Summerland. Are You There?

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Image courtesy of sattva/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Godspeed on your trek
across the boggy quagmire.
May the weight of your mortal coil
release you.
You’ve been emancipated.
Exit the lightlessness.
Match your tormentors.
No longer be a victim to anguish.
Clutch the dim radiance
filtering through the fog.
Struggle toward its source.
Pass the souls that are adrift
and that do not know they are irrecoverable.
Ignore the tortured souls’ calls.
You are not one of them.
May warmth surround you.
Do not concede to the cold.
Witness kaleidoscopic ambience.
Summerland.
Are you there?

In 1998, Robin Williams was in the film What Dreams May Come based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name (released in 1978). Coincidentally, the novel is about a man who goes on a quest after his death to rescue his wife from eternal torment following her suicide. As most everyone is aware, Robin Williams was found dead August 11, 2014 of apparent suicide. He battled addiction and depression. Richard Matheson died June 23, 2013 of natural causes. Maybe they will meet in Summerland.

Learn more about suicide prevention, warning signs, how to get help for yourself or someone you know: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Learn more about What Dreams May Come, Richard Matheson, and the origins of Summerland: Goodreads.

Tête-à-Tête

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

There are times when I think, This isn’t supposed to be part of my life. Somehow I ended up in someone else’s nightmare. When did I become one of those people things like this happen to?

Wasn’t it enough when my husband’s mistress outed him on the same day I was to leave with my own companion on our “business” trip? She found me in the grocery store buying a bottle of wine she assumed was for my husband and me. Idiotic bitch. Of course I knew he had a mistress. No man spends that much time and money away from home unless he’s fulfilling his needs elsewhere.

I didn’t care. I stopped loving him years ago. Right about the time I discovered his online dating profile claiming he was a widower. I forgave him like all foolish women do for their men. But after a while I got smart. I got a mistress of my own. Except a man. A manstress.

The girl, no more than twenty-five, accosted me right there on the wine aisle between the Rosé and the Merlot. In a resounding voice that came from somewhere beneath her breast implants, she announced she was sleeping with my husband. My response, “Sorry to hear it, Honey.” My husband was a terrible lover. Being touched by him was like being fondled by a fifteen-year-old. Why another woman would want to sleep with him, I’ll never know. I didn’t want to sleep with him. That’s why I found my manstress. He was half my age with the stamina of a varsity rowing team.

The nosey wife of a mutual friend witnessed the event in the grocery store and told her husband who told my husband. When I got home, my husband was waiting for me. He wanted to talk. I wanted to pack my bags and head to the airport. We had a long conversation during which my husband spoon fed me all the same bullshit. He was sorry. He loved me. He didn’t know why he was so selfish and inconsiderate. He didn’t love her. Whatever, Honey. I got two tickets to Phuket and a tanned, toned twenty-three year old waiting for me.

Thanks to my husband’s attempt to keep his ass out of divorce court and free of alimony payments, my manstress and I missed our plane. I used the excuse that I was fed up with my husband’s lies to pack a bag and get the hell out of there. On the way to the airport, I called my lover and we met at a nearby hotel. We couldn’t get another flight until the morning.

“If all the world’s a stage, then this was not part of my script. Somewhere, someone else is reading my lines, playing my part, and I’ve been stuck in their role, for surely this role is not mine. My character was never supposed to turn out this way,” said I.

“But, perhaps it was, and you’re simply unaware because you aren’t able to read ahead,” answered he.

“I don’t like this part of the production at all,” I said as I covered my head with the sheets. “It’s downright miserable, morose and depressing”

“The scales are striking a fair balance; many parts of the production are very good. No production can be completely merry and light. Who’s interested in seeing a performance in which the characters are ideal and perfect?” he asked, pulling the covers from my face. “That wouldn’t be interesting at all.”

“No, we want suffering. We long for it; it’s why we create our own miseries. We loathe them, but they thrill us. I suppose it’s why we strive for imperfection,” I said burying my face in a pillow.

“Perhaps it’s the reason we justify our short-comings. We don’t want happiness; we do everything in our power to remain unhappy, then complain about it.” It was obvious what he was getting at.

“My observations have led me to believe I am not alone in my human imperfection. I would say humanity, but that connotes goodness. The human race is quite lacking in humanity. Myself included. Surely, I understand the failings of my human brethren represent an overall flaw of the species,” I said.

“No one is exempt from these biological, evolutionary, socialized short-comings,” he replied.

“In an ideal world,” I began, ignoring his response, “the term human could be linked with humanity, but in reality – which is never ideal in any way – the term human can be better linked with adjectives such as cruel and bizarre . ”

“Self-pitying, faithless . . .” he interrupted.

“Rude, and worst of all, ignorant,” I finished. “And these are our flaws, as humans. There are more, but I think these cover a pretty wide spectrum of our sadistic, self-serving human behaviors.”

“Are there any human behaviors that are not self-serving?” he asked.

“No,” I answered before rolling over and falling asleep.

 

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.

Camp F

Photo c/o Microsoft Office Free Clipart

Been waiting on my appeal for thirteen years. Thirteen years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. I been sitting here waiting to know if I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair, me dying I mean. But they don’t give you the chair no more. Supposed to be more humane, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit.

They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He’s the whitest person I ever seen. You can see blue veins at his temples and on his hands and by his eyes. He cries so much his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.

Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. “God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,” I say to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. I ain’t even that sick.

Frank Aucoin’s cell is on the other side. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his cum was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up some days, and he shits himself. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.

I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to Camp F, and that was Howard Saucier-The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two prostitutes by slicing them down the middle. He carved each one starting right at her diseased hatchet slash and ending at her chin. He used the same serrated knife for all of them.

Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was because he was one jovial motherfucker, that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t so deranged he’d be a cool guy to hang with. But he was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to the Devil. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. Not like the petunia next door with his crying and begging for God’s mercy all the time.

Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real long ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. “If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,” she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well maybe I am a dipshit. But her reading didn’t do nothing to save her, so fuck her and her vocabulary.

Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. “She had tits this big,” Howard said holding his arms out from his chest. “I just wanted a taste.”

He went to juvenile but they had to let him go when he was twenty-one. While he was locked up he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. “I came in my pants,” he said.

I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of them I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. In the winter we would fight over who was going to sit closest to the space heater.  “I can get behind a God who tortures His own creations,” Howard said. “Divine retribution.” He smiled.

Howard liked to screw with the guards. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle up on him. They don’t like to do that too much because it riles everybody up. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him, and they threw him in isolation. We was all on lock down afterwards.

Howard was in there a while, and he was a little calmer when he came out. That wasn’t too long before he moved to Camp F. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us that kind of stuff. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time and never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field to the crows for all I know. But I figure he went to the chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did a little. He never done me nothing.

Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession.  I don’t trust him. Looks like he probably jerks off to kiddy porn. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty. So I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.

After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?

My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks. But I been here thirteen years, and I don’t want to be put in population. I don’t share my cell with nobody, and I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.

I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody cum? I might as well die here. Got to die some place.

“Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,” Art always says. “I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years.”

Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So I don’t say nothing.

I went to court about six months ago. It was the middle of summer, and so hot that most times we asked to stay inside when it was time to go out. One day the needle on the outdoor thermometer the guards hung by the door was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. We went out for about fifteen minutes, but Frank fell out and we came back in. Nobody complained though. My balls was wet and hot as cotton panties on a virgin at a Bourbon Street sex show, and sticking to my thighs.

My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.

The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I didn’t have nothing to write so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I ain’t one.

I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back then. I bet that asshole Nate is the one told her to cut it. “He stimulates my mind,” she said. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating. He might’ve had a broad vocabulary too, but it shrunk up real good when I put my Beretta between his teeth.

“Your honor, members of the jury,” said Art, “I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-eight was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary madness if you will, brought on by blind fury and passion.”

I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. I was still mad at her for running around on me, and for being such a bitch about it, and on our anniversary. “What do you expect, Vincent?” She always called me Vincent even though most everybody else calls me Vince. “Nate makes me feel . . . sexy.”

“And what I don’t?”

“No. You make me feel like I’m being pawed by an inexperienced prepubescent.”

I didn’t know what she meant exactly, but I knew it wasn’t no compliment. Something thumped against the closet door. “No,” Mallory gasped when I swung the door open. Some dude was kneeling right between my Dickies and my Levis. I figured he was Nate. The shoebox where I kept my pistol was open on the floor. I looked at Nate again. Maybe he was hoping it was in there. Maybe he was going to shoot me. But it wasn’t in there. It was in my hand, and then his brains was all over my Levis and my Dickies. I felt calm in a strange way.

Mallory screamed and tried to run out the room, but I caught her by the hair and threw her in the closet right next to her boyfriend. Her mouth was stuck open like it froze that way. It reminded me of when my grandma died and we didn’t find her for five days after. Her mouth was opened like that. Mallory lifted her left hand to cover her face, and I seen she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring. “You dirty slut,” I said. Mallory’s eyes was wide and tears was flowing out of them like a busted spigot.

I reached down and grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled her out the closet. I threw her on the bed and held one hand over her mouth. The other hand held my Beretta. I crushed her body against the mattress with my body.

“Psychopath!” She was crying, curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed. She was staring at her boyfriend in the closet. I grinned and raised my gun again. Mallory tried to run but I was quicker. Maroon slime and something that looked like oatmeal splattered against the wall. Long streams ran down to the sand colored carpet. I thought of Mallory always complaining how she hated them white walls. “These walls are so bland. You need to paint them.”

I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. They pulled up while I was sitting on the porch smoking my Camels. They had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it in the grass. Two of them snuck me and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the cement with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street it seemed like. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.

Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his speech. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma.

Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.

Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. Her best friend that I always hated told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds, and asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. “Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,” read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. “Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,” read another. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. “Small Town La. Man Charged with Rape, Murder,” read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected but it was too late because they already seen it.

The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.

I turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt.

“I’m real sorry, Momma,” I whispered.

“We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,” said Art.

My momma looked up at me. Make-up ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face, holding her small head in my hands. I used my thumbs to wipe the black streaks off her face. I thought about how much she probably paid for my suit, and I hoped the stain would come out. Because I don’t want her buying another one just to bury me.

 

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.

The Haunting of Dr. Peter Keller

“There’s something I’ve never told anyone, but I’m going to tell you now. It’s kind of bizarre, but you’re my best friend, and since I’m about to die anyway . . .”

“Don’t talk like that, Andrew,” implored I.

