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First Chapter Reveal: Night in Jerusalem by Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Night in Jerusalem

Title: NIGHT IN JERUSALEM
Author: Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy
Publisher: PKZ Inc.
Pages: 246
Genre: Historical Romance

A bewitching love story that is also an extraordinary portrait of Jerusalem, its faith, spirituality, identity, and kaleidoscope of clashing beliefs, Night in Jerusalem is a novel of mystery, beauty, historical insight, and sexual passion.

David Bennett is invited to Jerusalem in 1967 by his cousin who, to the alarm of his aristocratic British family, has embraced Judaism. He introduces David to his mentor, Reb Eli, a revered sage in the orthodox community. Despite his resistance to religious teaching, David becomes enthralled by the rabbi’s wisdom and compassionate presence. When David discloses a sexual problem, Reb Eli unwittingly sets off a chain of events that transforms his life and the life of the mysterious prostitute, Tamar, who, in a reprise of an ancient biblical story, leads both men to an astonishing realization. As passions rise, the Six Day War erupts, reshaping the lives of everyone caught up in it.

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First Chapter:

Hail pounded the windshield of the sherut as it made its way through the night to Jerusalem. The driver pulled to the side of the road, startled. He peered at the windshield. It was fractured, but to his astonishment, still intact.“In twenty years I never see such storm,” he said in his best English.

He lit a cigarette and offered the pack to his passengers. David refused; the three Israelis accepted. Sitting up front, an elderly woman took out oranges, which she peeled, divided, and shared, using her dress to wipe the juice off her hands. The taxi filled with the pungent smell of oranges mixed with cigarette smoke. David cracked open a window.

The storm reminded him of the monsoon in India. Like many of his generation, he had gone there searching for revelation. He had hoped it would let him shake off the feeling of isolation that plagued him wherever he went. His upbringing had given him every comfort that money could buy, except the comfort of belonging in his own skin. At times the loneliness hid long enough to fool him into thinking it was gone, but then, like a familiar ghost, it would find its way back and fill him with despair. After a year of traveling, he had returned to England, only to discover that nothing had changed.

Now, stuck in a taxi on a desolate hilltop outside Jerusalem, enveloped by smoke while waiting out the storm, he regretted leaving Hampshire’s gentle slopes, which were always so green and welcoming, where sometimes after a rain, like a gift from heaven, the sun would come out followed by a sudden rainbow.

He was trying to ignore his reservations about coming to Israel. He wished he had not allowed his cousin to persuade him to come “just for a visit.” Although Jonathan, at twenty-eight, was only a year older, David viewed him as a more mature, elder brother, as well as his best friend. They had grown up together in the south of England in an aristocratic family, enjoying the privileges of great wealth, but subject to the remoteness from society that it can sometimes bring. When Jonathan had left for Israel, David’s loneliness had become unbearable.

After an hour, the storm stopped. The driver told everyone they would need another car to take them to Jerusalem, as he could not see out of his cracked windshield, and that their only option, given the hour, was to hitchhike. The passengers stood at the side of the road for what seemed like an eternity. David was certain he would be there until morning, when an army truck loomed out of the night and juddered to a stop. The driver, a young soldier, helped them aboard, before continuing cautiously down the steep, winding road to Jerusalem.

David was the last passenger to be dropped off. He thanked the soldier for stopping and delivering them safely, surprised by the informality of it all. Just after midnight, standing before a two-story stone building in Abu Tor, with only the moon shimmering through the clouds for illumination, he could just about make out the number of the house. The flat Jonathan had arranged for him was upstairs. He could not find the light and, after blindly climbing the staircase, he felt his way to the top-floor door and fumbled under the mat for the key.

Inside the flat, a lamp had been left on for him, with a note attached to a bottle of wine on a small, wooden table.

Welcome to Jerusalem. See you in the morning, eight o’clock at Cafe Cassis. It’s down the hill to Hebron Road, then right to Rehov (Street) King David, and right again on Rehov Ben-Yehudah. The cafe will be on your right, just a bit further up at the corner. It’s less than a fifteen-minute walk, Jonathan.

P.S. If you want a bath, turn on the red switch outside the loo an hour before. Hope you remembered to bring toilet paper.

The shutters on the windows and doors were closed. The room had a vaulted ceiling and contained a dark, birch armoire that matched the headboard on the double bed. A tufted, deep green armchair was the only other piece of furniture. The room felt as ancient as the city.

Chilled from the storm, David lit the gas heater, then clicked on the red switch for hot water. The bathroom had a commode with a chain flush and a small sink with an even smaller mirror above it. He felt the rough, brown toilet paper sitting on top of the commode and understood why Jonathan had told him to bring a suitcase full. He was grateful there was a deep bathtub with a hand shower.

Restless while waiting for the water to heat, he changed into warmer clothes and decided to take a first look at the city he would live in for the next month.

Outside, the narrow, winding roads of Abu Tor had been soaked by the storm. The stone houses were dark and there were no streetlights. The place seemed uninhabited, with only feral cats out searching for food. Wandering the neighborhood deepened his sense of isolation. He knew nothing of Israel, did not speak the language and, besides Jonathan, knew no one in the country. How could a month here relieve his despair?

Had Jonathan been there to meet him at the flat, he would have felt better, but Jonathan lived near the University of Jerusalem, where he was studying Judaism. Tonight he had gone to a seminar in Haifa and would not be returning until the morning.

David climbed up a steep road, unable to see anything but the stone wall beside him when, suddenly, at the top of the hill, Jerusalem’s Old City revealed itself. The lights peering from stone houses built neatly into its hills shimmered with golden hues against the night. It was, as Jonathan had promised, mysterious and beautiful.

Soaking in a hot bath gave him a restful night until he was awakened at six by a loudspeaker calling the Muslims to prayer, “Allah, Akbar…” Sleepily, he opened the shutters and doors which led onto the roof and there, again, was a panoramic view of Jerusalem. He felt the warmth of the sun as it rose from behind Mount Zion, with no sign of last night’s storm. The clear, blue sky amplified the city’s magnificence. He could see a crescent of cypress trees and, below it, the walled Old City with its minarets and church spires. He looked out at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque glittering in the sun. To the far left stood the King David Hotel. He felt a surprising surge of excitement.

He had an hour before meeting Jonathan at Café Cassis and, eager to get a feeling for the city, decided to take a leisurely stroll to the café. By seven o’clock, most of the businesses were open. He passed the King David Hotel and a small cafe where the smell of coffee and freshly-baked pita bread filled the street, already bustling with people, rickety buses, Volkswagens and Mini Minors.

Arriving at the café, he immediately spotted a bearded Jonathan sitting reading the Jerusalem Post. Jonathan jumped up and hugged him.

“Great to see you! I’ve been so looking forward to you being here. I can’t believe you’ve finally shown up. How’s the flat?”

“Fine, the views are spectacular.”

“Well it’s yours for two years, if you like. The chap who owns it is on sabbatical in Argentina. He’d be delighted to get the rent.”

“I’ve committed for a month,” David reminded him, so as to not get Jonathan’s hopes up. “You look very Jewie with that beard. Do you have to have one to study Judaism?”

“Very funny.”

“How are the studies going?”

“Really well, actually. How was your trip to India?”

“A bit challenging. After one of their downpours, my car got stuck in the mud and started sinking. I thought I was going to be swallowed up. I took it as my cue to leave.” David looked at the thick, muddy coffee Jonathan was drinking, “I hope they’ve got more than that to drink.”

“How about a cup of tea?”

“Perfect. Do they serve eggs with sausages?”

“Yes, more or less.”

Jonathan introduced David to Uri, the owner of the café, then, in Hebrew, ordered their breakfast.

“It’s good to see you, Jonathan. I’ve missed you,” David confessed.

“By the way, I’ve arranged for you to meet with the rebbe tomorrow.”

“I know how you feel about him, but frankly, I’m not much interested in meeting him,” David said, as gently as he could, not wanting Jonathan to feel his good intentions were unappreciated.

“David, I’m just asking you to be open-minded. The rebbe has helped so many people. They come from all over the world just to meet him. Why not give him a try? You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Why are you so keen for me to see him? What’s so special about him?”

“That’s something you’re going to have to find out for yourself, but I promise, once you meet him, you will be hungry for more.”

“More of what?”

“You’ll see. He’s helped me enormously,” Jonathan said emphatically.

David sat quietly, absorbing what Jonathan was saying. He felt envious of his enthusiasm and that he had found his place in the world.

“Jonathan, I don’t know if this is …”

Before he could finish, Jonathan interrupted, “Give it a try. There’s no harm in looking into your own heritage.”

“It’s not my heritage. I know absolutely nothing about it. You know how it is at home. All we do is make an appearance at the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, when of course, it’s a delight to spend quality time with the other closet Jews.”

“Sarcasm has always been such a part of your charm, David.”

“Have you forgotten that my mother thought you ‘troubled’ when you told us you were coming here? And how we were instructed ‘the situation’ was ‘best kept to ourselves.’ Heaven forbid it would jeopardize her luncheon invitations from the queen.”

Although it was all true, Jonathan reasoned, “David it’s what we were born into. Why not give it a chance. Nobody is asking you to commit to anything.”

“Good, because I have no intention of becoming more of a Jew, or anything else for that matter. This country is like any other country, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not here on any kind of pilgrimage.”

“I’m so glad you haven’t changed.”

Uri brought David his tea along with their breakfast of scrambled eggs, a few thin slices of salami and a crusty roll. Jonathan caught David eyeing the salami with suspicion. “Think of it as fine-pressed sausage.”

Reb Eliezer Ben-Yaacov, known to everyone as “Reb Eli,” sat quietly in the study hall of his synagogue in Mea Shearim while his Torah students debated the meaning of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. The previous night’s storm had kept him awake, leaving him weary for today’s studies. Whenever the rebbe couldn’t sleep, he sat and read his favorite verses from the great Tzaddikim, those awakened souls who had come to such a tenderness towards the world that they saw only its beauty. But last night, despite his reading, he had been unable to stop worrying about his youngest daughter.

It had been ten years since his wife had died. Still, he felt God had been generous with him. He was blessed with five children. He had all that he needed, and, three years previously, to his surprise, he had been named Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Based on his growing reputation as a sage, people came from all over the world to seek his guidance. But he could not resolve his concerns about his own daughter. He lived among the Hasidim, and whenever he walked by, the women would become suddenly silent. He knew what they were saying about Sarah. “Blessed with beauty, cursed with misfortune, a woman born luckless, without mazel.”

Sarah was just twelve years old when her mother died. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, had taken on the burden of being her mother. She already had three children of her own. She did her best to look after Sarah as well.

Reb Eli was delighted when Sarah married Yossi, a kind, scholarly young man from a pious family. But after three years of marriage, she was still childless when her devoted husband was stricken with a rare form of cancer and died. All in Mea Shearim gossiped, “Poor, beautiful Sarah had so many bees, but no honey.” The sadness in his daughter’s eyes weighed heavily on him.

Reb Eli was brought back from his troubled thoughts by Chaim, a slight young man from a family of fourteen children whose curiosity and devoted scholarship made him one of the rebbe’s favorite students. “Chanukah honors those times in our lives when sun and moon, the direct light of God and the reflected light of our tradition are at their nadir. It is a time of trouble, fear and sadness. The work of Chanukah is to dispel darkness with the kindling of lights. That is what we must contemplate throughout these eight days,” Chaim said, answering the question the rebbe had forgotten he had asked.

The rebbe nodded his head in approval, grateful to Chaim for reminding him of the inner work to be done.

Ever since Yossi’s passing, Sarah’s nights had been restless. She woke often, feeling tired and dull. The storm the night before had awakened her with the sound of fierce rain and hail beating against the window. Watching the rain, she had remembered how her mother always said whoever is born or married in the rain will be blessed with mazel.

The storm had flooded the classroom at the girl’s cheder where she taught biblical studies. It had damaged the dilapidated roof and left the floor waterlogged. Her class was moved to her sister Esther’s room, where the two classes were combined. The students sat paired together at each desk, giggling. Nevertheless, Sarah was grateful when Esther offered to take over both of their classes so she could take the remainder of the day off, as she was feeling intense cramps from the onset of her period.

It was five months since her husband had died. A childless widow at twenty-two, she felt her monthly bleeding was now wasted on a barren woman. She returned to the courtyard where she lived just across from her father’s house. She climbed the stairs to the small flat she had shared with Yossi. After closing the drapes of her bedroom window, she removed her marriage wig, allowing her lustrous, auburn hair to spill over her shoulders. Undressing from the drab mourning clothes she had worn since Yossi’s death, she slid into her warm bed, wearing only her soft, white slip.

Sarah looked at the clock. She had a few hours before she was to bring her father his four o’clock tea. Catching an afternoon nap felt tender and peaceful. She fell deeply asleep, dreaming she was floating out to sea.

Late in the afternoon, Jonathan escorted David into Mea Shearim, where bearded men strolled the streets in long black coats and fur hats, with curled locks of hair hanging over their ears. The women were dressed in dark skirts and coats that covered them from the neck down to their clumsy Oxford shoes. Their hair was hidden by tight scarves or identical wigs. Walking separately, segregated from the men, they appeared weary, and old beyond their years.

The Hasidim stared suspiciously at David. His clean-shaven face, short brown jacket, jeans, and loafers screamed “outsider.” By their glares, it was obvious they didn’t like strangers coming into their neighborhood. Most of them belonged to the ultra-orthodox sect known as the Satmars.

David was repelled by the sight of “these people,” and told Jonathan he felt he was visiting a strange planet of clones. He wanted to get out of there right away.

Jonathan was disturbed by his reaction. “David, you know nothing about the Hasidim. Judging them by their appearance? That’s so shallow.” Trying to put him at ease before meeting the rebbe, Jonathan explained that Reb Eli, although orthodox, did not belong to any sect.

Alone in his study, Reb Eli thought about the promise he had made to his friend, Phillip Bennett. He had known the Bennetts since childhood when his family had sent him to England from his home in Germany.

In November 1938, five days after Kristalnacht, the renowned Reb Yaacov Wolfner had decided to send his youngest child, Eliezer, who was almost fifteen, to England through the Kindertransport, an organization that rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany and found them foster homes in England.

“How strange,” he thought, “that we forget so easily what we did yesterday, but remember so vividly what the heart felt long ago.” It was now nearly thirty years since Reb Eli’s last Shabbat dinner with his parents and siblings. He remembered his father had invited two young rabbinical students as guests. He could still hear the songs and chants. He could still taste the sweet challah bread his mother had baked. He remembered how the Shabbat candles had magically turned their home into a haven of peace and beauty; how he had cherished the days when he was able to study alongside his father.

At Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station, Reb Yaakov held his son’s arm tightly, not saying a word. All around, families were tearing themselves apart, pushing their children into railway carriages under the hostile eyes of the SS, fearing this would be their last time together. Children cried out for their parents even as the train carrying them to England pulled away from the platform.

Several days earlier, his father had explained why he had to leave Germany. He was being sent to England where he would be safe. His father had assured him he would be well cared for, as his friend, the Chief Rabbi of the Emergency Council in England, would place him in a good home. He promised to send for him as soon as the Nazi regime was over and told him always to remember where he came from, and to live by the teachings of the Torah.

When young Eliezer arrived in Harwich he was driven to Hampshire, where the Bennetts took him into their home. He remembered the drive up the long road to their estate, how he stood there staring in awe at the majesty of it all. It was grander than anything he had ever seen. When the Bennett family came out to greet him, he was too intimidated to speak. It was only when their son, Phillip, reached out his hand, that he was able to say hello.

The Bennetts were generous and compassionate secular Jews, careful to keep their philanthropy anonymous, especially all they did for their fellow Jews.

Phillip Bennett and Eliezer were close in age and befriended each other immediately, despite their different enthusiasms. For Eliezer, it was the study of Torah; for Phillip, it was rugby. Their common interest was chess, a game at which Eliezer excelled. When war broke out, they would hike out into the fields in search of German paratroopers, missions which Philip insisted be kept secret from his parents.

Each time they went out, Eliezer would pray they would not run into any Nazis. Other than his fear of Nazis, Eliezer learned to enjoy their outdoor adventures. He loved Hampshire’s open, green fields and narrow, gushing streams, often writing to his parents about the English countryside. He looked forward to when they would come for him, so he could show them how beautiful it was. He also let them know the Bennetts had arranged for him to continue his religious studies. Phillip and “Eli,’” as he soon became known, became firm friends.

When the war ended, Eli learned of the fate of his family. They had been taken to Auschwitz and murdered. At twenty years old, he was left orphaned and bereft. He yearned for his family and the life he had known. Germany was no longer a place he could call home. As welcomed as the Bennetts made him feel, and as close as he was to Phillip, Eli desperately needed to return to his own ground. Like so many displaced Jews, he found himself drawn to a new beginning in the Promised Land. In 1946, with the Bennetts support, Eli left for Jerusalem, where he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi.

During the early, struggling years of the new state of Israel, and through its wars, Phillip had sent generous support, both to Reb Eli, who had started a family, and to the nation. Now, it was Reb Eli’s turn to be generous.

He had been taken by surprise when Phillip, who professed to be an atheist, told him of his nephew’s desire to learn about Judaism. Jonathan was the son of Eleanor, Phillip’s younger sister, whom he knew well from his time in England. She had married an aristocratic Jew, secular in his ways, yet committed to supporting Israel as insurance against an anti-Semitic world.

Reb Eli had become very fond of Jonathan, though he remained something of an enigma to him. He could not understand how a young man, coming from such wealth, without religious upbringing, could suddenly decide to come to Jerusalem to study Judaism. Was it a rebellion against his family, or was he simply searching for a spiritual path? Or perhaps it had to do with the loss of his father at a young age? Eleanor had told him how much the boy had suffered. For the past three years, Reb Eli had observed Jonathan closely. He appreciated his devotion to his studies, yet remained curious about his motives.

Then, two weeks earlier, Phillip had called asking for help for his only son, David. “My son is lost. He doesn’t know where he belongs. He can’t seem to find himself. Eli, see what you can do. Jonathan has promised to help as well.”

As much as he wanted to help Phillip, he doubted there was much he could do. So many families, especially from America, begged for his help with lost souls. Young people who had no roots were like trees that fall in the first wind. How could he give them the spiritual foundation their families had failed to provide? Most of the time, he could do no more than offer them blessings and prayers. But this was Phillip’s son. He owed Phillip so much. This would have to be different. Reb Eli prayed that the hand of God would guide him.

Promptly, at four o’clock, Sarah brought him his tea, with two biscuits. The rebbe’s heart ached at his daughter’s appearance. Her once sparkling eyes were now dull and empty. She moved like a woman who had been thwarted by life. Lost for words of comfort, the rebbe gently asked his daughter how she was feeling. “I’m fine, Abba,” she said quietly, then left to join her sisters in the kitchen to help prepare the evening meal.

You’re on your own now,” Jonathan said when they reached the courtyard of the rebbe’s house.

“I haven’t a clue what to say or what I’m even doing here,” David muttered nervously. “Aren’t you at least going to introduce us?”

“No need. Just be brave and honest. See you later.”

Other than what Jonathan had told him, and his father’s story of how he had lived with the family during the war, David knew little about the rebbe, except that he was now the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and had remained a close friend of his father.

He felt awkward and out of place knocking at the rebbe’s door. A young Hasidic man greeted him and ushered him into Reb Eli’s study.

The rebbe was sitting by a large table, facing the door. “Please,” he motioned for David to sit across from him in the worn, upholstered chair. Reb Eli’s blue eyes were gentle and inquisitive. His head of prematurely white hair and his full salt-and-pepper beard added to David’s impression that he was meeting an Old Testament prophet. He sat in the chair and waited for the rebbe to speak, anticipating many questions. Instead, Reb Eli sat silently, periodically closing his eyes in meditation. Not knowing what to say or do, David remained quiet. After a while, a wave of peace washed over him. He became aware of the flow of his breath and the beat of his heart. He heard himself say, “I have so many questions.”

