INTERVIEWER                      
Can you tell us something about what Adnan was like growing up?

MIZREB
Adnan was a playful child.  He spent hours running with the other children in our neighborhood, in the streets and fields around our home.  They’d make up different games, cops and robbers, king of the mountain, and he would never want to come inside for dinner. 
Laughs weakly, tears in his eyes.
He just wanted to keep running around outside.

INTERVIEWER
How about when he got older, in middle school and high school, what did he like to do?

MIZREB
Normal things, you know.  Athletics, video games…  He did not like to study, but, uh…
Shrugs his shoulders, stares blankly.

INTERVIEWER                      
What teenager does?

MIZREB
Smiles.
Right.  Adnan, he did have frequent tantrums in his older years.  If his mom or I told him to work harder for a test or term paper, he’d occasionally lose his temper and yell, or go into his room and slam the door, and we’d hear him cussing.  He did not like being told what to do, my son.  He was, oh, what is the word?  Bullheaded.

INTERVIEWER
Smiles warmly.
Thank you, sir.  Can you tell us more about your whole family?  How did you and your wife meet?

Jean sits at a small table near the front window in the restaurant Vera manages.  She looks out the window at cars passing on the street.  Vera falls into the chair across from her and freezes her face in a goofy smile.

JEAN
Laughs.
What’d you order?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Just tell me what I’m eating.

VERA
Are… you… ready?

JEAN
Yes, I’m ready.

VERA
André is preparing for you our smoked trout BLT—

JEAN
Ooooh…

VERA
And on the side flash-fried Brussels sprouts with garlic and lime.

JEAN
More intensely.
Ooooooh…

VERA
And for dessert…

JEAN
Yeah?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Anger.

VERA
Warm banana and ale bread pudding.

JEAN
Oh!
Drops head on tabletop.

VERA
A la mooode.

JEAN
You’re too good to me, Vera. 
Glances around the semi-crowded restaurant.
How’s business?

VERA
Not great.  We’re working on a Spring menu that’ll have people crawling on the ceiling.

JEAN
What?

VERA
Points up and raises eyebrows.

JEAN
That’s, a little terrifying.

VERA
What’s up with you?

JEAN
Preparing for an interview.

VERA
Interview, what interview?  You never…  You never said anything about an interview.  With whom is this interview taking place?

JEAN
Mouths silently.
The President.

VERA
Mouths silently.
The who?

JEAN
Glances covertly side to side, whispers.
The President of the United States.

VERA
Exaggerated surprise and realization.
Wait, I thought you’re a local news person.

JEAN
I am, and that’s exactly why he’ll grant the interview.  I’m gonna call him and say, “President Lang, this is Jean Connelly with CDN News.  You’ve been neglecting the local press.  It’s high time you gave me an hour to sit down and talk about gun control.”

VERA
You think he will?

JEAN
Probably not.

VERA
Yeah, no way in hell.

Mizreb’s parents’ living room, interview being concluded.

INTERVIEWER
Mr. Mizreb, given the horrific nature of your son’s crime, is there anything you want America to know about Adnan?

MIZREB
I know that certain people are afraid of people like me.  I was born in Iran, I have brown skin, and there are those from my birthplace who despise this country.  However, this is not who I am, nor my wife, Ranim.  We are true Americans.  Our son…
Starts crying.
His hate… 

Breaks down into heavy weeping.

INTERVIEWER
Okay, that’s enough.  Turn the camera off, please.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen on a bench near a fountain in a park (preferably a fountain with mermaids).  He’s eating a sandwich and talking on his phone.

WOLFRAM
Did you get enough for the full half hour? 
Waits while interviewer responds.
Great, send it over and we’ll take a look.

President Lang sits at his desk in the Oval Office, reading some papers.  The phone beeps, and his assistant speaks over the intercom.

ASSISTANT
Mr. President?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yes, ma’am?

ASSISTANT
Stanley Balto, the head of CDN News, left a message for you to please call him at your convenience.  He said he has something important to discuss regarding the shooting.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks up from papers and thinks for a second.

Stanley and Jean wait in his office, Jean in a chair and Stanley pacing behind his desk.

STANLEY      
Stops pacing.
What makes you think he won’t laugh and tell us to go cover the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon?

JEAN
Steve’s already covering the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon.

Phone rings.  Stanley looks at Jean, and picks it up.

STANLEY
CDN News, this is Mr. Balto.

Oval Office, President Lang on the phone.

PRESIDENT LANG
Hello, Mr. Balto, I just received your message.  What information do you have about the attack?

Stanley’s office.

STANLEY
No information, Mr. President.  A journalist of mine has a proposal she believes to be of the utmost importance to our country, uh, in light of recent events.

Oval Office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Okay, let’s hear it.

Stanley holds phone out to Jean.  She walks to the desk and starts talking.

JEAN
Hello, Mr. President.  I’m sorry to trouble you right now, I know you’re very busy.  My name is Jean Connelly and I’m a nightly anchor for CDN.

PRESIDENT LANG
Through phone.
I know you, Jean, I watch your show on occasion.

JEAN
Well, as you also know, this latest tragedy has got people as serious as ever about gun control regulations.  Contrary to what you said at the meeting today, a near majority of the American people believe a ban on assault rifles could’ve helped to prevent the massacre in Koreston and the losses of many other lives over the past year.  I think—and I don’t want to overstep any boundaries here—it would be a very good idea for you to talk with someone politically neutral about your stance on this issue, and how you plan to address the problem during your remaining two years in office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Someone like you, perhaps?

JEAN
I’d be a new face for the public.  There’d be no grounds for personal bias among the viewership, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Silent for a few seconds.
This is a good idea, Ms. Connelly.  Let me run it by some folks and get back to you.  We may prefer a more familiar and established interviewer for this particular job.

JEAN
I understand, sir.  Thank you for your time.
She hangs up the phone, and she and Stanley stand quietly for a moment.

Interrogation room, Adnan’s friend, Jonathan, talks to an interrogator.

JONATHAN
No, it wasn’t like he was planning some jihad, holy war attack or something.  Addie didn’t even pray.

INTERVIEWER
You didn’t know about the shooting ahead of time?

JONATHAN
No way.  I told you this already, ten times already.  I knew he was gonna do something, I didn’t think he’d actually pull the trigger.  It’s like I said, it was…
Searches for the word.
Fantasy.

INTERVIEWER
You had no knowledge of when or where this attack would take place?

JONATHAN
No.

INTERVIEWER
Are you willing to take a polygraph to confirm that?

JONATHAN
Vehemently.
Yes.

Aerial view of Washington D.C., fast forward through late afternoon and beautiful sunset.

President Lang and Wolfram sit in Air Force One with some other officials and Secret Service agents as the plane prepares to take off.

WOLFRAM                
It can’t be McFeely or they’ll accuse us of lobbing you easy pitches.  It’s got to be someone from LQVN, or someone else, someone new.

PRESIDENT LANG
Not Connelly?

WOLFRAM
Laughs.
No, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks out window at lights passing along runway.
Keep the press about this trip to a minimum, will you?  I don’t want it to look like a PR exhibition.

WOLFRAM
With all due respect, sir, we need to bolster your image concerning this issue.  As long as you’re visiting the wounded and bereaved, we might as well—

PRESIDENT LANG
The public knows about this trip, they don’t need to see it.  Request a minimum of coverage please, Mr. Smidgen.

Reaction shot of Wolfram looking irritated, then subduing his anger.

Jean alone in her house that evening, laying on the couch, reading a book.  Quiet music from the stereo.  The title of the book is A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays, by Mary McCarthy.  She finishes reading a chapter and sets the book aside, walks over to the window, and looks outside at the quiet street.

