This blog is about my writing and my reading: My published books and a novel in progress; a course I am teaching on drama and theater, and the adventures and challenges of sharing literature with students.
Some topics that interest me: parallel worlds; life after death; the human condition; concepts of heaven; Hungary; the human toll of the Cold War; Shakespeare's works; literature and life.
Refugee from Paradise by Dalma Takács is available from
$3.99; Paperback, $16.80
This story is about leaving
behind our pastand surviving the
present. About learning to treasure the pains and the joys that make us who we
are.Penny Kiss is a Hungarian refugee
girl who was forced to leave her home and friends in Hungary after the Communist
takeover and start a new life in England in 1948.
They Have Spies Everywhere
September 6th, 1948
I’ve received a letter from Aunt
Felicia. “You are a lucky girl to be going to school in London,” she writes. I
know she is right, even though I am lying in bed at home with the chickenpox on
the first day of school, and I am worrying about missing two weeks of school
work with my English so poor. At least I can practice by writing in my journal.
I know Aunt Felicia is right, even
though Uncle Ed hasn’t found a job yet, and we have to live on what Mami earns
by making hand-embroidered blouses for Mrs. Pavel.
I know I’m lucky, even though food
in England is scarce and rationed. Most weeks our ration books allow us to buy
only a quarter pound of butter, half a pound of bacon, and one or two eggs per
person. We buy meat not by the pound, but by the “book.”
I must remember next time to use the right word in the butcher’s shop.
Even now, as I sit here scratching, the memory of my humiliation stings. I
walked up to the counter and said in what I thought was perfect English, “Please
give me some flesh for one ration book.” The butcher said, “Blimy!”, the
customers laughed, and I fled the shop, flaming red in the face. In Hungarian
meat is flesh and flesh is meat. The same word serves for both.
I know I’m lucky because we don’t have
to pay for medicine or doctor visits, because school and school supplies are
all free, because we have a roof over our heads and no Russian soldiers in the
I know I’m lucky, but I don’t feel lucky at all.
I spend the day trying to forget the
itch and wondering what my face will look like when the blisters are gone. I
wasn’t much of a beauty to begin with, and I doubt that craters on my cheeks
will improve my appearance. I take aspirin for the fever, and I lie awake most
of the night; at fifteen, chickenpox is no longer a child’s disease. I try to
pass the time by writing letters home—home to Hungary, the country I’ve had to
leave and will never see again. I have written to Daddy telling him about all
the sights of London: the mummies in the British Museum, the Rembrandts in the
National Gallery, the Crown Jewels in the Tower. Before I seal the letter, I
must show it to Mami and Uncle Ed. They have to make sure there is nothing
“political” in it that could hurt Daddy at home. The Communist government is
looking to arrest anyone who criticizes the system.
Daddy is not very careful with his
letters to me. He writes about things he loves—Hungarian literature, history,
folk music and art. But he also includes remarks about the government in what
we call “flower language,” using innocent words to fool the censor. Of course,
by now I’m sure the censor knows perfectly well that “illness” and “hospital”
are flower language for arrest and imprisonment, but Daddy doesn’t care. “Our
neighbor Peter was suddenly taken ill last night,” he writes. “He will spend
the next ten years in the hospital. Doctors are quite ruthless these days."
Do you hear an echo in your own experience?
Were you ever young in a strange land? Do you have memories that sting and
Dalma Takács is available from www.amazon.com.
Kindle edition, $3.99; Paperback,
story is about leaving behind our past and surviving the present. About learning to
treasure the pains and the joys that make us who we are.Penny
Kiss is a Hungarian refugee girl who was forced to leave her home and friends
in Hungary after the communist takeover and start a new life in England in
The Middle East is in turmoil: Egyptians have deposed
their dictator, Mubarak. Egyptians are rejoicing in the victory over
oppression. I ask my students how they feel about the events in Egypt. How does
it compare with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I ask them. I meet with vague
smiles and blank stares. Their minute life spans of20 or so years barely embrace the events of
September 11, 2001. The Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet Empire seem
to them like shadowy visions in a history book.
I remember how we celebrated in 1989 and made wild
predictions of a rosy future.
"And you thought only war could change the
world," my husband said.
"And a little help from Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and
Maggie Thatcher," I added.
