Persephone – Spring is late
The many faces of the room (sculptures, photographs, paintings, dolls) stared him daring him to create. Clutter, some called it. But as an artist he needed stuff. Some stuff represented people he knew and had known. Some stuff represented ideas. Regardless of where it came from it all gave him inspiration and reminded him of memories from his past.
Jamison Lee sat holding his tablet in the middle of the Bull Room thinking about what he would draw next. He was currently fascinated by contemporary mythological archetypes. His mind processed them as a type of folk hero. Perhaps he would be able to raise them up to kitchen deity status – pictures you would hang on the wall to meditate on he thought. When he created his flight attendant he considered maybe he was creating a patron saint of air travel. He enjoyed creating these solo figures and making up stories about them.
He also enjoyed this new digital medium. The iPad pro and stylus had created space he didn’t think he would have time for until he retired. The only down side was he hated telling people that he created his work digitally. He imagined them thinking he just pushed a button to generate it. In reality each drawing was hand rendered – sometimes taking 10 to 15 hours. What he loved about a digital drawing was: no brushes to clean, no pencils to sharpen, no colors to run out of or remix. The 10 to 15 hours of working on a piece was pure composition and creation.
“So you don’t have any originals?” someone often asked him curios about collect some original work.
“No”, he would reply. “You could consider my work as you would a digital photograph. It’s a copy immediately after you take it as it saves to a drive. There is not even a negative to archive. It becomes a copy of a copy of a copy every time it’s saved – like a memory. The work is only original once.”
He wondered, as he chose the next subject for his drawing, if in a thousand years (or even a hundred), if the work stored on a hard drive would look like an old Xerox copy. He swirled the whiskey surrounding his ice and took a sip. Tyco had made it for him. Jamison Lee noticed something extra in the whiskey, something sweet that brought out all the flavors.
He looked up to see Tyco with a basket in his hand returning from the chicken run. He had heard them crooning their laying song earlier from the bull room where he sat contemplating the next piece. It was the bull room because of the bull horns which presided above the opening to the dining room. Also, it was a place to receive guests and hear their stories. It was the bullshit room. It was the perfect place to create.
“Five eggs today”, Tyco said setting the basket on the counter.
It was a good haul. “Say, what’s in this drink?” responded Jamison Lee.
The fog was wet and thick. It blanketed the university bringing with it – mystery. Things that were once familiar seemed now to have secrets. The world you thought you knew blurred into a world unexplored. Occasionally (as well as mystery) the fog also brought loneliness and solitude isolating you from the ones you love. And, sometimes, it just made you cold and wet and unwilling to venture outside.
Today the fog brought the latter two to Doctor Professor Daniel Charles Bartholomew Asclepius. He was cold and lonely. Specialization took you farther and farther from the mainstream where there were fewer and fewer people to relate to, he pondered. He set about building a fire while he waited for the arrival of his student Gentry. Cold he could solve.
Daniel was a leading professor in the study of Pneumatology. His focus was the spirit world and its interactions and influences (both direct and indirect) on the natural world. However, he was rattled this morning on the subject. He had been to dinner with a dear friend and colleague. They had met in the seminary and then parted professional paths, his friend going on to be a priest and him a scientist. They were catching each other up on their respective lives, when the evening took an unpleasant turn. As Daniel started to explain the details of what his studies were about, he couldn’t help noticing his friends face getting darker and darker.
“The study of Pneumatology, dear professor, is for the exclusive study of the Holy Spirit – not heathen superstitions,” He had said rising and throwing his napkin down. “I am afraid this dinner has left a bad taste in my mouth. I cannot thank you for the company”. And then he left the restaurant.
Daniel was shocked. He paid the bill and left. On his way out he was in time to see his friend preparing to get into a cab.
“Father Esposito, I did not mean to offend you.” Daniel said gently using full formality in honor of the grave situation they found themselves in. “Please accept my apology.”
“Apology accepted. However, I’m afraid our path ends here.” Father Esposito retreated into his cab and unceremoniously left.