“Questions are good, they are all we have, because there are no answers,” the rebbe countered in a tone tender enough for a small child.

In the kitchen, Sarah and her sisters had been washing and cutting fresh-bought vegetables, when Esther asked if one of them would mind running to the macholet for some garlic. Miriam suggested Sarah should go because she had “had a long rest in the afternoon.”

Sarah left for the corner market. Outside the house, in the courtyard, she was looking down when she spotted a pair of brown loafers walking past her. She looked up, curious to see who belonged to these foreign shoes. David, engrossed in his thoughts, walked by without noticing her. Sarah glanced into his face and saw the refined shape of his head, how his hand gently brushed away the dark-brown wisps of hair that had fallen on his forehead. She felt a sudden queasiness in her stomach at noticing so much about a stranger. Trying to dismiss the incident, she rushed to the market, then back to the kitchen where she began mincing the unpeeled garlic cloves until Miriam cried, “Sarah, you forgot to peel the garlic!”

The setting sun covered the city in warm, mellow hues of amber and purple. David was glad he had decided to walk back to Abu Tor. The meeting with the rebbe had left him longing for things he could not name. He was baffled by the rebbe’s silence. Why had he not spoken? Was it because Reb Eli sensed he didn’t want to be there, or was it just that the rebbe had nothing to say? Perhaps this renowned rebbe was simply bored with one more seeker?

What puzzled David most was why he wanted to see him again. What for? More silence? The rebbe had already told him there were no answers, so what was the point of seeing him again? It would be best to tell Jonathan the meeting had served neither of them well.

At the bottom of the hill at Abu Tor, near the water mill, lay the border between Jordan and Israel, marked by a military post manned by Israeli soldiers. On the other side of the road, Jordanians stood watch at their post. Each monitored the other, day in, day out. Watching the sunset hover over the Old City, David couldn’t help but think how bored the soldiers must be, having to stand watch all day, with only each other for company. He saw one of the Jordanians signal for a cigarette. An Israeli soldier put one into a pack and threw it across the road, to a perfect catch. For the moment, their differences dissolved. They became simply two men watching a magnificent sunset, sharing a smoke.

David and Jonathan walked through the ancient tree-lined streets of Baka, a neighborhood of traditional stone houses where Jonathan’s girlfriend, Nilli, lived. The houses had been built with Jerusalem stone, a pale limestone with mixed shades of pink, sand and gold that were glowing in the sunset. David admired the buildings and asked where the stones came from.

“They come from local quarries. All houses have to be built with them, by law, to preserve Jerusalem’s antiquity. It’s why the city is known as Jerusalem of Gold,” Jonathan said.

He pried as gently as he could to find out how David’s meeting with the rebbe had gone. “He’s pretty amazing, isn’t he?”

“He said nothing. What’s so amazing about that?”

“He doesn’t have to say anything. His presence tells you everything you need to know,” Jonathan said, trying not to sound preachy.

“Is that it? I just get to sit there in his ‘presence’?”

Jonathan laughed. “Didn’t you have enough of good conversation in England? I should think by now you would have learned the limitations of language.”

“I don’t think I will be seeing him again.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge. It’s worth giving it some time,” Jonathan said in his older brother tone.

Jonathan was eager for David to meet Nilli and their friends. Feeling out of sorts, David was hesitant about meeting everyone and tried to excuse himself by insisting he was “too grubby” in his jeans and sweater and wasn’t properly dressed.

“I wouldn’t worry about that. Nobody here bothers about fashion. It’s considered gauche,” Jonathan boasted, not letting David off the hook.

Arriving at a small stone house with a painted blue door, David was greeted by Nilli. She had a lovely, open face and smile, with bright blue eyes. She embraced David with a warm hug, “Jonathan has told me so much about you.”

“I hope some of it was good,” David smiled.

Her warmth put him immediately at ease. The door opened into the living room, where three people sat on bright oriental pillows around a large brass coffee table.

Jonathan introduced Nilli’s roommate, Anat, and Nilli’s brother, Gideon, and his girlfriend, Ronit. Anat and Gideon were dressed in military khaki. They each had an Uzi lying beside them. Gideon shared his sister’s eyes and smile. Ronit seemed shy and awkward, traits David later discovered were due to her lack of English. Anat was a sensual beauty, with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She spoke English with a perfect British accent. David thought she looked amazing in her army fatigues. Her skirt came just above her knees revealing her shapely legs. The uniform accentuated her slim, curved body. Anat let David know immediately she considered herself smart, tough, and well-informed. When he asked if she had studied in England, she told him “I’ve never left Israel. I make it my business to learn a language in its proper accent.”

“Anat makes it her business to know about everything that interests her,” Nilli boasted about her friend.

Jonathan warned him, “Don’t be surprised if she knows more about England than we do. Anat is a phenomenon. She reads everything in sight, in four languages, and she’s got a photographic memory so she retains all of it. I wouldn’t bother challenging her on any subject. It will just make you miserable.”

“I shall play it safe then, and keep quiet,” David said with good humor.

Anat proceeded to prove to him that everything Nilli and Jonathan had said about her was true. She was not only beautiful, but brilliant and provocative.

The evening continued into the early morning. They had wine with Mediterranean salads, pita bread, olives, cheese, fruit, and nuts. Afterwards, Anat rolled some hashish into a cigarette, offering it to everyone. David, feeling at home with the group, was the only one who accepted. Jonathan had to get up early and left soon after. The rest of them continued talking until three in the morning. They all wanted to know about David’s travels and what had brought him to Jerusalem. The hashish relaxed him. He opened up about his adventures, and how Jonathan had persuaded him to come to Jerusalem to meet Reb Eli. Feeling that he had been talking too much about himself, he shifted the conversation.

He learned that Gideon was a high-ranking pilot in the Air Force. Anat was an army lieutenant, an atheist and an archeologist, studying to get her doctorate at the Hebrew University. Ronit was an army code decipherer and Nilli was a medical resident serving in Hadassah Hospital’s emergency ward. They were all curious about his meeting with Reb Eli, although none of them were religious. They knew that the rebbe was well-respected and admired for his plain-spokenness about the Torah and the Talmud and was known to be deeply immersed in the teachings of the mystics, which especially interested Gideon.

David didn’t know if it was the wine, the hashish, or just the early morning hour that made him feel a deep kinship with these people. Whatever it was, it felt good. Nilli made him promise he would come by whenever he felt the need for company. “Abu Tor is a short walking distance from Baka. You can stop by anytime.”

Gideon, who listened more than he had spoken during much of the evening, asked David if he would like to see Jerusalem from the air. He offered to pick him up on Saturday to go flying in a twin-engine Cessna that was available to him from the Air Force. David eagerly accepted.

The next morning, the phone rang at eight, waking David from a deep sleep. It was Jonathan asking him to meet at Café Cassis.

“I’m a bit sleepy. Didn’t get to bed until four. Mind if we meet later?” David mumbled.

“I won’t be around later; tied up all day at school. Why don’t you get up and nap later? You’re on holiday, after all. Come on. I’ll have Uri put the kettle on.”

David found Jonathan seated at the same table, reading the Jerusalem Post.

Uri, the owner, brought over a cup of tea, with a glass of milk on the side. “If you want more tea, I bring you.”

“Hungry?” Jonathan asked.

“I think I’ve had enough of the finely pressed sausage, thank you.”

“It’s an acquired taste. You’ll get there,” Jonathan assured him.

“I’m quite happy as I am, thank you,” David said, as he removed the tea bag brewing in his cup. “I wish you had told me to bring along some decent tea as well.”

“I didn’t think there’d be much room left, after the toilet paper. First things first, you know.” Jonathan whispered.

“Enjoyed last night,” David said, adding a little milk to his tea.

“Good. What do you think of Anat?”

“Smashing.”

“Any interest in getting to know her better?” Jonathan inquired matter-of-factly.

“Not particularly.”

“How come?”

“A lady who carries an Uzi is not my idea of a romantic date.”

“Don’t be absurd. Everyone carries an Uzi here. They all serve in the army.”

“I don’t, and neither do you,” David reminded him.

“You’ll get used to it.”

“God, I hope not,” David moaned. “Seriously, I think Nilli and all your friends are great and lots of fun. I’m just not ready for any sort of romance.”

For as long as Jonathan could remember, David was never interested in “romantic entanglements.” In England he’d had many girlfriends, but never a steady one. Jonathan decided to let it ride. He was concerned about David and didn’t want anything to become a source of friction between them. He was grateful he was in Jerusalem and had met with the rebbe. When Jonathan was growing up, his mother had spoken of Reb Eli with great respect and appreciation, telling him how much he had helped her find the strength to deal with the death of his father. Jonathan was also grateful to the rebbe for taking him under his wing. Reb Eli had become a great inspiration to him, and he hoped the rebbe would be able to help David, too, find his way in the world.

“Well, I’m glad you found Nilli and my friends engaging,” Jonathan said, keeping the conversation light and cheerful.

“Gideon has invited me to go flying with him on Saturday.”

“Really, that’s quite impressive. Gideon is not one for wasting time with insignificant others. Frankly, it took him a year to warm up to me. Must be he took a real liking to you. I have to admit, that makes me feel a bit put out.”

“Don’t be. I’m not the one sleeping with his sister,” David reassured him.

“I take your point. Thank you.”

“I like Gideon. I suspect there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye.”

“There is.”

When Sarah brought in her father’s afternoon tea, he asked her if she would sit with him for a moment. Pleased to have her father to herself, she sat down on the old, worn chair, the chair she shared with so many others who hungered for his wisdom and guidance. Reb Eli was a man of few words. He never talked much about himself or divulged anything about those who came to see him. Idle talk and gossip were unwelcome. Everyone’s confidences were well kept in his inner world, which belonged to him alone. Even Sarah and her siblings knew little about their father’s past, other than he had spent several years in England during World War II. Like everything else, details about their father or others were never given or discussed.

He was used to counseling all sorts of people. He had given comfort to so many. It pained him that he could not find a way to reach his own daughter. He sat quietly praying for the right words to come to him.

Sensing her father’s concern, Sarah knew the best way to put him at ease was with a direct question. “Why do some people have more difficult lives than others?”

Sarah’s question was filled with loneliness and despair. It tore at the rebbe’s heart. He spoke to her in his gentle manner. “When it rains, you can shout for the sun, but neither the sun nor the rain will hear you. There is either your acceptance or your rejection. The first leads to peace; the second, to suffering. God pursues you with peace, offering each moment for your appreciation. There is no profit in rejection, but with acceptance comes tranquility and hope for the future.”

“How do you find tranquility and hope?” she asked.

“The mysteries are an open secret, Sarah. It is we who must come out of hiding. Some days are bright, others are dark. We should not make a drama of the light, or a tragedy of the dark. Just embrace each as it is, knowing that happiness comes when we live each moment in peace. The whole of life is impermanent; there is no certainty. There’s no salvation to lift us out of it, and no reward for suffering. Thinking otherwise is like pursuing the wind. You are a wise and learned woman, Sarah. You know these things. You must try to live them.”

“It’s not easy, Abba.”

“I know,” Reb Eli said quietly.

At that moment, Sarah longed to be five years old again, sitting in her father’s lap while he gently stroked her hair. Not since she was a child was that permissible. Being observant of the orthodox law, girls over twelve were not permitted to have physical contact with any male, even with their brother or their father. It was forbidden. By twelve, she had lost her mother to cancer, and she had lost her father’s physical affection. This would have to come from female family members and friends. The only man once permitted to touch Sarah was her now dead husband. Sarah wished she could find comfort in her father’s words, but she could not. Neither could she find solace in her sisters’ arms. Her loneliness weighed heavily on her body and her soul. She found comfort only in books. Books were her special friends. She loved the way they opened the outside world to her, leaving her imagination free to dream and experience whatever thoughts and feelings came to visit her. Sarah and her eldest sister, Devorah, kept secret her frequent trips to the library. When Sarah married Yossi, he too became her secret-keeper.

Yossi was not like any of the other young men among the Hasidim. He was more open and willing to give his wife the freedom to seek any knowledge she desired, even if it meant going to the city library alone. Sarah had known Yossi since they were toddlers. As long as Sarah could remember, Yossi and she were good friends. Although she was a girl, Yossi would debate the meanings of the Torah and Mishnah with her. Sarah and Yossi’s marriage had been arranged and both were content and agreeable to the match. Their marriage was like their friendship: tender, respectful and loving. Yossi agreed Sarah would not have to cut her beautiful hair, which is expected of married women. Luckily for Sarah, Devorah worked in the mikveh where Sarah would always arrive last for the Friday cleansing ritual. With her sister as the only witness, she would neatly tie up her hair, then immerse herself twelve times under the water, in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. Thereafter, her spirit and body would be cleansed.

Whenever Sarah left home, she would wear the customary sheitel, neatly tucking every strand of her own hair under the coarse brown wig, styled with bangs, just like the other married women. At night, Yossi loved to brush her long, thick auburn hair. Then, when it was permissible, they would be intimate. All other times, they slept in their separate twin beds.

Now that Yossi was gone, Sarah knew she had not only lost a husband, but her best friend. She knew no one would be as kind, gentle and accepting of her as Yossi had been. She tried to acquiesce to God’s will that she be left childless and alone. She understood the only suitor who would be willing to marry her now would be one of the elderly men who had been widowed, such as Itzhak, the loner across the courtyard, whom she had caught spying on her from his window. Sarah preferred her aloneness to being with someone old enough to be her father.

The rebbe knew his words had failed to soothe his daughter’s wounded spirit. He was at a loss. How could he bring comfort to her? All that was left for him was to accept his helplessness about it. He closed his eyes and did what he knew best. He prayed.

His thoughts shifted to David, who would be arriving shortly. He found David to be earnest and sincere. He wished he had come at a better time, when he wasn’t so preoccupied with his own concerns. Nevertheless, he would pray and ask Hashem to show him a way to reach this lost young man.

For his part, David had made up his mind to challenge the rebbe: no more sitting in silence. If the rebbe had no answers for him, he would not waste his time. He approached Mea Shearim determined to be a force to be reckoned with. He entered the rebbe’s study and sat down on the chair with a thud.

“Reb Eli, I’ve been thinking…”

“So have I,” interrupted the rebbe. “How would you like to join me every Thursday evening at eight? You will ask a question each week, then we will contemplate your question, which you will take into consideration until the following week, when you will come in with another question. Do you agree to do this for at least eight weeks?”

As if speaking with someone else’s voice, David heard himself mutter, “Yes.”

“Good, now take a moment and ask your first question.”

David felt himself go blank. “I can’t think of one just now.”

“Then I have one for you,” replied the rebbe. “Why is it a young man like yourself is not married or betrothed?”

Feeling as if he had been knocked off his feet, David tried to catch his balance, and mumbled, “I don’t know.”

“Do you enjoy being with a woman?”

“Yes, of course…,” David answered, nervously, wondering how the rebbe knew he had a problem. His shameful secret must be written all over his face, he thought. Every time David got intimate with a woman, he would ejaculate prematurely. Each relationship added to his humiliation and left him feeling more inept than before. David would repeatedly tell himself he would do better next time. Next time always proved to be the same. The women were just as embarrassed by his predicament as he was. They would ignore it as though nothing had happened, as if that would ease his shame. To avoid any further distress, he always found an amicable excuse for breaking off the relationship. Confronted by the rebbe, David sat quietly for some time. Reb Eli waited patiently, giving him the time he needed to gather the courage to speak. “I have trouble holding myself,” he confessed, in a whisper.

The rebbe was as astounded about his inquiry as was David. He had no idea why he had asked that particular question, and was just as amazed when he heard the answer come out of David’s mouth. Feeling this was divine intervention, he offered David the only assistance he could muster. “Can you be here Sunday evening at eight?”

From her bedroom window, Sarah spotted David walking across the courtyard, wearing the same brown loafers and jacket. Once again, she felt an odd twinge in her stomach. What was this modern man, dressed in European clothes, doing in Mea Shearim? Perhaps he was visiting a distant relative? There were several Hasidim who were visited by outsiders, but not often. This was the second time in two weeks she had seen him. She became preoccupied with what he was doing in Mea Shearim, and wondered why he should have such a peculiar effect on her. Then she caught herself and dismissed her thoughts as idle nonsense, caused by her unsettled state. She felt like a stranger to herself and a burden to her family. Nothing made sense to her anymore.

Every Friday night, all twenty-five members of the rebbe’s family gathered for Shabbat. They would sit in their customary places at the Shabbat tables, Sarah with her three sisters, her two sisters-in-law, and their children at one table; Reb Eli at the head of the men’s table with his two sons and sons-in-law and his three eldest grandsons. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, would light the Shabbat candles as the women covered their eyes and chanted the prayer welcoming the shechinah, the peace of the Shabbat bride, to their home and heart. At the conclusion of each Shabbat, the rebbe’s grandchildren would line up before him and he would place his hands over each of their heads for a special blessing.

Sarah felt bereaved. She would never bring forth a child for her father’s blessing. She was aware how her sisters, who knew of her anguish, avoided looking into her eyes.

At the end of the meal, Reb Eli gave Sarah a nod, her cue to start singing. Nothing pleased him more than the sound of Sarah’s voice. It created a peace that filled the room and touched his soul. Afterwards, the children sang traditional Sabbath songs, with all of the family joining in.

As the women cleared the table, Sarah heard Reb Eli ask her brother, Yaacov, to arrange for Shimon to come see him. She knew summoning Shimon meant a visit to the “House.” She wondered which of the young men was having personal issues and needed help.

After Shabbat, she went back to her flat. Since Yossi’s death, she had stopped going to the weekly mikveh. She preferred, instead, to light her own Shabbat candles, carefully placing them on the windowsill from where she could watch them flicker while she enjoyed her meditation. But tonight, her thoughts flowed to the first time she had followed her brother, Isaac, to the House. She remembered how her mother had wept copiously at the dining room table, the night Isaac was caught caressing his best friend, Moshe, in the shower of the men’s mikveh. Her mother, who was weakened by illness, had pleaded with her father to “have Shimon take Isaac to the House.” When her father refused, she begged until he became weary with guilt. Seeing the fragility of his wife, he could not deny her and, despite his reservations, arranged for Isaac to be taken there. Sarah had just turned twelve and wondered why it was so wrong for her brother to have shown affection for Moshe. She was also curious about the House and why Isaac had to go there.

The previous week there had been so much whispering between her parents that it piqued her curiosity so much that she decided to follow her brother and Shimon, secretly, keeping her distance. She watched them enter a house in the heart of Machane Yehuda’s open souk on Agripas Street, the main market in Jerusalem, which was a short distance from Mea Shearim, and deserted at night.

Her first glimpse of Madame Aziza was from a bench across the street where she sat looking up at the balcony, through panes of glass doors and windows that were draped with white laced curtains. She could see the silhouette of a woman who was elaborately dressed. It would be years before she learned who she was.

The lights from the House sparkled against the darkness of the night. When scantily dressed young women with flowing, bright scarves appeared, Sarah became mesmerized and watched spellbound as they danced sensually before Isaac. She watched her brother go off with one of the girls, but couldn’t see where they had gone, or what they were doing. She imagined the girl would dance for Isaac and, if he were nice to her, she would let him kiss her so he wouldn’t have to caress Moshe anymore and make her mother cry.

After that night, Sarah imagined she, too, could dance with beautiful scarves in the same graceful way that would please men. Thereafter, whenever she heard about one of the young men having a personal problem who needed a visit to the House, Sarah would wait until her sisters were asleep, then dress and escape into the night and walk the narrow streets to Madame Aziza’s house to watch from the bench and marvel at the exotic dancing of the young women.