My husband is a historian. He likes to keep things in
perspective. The Soviet empire was created by human beings, he says; human
beings don't last forever. Dictatorship can't last forever.Even dictators must bow to economic pressures
as the kings before them had.
Of course he is right; and he rejoices at the fall of communism.
But his rejoicing is different from mine. I am a child of the Cold War. I may
live in The US, and the horrors of communist Eastern Europe are no more, but I
cannot erase those years from my memory.
When I left Hungary, I carried my baggage of sympathies
and loyaltieswith me to England and
locked them up in a lengthy journal. Then I moved to America, and my journal
came with me. Life in America forced me to be happy with my fate and I kept my
journalunder lock and key. But the
baggage is still in my closet, and tonight it demands to come out.
"Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose," say
the French. We change and we stay the same. I am not the same person I was when
I wrote my diary in the 50s. The world is not the same today that it was in the
50s. We are no longer fighting the same battles. In 1956 Hungarians fought and
died to defeat communism. They failed in 1956, butthey started a process that led to the fall
of the Berlin Wall.
Today 1956 is only a blip on the radar screen of history.
The fall of the Wall is another blip. From one blip to the other we live, we
fall in love, we marry, start a family, get old and die. My blip is not
necessarily your blip, but my blip has determined my place in the world as
yours has determined yours.The songs
that echo in my head are the Hungarian folk songs my father has taught me. Your
songs may be rock songs or country music, but you treasure them the same way
because they are part of who you are. Our enemies and weapons may be different,
but we share the same goals: we fight for survival as human beings.
So I unpack my diaryto see how the fight for survival looked in the 1950s and I find
strength as I read.
More and more disturbed and confused by what he sees in the Condo
grounds, Jasper goes back to his room and tries the computer to find answers.
He saw the familiar
Futura web page and his mood began to soar. Here were the pop-up ads he used to
hate so much, the offers that promised to enhance his sex life, boost his self-confidence,
and ensure his financial security. He surfed to the chat page. He set up his
profile, making himself as different from his real self as he could. When he
was finished, he was Jason the Astronaut, 19 years old and loved to travel. He
typed in his question: “I want to see the world beyond the Condo. I’d like some
advice on how to achieve this.”
He pressed “Send” and waited.
The first response was not encouraging: “You and me both, buddy. Let me know if
you find out, and I’ll go with you. Medea.”
“Hi, Medea,” he typed.
“I’ll keep you posted.”
The next message was from
Pronto: “I’ve been talking to Roy Kerr. He told me that we got here through a
rotating wormhole, which made it possible for us to stay in one piece, but he
says we had a one-way ticket.”
“Great! Another crackpot.
This one thinks he is a scientist,” Jasper muttered.
“Better watch out, Jason.
This computer picks up sounds too. I beg to differ. Roy Kerr is a reputable
mathematician from New Zealand. He has shown that it is possible to travel from
one universe to another through a rotating wormhole.”
“Are you telling me that
we are in a different universe?” Jasper wrote.
“Certainly. Why else is
it impossible to leave through the barrier? Why else can we not make phone
calls with a regular cell phone? Why did our watches stop? Why is time playing
tricks with us?
A pop-up ad suddenly
interrupted the exchange: “Enjoy the vacation of a lifetime! Book your trip
back to Earth. Guaranteed to take you there and back safely. We use an
exclusive wormhole recently discovered by our team of scientists. Hurry! This
five million dollar offer ends soon.”
Jasper barely finished
reading the ad before another popped up. “I will act as your personal guide
through the barrier. You will benefit from my years of experience as a condo
guard. Swift and painless passage. No side effects. Reasonable rates. If
interested, please respond to ‘Autolycus.’”If we are in a different
universe, Jasper thought, it’s very much like the other. He deleted the ad from
Autolycus, the god of thieves.
He saw another message
from Pronto. “I know the theory sounds crazy, but I assure you I am not
crazy. It would be great if we could get together and talk about our situation.
Come and visit me some time. My apartment is # 31415.
Jasper kind of liked the
guy. “Thanks, I will,” he wrote, and shut down the computer. At least with
Pronto he could pursue a rational argument.