“But it’s true, isn’t it? I’ve been in this damn bed for months. I can hardly stay conscious anymore.”

“Okay, Andy. What is it?” I patted his pallid forehead with the washcloth.

“Peter, you’ve got to promise that you’ll try your best to carry out my wishes.”

Andy was seriously doped up; I knew this. The cancer in his brain was way out of control. If it wasn’t the tumor causing hallucinations and delusions, it was the morphine. My time as a doctor has taught me many things, and one thing I’ve learned is to humor those near death.

“What is it, Andy?”

“This sounds very insane, but I want you to know that I’m completely lucid right now.”

“All right, just tell me.”

“After I die, I’m donating my body to your university for study. When it arrives, I want you to collect my corpse. I want you to re-animate it.”

“Jesus, Andrew!” I exclaimed without meaning to. I knew he was ill, but this was ludicrous. “I can’t promise that. There’s no way. It isn’t possible.”

“But, you’ve attempted it. I know you have. And, you’ve had some promising results.”

“How do you know that?” I asked, astounded.

“I have my resources. Use my body, Peter.”

“No, Andrew. No way in hell.”

“Why? Are you afraid you might succeed?” asked Andrew in a condescending tone.

“A little,” I responded. “That’s and insane request, Andy. I think you need to rest. Go to sleep. I’ll see you in a few hours,” I said, standing. “You’ll be better after some rest.” I made my way to the door.

“If you don’t do this, I swear I will haunt you forever,” he said after me.

“Andy, please sleep.”

I walked out of his room. What a ridiculous suggestion! And how did he know about my private studies? Was there a leak? But whom? No one knew of my experiments but me. I thought no one else knew. If someone did know enough to inform Andrew, who was it?

As I entered my office, I quietly shut and locked the door. I went to my desk drawers. The lock was tampered with, and the drawers opened with ease. Marveling, I retrieved my notes from them. Someone could have informed Andy if they found entry into my desk. But, I still could not think of anyone who would even know to search there. This was a part of my career of which I was not proud, and a part that I was very willing to forget. The paper shredded was in my closet; I removed it. I fed the machine page by page of my insane mad- professoresque notes. Out of sight, out of mind – I hoped. No one else would be releasing my information. If any medical societies – or the government – discovered my findings. . . Well, I didn’t even want to think of that.

“Dr. Keller,” my secretary’s voice rang out from the intercom and startled me.

“Yes, Eloise?”

“Your friend Andrew Franklin . . .”

‘What about him!”

“He’s passed away in his sleep,” she answered sadly.

I raced across the street to the hospital, down the sterile, freezing corridors to Andy’s room. The coroner and two other men were exiting.

“I’m so sorry, Peter,” said he.

“But, I’ve only left him less than two hours ago!” I screamed. “I’ve only left him less than two hours ago!” I repeated as I collapsed to my knees. “He couldn’t have possibly died in less than two hours. It isn’t possible,” I whispered.

The coroner’s two assistants lifted me to my feet.

“Peter, go get some rest. There’s nothing more that you can do.” I don’t know where this voice was coming from. My head was swooning. Everything around me began to swirl. I closed my eyes tight, then opened them again. Still, the swirling did not cease, and I felt very faint.

I was awakened by the warm afternoon sunlight moving across my face. According to my watch, I’d been asleep for four hours. I was lying on a couch in my office. There was a hard knock on my door, and I started.

“Come in.”

“Peter,” it was Jack, my assistant from the university. “I’m so sorry to bother you right now, and especially with this, but you have to sign for Andy’s body. It’s just arrived at the university’s laboratories.”

“Why do I have to sign for it!”

“You’re the head of that department, Peter,” said Jack, in wonderment. “Just sign here, and we won’t have to bother you anymore today. You’re very pale. Has anyone had a look at you yet? I suggest you go home, take a nerve pill or two, and sleep for a long time.”

“Sure. Thanks, Jack,” I said as I apathetically signed his papers.

“Cancel your engagements, if you have any. Just get some sleep.”

I remained silent as Jack gathered his papers and prepared to leave the room.

“Don’t blame yourself, Peter. Doctors can only do so much. You aren’t God, you know.”

“I know. If I were I wouldn’t take the life of such an intelligent and young man as Andrew. He was only thirty-five, Jack.”

“Death is not restricted to the old and weak, Peter. You’ve seen enough to know . . .”

“So what! I’ve seen many things. You’ve seen many things. What if the things we’ve seen could have been prevented?” I saidy.

“Well, that is the reason Andrew has donated his body to research, so that perhaps in the future more people won’t have to suffer as he had to.”

“Bah! Research! Research? How many more people will have to die before this wonderful research is complete?”

“Peter, I know how you feel, all right? Andy was my friend, too. I know you’re angry, but don’t take it out on those of us who are still here to help you grieve.”

“There’s a way to beat death, Jack, and I know it. I’ve seen it.”

“You have not.”

“Yes, I have.”

“Prove it, then!”

But I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t because my notes were reduced to confetti, because I’d gotten a pang of guilt over trying to undo God’s mistakes!

“Death is a part of life that we cannot escape, Pete,” said Jack. “God does not make mistakes,” said he, as if he were reading my mind.

I took Jack’s advice. Eventually, I made my way home, took two nerve pills, and tried my hardest to sleep. But, something was haunting my mind. What if I could re-animate dead tissue? Of course, Andrew’s brain would not function. Even if I blasted it with all the electrical impulses in the universe, he would only regain the most basic involuntary actions. Replacing his mind with another’s was out of the question. That would not work either. Any brain that has died would not regain enough function for anything other than automatic performance. When Andrew referred to my near success, he was referring to one subject whom I’d actually been able to stimulate into involuntary operation. I was so disgusted that I abandoned the experiments altogether.

With this on my mind, and under the influence of the sedative, I fell asleep. Nightmares are a main influence of disturbed sleep. My sleep came in waves, and I awoke every so often, shivering and sweating. It seemed someone stood at the foot of my bed, pointing at me. Eventually, I shot up and gazed madly about for this anonymous visitor at my bed.

“Is someone in here?” I asked aloud, but I didn’t see anyone. “Who’s there?”

I still saw no one, but my curtains whipped about madly; the hanging lamp above my bed swung back and forth wildly. A nauseating chill filled the air. Then, very suddenly, everything stopped. There were no more unexplainable gusts of frigid air – nothing. The silence was maddening, and I realized I couldn’t hold out on Andrew any longer. If there were a way, I’d be the man to discover it. Perhaps I should have weighed out the consequences, but I didn’t. That isn’t the way these kinds of tales go, you see. Men like me never weigh out consequences; we merely act. We act, and then we cringe and cower from our revelations. I shall get to that later, however.

The streets were hauntingly empty as I drove to the university’s research laboratories. It felt as if someone else were with me all this while. You know that bizarre feeling of being watched, even though you believe yourself to be alone? The hair on my arms stood rigid, and my head began to feel as if someone were crushing it, as if a great vice were gripping my skull. Again, I began to swoon, and I hurriedly pulled my car to the side. I leapt out like a madman. A passing police vehicle stopped behind my car, and the officer got out.

“Are you all right, man?” asked he.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine,” I answered shakily.

“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?” he asked as he shone his flashlight in my face.

I shielded my eyes and turned away, “No, I haven’t been. My name is Dr. Peter Keller, and I have an emergency at the university. I have to get there right away.”

“Something wrong with your car then?”

“Um . . . Yes, something is wrong with my car. It sputtered and died on me. Thankfully, I was able to pull out of the road in time,” I lied so skillfully.

“You need a ride to the hospital or whatever, then?”

“Yes, yes that would be great, the university hospital. Thank you.”

“What about your car? Want me to call a tow truck?”

“Sure, yes. Call a tow truck. Have it towed to this address,” I said as I scribbled down my house number and street on a slip of paper.

“Gee, you doctors don’t practice penmanship, do you?” commented the officer as I handed him the paper.

“No, we don’t. Can we go now?”

“Yeah, get in the car.”

The cop dropped me off behind the building, as I’d instructed. When he was out of sight, I took out my keys and struggled with the rusty old locks. No one entered the building this way anymore, no one but me. The door slowly creaked open, and I was afraid to enter the absolute darkness which lay inside. From my bag, I removed a large flashlight. The spears of light illuminated my path as I rushed to my secret lab. This portion of the hospital had remained unused for years. No one ever came down this way. It was the morgue before they added on ten years ago. Some space was used for storage, but not much. I truly did not want to be alone in this building, and I truly did not want to be alone in this building with Andrew’s corpse before me on a slab. But, I could not disappoint my deceased friend. Though I didn’t at first believe he could haunt me after his death, I now had a different perspective.

The place was practically arctic. I flicked on the lights. Gradually, each fluorescent cylinder fluttered to life, and I set up my workstation. The hum of the machines was deafening; I wished I had brought some sort of radio to drown out the sound.

To retrieve the body, I would have to enter the inhabited section of the hospital, so I needed some sort of strategy. There was no way to explain my bringing a corpse down here. I could not rouse suspicion. If anyone had the idea of following me, well, there would be more trouble than I needed.

Casually, I walked through the corridors. I nodded to the nurses, interns and students working in various parts of the hospital. I did not notice someone walking rapidly behind me to catch up, however.

“Peter, where are you going? Why aren’t you home asleep?”

“Jack! Hello!” My hands were trembling terribly, and I put them in my pockets to hide my nervousness. “I . . . I decided to get this over with. I’d really much rather do these dissections now then have to wait.”

“I don’t think you’re well enough, Peter. You’re shaking like crazy. Did you drive over here like this?”

“No, I caught a ride over. I’m fine, Jack, really. I just don’t think I could do it any other time.”

“Then let me come assist you. I don’t think you should be handling any sharp tools right now. You’re liable to chop off your own finger!” said he with concern.

“Please!” I hollered without meaning to. “I’m sorry, Jack. Just let me do this, all right?”

“I think we should find someone else altogether to do this, Peter. How can they expect you to do it? Andrew was your best friend. The director . . .”

“They director has seen so much suffering that he is immune to it by now! I am the head doctor, and I shall perform the procedures!”

Jack stood back and stared at me in wonderment. There were no words, and I really didn’t feel like speaking to him at this moment. For a few very long moments we stood silently glaring at one another. I finally dropped my head and brushed past him, but the stubborn fool followed me.

“Peter, stop! Stop for God’s sake!”

And, I did stop. I stopped and doubled over in a hysterical fit of laughter. Jack stopped some feet away from me; he was afraid of me at that moment. This realization caused me to laugh even more.