It was during that time that Sarah’s life changed forever. Her mother had been struggling with her illness for years. Watching her slip into the hands of death became unbearable. Toward the end, she and her brothers and sisters would take turns looking after her. Each afternoon, from two until four, her father would be with her. At night, when everyone was asleep, Sarah took to escaping to the privacy of her father’s study to lock out the world and pretend to be one of Madame Aziza’s dancing enchantresses. Alone, in the solitude of her imagination, she, too, became a beautiful dancer. She imagined being married, dancing to the delight of her husband, and giving him many sons, which would please Hashem who, perhaps, would spare her mother from dying. Sarah’s secret world was not to be shared with anyone.

God did not spare her mother. And at fourteen she discovered the truth about what was going on in the House. Her sister, Esther, explained that her husband, Yitzhak, was having difficulty performing his husbandly duties, so it was arranged for him to be taken to Madame Aziza’s house. Esther was not happy with the arrangement, but Yitzhak’s problem was keeping her from conceiving. She told Sarah that men went to Madame Aziza’s house where they paid women to help them overcome such problems. Sarah was shocked and embarrassed by how stupid she had been not to realize that Madame Aziza’s was a house of prostitution. She feared what her sisters would think if they knew she had been sneaking out after dark to watch and enjoy harlots dancing, imagining herself to be one of them.

Lying in bed, Sarah wondered if Isaac, with his four sons and two daughters, and her sister Esther, with her three sons and two daughters, were grateful to Madame Aziza. It was only she who was left devoid of children and without a husband. Perhaps this was beshert for having secretly stolen away to live vicariously as one of Madame Aziza’s seductresses.

Flying high above Jerusalem at sunrise, David looked out of the window of the Cessna, spellbound by the glistening light that bathed the city. “It’s magnificent,” he said.

Gideon smiled proudly, as though Jerusalem belonged to him personally. “For thousands of years, so many have fought over her.”

“Her?” asked David.

“Do you know of another city that has given birth to three such religions?”

“No, thank heaven. I imagine it would just cause more conflict and wars.”

“Perhaps, but none would be as Jerusalem.”

Gideon circled lower, giving David a closer view of the curving domes, soaring minarets, and the Western Wall of the Temple.

“There’s the Old City.”

“Do you think there’s any chance of peace?”

“That’s a question for our neighbors.”

“Surely they believe in peace?”

“They’re too afraid democracy and education will corrupt them, especially their women. Liberated women are their worst nightmare. Our own orthodox have the same problem.”

Gideon pointed into the distance, “Over there is Hebron. It’s where our patriarchs are buried.”

David asked, “Do you really think that’s what it’s about for the Arabs? Not wanting their women to be liberated?”

“Mostly. With the Christians it’s different. With them, we are a constant reminder that even though their God was born and died a Jew, we don’t go along with their story.” Gideon was quiet for a moment. “I believe that’s why they found it easy to kill six million of us.”

“You can’t blame the Christians for what the Nazis did.”

“And who were the Nazis before Hitler came along?”

“What about the Christians who helped save Jews?”

“Too bad the Pope wasn’t one of them.”

“The world has changed. You have your own country now.”

“Exactly, and we intend to keep it. Do you really believe being British excludes you from being a Jew?”

“Frankly, I’ve never given it much thought.”

“Being Jewish is not something the world will allow you to opt out of.”

David felt he had been insensitive and wanted to explain himself. “I’ve never had any desire to be part of a tribe. I think each of us has to find his own way in the world. I just wish I could find mine.”

David was pushed back in his seat as Gideon pointed the plane skywards.

“I understand,” said Gideon as he turned the Cessna upside down into a roll.

David felt his stomach rise to his chest. Queasy, he began gagging.

“Being in the world without roots, and not belonging somewhere, is like flying through life upside down,” Gideon said evenly, turning the Cessna back over.

“I see what you mean,” David said, grateful to have his stomach and equilibrium back in place.

“Feeling better?”

“Sort of.”

Tsipi’s was a dive in a back alley in the heart of town. Most of the people there on this Saturday night were young Israelis, drinking with friends, or dancing to their version of a rock band. The air was rank with cigarette smoke and David’s throat became irritated. He ordered a beer to soothe it. It was dark and tasted of malt.

Anat seemed to know everyone there and introduced David as “my friend from England.” She was dressed in a dark blue mini-dress, which David thought was nearly as seductive as her army uniform. He wondered if he had been set up to go dancing with her. Earlier in the evening, everyone had an excuse for not joining them. Jonathan and Nilli said they were too tired; Gideon and Ronit had to get an inhaler from the pharmacy for Ronit’s mother, who was sick with bronchitis.

Anat was a good dancer and made sure everyone knew it. She seemed to know every move he was going to make. Her body was right there, in rhythm with him. David wondered if she desired him as much as he did her. He suspected she had dressed up to impress him, which flattered him. He tried to keep up with her dancing until he felt weak with hunger, as he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He asked if she knew where they could get something to eat. She suggested Mickey’s. “It’s the only place open at night that serves good food.”

Mickey’s was a small, crowded restaurant with bare Formica tables. A couple had just finished eating and were leaving when they walked in. Anat introduced David to the proprietor, Mickey, a burly forty-year-old Syrian Jew who could barely speak English. By the way they spoke rapidly in Hebrew, it was obvious they knew each other very well, and shared a warm friendship. Mickey was a charismatic man with a hearty laugh. David felt an immediate liking for him. Within minutes, Mickey, who was also the cook, brought out salads, warm pita bread, chicken and lamb kabobs. Everything was delicious. Anat ate and drank like no one David had ever seen. She was insatiable. For dessert, she ate three flans that she washed down with three cups of Turkish coffee. Finally, David burst out laughing.

“What is it?”

“You eat like a bloody horse. I’ve never seen anything like it. Where does it all go?”

“I’ve been this way all my life. I just burn it off. In an hour, I’ll probably be hungry again.” She licked her lips, continuing to devour the last of her third flan.

“She eat always like this. Where it go, I don’t know,” Mickey said, laughing.

Walking through the city toward Abu Tor, the streets were empty and still. In the distance, near the windmill, all that could be seen were the lit cigarettes of the sentries at the border post, flickering like lightening bugs.

Given the provocative way Anat had danced, David thought she would expect to be invited up to his place. Although he desired her, her heightened energy made him anxious. He feared he was not up to dealing with her.

“How was flying with Gideon?”

“Amazing. I don’t believe I will ever forget it. He has quite a way of making his point,” David admitted.

Anat laughed, “So you’ve discovered Israeli men don’t have your refined manners?”

“Yes. I’ve gathered as much.”

Arriving at the house in Abu Tor, Anat simply followed him up the stairs to his flat, in continuation of their walk. There was no need for an invitation.

David tried to hide his nervousness by asking her if she was still hungry.

“I might be a horse, but I’m not a cow. Do you have any hash?”

“Jonathan made me promise not to bring any. He said I would be deported if I got caught with it.”

Anat laughed. “Jonathan takes his Judaic studies too seriously. He might find God sooner if he smoked some himself.”

“I have a bottle of wine, compliments of Jonathan. Would you like some?”

“Sure.”

While he searched for a bottle opener, Anat opened the doors to the roof, looking out at the city. “Great view. It’s a bit chilly, but do you mind if we have our wine out here?” she asked.

“Not at all. It’s the best room in the house.”

He brought out the bottle with two glasses. He poured Anat a full glass, his, only a third, as he had already had several beers at Tsipi’s.

“It’s bad luck not to have a full glass,” she teased.

“Only if your intentions are to pass out.”

Anat pointed toward Jaffa Road, a wide, winding road below the King David Hotel. “There’s Gai Ben-Hinnom where Jews, Muslims and Christians believe, on Judgment Day, the Gates of Hell will open and devour all us sinners with fire. It’s one of the few things they all agree on.” She pointed to the far distance, at the left. “Over there is the archaeological park. I was there today, on a dig.”

“Find anything interesting?”

“Only if you find used prophylactics interesting.”

“Could be, if they belonged to Moses or Jesus.”

“Two of history’s most sexually repressed men,” Anat replied, dryly.

“How do you know that?”

“Jesus, alias Yehoshua Ben Joseph, and Moses were both Jews who would have followed the tribe’s sexual laws.”

The wine was warming David, taking the chill off the night air. Amused by her audacity, he coaxed her on. “All right, but how do you know they were sexually repressed.”

Anat shot him a look. “Do you honestly believe a man who had great sex would bother running around trying to convince everybody he was the only Son of God, or had personally received God’s hand-written laws on top of a mountain?”

“Why not? Men can have ambitions as well as desires.”

“Not when they’re having great sex.”

David suddenly felt challenged. He stood staring out into the night.

As though she could read his mind, Anat said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to sleep together.”

David looked at her, not knowing what to say or expect.

“At least not tonight. I like men, but prefer women,” she said, shrugging.

He didn’t know whether to feel rejected or relieved.

David lay awake thinking about Anat. He was intimidated by her sexuality, but also fascinated by her free spirit and daunting intelligence. He had never met anyone like her. He wondered if Jonathan and the others knew she preferred women lovers, and why she had confided in him. He became anxious, thinking perhaps she sensed he had sexual issues and was someone she could easily manipulate.

Earlier, out on the roof, he had asked her why she preferred women. She had answered simply, “For the same reasons you do,” then adding, “I find women more interesting intellectually, as well as sexually.”

Her directness was equal parts frightening and exciting. He wanted to know her better. Perhaps, with her, he could get over his sexual problem. The truth was, he desired her as much as he found her intimidating.

The streets in Mea Shearim were busy on Sunday afternoon, when the shops re-opened after the long Shabbat. The men hurried about their business while the women shopped for the coming week.

The last rays of daylight came through Sarah’s bedroom window. She had been reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou throughout the Sabbath and couldn’t pull herself away from it. She pondered Buber’s premise that man separates himself from God when he views himself as “I” and others as “Thou.” Reb Eli had a great affinity for Buber’s work. His books were among the few non-religious volumes he kept in his extensive library. Sarah also loved Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories about Jewish life in Poland, and the heart-rending dilemmas faced by his characters. Singer had no illusions about the human condition, nor did he offer simple, happy endings. He presented the complexity and relentless challenge of being human, something she, too, had come to understand.

Just as it became dark, Sarah spotted a man striding purposefully into the courtyard. She immediately recognized him as the outsider who had aroused in her such unusual sensations. She moved closer to the window, hiding behind the heavy curtains so she could study him more carefully. She was able to see the angular features of his face, and, again, the way his hand swept the hair from his forehead. When she saw him enter her father’s house, she immediately sensed he was the reason for the rebbe’s summoning of Shimon. She was intrigued by this outsider. Where did he come from? Why would a secular man require a visit to the House? Sarah knew she lived in a confined religious society, and that there were many things she didn’t know about the outside world, beyond what she read in books. Her curiosity heightened as she waited by the bedroom window, in anticipation of seeing Shimon escort the stranger to Madame Aziza’s house.

Shimon stood five feet, two inches tall and had a big round belly and wispy red hair and beard. David thought he looked like an Irish elf. A man of good cheer, Shimon took his mission of performing mitzvahs like that of a general who had been given orders to lead his troops to victory. David was a new recruit who was about to assume his God-given, manly duty of bringing children into the world. Shimon, as the liaison with Madame Aziza’s house, discharged his task with honor and pride. He was most eager that David, the son of a friend of the rebbe’s, should benefit from his good deeds. Shimon’s English was limited, so to demonstrate his sincerity, in hopes of gaining David’s confidence and trust, he stood up and enthusiastically embraced David as soon as he entered the rebbe’s study.

David instinctively pulled back. Shimon’s goodwill gesture embarrassed him. David’s eyes pleaded for Reb Eli’s help. The rebbe rose and said simply, “This is my nephew, Shimon. He will take good care of you. Until Thursday. I wish you a good night.”

Bewildered, David stood looking at Shimon, who was smiling, saying repeatedly, “Don’t worry, everything good, everything good.”

He followed him apprehensively through the dark, narrow streets of Machane Yehuda’s Souk to the two-story stone house on Agripas Street. Shimon, still smiling, opened the door, ushering him in. Climbing the pitch-dark staircase, he cautioned David to “be careful, just count twenty steps.”

On the second landing, Shimon knocked briskly on the door. A woman in her late fifties appeared. She had long dark hair, with coal-black eyes. She reminded David of the fortune-tellers who roam India. Shimon introduced him to Madame Aziza, who graciously invited them in.

Burgundy velvet drapes with gold tassels adorned the windows of her parlor. A gold-leaf tapestry covered the walls. On the floor were oriental carpets in deep reds, blues and gold. The largest had corners containing dragons with snakes around their necks. David wondered whether this woman was going to read his fortune or perform some magic healing ritual that would keep him from coming every time he was aroused by a woman. Speaking in a soft, melodic voice, her well-spoken English was colored with French and Arabic accents. She offered them drinks from her cabinet of wine and spirits. Shimon requested Turkish coffee. To keep it simple and quick, David asked for the same.

Madame Aziza made polite conversation, inquiring where David was from. He told her he was visiting from England. She asked him if he was married or divorced. He said neither, wondering why all this concern about his marital status. He began thinking perhaps she was a matchmaker, when a young, exotic looking woman with red lips and nails appeared from the kitchen, carrying a brass tray with a finjan of dark black coffee and an assortment of small pastries. She served them with her eyes locked into David’s, then quickly disappeared. Shimon helped himself to the sticky pastries, which had the scent of cardamom. David slowly nursed the muddy coffee. Sensing he was not a Turkish coffee drinker, Madame Aziza offered him “English tea.”

David assured her he was fine with coffee.

Madame Aziza looked curiously at him. “You’re a handsome young man.”

Feeling self-conscious, David replied, timidly, “Thank you.”

“Please help yourself to some pastries. They’re very tasty.”

Accepting her offer, he reached for one with nuts in it. Feeling like the center of attention, he ate self-consciously.

Shimon sat grinning from ear to ear. He sipped the remains of his coffee, informed David that the number four bus across the souk on Jaffa Road would drop him off at Abu Tor, then left abruptly.

Soft, Middle Eastern dance music filled the room. Madame Aziza’s eyes flashed as she turned to an opening door and said, “Now, for your pleasure.”

From a narrow hallway, four young women floated into the room and began dancing. David sat mesmerized, not knowing what to do. He watched as they danced before him, swaying their hips, shoulders and arms like slithering snakes.

Madame Aziza put her hand gently on his shoulder. “Let me know when you decide which one pleases you the most.”

Finding it difficult to believe that Reb Eli had sent him to a whorehouse, David asked incredulously, “Is this a bordello?”

Madame Aziza smiled. “This is a house that nurtures men’s passions and desires.”

“I’m really not ready for this,” he admitted awkwardly.

“There is nothing to be ready for, just relax and enjoy,” she said, gently reassuring him.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to take some time to consider your generous offer.”

Her voice took on a motherly tone. “There is nothing to fear here.”

“I’m sure. It’s just that I would like to think about it,” he said, adamantly.

Madame Aziza looked at him in her nurturing fashion. “You may visit us whenever you are ready. I will make sure you have the very best. I desire only what is good for your happiness.”

“Thank you,” David said, as he quickly left.

Walking along the Mount, near the University of Jerusalem, Jonathan howled with laughter. “The rebbe never ceases to amaze me. Why on earth did he send you to a brothel?”

David could not bring himself to reveal his sexual issues, but when Jonathan went on and on questioning why Reb Eli would send him to a whorehouse, David felt compelled to tell him.

“Because I told him I come too quickly,” David whispered.

Astonished, Jonathan repeated David’s words, “You told the rebbe you come too quickly?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you tell him that?”

“Because it’s true.”

Seeing that this was no laughing matter for David, Jonathan quickly changed his tone. “Why haven’t you ever told me?”

“What could you do about it?”

“Surely there are remedies …”

“There are no ‘remedies,’ so spare me any advice,” David said, becoming irritated.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I just wish …”

“There’s nothing you or anybody else can do. It’s something I have to live with.”

They walked on quietly around the Mount, looking out at the city.

“Look, David, perhaps if you had a steady girlfriend, it would just work itself out,” Jonathan offered, gently.

“What makes you think I haven’t thought of that?” David snapped.

Jonathan adopted an apologetic tone. “I don’t mean to be intrusive. I really want to help… For God’s sake, we’ve been closer than brothers.”

“Then let it be!”

They continued walking in an uncomfortable silence. David felt humiliated and angry, emotionally naked now that his long-kept secret had been exposed.

Remembering the Rebbe’s invitation and hoping to break the silence, Jonathan cheerfully announced, “Reb Eli has invited us for Shabbat dinner at his home.”

Going to the rebbe’s house for dinner was the last thing David wanted to do. He moaned, “Oh, joy.”

“I think you’re making more of it than it really is. I’m sure, given time, it will sort itself out.” Jonathan said, hoping to put David at ease.

David felt the remark was flippant. “How easy to say when it’s not your problem.”

Madame Aziza has helped many young men. Why should I be opposed to that?” said the rebbe. David looked at him in disbelief. Seeking help in a bordello just didn’t sit right with him. Perhaps these Hasids were comfortable with it, but he certainly was not.

Feeling the need to challenge Reb Eli, David argued, “It’s not a very holy approach.”

“When I first arrived here, I felt the same way. But when I saw how much she helped someone close to me, I came to a different understanding. After all, women who choose to sell their bodies come from the same source as you and I. They are just as holy as we are. The Torah tells us that to give pleasure is a mitzvah, but it is silent on how we should do it. It just tells us the no nos.”

The rebbe had done it again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that I was holier or superior to anyone. It’s just that using a woman that way doesn’t feel right.”

“One should never use another. The Torah teaches us to be kind and honor everyone, not just people we like or respect. There are things we can never know or understand about each other. The Torah recognizes this and gives us principles to live by that cultivate our happiness and wellbeing.”

Reb Eli muttered something in Hebrew, and then translated. “ʻThere is nothing on this earth that has not been here before or will not be here again.’ Do you know where that proverb comes from?”

David shook his head, humbly.

“King Solomon.”

“I know nothing of the Torah,” David admitted.

“You have the rest of your life to learn,” Reb Eli said, his eyes twinkling with warmth. He stood, cupped David’s hand into his, and smiled, “I hope you will honor us at our Shabbat table tomorrow evening.”

Looking out of her window, an hour before she was to bring tea to her father, Sarah saw David approaching for the second time in a week. Her curiosity heightened, she told herself she would go down to the kitchen, ostensibly to get a head start preparing the evening meal.

She could hear murmuring from her father’s study. To get closer, she decided to set the large table in the dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. As she carefully laid out the dishes, paper napkins and utensils, she could hear David’s voice. Making as little noise as possible, she was able to distinguish his British accent, which she found more eloquent than her father’s. She was enthralled by the tone and gentleness of his voice, and moved closer to the door, listening as he spoke of his reservations and concerns about going to Madame Aziza’s house. She found herself comforted by his direct but gentle manner of speaking. She continued to listen, unaware she was holding her breath. By the time she heard her father invite David for Shabbat dinner, she felt queasy and dizzy. She rushed to the kitchen and squeezed a fresh lemon into a glass of water to revive herself.

Soon after David left, Sarah made certain not to look her father in the eye when she brought tea with milk and biscuits into his study. Sensing something was amiss with his daughter, Reb Eli invited her to join him for tea.

“I’ve left the potatoes boiling on the stove,” she said, hoping to excuse herself.

He asked if she would turn the stove off, then come and join him for a moment. There was something important he wanted to discuss with her. Sarah anxiously obeyed and returned to the study, fearing the rebbe had discovered her eavesdropping.

“Sarah, how would you like to go abroad for a holiday?”

The offer was so unexpected, she responded by asking directly, “Why?”

“You’ve always had a desire to travel. I thought a trip to Europe would please you. I can arrange for you to stay with good friends of mine and perhaps, if you like, Esther could join you.”

Feeling guilty and embarrassed at having just spied on her father’s private conversation, Sarah did not know what to say, and answered without looking at him. “Please don’t worry about me Abba, I’ll be all right.”