He walked out into the
passage, looking at the numbers of the suites on the same floor. He passed
Daren’s apartment, 3141 and was surprised to see that Pronto’s place was on the
other side of Daren’s: 31415, the next pi
number. The place was designed by an obsessed mathematician, he thought. The
mysteries that refused rational explanation crowded in around him. To protect
himself, he instinctively tried to push them away, and suddenly he was afraid
of the rational explanation too. But before he had time to turn away from the
door of 31415, the door opened.
A little shrunken man with
a jarmulka stood there smiling. In a moment Jasper was inside the apartment,
sitting in a wing chair upholstered in red velvet. For a few minutes all he was
aware of was the man’s smile—a smile that made introductions unnecessary.
Jasper’s arm brushed the velvet surface and he felt something tickling his
elbow. He looked down and saw a hand-crocheted doily bunched up on the arm of
Pronto jumped up and removed
the doily. “You must excuse my decorations. I’m an old sentimentalist.” He held
the fine lace piece in his hand. “This was made by my grandmother back in
Europe. There is another behind your head.”
Jasper turned and saw it
clinging to the velvet pile; it looked like a cobweb with a pattern of flowers
caught in the strands. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
“It used to be called an antimacassar.
It had a very practical purpose. Our grandfathers used a greasy oil called
Macassar to keep their hair smooth. So our grandmothers, ever tactful, created
these lacy works of art and put them on the chairs to protect the furniture
without offending their menfolk. Here, let me take it off.”
“No, leave it there,” he
said. “It belongs on this chair.”
Pronto gave him a grateful
Jasper was conscious of
something he had seen a moment ago, something significant, but he could not
remember what it was. He tried to force his mind to recall some of the things
that were floating in his mind. He grabbed one: Pronto’s bare arm emerging from
the loose sleeve of his housecoat as he removed the doily. Jasper had caught a
glimpse of a number tattooed on the skin. He did not know if he should remark
Pronto saved him the
embarrassment. “You saw my number. When people see it, they usually don’t know
whether to say anything or pretend it isn’t there. Yes, I am a Holocaust
survivor. But you know what’s really strange. Here, look at the number.”
Jasper looked and saw the
numbers 31415. It hit him: “It’s the same as your suite number!”
“And you know what’s even
more strange? You know what this number is? It’s the first five digits of pi!”
“So it is!” Jasper
exclaimed. “My number is 314, and my next door neighbor, Daren, has 3141, the first
four digits of pi.” Someone in this condo
association has a warped sense of humor, to put a mass murderer next to a
holocaust survivor, he added to himself.
“I’ve met Daren,” Pronto said. “Nice guy.”
Jasper thought he ought
to enlighten his new friend. “Do you know who Daren is?”
“Of course. He used to be
what they call in America, a mass murderer.
“You don’t mind living next door to him?”
“He is small potatoes
compared to some of the other criminals of my acquaintance. Like Joseph Mengele
or Adolph Hitler, for instance, or even the Palestinian suicide bombers. He is
in treatment now, and doing quite well, I believe.”
“Treatment?” Jasper said.
“I keep hearing that word. It seems to me there are a lot of people with mental
problems around here.”
“Mental problems?” Pronto
pondered. “I don’t know about mental problems. Our problem is not so
much that we are not rational as that we are trying to be too rational. I think
I’d rather call it a spiritual problem.”
“You mean we don’t accept
this hokum about being in a parallel universe?”
“Oh that? That’s easy to
accept. Sooner or later we all have to accept the fact that we are living a
different existence from our previous life. I take it you are new here, and it
seems hard for you to accept the fact that you are dead. Pardon me for not using
a more polite word. But the really hard thing for most people, including
myself, is to accept the fact that we must live forever, and all the decisions
that involves. That is why so many people opt for hanging around here rather
than go for the treatment and see if they can qualify for heaven. You see, most
people when they get here, have this conventional view of heaven as a rather
boring place where you sing hymns all day. Actually the idea of heaven is much
Pronto went on to expound
a mass of abstruse ideas, but Jasper gagged on one word: DEAD.