The scene had repeated itself in Daniel’s head over and over all morning. He found himself pondering it again in front of the fire as it cast illumination. Had he found himself guilty of “cultural appropriation”? Was this the sole property of the Church? Did he have no right to interpretation and exploration? Was this study not his as well? Did he have no rights to it?
In Daniel’s mind these were ridiculous questions. Of course he had as much right as anyone else to personalize these ideas. He had advanced and influenced the science tremendously. He had taken dusty ideas and breathed new life into them. What did not evolve died.
As equally offended as he found himself, he also knew it was important feedback. Father Esposito was not the only one to feel this way he was sure. He had given an honest and emotionally charged response. Daniel needed to respect that and incorporate it. It shook him because he had never considered this prejudice and he was not sure how to proceed forward or what damage he had exposed his work to. This argument would need to be thoroughly considered. He had important work to do and he did not need the Church to develop undo interest or stand in his way claiming a copy write they did not own.
There was a knock on the door. Gentry had arrived. Daniel gratefully put these thoughts away. He had a brilliant and distressed student to address. This was a real concern with immediate implications.
He had discovered Gentry in a “trap” he often used to discover talent. His was not the sort of curriculum that could welcome just any student. For his use they needed to be gifted. As such the Professor “employed” a nasty spirit that resided near the bell tower on campus. The bell tower was fortunately on a frequently used path connecting many classes. It also had a lovely little park with a bench just across from it. Daniel would sit across and watch the many students of the university pass the bell tower on their way to class.
He was enjoying a cup of tea while sitting on the bench and reading a paper, when a young man walking past with his friends suddenly became very visibly upset and started looking around declaring to his friends “what the hell is that?” And that’s how Daniel discovered Gentry.
His friends of course had felt nothing and supposed a bee sting or some other physical ailment. Before the conversation could get too informative, Professor Asclepius interjected himself reassuring Gentry’s friends that he was a doctor and that they should continue to class without their freind.
“Come sit next to me young man,” invited Daniel taking a seat on the bench and patting the place next to him. “So, you wanted to know “what the hell was that” I believe.” “It is a malevolent spirit” said Daniel casually “But, I suspect you are not surprised by that. I suppose what surprised you are the strength of emotions it imparted to you. Tell me, what did you feel?”
Gentry looked at him with skepticism and relief. There was a pause like he was waiting for permission from himself and then he spoke “I felt horror… Not terror, not grief, not sadness, but absolute horror”.
“Yes, that’s consistent with what people with your gifts feel. I’m Professor Asclepius,” he said offering his had to shake.
“Asclepius? Any relation?” asked Gentry jokingly. “I’m Gentry,” he said taking the professors hand sheepishly. “How funny I never thought of it as a Gift”
How that gift had manifested, thought Daniel remembering that first meeting as he showed Gentry into his study and seated him next to the warm fire. Gentry’s mother had threatened to pull him from the school and the program and had ordered his return home which was why he was here. Daniel provided him some nutrition, they discussed some pleasantries, and then Daniel got right to the point.
“I wish to accompany you and speak with your mother directly. I hate to impose, but the Duchess would never grant me an audience so I mean to ambush her. While this department may be obscure, it is not underfunded. I will offer you a full scholarship, a small stipend, and travel expenses.”
“I’m sorry professor, but I don’t think you understand. My mother means for me to take over the family business. My education is no longer important to her.”
“No, my dear Gentry, I understand completely. I mean to make a business proposition with her of my own – one I feel will be mutually beneficial. Will you agree to let me treat with her?”
And so it was decided. Daniel would accompany Gentry to see his mother.
“Thank you Professor. I’m so relieved. I feared this was the end.” Gentry confessed as Daniel showed him to the door.
“That’s normal for your age,” reassured Daniel repeating a tag line he often used with patients. He patted Gentry’s shoulder, “to expect the end when it’s only the beginning in disguise. Remember that I am old and wise. Trust in that”.
The request for money had left her seething. She had been so mad that she had actually called the school herself for more information. To her horror she had discovered that not only was the school asking for more money for expenses for a “special outside the curriculum opportunity” but that her only son, Gentry, was majoring in a field with no career prospects. Pneumatology, who had ever heard of such a study? She had sent him to school to increase his (and her) prospects in life, not waste away as an academic. To find out that he was foolishly throwing away his money on an education with no practical application was the absolute edge.