Reb Eli was left once again feeling at a loss with his daughter. He prayed every morning and night for guidance, assuring himself, “Everything comes with time and patience.”

Alone in his study, the rebbe sipped tea, which he always found soothing. He was grateful to the British for teaching him the simple pleasure of a good cup of tea. He thought about Phillip’s son, David, whose intelligence and sensitivity were more heightened than in most of the young men he had counseled. He remembered the many times Madame Aziza had been effective in helping them overcome difficulties they had with their sexuality. At first, he had dismissed having anything to do with her. He knew the complexities of human nature and doubted it was possible to change the focus of desire. It wasn’t until she helped his youngest son to be willing to marry and have children that he learned to appreciate her gifts. He, himself, had never met her and knew little about her, other than that she had brought with her from Egypt wondrous secrets for awakening and healing the senses of complex young men.

A more pressing matter from Egypt was on his mind. Abdel Nasser’s inflammatory speeches and the escalation of raids against Israel made him fear that another war was imminent. He prayed Hashem would remember how long the Jews had suffered, how long they had been exiled from their Promised Land. He prayed to Hashem to bestow peace and awaken the hearts of all of Abraham’s children.

About the Author

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.

She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.

I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.

I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.

Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.

Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”

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First Chapter Reveal: A Wanted Man by Robert Parker

A Wanted Man

Title: A WANTED MAN
Author: Robert Parker
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Pages: 307
Genre: Crime Thriller

It’s down to fathers and fatherhood.

Ben Bracken, ex-soldier, has just got out of Strangeways.

Not by the front door.

With him, he has his ‘insurance policy’ – a bag of evidence that will guarantee his freedom, provided he can keep it safe – and he has money, carefully looked after by a friend, Jack Brooker.

Rejected by the army, disowned by his father, and any hopes of parenthood long since shattered, Ben has no anchors in his life.

No one to keep him steady.

No one to stop his cause…

The plan: to wreak justice on the man who had put him in prison in the first place.

Terry ‘The Turn-Up’ Masters, a nasty piece of work, whose crime organisation is based in London.

But before Ben can get started on his mission, another matter is brought to his attention: Jack’s father has been murdered and he will not rest until the killers are found.

Suddenly, Ben finds himself drawn in to helping Jack in his quest for revenge.

In the process, he descends into the fold of Manchester’s most notorious crime organisation – the Berg – the very people he wants to bring down…

This action-packed and fast-paced story will keep you turning the pages. Manchester is vividly portrayed as Ben races around the city seeking vengeance.

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Chapter One:

My two years in prison ended just how they started – with a stabbing. As soon as Craggs drove the makeshift dagger into Quince’s belly and the recreation room filled with prison staff waving batons, I was moving. I knew they would arrive quickly, and I knew that the door would swing shut just slowly enough for me to slip through. The place erupted in noise and violence, but I didn’t look back. I haven’t done since.

Now, I am running. I can feel my mind bathing in the electric warmth of adrenaline. People are looking at me from a bus waiting at the traffic lights and I try to rein in my stride just a touch. If only they knew what I knew, they might understand why I can’t adopt a more leisurely pace. I need to keep moving.

Hello, Manchester, it’s me, Ben Bracken. I am back. It’s nice to see you, my adopted home town. I’m just sorry it’s under circumstances like these.

I’m arrowing right into the heart of the city, right into the bustling centre, with the sole intention of hiding in the urban congestion. I’m familiar with the city, its quirks, crevices and people, and I know just what to do when I get in there.

The suit I wear, a gigantic, ill-fitting grey coverall of stinking, sweat-soaked canvas, was the chief warden’s only moments earlier. As is the shirt, which will soon be dripping with both our sweat, at this rate. I took both from him as I left the prison – I couldn’t very well come out in my prison issues – and left him there on the steps of the prison in his underpants. He is such a nasty, vile shit of a man. He absolutely deserves it.

He shouldn’t be bothering me for a while, which is thanks in full to the contents of the only item I carry, hanging off my shoulder: a tattered green duffel bag. I can scarcely believe what is inside, but as insurance policies go, this one is ironclad. And I know that as long as it is safe, I am safe with it.

I cross the road and head north towards the Printworks, an entertainment oasis from where I can easily head to my destination, the Northern Quarter. But first, I need to make a call. And the Printworks has a bank of payphones.

It is mid-afternoon, just about 3:45, I think. Thursday. Cold, late October. The city has that quiet afternoon throb about it. The long-lunchers have all gone back to work

by now, hiding boozy excesses on their breath with too much gum, and the early leavers haven’t quite summoned the courage to sneak for the door just yet.

It feels so good to walk on these streets again, for so many reasons. It is a surrogate home now, and after all the travelling it’s still one of the only places on earth where I feel comfortable. I was sent overseas as a soldier, one of Her Majesty’s loyal hounds, setting right the wrongs others had perpetrated against human rights and democracy. A ten-year career mainly stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan saw me reach captain. I was the pride and joy of my family, the ‘Toast of Rawmarsh’ they used to call me back in my home village in Yorkshire. Such memories become more vague all the time. Then I had to make a very difficult choice, which was my undoing. I was cast out, ripped of my purpose, medals and duty, viewed as scum by my peers, dishonourably discharged and sent home in disgrace – and hated by the society I gave everything to protect.

That same society changed a lot in the decade I was away fighting for it, and now I barely recognise it. It now strikes me as an ideal dining out on its rich history. Yet somehow my sense of duty remains. I can’t help it. I don’t believe in My Great Britain anymore, nor even trust it to do the right thing for the people on her shores… But it’s like we were married, Britain and I, long since divorced – yet I’m still inexplicably devoted to my bitch of an ex.

The Printworks is just ahead. I cross the street again, bobbing between the cars, and head in via a side entrance. The Printworks, once the largest printing house in Europe, is now a cavernous converted warehouse, filled with bars, restaurants, cinemas, and a bank of cash machines and payphones. I head straight to the nearest phone and check the pockets of the suit. Two twenty-pence pieces and a ten. Perfect. Thanks, guv’nor. Picking your pocket felt damn good. I know I could call the number reverse charge anyway, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying getting one over on Chief Warden Harry Tawtridge just one last time.

I dial the number I’ve committed to memory for this very moment. Three rings, then the call is answered not with words, but with silence. I know he is there, though. Bob ‘Freckles’ Froeschle got out three weeks before me, although his exit carried Her Majesty’s consent. This moment was rehearsed, and I feel a buzz at putting our prep into practice.

‘The package will be there from midnight tonight, and I’ll cover it with you as agreed,’ I say. ‘Thank you. I am grateful.’

I hang up. Job done. The insurance policy is almost there. The last strand of the escape plan executed to perfection. I am pleasantly surprised. I’m used to responding to instructions ordinarily with violence. Not this time: I’d used my brains and hadn’t laid a finger on anybody myself. I’m inwardly pleased, which is a damn sight better than the bitterness and anger I was stuck with before.

I know I shouldn’t but I find myself popping another coin. I dial again from recollection, having called Kayla’s house countless times when I was on leave. Before prison, before everything changed.

A voice answers, but it is not Kayla, it is a young boy. ‘Hello?’ he says, not a care in the world.

‘Joshua?’ I say.

‘Yeah, who’s that?’ he replies, playing along. I can feel myself ready to bottle it. So much for being ruthless and decisive.

‘Tell your mum it was Uncle B. Tell her, Uncle B sends love to you all, that includes you, Joshua. And tell her I’m going to do my best.’

‘Umm, ok.’
What the hell am I doing?
‘Bye, pal,’ I say, before hanging up. I wish I had more in me to say, but I don’t know

how to say it.
I owe that family so much, more than they will know, but I also know that hearing

from me will hurt. It was a selfish gesture to call, damn it all. But they need to know I’m thinking of them. Of him – of Stephen, the man I killed. Joshua’s father and Kayla’s husband. Because if I forget about them, none of what I broke out to achieve will mean anything.

I leave the booth and crack on with something I’m far more comfortable with.

I see a bar opposite, Waxy O’Connors. An Irish bar. I would bloody love a pint, perhaps a cold pint of Guinness. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in twenty months now – the length of my stay in Strangeways. I could easily pop in for one, and head into the Northern Quarter after, but my remaining thirty pence probably wouldn’t get me much in there save for a bag of pork scratchings, and I’m almost gagging in this filthy suit anyway.

I use the front exit of the Printworks, passing the Big Issue sellers, and head left, up towards the Northern Quarter. Within a couple of moments, I’m running again, inhaling

the cold, grey air that only Manchester ever really seems capable of providing. It’s like an elixir and I gulp it down.

Between a pair of streets I see the entrance to an alleyway that I recognise. Above the mostly garish shop fronts, the second floors of the buildings are still all set perfectly in the 1940s. It gives the Northern Quarter away immediately: Manchester’s little piece of Manhattan. Movie crews come in to shoot period-set New York films here because it’s cheaper, and it’s a nice little corner you can always head to for a warm welcome, a cold beer, and a good atmosphere.

Damn. The beer popping into my head again. I wasn’t expecting to only be out of the nick for twenty minutes and already be thinking about having a beer. But it signified freedom to me when I was inside, and I certainly have that freedom now. I’ll get my chance. Besides, I’m nearly there. Church Street.

The street is very quiet, and a scrappy alley cat slinks along the pavement, pausing to look at me with that look all cats give humans: how’ve you managed to get this far with just one life compared to my nine? It leaves me to it and I walk up to the glass doors of an apartment complex nestled between two businesses. I call up to the fifth-floor flat I have been to only once before.

A female voice answers. ‘Hello?’

‘It’s an old friend. Last time I saw you, you were in your nightclothes,’ I say, keeping an eye on the street.

The intercom is quiet for a moment, presumably while a decision is being made. I hope she recognises either my voice or the occasion I was alluding to. She should do.

‘Please come straight up,’ she says.

The door buzzes open, and I enter and head for the lift. I am not expecting anyone to be looking for me, at least not quite yet, but I don’t want to stay here long. I’m convinced I’ll be ok, and my previous captors will leave me to it, because it is simple: if they reveal I’ve escaped, I break out my insurance plan. The authorities would come crashing down on that prison like a ton of bricks, and the disgraceful, corrupt management of that facility would be dragged into the light. So I would imagine that for all intents and purposes, Ben Bracken is holed up in his cell, patiently living out the remaining fifteen years of his sentence.

Fifteen years – that should be enough time to get more than a few things done.

It’s heartening to know that nobody will be looking for me, but still, taking care keeps you alive. Care means I should keep this visit fairly brief. Especially while I still carry the damn insurance policy under my arm.

The flat’s at the end of the corridor, and the door is ajar. I knock and push it open a touch.

‘Hello?’ I call out.

The door is slowly pulled open, to reveal a beautiful woman staring at me, her eyes filling a little, her hand creeping up to cover her mouth. She has shoulder-length brown hair, eyes wide as side plates and browner than melted chocolate, and I instantly recall the last time I saw her. Bruised, frightened, and in a very bad way. Her name is Freya, and last time I saw her, I saved her life.

‘I stink. I really smell bad,’ I say, holding my hands up, but she is on me before I can say anything else.

‘Ben,’ she whispers, throwing her arms around me. I’d been nervous about what welcome I might receive, but that has been quickly put to bed.

‘I’m sorry for dropping in out of the blue,’ I say, hugging her back. I’m genuinely glad to see her. We both went through a lot that day, and we haven’t seen each other since I sent her scampering down an emergency staircase in her nightie.

‘What the hell are you wearing?’ she asks, wrinkling her nose and smiling.
‘You don’t like it? It’s always a bit hit and miss when you buy suits off the rail.’ She lets me go, and we enter the apartment. It is as nice as I remember – warm wood

floorboards under an open living space, bare brick walls, and vast floor-to-ceiling windows, which overlook the low rooftops unique to this end of town. If I ever were to settle down anywhere, it would be in a place like this.

‘Tell me to get stuffed, or whatever you like, but I wondered if I could trouble you for a change of clothes, fifteen minutes internet access and, if you are feeling especially generous, a shower?’

Freya smiles and dabs at the corner of her eyes with the sleeve of her dark jumper. ‘Of course,’ she replies.
I love seeing her like this – doing well, and safe. Then, I notice a glitter on her hand

that makes me catch my breath.
‘The wedding ring… You and Trev?’
‘Yes,’ she says, looking at the ring. ‘After what happened, we… didn’t see any reason

to wait anymore.’

I find myself beaming. Everything I did, and the reasons I had for doing it, has been justified. I feel new strength – new steel in my resolve. I feel reinvigorated.

‘We wanted to invite you,’ she says softly.

‘Don’t be daft – I can be tough to pin down.’ I smile. ‘I’m thrilled for you both. Were you ok after what happened?’

She sighs, looking pensive, but she retains the slight fundament of a smile.
‘Yeah. It took some time, but we both got there.’
‘That’s great, Freya. I mean that.’ I need to get down to it. I’d love to reminisce but

with any luck there’ll be less pressing times. ‘Freya, I’ve just got out of prison – kind of. I don’t believe that anyone is after me, but I don’t want to put you in a difficult position – and I already have, just by being here. I need to keep moving but I need help, and yourself and Trev are my best bet. I’m afraid I’m not supposed to be out of prison. But I am. And I don’t want it to come back to bite you.’

Freya takes a step towards me and puts a hand on my shoulder. That warmth again.

Trev is a lucky man, but it was nearly so different. Two years ago, he got home late from his IT job to find the apartment ransacked and Freya missing. A nasty piece of work called Keith Sinfield was running a child sex ring from a flat in the biggest high- rise at the other end of the city, and by accident his laptop, from which he conducted the whole operation, ended up in Trev’s possession. Sinfield kidnapped Freya to force the return of the laptop.

Trev called me. Truth be told, when the phone rang I was being sick into a bin at a crummy budget hotel on the other side of town, on the bottom end of a self-pity bender, but I helped get her back. It was a messy one.

‘After what you did for us, we will do anything we can to help.’ She turned me and gave me a little push. ‘Hit the shower, and I’ll get some of Trev’s clothes together. He’ll be home soon after five, so if you can wait that long, please do, he’d love to see you. Bathroom’s second door back there. We owe you our lives, Ben.’

I have spent what feels like a lifetime undertaking grim tasks and never getting a word of gratitude in return. Receiving it now renders me awkward, overwhelmed and grateful.

Freya leaves me to it, and I head for incredible luxury: a real, private shower, in freedom. Such a simple thing, but a signifier of so much. It feels like a new dawn, a symbol: to wash away my previous life, all its mistakes and sadness, and start afresh.

About the Author

Robert Parker

Robert Parker is a new exciting voice, a married father of two, who lives in a village close to Manchester, UK. He has both a law degree and a degree in film and media production, and has worked in numerous employment positions, ranging from solicitor’s agent (essentially a courtroom gun for hire), to a van driver, to a warehouse order picker, to a commercial video director. He currently writes full time, while also making time to encourage new young readers and authors through readings and workshops at local schools and bookstores. In his spare time he adores pretty much all sport, boxing regularly for charity, loves fiction across all mediums, and his glass is always half full.

His latest book is the crime/thriller, A WANTED MAN.

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First Chapter Reveal: If Truth Be Told: A Monk’s Memoir by Om Swami

If Truth Be Told

Title: IF TRUTH BE TOLD: A MONK’S MEMOIR
Author: Om Swami
Publisher: Harper Element
Pages: 256
Genre: Memoir

BOOK BLURB:

If Truth be Told is an extraordinary memoir of the making of a spiritual life in today’s demanding and baffling times. The book unravels the true life story of Om Swami and his journey to becoming a monk. In the 1990s, an eighteen-year-old heads to Australia to realize his worldly dreams. With little money or support, he strives to make ends meet. Two years later, he’s earning an annual income of $250,000. By the age of twenty-six, Om Swami’s a multi-millionaire. But, the pull of the ochre robe is such that the boy whose hair Shiva had stroked in a dream and who at times could peer into the future of a complete stranger, gives up not just a multimillion dollar business, but every pleasure ever known to him. He renounces, in search of God.

Overnight, from a CEO Swami becomes an ordained monk in India. Reality hits him hard when he faces starvation and neglect at his guru’s ashram. A resolute Swami leaves for the Himalayas to burn his mind and body in the fire of intense meditation, to manifest God or die trying. A chance meeting with a mystical female tantric reinforces his faith in the existence of the divine. In the snowy and secluded reaches of the Himalayas, in terrifying silence and solitude, cut off from the world, Swami spends thirteen months in extraordinary, intense meditation. There in the woods, beyond the incessant chatter of the conscious mind, diving in the quietude of supernal bliss, the unimaginable happens: looking down at him are the effulgent eyes of the Empress. The Divine Mother.

If Truth Be Told: A Monk’s Memoir, is a true and inspiring story of success, renunciation and self-realization. It will light up your path wherever you are on your life’s journey.

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ONE

The First Step

I checked out of my lodge and stepped out onto the crowded street. Spotting a cycle rickshaw, I waved it down. ‘Where to?’ said the rickshaw driver. ‘Ghat.’

‘Which ghat? There are so many here.’

I wasn’t prepared for this. How was I to know there were many ghats in Varanasi?

‘Just take me to any ghat.’

‘I can’t take you to just any ghat, sir. Then you will say this is not where you wanted to go.’

‘Alright, name a ghat.’ ‘Dashashvamedha Ghat.’ ‘Fine, take me there.’

I hadn’t been on a rickshaw since 1995. Back then, fifteen years ago, I was a teenager attracted to, and working towards, materialism. Now, at thirty, I was doing exactly the opposite. The vehicle hadn’t changed but the direction had; the person hadn’t changed but the priorities had.

I presumed I was headed to a quiet riverside but I couldn’t be more wrong. The ghat was crowded beyond description, like an agitated mind crowded with thoughts, like ants gathered on a dead insect.

India was hardly new to me; I had spent the first eighteen years of my life in this country. But, rather naively, I had expected a different India in Varanasi. An old image was locked in my head, an image I hadn’t seen but conjured up while reading medieval texts: Kashi by the Ganges, an ancient town full of scholars, saints, tantriks, yogis and other spiritually inclined people.

I roamed about for a while, not knowing where to go. A long time ago, I had heard about Telang Swami, a realized soul who had lived in Kashi more than a century ago. There was supposed to be a monastery at the site of his samadhi. I visualized a quiet monastery by the Ganges, where noble sadhaks sat under the shade of old banyan trees and focused on their sadhana under the guidance of a venerable guru. I enquired, but no one knew anything about the monastery.

I thought of visiting the only other place I’d heard of in this city— Manikarnika Ghat, a cremation ground by the river where dead bodies were burnt round the clock. I hoped to meet some tantrik, sitting there and performing esoteric rituals by the burning pyres. I marched back to the main road and stopped another cycle rickshaw. It was nearly noon and the heat was biting me. I tried to tell myself that it was only mid-March, but this intellectual balm failed to soothe my body.

‘Will you take me to Manikarnika Ghat?’

‘Yes sir, but I can’t go all the way there. I can drop you at the nearest point.’

‘How much?’

’Rs 20.’

I hopped into the rickshaw, which moved slowly but steadily on the busy road. Several times, the rickshaw driver had to actually get down to manoeuvre it through the crowd. I noticed he was barefoot even though the sun was spewing fire and the road was like a field of burning coal—it just exuded heat.

‘Why aren’t you wearing any slippers?’

‘They got stolen at the temple the day I bought them.’

‘I don’t know this area. Please stop by a footwear shop. I’d like to get slippers for you.’

‘I’ll manage, brother.’

‘What is your name?’

‘Mahesh Kumar.’

‘Don’t worry, Mahesh, I’ll still give you the money for the ride.’

A little later, I spotted a small shoe shop. Mahesh wasn’t keen on stopping, so I practically had to order him to halt. Getting off the rickshaw, I gestured to him to follow me into the shop. He came in after me sheepishly.