This is where my excerpts will
end. If you are interested in the "sequel" to Jasper's life, you
might try to find out what great thinkers before us thought about the nature and purpose of human life,
and how Jasper might find his own answer. Or you could buy the novel and meet
Jasper's old and new friends and even people such as C.S. Lewis, Bernard Shaw, Emanuel
Swedenborg and Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele. The question we are all trying to
answer is whether evil necessary to human existence. Is it an integral part of
our spiritual makeup? Andif it is, how do we deal with it?
Jasper makes up his mind to find some allies. He decides to meet his
He walked out into the
hallway and stopped in front of the unit next door. The number was 3141, the first
four digits of pi. What a strange way
to number apartments, he thought as he rang the doorbell. A nurse in white
uniform opened the door. Jasper was about to pitch into his introduction, but
the nurse cut him off. “Welcome Jasper, come on in,” she said. “Daren is busy
with the treatment right now, but he’ll be happy to see you in a few minutes.”
“I don’t want to intrude
. . .”
“No, it’s good for the
patient to have visitors,” she said. She motioned for him to sit in one of the
traditional wing chairs in the living room. “Make yourself at home while we
finish the session.”
Jasper sat down somewhat
diffidently as she walked into the next room, which he figured was the
bathroom. The walls seemed to be very thin and hardly soundproof. Jasper was
embarrassed to hear what was going on inside.
He heard a whining,
pleading male voice followed by the friendly but firm voice of the nurse.
“Do we have to do this
again? It’s painful, you know.”
“It’s painful only
because you won’t let go, Daren. You must let me soak off that damaged layer.”
“But it’s all part of me.
If you soak it off, there will be nothing left.”
“Nonsense, it’s just like
with third degree burns. We have to take off the bandages each day and soak off
the dead skin so that the good skin underneath can breathe and grow.”
There was silence, then a
pitiful whine. “Nurse, please don’t. I can’t stand it!”
The nurse was sympathetic.
“Wait a minute. I have an idea. We have a new therapy to relieve tension and
help you let go. Hang on. I’ll just need to make a call. Shoot! I left my phone
in the living room.” She came in, picked up her phone from the table and dialed.
“I need a music technician. Who’s available? . . . OK send him up.”
Within minutes Jasper
heard the doorbell chime, and the nurse admitted a man in a powdered wig and 18th
century costume that reminded him of pictures of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The
man was holding a violin under his arm and grinned at Jasper.
“He’s in the bath and I
need something to take his mind off the pain,” the nurse explained.
“A little night music
perhaps?” The musician smirked. He tilted his head and pushed his violin under
his chin. He tickled it with his bow and skipped into the bathroom, leaving a
scent of irresistible music behind him.
“Is that better now?”
Jasper heard the nurse inside.
Daren no longer whined.
He grunted “Yes,” and Jasper heard only the lilting tones that tickled and
stroked his ears until he forgot why he was there. He dozed off and was
awakened by the trio from the bathroom—the Mozart guy leading the way, skipping
like the Pied Piper, followed by the nurse, and finally the patient, Daren.
Jasper was looking for a
sick man swathed in bandages. But Daren was dressed in a terry bathrobe and
walked easily in his bedroom slippers. He turned to Jasper. “Hello, neighbor.
Sorry you had to wait.” He held out his hand. “Name is Daren. Daren Redmond.”
The name sounded
familiar, but Jasper could not place it. He wanted to express his sympathy but
did not like to let on that he had heard Daren’s pitiful moans. “I hope your
treatment will soon be complete,” he said.
“It will be a while yet,”
Daren said. “There is a lot to soak off. But Mozart here has been a big help.”
“Yes, I’ve read about
music therapy for burn victims,” Jasper said. “How did it happen? Was it an
Daren looked at him,
puzzled. “An accident? No it was no accident.”
Jasper sounded concerned.
“No, not arson.”
“Then how did you get
Daren looked at the nurse
and the musician, and they all burst out laughing.
“He thinks Daren is a
burn victim,” Mozart said, and they all broke into guffaws and giggles again.
When the nurse saw
Jasper’s irritation, she made them stop laughing. “I’m sorry, Jasper. I guess
we forgot that you are new here. Daren is not burnt. Though mind you, many
people who come here at first think of this as a very hot place.” More sniggers
from Daren and Mozart. “No, he’s simply trying to get rid of the debris in his
mind. Not that the process is painless.”