Jean walks down the suburban street at night, past one-story houses and under the occasional streetlight.  It’s cold and she has her hands in her coat pockets, she tilts her head back and looks up as she walks, looks up at the softly twinkling stars beyond the treetops.

Jean back in her house after the walk.  She checks her phone and sees that Vera called while she was out, and calls her back.  Their conversation cuts back and forth from Jean’s house to Vera’s house, while some of their lines are heard through the phone without a cut.

VERA
Hey, Jean, how’s it goin’, babe?

JEAN
I’m bored but I don’t feel like working.  Why’d you call?

VERA
Just checkin’ on my babes.  Seein’ how my Jeanie’s doin’.

JEAN
I could use another bread pudding, actually.

VERA
Oh, next time you gotta try the Warm Apple Crostada with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce.  It’s part of our dinner menu.

JEAN
How’s Alex doing?

VERA
Who?

JEAN
Your husband.

VERA
Oh, he’s around.  On the roof, probably, with his telescope.  Did you see the news?  About the President?

JEAN
Yeah, he’s in Koreston.

VERA
Yep, and he’s doing the interview.

JEAN
What?

VERA
They announced it just now, he’s gonna discuss his position on gun control with Charles Stockton, and air it this Sunday evening.

JEAN
Silent, medium closeup on her face.

VERA
That’s good, right?

JEAN
Silent.

VERA
You didn’t think he’d do the interview with you, did you?  For reals?

JEAN
Not really, no.  Thanks for telling me, Vera.  See ya later.

VERA
Wait, waaaaiii—
Jean hangs up the phone.

The next morning in Jean’s office, she sits at her desk reading over the notes for her show that day.  Close-up on the sheet of paper and slow pan down over the typed headlines and stories.
–     Sixteen year-old girl missing from Alexandria, Virginia.

(brief story follows)
–     Russian spy ship spotted off the coast of Delaware.
(brief story follows)
–     Congress moves to strike down D.C.’s assisted suicide law.
(brief story follows)
–     Police search for suspects after ATM theft.
(brief story follows)
–     Man killed by vehicle in Md. identified.
(brief story follows)

Stanley walks up and knocks on the open door.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.

JEAN
Don’t even say it.

STANLEY
If it makes you feel better—

JEAN
Ah…  Yeah?

STANLEY
Reveals heart-shaped box of chocolates from behind his back, smiles, then walks over and sets them on her desk.

JEAN
Smiles.
Chocolates?  Valentine’s Day isn’t for two weeks.

STANLEY
Sits down in a chair across from her.

JEAN
Oh, no.  Here we go.

STANLEY
You know the first week you started working here, the first day—the Monday after I hired you…

JEAN
Waits impatiently.

STANLEY
You walked in with your bag slung crooked around your shoulder, venti chai latte in your hand, ready to save the world.

JEAN
Please, spare me this talk.

STANLEY
I thought you’d drop out after a couple months, work for higher pay somewhere, and fewer hours, but no.  You stuck with us.

JEAN
Smiles artificially, nods.

STANLEY
Since then you’ve been the motor of this operation.

JEAN
The motor?

STANLEY
Ferrari, Formula 1, all cylinders firing, engine of this place.  One of the best decisions I’ve made.
Looks down for a second.  
This town…  It’s the lion’s den.  We have to keep our arms out, wide.  And trust we don’t get eaten alive.  
Stands up, walks over, and kisses the top of her head, then walks to the door, and pauses.
All set for today’s broadcast?

JEAN
Nods lightly, tears in her eyes.

STANLEY
Okay.
Walks away.

*       *       *

A woman lays in a hospital bed with her leg slightly elevated in a cast, and her left shoulder bandaged due to a bullet wound.  She flips through channels on the television with the remote in her right hand.  A nurse enters.

NURSE
Hi, Savannah.  How’s it going today?

SAVANNAH
Oh, not bad.  These soaps are terrible.

NURSE
Looks at tv.
I thought you loved Nightdreams Exposed.

SAVANNAH
I did, until Manuel started an affair with Persephone’s step daughter.  Is it time for meds again? 

NURSE
Actually, you have a visitor, all the way from Washington D.C.  President Lang?

He enters the hospital room, waves, and stands at the foot of Savannah’s bed, and smiles at her.

Wolfram stands near a window in a quiet area on the same floor of the hospital, talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listens for a few seconds, looking out the window.
We have to give them something…  Half our country’s screaming for blood, if we don’t—

Looks out window, listens.
If we don’t throw them a bone, at least tightening restrictions, we’re going to have a million anti-gun activists loading up on weapons.

Hospital room, President Lang sits beside Savannah’s bed.

PRESIDENT LANG
Middle school or high school?

SAVANNAH
Ninth grade.  She just started going to “ragers.”

PRESIDENT LANG
Smiles.
Most kids are more responsible than they let on.  I think they exaggerate their wildness sometimes to scare us, make us care more.  Jeremy likes to brag about his close calls on the road, when he’s angry at me, at least.

SAVANNAH
Aren’t they the worst?  My mama would have whooped me senseless if I’d said some of these words.

Wolfram at the window.

WOLFRAM
Okay.  Okay, yes, sir.  I will pass that along to the President.
Listens for a second, stares out coldly at the horizon.
We’ll see how this plays out next week.

Hospital room.

PRESIDENT LANG
What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?

SAVANNAH
It’s a Wonderful Life.  Watching Jimmy Stewart around the holidays just made me feel… safer.  What was yours?

PRESIDENT LANG
The French Connection.  Well, Savannah, we’re certainly working to make you feel safer now.  God bless you.

CDN News Studio, Stanley sits at a news desk preparing to speak live on television.  We see him on the screen of a news camera, then on a monitor, then straight ahead, centered in the frame.

STANLEY
Good evening, Washington.  I’m Stanley Balto.  I run the newsroom here at CDN.  I’ve lived and worked in the D.C. area for most of my life, and I can proudly say, in spite of its many flaws, this city is my home.  In a couple of days the President is going to give an interview about one of the major issues dividing our nation.  We don’t often discuss these kinds of issues here, we mostly report on things like weather, traffic, and local news of a more idiosyncratic character, but I wanted to say a few words tonight about what has become a foreboding subject in the minds of many Americans.  When news comes in of another shooting, whether it’s a murder/robbery in the street or a mass shooting in a different city, part of me wishes that firearms just didn’t exist.

Wolfram rushes into the living room of his apartment, picks up the remote from the table, clicks on the television, and turns to channel five.

STANLEY
On Wolfram’s tv.
And I agree, we live in a problematic world.  My question for you, and for the leaders here in Washington, and for gun rights advocates all over the world, is how far are we willing to stretch our ideals in order to combat the world’s problems?

Center frame in newsroom.
I don’t have any answers.  It’s challenging enough for me to keep my studio operating at a halfway functional level.  But I do know this.  Something has to change, today.  We need new laws, new restrictions, and new programs regarding gun control that more closely line up with the America we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.  Above all, we need courage here in Washington.  I hope we see some of that overdue courage in the President’s interview this Sunday.  Thank you for listening.  Stay tuned for Jean Connelly and our nightly news.

*       *       *

Jean sits alone in an all but empty bar, stirring a whiskey with a straw. Close-up on her face as she watches the ice cubes revolve in the glass. Flashback to her loading a bag into a packed car in the lot of a condo complex. A man stands behind the car, talking quickly, the sound is muffled and the words unintelligible.

ROB
Suddenly the words are clear.
It wasn’t you, Jean, it wasn’t you or me. Don’t waste this.
Extends hands, steps toward her.

JEAN
Stay—away from me.

ROB
You don’t know what you’re doing.

JEAN
Turns from organizing the bags in her car.
I’m jumping ship. I’m leaving a bad situation… before we both drown.