‘Hello, sir,’ the shopkeeper said, and asked me to sit down. I beckoned to Mahesh, who was hovering near the entrance, to join me on the sofa. He did so extremely reluctantly.

A young worker at the shop offered me water.

‘Please give it to Mahesh,’ I said, ‘he’s your customer today.’

‘Do you want sandals instead of slippers? That may be better,’ I said to Mahesh.

‘Whatever you think is best.’

The sales assistant went to the back of the shop and returned a few minutes later with a pair of sandals. Beige in colour, with dark-brown straps and shining steel buckles, they looked very comfortable. He handed Mahesh the pair.

‘Please put them on his feet like you would do for any other customer,’ I said.

Mahesh looked at me nervously. I looked into his eyes and nodded. Immediately, his face broke into a smile and he stuck out his feet so that the assistant could put on the sandals. I looked at Mahesh’s beautiful, dark face, his yellow teeth, slightly deformed and stained, his big eyes full of contentment, and felt very warm inside. His smile simply made my day.

Mahesh pedalled with renewed enthusiasm now, while his dusty, worn feet seemed to come alive in the new sandals. As I watched his feet pushing the pedals up and down, everything else faded for a moment—the shops, the noise, the heat. All I could see were those feet, which seemed to be performing a cosmic dance. Now a pedal went up and now a pedal came down; every movement seemed effortless, in perfect synchronization.

Mahesh dropped me off at the point closest to Manikarnika Ghat.

‘If you go to the temple again, don’t leave your shoes outside,’ I warned as I got off the rickshaw.

‘I won’t,’ he said.

I offered him a fifty-rupee note.

‘How can I take money from you, sir?’

‘Please keep this. It will give me great joy if you do.’

He came around from his rickshaw and reached down to touch my feet. I caught his wrists and pulled him up. ‘There are only three places you should bow your head,’ I said. ‘In front of God, in front of the elderly and in front of your guru.’

I thrust the money into his hands and walked away, thinking that Mahesh was not designed to be a rickshaw driver. He could have been a clerk, a watchman, an officer, an executive. For that matter, no one deserved to live a life that sought to break the body as well as the spirit. This man was living in a democratic country but did that make him a free man? The state did not provide for him and his fellow countrymen did not respect him. He did not have the freedom to own a roof over his head or break away from the harshness and drudgery of his daily routine. I don’t think Mahesh ever took a vacation or enjoyed any luxury in his life except perhaps the luxury of needs; he would never run out of needs. Come to think of it, there was no difference between him and me: we were both fettered by our needs. His were more tangible and essential for survival, while mine were more abstract and self-imposed.

I navigated my way to Manikarnika Ghat. I doubt if anywhere else in India there existed such tight streets as in Varanasi; at least, I’d never seen them. If you had a slightly bigger nose and turned your head, you were likely to hit something. Well, almost. I don’t know how I managed to reach Manikarnika Ghat, but I finally did.

A pyre was burning; another had been mostly reduced to ash, occasionally lit up by smouldering embers. Pieces of broken clay pots lay scattered around. Breaking a pot full of water at the time of cremation is a Hindu custom

signifying that the soul of the deceased has severed all ties with the human world. The pot symbolizes the human body, and its breaking indicates the liberation of the soul that has trapped within.

There were no saints to be found here, no practitioners of the occult sciences, no evolved tantriks or yogis who beckoned to me to join them in a journey to self-realization. Instead, around the pyres, dealers sat selling wood; beside them sat paanwallahs and chaiwallahs. Milling around were countless people, cows, dogs and cats.

The ghat had turned out to be a disappointment, so I began asking about Telang Swami’s monastery again. Of the many souls I asked, one seemed to know. He pointed in a certain direction. I walked down narrow streets with decrepit buildings ready to crumble and shops selling all manner of things. Dodging the maddening traffic, I found myself in winding alleyways, going past houses standing cheek-by-jowl and children playing beside parked two-wheelers, doing my best to avoid stepping into puddles of animal urine and dung.

After forty-five minutes, feeling tired and hopeless, I stopped. I couldn’t see the monastery and I couldn’t find anyone who had ever seen it. I sat down on the kerb and wiped the sweat off my forehead, wondering how to proceed. After a few minutes, I raised my head and there it was, on my right, a sign written in Hindi: ‘Telang Swami Math’. It was a temple.

I went inside. A middle-aged man was sitting on the pujari’s seat. Everything about him was round—head, face, torso, belly, hands, feet. A barber came in behind me, took his kit out of his bag and began shaving the priest. I watched quietly, enjoying the coolness of the temple after the searing heat outside. After a few minutes, the barber picked up his things and left; no money exchanged hands. Perhaps they had some kind of monthly arrangement.

I asked the priest about Telang Swami and his lineage, and about the monastery. He said there was no disciplic succession or ashram. This temple was all there was and there was no arrangement for anyone to stay even if they could pay.

I felt betrayed, although I was not sure by whom.

‘Telang Swami is buried there.’ He pointed to a corner of the temple compound. Walking across to Telang Swami’s tombstone, I prayed, ‘Please guide this lost soul, O Swami, so I may attain what I’ve set out to do.’

On my way out, the priest stopped me to ask exactly what I was looking for. I told him I was in search of a guru and wanted to take sanyasa diksha, initiation into the life of a renunciant. He said there was no need to renounce the world or look for a guru, and that I should get married and lead a normal life.

Normal life? There’s nothing called a normal life. What is normal from one’s viewpoint may be most abnormal from another’s. A yogi thinks that the world is abnormal and people live like animals, mostly focused on feeding and fornicating. The world thinks the yogi is a fool who wastes his life sitting around doing nothing, enjoying none of the many pleasures life has to offer.

Naturally I didn’t say any of this to the priest. I had no interest in pursuing a conversation with someone who could understand neither my desperation nor my intention.

I went towards the ghats again. It was nearly 3 p.m. and the sun was even hotter now. I hadn’t eaten anything all day. In the morning, I hadn’t been able to find any place to eat where the food wasn’t deep-fried. In the afternoon, I was busy with my self-realization business. My water bottle had been empty for hours and the reality of hunger was tugging hard at my stomach.

Lacking a sense of direction, I didn’t know if I was heading towards the ghats or away from them. When I saw the number of people on the streets reduce significantly, I knew I was heading in the wrong direction. Coincidentally, I saw some lodges there and asked a few if they had any vacancy. I just wanted to lie down in a cool, quiet place. Oddly enough, at each place, they asked me where I was from, how many people needed the room and for how many days. Then they would tell me there was no room available. I was intrigued. Why would they put me through a whole heap of questions if they had no room available?

I walked on and eventually found myself by the river. The Hindu texts talked a great deal about the sacred significance of ‘Ganga Maiya’. Well, her ‘children’ had polluted her beyond imagination. Seeing the filthy state of the river flowing past me, I shook my head in as much disgust as disbelief. I had seen the Ganga till Haridwar, where it was clean, but what had happened here in this holiest of holy cities, the Kashi of my imagination? I decided I would not bathe in the river here. Inwardly though, I paid obeisance to the sacred Ganga. A ma remains a ma, no matter how she’s dressed.

‘Massage?’ I looked up to see a man standing near me.

‘No massage. I need a guide.’

‘Sure, sir. I’ll be your guide.’

‘You do know this area well?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘What will you charge? I need you with me for the rest of the day. And maybe tomorrow as well.’

‘You can pay whatever you like.’

‘Rs 250 per day?’

‘Okay, sir.’

‘Let’s go.’

‘I’ll take your bag,’ he offered kindly.

It took me a few minutes to realize I was free of the load. That’s the thing with baggage—you get used to carrying it around. You know it’s heavy but the weight has a way of becoming a part of your life. Only when you take it off your back and feel the lightness does the awareness of the load hit you.

Manish took me to a couple of guest houses and I got the same questions there too. Finally, my guide solved the mystery for me by explaining that when the employees at these lodges weren’t busy with work or occupied watching a cricket match on TV, they longed to chat with people as a way of passing their time. They didn’t have any rooms available but a conversation with a stranger was welcome.

Not getting very far in my search for a place to stay, I asked Manish to take me to a bigger hotel, but he said there wasn’t one. I realized that he didn’t really know the area; he had lied to me. Anyway, I was starving now. We managed to spot a vegetarian Jain dhaba that served meals without onion or garlic. I avoided eating onion and garlic, so the menu was fine with me but the food wasn’t; it was tasteless. I was too tired to fuss and my head hurt. I swallowed whatever I was served, though my guide seemed to savour the meal. After we left the dhaba, I bought two chilled bottles of water from a small provision store. Opening the first one, I washed my face and poured the rest on my head. The second I guzzled right away.

It was nearly 6 p.m. by the time we resumed our hunt for accommodation, and we finally got lucky at Pooja Guest House, where they gave me a room. I let Manish go and asked him to come again the next morning.

Even though I had a room now, I couldn’t sleep because of the fatigue and dehydration, which was evident from the colour of my urine. I hadn’t known I was so fragile. There was a time not long ago when I had played badminton daily, spent hours at a stretch on the golf course, pumped iron and run 12 miles regularly, and all this had felt effortless. But today, just one day spent in the ‘real’ world, and I found myself stretched beyond what I could take. My belief that I was fit and strong seemed merely a conceited notion.

I realized that my body was far from ready for the hardships of monkhood. If I couldn’t even tolerate the heat of a day, what chance did I have to endure the rigours of meditation and the harsh life of an ascetic? I had no idea how to prepare my body for intense penance. Yet, I knew that life would teach me. I had only to be open and willing.

I lay there thinking about my worldly journey thus far.

About the Author

 

Om Swami is a monk who lives in a remote place in the Himalayan foothills. He has a bachelor degree in business and an MBA from Sydney, Australia. Swami served in executive roles in large corporations around the world. He founded and led a profitable software company with offices in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, London, Sydney and India.

Om Swami completely renounced his business interests to pursue a more spiritual life. He is the bestselling author of Kundalini: An Untold Story, A Fistful of Love and If Truth Be Told: A Monk’s Memoir.

His blog omswami.com is read by millions all over the world.

You can visit his website at Omswami.com.

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First Chapter Reveal: Chasing Hindy by Darin Gibby @DarinGibby

Chasing Hindy

Title: Chasing Hindy
Author: Darin Gabby
Publisher: Koehler Books
Pages: 284
Genre: Thriller

ADDY’S DREAM AS a patent attorney is to help bring a ground breaking energy technology to the world. Addy’s hopes soar when she is wooed by Quinn, an entrepreneur, to join his company that has purportedly invented a car that can run on water using an innovative catalyst. After resigning her partnership to join Quinn, Addy discovers things aren’t as they seem. The patent office suppresses the company’s patent applications and her life is threatened by unknown assailants if she doesn’t resign.

When she is arrested for stealing US technology from the patent office she realizes Quinn has used her. Now, Addy must find a way to clear her name while salvaging her dream of propelling this technology to the world, all while powerful forces attempt to stop her.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

First Chapter:

ADDY FELT LIKE jumping out of her car and doing a quick happy dance in the middle of stalled traffic. Her excitement at becoming the newest—and youngest—partner at the intellectual property law firm of Wyckoff & Schechter was nearly overwhelming.She grinned at the shadow on the hood of Hindy, her treasured retrofitted cherry red Shelby Mustang. The shadow was created by a barrel-sized, hydrogen-filled balloon that floated above the Mustang’s roof. Gawkers pointed and laughed as the Shelby eased down El Camino pulling the tethered balloon as if in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The balloon—which on one side sported her law firm’s logo, and on the other Hindy in giant cursive script—was just an advertising gimmick to show her passion for alternative energies. It was only strapped to the roof on calm, sunny days when she was travelling at slow speeds using routes that avoided overpasses. The retrofitted Mustang was really powered by four electric motors using electricity produced by solar panels and a conventional fuel cell.

At first, the Wyckoff partners questioned Addy’s prudence in strapping a floating balloon to the roof of any vehicle, but they’d

come to admire the effectiveness of her marketing innovations. They even lifted their champagne glasses at the end of her mentor’s welcome speech acknowledging that her Shelby was responsible for bringing in increasing numbers of the “green” companies sprouting like weeds all over the Silicon Valley— inventive, entrepreneurial companies in need of legal advice and support for their patents.

While the traffic inched forward, Addy chuckled with excitement. “Hindy, ol’ pal,” she said, patting the dashboard, “you and I are going places now! Next time some overzealous cops accuse you of being a traffic hazard, I’ll stare them down and inform them they’re messing with the partner of a highly prestigious law firm.”

Traffic momentarily loosened and Addy eased Hindy forward, careful not to snap the lines tethering the egg-shaped balloon. Addy sang along with Zissy Spaeth, pop rock’s newest and most flashy star, as Zissy belted out her latest hit, Light in Your Eyes, over the radio. In the corner of her eye she noticed a blaze of neon orange.

Her heart stopped. In the car next to her someone was pointing a bazooka-sized gizmo at her balloon. She blinked, trying to clear her vision.

A flare shot out, aimed straight at her floating ball of

hydrogen.

Even in the late afternoon sunlight, it was impossible to miss the explosion. The dirigible burst into a giant fireball, then slowly deflated and floated down toward the Shelby’s crimson hood.

Addy stomped on her brakes, hoping the balloon’s momentum would shoot the flaming mass forward. The fireball, safely secured by its fluorescent yellow nylon tethers, crashed down onto the windshield, blocking Addy’s view. She screeched to a halt, slammed her shoulder into the door, flung it open, and darted out, catching the heel of her pump on the doorjamb, which sent her sprawling headlong onto the pavement.

She heard tires squeal and at least a half dozen blaring horns. Stinging pain shot up from her elbow and knees. Thank goodness traffic had been just inching along.

Ignoring the pain, she bolted forward, arms raised, ready

to yank the still-burning fabric off the windshield. Before she got close enough to grab it, the sweltering heat from the flames scorched her cheeks, and she shielded her eyes with her forearm. Just when she reached the hood, a breeze lifted the infernal blob and propelled it directly at her, the nylon cords now seared through.

She braced herself for the fireball when she felt arms wrap around her chest and yank her back, barely in time to avoid the searing molten mass of goo about to descend on her head, threatening to fry her face and melt her hair.

“Are you crazy? What are you thinking?” a deep voice

bellowed in her ear, still holding her tight.

Together they watched what was left of the blimp float like a falling leaf onto the grassy shoulder, just like the Hindenburg did almost eighty years ago.

“Someone clearly doesn’t like you, short stuff,” her rescuer said, now standing next to her stroking his goatee, his face hidden behind dark sunglasses and a low-riding Dodgers cap. “More like out to get you. That was some kind of flare the driver shot at your blimp. I tried to spot his license plate, but it was covered up. Snapped a picture with my phone, though,” the man said fishing it from his pocket. “You can kind of see a tattoo on his forearm. The police will love this.”

Before she could thank him, someone cried out, “Call a fire

truck! The grass!”

Brush fires in California were no joking matter. Addy could smell the smoldering grasses. A strong breeze fanned the flames, pushing the fire toward a row of redwood trees.

Then she heard a whiny voice coming from the milling crowd of stranded passengers who’d gathered to find out what was holding up their homeward commute. “I’ve seen that blimp before. I knew it was trouble,” the whiner complained.

“Yeah, but at least she’s part of the solution,” said someone else. “Her car doesn’t use gasoline. Look at what you’re driving,” he said, sneering at the whiny woman’s crossover SUV.

Addy’s knees buckled, her head spinning. She plopped down onto the pavement and hugged her bare legs. This couldn’t be happening.

Why would someone try to destroy her car? Hindy, her

 

beloved Mustang, was just a marketing ploy, no worse than a billboard. Hindy’s fuel cell and solar panels were just two modern technologies that Addy hoped someday would become mainstream to the automotive industry. And her purpose was noble. Her “green” car told the world of inventors that she was one of them, that she would secure their patents and protect their investments. Now her expensive marketing project was in jeopardy.

Soon, swarms of firefighters were scrambling around dousing the flames, while police officers attempted to reroute traffic. A well-built bald man flipped out a paper pad and scribbled a few notes. After removing his sunglasses, he swapped the pad for a pocket camera and snapped random shots of the avid crowd.

All four local networks had sent news crews, and Addy knew two of the reporters. They had already run stories about Hindy, praising Addy’s creative marketing, which one reporter said was a refreshing change from the barrage of personal injury commercials littering daytime television.

As Addy told the reporter during her interview, Silicon Valley was going to be known, not just for starting the computer revolution and launching the social networking scene, but now for making the world green. And Addy was their lawyer.

Reality burst her daydream bubble when she was whisked aside by a team of Sunnyvale police officers. She told them what had transpired, hoping it would help them find the sniper. And she pointed out her rescuer, who was showing another pair of police officers the photo on his phone.

At the end of the interview, one of the officers handed her a ticket. “You were carrying a flammable substance without a permit. You’ll need to make a court appearance.”

Addy gasped. “But they shot at me.”

“And we’re not taking it lightly. There’s been a serious crime committed here, but that doesn’t mean you can break the law. If you hadn’t been toting that blimp, none of this would have happened.”

Addy’s eyes narrowed. “Am I’m free to go?” she said,

snatching the paperwork and turning toward Hindy.

“Yes,” the officer said, “but we’re going to need to impound

your vehicle.”

Addy halted. “Hindy? You can’t.”

The other officer beckoned with both hands, big gestures, as if directing an airplane to the gate. A tow truck wedged its way through the onlookers and began backing up in front of Hindy. “But Hindy works perfectly fine,” Addy protested. “The balloon, that was all for show. The hydrogen for the fuel cell is

where the gas tank used to be.”

The officer shook her head. “We need your car for evidence. As I said, a serious crime has just been committed, and we need to take the vehicle to the station for a thorough evaluation.”

“But I need to get home, and get to work tomorrow.”

“There’s always Uber,” said the officer with a shrug.

 

About the Author

Darin Gibby

In addition to a thriving career as a novelist, author Darin Gibby is also one of the country’s premiere patent attorneys and a partner at the prestigious firm of Kilpatrick Townsend (www.kilpatricktownsend.com). With over twenty years of experience in obtaining patents on hundreds of inventions from the latest drug delivery systems to life-saving cardiac equipment, he has built IP portfolios for numerous Fortune 500 companies. In addition to securing patents, Gibby helps clients enforce and license their patents around the world, and he has monetized patents on a range of products.

Darin’s first book, Why Has America Stopped Inventing?, explored the critical issue of America’s broken patent system. His second book, The Vintage Club, tells the story of a group of the world’s wealthiest men who are chasing a legend about a wine that can make you live forever. His third book, Gil, is about a high school coach who discovers that he can pitch with deadly speed and is given an offer to play with the Rockies during a player’s strike. Gil soon discovers, however, that his unexpected gift is the result of a rare disease, and continuing to pitch may hasten his own death.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and a Master of Business Administration degree, he is highly regarded in Denver’s legal and business community as a patent strategist, business manager, and community leader. He is also a sought-after speaker on IP issues at businesses, colleges and technology forums, where he demonstrates the value of patents using simple lessons from working on products such as Crocs shoes, Izzo golf straps and Trek bicycles.

An avid traveler and accomplished triathlete, Darin also enjoys back country fly-fishing trips and skiing in the Rocky Mountains. He lives in Denver with his wife, Robin, and their four children.

His latest book is the thriller, Chasing Hindy.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

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FIRST CHAPTER REVEAL: Surgeon’s Story by Mark Oristano

Surgeon's Story

Title: SURGEON’S STORY
Author: Mark Oristano
Publisher: Authority Publishing
Pages: 190
Genre: Nonfiction Medical

What is it like to hold the beating heart of a two-day old child in your hand? What is it like to counsel distraught parents as they make some of the most difficult decisions of their lives?