The Duchess Pricilla of Aggrandizeland had long since come to the end of her fortune. Upon her husband’s death, their only son and heir had inherited his father’s title and a small income that came with it. It had been enough to pay for his education and provide her with a small allowance which provided a modest flat, a maid, a chauffeur, and a cook. The Duke had died defending their remaining plantation in a bloody revolution overseas. It had been the last financial prospect of the estate. The duchy had been sold and absorbed by the city hundreds of years ago. Today it had been reduced to the block they lived on which provided rents they received distributed from a corporation they heard from once a year – a corporation that also managed intangible investments. While the income was stable, it grew by incremental percentages.
It had taken her years to learn to budget. It was not in her nature. The first year she had almost ruined them. She had been living her “life extravagant” as usual when she chanced upon her dear friend, Candace, while at a lecture they were both attending.
Candace was a self-made woman who managed and owned several clever investments and enterprises. They had very quickly become fast friends after an incident involving a flower girl at a wedding they had both attended. Candace had heard Pricilla tell the girl after whispering in her ear (when the child had asked if she had ever been a flower girl) “That’s everything I know”. For some reason this solemn and sage delivery had amused Candace causing her to shoot red wine out of her nose all over her dress. Pricilla had come to her rescue with the loan of a long wrap.
They had run in similar circles for years, but the incident had bonded them. It had been soon after on a night out at the opera that Candace had revealed the source of her capital. She disclosed it over a nightcap as they caught up and discussed the highs and lows of the opera. This opera (like so many) centered around the tragedy of a young woman who had been routinely beaten, raped, and then eventually murdered by her lover after he had impregnated and abandoned her to a career in prostitution. After one to many, Candace had boldly revealed that she too had engaged in a career as a prostitute to wealthy gentlemen while overseas – luckily more profitable and less tragic. Properly invested it had become the source of her independence. Pricilla had been delighted. What a scandal! “of course I was known as Candy then”, she had remarked which had sent Pricilla into peals of laughter. The memories of friendship were bountiful and pleasant.
Pricilla had been lost in reminiscences embrace when Candace had leaned in and whispered before the speaker could start “I’m so pleased to see your husband left you so well cared for.” She pressed her hand quickly before turning their attention to exposing themselves to the great thoughts their clever lecturer would impart.
But it was Candace’s remark that had set Pricilla to thinking and not the speaker she had paid to hear at all. How cared for was she exactly? After a few days of careful looking, she had found her late husband’s office. He had kept it at the flat she would eventually reside in. She supposed it was because it was technically the heart of the original duchy – the last 13 acres to be exact and the land with which the titled depended. Without this parcel of land (too close to downtown to be fashionable) they had no peerage and were just wealthy landowners. She spied a stack of bank paper on his desk, called for a cup of tea and settled in to explore her limits. What she found was her time was nearly up. The bank account showed a mere thousand. That can’t be right she thought. Why she knew she had spent three times that just finding the office in the past few days. Apparently none of the transactions had cleared yet. Then it hit her. When they did arrive the account would be overdrawn – the first time in six-hundred years.
Pricilla had no idea what to do. In desperation she called on her friend whose comment had started her down this path. After exchanging a few pleasantries Pricilla came to the point.
“I don’t suppose you would be in the market to provide a loan would you?” she had asked with harried exasperation turning (she was sure) quite red.
“My dear Pricilla, how much?” Candace asked with shock and concern.
“Ten thousand perhaps?…”
“My darling, is this a joke?” she asked unable to keep the incredulousness from her voice. She began to suspect a prank. What a ridiculously small amount.
“The account is in danger of overdrawing for the first time in six hundred years. I don’t even know what will happen if it does. I dread finding out. We aren’t due for an installment until the end of the month. I’m so humiliated…” she announced with panicked laughter wiping tears from her eyes.