She closes the door, walks around the back of the car, through his outstretched arms, and gets in the driver’s seat.

Back in the bar, she keeps stirring the whiskey. Two young women sit a few seats down, talking and laughing.

WOMAN 1
Can we have three more Apple Jacks, please?
Looks over at Jean.
Do a shot with us.

JEAN
No, thanks, I’ve had more than enough.

WOMAN 1
You might as well. We’re in the vortex.

JEAN
The vortex?

WOMAN 2
Yeah, the place where good men go to fall.

JEAN
Keeps looking, thinks for a second.

President Lang and an assistant stand in a side room of the White House as he finishes preparing for his interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
The amendment clearly states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I understand the necessity to adapt this nation’s laws to better help us govern this land, but this is the Constitution, established to “provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liverty.” The blessings of Lib—of Liberty.

ASSISTANT
Sounds great, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Don’t flatter me, Ms. Baker. I sound like a malfunctioning robot.

ASSISTANT
“What do you say to those who hold the view that the Second Amendment is completely obsolete in today’s America?”

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

ASSISTANT
“Do you have any firearms, President Lang?”

Wolfram stands on the balcony of his high-rise apartment, staring out toward the Capitol Building. Storm clouds, lightning, and thunder on the horizon.

Jean sits in her office at CDN, watching footage of Jonathan’s (Adnan’s friend’s) interview on a news website.

INTERVIEWER
We know that Mizreb purchased the rifle from a drug dealer in Chicago, but we haven’t been able to trace the source of the other gun, the .38, not used in the attack. Can you tell us where he got that one?

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

She reverses the video and watches Jonathan’s response again.

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

President Lang and Charles Stockton in the Blue Room of the White House, cameras rolling.

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

STOCKTON
Do you have any firearms, President Lang?

PRESIDENT LANG
I do not own any guns, no. I do have several friends, some old college buddies, whom I go hunting with on occasion. Deer, turkey, quail, a couple times a year, but I don’t have guns of my own.

Jean in her office, searching through old news articles online, comes across an article in The Columbus Observer from two thousand and ten. “Driver, Pygmy Goat Wounded at Fair.” She starts reading.

Blue Room, interview.

STOCKTON
What do you have to say to people who claim your intractable position on gun control is the result of billions of dollars from the gun lobby, and has nothing to do with our civil liberties?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’d recommend that they take a look at my record. My years in office have demonstrated a profound respect for the Constitution of the United States.

Jean’s office. She continues reading the article. Close-up on screen:
Both the demolition derby driver and the goat were shot by a .38 caliber revolver, however the shooter could not be identified. Acer said, “He darted out from behind the trees by the changing tents and fired four quick shots.”

Blue room, interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
To be completely honest, Mr. Stockton, I don’t like guns. When I get news of yet another mass shooting, or of one more gun-related death in the streets of this or any city across our nation, there’s a part of me that wishes firearms just didn’t exist. The tragedy in Koreston has solidified the necessity for regulations on the sale and distribution of certain types of guns in every State in America. I pray the time it takes to implement those restrictions doesn’t give opportunity for the loss of more innocent lives.

*       *       *

Jean, Vera, and two children, a three year-old girl and five year-old boy, walk up to the edge of the Red Panda exhibit at the D.C. Zoo.

VERA
Look, Squibbles, look at the pandas.

MARY
Those not pandas.

JEAN
They’re red pandas, see? Right there on the sign.

MATTHEW
Red Pandas?

VERA
They’re kind of like sloths. They just sit there in the tree all day. Don’t they remind you of your Uncle Alex?

The four of them walk slowly over a bridge spanning the elephant exhibit.

JEAN
This could mean a big shift in Lang’s approval ratings in the next two years.

VERA
Can he even make a change like this in that amount of time?

JEAN
He’s going to try. He wouldn’t say what he said unless he was planning to follow through immediately.

VERA
What’d your boss say?

JEAN
Freaked. Last thing he expected to hear.

They approach the fence of the alligator pond, where half a dozen gators swim and lay 5-10 yards away from them.

VERA
Extends arms like jaws and closes them on Matthew’s face and head.
Chomp, chomp, chomp.

MATTHEW
Shrieks and darts away.

JEAN
You’re probably the worst grownup at the Zoo today.

Jean and Vera sitting at the bar in her restaurant, not very crowded, the large window on the opposite side of the room bright with sunlight.

VERA
Takes a sip of her drink.
Your hair looks delicious in this lighting.

JEAN
Looks at her, surprised and alluring.

VERA
Golden-strawberry angel hair pasta.

JEAN
Brushes it back over her shoulder.

VERA
With olive oil and cinnamon.

JEAN
Be careful. I might steal you away from your husband.

VERA
Pshhh. He’d pay you to take me.

JEAN
I used to think we could actually change. All of us, you know, wake up and live… without chains on.

VERA
Squints thoughtfully.

JEAN
I thought I could help the people here stop pushing and pulling and just believe in ideals again.

VERA
You do.

JEAN
Huh?

VERA
You help me believe.

JEAN
In the traffic report? The weather? The propped-up scandal of the week?

VERA
In God. And in truth. Because you report on the little stuff, it helps me believe in everything. And be careful what you say, I feed people food for a living, and they just turn around and poop it out.

JEAN
Ugh.

VERA
Fart sound from mouth.
You give people info, stuff that matters. Some of it really does make a difference.

JEAN
This country needs to know… We’re not alone.

*       *       *

Classroom of the University in Koreston. A female professor stands at the whiteboard in a small lecture hall, half-full of students.

PROFESSOR
Writes on board:
Muscogee
Seminole
Chickasaw
Choctaw
Cherokee
Turns and speaks.
Thousands of Native Americans from each of these tribes were forced to leave their homes and walk westward.
Turns and draws arched lines from right to left.
Starting in 1830, and by 1837 about twenty-five million acres of land had been made available for the settlers. Can anyone tell me from the reading, approximately how many Native Americans died on their journey?

After class, a female student, Melissa, stops at the desk on her way out.

MELISSA
Do you have the essay I turned in last week? On the Boston Tea Party and civil rights?

PROFESSOR
Hi, Melissa. I think so…
Flips through a binder on the table.
I don’t see it here, I must have left it at home. How are you holding up?

MELISSA
I’m fine.
Smiles.

She walks down a hallway of the building, checks emails on her cell phone. One email has the subject line, “Coffee Tonight?” and is from dhasselhoff@hotmail.com. Melissa looks confused for a moment, and keeps walking.

Wolfram sits alone in his apartment, a laptop on the table in front of him. The screen shows a photo of the President and Stockton during the interview. The headline reads: “No More Innocent Lives,” says President. Wolfram stands up, irritated, and walks back and forth behind the couch. He laughs incredulously. A thought occurs to him, and he stops walking.

Jean works out on an elliptical machine at the gym, sweating, and reading a book on her tablet. On her way to her car, her phone rings.

STANLEY
Through phone.
Not coming in today?

JEAN
I’m polishing my report on the eagle sanctuary. Joe will record it tonight.

STANLEY
In his office.
Alright, alright.

JEAN
Getting into her car.
There’s something else, about the shooting in Koreston. Mizreb’s friend has been hiding something.

STANLEY
Thinks for a moment.
Careful what you search for, Jeanie. Quite a few snakes in the grass today.

Jonathan sits at a table in a coffee shop similar to Starbuck’s, scrolling through messages on his phone. Melissa sits down across from him.

JONATHAN
Sets phone aside.
Thanks for meeting me. I know it’s been crazy recently.

MELISSA
What do you want to talk about?

JONATHAN
Who contacted you? The police? The Feds?

MELISSA
Confused.
Nobody. No one at all.