Noted pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Kristine Guleserian has opened up her OR, and her career, to author Mark Oristano to create Surgeon’s Story – Inside OR-6 With a top Pediatric Heart Surgeon.

Dr. Guleserian’s life, training and work are discussed in detail, framed around the incredibly dramatic story of a heart transplant operation for a two-year old girl whose own heart was rapidly dying. Author Mark Oristano takes readers inside the operating room to get a first-hand look at pediatric heart surgeries most doctors in America would never attempt.

That’s because Dr. Guleserian is recognized as one of the top pediatric heart surgeons in America, one of a very few who have performed a transplant on a one-week old baby. Dr. Guleserian (Goo-liss-AIR-ee-yan) provided her expertise, and Oristano furnished his writing skills, to produce A Surgeon’s Story.

As preparation to write this stirring book, Oristano spent hours inside the operating room at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas watching Guleserian perform actual surgeries that each day were life or death experiences. Readers will be with Dr. Guleserian on her rounds, meeting with parents, or in the Operating Room for a heart transplant.

Oristano is successful sportscaster and photographer and has made several appearances on stage as an actor. He wrote his first book A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America’s Favorite Game, and continues to volunteer at Children’s Medical Center.

“We hear a lot about malpractice and failures in medical care,” says Oristanto, “but I want my readers to know that parts of the American health care system work brilliantly. And our health care system will work even better if more young women would enter science and medicine and experience the type of success Dr. Guleserian has attained.”

Readers will find all the drama, intensity, humor and compassion that they enjoy in their favorite fictionalized medical TV drama, but the actual accounts in Surgeon’s Story are even more compelling. One of the key characters in the book is 2-year-old Rylynn who was born with an often fatal disorder called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and was successfully treated by Dr. Guleserian.

Watch the Book Trailer at YouTube.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

CHAPTER ONE

A Day in the Life

“We eat stress like M&Ms in here.”

 

OR-5

Children’s Medical Center, Dallas

November 5, 2009

I’m staring at eleven month-old Claudia, lying sedated on the operating table in OR-5, as still as a doll with no moving parts. She looks smaller than her charted weight of nine kilos (20 pounds). Nurses cover her with sterile blue surgical drapes so all that’s visible is a 4-inch square patch of skin on her chest. Bright white lights bathe the center of the table. Doctors and nurses in gowns, caps, and masks crowd around. They look almost identical. Except for the earrings. The earrings are the “tell.” That’s how you know it’s her.

Kristine Guleserian, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, is scrubbed in. Known throughout the hospital as Dr. G, she is one of only nine women in the U.S. certified to do what she’s about to do — take a scalpel sharper than a dozen razors, cut through Claudia’s skin, saw open her breastbone, and spread her ribcage apart in order to repair two congenital defects threatening a malformed heart the size of a walnut. It’s just after 9:00 AM. Claudia will be in OR-5 until 2:00 PM, along with a team of talented surgeons, nurses, techs, anesthesiologists, and others. Dr. G is in charge.

 

October 27, 2009

Children’s Medical Center – Heart Center

Two weeks before Claudia’s surgery, I had a 1:30 PM meeting with Dr. G at her office. At 1:25, I sat in the waiting room. At 1:30, Dr. G came through at her favorite speed — full. She headed for the door while putting on her white, starched lab coat over surgical scrubs and said, “Come on.” We trotted down the hospital hallway.

“This is my world. You wanted to see it. Welcome to my life.”

“Where are we going?” I was struggling to keep up with her even though I’m a foot taller.

“We have to do a consult.”

“We?”

“I have to. You’ll watch.”

We whisked past the main desk of the echocardiography lab. Dr. G motioned to the charge nurse.

“He’s with me.”

We squeeze into the dark and cramped echo lab, where there’s barely enough space for the two women sitting at the monitors. Dr. G introduced me to cardiologists Dr. Catherine Ikemba and Dr. Reenu Eapen, then turned her focus to the echo monitors. An echocardiogram is a moving image produced by sound waves directed at the heart and reflected back again as the waves pass from one type of tissue to another. To me it looked like a blurry, moving x-ray. To the eyes of these three women it was an intimate cardiac road map. A nine-year old boy had a malformed aorta, and the cardiologists wanted Dr. G’s opinion. She was Socratic, asking questions she likely already knew the answers to, saying, “Well, I might do…” so-and-so, and then asking her colleagues for their opinions.

Two weeks later, I came back for the first of many long days as her shadow. I wasn’t quite Alice in Wonderland, but the feeling of falling down a hole did occur to me.

 

November 5, 2009

7:30 AM – Heart Center Research Meeting

There’s more to being a surgeon than surgery. This particular day begins in a windowless media room, the kind of video-meeting-training center you’d find in any school or business. Rows of desks and chairs give it a classroom feel. A/V equipment hangs from the ceiling and a large video screen dominates the front of the room. The dress code is strictly medical, no business attire here. Doctors and nurses in scrubs and lab coats shuffle into the room, many with the ubiquitous cup of Starbucks in hand. Today will feature a presentation of two ongoing cardiac studies being conducted at the Children’s Medical Center’s Heart Center. The room is very cold, and Dr. G wears a black turtleneck sweater under her white lab coat. She pulls the sweater neck up over her nose and mouth as the meeting goes on, seeking warmth. A presenter advances to the lectern, and the unmistakable look of the PowerPoint presentation flashes on the screen behind her. The title slide reads:

CHROMOSOMAL COPY NUMBERS IN

HYPOPLASTIC LEFT HEART SYNDROME

Before I ventured into Dr. G’s world, I had begun my own rudimentary study of congenital heart disease (heart defects present at birth), trying for a foothold in the maze of childhood cardiac problems. I had read that hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) is a life-threatening cardiac deformity where the left ventricle, which pumps blood to the aorta and then around the body, is so weak that without surgical intervention any infant suffering from it will likely die. The pediatric heart specialists in the meeting room critique what they’ve just heard. A senior cardiologist might question the validity of this or that portion of the research methodology. These are works in progress, not ready for publication. Ongoing study is a part of the surgeon’s job description.

In the meeting room, the media screen glows again.

ECHOCARDIOGRAPHIC PREDICTION OF SPONTANEOUS

CLOSURE OF DUCTUS ARTERIOSUS IN PREMATURE INFANTS

After only two weeks shadowing Dr. G, I was able to make some sense of this title. The Heart Center team is using echocardiography to predict whether the ductus arteriosus in the hearts of premature infants will close properly after birth, sparing the need for open-heart surgery. That was about all I knew. I had to dig deeper into the textbooks to learn more about what was beating beneath my own breastbone.

The human heart is a four-chambered pump, designed to send deoxygenated blood to the lungs to get a new supply of oxygen, and then sending that oxygen rich blood on its journey around the body to nourish organs and tissues. The left and right sides of the heart each have two chambers — an atrium on top, and a slightly larger ventricle on the bottom. Each side is like Dali’s version of an hourglass. The atria and the ventricles are each separated by a thin wall called a septum. The ventricular septum is slightly more muscular than the septum for the smaller atria.

In a normal heart deoxygenated (blue) blood enters the right atrium from large blood vessels called the vena cavae, which bring blood back from the rest of the body after distributing oxygen. The right atrium contracts, opening the tricuspid valve, and blood flows down into the larger right ventricle. The contraction of the right ventricle sends blood through the pulmonary valve to the pulmonary arteries, and into the lungs for oxygenation. The newly oxygenated blood enters the left atrium through the pulmonary veins. When the left atrium contracts, blood is sent through the mitral valve into the left ventricle. The left ventricle contracts, blood moves through the aortic valve into the aorta, and off to oxygenate the rest of the body — the brain, the coronary arteries of the heart itself, deep into the internal organs, and superficially to the skin. Over and over again, on average 100,000 times per day. That’s in an anatomically correct heart. (Anatomic trivia: The pulmonary arteries are the only arteries that handle deoxygenated blood, while the pulmonary veins are the only veins that handle oxygenated blood. Otherwise, oxygenated blood always flows through arteries, and deoxygenated blood through veins.)

The number of things that can go wrong with the human heart is staggering. Heart disease in adults is usually acquired. When we develop a heart condition in later life, it’s most often our own doing. Smoking, obesity, hypertension, poor diet, lack of exercise, diabetes, genetics and more, contribute to the clogged coronary arteries, heart attacks, strokes and other events that make heart disease the leading cause of death in most developed countries. Congenital heart disease is present in approximately 35,000 newborns in the U.S. each year, although many of these show no symptoms and don’t learn of any problems until years later, if ever. Since infants haven’t had a chance to do much damage to themselves, it’s fair to wonder how a newborn heart can have so many problems. Congenital heart defects occur because of interruptions in normal fetal heart development.

The developing fetal heart contains a series of shunts, like miniature bypasses, to keep blood away from the pulmonary arteries and lungs so that blood flow is kept low, and the tiny lungs won’t be overtaxed. Fetal lungs are non-functional, because the fetus gets oxygen from the mother through the umbilical cord. The shunts in the fetal heart are:

1) foramen ovale, which lets blood flow from the right to the left atrium,

2) ductus venosus, which draws umbilical blood away from the fetal lungs and into the vena cava, and;

3) ductus arteriosus, which connects the pulmonary artery to the descending aorta, thus allowing most blood from the right ventricle to bypass the non-functional fetal lungs.

All three of the shunts alter themselves after birth to create the normal heart design. When something interferes with the natural switch over from fetal to breathing infant heart, physicians call it “persistent fetal circulation.” It can manifest in hundreds of way. In certain situations, it’s never even noticed.

Anatomy of the Heart 101 is over. Bookmark these diagrams and return PRN (medical for “as needed”).

 

8:15 AM

3rd floor Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit

The Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) has twenty rooms arcing around a large central desk. The furnishings are modern, corporate-like, and austere. The pulse of the CVICU is the rhythm of the beeping sound common to every TV medical drama. Each patient is attached to a monitor measuring blood-oxygen saturation (sats), heart rate (HR), blood pressure (BP), respiratory rate, temperature, and more. Each monitor is a computer, producing different sounds for different reasons. The one constant is that audible beep, one for each heartbeat. An infant’s tiny heart beats significantly faster than an adult’s, so the pace of the beeping is rapid, and each baby here suffers from a potentially fatal malfunction of that rapidly beating heart.

Nurses move everywhere, monitoring every child. Intravenous (IV) fluid bags hang at each bed — six, eight, sometimes more. One patient has ten IV drips, each one delivering a different life-supporting medication — sedation, painkillers, antibiotics, anticoagulants, blood products, nutrition and others. The drips hang from poles, and flow directly into the tiny patient’s arm or leg, or more often, into a catheter inserted into the chest for easy access. The drips feed into a large control panel with the concentration and rate of flow of each drip handled by computer. All these babies are critically ill, critically tiny, many premature. Most of them are smaller than the stuffed animals that sit, unnoticed, next to them.

I’ve been volunteering at Children’s for 13 years, but this is my first time in the CVICU. I’m here for cardiac surgery rounds, following Dr. G as she checks on the progress of patients. Another familiar sight from medical TV shows is on display here — the long, white coat — the peacock feathers of physicians and surgeons. Children’s Medical Center is a teaching hospital, part of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Doctors and surgeons, long past their residencies now and specialists in their fields, wear the long, white lab coat. Medical students, residents and interns are in shorter coats. Dr. G is the shortest of the long coat-clad. Sure, she’s only five feet tall, but as they say in the sports world, she plays six-two. She’s not the only woman in the group, but she’s the only one wearing a long white coat. The young doctors listen to her.

Heart surgeons, ICU doctors, cardiologists, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, fellows, residents and students start at one end of the unit to move room by room around the floor. A cardiology fellow pushes the computer on wheels (COW), and presents each case. This young doctor has made several of the basic choices his career path requires. He’s just finished his residency where he worked in various specialties. He’s chosen medicine over surgery, pediatrics over adult, and cardiology over other disciplines, making pediatric cardiology his career choice. He’s taking his first steps down the six-year road it will take to earn “attending” status, when he’ll be in charge of cases. He’ll then be a pediatric cardiologist, a doctor who treats young people with heart disease. He’ll refer cases needing surgery to people like Dr. G, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon. Her career path was twice as long, requiring twelve years to attending status. Cardiologists diagnose — surgeons repair.

Even though he’s out of residency, this doctor is still learning. He stops in front of the door to the first patient room and runs down the important events from overnight — vital signs, patient status, complications, and planned treatment. The male attendings ask questions that are pointed and occasionally harsh. Dr. G draws the younger doctors out with her questions, gently nudging them back on the right track. “I didn’t hear anything about left atrial pressure there,” she tells the presenter, who immediately refers to the COW screen and spews a series of numbers out in a specific order. The young doctor’s voice is tense, rising a bit, as he makes up for his omission. It’s unlikely he’ll make this mistake again. Terms like “open-chest” and “life-threatening event” are heard on cardiac rounds, said calmly and with nonchalance. Hospital personnel in critical care settings are outwardly detached. It’s a key to staying focused.

The CVICU nurses rounding make notes while answering questions concerning how patients fared overnight. There is a pecking order among hospital personnel, and some doctors treat nurses as underlings; nevertheless, a tremendous level of trust exists between the doctors and nurses at Children’s. If the doctors are the officers of this army, the nurses are the sergeants, the ones who make sure everything gets done.

While the rest of the group moves along the hallway, Dr. G stops to look inside the room of the patient just presented. If she sees a family member inside, and they’re awake at this early hour, she goes in to say hello and ask how things are going. She feels a responsibility toward every family, even if the case isn’t hers. It’s not done for effect or because her medical training requires it. This is the way she treats everybody. It doesn’t matter if your child has a serious heart condition. It doesn’t even matter if you have a child. When Dr. G sees you, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, in the OR, she says hello.

Rounds end, leaving just enough time to dash up to the eighth floor cardiac unit and check on patients who are out of ICU, waiting to be discharged. One young heart transplant patient has turned up her oxygen level without the nurses knowing about it. Dr. G tells the 13-year old girl, in a firm, motherly way, that medical decisions are made by the pros and here’s how we’ll manage the oxygen for the remainder of your stay. The girl hangs her head and nods.

The moments after rounds, before the next issue presents itself, offer a chance to head down to the first floor food court for a snack. As Dr. G stands in the register line, her pager beeps. She checks the number and heads up to the third floor office suite she shares with her partners and staff. She phones the person who paged her and, in a flash, it’s out the door and back to the echo lab, a half-eaten banana left behind on her desk.

Two weeks after my first visit to the echo lab I stood to the side again, this time better able to make sense of some of what Dr. G and the cardiologists discussed as they looked at the screen. Eleven-month old Claudia’s diagnosis was Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a syndrome with four separate cardiac abnormalities:

1) Ventricular septal defect (VSD) — a hole in the wall between the two ventricles;

2) Overriding aorta — the aorta is not positioned properly on the heart;

3) Right ventricular outflow tract obstruction — for any of several possible reasons, the blood flow to the lungs is restricted, leading to:

4) Right ventricular hypertrophy, (which surgeons pronounce “hy-PER-tro-phy”) — a dangerous buildup of the right ventricle’s musculature.

Claudia has alarming episodes of cyanosis where her lips, fingers and toes turn blue because her oxygen saturation rate becomes dangerously low. She also has what are called “Tet spells,” when her oxygen level drops so low that she loses consciousness. The preoperative indications of most concern to Dr. G are an extremely small pulmonary valve, which leads from the right ventricle to the pulmonary arteries; the significantly thickened muscle bundle below the valve; and the somewhat larger than average VSD.

Thirty minutes later we were walking down a second floor hallway toward the operating rooms. Dr. G walked quickly, straight ahead, focused. She was getting her game-face on.

 

10:30 AM

OR 5

Claudia lay motionless on the table in the center of the OR, her head sticking through a hole in the draping around her neck. It’s visible to the anesthesiologists seated at the head of the table where they are concerned with the numerous gauges, medicines, inhalation gases and monitors at their fingertips. They’re also in charge of tilting the table at the surgeon’s request, to put the patient at a more favorable angle, because the motorized table can be raised, lowered and tilted to various angles at the touch of a button.

(Example of pediatric cardiothoracic humor —A flight attendant goes on the p.a. and asks if there’s a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist on the plane. There is one, in the rear of coach. He signals the attendant and asks what the trouble is.

“There’s a pediatric heart surgeon in first class. He wants his tray table lowered.”)

The scrub tech stands at the opposite end of the table, facing a series of trays that hold an array of odd looking tools; forceps for picking up or grasping things; scalpels that slice through human flesh as if it were air; sutures (thread) finer than human hair, attached to small needles curved like fish hooks. The scrub tech is the right hand person to the surgeon, responsible for pulling instruments and supplies for the operation, knowing what the order of the operation is, and arranging everything in the most efficient format for this particular surgery and this particular surgeon. Dr. G knows that when she calls for an instrument, the proper one will be there in a flash. Often, it will be offered to her before she has to make the call.

A six-foot-by-six-foot metal frame sits to one side of the operating table, containing gauges, canisters, and clear plastic hoses. This is the cardiopulmonary bypass machine —“the Pump.” This technology will serve as Claudia’s circulatory system while her heart is stopped for repairs. Developed in the 1950’s, modern bypass machines still use hoses much like the beer keg tubing in the first experimental models. The two specialists in charge of operating the pump, the perfusionists, sit at the machine.

The small patch of Claudia’s chest that’s visible is covered with a material called Ioban, plastic coated with iodine in a further effort to reduce any risk of infection during surgery. Dr. G will make a tiny incision to get at this heart that was compromised in utero by Tetralogy of Fallot. To give you an idea of the progress of medical knowledge, TOF was first medically described, though primitively, in 1672. Two hundred years later Etienne Louis Fallot, a French physician, described the clinical pathology of the condition, but the first surgical treatment for TOF wasn’t available until the late 1940’s. Dr. G, ever the teacher, drew a diagram of the surgery for me before she scrubbed in.

After scrubbing, Dr. G re-enters the OR with hands and forearms still wet. She dries with sterile towels provided by a scrub tech who then helps her into a surgical gown and gloves. She wears loupes over her cap. They look like small telescopes growing from each eye, and they give her a magnified view of the tiny area in which she’s working. A fiber-optic cable runs up her back, over the top of her cap and onto a small, bright lighting instrument/video camera at her forehead, to light and televise what she sees to monitors hung around the OR. Dr. G is at the center of the sterile area, where only those who scrub in can go. The rest of us, wearing surgical masks and caps in addition to our scrubs, have to stay away from the table. She climbs up on a small step stool to get her five-foot frame high enough above the table to work easily, without making her taller assistants bend over.

She takes a scalpel and makes a four cm incision in Claudia’s chest. Next, she cuts the breastbone open with a small saw and puts retractors in place to hold the ribs apart. The first object Dr. G encounters inside Claudia’s chest is the thymus gland, a small, flesh-colored organ. It has some minor involvement with the lymphatic system, but it gets in the way of open-heart surgery, and you can live without it. So the gland is removed and discarded.

Dr. G takes an electronic scalpel called a “Bovie,” which cauterizes as it moves through tissue, keeping bleeding to a minimum. She cuts the pericardium, the sac-like membrane containing fluid that lubricates the heart. The pericardium has extra meaning for Claudia. Dr. G precisely excises a small portion of the sac and places it in a dish containing 0.6% glutaraldehyde, a preservative fluid. She’ll use this patch later to close the VSD, the hole between Claudia’s ventricles that failed to seal itself properly at birth. She works around the small space filled with tiny body parts, freeing up the aorta and the pulmonary arteries from the underlying tissue. Claudia has been given heparin, an anticoagulant, so that her blood is less likely to clot when it goes through the pump. Dr. G inserts cannulae, small tubes, into the aorta and the vena cavae. The other ends of these tubes are attached to the pump, connecting to Claudia’s circulatory system. Because Claudia has very small blood vessels, the work is delicate and precise, and the tubes they need for this bypass, like the vessels in Claudia’s chest, are extremely narrow. Her cannulae are smaller than the width of a ballpoint pen.