“I know, I know. It’s
painful only because I can’t let it go,” Daren intoned in mock solemnity.
Jasper wished nothing
more than to find a good excuse for a polite exit. He had no desire to hear
Daren’s confidence. Daren was too crazy to be a useful ally. Still, he was
curious to know what Daren’s real problem was. He decided to leave with the
nurse and the musician.
As they closed the door
behind them, he said, “What exactly is the ‘debris’ in Daren’s mind?”
“He was chief elder of
the First Presbyterian Church of Boise Idaho, a scout leader and a volunteer
fireman,” the nurse said as she and Mozart were walking down the hallway past
Jasper’s apartment. Jasper had to follow them.
“He also pleaded guilty
to ten counts of first degree murder. His problem is that he is still enjoying
his past actions. Still, he is making progress. You should have seen him when
he first arrived. He was forever writing letters to the police department giving
them clues to the murders. You could hear him all the way down the hall
sniggering, chuckling, smirking and sometimes roaring with laughter.”
Jasper was horrified.
“He’s a murderer? So, what’s he doing here? Why is he not on death row?”
“He was. But remember,
death row is for the living.”
The nurse is just as
disturbed as her patient, Jasper thought. These people are all crazy, or else
members of some kind of cult. Still, he had to find out what made them tick.
“So, what are you doing? Trying to rehabilitate him?”
“In a manner of speaking,”
the nurse said. “Mozart here has helped a lot.”
Jasper turned to the
musician. “Mozart? Is that your real name?”
“Well, I don’t know about
real. It’s the name my father gave me: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”
I’m landed in a commune
peopled by criminals and mental patients, Jasper was thinking.
“We are not all
criminals,” the nurse said.
And mind readers.
“Some of us are
philosophers, poets, and even saints.”
Comes to the same thing,
“I suppose you think it
comes to the same thing,” the nurse said.
You are all crazy, Jasper
said to himself.
“But we are not crazy.
What we have in common is that we are all human.”
This is getting me
nowhere, Jasper thought. He had been following the nurse out of the building,
and now they were in a part of the park that he had not seen before. They were
walking on a forest path springy with pine needles. He could smell the
fragrance of the trees—redwoods that arched over them in a protective embrace.
It reminded him of a camping trip he once took with his students when he was a
teacher in Los Angeles. Redwoods in Florida? He wondered. These people spare no
expense for landscaping. He tried a new approach. “By the way, I don’t know
Goddess of the Moon,
taking care of the lunatics. Jasper was waiting for her to echo his thoughts,
but Selena only smiled. She changed the subject. “Tell me, Jasper, have you
listened to your wife yet?”
“That’s exactly what I
did. I heard her, but she didn’t hear me. I need a phone that lets us talk.”
“You heard her, but you
didn’t listen. Try calling her again.”
“What’s the point? These
phones are not set up the right way.”
Selena smiled at what
Jasper thought must be an inside joke. “Jasper, your trouble is that you know
everything. Your treatment will be almost as hard as Daren’s.”
Jasper was stung. “I beg
your pardon! I don’t happen to be a serial killer. You think I’m like a
“No. We are all unique.
But we have certain traits in common. That’s why we need each other. You are
proud of your accomplishments, you’re always certain that you are right. You
can’t let go of the idea that you are a great architect. Daren too is proud of
his accomplishment: he considers himself to be the cleverest criminal in the last
three decades of his life. He can’t let go of the satisfaction he feels when he
thinks of his grisly murders.”
More and more suspicious, Jasper
decides that the only way he can get away from Paradise Point Condominiums is
to walk through the park to the highway
and flag down a passing car. He reaches the highway and sees cars passing, but
finds that he is separated from the road by a continuous line of sound barrier
fences that seem to disappear in the distance, but grow impossibly high when he
approaches.He goes to the gate, but the
guard refuses to let him leave. Jasper waits for a changing of the guard and
tries his luck with the new guard, whose name is Paul.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Jasper thought he might
have a girlfriend. “Do you live here too?”
“Depends what you mean by
live. Do you mean do I reside here? Yes I do.”
Another quibbler, Jasper
thought. But he pressed on. “Don’t you ever feel tempted just to sneak out?”
Paul laughed without
amusement. “I did at first, but I soon realized that it was impossible.”