JONATHAN
Leans forward.
Don’t lie to me. There are… a lot of things I can do, to make your life… difficult.

MELISSA
Threatening me now? You think that’s smart?

JONATHAN
More calmly.
No. You’re right. Don’t think I won’t know about it. If you do start talking, I’ll know.
Looks around the coffee shop.
Addie would want us to stick together.

MELISSA
Laughs.
Try to understand, you’re not my boss. You’re not my boyfriend. Jonathan, you… Please don’t contact me again.
Stands up, walks away.

A U.S. General, General Albertson, walks down a hallway in the Pentagon, and enters his office. On the desk beside his keyboard is a paper coffee cup. He picks it up, removes the lid, and dumps a small amount of liquid into the trash can beside his desk, then turns the cup upside down and slides a circular paper disc off the bottom. He turns the disc over, and reads the typed message. Close-up on the words:

The field only reveals to man
his own folly and despair,
and victory is an illusion
of philosophers and fools.

The General places the paper disc between his palms, and rubs his hands quickly back and forth for about ten seconds. He turns it over and reads:
                                                             s         o   l          d
                                                                  v          s
                                                                      s                      o   s

He walks into the bathroom, drops the disc in the toilet, and flushes.

*       *       *

Through a handheld news camera, Jean walks down a gravel road, past large cages with various kinds of eagles inside.

JEAN
Holding microphone.
Some of these majestic birds are free to leave their cages and take to the sky, however there are a number of injured eagles which must remain in captivity until they have healed and can safely fly and hunt in the wild.

She slows and approaches a sign on the front of a cage holding two bald eagles, one perched on an artificial tree limb and another standing on the ground facing the camera.

JEAN
Points at the sign with the eagles’ names.
Here we have Ahab and Archer. They must have grouped them together because they have similar sounding names. It looks like the one on the ground might have an injured talon, he’s kind of bowlegged on one side. As you can see, the one on the branch looks healthy.

The eagle on the limb spreads and flaps its wings.

JEAN
Hello, wow! Powerful wings indeed.

Wolfram Smidgen sits alone at a café table in a shopping mall, drinking espresso from a tiny mug, and glancing around nervously. On the table is a newspaper, open and folded back in quarters. He sees Stanley enter the café area, and stands up to greet him.

STANLEY
Good to see you, Mr. Smidgen. I hope you haven’t been waiting very long.

WOLFRAM
Not at all. It’s nice to see you too, Mr. Balto. Thanks for sitting down with me.

STANLEY
Of course. How can I help you?

WOLFRAM
Well, I’m sorry. I’m sorry Ms. Connelly wasn’t able to host the interview she’d suggested. Charles seemed like a better choice to present such a pivotal moment.

STANLEY
I think Jean understood that. She’s grateful you took her advice.

WOLFRAM
Slides newspaper around so Stanley can read it. Headline: Lang Calls Committee On Gun Regs.
The President is moving quickly on this. We need qualified journalists to help with the PR. If yourself and Ms. Connelly would be willing, we’d like you to do a special on recent gun violence in the U.S., to be aired on LQVN.

STANLEY
Laughs, nods slowly.
Mr. Smidgen, I’ve lived in this city for about as many years as you’ve been alive, but even before that I learned you never get something for nothing. You either have to buy it, steal it, or spend a lifetime earning it. I’d say thanks for the offer but that wouldn’t be too honest, seeing as it’s likely some kind of shark bait. Why don’t we just part ways?

WAITER
Approaches.
Can I get you something to drink, sir?

STANLEY
No, thank you.
Stands up to leave.

WOLFRAM
It’s a legitimate offer, Mr. Balto. Your experience could be useful in bringing the President, and our government, through a critical situation.

STANLEY
Extends right hand.
Please tell him I’m sorry.

They shake hands, and Stanley walks away.

Jean stands facing the news camera, speaking into a microphone. Behind her the row of eagle cages extends down the gravel road into the background.

JEAN
As we’ve observed today, the Washington D.C. Eagle Sanctuary is both home and hospital to some of the most exquisite birds of prey in the world. From the relatively small Booted eagle, to the much larger Steller’s sea eagle, the variety of species here is astounding, and includes, of course, the national emblem of our country, the American Bald Eagle.

A man with a bald eagle perched on his forearm walks into the frame, and transfers the bird onto Jean’s left shoulder. She winces slightly and tilts sideways under its weight.

JEAN
Struggling as the eagle grapples for a better hold on her shoulder.
You might not know this, but one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, wanted to make the turkey our national bird. Right now I kind of wish they would have.

Pan right from Jean and eagle on a screen in the studio, to Jean seated at her news desk watching the last few seconds of her report. She turns to face the camera.

JEAN
Thank you for watching, everyone. I hope you enjoyed that report as much as I did. This has been the CDN Evening News. Our Capital, Your City.

*       *       *

White House Press Room, the seats are filled, journalists, cameras, the podium stands alone on the platform.  Wolfram steps into the frame and rests his hands on the podium, looking out over the crowded room.

WOLFRAM
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I’d like to give a brief statement in order to clarify to some extent the truth, regarding the allegations surrounding the President’s decision to pass laws restricting the sale and distribution of certain firearms.  The notion that anyone in this administration has worked in conjunction with KESG (pronounced key-sig), accepted funding from any terrorist organization, or granted them any measure of influence in shaping our domestic or foreign policy, is outrageous.  The Koreston shooting was the last straw, and while he has been quiet about this issue until now, President Lang intends to complete the work of implementing responsible gun regulations by the end of next year—in spite of the swarming cloud of unfounded theories obstructing that work right now.  Whether or not members of KESG or other terror groups would benefit from such laws being passed in the United States is simply irrelevant.  The questions we should be asking are, “Will this legislation be good for Americans?”  “How likely is it that this legislation will contribute to a safer more peaceful homeland?”  “What should we do to facilitate tranquility, prosperity, and wellness for future generations?”
Looks down at notes.
We need to focus on goals that align with the true values of this nation, and not on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform and exits the room to an uproar of questions and flashing cameras.

Inside a gun/army surplus/survival store, the camera moves past a wall with hunting rifles, assault rifles, and shotguns mounted and leaning against it, then curves left and down, moving over a long glass counter and a row of dozens of handguns, then turns left and up, passing boxes of ammunition, kevlar vests, various targets, and other supplies, then curves left again, completing a spiral, and settling on Jean, a cameraman, and an employee who is speaking.

KEVIN
I take it shooting maybe two, three times a month.  She’s a beautiful weapon, the ACR.

JEAN
Do you ever use it for hunting?

KEVIN
Hunting with automatic weapons is illegal in the State of Alabama.  No, I fire that gun at the rifle range, strictly at the rifle range.

JEAN
How many guns do you have, total, if you don’t mind saying?

KEVIN
Including pistols?

JEAN
Yes, everything.

KEVIN
Thinks for a few seconds.
Twenty-five—no, there’s the five-shot Remington, the cross bow…  Do cross bows count?

JEAN
No, just firearms.

KEVIN
Twenty-six, then.

JEAN
What would you say to people who want to make selling certain types of firearms illegal?

KEVIN
Looks silently at her for a moment.
I’d tell ‘em I’ve got a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and that’s a right our Forefathers guaranteed to protect us from tyrannous governments.  It’s a right I hold near and dear.

Medium close-up on Jean nodding.

Jean and two crew members driving down a street in an SUV, through a residential area of Alabama, past houses and cars and people every so often, working in their yards or walking on the sidewalk.  Silence inside the car.  They pull up to a hotel in a fairly nice area of the town, and Jean gets out at the front entrance, while the other two drive off to park.