Candace looked at her with genuine relief and suppressed a smile. “Oh, you silly girl. I will write you a check for ten thousand. In exchange, you must let me help you sort yourself out”, she said reaching for Pricilla’s hand to hold it.
Pricilla was relieved to find that they were still rich but with no new income – a situation that left unchecked would drain the estate dry within her lifetime. With Candace’s help, she sold all the properties with the exception of the duchy (a mere thirteen acre city block), released all but three of the servants, and helped her bundle the cash they had generated into a rainy day fund. They also dismissed her accountant who it turns out would have profited a great deal had Pricilla gone under, and Candace showed her the joys of a stable budget and a well-run house as well as how to save a small portion every month for future extravagances.
While Pricilla would no longer be the great lady she once was, she would not be destitute. “Perhaps I could get a job”, she remarked upon learning of her meager allowance. “Don’t be silly”, shushed Candace “you don’t know how to work”.
And so when Gentry came of age, he went to the prestigious schools their title and his allowance still accommodated. With him she sent her hope that he had inherited his father’s gift for making money and that an education would expose him to opportunity. She, who had once toasted the continent, settled into obscurity and modest comfort.
Knowledge of his academic achievements had dashed her hopes and she knew it was up to her to increase their prospects and impart what knowledge of business his father had left her to Gentry directly. The school had informed her of his location and so she had sent a letter to Japan.
In its contents were a simple directive – Gentry was to come home immediately and assume his role as Duke of Aggrandizeland. Candace was going to help them convert the remaining 13 acres to a skyscraper and this would require a great many signatures from the Duke.
A light was on in the living room which was why Dr. Zain Uddin Khan found himself peering in through the pocket doors that separated it from the dining room on his way to a fancy dress party. He and two friends were going as a sort of Italian three musketeers in fancy dress Carabinieri uniforms. He had worn this costume once before and had been delighted to find out that it offended people as at first glance it was mistaken for a Nazi uniform. Not that he was sympathetic to the detestable Nazi dogma but he occasionally enjoyed putting people on edge. It was satisfying to sporadically turn the tables.
As a Muslim doctor who worked tirelessly for the community, there was a constant expectation that he take the higher ground in the face of relentless insensitivity and sometimes downright discrimination. The costume represented a sort of social rebellion. It called people out on their ignorance and highlighted the ultimate outcome of ignorance.
As he peered into the unusually illuminated room, he saw the culprit curled up on the couch. It was his son home from his adventures as a street urchin. The fog had swept in to chill the evening and so Zain tucked his son Kyle in with the luxurious sitting room throw – placed neatly in the room for just such an occasion. He stopped to admire his son in that warm paternal way known only to fathers which starts with a tingle in the head and scalp and moves slowly down the spine.
He wished he would stop this street performing nonsense and go back to school, but he understood why he did not. In his last year of high school a hysterical girl had overheard a chance statement by a momentarily frustrated Kyle said with the drama and exaggeration of youth. “I’m going to blow this place up”.
Apparently this had been enough to activate the powers of Home Land Security and as Kyle had recently turned 18 they had apprehended him and incarcerated him and then proceeded to raid Dr. Khan’s house. Thank God years of being detained at customs for hours on end when returning to his country from foreign lands was a routine experience he had accustomed himself to. It had trained him to remain calm through the whole humiliating crisis. While the best lawyers that money could provide had sorted the authorities out within the week, the damage had been done.
In interviews from now on, how was he to honestly answer the question “have you ever been arrested”? Was he to tell the truth and say “Yes, I was mistakenly taken for a terrorist once but the charges were dropped and my record expunged”. While this statement was certainly a conversation starter, it wasn’t the sort of thing that put you at the top of any desirable list. Was his son to learn to lie? What was his moral obligation?
Zain still hoped that his son would find himself. His mother might have found a way to fix it, he thought assuredly. While her death had allowed him to live a life and explore a part of himself he probably wouldn’t have, he missed her acutely right now.
When you don’t want to work for wages and you don’t own your own business, options for making money are few and far between – Kyle thought. It was difficult to be free. With no car, he couldn’t be an Uber/Lyft driver and with no spare room to rent he couldn’t participate in Air B&B. Thank God he had this old banjo and a good singing voice.