“You’re insane with grief, Peter! I’m calling down a psychiatrist from upstairs for you.”

I stopped laughing abruptly and caught his arms in my fists. His face twisted into an ugly grimace, and I put my face close to his. “Don’t you dare,” I growled.

“Peter! Stop this! Let me go!”

We struggled together, finally ending up on the floor. I removed my hands from his wrists and wrapped them perilously around his throat.

“No, now you have to come with me, Jack,” I whispered. “I can’t have you upsetting my plans with your silly suspicions, now can I?”

“What plans? You’re insane!” choked he.

“Come help me get the body. I’ll explain downstairs,” I said rising off of him.

“Downstairs? What in the hell is downstairs, Peter! I won’t move from this spot until you explain this craziness!”

I reached out and grasped his jacket. With a tremendous yank, I pulled him toward me. He cried out. “I said I will explain downstairs,” I growled. Jack’s eyes grew wide and then closed in resignation. I freed him from my grasp, and he stumbled backward. “Now, come on. Be quiet about it, too,” I said casually. “It’s bad enough I have you tagging along,” said I, straightening my jacket. “Don’t try anything funny, either,” I added.

Jack and I wheeled the gurney to the elevators in silence. His eyes never left me, and I felt like an insect under a magnifying glass. No one paid much attention to us, which made me very glad. My previous fears melted away. I realized that most of them probably had no idea whose body was even under the dull white sheet, nor did they care. It may seem odd that we’d be handling this at three in the morning, but I’m a busy man. There are plenty of nights that I stay at the hospital to catch up on my work. I think the fact that Jack was with me helped, though I didn’t really want him there. I had no worries about him reporting me, however, since I’d already explained that if he decided to do so, I would simply name him as my accomplice.

As we entered my secret lab, in the practically abandoned portion of the hospital, Jack stopped still and stared about.

“Come on, lock the door behind you, Jack,” I ordered.

“What kind of things are you doing down here, Peter?”

I sighed, “I said I would explain, so I will. Some years ago I began to think that as such highly evolved beings, we should be able to conquer simple natural occurrences.”

“Such as death?” asked he in a frightened tone.

“Exactly, Jack. Such as death.”

“You’re talking about the re-animation of dead tissue. You’re talking about playing God, Peter!”

“Perhaps if God does not want us to perform these experiments, He can stop us now, eh?” I said sarcastically.

“I wish He would,” responded he.

“Well, let’s see what He’ll do, then. Help me move the body to the slab, will you? I don’t have much time. Andrew’s already been dead for too long.”

“You realize this is an impossible task.”

“No, apparently I do not realize that, Jack,” I said as I backed him against the wall.

“Put the scalpel down, Peter. You’ll have a hard time disposing of my body.”

“Good point, old man. Good point! Don’t make my task any more difficult than it already is, OK?”

“OK, Peter, all right. Let’s just get this nightmare over with, please, before I vomit.”

Andrew’s body was rigid with rigor mortis; his abdomen was bloated with trapped gases, and his blue lips lay open. As I opened his skull with my saw, his leg gave an involuntary kick. Jack screamed like a scared little girl, and I wanted to turn on him with my instrument.

“There’s still energy in his muscles. That’s good,” I said.

“This is sick, Peter.”

“You’ve seen plenty of corpses kick, Jack. You’ve even had them sit up on you before.”

“I know, and I hate it more every time.”

I attached the wires directly to different sections of the brain. With some blood I’d acquired from upstairs, I set up an IV to replenish the dead tissue. As I was placing the oxygen mask over his face, Andrew’s corpse jerked and spat a great stream of dead blood. Jack turned away, gagging. I rolled my eyes at him and cleaned Andrew’s face.

“It’s merely the release of air, Jack. Don’t be a fool. I haven’t even totally powered up the machines, yet.”

Once everything was in place, and I was sure we were set to begin, I went to each machine one by one. I began with the electrical stimulators attached to the brain, then the oxygen, and so forth. If first results proved promising, I would turn on the life support to sustain Andrew while I finished working.

“Jack, get the defibrillator ready. I think we may need to give him a jump start, if you will.”

Jack solemnly did as I ordered. He handed me the paddles and returned to his spot in the corner, far away from me.

“Clear!” I shouted madly – ZAP.

Andrew’s body jumped a good foot from the slab. I could hear Jack sobbing in the corner, and again I wanted to harm him badly.

“Clear!” I shouted again and shocked Andrew’s body.

It gave another short jolt then flopped down.

“Come on, man! Do something!” I screamed and slammed my fists into Andrew’s chest.

Another great pool of blood spurted from his dead mouth. It covered the inside of the oxygen mask in a dripping crimson stain. I slammed my fists into his chest again, another spurt of blood. I repeated this over and over until finally Jack tore me away.

“Stop it, damn you! Stop it! He’s dead! Why can’t you realize this?”

I tore and growled like a wild animal until Jack subdued me to the floor.

“He’s not dead, Jack. He isn’t! He isn’t!”

“Yes, he is, Peter. Stop this . . .”

Jack’s words were interrupted by a thunderous wail. Both of us jumped to our feet. It was coming from Andrew.

“Oh, Jesus, what have you done, Peter? What have you done?” sobbed Jack.

I raced over to the body. It was definitely wailing in agony. I pulled the oxygen mask away from his face. His body shook as if in hypothermia, and I covered him with several sheets.

“I told you, Jack! I told you!” I shouted with delight as I rushed about removing wires. “Come on, before he goes into shock, we must anesthetize him!” I hurriedly hung up a morphine drip and inserted the IV into Andrew’s vein, which took me a few seconds.

A few seconds could mean life or death. Immediately, I replaced the oxygen mask over his face and instructed Jack to turn up the heat. I would have to replace the cranial cap soon, and I would not be able to as long as the body was nearly convulsing.

“How shall we explain Andrew’s recovery, Peter?”

“Don’t you understand? If we’ve succeeded, we’ll be hailed as heroes! Experimenters only face trouble if they fail. We have not harmed anyone, Jack! We have discovered the key to eternal life.”

“We have sentenced ourselves to eternal damnation, more like!”

“Don’t be an asshole, Jack! Look! Andrew is no longer dead. Come on, help me replace his head.”

“Oh God, what have we done? Forgive me, I never wanted to be a part of this,” Jack said to himself.

Still, Jack helped me replace the skull and hooked up the life support to Andrew’s body.

A long ear-piercing shriek rang out from the heart monitor, indicating that Andrew’s heart had ceased beating. For a moment, the alarm left me dumbfounded.

“No!” I wailed. “No! No! No, no, no!” I again grabbed up the paddles and began shocking life into Andrew’s body, which shook but showed no other responses.

“Peter, you’re going to fry him! Stop it! Stop it!” Jack exclaimed, tearing the paddles out of my hands.

“This is your fault, Jack!” I said, pointing my finger accusingly at him. “This is your fault.”

Behind me were the instruments, and I took up the bone saw without his notice.

“This is not my fault, Peter. This is no one’s fault. Please, let me get you someone to talk to or something. Please, Peter . . .” his voice trailed off as his eyes fell on the tool in my hand. “You don’t want to do this, Peter. Peter! Peter, stop.”

“But I do want to do this, Jack. I was so close, so close . . . and you ruined it!” I screamed so loudly that my throat felt sore. “Jack, listen to me,” I was suddenly calm. “Don’t be afraid.”

“Put down the saw,” said Jack, slowly nearing the door.

“Oh,” I said absent-mindedly, looking down at the saw in my hand. “Oh!” I threw it down. “Jack, Andrew is . . .” I looked about and lowered my voice, “Andrew is haunting me.”

Jack gasped, taking my wrists in his hands, “Peter, you need to talk to someone. Andrew is not haunting you, do you understand me? Why would he want you to desecrate his body in this way?”

“Jack, he asked me to before he died, and I told him he was insane. And, I told him to sleep. And, I left. I left him, and the last thing I said was that he was ludicrous and insane and that I would not do it. I left him and went to my office. I went to my office and I was destroying all of my old notes on . . .” I could not continue the sentence. “He died while I was doing that, Jack. Andrew told me that if I did not try, that he would haunt me forever. And, he has been haunting me, Jack. Tonight, just tonight, he was haunting me in my bed. Then, then he was in my car.”

“I thought you said you caught a ride, Peter?”

“I did catch a ride, from a police officer, after I had to pull over my car. I lied and said something was the matter with it. I lied, but I wasn’t going to tell him that my dead friend’s spirit was trying to murder me in my car while I was driving. Oh no, I wasn’t going to say that. He would have thought me mad!”

“You are mad!”

“I most certainly am not! You think that I am mad, but you haven’t seen what I have seen, my friend. Oh no! I saw Andrew’s spirit looming over me as I was trying to sleep, and he was pointing his wretched accusing finger at me! He was pointing at me as if to say, ‘You have let me down, Peter, and I trusted you! I have trusted you with my life, and you left me and let me die. I have trusted you with my body to give me life, and you have not even tried!’ Then next time, he will say, ‘You are a failure, Peter. You are a failure, and I was a fool to trust you!’”

“Peter, sit down,” said Jack. “Sit down here and wait for me to come back.”

“Where are you going? You’re not going to get the police, are you? Because I am not mad, Jack! I am not!”

“No, Peter. I am not going to get the police. I am going to get my things, and I’m going to bring you home.”

I gasped and grabbed at his jacket, “Don’t leave me alone there, Jack! He’s going to come back!”

“I won’t leave you alone, Pete. I’m going to bring you home. I’ll stay with you, all right? You’ll be fine.”

“Thank you, Jack.”

“Can I trust you not to leave this spot until I return with my things? I can’t have you running around the hospital like this.”

Jack was right, too. I couldn’t be seen like this. My hair was mussed; my coat was covered in Andrew’s blood. I’m sure my eyes were bloodshot, and I probably did look like a true madman right at that moment.

“I won’t go anywhere, OK? I’ll be right here, Jack. Please just hurry,” I said as I glanced at Andrew’s body. “I don’t want to be left alone with it, Jack. It scares me,” I whispered.

“I will hurry. Be still, Peter. It can’t do you anything.”

Jack left me alone with the corpse, and I could already feel the hair on my neck standing. I moved as far away as I could from the body, but it still tortured me. It seemed to be twitching, and I assumed this was the release of the great energy with which I’d filled it. But, it was not only twitching. With a more attentive look, I realize it had turned its head to me. The eyes shot open suddenly. I wanted to scream, but I was frozen in sheer terror. My limbs felt numb, and my adrenaline began flowing rapidly. It seemed my heart would pound right out of my chest. Instantly, my head became very light, and a great nauseous feeling arose in my stomach.