She enters her hotel room, sets her backpack on a chair by the door, and walks over to the mini-fridge.  She takes a bar of chocolate and small bottle of brandy out, and sits in a chair by the glass door.  Medium-close shot of her leaning back in her chair, tipping the front chair legs off the floor, eating the chocolate, and staring out the window.

Jean jogs along streets and paths in Tuscaloosa, while listening to Modest Mouse’s, “Missed the Boat,” on headphones.  We see different scenic views of the town in the early evening.  She returns to the hotel and meets her crew in the lobby.

JEAN
You two look handsome.  Where ya off to?

CAMERAMAN
Remy wants to check out the karaoke bar up the street.  You want to go?

JEAN
No, I’m kind of tired.

REMY
Sings.
Somewhere, beyond the sea…  Somewhere, waiting for me…  My lover stands—

JEAN
Starts walking away.
Hate to miss that.

Television screen showing Adnan as a child, swinging a plastic bat as his dad pitches tennis balls to him in a small backyard.  The video camera bounces and drifts slightly, and his mother says, “Good hit, Addie!” when he hits a ball and starts to run the imaginary bases.  Next on the screen, the camera approaches his mother in the kitchen of their home, as she prepares Chicken Shawarma Kabobs and rice, and we hear Adnan’s voice:

ADNAN
And here is my beautiful mother, making my favorite dinner, chicken shawarma.
He zooms in on the line of kabobs on the stovetop, then back out at his mom.
Pose for the camera, Mama.

RANIM
Go away, Adnan, I am busy.
She pushes the camera away.

Next on the screen, an indoor skating rink where middle schoolers are playing roller hockey.

MIZREB
From behind the camera in the stands, as Adnan steals the puck and breaks away toward the goal.
Go, Son, go!

He takes a shot and misses wide, the fans jump in their seats and settle down again.

Mr. Mizreb pays for the stack of DVD’s at the front counter, takes his credit card and receipt, and leaves with the stack in his hands.  It is morning.  As he approaches the corner of a gray brick building, a man on the other side of the street starts crossing towards him.  We see Mr. Mizreb walking down the sidewalk, beyond the shooter’s back, about forty feet away.  He sees him and keeps walking, the shooter draws a black handgun, Mr. Mizreb sees it and drops the DVD’s and raises his hands.  The shooter fires a bullet into his heart, but Mr. Mizreb manages to turn and start running.  The shooter fires a bullet into his right shoulder blade, and he falls forward and sideways against the gray brick wall.  He looks up, dazed, at the shooter.  Close-up of the gun in profile as it fires one more bullet.  Slow fade to black.

Jean and her crew load their bags into the SUV in front of the hotel.  Her phone rings.  She checks the name.

JEAN
Hey, Stanley.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.  Did you all leave yet?

JEAN
Packing the car right now.

STANLEY
I need you back in D.C.  Adnan’s father’s just been killed.

She closes the car door, looks up in disbelief.

*       *       *

Wolfram sits across the table from a beautiful woman in an elegant, dimly lit restaurant.  As they silently finish eating their lunch entrées, he glances up at her and sips his wine.  The door to his apartment opens and they enter, Wolfram first, then he closes and locks it behind her.

WOLFRAM
Would you like some more wine, I have—

The woman pushes him back against the door and kisses him.  He lets her, but doesn’t reciprocate her enthusiasm.

WOLFRAM
Just a moment.

WOMAN
Stops kissing his neck.
Huh?

WOLFRAM
Just… one second.
He places his keys and wallet in a bowl on the kitchen table, removes his jacket, and hangs it on the back of a chair.
Are you sure you don’t want another glass?

She walks slowly towards him, takes his tie in her hand, turns, and leads him through the living room and down the hall.

In his bedroom (still daytime), he sits propped up in bed with his laptop in front of him, while the woman sleeps naked beside him.  On the screen is an article and photo of the corner where Mr. Mizreb was shot, a perimeter of yellow tape, crowded with police, journalists, and civilians.

In the Roosevelt Room, President Lang, Wolfram, two men in military uniforms, and a few others sit quietly at the table, while two Secret Service Agents stand beside the doors.  Lang stands up and paces back and forth behind his chair, then stops and leans forward on the chair back, looking around at each person seated at the table.  They continue waiting for a few seconds.  A voice speaks from one of the laptops, which shows a mountain range in the desert.

SOLDIER
The target has entered the red zone, sir.

GENERAL
Thank you, Captain.
He turns to look at the President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Bows his head, closes his eyes for a moment, looks at the General, and nods.

GENERAL
Fire when ready, Captain.

A missile launches from a U.S. Military base in the desert, flies low through the air as the land rushes by below.  The rocket accelerates over the low plain leading toward the mountain range several miles ahead, toward a cave-like opening at the foot of one of the mountains, a few vehicles and crates outside the entrance.  The missile enters and detonates, fire erupts from the opening, followed by dust and falling boulders from above, sealing the cave shut.  Silence, and the view of the mountain becomes the same image on the General’s laptop in the Roosevelt Room.  He turns and nods to the President.

On his way out the door, Wolfram is accompanied by Lang, and they walk out through the White House together.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thanks for your help today, Secretary Smidgen.

WOLFRAM
My pleasure, sir.  I’ll have a statement drawn up for the evening report.

PRESIDENT LANG
“Our battle is more full of names than yours,
 Our men more perfect in the use of arms,
 Our armour all as strong, our cause the best;
 Then reason will our hearts should be as good.”

WOLFRAM
You think we should let Shakespeare handle our PR from now on?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’m sure he’d refuse.

WOLFRAM
Smiles.
What should we do about Mosul?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at him sternly for a second.
Tell the truth.

Jean and Vera on exercise bikes, sweating, in the back row of a crowded Spin class, and talking over the music (If possible, “You Shook Me All Night Long/Good Girl” Remix), with occasional interruptions from the instructor.

VERA
Two more months of this, my buns are gonna be rock hard.

JEAN
You already have a great body.  It’s me who needs to get in shape.

INSTRUCTOR
Okay, Ladies, let’s take it up out of the saddle.
She stands up on her bicycle, and the rest of the class does likewise.
Still on a flat road, we’re approaching our first hill.

JEAN
Did you hear about Adnan Mizreb’s father?

VERA
Course.  I haven’t isolated myself completely.

JEAN
They’re saying it was a lone gunman, a guy who went crazy, and hates Muslims.

VERA
Well, his son was a terrorist.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Find those glutes, wake ‘em up!
She dials up the resistance on her bike and starts pedaling faster.

JEAN
I don’t think his dad had anything to do with the attack.  I think it was all him, and his buddy, Jonathan.

VERA
That smokin’ little frat boy?  They cleared him already.

JEAN
Yes, they did.

INSTRUCTOR
Back in the saddle.  We’re headin’ back to our jumps.
Sits down again.
Take it down, keep it here.

The rest of the class sits down and dials down the resistance on their bikes.

VERA
What about your big special report?

JEAN
We have some more footage to get, but so far we’re on schedule.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Up…
Stands up riding, class follows.
Down…

Sits down, class follows.
Up…

Stands up again, class follows.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen in a park with the dome of the Capitol Building in the background.  He’s talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listening, composedly distressed.
Do you understand what’s happening?  …The truth is coming to light.  Lang’s accounts are being investigated by three different committees, as we speak…  I hope to God they find no ties between them…

Listens, settling his eyes on the Capitol Building.
I’m telling you to wait.

Jean introduces the evening news from her desk in the studio.

JEAN
To camera.
Tonight on CDN Evening News, a bus carrying nineteen children and three adults, including the driver, overturned yesterday on a Maryland interstate, on its way to Washington D.C. for a field trip.  Four students and one teacher have been hospitalized, and the teacher, Terry Isaacs, is in critical condition.  Also, The Sound of Music heads to the Kennedy Center this week.  Nathaniel Waterloo, who plays Captain Georg von Trapp, stopped by CDN to talk about the upcoming production.  But first…

Footage of a staggered line of brown and yellow ducklings waddling up a “duck ramp” at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

JEAN-VO
Ducklings are in luck!  Two new ramps have been installed at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to provide easier water access to families of ducks—and the ducklings have already figured out how to use the new amenity.