Kyle counted up the money in his Deering case and added it to the rest in the hidden recesses of his jacket. Pocket money, it helped pay for dance lessons, haircuts, the gym… – all the extras in life. His anesthesiologist father reluctantly kept him in food and shelter. What daddy didn’t provide (in an effort to encourage him to go to college) was extra cash he thought as he patted his hidden take.
When you worked in tourist areas you learned never to leave too much money in whatever collection container you might have in front of you. He had also learned never to keep it in his wallet – the real one in danger of pick pockets nor the fake one with an old ID, an expired credit card, and twenty dollars to be surrendered to muggers.
He boarded the bus and sat with his feet firmly planted on the ground. He was embarrassed by the holes in his sneakers inspired by impromptu pirouettes on cement. These creative outbursts had worn sweet little circles in the soles of his shoes.
Irritatingly enough he had just purchased a new pair of boots rather recently. Well, not exactly purchased. But they were new, he thought coincidently spying an identical pair on the feet of a man directly in front of him. (You never looked anyone in the eye on the bus if you could help it. Kyle always kept his eyes firmly on peoples feet).
They had been a replacement for a pair of Timberland hiking boots he had purchased and then split the soles off the upper. He had frequently abused the boots balancing on his toes at bus shelters while waiting on public transit. They had been expensive (for him) and trendy and the experience had made him just mad enough to walk himself down to Nordstrom’s and demand a new pair. They should have lasted a lot longer than they did. Maybe they hadn’t been designed for point-work but Nordstrom’s didn’t need to know that. He would certainly refrain from practicing such dance moves in good shoes in the future.
The clerk had looked at him in disbelief when he had presented them to him. It was a look of “oh my God, what have you been doing to these poor shoes”. However, he had agreed that they should have lasted longer and then exchanged them for a new pair after approval from a manager.
Then unexpectedly, his trendy replaced Timberland boots had gone missing. Sure, they had almost immediately thrown a shoelace grommet, but to Kyle this had seemed like the price you would be expected to pay for the shenanigans he had gone through to get them. It was karma. It had never even occurred to him to demand another replacement. They had thrown a grommet, just like the ones in front of him. They must all have the same defect he pondered missing his shoes. It probably wouldn’t even matter if he had exchanged them. They would probably all throw the same eyelet. He wondered what the odds were that his shoes would have the same defect as the one in front of him.
They almost looked identical to the pair that had gone missing – certainly they were the same size. Kyle looked up suddenly to see if the shoes were on anyone he recognized. He met the eyes of a stranger in midst of a blush and a guilty look. Kyle couldn’t place this man’s face anywhere.
The man abruptly got up and pulled the cord that announced he would get off at the next stop. Kyle kept staring at him and the man kept avoiding his gaze. Kyle had no idea what to do. The city had conditioned him to prepare for pick-pockets and muggers, but he was in no way prepared to come face to face with someone wearing his missing shoes.
After the man got off, Kyle wondered – even if the man had stolen his shoes somehow – what he could have done to get them back. And if he had stolen them, how on earth had he managed to do it, and where, and when? Was this guy some trick of his fathers and he had taken them as a trophy? Had he accidentally left them at the gym or dance school and this guy had taken them? He often changed his shoes to clogs or sandals after a workout as he hated shoving his swollen feet into tight boots.
Another twist of karma Kyle decided giving in to the fact that no amount of speculation would bring those boots back. He leaned back is his seat placing his earbuds back in. He would take comfort in having a rich father. Today’s work had afforded him another month of classes and perhaps another pair of shoes. Boots or no boots, was still free from getting a real job or going to school. Maybe this time he would purchase shoes that were cheaper… and something he could slip on.
Keep on walking in a free world, he hummed silently to himself changing the lyrics. Kyle was; after all, the star of the musical fantasies he lived in, the chanteuse of his cabaret, and the diva of his one man show.