“Peter,” whispered some disembodied voice.

I screamed in horror and shrank against the wall, “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

“Peter we’re here to help you, don’t be afraid,” said the voice.

Confused, I opened my eyes. Jack stood before me with a team of psychiatrists.

“You lied to me, Jack,” I said.

“For your own good, Peter,” answered he.

I glanced at the corpse, and it seemed to shudder with silent laughter. I became incensed.

“Look at it!” I shouted, pointing. “Look! It’s laughing at me. Laughing at my failure! How dare you!”

I leapt up before anyone could stop me and raced toward the laughing dead body. Climbing atop it, I grabbed at it and shook it.

“Stop laughing at me! Stop it! Stop it!”

Jack and the four other men tore me away from the body. I kicked and fought, but there was no way I could escape them. There were too many of them and not enough of me.

“You’re all against me! Leave me alone! Stop laughing!”

The entire room filled with raucous laughter, and I wanted to make it stop. How dare they laugh at me!

“Jack, I trusted you! Now, you are laughing at me! Stop laughing!”

“Peter, no one is laughing. Calm down; stop fighting.”

“I think we may have to sedate him,” said someone.

“I’m afraid so,” sighed Jack.

I was not going to allow that! I knew they were planning to do something terrible once I was unconscious, and I would not have it. It was a terrible struggle, but I finally kicked them off of me and got away. I ran out of the open door and down the dark corridor, but I stopped when I ran head on into something. I put my hands out and felt something cold and pliable. With realization, I screamed as loud as I could. It was Andrew’s corpse! I turned and ran in the other direction, but Jack and the other doctors stopped me.

“He’s there! Look that way! Shine a light! He’s not dead; he’s down there, and he has come to haunt me! Let me go! Please!” I cried out and fought as they brought me down and injected me with some sort of medication. “Please,” I sobbed as they worked me into the straight jacket. “I’m not mad. Why don’t you believe me?”

It was futile to fight at that point. I didn’t resist as they walked me down the hallway and into an elevator. In the elevator stood the police officer that gave me a ride to the hospital.

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

“You just ran into me back there,” said he.

“But, I saw you drive away.”

“I only pulled around to the front of the building. I figured you were up to no good. I figured it was something serious, the way you were acting,” he said

“Are you arresting me now?”

“No.”

“Jack, you knew the whole time?” I whispered. “I’m going to the loony ward, aren’t I?”

“Peter,” Jack put his hand on my back, “how many times do I have to tell you not to call it that?”

I grinned to myself. How fitting that I was on my way there. Jack was always warning me of the vengeful powers of karma, or some sort of other omnipotent presence.

The next few months passed in a blur of psychotic medications. I do recall a few things, however. After two or three weeks at the hospital, I was transferred to a private facility. I was deemed incompetent, and Jack was given power of attorney over me, since there was no one else. I believe there was some sore of court proceedings, but I don’t remember everything. My license to practice medicine was revoked after I was discovered. That much I remember. I remember the great disappointment in the eyes of my staff. I also remember the whispers that went on behind my back.

I never did discover who told Andrew about my experiments. I don’t believe it was anyone. Before Andrew was ill, he could have broken into my private desk drawers and obtained any information that he wanted. He was my best friend, and I was disheartened to think that he would pry into my private affairs, but there was simply no other explanation. Everyone was so shocked and astounded when I was finally found out; I don’t believe they could have known.

Jack visited often, and he always brought some news from the university. He was offered my position, but he declined, stating that he was ready to move into a different area of medicine. I believe he said he was returning to school to study Pediatrics – or something like that. He said he’d seen enough cadavers for one lifetime, and I imagine he had.

 

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.

Ordinary Man

 

 

 

As described on my Departure Into Writing page, Ordinary Man is a work in progress. I’ve decided to share some of it here with my readers. This is a new, edited version of what was shared previously. Comments welcome. 

Ordinary Man

 

* Chapter 1

My wife was sitting on the wooden porch swing I’d bought her on our first anniversary. She waved away a random mosquito that was encroaching, hoping for a quick drink. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she clutched a ball of tissue in her hand. Her lips formed a straight, inexpressive line.

Diana suspected infidelity for most of our marriage. It’s not easy being the spouse of a rock star. And although she would never believe it, I was faithful- that is, until I met Victoria.

Devil May Care was touring Europe, and Victoria worked at a venue we played in Vienna.  She was the only American at the place who was not a member of our crew. She knew nothing about me, and we hit it off right away.

I was sitting alone in the dressing room perusing an Austrian travel guide when the click-clack of high-heels distracted me from my reading. The sound resonated off the wooden floors, and I counted the steps. Click one. Clack two. Click one. Clack two.

I looked up from my magazine when the sound stopped with a click at the doorway. There stood the most attractive dark-haired woman, brown eyes, long legs, and hips I imagined myself holding onto. She seemed so out of place in her suit; I knew right away she wasn’t some vagrant fan wandering around backstage. I would have mistaken her for a reporter maybe, except that she had no idea who I was. It’s true I didn’t seem to belong in the dressing room of Frankie Nightingale.

We’d just finished a sound check, and it was hours before show time. I was hardly stage-ready with my oversized and overly worn Jolly Roger’s Tavern of New Orleans tee shirt reading, Don’t Forget To Get Your Jollies Off In The Crow’s Nest-The Crow’s Nest being a bar located above Jolly Roger’s Tavern owned by the same proprietor. My hair, damp from sweat, was stuffed into an orange and white trucker’s cap which bore its own immodest slogan for Schapht brand fishing equipment: Because So Much Is Riding On Your Rod.  I was nursing a miserable hangover with a glass of Cutty Sark on the rocks, the half-full bottle sat open on the counter, not far from reach. And I needed a shower.

She noticed me watching her, readjusted her jacket, and placed a few long strands of dark hair behind one ear, renegades broken free from their tightly wound confinement.

“I’m looking for Mr. Nightingale.”

“Have you ever been to the House of Music?” I asked her.

“What?”

“I have a couple of days off, and I was hoping to do some sight seeing in this City of Music.” I waved my hands in an all-encompassing gesture. “What about The Vienna State Opera Museum? Been there?”

“They’re both lovely,” she replied. “But I’m really looking for Mr. Nightingale.”

“What about the Mozarthaus? I love classical music. Most people don’t know that. Do you live in Vienna? You do live in Vienna, right?”

“Yes,” she sighed.

“Good,” I said standing from my chair. With one hand I hiked up my jeans that hung a little loose in the waist. “Because I would really like to have someone with experience to show me around.”

“Excuse me?”

“That is if you’re interested, of course.”

“I really just need to find Mr. Nightingale and see if he needs anything.”

“He needs someone to show him around tomorrow. Is noon-ish okay? I’d suggest breakfast, but I don’t usually get to bed until at least three.”

She smiled. It was a good sign. I wasn’t so sure my come-on approach was still sound after a decade of non-use.

“Franklin Rossignol,” I said holding my hand out to her.

“I suppose you’re used to getting whatever you want?” she asked looking up at me.

“Sometimes,” I smiled.

“Anything in particular you need today, Mr. Nightingale?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” she said taking a pen from inside a thick leather planner. “What do you need?”

“I need to know if you want me to pick you up, or should we meet at the hotel, or at the restaurant? Any suggestions?”

She pressed her sepia stained lips together and inhaled, her dark eyes fixed on mine. She exhaled, opened her planner, and scribbled something on a small piece of paper. She then handed it to me. It read, Victoria Wilson. Café Drechsler. Linke Wienzeile 22 1060 Wien. I didn’t have the first clue what it meant.

“Noon,” she said.

“All right,” I said.

“See you then,” she said and left the room, the click-clack of her heels growing faint as she walked down the hall.

“Armand,” I said on the phone with my assistant once one Miss Victoria Wilson was gone, “I need you to find an address.”

 

* Chapter 2

 

“So, you’re leaving me for that Viennese tramp?”

“She’s American, and she’s not a tramp,” I said.

She huffed in response.

“We both knew this was coming,” I said.

“I didn’t.”

She used a crumpled tissue to wipe her cheeks. Tears mixed with mascara, and dark eyeliner striated the too-dark concealer she used to hide the darkened half moons beneath her eyes. I didn’t reply. The katydids filled the silence.

“How long have you been seeing her?”

“Two years,” I answered. It was a hard thing to admit. Although Diana had been less than friendly toward me during those two years, I felt guilty for my deceitfulness.

“You’ve been sleeping with her for two years?” Diana’s lower lip trembled.

I nodded and looked out over the yard listening to the toads that had joined the katydids’ chorus. It felt like rain. I thought the toads felt it, too.

“I guess it was only a matter of time before you fell for one of your groupies.”

“She’s not a groupie,” I said. I don’t know why Diana treated the news of my relationship with Victoria as unexpected. She’d accused me of adultery since the beginning, when photos of Victoria and I appeared in the gossip rags. I’d convinced Diana that Victoria was an interviewer and nothing more.

“Whatever.”

“I love her the way you love Andrew,” I said.

Diana’s head spun so fast I thought she’d give herself whiplash.

“Don’t talk about Andrew.”

“I’ve been living in his shadow for ten years. His ghost is always present in our home, in our bedroom.”

“Andrew was sick,” she wept. “I cared for him.”

“I know,” I said. “And when you left me to be with him, I waited for you. Because I loved you. But you never stopped loving Andrew more than you love me.”

“That’s not true,” she said.

“Yes, it is,” I said. “Victoria is my Andrew. I love her that way.”

Diana covered her face. I was sad. Our marriage wasn’t all bad. We had our memories, but memories couldn’t repair the deteriorating bond our matrimony had become.  For the first time I was thankful Diana had refused me children.

“I already talked to Gerald. I want you to have the house. And the one in St. Vincent.”

Diana and I were good friends with my then lawyer, Gerald, and his wife. He didn’t speak to me for weeks when he learned of my affair.

“I don’t want it,” Diana wept. “I don’t even like St. Vincent.”

“You love St. Vincent,” I said.

She fidgeted with the balled up tissue paper in her hands.

“I’m going to pay you alimony, too.” An act of contrition to redeem me of my malfeasance.

“What am I supposed to tell my friends?”

“That we’re divorcing. They’re all divorced,” I said. “They’ll understand.”