The ducklings turn and waddle toward the water, starting down the declined plank over the ledge.  They slip and fall, sliding and splashing into the pool, as Jean talks.

JEAN-VO
Warmer weather has allowed for an increase in the pool’s duckling population, but its slanted edge was making it difficult for them to get back into the water.

Stanley approaches Jean as she’s removing her microphone after the broadcast.

STANLEY
Good show, lady.

JEAN
Thank you, kind sir.

STANLEY
Cup of coffee, ten minutes?

They stand between two stone lions on the front steps of the CDN News studio.

STANLEY
Will the special be done in time to meet the new deadline?

JEAN
Saturday’s the day.

STANLEY
Can Joe finish editing without you?

JEAN
I trust him with it.  Whether or not Smidgen’s people approve it is a different story.

STANLEY
Don’t worry about that.  Listen, we need everything ready by the time that special airs.  Mizreb’s death may be the start.  We have to act before the earthquake gets worse.

JEAN
You want me to go to Koreston?

STANLEY
Go, get what you need, and be back by Sunday.  Who knows, your work might be what saved the world after all.

*       *       *

An underground warehouse in the Middle East, four guards armed with assault rifles stand on opposite walls near the steps at the front of a large room full of crates and various containers of weapons, ammunition, and chemicals.  The sound of the metal door at the top of the steps (out of frame), clanking and swinging open.  A voice shouts (in Arabic), “Hurry up, lock it in!”  The sound of a metal case dropping on metal rails, and the voice yells (in Arabic), “Careful!”  The sound of the case sliding down the rails on either side of the steps, and the backs of two men, side by side, walking backwards down the steps with the case in front of them (about the size of a refrigerator), come into view at the bottom of the steps, and slide the case onto two pallets on the floor in front of the steps.  The guards don’t move as the five men transporting the case center it on the pallets and prepare to store it among the other crates of weapons.

In the small bedroom of a house in an unspecified Middle Eastern city, a white man (soldier) in plain clothes sits at a table with a laptop in front of him.  On the screen, bank account information showing a recent transfer of $75,000,000.  He opens a new window on the screen, a blank message box, and types, “The beans have been planted.  Say hello to the farmer.” and clicks send.

General Albertson sits at the desk in his office, reading an email on his computer.  The phone beeps and his secretary’s voice speaks.

SECRETARY
General Albertson, President Lang for you, sir.

He stops reading and looks from the screen to the telephone, thinks for a moment.

GENERAL ALBERTSON
Thank you, Sarah.
Picks up phone.
Hello, Mr. President…  I’m doing well, how about yourself?

Obligatory smile.
Of course, not the fairest weather…

Listens for fifteen seconds as Lang speaks.
Yes, sir.  I will be there.  Eight o’clock…  You too, Mr. President.  Mm-hm, God bless.

Hangs up phone, sits back and stares blankly at screen for a moment.

In the classroom at the University in Koreston, Melissa sits among students spaced every other chair, taking an exam.  Close-up on page, multiple choice question:  “A prominent leader and medicine man of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, he both raided and resisted U.S. and Mexican forces in southwestern American territories and northern Mexican states, following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.

a) Chief Touch the Clouds
b) Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)
c) Tisquantum (Squanto)
d) Geronimo
e) Sacagawea

She reads over the answers, and circles “d.”  She exits the class and sees Jean standing across the hall waiting for her, but Melissa doesn’t seem to recognize her.

JEAN
Walks after her.
Melissa.  Can we talk for a minute?

MELISSA
Keeps walking.

JEAN
Catches up to her, walks alongside.
I can help you, if you talk to me.

Jean and Melissa sit at a table in a study room of the University library.  The front wall of the room is glass, and we see them speaking for a few seconds but don’t hear what they are saying.

MELISSA
We weren’t even officially “together.”  I went over to his place once or twice a week, and we’d watch tv and hang out.  Neither of us wanted a relationship.

JEAN
Why didn’t you tell the police?

MELISSA
Adnan and I stopped seeing each other almost half a year ago.  What could I have told them?

JEAN
It was serious enough for his mother to know about you.

MELISSA
He exaggerates.  He probably told her so she’d think he was normal.

JEAN
Melissa, I know there’s nothing I can say to make sense of what happened—the shooting.  And I know you know more than you’re letting on.  I’m trying to help us to be more protected from this type of violence in the future.

MELISSA
Glances up at her, then back down at the table.

JEAN
When you were with him, did you ever see or hear anything that might indicate his being connected to a terrorist network?

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen stands behind a row of desks in a room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  A large flat-screen tv almost covers the wall in front of them, and is divided into twelve equal sections, each one showing a different news channel, some from foreign countries.  Most of the sections are muted, while a few have people speaking and footage playing simultaneously.  Headlines: 

  1. Dutch Lawmakers Approve U.K. Trade Deal with Ukraine
  2. KESG Blast Kills Dozens at Family Gathering in Iraq
  3. More Than 150 Pot Shops Busted in Detroit
  4. South Korea Leader Orders Investigation into Unreported U.S. Launches
  5. Bangladesh Cyclone Wreaks Havoc in Rohingya Refugee Camps

He walks down a hallway, past several doorways, and stops at one to lean in and talk to his assistant.

WOLFRAM
I’m going out to grab some lunch.

ASSISTANT
Okay, Mr. Secretary.

He walks through the hall toward the front entrance of the building.  View of doors from outside, one door opens and Wolfram emerges, starts down steps and down the walkway to the street.  As he walks toward Pennsylvania Avenue, the camera zooms out at a medium-fast pace to reveal the entirety of the Eisenhower Building, the front courtyard, and then the White House and front lawn next door, continuing to zoom out until all of downtown D.C. is visible in the frame.

On a restaurant patio overlooking a lake, college students stand and sit around tables, drinking beer and eating appetizers.  Jean stands inside the glass doors, looking out at the students.  She sees Jonathan sitting with a few other kids, talking and laughing.  Jonathan slides three empty glasses onto the outside bar.

JONATHAN
Three more Heineken’s, please.

BARTENDER
Coming right up.

JEAN
Finally getting back to normal around here, huh?

JONATHAN
Looks quickly at her.
You’re that reporter.  Don’t you have a show coming up in a few days?

JEAN
That’s the plan.  I’m hoping you can answer a question for me first.

JONATHAN
One question?

JEAN
What do you think they’re going to do when they find out you pushed Adnan into killing all those people?

JONATHAN
Laughs.
I don’t know what you heard, but—

JEAN
God knows.  And the authorities know about Fairfield.

JONATHAN
So what?  I didn’t shoot those people, Addie did.  You get the hell away from me.

JEAN
What you did as a child, plus giving Addie the .38, your life’s over.  Good luck finding a job.

JONATHAN
Angry.
I don’t need a—

Looks away, then back at her.
This is harassment.  You have no right to be here.

Leaves a twenty on the bar, takes the beers, and walks away.

Smidgen walks along a street, turns into a park, and continues on a path while fixing a thin black adhesive strip to a black zip drive.  Near the center of the park is a fountain (different fountain than the earlier scene), light crowd in the surrounding area.  He enters the square and walks past the fountain, bending quickly to hide the zip drive underneath its outer edge.  He glances around rapidly as he keeps walking and exits the square on the other side.