“Well, perhaps not
impossible. One day someone might discover a way, but right now no one knows
how to crawl back through the wormhole.”
The wormhole! Was he
talking about a parallel universe? Whoever brainwashed this guy sure sold him a
bill of goods.
Paul was in a talkative
mood. “I guess the only way to get away from here is to go in for the
treatment. But you’re not going to catch me falling for that nonsense.”
“I don’t know exactly what’s
involved,” Paul said. “Everyone I talk to tells me something different. But
anyway, it seems to be no picnic. And who knows if the whole procedure is worth
it. I think I’d rather hang on to my job here and carry on as usual. What is it
they say, ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’”?
“So, the treatment is not
“Nothing is mandatory
Jasper saw his chance.
“If nothing is mandatory, why do they have a guard at the gate? Why can’t I
take a walk out there on the highway?” He thought Paul could handle a joke. “I
think I’ll just step outside if you don’t mind.”
“You can try,” Paul said,
“but I don’t recommend it.”
“All right then, I will,”
Jasper said, and he started walking toward the entrance barrier. He was amazed
to see the barrier lift, clearing the way for him, but as he got nearer, he
felt as if he had heavy weights on his legs. He struggled to drag his feet
toward the highway outside. With a sheer effort of the will he pushed himself
“I’m almost there,” he
told himself. But then he suddenly lost control. He felt his heart pumping and
his blood surge through his veins. His ears were engulfed with the noise of
beating rain and screeching tires, and then the explosion of a final crash—an
explosion that did not stop.
He felt someone pulling
him back. The confusion subsided, and he found himself in the calm of the Condo
grounds. Paul released him. “See what I mean? If you pass the barrier, you
relive the moment of your death fore
Jasper and Mike
got out and walked across the plush red carpet to the desk of the concierge,
who was sitting on a stool at the counter, checking something on his computer.
He did not look up but read the data aloud to himself. “Jasper Wergild . . .architect . . .Education: Dartmouth College . . . Expelled
in senior year . . . B.A. English UCLA . . . Taught high school for three years
. . .M.A., University School of
Architecture . . . Licensed on . . . after his third try . . . DBA Jasper
Wergild Architect . . . Filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy . . . Six months in
Iraq on road construction project . . . Taken hostage by insurgents . . .
Married Marguerite Burnstein, daughter of John Burnstein, president of
Burnstein and Burnstein Co. . . First major project: Infinity Towers . . . One
child . . . died at eight months old . . . Wife Marguerite filed for divorce in
. . . Reconciled . . . Freeway accident . . . Wife Marguerite not due yet . .
.” He looked up. “Good morning, sir, welcome to Paradise Point.”
Jasper was taken
aback. “Where did you get all that information? What else is on there?”
The concierge smiled. “Oh,
there’s a lot more in your file, sir.
“This is an invasion of
privacy. I demand that you delete this file.”
The concierge was
patient. “These are permanent records, sir, and cannot be deleted.”
“Well, we’ll see about
that,” Jasper fumed. “Meanwhile, I’d like to see the condo I’ve bought. I
suppose you have a record of that too.”
concierge turned to Mike. “Take Jasper to unit 314.”
“I will need a cell-phone
and a computer.”
“Each unit is equipped
with a computer. And I will give you your personal phone.” The concierge
reached under the counter and produced a bubble-wrapped phone.
Jasper took the package.
He looked at the label, which said, Soul-Phone for Jasper Wergild.Hear
what the world is thinking. “What’s this? A new gimmick? Personalized no
less. Look here, I don’t need all those fancy features. I just want a regular
“This is the only brand
we carry,” the concierge said.
Jasper took his phone and
charged after Mike into the elevator.
Unit 314 left him no
cause for complaint. He did not realize that he had bought a fully furnished
condo, and he was surprised to find that the furniture and the fixtures matched
his taste exactly.
sir?” Mike asked.
“Not bad, not bad at
all,” Jasper said as he threw himself into an ivory colored soft leather couch
and propped his feet up on a glass-topped table. “I think I’m going to like
this place. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must call my wife.” He looked at his
watch. “Damn! It must have stopped in the crash. They don’t make Rolexes like
they used to. I’ll have to trade it in for a Timex.”