She sighed.

“I’m just going to get a few things and leave,” I said.

The wooden planks of the porch swing creaked when I stood and relieved them some of their load. Diana’s bare feet hung beneath the swing, almost flat to the ground but not quite.

She was still on the swing when I came out of the house a few minutes later. I walked to the black Mercedes sedan in the driveway, a rental, and put my bags in the trunk. Then I went back to tell her goodbye. I felt I owed her that much.

“I’m leaving,” I said.

“You’re a bastard,” she said not looking at me.

“I don’t mean to be,” I said.

“Is this your way of trying to get back at me?”

“No. It’s about my being in love with someone else.”

“Well, go then. Go to your other woman. I won’t be here when you get tired of her.”

“I won’t get tired of her,” I said.

“Goodbye, Franklin,” she said.

“Goodbye, Diana,” I said, and I walked to the car.

The band had just released a new single, a song inspired by Victoria but that Diana mistook as being written for her. Every rock station was playing it with nauseating frequency. I didn’t want to hear it. I clicked the CD button on the console and slid my favorite CD into the disc changer.

Large raindrops struck the windshield. The wipers swiped at the pools of moisture, smearing them across the glass. I was anxious. Once I see her, I will feel better, I thought.

I pulled the car to the curb in front of the hotel’s main entrance on Royal St. In the rearview mirror I saw the driver of an airport shuttle throw his hands up in frustration. Parking is scarce on French Quarter streets. A valet came to the car, and I handed him the keys. I didn’t even bother to take my bags out of the trunk.

Victoria was waiting for me in the bar. She was wearing the silk navy-blue dress I’d bought her in Paris while we were on our last tour. Her right leg crossed her left, and she had one heel of her beige stilettos hooked on the bottom of the barstool.  Her brown hair fell over her shoulders and down her exposed back. She stabbed a toothpick into a lone olive inside an empty Martini glass.

I sat on the stool beside her and ordered us both a drink. We didn’t speak for a few minutes. A fan approached me for an autograph, and I obliged with a smile, like always.

“How did it go?” Victoria whispered.

“Badly,” I said.

“I’m sorry.”

She covered my hand with hers. Later, when we’re alone together, I’ll feel better, I thought.

We had an early dinner in our room. I hardly had an appetite. We hadn’t spoken much since I’d returned. Victoria made light conversation, but didn’t discuss my pending divorce.

“We have an early day tomorrow,” she said sliding under the covers.

“Yes,” I said. Our flight to Montreux was leaving at six. I hated early morning flights. I could never sleep on a plane, ever. Most folks get used to flying after so long, and God knows I should have. But flying remained my least favorite mode of travel. I’d prefer to take the bus any day.

I stayed awake much of the night thinking of what Diana was doing. Was she awake, crying, and desperately trying to understand what she’d done wrong? Did she know? Was she with her girl friends, drinking and badmouthing me to them? Or maybe she was with another man. I wouldn’t have felt so bad if she were.

“Hey, you okay?” Victoria whispered sitting up in bed.

“No.”

“Can I do anything for you?” she asked stroking the bare skin of my back and shoulders.

“Yes,” I said, and I turned to kiss her

 

* Chapter 3

My cab arrived outside Café Drechsler at exactly twelve-thirty in the afternoon. Victoria stalked out of the front doors and toward the corner. I wanted to curse the cab driver for taking so long to pick me up at the hotel and for driving with such a lack of urgency. Instead I tossed a handful of bills at him and bolted from the car.

“Wait! Please wait!”

I ran after Victoria who ignored my plea and crossed the street. I kept my eyes on Victoria and not on traffic, which proved to be a mistake as I was struck hard in the side and was sent tumbling to the ground. Thankfully it was just a slow moving Peugeot.

“Franklin!” Victoria ran into the street and knelt down in front of me, her black heels inches from my face. “Are you all right?”

“You’re standing on my tie,” I groaned.

“Oh!” she said and moved her foot.

My eyes traced Victoria’s bare legs to the shady area where the shadow of her skirt obscured the view of anything improper. The driver of the Peugeot was out of his vehicle cursing me in French, until I sat up and he recognized my face or thought he did.

“Bon Dieu, you’re Samson Avalon. I just finished your last book.”

Victoria looked at me with a curious expression.

“I’m not him,” I replied, also in French. I struggled to my feet and dusted off my pants.

“No,” said one spectator. “That’s Christof Shaw. I just saw his new movie.”

I sighed and adjusted my jacket, pulling my sleeves straight.

“You’re both wrong,” said someone else. “It’s Frankie Nightingale.”

“I’m not him either,” I said checking my pockets to make sure I hadn’t lost anything important. “I’m just a guy who got hit by a car because he’s too stupid to look before crossing the street.” Cameras and cell phones emerged from backpacks and pockets. Pseudo-shutters snapped and flashes lit up the shady side street. “We should go,” I said to Victoria.

“You should go to the hospital,” she said as we made our way back to the sidewalk.

“Nah,” I said. “It’s just a Peugeot.”

I can’t lie and say I wasn’t somewhat impeded by the injury during the Mozart tour we made on foot and when we visited the Beethoven memorials. At the Zentralfriedhof, I leaned against the black iron railing surrounding Mozart’s memorial while Victoria read the inscription on Beethoven’s obelisk-shaped tomb with its golden lyre and many gifts left by other visitors. Even after some years of study my Deutsch was nicht so gut, as my German tutor might say. Although most of the time she would admit it was gut genug, which kept my mother satisfied, anyway.

My side throbbed, and I had a sharp, stabbing pain in my pancreas, or some other random organ. The road rash on my hands and knees was becoming inflamed, but I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to woo Victoria, so I suggested we get a cab to the restaurant of her choice where we could enjoy a relaxed, comfortable dining experience-preferably one that would require a lot of sitting and wine. She asked me again to seek medical attention, but I assured her I’d had worse.

“Why don’t we go back to my apartment and order take-out? I can fix you up, and you can rest,” Victoria suggested once we were in the cab.

 

Victoria’s flat was located in central Vienna. We walked into the living room on the entry level, and I hung my jacket over a chair at the bar and went for the bathroom.

“Come into the bathroom upstairs. I have a first-aid kit there,” Victoria said from the kitchen. She removed a few rectangular paper menus from a drawer beside the sink and placed them on the black granite countertop. We went upstairs, and she led me through her bedroom into the master bath. It was spacious with a large porcelain tub and a separate shower enclosed in glass. The shower walls were covered in black and white tiles, and the countertops were the same black granite as the kitchen. The floors were a light ceramic tile. My eyes traced the dark colored grout surrounding each square.

“Don’t look at my floors. They’re dirty,” she laughed and opened a medicine cabinet made of bamboo on the wall above the toilet.

“I wasn’t,” I said hoping it was the appropriate response since I’d lost all ability to form thought when Victoria took my hand in hers to clean my palm with hydrogen peroxide.

“You okay?” she asked.

I nodded, staring at the clear liquid forming its white foam against my irritated skin. I was thinking of how Diana reacted the time I’d lost control of my bike in the rain and injured myself sliding across the asphalt at fifty-five miles per hour before coming to a stop in the wet, cold grass on the median.

“I told you that you shouldn’t have been riding in the rain,” she said as she drove me home from the hospital.

I might have put my hands around her neck and strangled her right then, but they were wrapped tight in gauze.

“You seem to be deep in thought,” Victoria observed.

“Oh, um, no,” I said. “I guess I just had a bit of a rough day is all.”

“I’ll say,” she said taking more cotton balls from a glass container in the cabinet. “All right lift your pant legs so we can see how bad those knees look.”

 

The sky was clear. I sat on the rooftop terrace that overlooked the opera house smoking a cigarette and stargazing while Victoria was in the kitchen preparing to serve our delivered dinner. I thought I recognized a few constellations, but I was never much of an amateur astronomer, and I can only ever pick out the Big and Little Dippers. Traffic moved on the street below. Opera patrons lingered outside and walked into and out of the historic building.

“Sushi?” Victoria placed a large serving tray in the center of the table along with a bottle of Schloss Gobelsburg and two glasses.

“Nothing like visiting Europe to enjoy Japanese cuisine,” I said.

She smiled and placed a pair of black plastic chopsticks on the folded napkin beside my plate. “I know this isn’t your first time in Europe. Besides I thought we’d have something more familiar since your lunch didn’t seem to sit well.”

“I’d never really known what was in goulash,” I said picking up the chopsticks. I arranged the rolls on my plate in short rows of four, placing all the same rolls in the same row. Dipping the end of one chopstick in a glob of wasabi Victoria had spooned onto the tray, I gingerly placed a small amount on each roll with the tip of the chopstick. Victoria was watching me. I tried to seem nonchalant. It seemed a little early in our relationship to discuss mental disorders.

I plucked a tuna roll from its row and dipped it in the thick, tar-like eel sauce before putting it in my mouth. The tuna was spicier than I’d anticipated, and I coughed while reaching for my glass and swallowing a mouthful of sweet white wine.

“Hot?”

“I promise I’m really not this much of a disaster in real life,” I said refilling my glass.

“You’re a mess,” she replied, chuckling.

It was a good sound. I felt confident she was having a good time even though our date had been flecked with mishaps. My phone rang. I peeked at the screen and saw it was Francesca. Victoria looked at me over the rim of her glass.

“It’s just my stupid sister,” I said pressing the ignore button.

“Maybe it’s important,” said Victoria.

“I doubt it,” I said, but the phone rang again. And again it was Francesca.

“Maybe you should take that.”

“Sorry,” I said to Victoria before taking my phone into the apartment and answering. “What?”

“You got hit by a car today?”

“No. What? Yeah, but not really.”

“It was on Entertainment News Watch,” said my sister.

“What was?”

“You being hit by a car. Were you chasing after some woman?”

“Shit,” I whispered.

“Who is she?”

“Nobody,” I said.

“Well you might want to call Ma, because she’s like freaking out right now.”

“It was just a Peugeot!” I sighed and rubbed my temples. “Does Diana know about it?”

“How could she not? Once Entertainment News Watch broadcasted it, it was everywhere.”

I wondered why then would my supposed loving wife not call when she learned I’d been struck down by a car. Maybe because the media reported I was with another woman.

“Is everything all right?” Victoria asked coming inside.

“Ooh, is that her?” Francesca asked, having heard Victoria’s voice.

“Shut up,” I said.

“What?” Victoria asked.

“Oh no, not you,” I said.