Deborah Elm rides in the passenger seat of a golf cart, beside a man with gray hair, and they stop on a fairway a few hundred feet from the green.  She removes her phone from her pocket and checks the message:  Private Number: “Keating Park.  Center fountain.  Southeast side, under the outer edge.”

Early evening, as the sun is setting, she walks toward the fountain, a little nervous, and kneels down to look under the edge.  Seeing the zip drive, she stands up and walks a few paces, removes it, puts it in her pocket and keeps walking.

*       *       *

Stanley and Joe in the editing room at CDN, watching Jean’s gun violence special on the center screen.  She is walking down the sidewalk in a quiet, sunny neighborhood, and talking into a microphone.

JEAN
Some believe having the right to carry a concealed firearm serves to promote peace, by discouraging would-be attackers from preying on others.
She stops walking.
But what’s keeping the people who lawfully carry guns from misusing them in public—with potentially fatal consequences?

The special cuts to Jean interviewing a man in the front yard of his house.

JEAN
Have you ever drawn a weapon on a human being?

MAN
Few times.  Never had to shoot nobody.

Monique knocks on the door to the editing room, and opens it.

MONIQUE
Mr. Balto, you might want to see this.

They walk into the main studio, where a few large screens are showing a national news channel with Deborah Elm speaking to the camera.

DEBORAH
We can clearly hear President Lang’s voice on this recording.  There is no question that this is the President of the United States.
The screen splits to show a man at another desk.
In your opinion, is there any way to tell when this conversation took place?

He starts replying, as Stanley reacts.

STANLEY
No, no, no…  What is this?

EXPERT
So we know the file was saved onto the drive approximately forty-eight hours ago, but we can’t as yet determine when the President spoke these words.

DEBORAH
Can we hear the recording again, please?

PRESIDENT LANG
Slight static.
The next one gets cleared by me…  Make sure they know that…

Angry.
Now they can trace those weapons to us.

DEBORAH
An investigation into the specific types, quantities, and locations of the weapons is currently underway.  Neither President Lang, nor any member of his administration, has made a statement.

JOE
Could it be fake?  Can they fabricate someone’s voice like that?

STANLEY
They can and they did.
He looks at the screen a moment longer, then turns and starts to leave.

JOE
What about the show, are we gonna—

STANLEY
On his way out.
Still on, tomorrow night.

Jean sitting near the back of an airplane, dark outside.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Bell rings.
Good evening, passengers, please fasten your seatbelts and return your seat backs to their upright and locked positions.  We will be landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport in about fifteen minutes.  I repeat, we will be landing in Washington D.C. in about fifteen minutes.

Aerial view of D.C. at night, followed by a time-lapse shot of the sun rising over the downtown area.

A conference room in the Capitol Building, twenty or so of the President’s Advisors, Generals, and Chiefs-of-Staff, (including Wolfram and General Albertson), sit quietly around a long rectangular table.  President Lang enters, walks to the head of the table, pulls out the chair, sits down, and looks up at them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thank you all for being here this morning.  I don’t intend to bore you with any stale anecdotes about the time before I came to Washington, the years when the thought of my becoming President would have been pretty funny.  I should say that I’ve always loved this nation.  It’s not our freedom that I love, or our ideals, our values, or our history.  I love it cause it’s mine.  And yours, and the bums who sleep outside on benches, or in the woods, it’s theirs too.  The United States is everyone’s.

When I took office I swore to faithfully execute my duties, and to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  In the course of carrying out that promise I’ve made some enemies, some of whom are right here at this table.  Some have devoted themselves to undermining my work with blatant lies, vindictive accusations, and treasonous plots to cast my presidency in the most sinister shades of darkness.  Don’t think for one instant that either your actions, or your intentions, have gone unobserved.

A number of you might cringe upon hearing this again, but my grandfather fought and died for this country in the first World War.  He took a stand for this place, marched off to hell, and died there, in part so we could serve here, free from the threat of hell overtaking our own shores.  If you disagree with my agenda to increase regulations on certain firearms, that’s fine, you’re free to oppose me.  But if you’re operating under the assumption that you have any chance of getting away with treachery…
He looks around at them again.
You’d better take a step back, and find a different way to go.

He stands up, walks out of the silent room.

*       *       *

Stanley in the control room of CDN, watching a national news channel as Jean and their crew prepare for the broadcast.  On the screen, four people sit behind a desk talking fervently about the audio recording.

ANCHOR
We have to be real, here.  How much evidence do you need?  There are at least two offshore bank accounts holding a combined five hundred and thirty million dollars, which have been linked to known business associates of men in Lang’s administration, and now we have undeniable proof that he oversaw an illegal arms trade.  What could convince you at this point?

GUEST
Hold on, can we back up a second?  The accounts being linked to President Lang’s administration, hasn’t been proven yet—

ANCHOR
Rolls his eyes.
Hasn’t been—okay, I guess it hasn’t been proven that you’ve appeared as a guest on this program, either.

Stanley watches, dismayed, then looks out at Jean behind the desk in the studio.  A crew member in the control room starts calling his name, but he keeps looking at her as she reads over her notes, then looks back at him through the glass, and smiles.

CREW MEMBER
Speaks into headset microphone.
Yes, sir, Mr. Stockton, he’s ready.
Switches microphone off.
Stanley, you in there?  They’re ready to roll at LQVN.

STANLEY
Puts on headset.
All set, Ms. Connelly?

JEAN
Takes a breath, and nods.

The intro to LQVN’s Thursday night program begins on two of the monitors in the CDN control room, while Jean stays on the other screens.  Charles Stockton appears facing the camera, from his desk at LQVN.

STOCKTON
Good evening, ladies and gentleman.  Tonight we have a special report from a journalist you may not know.  She’s a local D.C. reporter named Jean Connelly, and she hosts the CDN nightly news on weekdays at six p.m.  Jean’s been traveling the country for the last few weeks, interviewing and doing research on the subject of gun violence in America.  Here she is to introduce the piece, live from Washington.  Hello, Jean.

JEAN
Hi, Mr. Stockton.  Thanks for letting me be a part of your show.  It’s an honor to be here.  Before we air the special, I’d like to address a couple issues that are of the utmost importance to the American people.  The shooting last month in Koreston was, as we all know, a senseless tragedy.

Wolfram sits staring at the tv in his apartment, half-empty whiskey bottle on the table in front of him.

JEAN
Adnan Mizreb was a severely disturbed young man, isolated, depressed, and therefore vulnerable to hatred and evil.  However despite what most of the media, and the authorities have stated, he was not the only one responsible for the attack.

Vera lays stretched out on the couch in her house, a glass of wine and a bowl of Funyuns on the table.

VERA
Alex, get in here, Jeanie’s thing is on tv.

JEAN
Adnan’s friend, Jonathan Rand, who’s now in custody, both helped him to plan and pressured him into committing the murders, as well as supplying Adnan with the thirty-eight caliber revolver as a backup weapon.  Jonathan acquired the gun at least eight years ago, and possibly used it in two thousand ten to wound a driver at a demolition derby in Fairfield, Ohio, where his older brother was competing.

Wolfram watches tv, anxious and perplexed.

JEAN
An anonymous source who was close to Adnan has claimed and is willing to testify that Jonathan, quote, “offered her money to help him go through with it.”
She pauses a moment, looks down at her notes.
The last point I’d like to address concerns the recent accusations directed at President Lang and his administration.  After the Koreston shooting I spoke with the President about interviewing him on the topic of gun control, but later Secretary Smidgen informed us of their decision to go with a more experienced journalist.
Flashback to Wolfram and Stanley at the café as Jean continues talking.
Soon after the interview, my boss received an offer to begin work on a special to be aired nationally, the program we’ll be showing tonight.
Flashback to Stanley and Lang talking (new scene), then investigators searching files on computers, and monitoring Smidgen’s communications).
When Stanley saw the Secretary’s change of heart about our competence, he could tell something was wrong, and went to talk with President Lang, who discovered not only Smidgen’s connections to certain members of KESG, but also his efforts to spread the lies we’ve been hearing.