Mike waited respectfully
until Jasper stopped laughing. “Sir, I mean, Jasper. I keep forgetting that we
are supposed to use first names. Let me give you a few pointers. At Paradise
Point we have . . . a different system. So until you are familiar with the
procedures, take it slowly. And read the instructions for the phone.”
“All right, I will. And
thank you, Mike,” Jasper said briefly, hoping to be left alone.
“Just one more thing,”
Mike said. “You will be left alone, but you will get help if you ask. Also, you
might want to meet your neighbors. They could help you a lot. After all, you
are all in the same boat as it were.”
By now Jasper was prying
his phone loose from the bubble wrap and barely heard Mike leave and close the
door behind him. Mike is like my mother, always telling me to read the
He pressed the Talk
button and dialed his home number. A recorded voice answered. “Please state
clearly the name and age of the person you wish to reach."
The voice continued.
“Please state the age of the person you wish to reach.”
“What the hell has her
age got to do with it?” Jasper sputtered.
The voice repeated the
Jasper waited in
frustration. The voice repeated the message three more times. Finally,
exasperated, he said, “She is thirty-five years old, not that it’s any of your
The voice repeated what
he had said: “You wish to reach Marguerite Wergild, thirty-five years old. To
refine your search, you may state the exact date and place of the desired
“The time is now, the
place is our home, you moron,” he shouted.
“Time: the present.
Place: home. I will make the connection,” the voice droned.
“Finally,” Jasper said as
he heard Marguerite’s phone ring. At last he heard her voice and he burst out
with “Honey I’m in Florida. Guess what? I bought a condo. You’ll really like
it. That’s the good news. Now the not so good news: on the way down I had a
little accident and wrecked the car. But the good news is that I’m OK, and I
want you to hop on a plane and come down here.” He held forth for more than a
minute before he realized that there was no reaction from Marguerite.
“Did you hear what I
said?” he asked and waited.
Marguerite was there and
talking, but not to him. “. . . Jasper went off early this morning. Said he had
to meet a boring client in Florida. He thinks I’m jealous. Jealous? Of whom for
heaven’s sake? He just doesn’t get it. Ever since Ben died he’s been living
like a hermit. He wraps himself up in his business deals and small talk;
there’s no getting near him. The party was my last attempt to get him to open
up. I thought if he met some of his old friends—”
Jasper pressed the End
button. I must have been connected while she was talking to Nancy, he thought. He figured he’d wait
until his wife finished her conversation before calling again. Meanwhile he
must contact Joe to let him know he would be late returning, and the Triple A
to pick up the car, and his insurance agent, and Hertz Rent-a Car for another
loaner, and his lawyer to advise him on how to force Paradise Point to delete
all the personal information from his file.
He spent the rest of the
afternoon calling all the familiar numbers and swearing at the recorded voice
that demanded the age of the person called. If he complied, he got to hear the
person, but the person did not hear him. He heard Joe complain to someone about
all the work Jasper neglected and left him to shoulder. He heard his lawyer
debate about the fee he should charge for representing Jasper against Duter and
Co. He tried Marguerite again, but she was still moaning about her
Finally he picked up the
instructions and started reading. “The Soul-Phone: Hear what the world is
thinking! An entirely innovative concept in telecommunications. . .Of all
the stupid advertising gimmicks!” he muttered to himself as he left his
apartment, banging the door behind him. By the time he got to the concierge, he
was boiling over.
“Please get me a regular
phone right now. I have no use for this junk!”
The concierge gave him a
puzzled look. “What seems to be the problem?”
Jasper threw the
instruction sheet on the counter. “Is this some kind of April Fool’s joke? It
says here that this phone transmits people’s thoughts?”
“Does it malfunction for
“Malfunction! It has no function! Every time I dial I get a
bad connection. Instead of a busy signal I hear the party speaking to someone
else. I hear my wife speaking to her girlfriend, but she doesn’t hear me.”
“Jasper, your wife is not
speaking to her girlfriend. It sounds like speech, but what you actually hear
are her thoughts and feelings. The phone is in perfect order. You just have to
get used to it.”
has no choice but to get out of his wrecked car. To his surprise, he succeeds,
and his dubious paramedics promise to give him a ride to Paradise Point Condominiums.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Jasper was regaining his
strength and his sense of humor. What a story this will make, he thought.