Francesca laughed in my ear.
“Goodbye,” I said into the phone and hung it up. “I apologize about that. Apparently some stupid tabloids reported about the accident today. My sister saw it on television.”

“I imagine she’s very worried,” Victoria said moving some pieces of hair out of my face.

“She’s an idiot,” I said.

“Watch what you say. I’m somebody’s idiot sister, too,” she smiled.

“If you knew her you’d understand,” I said.

“Maybe one day I will,” she said.

I considered her statement, exhilarated to think Victoria expected more than just a chance encounter. But then I remembered Diana.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“For now I’d like to get to know you a little better,” Victoria said, and she slid her arms around my waist.

I leaned down to kiss her but was stopped by the pain erupting in my left side. I groaned and swayed backward. “Ouch, that hurts.”

“That’s it. You have internal injuries. Let’s go.” Victoria turned to walk away but I caught hold of her hand and held her there.

“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s probably just a bruise. Just be gentle.”

And it was a bruise. Victoria later removed my clothes to reveal an enormous black, brown, and purple contusion encompassing my entire side from the bottom of my hip to nearly the pit of my arm. It extended horizontally from my left nipple to the middle of my back.

“Oh God, that looks bad, Franklin,” she breathed in my ear.

I touched the inner part of her smooth thigh. She moaned as my fingers probed the warm, moist flesh between her legs. “Like I said, just be gentle.”

 

My phone chimed. It was loud enough to disturb my sleep, and I rolled over in bed and reached down to get it from my pants pocket. Victoria inhaled a deep breath and opened her eyes. “Someone’s texting you at four in the morning?”

“It’s Leo,” I said as I typed a reply to his question and put the phone on the nightstand beside the bed.

“He’s the drummer, right?”

I laughed. “And also my best-friend since kindergarten and a huge pain in my ass most of the time.”

She chuckled and rolled onto her side, propping herself up on her elbow. The blanket shifted exposing her to the waist. “When do you have to go back?”

“Tomorrow sometime. Well, today.” I looked at the time on my watch. “We’re not leaving until tonight.”

“Good. Let’s go back to sleep.”

With the back of my fingers, I stroked the area of her belly between her breasts and her navel. “I’m not really tired.”

Later we lay close beneath the covers. I held her hands in mine. Her eyes were closed, but she wasn’t asleep. I leaned over and kissed her forehead. She smiled.

“Victoria,” I whispered.

“Yes?” She opened her eyes. I closed mine because I didn’t want to see her reaction to what I wanted to say.

“I have to tell you something,” I said. “I know it’s going to sound ridiculous.”

“Don’t say it,” she said.

“Don’t say what?” I opened my eyes.

“Don’t say anything ridiculous.”

We stared at one another for a minute. I closed my eyes again. “I was just going to say that . . . I’d like this to be more than a once in a lifetime thing, you know? I’d like to do this with you, you know, again.”

“Open your eyes,” she said.

I opened them. Her face was millimeters from mine. “I would really like that,” she said and pressed her mouth against mine.

 

We were woken again by the sound of my phone. I turned my head and squinted against the fragments of light being diffused by the sheer white drapes, delicately embroidered with vines and blooms. Victoria stretched and got out of bed. She went into the bathroom. My intestines rolled into knots when I picked up the phone from the nightstand and saw Diana had called. I sat up, wondering why she’d call. It was two a.m. in New Orleans, and Diana was never up past midnight. I was worried it was something serious.

I pulled on my pants and went outside on the terrace. I stared at the phone in my hand trying to decide if I should call back. I decided I’d never forgive myself if there were an emergency and I didn’t. My cigarettes still laid on the round concrete-top dining table where I’d left them the night before. I lit one while the phone rang Diana’s number. Through the sliding glass doors, I could see Victoria was still in the bathroom, and I hoped Diana’s conversation would be short.

“Hello?”

“What happened? Why are you calling so late?”

“What time is it there? I thought it was morning.”

“It is here. But not there?”

“I called Leo because I thought you’d be together, but he said he didn’t know where you were. Where are you?”

“I had to go . . . do something.” I saw that Victoria was out of the bathroom and walking into her closet. “Is there something wrong? Because I’m really busy right now, actually.” I walked anxious oblong patterns on the terrace.

“No, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to talk to you. You were in an accident yesterday, and you didn’t even call me.”

“Diana, I don’t call you. You call me. If you see that I’ve been in an accident, you call me.”

“Excuse me,” she said.

I completed my third full oval when I saw Victoria was standing in the open doorway. She wore a long white satin robe trimmed with lace. A hardy gust caught the hem of it and swept it away from her body, revealing her thighs and petite white panties that matched the robe. Her eyes threw invisible spears of contempt. “I got to go.” I hung up on Diana.

“I thought you said your sister’s name was Francesca.” Victoria’s expression and posture spoke more than her words. Her arms were crossed, her long fingers rolled into fists.

“It wasn’t my sister,” I said looking down at the phone in my hands.

“Then who was it?” she asked, her tone saturated in ire.

“My wife,” I admitted.

“Get out,” she said.

“Please, Victoria. I can explain. I can.” I followed her into the apartment.

“Take your things and get out,” she said.

There was no yelling. No shrieks. No tears. Just a threatening calm intensity that made me uneasy.

“Can I please state my case, at least?” I asked as I pulled on my shoes.

Victoria turned around. I could almost see the images her mind was creating, images of bad things happening to me. “Let me guess.” She put her hands together as if in prayer. “You’re separated?”

“No.”

“Divorcing?”

“No.”

“You’re together, but you don’t love her. You’re just staying with her because of the kids? Or for some reason for which there is no real explanation?”

“My wife doesn’t love me,” I said. It was the first time I’d admitted it to anyone, and suddenly the truth was very concrete.

“Shut up, and get out,” she said and left the room.

I finished dressing and walked downstairs. Victoria was in the kitchen cleaning dishes from the night before. She didn’t acknowledge my presence when I stood by watching her.

“Victoria?” I whispered.

“What?” She didn’t look at me and continued disposing of all evidence that we’d ever known one another.

“I just want you to know I meant what I said to you. I want you to know that I respect you, and  I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t feel like I made a mistake, except that I hurt you.”

“Goodbye,” she said still not looking at me.

“Goodbye,” I said and walked out of the door.

In the elevator I called Armand. He was grocery shopping and said it might be a while. I thought of calling a cab, but I was too miserable to care about finding a number. And I didn’t feel like sharing public transportation.

Forty-five minutes passed and still no sign of Armand’s rented blue Audi Roadster. Irritated, I thought I should remind him of the reason I’d even rented the car for him to drive while we were in Vienna. I sent him a text message.

“Stuck at Bobby’s Foodstore. Peter wanted Cherry Coke.” Came the reply.

So glad Peter is so important, I thought. “Get a bottle of Glenlivet.” I typed. “Two bottles.” I added.

I sighed and put the phone in my pocket. I’d been sitting in the same place for so long my injured hip and back were hurting. People were starting to look at me with suspicion, and I was concerned someone might take me for a vagrant. I tried to ignore all that and focused on a line of tiny black ants running through a crevasse in the sidewalk. Some of them carried huge crumbs many times their size, and I watched them toil with a sort of respect. Then I heard the familiar click-clack of a certain pair of brown leather pumps.

“What are you still doing here?”

“Waiting on my ride,” I answered.

“Who is coming to get you?” Victoria asked with an annoyed sigh.

“My assistant,” I answered taking my phone from my pocket as if he would contact me on cue simply because of my looking at it.

“Where do you have to go?”

“The Intercontinental Hotel,” I said.

“That’s five minutes from here.”

“Oh,” I said looking down at my phone again. I stood up and walked past her. “I guess I can call Armand and tell him never mind then.”

“It’s the other way,” she said.

I didn’t answer but turned around and walked in the other direction mentally cursing myself.

“Doesn’t your phone have a GPS?” she laughed as I walked past.

I stopped and turned to face her. “I couldn’t get a good signal, okay?” I turned back around and started walking before I had to concede to my emotional nature.

“Franklin, wait.”

“What?” I didn’t turn to face her. I wanted to get away from her. I wanted to get back to my room where I could sit alone with my bottles of scotch and my Dunhills and forget what a debacle I’d made of the whole experience.

“Let me drop you off. I’m going that way,” Victoria offered. “It’s only right down the road there.”

“I can get there on my own,” I said and started walking again.

“I’m afraid of what might happen to you once you turn that corner,” she chuckled.

“What do you care?” I turned back around.

“I shouldn’t after you deceived me,” she said.

I looked away at the cars passing on the street. I hadn’t lied to her. When she asked with whom I was speaking, I told her the truth. I didn’t realize she didn’t know I was married. It was no secret. Everyone else on the planet knew.

As I was about to tell Victoria all of this a yellow Volkswagen Polo with two young women inside stopped at the corner. The passenger glanced out of her window, and her eyes widened in recognition. She turned and smacked her friend’s arm, and the other girl leaned forward to see what had excited her friend. Her expression changed, too, and then they were both pointing and waving. I gave an unenthusiastic smile and raised my hand to show my acknowledgement. The driver held one finger up and looked down, apparently searching for something. She produced a small digital camera, and her friend rolled down her window and asked if they could get a photo. I nodded and asked them to hurry. The driver pulled her car to the side and put on the hazard lights. The two girls ran to my side. The passenger was the taller of the two, and she held the camera at arm’s length while we all smiled at the fisheye lens of the palm-sized Nikon. The girls both produced some writing material for me to sign, and I did. They said they were on holiday from Nice, and we made brief conversation about our shared homeland. They thanked me and I them, and then they ran back to their vehicle and sped away while other motorists honked and made disgruntled faces at the three of us.

“You’re French?” Victoria asked.

“I was born in Toulouse. My family moved to the U.S. when Francesca and I were five. My father returned when my mother divorced him. He still lives there.”

“Francesca and you were both five when you moved to the U.S.?”

“Yes. We’re twins.”

Victoria looked up at me, examining my face as if she were trying to decode some ancient riddle. She shook her head and told me to follow her. We walked to an orange Mini Cooper parked on the street. I got into the passenger seat and felt like Gulliver inside of her Lilliputian automobile.

“You can move the seat back,” she said.

I pulled the lever to move the seat, but instead of gradually rolling on its track, the seat was hurled backward and came to a jolting halt with a loud clanking sound. Victoria looked at me as if I were a brainless moron, but I ignored her and buckled my seatbelt and looked out of the window.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Yep,” I said still gazing out of the passenger side window.