The mood in the OR shifts at various moments. Dr. G has been casually introducing me to the OR team while routine work is going on — as routine as heart surgery can be. But when the cutting starts, the room goes quiet. Dr. G hovers over the small body on the table, staring down into the chest she has cut open. The view from the camera attached to her loupes doesn’t shake on the OR monitors. She’s a human tripod.

The perfusionists are cooling Claudia’s body down to 28 degrees Celsius, 82.4 Fahrenheit, to slow her metabolism and protect her heart. Hypothermia lowers the amount of oxygen the brain requires, giving the surgeons time to perform the needed repairs. They aid this chilling process by turning the temperature in the OR down to 64 degrees, so cold that several people drape their shoulders with blankets from a nearby warmer.

Dr. G clamps the aorta, and blood stops flowing to Claudia’s heart. Dr. G tells the perfusionists to run the cardioplegia, a solution of chemicals inducing cardiac arrest. In order to operate on the heart they must intentionally cause something that usually kills when it happens on its own. The cardioplegia solution includes potassium chloride, one of the chemicals used in lethal injection executions. Claudia’s heart stops beating and the blood exits her vena cavae into the bypass machine for oxygen, returning to her body through the cannula inserted just above the clamp on the aorta. Her heart and lungs have been turned off. There’s no more beeping or EKG activity on her monitor. She has flat-lined. When the patient goes on pump the heart is like a water balloon with the water let out. It changes in shape from full and throbbing to flat and motionless. The only way to repair Claudia’s heart is to stop it and empty it.

The first task is to examine the heart to see if the preoperative diagnosis is correct. Dr. G uses delicate instruments to retract portions of the tricuspid valve and examine the extent of the defect of the ventricular septum, the wall between the two ventricles. She determines the exact size and shape of the VSD and trims the segment of pericardium she saved earlier in preservative. She cuts miniscule pieces of the pericardial tissue and sutures them along the walls of the VSD, creating anchor points for the actual covering. Each suturing is an intricate dance of fingers and forceps, needle and thread. Dr. G works with a small, hooked needle, grasping it with forceps, inserting the needle through the tissue, releasing and re-gripping with the forceps, pulling the hair-thin suture through, using a forceps in her other hand to re-grip the needle again and repeat. The pericardial tissue being sewn over the VSD has to be secure, and it has to stand up to the pressure of blood pumping through Claudia’s heart at the end of the operation. This isn’t like repairing knee ligaments, which can rest without use and heal slowly. Claudia’s heart is going to restart at the end of this operation, and whatever has been sewn into it has to hold, and work, the first time. The VSD repair involves cautious work around the tricuspid valve, and their proximity is a concern because the valve opens and closes along the ventricular septum with each beat. Dr. G and her team find that it’s preferable to actually divide the cords of the tricuspid valve to better expose the VSD. After the patch is fully secured, the tricuspid valve is repaired.

Things don’t go as smoothly during the attempt to repair the pulmonary valve. When Dr. G looks inside Claudia’s heart she discovers that the pulmonary valve is not nearly large enough, and it’s malformed. It only has two flaps where there should be three. She repairs it by what she later says is “just putting in a little transannular patch.”

Here’s what it’s like to “just” put a transannular patch on the pulmonary artery of a child as small as Claudia:

First, take a piece of well-cooked elbow macaroni. Tuck it away in a bowl of pasta that has a bit of residual marinara sauce still floating around in it. Take several different sized knitting needles. Slowly, without damaging the macaroni, insert one of the knitting needles into it to see if you can gauge the width of the macaroni on which you’re operating. Then using a delicate, incredibly sharp blade, cut a small hole in the piece of elbow macaroni, maybe a little larger than the height of one of the letters on the page in front of you. Now use pliers to pick up a small needle with thread as fine as human hair in it. Use another pliers to pick up a tiny piece of skin that looks like it was cut from an olive, so thin that light shines through it. Take the needle and sew the olive skin on to the hole you’ve cut in the piece of macaroni. When you’re finished sewing, hook up the piece of macaroni to a comparable size tube coming from the faucet on the kitchen sink, and see if you can run some water through the macaroni without the patch leaking.

That’s the food analogy. Those are the dimensions Dr. G worked with as she patched Claudia’s pulmonary artery. She made it a little wider to give it a chance to work more efficiently, to transport more blood with less blockage, requiring less work for the right ventricle so that the built-up heart muscle could return to a more normal size. It wasn’t the repair she’d planned to make, but it was the most suitable under the circumstances, and it gave Claudia her best chance.

Before restoring Claudia’s natural circulation, the team makes certain that no air is in the heart or the tubes from the pump, because it could be pumped up to the brain. Air in the brain is not a safe thing. When all the repairs are completed, Claudia is rewarmed and weaned from the bypass machine. She was on pump for 114 minutes and her aorta was clamped for 77 minutes, not an extraordinary length of time in either case.

Claudia’s heart starts up on its own, with a strong rhythm. With her heart beating again the beeps, and the peaks and valleys on her monitor return. All is well. An echo technician wheels a portable machine into the OR and puts a sensor down Claudia’s throat where it lodges behind her heart to perform a transesophageal echo —a more detailed view than the normal, external echo. Everything looks good. Chest drains are put in to handle post-operative drainage, and wires are placed for external pacemakers, should anything go wrong with Claudia’s heart rhythm during her recovery from surgery. Dr. G draws Claudia’s ribcage back together with stainless steel wires, perfectly fastened and tightly tucked down.

Claudia and the surgical team return to the CVICU, and Dr. G monitors her reentry to the unit, making sure the nurses understand Claudia’s condition and the proper procedures to be followed for the next 24 hours. From there, Dr. G enters a small room tucked away from the noise of the unit to meet with the family. Claudia’s mother, father, and aunt are waiting. Dr. G sees Mom wiping tears away.

“Are you crying? Oh, no, no need to be crying, everything is fine.” Her wide smile reassured Mom, who put away her tissues.

She tells the family what she did, and why she did it, using a serviceable mixture of medical and lay terms.

“I got in and saw the valve and it was really abnormal,” Dr. G tells the family, “really, really small. It only had two leaflets, and that’s not good, it’s supposed to have three. So I did a little transannular patch through a mini-sternotomy, which is really good for her — much smaller scar. Her echocardiogram was beautiful. There’s no hole where we closed her VSD. We know there’s another small, little hole in the muscle, but we all agreed that because it’s in the muscle it’s going to close on its own, so we won’t worry about it. My plan is, once she wakes up later today, to get the breathing tube out.”

There is a noticeable sense of relief evident on the family faces, even though one or two of the terms may have been unfamiliar. Then, comes the caveat.

“The arteries that go to each lung are a little bit small. She’ll need to have a pulmonary valve at some point. Some people need one not so long from now. Some people go a good portion of their lifetime without needing one. My brother had this same surgery when he was little, and he still hasn’t had a new valve put in yet. But he will some day.”

The simple fact that her brother had similar surgery seems to put the family a little more at ease. They know Dr. G has been on both sides of the equation, and she can relate to their anxiety.

 

From there it was off to a brainstorming session with the architects designing new cardiac surgery suites. They wanted staff input on what should go where, how far the doors should be from the operating tables, etc. In the OR, a matter of a few feet can mean the difference between life and death.

Lunch came at 3:30, which can actually be early in Dr. G’s world. She debriefed herself from the surgery as we ate, describing to me what had taken place. She would later dictate all this for the official surgery report in medical terms such as, “The right-sided pericardium was fenestrated to approximately 1 cm anterior to the right phrenic nerve.” It may be true that “the heart has reasons which reason knows not of.” It also has a language that’s pretty hard to understand as well.

I told Dr. G this was my first time in the OR and I couldn’t believe I’d just seen a kid’s heart beating inside her chest.

“You’ve never seen that before?” she asked me.

I reminded her that I’d spent the last 30 years as a sportscaster.

“It’s not exactly the kind of thing you see in the Dallas Cowboys locker room.”

She was genuinely surprised at my sense of wonder.

The rest of her day consisted of phone calls, emails, consults with other surgeons, afternoon rounds through the CVICU (which move more quickly than morning rounds, as these are just for checking up on each patient one more time), and the never-ending battle with paperwork.

On rounds at 7:30 tomorrow morning, Dr. G will check up on Claudia to see how she’s doing. That’s assuming she makes it through the night easily. If problems develop, it’s likely Dr. G could spend the night here with her.

“We eat stress like M&Ms in here,” said Dave Bartoo, her surgical tech this day.

This is where Dr. Kristine Guleserian repairs the tiny hearts of tiny children.

Come on in.

 

 

About the Author

Mark Oristano

Mark Oristano has been a professional writer/journalist since the age of 16.

After growing up in suburban New York, Oristano moved to Texas in 1970 to attend Texas Christian University. A major in Mass Communications, Mark was hired by WFAA-TV in 1973 as a sports reporter, the start of a 30-year career covering the NFL and professional sports.

Mark has worked with notable broadcasters including Verne Lundquist, Oprah Winfrey and as a sportscaster for the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network and Houston Oilers Radio Network. He has covered Super Bowls and other major sports events throughout his career. He was part of Ron Chapman’s legendary morning show on KVIL-FM in Dallas for nearly 20 years.

In 2002 Oristano left broadcasting to pursue his creative interests, starting a portrait photography business and becoming involved in theater including summer productions with Shakespeare Dallas. He follows his daughter Stacey’s film career who has appeared in such shows as Friday Night Lights and Bunheads.

A veteran stage actor in Dallas, Mark Oristano was writer and performer for the acclaimed one-man show “And Crown Thy Good: A True Story of 9/11.”

Oristano authored his first book, A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America’s Favorite Game. A Sportcaster’s Guide offers inside tips about how to watch football, including stories from Oristano’s 30-year NFL career, a look at offense, defense and special teams, and cool things to say during the game to sound like a real fan.

In 2016 Oristano finished his second book, Surgeon’s Story, a true story about a surgeon that takes readers inside the operating room during open heart surgery. His second book is described as a story of dedication, talent, training, caring, resilience, guts and love.

In 1997, Mark began volunteering at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, working in the day surgery recovery room. It was at Children’s that Mark got to know Kristine Guleserian, MD, first to discuss baseball, and later, to learn about the physiology, biology, and mystery of the human heart. That friendship led to a joint book project, Surgeon’s Story, about Kristine’s life and career.

Mark is married and has two adult children and two grandchildren.

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First Chapter Reveal: The Feet Say Run by Daniel A. Blum

The Feet Say Run

Title: THE FEET SAY RUN
Author: Daniel A. Blum
Publisher: Gabriel’s Horn Press
Pages: 349
Genre: Literary Fiction

At the age of eighty-five, Hans Jaeger finds himself a castaway among a group of survivors on a deserted island. What is my particular crime? he asks. Why have I been chosen for this fate? And so he begns his extraordinary chronicle.

It would be an understatement to say he has lived a full life. He has grown up in Nazi Germany and falls in love with Jewish girl. He fights for the Germans on two continents, watches the Reich collapse spectacularly into occupation and starvation, and marries his former governess. After the war he goes on wildflower expeditions in the Alps, finds solace among prostitutes while his wife lay in a coma, and marries a Brazilian chambermaid in order to receive a kidney from her.

By turns sardonic and tragic and surreal, Hans’s story is the story of all of the insanity, irony and horror of the modern world itself.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

First Chapter:

If there is an actual name to this island, it is unknown to us. We have chosen to call it Illyria. We’re not exactly sure where the name comes from. Some book perhaps. But it no longer matters. It has become our own—mythic and melodic-sounding. As though, if we keep calling this place Illyria, keep pretending it has some magical allure, people will want to come. Someone will come rescue us.I am not complaining, particularly. Well, maybe I am. But I probably shouldn’t be. So far fate has proven a fair enough agent. The beaches are sandy, the water clear and turquoise, the reefs plentiful. The island is wreathed in a soothing white foam. On shore there is the shade of palms and palmettos and eucalyptus. At least we think it is eucalyptus. We call it eucalyptus. Maybe it is just some kind of fancy magnolia though. Who the hell knows?

There are fruits in relative abundance—though what they are, we aren’t sure. Some are purple. Others are yellow. Some vaguely sweet, others sharp and abrasive on the roof of the mouth. There is a variety of coconut that grows in conjoined pairs to look like the buttocks of an African woman. We call this ass-fruit. When I offered some to Conrad, he said to me, “I’m not into that shit.” As though I were suggesting something perverse. As though fear of this fetish object outweighed the need for sustenance.

“What shit are you not into?” I asked.

“Ass fruit,” he said. “Ass.”

“It’s not real ass, Conrad,” I said.

“Well, it’s not a real fruit either,” he said.

“What do you think it is then?” I asked.

“A joke,” he said. “A sick joke. Like the rest of this place.”

 

God is playing a joke on us. That is a common theme here. It was funny the first time someone said it. Now it is just annoying, like a child saying, “knock-knock” to you over and over, more and more emphatically, as you refuse, just as emphatically, to ask, “Who’s there?”

The other common theme here is that none of it is real. We all died when the boat went down. And this is all just a dream. Conrad suggests this a couple of times a day, each time choosing a different angle, a different inflection, in a vain attempt to keep the joke fresh. If you suggest, gently, that this joke no longer strikes you as uproarious, Conrad will immediately jump into a long denial that he is joking. “I’m not fucking kidding,” he will tell you. “I really mean it. I think this is all a dream.”

Perhaps Conrad is right. Because honestly, I did not believe, until my current predicament, that deserted islands still existed. I thought these islands were all owned by former tennis pros and former tyrants, or inhabited by caricatures of primitive tribes who sell carved bamboo flutes to flabby tourists in checkered shorts.

If it is a dream, if this is my Land of Oz and I am soon to wake up, then it is curious how, from time to time, little bits of Kansas wash up upon our shores. Whenever we wander further down the beach, away from our settlement, we find Styrofoam packing peanuts, Styrofoam bowls, #3 plastic take-out containers with their familiar, triangular recycle symbols (apparently the previous owners of these containers ignored this particular environmental imperative).

The restaurant take-out containers are the most distressing. More mockery from The Almighty. More of his levity. Ha ha. We bring them back to our camp and wonder what twenty-first century foods they once held. Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken or Shrimp Korma. From some restaurant from the other world. Thank you, God, for delivering us this practical joke. Ha ha. You’re fucking hi-lar-ious.

In truth though, these containers have become invaluable to us. We eat out of them, wash them out at the little pool in Piss Brook, store our meager salvaged supplies in them. If there is truly one thing we should thank God for, it is those non-recycling sinners.

In our first days here, we found a means of killing a dove-like bird that is here in abundance. We creep up on it quietly, then all at once we start hurling rocks at it from all directions. It is the same low-tech technique the Iraqis used for shooting down American planes in our first Gulf War. Just throw up flak in every direction and hope something falls out of the sky. Actually that is something else that I am no longer sure is real. Gulf War I. In my current, delusive state, I am no longer clear whether it really happened, or was some very popular video game, and Gulf War II was just the long-awaited next release, with its improved graphics and better villains and four-and-a-half star rating. Perhaps, since we have been here, Gulf War III has broken out. Or been released.

But back to the doves. With the doves, this method worked once in every ten or twenty tries. Moreover, some of us were hit by rocks. Conrad compared us to a circular firing squad. And for the effort, we each got no more than a single bite of precious meat.

Frigate birds watch us from high overhead—out of range of our stone-age weapons. There are also pelicans and sandpipers along the coves. But the only other bird we have succeeded in slaughtering—a heron of some sort—tasted much like a discarded sneaker might taste. There are also lizards and little pencil-sized snakes, but thus far we have passed on these particular specialites de la region.

So much for Illyria’s fauna. Now a word or two on the topography. The interior has proven rocky, thick with vines, and difficult to penetrate. There is a single volcanic peak in the middle, which we call Mount Piss. We call it this because the streams that run down from it are of a yellowish, sepia color—piss water. This includes our drinking source, the much despised and much revered Piss Brook. It is probably just some dissolved mineral. Iron would turn it orange. Maybe zinc? Who knows. The taste is strong and unpleasant, but it is moderately cool, given our subtropical latitude. It is keeping us alive. Probably, if we could contact the civilized world, we could bottle it and sell it for its curative powers and make great mountains of money.

Our first shelter was rigged out of bamboo and palm fronds. It was set on the beach, and we soon learned there was no way to keep out the sand crabs. They came out in large numbers every evening. It would have been one thing if they scampered in from outside. But it was stranger than that. They just rose up through the floor of sand. They tunneled in, materialized among us, little uninvited sprites, climbed up out of the ground like the living dead and crawled across us as we slept.

“We’re not high enough above the water,” Cole said. “What if a storm comes up?”

“He’s just afraid of the sand crabs,” Conrad said to me, snickering.

“The first really high tide will wash us out,” Cole said, ignoring the snickers.

“He’s right,” Monique said. Although her vote meant little. She is Cole’s lover, and seemingly agrees with everything he says and does. If he becomes the de facto king of our little group of seven, which now seems likely, she will be our queen.

Our next shelter was built just above the beach, using a cliff face for one of the walls. It was roomier, and easier to close off from the creatures. It was quieter too, farther from the surf. But that was worse, in a way. Because now you heard all of the human sounds more precisely. Cole snoring. Gloria talking in her sleep. My own imperfectly muffled farts.

One night, a rain came and our new shelter was tested. At first we just felt a kind of mist, soft and cool, that had found its way through the thatch. But then it got heavier. Droplets.

There were groans. Curses. Aborted snores. Rustling.

And then it was no longer just droplets raining on us. It was the cliff itself. Mud from the cliff started slopping on us. Little shit bombs. Dripping through our roof. It was raining crap. “Fuck!” Conrad shouted. And it was an accusation, directed at Cole, who had chosen this location.

Another splat. Another curse. And then we were all up, groaning and cursing our miserable fate—surely the world’s very last castaways, on what is surely the world’s last desert island, somewhere mysteriously out of reach of our GPS-bound, cell-towered, trawler-traversed global village.

Maybe Conrad was right. God, that sadistic little prick, was playing some kind of joke on us. God was the house cat and we were his mouse and he was taunting his mouse over and over, carrying it and dropping it and picking it up again, half-swallowing it and regurgitating it and kicking it like a soccer ball, before finally disposing of it.

So it’s shitty metaphor. What can I say?

We got up in the middle of the night, abandoned the shelter, huddled together on the beach. We were sunburnt and bitten, chilled and miserable. Hungry, filthy, greasy-haired, exhausted. Tears mixed with the downpour; our pathetic, mortal cries with the thunder of heavens.

After a while the rain stopped. We sighed, calmed, leaned against one another. Relief. Then it started again. There were no more tears by then. Just silent misery. Half-sleep. Each of us with his or her own private thoughts. My thoughts were of Dawn. (I am capitalizing Dawn not as a statement about the mystical meaning of sunrise. In fact I am not referring to the sunrise at all. I am referring to one of our company, Dawn, the youngest in our party—a nineteen-year-old girl who had won my sympathy. But I am getting ahead of myself.)

When Dawn finally came (sorry, this time I am referring to the sunrise), we straggled up and pretended—as one does on a red-eye flight when the lights pop on—that we’d actually had a night’s sleep. Only there was no stewardess, no orange juice and coffee, no magical, mile-high toilet to whisk away the miserable night’s rumblings in a screaming blue swirl.

Just another day here on Illyria.

This is my question about aboriginal peoples. Did they always feel as short of sleep, as exhausted and worn out, as we always feel? Or did they find a way to sleep through all of those night sounds and crawling things, hunger pangs and gas-emitting neighbors?