Marguerite will like it.
Sitting between his two
escorts in the front seat of the ambulance, he watched the vehicle eat the
miles. Wishing he had grabbed the brochure for his condo, he tried to recall
the directions. He wasn’t sure of the details, but one thing he did remember.
“From the turnpike, take Exit 37 West to route 86.” He watched for Exit 37.
Exits 34, 35, and 36 peeled off the freeway in quick succession.
He turned to Gene, who
was driving. “The next exit is the one I need. Go west on Route 86.”
Gene kept his eye on the
Jasper saw the sign for
Exit 37. “That’s where we turn off,” he said, louder than before.
Gene kept driving.
“Better change lanes, so
you can turn off at Exit 37.” He felt his voice rise.
Gene continued in the
center lane. Cars were crowding in the right lane. Soon it would be too late.
Jasper turned to Michael, who was looking out the window. “Does your partner
have a hearing problem? We need to exit here to get to Paradise Point
The next minute took them
past Exit 37. Gene kept driving. Jasper felt his temper rising in his throat;
then he realized that he was trapped. He thought he had a better chance with
Michael. “Where are you taking me,” he asked.
Michael put a hand on his
arm. “Don’t worry, sir. We are taking a shortcut.”
Jasper knew he had no
choice. His only chance of escape was to stay on speaking terms with his
captors. Gene kept driving, and Jasper kept looking for the next exit. Hours
seemed to go by with no exit in sight.
He tried humor. “This
shortcut sure is a long time coming. If you keep going this way, we’ll end up
in Havana.” His weak joke was tactfully ignored by Mike. Gene kept driving.
At last it came: an exit
without a number, but at least it would take them off this merciless freeway.
Gene turned off onto a shady country road winding between orange groves. Jasper
caught sight of a fruit stand and café ahead.
He suddenly had a plan.
“Could you stop at that fruit stand? I need to go to the bathroom.”
“No you don’t,” said
“I’m sorry, sir, but
that’s impossible,” said Mike.
“What do you mean impossible?”
Jasper said. “I need to relieve myself. I need to urinate. Do you want me to do
it here in the car?”
Gene shook his head in
frustration. “He still doesn’t get it, Mike. Explain it to him.”
“Well, it’s like this,
guv’nor. It happens to everyone sooner or later. You had a bad accident. You
feel all right now, but there are some things missing.”
“You mean I’ve lost . .
“Believe me, sir, you
won’t miss it. Just hold on until we get to Paradise Point. You’ll see . . . It’ll
all turn out right as rain.”
unzipped his pants. Everything was still there, but without life; his balls and
penis looked like a plastic model in the doctor’s office. He knew that nothing
could turn out right any more. He thought of Marguerite. This was going to be
their second honeymoon—the first really. On the first, fifteen years ago, he
was much too busy with his designs for the Infinity Building, his first major
project. The board’s final approval came through on his wedding night. . .
The ambulance was
speeding through the narrow winding lane. They were alone on the road. There
seemed to be room for only one vehicle. This must be a one-way road, he thought
idly. It could not possibly lead to Paradise Point. Or if it did, he had made a
huge mistake in buying the condo. He cursed himself for not checking out the
place before signing the papers. What a lousy way to buy a home.
His anger spilled over.
“You still haven’t answered my question. Where are you taking me?” As he
struggled to reach the doorknob, he tried to dig his elbow into Mike’s chest.
It felt like hitting a stone wall.
“Now, now, guv’nor.
There’s no need to get upset,” Mike said.
“Better give him a
sedative,” Gene said.
“You are not going to
drug me,” Jasper shouted as he felt a needle that appeared from nowhere prick
him in the arm.
When he came to, the
ambulance was driving up a smooth winding drive flanked by lush green lawns
dotted with beds of bright flowers. They pulled up before a handsome five-story
building. The letters above the marble entrance said “Paradise Point
Condominiums.” The place looked exactly like the picture in the brochure.
Relieved, Jasper smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry I lost my cool,” he said.
“No need to
apologize, sir,” Mike said. “Happens all the time. Now, if you’ll follow me,
I’ll get you checked in with the concierge.”