 

Victoria wasn’t exaggerating when she’d said the hotel was just up the road. We barely turned the corner and there it was, a looming testament to my stupidity. We pulled up to the front entrance, and the valet came toward the vehicle. Victoria told him she was just dropping off, and he walked away to another vehicle that pulled in behind us.

“Thank you,” I said and opened the door.

“Wait,” Victoria said.

I stopped and looked back to her.

“You know what you did me was wrong,” she said. “But I believe what you said, that you’d never been with another woman before. I would imagine someone with more experience would be less sophomoric about the whole situation.”

“That’s the crappiest compliment I’ve ever heard,” I said and started to get out.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “If you really feel like your wife doesn’t care about you, then maybe you should reconsider being married to her.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know what it is, but something about you just makes me want to . . . I don’t know.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Maybe it’s this shaggy black hair and those big blue eyes,” she said, and she ran her hand in my hair. “Maybe it’s because you remind me of the Australian Shepherd we had when I was a kid.”

“Okay,” I said. “Just so you know, I didn’t lie to you. I thought you knew I was married.”

Victoria’s expression hardened. She took a breath, and relaxed again. “I wouldn’t have slept with you if I’d known,” she said. “But I realize there are a lot of women who will and that you can’t tell the difference.”

It sounded like an insult, but I let it go.

“Why don’t you call me if you need someone to talk to. I’ve been known to be a pretty good listener,” she handed me a piece of paper with her phone number on it. “Don’t call me for anything else, though. That is unless you decide to leave your wife. I’m no man’s mistress.”

 

* Chapter 4

Like many folks with money, I had my own private jet waiting for me at the airport. It was easier that way. Victoria and I boarded with Armand.  We settled in, and once the plane was in the air, I asked the flight attendant for a vodka tonic.

“Don’t you think you should have breakfast first?” Victoria asked.

“I’ll eat the lemon slice,” I said.

One thing about Victoria then, she never haggled me about my drinking. Diana would always harass me about it. So what? It didn’t matter anymore what Diana would do.

We landed in Montreux at around one a.m. I had the worse case of jet lag ever. Victoria, Armand, and I went directly to the hotel. They weren’t the least bit tired because they’d both slept during the flight, and they decided to stay up and watch television in the living room of our two-bedroom suite. I went to bed.

I woke about three or four hours later. Victoria wasn’t in bed with me.

I got up to get a drink from the refrigerator. The glass doors to the balcony were open, and I looked through the curtain, but only saw two empty wine glasses and two empty bottles of the chardonnay we’d brought with us. Then I heard voices coming from Armand’s room.

I went to the door and pressed my ear against it. They were whispering, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I wanted to knock, but I didn’t. As I stood there trying to figure out the best way to catch my assistant and my girlfriend in the act, the door swung open.

“Franklin!” Victoria shouted in surprise. “You scared the hell out of me.”

“What’s going on?” I asked glaring past Victoria at Armand who was sitting on the bed. They were both fully clothed and the bed was still made.

“Armand was doing my make-up,” she said showing me her eyelids. “What do you think?”

“Wait. What?”

“Armand was showing me how to do my eyes,” she said. “Didn’t you know he went to school to be a make-up artist?”

Armand stood from the bed and came to the door where Victoria and I stood.

“I guess I didn’t know,” I said.

“What did you think was going on?” Armand asked.

“I guess I thought something else,” I answered.

“Don’t you trust me?” asked Victoria.

“Of course I do, I just . . . I don’t know,” I said.

“You don’t have to worry about me stealing your woman,” said Armand. “She’s beautiful, but she’s not my type.”

I must have looked confused because Armand then sighed and said, “I’m gay.”

“Oh,” I said. “Did I know that?” My brain was still hazy from the jet lag and the vodka tonics.

“No,” he said.

“Right. Well, carry on, then,” I said turning to leave. I made a mental note to learn more about my assistant. In those two minutes I’d learned more about him than in the seven years we’d worked together.

“Hold on. I’m coming with you,” Victoria said taking me by the arm.

 

Gerald met us at the real estate agent’s office the next morning for the closing on the house in Montreux. He was less than warm toward Victoria and me. We went through all of the paper work and signed the necessary forms.

“I talked to your wife,” Gerald said as we stood outside waiting for the car to bring us to the house.

“Yeah,” I said. I wanted to ask how she was doing, but then again I didn’t want to know.

“She wants the villa in Marseilles,” he said.

I smirked. Vengeance, I thought. “She can have it,” I said.

“And she wants the Cadillac,” he said.

“It’s hers,” I answered.

“And the Maserati,” he said.

“Give it to her,” I said.

I’d already told her I would pay alimony. I guess she decided she’d wanted more once her emotional state changed from despair to anger. What did I care? We had three multi-platinum albums, three gold, and one that was shit in the U.S. and still went silver in the United Kingdom.  I wrote two books that were nonfiction best sellers. Devil May Care had four live concert CD’s, as well as three DVD’s of us live in concert. That’s not even all of it. So, she wanted her revenge? Who gave a shit?

“You ready to go?” Victoria asked taking my hand when the car arrived.

The five of us got into the car – Gerald, Victoria, Armand, the real estate agent, and myself. It was a rather long ride to the house, and we rode mostly in silence except for Armand and Victoria who chatted. Gerald wouldn’t look at me.

“Oh my God, it’s beautiful,” said Victoria when we arrived and she got out of the car. “Oh Franklin, you picked it out for me?” She took my face in her hands and gave me a kiss.

Gerald gave me a dirty look out of the corner of his eye. He remembered Diana saying the same thing when I bought her the house in St. Vincent. I tried to ignore him and took Victoria by the hand to show her the inside of the house.

“I hope you’re happy with it,” said the real estate agent.

“Yes, very,” I said.

Victoria was smiling like an ecstatic child as she skipped from room to room, Armand trailing behind her. They went upstairs, and I could hear Victoria’s voice and she described to Armand how she intended to decorate the master bedroom.

“There’s something I didn’t get to tell you at the office,” Gerald said to me when Victoria and Armand were well out of hearing range.

“What? What does she want now? My soul?” I asked.

“She’s contesting the divorce,” he said.

“What!” I shouted.

“Franklin?” Victoria called looking down from the balcony. “Is everything all right?”

“Yes, darling,” I said. “Everything’s fine.”

“Diana is contesting the divorce,” Gerald said once Victoria was gone again.

I sighed running my hands through my hair. “Why?”

“She’s convinced you’re going to change your mind and come back.”

“Why?” I asked. “Did she say why?”

“She said it’s what she did.”

“Come on,” I seethed. “This is insane. I’m calling her.”

“No,” Gerald said. “You can’t do that.”

“Why?” I asked.

“She has a temporary restraining order,” he said.

“On what grounds?” I demanded.

“None. A lot of times a judge will order a TRO when a wife files for divorce,” he said.

“She didn’t file for divorce. I did. What do I have to do?”

“Find another lawyer,” Gerald said.

“What?”

“I’m representing Diana,” he said.

“Well, fuck me.”

 

Our furniture hadn’t been delivered yet, and Victoria, Armand, and I ate take-out on the floor in front of the fireplace. I explained to them about Diana.

“My cousin, Denis, is a divorce lawyer,” Armand said. “He works mainly out of L.A., though. I can call him.”

“Thank you but I think I’ll try Gerald’s partner. He represented me before,” I said.

“Will he do it?” asked Victoria.

“I don’t know,” I said.

 

That night Victoria and I made love on an air mattress in our otherwise empty bedroom. I let all of my frustration out on her, and we were both spent and exhausted. I fought to ignore my nagging bladder, but found it impossible after awhile, and was forced to leave the warmth of the blankets and Victoria’s body.

Victoria came into the bathroom right after me; she was carrying my phone. She looked annoyed. I took the phone from her, curious as to who would be calling at the late hour.

“Hello?”

“Franklin,” said my wife.

“You have a restraining order,” I said.

“I know,” she said. She sounded terrible. “Please come home.”

“No,” I said.

“I need you,” she said.

“No, you don’t,” I said. I was angry with her for contesting the divorce and for swiping Gerald.

“Give me a chance,” she said.

“You didn’t want me before, and you don’t need me now. I have to go,” I said and hung up. “What?” I asked Victoria who was standing by glaring at me.

“I liked it better when she didn’t know about us,” she said and walked away.

 

Victoria was quiet the next morning over breakfast. She sat on a stool at the counter poking a fork into chunks of green and orange melon while I stood on the other side of the counter devouring a bowl of cereal. When she decided she was finished her meal, she took her plate to the sink and walked out of the kitchen without speaking to me.

I found her later sketching, sitting on a concrete bench in the back garden. She didn’t look up when I approached, and I wasn’t sure if she didn’t realize I was there or if she were still ignoring me.

“Hey,” I said after a few minutes.

“What?”

“Why are you angry?” I asked sitting beside her.

“I’m not,” she said, still sketching and not looking at me.

“Okay, then why are you ignoring me?” I asked.

“I’m not,” she said.

“Right,” I said. “Well do you mind if I hang out and watch you sketch?”

“Whatever,” she said.

I watched for a while. She drew an illustration of a woman on the beach. The woman appeared to be a hybrid of human and some sort of sea creature. Her legs were wrapped in thick tentacles, her hair made up of long coiling strands of kelp. The sea woman’s arms lay by her sides, her hands lost somewhere in the sand. Her eyelids were squeezed tight, and her mouth was slightly open, almost with a look of ecstasy. Or distress. I thought how odd those two things could produce a similar expression.

“That’s very good,” I said to Victoria.

She didn’t respond at first, but then she started to talk. “Why is she still calling you?” asked Victoria.

“I didn’t ask her to,” I said.

“But she did,” she said, still not looking up from her sketching.

“I can’t really control who calls me and when, Victoria,” I said.

“Well, change your phone number,” she said.

“I can’t,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because. A lot of people have my number. People important to my career.”

“So, give them your new number,” she said.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Why not? Because maybe you don’t want to change your number so that she can still call?” she looked up from her sketchpad finally.

“This is ridiculous,” I sighed. “I left the woman to be with you.”

“After two years,” she said.

“It’s not enough that I have her down my throat. I have to have you down it, too?”

“Why not? You’ve been down both of our throats for the past two years,” Victoria said.

“That’s not true,” I said.

“Really? You’re telling me that for the past two years you weren’t still intimate with her?”

“Hardly,” I admitted.

“Ugh!” Victoria threw her sketchbook at me and walked away.