Wolfram watches Jean on tv, realizes what’s happening and becomes enraged, then back to Jean in the studio.

JEAN
As for the audio that’s just been released, it’s easy enough to replicate a person’s voice now.  We managed to do more than that in less than twenty-four hours.

She turns to look at the large screen beside the news desk, where an image of the White House Press Room appears, the empty platform, podium, two flags, cameramen, and chairs full of journalists.  Wolfram enters the room and steps up to the podium.

WOLFRAM
Hello, America.  I falsified evidence in order to frame Thomas Lang.
Smiles, and walks out of the frame.

Wolfram in his apartment, bows his head for a second, then grips the edge of the glass table and flips it over, shattering it against the tv and wall.

WOLFRAM
Points at Jean’s face on the cracked screen.
I’m gonna kill you.

He walks down the hall toward his bedroom, and we see Jean and hear fragments of her words through the broken tv.  Wolfram walks out of the dark hallway with a small black handgun, over the shattered glass on the carpet, and to the front door, opens it, and walks out into the hallway of his apartment building.  He slams the door and starts left toward the elevators, about one hundred feet away, where a Secret Service Agent steps into view.  Wolfram sees him, keeps walking, and starts to raise the gun.  The Agent draws his gun and shoots Wolfram in the right shoulder, his arm falls to his side, but he does not drop the gun.  Staggering a little, he keeps walking, reaching over with his left hand to take the gun from his right.

SECRET SERVICE AGENT
Aiming at him.
Don’t do this, sir.

Wolfram grips the gun in his left hand, walking slowly, about forty feet from the Agent, and raises it quickly to shoulder level, and the Agent fires a bullet through Wolfram’s heart.  He falls forward and sideways against the wall, similar to Mr. Mizreb, and lies dead with his upper back and head against the wall.  The Agent approaches slowly and kicks the gun away. 

*       *       *

Upper and Lower Senate Garden, bright, sunny, early Spring, the sound of the fountain and a few people sitting and walking nearby.  Jean sits on a bench with the Capitol Building in the background.  Vera approaches, and she smiles.

VERA
Hey, hot stuff.  Want to have a drink?

JEAN
With you?  Anytime.

VERA
How do I know you won’t run away, to New York or something, and leave me stranded here?

JEAN
Looks down at her feet, up again.
To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll do that.  I’ll come back and visit.
She stands up, and they start walking along the row of trees.

The camera rises above the fountain as they walk away, their conversation slowly fading out.

VERA
Can I come with you?

JEAN
Come with me?  I don’t even know your name, lady.

VERA
Mi nombre es Antonella.  Cómo te llamas, Rojita?

JEAN
This… isn’t fun anymore.

VERA
No, please…  Let’s do the whole day like this.

JEAN
Shut up, Vera.

VERA

 

 

~  Music and Credits  ~

 

Fyodor Dostoevsky Quotes

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― The Brothers Karamazov

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”
― Crime and Punishment

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”
― Crime and Punishment

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
― The Brothers Karamazov

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
Crime and Punishment

“Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.”
Notes from Underground

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
Notes from Underground

“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I’m human”
Notes from Underground

“The soul is healed by being with children.”

“People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.”

“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
Crime and Punishment

“I love mankind, he said, “but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.”
― The Brothers Karamazov

“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”
Crime and Punishment

“But how could you live and have no story to tell?”
White Nights

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
Crime and Punishment

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”

“Right or wrong, it’s very pleasant to break something from time to time.”

“I am a dreamer. I know so little of real life that I just can’t help re-living such moments as these in my dreams, for such moments are something I have very rarely experienced. I am going to dream about you the whole night, the whole week, the whole year. I feel I know you so well that I couldn’t have known you better if we’d been friends for twenty years. You won’t fail me, will you? Only two minutes, and you’ve made me happy forever. Yes, happy. Who knows, perhaps you’ve reconciled me with myself, resolved all my doubts.

When I woke up it seemed to me that some snatch of a tune I had known for a long time, I had heard somewhere before but had forgotten, a melody of great sweetness, was coming back to me now. It seemed to me that it had been trying to emerge from my soul all my life, and only now-

If and when you fall in love, may you be happy with her. I don’t need to wish her anything, for she’ll be happy with you. May your sky always be clear, may your dear smile always be bright and happy, and may you be for ever blessed for that moment of bliss and happiness which you gave to another lonely and grateful heart. Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of one’s life?”
White Nights

“Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.”

“To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”

“Man is a mystery. It needs to be unravelled, and if you spend your whole life unravelling it, don’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am studying that mystery because I want to be a human being.”

“The world says: ‘You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.’ This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“I swear to you gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.”
Notes from Underground

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering…”

“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“You can be sincere and still be stupid.”

“If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and get to know a man, don’t bother analyzing his ways of being silent, of talking, of weeping, of seeing how much he is moved by noble ideas; you will get better results if you just watch him laugh. If he laughs well, he’s a good man.”

“I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – that is living.”
The Brothers Karamazov

“It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them — the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas.”

“‘Not one people,’ he began, as though reading it line by line and at the same time continuing to look menacingly at Stavrogin― ‘not one people has yet ordered its life in accordance with the principles of science and reason.  There has never been an instance of it, except only for a moment, out of folly.  Socialism is by its very nature bound to be atheistic because it has proclaimed from the very first that it is an atheistic institution and that it intends to organize itself exclusively on the principles of science and reason.  Reason and science have always, today and from the very beginning of time, played a secondary and subordinate part; and so they will to the end of time.  Peoples are formed and moved by quite a different force, a force that dominates and exercises its authority over them, the origin of which, however, is unknown and inexplicable.  That force is the force of an unquenchable desire to go on to the end and, at the same time, to deny the existence of an end.  It is the force of an incessant and persistent affirmation of its existence and a denial of death.  It is the spirit of life, as the Scripture says, ‘rivers of living water,’ the running dry of which is threatened in Revelation.  It is the aesthetic principle, as the philosophers call it, an ethical principle, with which they identify it, the ‘seeking of God,’ as I call it much more simply.  The purpose of the whole evolution of a nation, in every people and at every period of its existence, is solely the pursuit of God, their God, their very own God, and faith in Him as in the only true one.  God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, taken from its beginning to its end.  It has never happened that all or many peoples should have one common God, but every people has always had its own special one.  The first sign of the decay of nations is when they begin to have common gods.  When gods begin to be common gods, the gods die as well as the faith in them, together with the peoples themselves.  The more powerful a nation, the more individual its god.  There has never yet been a nation without a religion, that is to say, without the conception of good and evil.  Every people has its own conception of good and evil and its own good and evil.  When the conceptions of good and evil become general among many nations, then these nations begin to die out, and the very distinction between good and evil begins to get blurred and to vanish.  Reason has never been able to define good and evil, or even to separate good from evil, not even approximately; on the contrary, it had always mixed them up in a most pitiful and disgraceful fashion; as for science, its solutions have always been based on brute force.  This was particularly true of that half-science, that most terrible scourge of mankind, worse than pestilence, famine, or war, and quite unknown till our present century.  Half-science is a despot such as has never been known before.  A despot that has its own priests and slaves, a despot before whom everybody prostrates himself with love and superstitious dread, such as has been quite inconceivable till now, before whom science itself trembles and surrenders in a shameful way.  These are your own words, Stavrogin, except only what I have said about half-science; that is mine, because I represent only half-science, and that’s why I hate it particularly.  As for your own ideas and even your own words, I haven’t changed anything, not a single word.'”
― Demons