The ground was cold. His stomach was empty. He wanted to give in to the hunger yet at the same time it forced him to crawl out of the thicket and stand up. He said a silent prayer thanking the deer that had made his bed. The center of the bushes had been well worn. Jonathan had been grateful to find it. Beginning the journey in smart clothes, he now found them soiled and wrinkled. His teeth chattered with no way to get warm and his stomach growled with no way to fill it.
Hope drove him forward. He was traveling towards a new life and if he died tomorrow, well then, he had lived two more days than if he had died yesterday. He had his suit and his gear which was enough to join the revolutionary army. Jonathan was marching toward General Washington and the promise of land at the end of the war. He was marching towards a future and away from a past.
With no bonds of family beyond blood, and no real place to be, two days ago had found him scouting the forest far from the house and the farm. There was a swimming hole fed by a hot spring he had found that no one seemed to know about but him. He was heading there that day to be lost.
It had seemed to be his discovery alone, but that day as he approached he feared someone else had found his paradise. Foot prints could be seen in the damp ground as well as forestry had been disarranged along the path. He approached the pond with trepidation and stopped just short of the clearing. His suspicions were confirmed by a pile of clothing on a rock near the water. But the feeling of invasion was short lived. He spied a body floating in the water.
Jonathan quickly took off his clothes and jumped in. As soon as he touched the cold body he knew the truth of the man’s condition. He was dead, but only recently so – maybe within a day – maybe even today.
He pulled the body to the shore and looked at it. He could discover no injury and he wondered what had caused his body to fail. It was a young man – older than him and better fed but no taller. Jonathan looked older than his years mostly due to his height. The body bore a handsome face. It was no one he recognized.
In the stillness of that afternoon in a blanket of forest silence, Jonathan found himself crying for maybe the second time in his life – the first time being when his mother died giving birth to his brother. He had not cried for his dad who had disappeared in grief. Jonathan found himself crying for a host of grievances dealt to him in his short life and for the shortness of life. But mostly he cried for his loneliness and this friend he had pulled from the water too late to meet.
After he had exhausted himself of tears he went to get dressed. That’s when he noticed the man’s clothing. It was a uniform. Next to it, gear. In his pockets he found money. This man was heading to be a soldier.
Jonathan did not think about if he should do next what he ended up doing. He just did it. Though they had never met, this true friend was helping him in his time of need. It was like that man from the bible the preacher was always talking about, Jesus, laying down his life so that Jonathan might live. He dressed carefully in the other man’s clothes and then laid the naked body on a rock away from the water so as not to spoil it. Jonathan turned back down the path and left him for the sun. He had found the courage and the means to live, and not just be a body – breathing.
Marie’s makeup was perfect. Somehow that gave her strength. She was on the last leg of her trip and back to work. The visit with Melanie at the resort had been a disaster. She had cried from Guam to Honolulu. The lady next to her had handed her tissues the whole way there – no questions asked.
In addition, a 24 hour layover in San Francisco had almost also been a disaster. Marie had made plans to meet an old friend of hers from dance school, but when she got to the airport, no one was there to greet her. A call to his apartment revealed he had taken a gig with a touring modern dance company and was not in town.
“I’m sorry to do this to you”, she said to his roommate, “but is there any way I can stay with you for the night?”
“Sure”, he said. Then (like an Angel sent from heaven) he proceeded to be the perfect host. He made her a fresh bed, cooked her dinner, and then listened to the whole sordid tale of her break-up with Melanie. When she had arrived in Guam (where Melanie was working as a yoga instructor), Marie confessed to him, Melanie had proceeded to inform her that they would need to pretend to be just friends while she was staying with her. Then to add insult to injury Melanie had introduced her to her boyfriend. “It was the most humiliating and lonely moment of my life”, Marie confided.
“I know it’s a work night, but is there any way you would agree to go out dancing with me? I desperately need a night out.”
“I was actually going out,” replied Ryan. “There is a flamenco competition my friend is in tonight.”
The night out with Ryan in San Francisco to watch flamenco had been just what the doctor ordered she thought as she sat in JFK getting ready for her flight. Marie put on her uniform and applied her makeup putting Guam behind her. She was in the middle of the world with access to everywhere, she comforted herself. She was a flight attendant.