 

Later that day I called Gerald’s partner, Jon. He was familiar with our situation, and explained he didn’t want to take the case because Gerald was representing Diana.

“You can always call Denis,” Armand suggested.

“Does he know Louisiana divorce law?” I asked.

“He can learn it,” Armand said. “He’s a good lawyer, and he represents a lot of celebrities.”

“Really? Like who?” I asked.

“He represented the actor Carson O’Neil in his divorce,” answered Armand.

“Hmm.”

“And Jimmy Fortune,” he said.

Now there was a name I recognized. I knew Jimmy because our bands used the same studio a few times. He was a cool guy, and I had his phone number. I decided to call him and see what he thought about Armand’s cousin. But meanwhile I continued searching the Internet for a Louisiana divorce lawyer. Victoria came in during our conversation, and I explained what Jon had said.

“Isn’t that convenient,” she said and walked out of the room.

“What’s the matter with her?” Armand asked.

“She’s still angry because my wife called last night,” I said.

“So what did you do when she called? Did you talk to her?”

“Only as much as I had to,” I said. “But Victoria’s still angry.”

“You should get her some jewelry,” he said.

“Yeah, I don’t know. She’s not easily bought,” I said.

Armand’s suggestion did bring to mind an idea, though. I gave up searching for lawyers for the moment and began searching for something else. I found some phone numbers and called around until I found what I wanted. An hour later, there were two deliverymen at the door. I let them in and showed them where I wanted them to place the purchase. But while I was waiting on them to arrive, I’d made another important call.

The delivery men brought in the new addition to our home and put it where I’d asked, in the living room just beside the staircase. Victoria was in our bedroom with the door closed, but I hoped she would hear me playing when I sat down. The bedroom door opened and Victoria came out onto the landing, looking down as I played Tristesse, Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 No. 3. I pretended not to notice as she descended the stairs and came to stand beside me.

“What’s this about?” she asked.

I stood from the piano and took her by the hand, persuading her to sit down.

“For you, my dear,” I said.

“So you think you can buy my forgiveness?” she asked.

“I just hoped you would play for me.”

She looked down at the keys.

“I love you, Victoria,” I said.

She looked at me again but didn’t respond.

“Here,” I said handing her a piece of paper.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“My new phone number. I thought you might want it.”

“You changed your phone number for me?”

“If my soon to be ex-wife wants to reach me, her lawyer can contact my lawyer.”

“I thought Jon wasn’t taking your case,” she said.

“He isn’t. I decided to go with Armand’s cousin Denis. He seems competent, and he’s experienced with handling high profile cases.”

“Couldn’t find anyone else to take your case, huh?”

“Nope,” I replied sitting beside her on the bench. “But we’ll be fine. Denis is a good lawyer. He has a good track record. He’s already contacted Gerald and explained that I am only communicating through him.”

“Is your wife still contesting the divorce?”

“Yes,” I answered. “But Denis is hoping we can convince her to give in.”

“How’s he going to do that?”

“If she gives in and agrees to the divorce, she’ll get whatever she wants without any problem. If she doesn’t agree, we’re going to fight her. Hopefully she’ll just take the money-and everything else.”

“You’re not giving her the villa in Marseilles,” Victoria said frowning.

“We’ll get another one. It’ll be ours, mine and yours.”

“I’d like that,” Victoria said.

 

* Chapter 5

With some online research, I discovered more about one Miss Victoria Wilson. For instance, her birthday fell during a month with an astrological sign compatible with mine. She was only one year my junior, as oppose to Diana who was some years younger than me. She was from a small town in Minnesota, was the youngest of five, and she was an amateur photographer. Victoria had profiles on a handful of social networks, but I couldn’t access any of her information because of her privacy settings I did discover, however, that she was quite the avid blogger. I registered to follow her blog and received each new post to my phone via email.

I learned through reading her existing entries that she’d moved to Vienna to attend the University of Music and Performing Arts, and that she-like me-held degrees in both music and voice study. She’d also completed the master’s program in opera and musical drama.

I wanted to know more about why with all of her education and apparent musical ability would she be working as an event coordinator at a convention center. What deterred her from her original path, I wondered. None of her entries addressed or even mentioned it. She did write often about playing, but only for her own enjoyment. I wanted to hear her play.  More than that, I wanted to hear her sing.

Diana and I sat in a secluded booth at a restaurant we visited too often. I sipped a Crown and Coke while Diana glared at me over the rim of her glass containing iced water with lemon. Her best-friend’s husband had just abandoned the family for his assistant, and her friend responded by using his alimony to pay for aggressive plastic surgery. As a result, Diana had become more self-conscious about her own appearance, and had sworn off any type of sugary, carbonated, or otherwise tasty beverage. Although she was already too thin, Diana joined her friend in an apparent contest of which of them could lose the most weight in the least amount of time.

“You know that’s gong to kill you,” she sneered as I placed a considerable chunk of medium-rare sirloin into my mouth.

“Good,” I said chewing the meat. ‘Till death do us part, I thought. That was the deal.

Diana gave me a look of disapproval and jabbed her fork into her green leaf salad. The waiter came to the table, and I ordered another drink.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” asked Diana. “I don’t want to be stuck taking care of you after you suffer a stroke from all the drinking and smoking and eating all that meat.”

“Just let me die,” I said. It was a plea, really.

We continued our meal in silence. I looked around at the other tables and imagined the other diners were engaged in stimulating discussion, or intimate conversation. A couple at a table near us smiled at one another, refilling their glasses and sharing a dessert. An attractive young woman fed her companion from her spoon. I turned and looked at Diana, scowling at her salad.

“What?” she asked with a mouth full of baby spinach.

I want a divorce. I met someone else. “Nothing,” I said.

“Oh,” she said sipping her lemon water. “I thought maybe you were thinking of your girlfriend.”

It was a frequent discussion, and her accusations had no basis in truth, usually.

“I sure was,” I answered.

Diana’s eyes narrowed. She wasn’t accustomed to that response. Typically I’d have denied her allegation and gone on for several minutes assuring her there were no other women, that I was attracted to none but she, and that I’d never so much as glance at another woman with indecent intent.

“I guess it’s your little Viennese tramp. The one you were chasing after when you got hit by a car, like an idiot,” she said, goading me, luring me into her web.

“She’s not a tramp,” I snapped, betraying myself.

My wife sat back in her chair and grinned. I could almost read her thoughts. I got you now, you bastard. “So it’s true?” she asked. I envisioned her mind calculating the divorce settlement, a mental adding machine ticking and grinding out its long ribbon of paper detailing her compensation.

“I’m tired of having these arguments with you,” I said standing from the table. “If you’re going to accuse me of being disloyal to you all the time then maybe we should just end it.” I removed my wallet from my back pocket, took out one of my credit cards, and tossed the card onto the table. “When the bill comes pay it and let’s go.”

“Where are you going?” she demanded.

“I’m going outside to increase my chances of an early death,” I replied. “Every cigarette I smoke is eleven minutes less I have to spend with you.”

Diana stared at me, aghast at my brusqueness. Her spinach-filled mouth hung open. I took my jacket off the back of the chair and left the table. Outside I sat on a bench beside the cylindrical upright aluminum ashtray designed to blend in with the décor and in no way resemble an actual ashtray. I removed my cigarettes and my phone from the inside pocket of my jacket. After lighting one of the former, I checked my messages and email on the latter. With a ding, my phone indicated just one email had been downloaded to my inbox. It was an automated alert sent from Victoria’s web log’s host site.

Madame Music Maker posted a new entry, it read. To read Madame Music Maker’s entry click here.

         I did click the link and was taken to Victoria’s blog. Her latest post titled “The Songstress and the Nightingale” was featured on the opening page. I held my breath as I read Victoria’s account of our first date. She didn’t mention my name and kept to ambiguous details, but I was concerned she’d already given her readers too much information.

She wrote in part:

“I saw in a man who is quite the opposite of what everyone else sees. I marveled at how he could be so charismatic and dynamic in one setting yet so awkward and uncomfortable when taken out of his element. It was apparent that his natural environment is the stage, intimately connected yet removed from the audience. Just the night before I’d seen him hold thousands of spectators in the palm of his hand, but he is a man more comfortable standing before twenty-thousand people than dining alone with one other person.”

“That’s not true,” I said out loud to the phone in my hand.

“What are you reading?” asked Diana who’d come out of the restaurant and had been standing beside me for an unknown length of time. I hadn’t noticed her, as I was so intent on reading Victoria’s review of our evening together.

“Just some crazy review of . . . my last performance,” I said dropping my cigarette into the ashtray and standing from the bench. I slid the phone back into my jacket’s inside pocket.

“Oh,” she said. “Franklin, I’m sorry. You just got back, and we’re already fighting.” She pushed a lock of hair behind my ear. “Let’s just go home, okay.”

“I don’t want to fight,” I said.

Awkward? I thought as Diana drove us home. The nerve of Victoria writing that about me. Frankie Nightingale was not awkward. I wasn’t exactly in top form after having been struck by a car. So we had to seek out a drug store to purchase antacids during the Beethoven memorial walking tour because the goulash aggravated my reflux, and I nearly choked on the spicy tuna, and I got lost five blocks from my hotel. These things didn’t make me awkward. I was perfectly comfortable in intimate social settings. I just had bad luck.

Victoria’s blog post was the latest in a series of slights against me perpetrated by her. She hadn’t accepted any of my friend requests. My phone calls went ignored. I sent her text messages and emails that went unanswered. I’d sent her flowers as an apology for assuming she knew I was married. When I didn’t hear anything from her, I decided flowers were cliché and I sent her three-dozen chocolate dipped strawberries with a bottle of champagne. Still she didn’t call, and I thought maybe a simple card was best. Over the course of two months, I’d sent three, but I’d heard nothing from Victoria.

Diana and I lazed on the couch watching late night reruns. I lay my head on a decorative throw pillow, a small maroon square embroidered with rectangles, circles, and squares of various colors. My wife would’ve normally admonished my using the pillows claiming they were to be seen only, but this night she said nothing about it. I watched the television through the narrow opening between my eyelids and was very near sleep when Diana elongated herself beside me and whispered into my ear that we should go to bed.

“Let’s stay here,” I replied, recalling how Victoria and I had occupied her contemporary-style sectional sofa, imprinting on the tuft fabric.

“We can’t. There are too many exposed windows,” Diana insisted.

“No one can see in those windows,” I said putting my hands under her shirt and cupping her petite warm breasts.

“Still. I just don’t feel comfortable here,” she admitted.