Our third shelter was set on a long, flat rock, above the waves and a half-mile down the beach. It is interesting how quickly one develops a sense of home. Just moving that half-mile seemed unsettling. An unwelcome abandoning of the familiar. We filled empty ass-fruit shells with sand and carried them up to our rock to soften the floor for sleeping. And by adding more overlapping layers of thatch than we had before, by covering it with a paste made from clay and eucalyptus sap, we managed to keep dry inside. We called our new residence Versailles.

By then, the inevitable had happened. Cole was our leader. We hadn’t exactly chosen him, and he had never asserted his authority directly. It just happened.

Was he wiser than the rest of us? More generous? Had he provided for us in some impressive way? No. He possessed what Human Resources questionnaires refer to as leadership qualities. And most of us, let’s face it, are natural followers.

It started with his suggestions. We should do this. We should do that. We should set the shelter closer to the brook. The women should gather the fruit. “You!” he would say, narrowing his eyes at Andreas, “Work on finding firewood.” It was as though he had been waiting all his life to play this role, to have the chance to tell someone to gather up the firewood. And of course it was natural to direct his first order to Andreas, who had been in his employ on the yacht before it went down. And then from there it was easy to direct “suggestions” to the rest of us.

We are a pack of primates. And Cole is our alpha male. Tall, burly, handsome in a bushy-browed sort of way. Real estate developer in his previous life. Resourceful man of the jungle in our present life. Dipshit in both lives.

With his background in real estate, so he insinuated, it was only natural that he should oversee the construction of the shelters. And though the connection seemed tenuous, nobody challenged him. Conrad, who in our previous life was Cole’s cousin, despises him. For myself, I dislike him as well, but more or less indifferently. I see that he is only of average intelligence, perhaps slightly more self-centered than what might be considered average. He is lacking in irony, introspection, humor, really anything that might make one actually like him. But I am too old to worry about these things. I have seen too much of humanity—and at its very worst. Let someone else figure it out. Just tell me what you need me to do and leave me alone and don’t ask me any questions.

Our next construction project was a dove coop. Gloria, our kindly widow (yes, dear reader, it goes without saying that our group is made up of “types,” a microcosm, as it were, of humanity at large, and that one of these types, inevitably, must be our kindly old lady), had the ingenious idea of raising doves rather than just throwing rocks at them.

“Good plan,” Cole said, nodding wisely, and somehow managing, in his nod, to demonstrate the importance of his judgment. His ratification.

It was a big step for us. Our move from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian economy. But it was something else also. A recognition that we might be here for a while. That we had to plan for a future. And for me it was a recognition of this:

I am done running. I am here now. There is nowhere left to go.

 

With great effort, we caught three of these birds alive—surrounding them and dropping a heap of branches on them. We put them in our coop.

“What if they’re all the same sex?” I asked.

“I don’t think they’re all the same sex,” Cole said.

“Why not?”

“That one looks like a girl.”

“Why do you say it looks like a girl?” I asked, wondering if Cole had noticed a wiggle to its tail, a shape to its figure.

“It’s more colorful,” Cole said.

“The male birds are more colorful than the females,” I said. I am no John James Audubon, no Roger Tory Peterson, but I believe I am right in this.

“Either way,” Cole said.

We turned the birds over, looked around their tails, but could find no conclusive evidence of maleness or femaleness. Then one morning Conrad called us over. Two of the doves were dead. The third, the apparent victor, seemed to have been bloodied.

“Maybe they were all males,” I said.

“Or maybe with doves it’s the girls that do the fighting,” Cole said.

I was skeptical of this, caught Conrad’s eye.

“Just because the males are colorful, doesn’t mean they’re girly,” Conrad said.

“So much for doves being symbols of peace,” I said.

“Unless of course they aren’t really doves,” Dawn offered up.

We all looked at her. It was rare for Dawn to speak up among the group.

“True,” I said. Because it’s not as though Dr. Doolittle is here with us and can just ask him if they are doves. Or Crocodile Dundee. Or whomever. What we know, or think we know, about the rain forest, we have learned from the packaging on our health supplements and our beauty aids and our enviro-friendly paper towels. The TV shows that bring wild nature into our living room. Here, high in the cloud forest, the spectacled monkey is tending to her young. The little ones will need to learn much if they are to survive the harsh winter. Actually, scratch that. No harsh winters in the cloud forest. But you understand my point.

Though bloodied, the dead doves still had meat on them. We brushed off the ants and flies, washed the corpses off in the stream, put them on the barbeque spit.

In the next days, we caught more doves. This time we observed the brush they pecked at in the wild and brought them piles of it. And we separated the doves into pairs that appeared to be of opposite sex. And lo! Dove eggs started to appear. Like magic. Like Easter eggs. Like…actual…eggs!

In time, one of this second set of doves died too. This time though, apparently, it was from natural causes (strange phrase: natural causes. Because what could be more rooted in nature than being pecked to death?) But we nonetheless had eggs. And while we ate some, we left some of them alone. And one day we witnessed the miracle we had dreamed of, but never quite believed we would see—a little beak pecked through one of our eggs, pecked its way out into the world. Within a couple of weeks we had a little collection of chicks. We had done it! Our poultry farm had been born!

Again we returned to our construction. Our next project was a little shelter along a rocky outcrop, to protect us from the sun when we were fishing and crabbing. And then Cole and Monique decided they wanted to sleep in privacy. So we built a second shelter alongside Versailles that we called Fontainebleau.

“Why,” Conrad grumbled, “should we be putting all this time into another shelter just so that dirtbag and that douchebag can go at it in private?”

I wondered what you get when you mate a dirtbag and a douchebag. There must be a good punch line. Please write me if you think of one. 1 Delirium Terrace. Illyria. Earth. 02483-7676. to insure proper handling, be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. And a life raft.

“Well,” I said, “the next shelter we build after that could be for you.”

“Yeah,” Conrad said, “but it’s not like there’s anyone I’m likely to be screwing.”

“Well don’t you want to be able to pleasure yourself in private?” I asked.

Conrad looked uncomfortable at this, but said nothing.

“And won’t it be nice to be rid of them?” I asked.

Personally, I was relieved when Cole and Monique moved out. It had grown tiresome, those nights they waited until they thought everyone was asleep and then started moving and rustling, whispering and slurping. And then those guttural sounds, like a pair of native frogs. Only nobody was ever really sleeping during their nocturnal choruses. We were all just pretending we were asleep. All too uncomfortable to say anything about it. To interrupt them.

“I think it actually turns them on,” Conrad used to snarl. “They know we know they’re going at it. And they know we know they know.”

“It’s difficult,” I say.

“I’m saying something next time.”

And he did. A couple of nights later we started to hear it again. Unmistakable. Rustle. Breath. More rustling. Sighing. Frog calls.

“Hey Monique,” Conrad called. “Can I get some of that?”

Suddenly the sounds stopped. Silence. The whole shelter went silent. Pretended to sleep. Like even Monique and Cole were asleep and the only one awake was Conrad and nobody had heard anything at all—the grunting or Conrad or anything. Monique and Cole frozen in flagrante delicto. A final rustle. Monique discreetly slipping off her little pole of Cole. Then more silence. Everyone pretending sleep. Until we actually were asleep. One by one. Like in that children’s story.

 

Goodnight Cole.

And goodnight Pole.

And goodnight, o empty soul.

Goodnight stars.

And goodnight air.

Goodnight misery everywhere.

 

Two days later Cole began organizing work on Fontainebleau. He must have waited an extra day so it wouldn’t be as obvious why he was doing it—that it was related directly to Conrad’s comment. Since we were all pretending we had never heard it.

Bit by bit, Cole has seemed to be developing the island. I imagine that, if a rescue ship ever comes, while the rest of us are celebrating, weeping for joy, he is going to take them for a tour, show them all the improvements, try to sell his development for a profit.

For Conrad, the last straw was one morning when Cole put up a great big bamboo cross over our little encampment.

“It’s embarrassing,” Conrad complained, pulling me aside.

“Embarrassing before whom?” I asked.

Conrad thought about this. “What would a pilot flying over us think, looking down and seeing that?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“They’d think we’re…we’re fucking missionaries.”

“I haven’t noticed any planes,” I said.

“Well, it’s still embarrassing.”

“I have given up on embarrassment,” I said. “At my age it is pointless. I am who I am. Let the pilots think we’re missionaries then.”

“We’re castaways!” Conrad said, as though asserting membership in some privileged class.

“Doesn’t it strike you as odd,” I asked, “that we are a thousand miles away from civilization, and you have brought with you to this place that one absurdity of living in a society. Self-consciousness? Embarrassment?”

Conrad didn’t hear me, though. He looked off in disgust. “What gives him the right? He just does whatever he wants. Without asking anyone. After all that shit about making decisions as a group. I knew it was all bullshit.”

“Just think of it as a couple of big sticks,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be a crucifix. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“It crosses the line,” Conrad said. “You know what it is? It’s state-sponsored religion. How does he know we all believe? How does he know some of us aren’t atheists? Or Jews? Or Hindus?”

Conrad, in his past life, was a labor lawyer or something. An advocate of some poorly-paid group, or class, or underclass. “You don’t look like a Hindu,” I told him.

“That’s stereotyping,” Conrad said.

I considered this, puzzled, but didn’t pursue it. “Maybe you should talk to him about it,” I said.

“Right in the middle of the camp!” Conrad exclaimed, still smarting. “That’s the problem. It’s like…government fucking property. He should have put it up somewhere else. In front of his shelter.”

From what I can tell, the Sovereign Nation of Illyria is about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, three of each with one independent—your humble chronicler. We have no social safety net, no taxes, a total lack of laws that would make a libertarian proud. On the other hand, our foreign policy is aimed at peaceful coexistence with our neighbors. And we consider ourselves to be pro-environment. For example, there is no peeing in Piss Brook. Strictly enforced. And we have started husbanding our excrement for the precious resource that it is, and putting it to use it in our farming experiments. You see how this place is the very inverse of our past life? Civilization in negative? Here our very stools—the quintessential waste product—are a measurable portion of our net worth.

It is remarkable how seamlessly our political disputes have moved from our former life into this one. Cole and Conrad still argue about tax policy, for example. And what to do with illegal immigrants. Although, should we die here, as I assume we will, it is unlikely any of this will ever matter again. You see the absurdity, the futility of these arguments we engage in? We have no problem of illegal immigration on Illyria. Nobody has shown up offering to do our laundry or to bag our groceries.

I find myself wondering: if a mutiny were to occur, with whom would my loyalty reside? True, I don’t like Cole. I don’t respect him. Only I don’t think Conrad would be a very good leader. Of course, Conrad and Cole are not the only two possibilities to lead us. There is Andreas—shy, handsome boy of twenty who had been the deckhand and cabin-boy on the yacht. He is bright and level-headed, from what I see, and the only one of us who does not appear to be suffering, who seems to see this as just an extension of his summer, a further break from college. What comforts does one need, after all, at age twenty?

Or perhaps we should try a matriarchal structure, like the Samoans had. Choose Gloria, chattering old lady, as our chieftain. Gloria is perhaps seventy, a widow, grandmother to a dozen grandchildren. She smiles when she speaks of them. The oldest is a lawyer with the Justice Department. The next oldest has a very high grade point average at Temple University. She had been knitting a sweater for her youngest grandchild when the boat went down, and somehow the wool made it onto the lifeboat. She washed it out and dried it and has continued with her project.

One night I am next to her by the fire as she holds the sweater up, imagines her grandchild inside it, considers the proportions.

“Very handsome,” I say.

“Yes,” she says. “Too bad he will never have it.”

“If you believe that,” I say, “then why continue with the sweater?”

“Well, I have to do something,” she says.

“Of course.”

“You have children? Grandchildren?” she asks.

“I have a son.”

She looks understandingly into my eyes, as though she knows what I feel. Only how could she know? “He must be suffering at losing you,” she says.

“I haven’t seen him in thirty-five years,” I say.

“Oh,” she says with a start, and politely changes the subject. “I think it must be harder on the young ones. I mean, we’ve had our time. Right?”

I have to admit I resent slightly Gloria’s intimations that we have something in common in our accumulated years. That we must share the same values. I must be as good, as upstanding, as resigned to death as she is. Gloria worked as a cafeteria lady in a local elementary school, was our cook on the yacht, and is our cook again on the island. She has a stocky stature, and I always imagine her in her white cafeteria uniform, arms folded under her shapeless, megalithic breasts, looking out over the children. The hairnet and sagging stockings, the cakes of flour-white make-up.

She has a slap-your-hands-together, let’s-get-down-to-business kind of spirit about her, is chipper in a way that I find unnervingly mindless, as though she is dealing with the seven-year-olds at her school, and—aside from some greater understanding of responsibility—is much at their level. I see her helping out on some field trip, there in the back of the bus, happily, even joyously, singing Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall with the children. I can safely say that nobody here on the island has warmed to her in a way that I imagine the singing children might have.

Has Gloria considered me as a possible object of romantic interest? Clearly, I am not capable of this, not merely because we have nothing particularly in common, but because my heart already belongs to another.

I have yet to say much of myself, so let me offer a few words here. I am a man in his eighties. My name is Hans. The hairs on my head have been reduced to a few scattered strands, sparse as the hairs on a coconut or the hairs on a testicle. I am a refugee, a wanderer, a retired refrigerator salesman, human organ dealer, warrior on the wrong side of history. I am in love with a nineteen-year-old girl. I am speaking, of course, of the aforementioned Dawn.

Dawn, Dawn, Dawn.

Dawn is Cole’s step-daughter. Of course, if the others knew my feelings for her they would be shocked. Or if they weren’t shocked, they would at least feel obliged to pretend to be shocked.

And yet it is true. I am in love with a nineteen-year-old child. And what of it? Why should such feelings be wrong in an eighty-five-year-old and not in a twenty-year-old? At what age does it become wrong to love? Wrong to yearn for youthful beauty? Or do you doubt that I am capable? Let me say that I have been assured by professionals, by those who should know, that I have the genitalia of a much younger man. My erection is as firm as a senator’s handshake. So should I not endeavor to contribute my genes to our little colony before I expire? Should our gene pool include only those offspring of our alpha male, as though we were a troupe of gibbons? Do we really want five Cole juniors for the next generation, five male models, admiring themselves in the reflection in the cove, wondering who is the fairest of them all? Or worse still, all vying to be the leader, dividing up the island, buying and selling their beachfront real estate?

I did not choose this predicament. I am sleeping just a few feet away from a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl. Am I not still a man?

 

It was not supposed to end like this, with us huddled together on a beach somewhere, wondering who is going to die first. How did I find myself on this excursion, after those years ensconced, alone, in my villa by the sea? I was living the life of a recluse, an old salt, an old masturbator, when one morning, on a day just like any other….

Scratch that. I am not ready to tell about that. We will get there. In due time. But now I see I must go back further. I must say something more of myself.

About the Author

Dan Blum

Daniel A. Blum grew up in New York, attended Brandeis University and currently lives outside of Boston with his family. His first novel Lisa33 was published by Viking in 2003. He has been featured in Poets and Writers magazine, Publisher’s Weekly and most recently, interviewed in Psychology Today.

Daniel writes a humor blog, The Rotting Post, that has developed a loyal following.

His latest release is the literary novel, The Feet Say Run.

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First Chapter Reveal: Alan 2 by Bruce Forciea

Alan 2

Title: ALAN 2
Author: Bruce Forciea
Publisher: Open Books
Pages: 278
Genre: Cyber-Thriller

A brilliant artificial intelligence (AI) scientist, Dr. Alan Boyd, develops a new program that integrates part of his brain with a computer’s operating system. The program, Alan 2, can anticipate a user’s needs and automatically perform many tasks. A large software company, International Microsystems (IM) desperately wants the program and tempts Dr. Boyd with huge sums of money, but when Dr. Boyd refuses their offer, IM sabotages his job, leaving him in a difficult financial situation.

Dr. Boyd turns to Alan 2 for an answer to his financial problems, and Alan 2 develops plan Alpha, which is a cyber robin hood scheme to rob from rich corporations via a credit card scam.

Alan and his girlfriend Kaitlin travel to Mexico where they live the good life funded by plan Alpha, but the FBI cybercrime division has discovered part of Alan 2’s cyber escapades, and two agents, Rachel and Stu, trace the crime through the TOR network and Bitcoin.

Alan 2 discovers the FBI is on to them and advises Alan and Kaitlin to change locations. A dramatic chase ensues taking them to St. Thomas, a cruise ship bound for Spain, and finally to Morocco.

Will they escape detection? They will if Alan 2’s Plan Beta can be implemented in time. Or is ‘Plan B’ something altogether different than it appears to be, something wholly sinister that will affect the entire population of the world?

Watch the trailer at YouTube!

Purchase Information:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Publisher

 

First Chapter:

Bang! Bang! Bang! The flimsy apartment door rattled on its frame with every blow.

“Kaitlin, don’t even think of answering that!” Alan growled through his teeth.

Kaitlin shrugged her shoulders and moved away from the door toward the living room where Alan sat at a table full of electronics gear.

“Dr. Boyd, are you home?” shouted the voice on the other side of the door in an Indian accent. “I want to talk to you. I have a very good offer. Please, Dr. Boyd, it will only take a minute, and I think you will be quite pleased with what we have for you.”

“Go away; leave us alone,” Alan shouted. “I don’t want your offer.”

“But Dr. Boyd, we do pay very well. We are great admirers of your work.”

“I don’t care and I don’t want your money,” said Alan. “Now go away before I call the police.”

“Think about it, Dr. Boyd; I will be in touch.”

“Incessant bastards,” said Alan as his attention turned back to his work. “I’ll cherish the day they leave us alone. Kaitlin, come over here and help me with this injection.”

Alan rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt while Kaitlin picked up the syringe containing the gadolinium contrast. She pinched an ample section of skin and plunged the syringe into his arm. The needle stung like an angry wasp, causing Alan to grimace.

“Can’t you be gentle? You’ve done enough of these by now to get the hang of it. You shouldn’t jam it in like that!”

Kaitlin rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I think I do pretty well considering I don’t have any medical training,” she said while jerking the syringe out of his arm.

“Okay, okay. Just take your position at the console.”

She sighed, plopped onto a small task chair and rolled over to a makeshift wooden table holding a desktop PC and a large high-definition monitor. She had been through this process countless times before.

Alan entered a large metallic structure in the center of the living room. The box-like structure, made of aluminum, dominated the rectangular room which was devoid of furniture. Its dull silver hue contrasted the blank walls. He closed the door and climbed into a chair that looked like it came from an early Gemini spacecraft. The stiff plastic chair, sandwiched between two large metal discs, afforded a good deal of postural support but little comfort. He sat down and slowly slid his head between the thick metal and plastic arms of a large U-shaped device. There was just enough clearance as he wriggled his head to achieve the perfect position. He pulled down on a large metallic tube suspended above him so that it surrounded his entire head. He positioned the tube so that the rectangular slit lined up with his visual axis, allowing for a line of sight to the monitor located outside of the tube. The small fMRI scanner had taken a good deal of time and money to cobble together, but it was the only way to capture the needed information from his brain.

Alan viewed Kaitlin through a small round Plexiglas window in the door and signaled with a thumbs-up to begin the scan. She waved and entered the start sequence into the keyboard, sat back, slid an unlit cigarette between her lips and picked up a copy of People Magazine. He pushed his head back against the headrest and adjusted the monitor suspended on a boom so he could see the screen. The machine first hummed as it powered up and then made periodic knocking sounds.

Alan focused his attention on the monitor while the scanner began its first sequence. The monitor displayed a series of images designed to evoke emotions. Each image popped onto the screen and persisted for ten seconds before another replaced it. There was a small child holding hands with his father, a mother holding a baby, a couple admiring their child in a crib, and many more. All the images had been chosen to trigger emotional responses, causing changes in blood flow to certain areas of Alan’s brain. An image would appear for a few seconds and then the machine would complete a scan. The process repeated until all one hundred twenty-seven images had been displayed. The entire cycle then repeated two more times with random sequences of the same set of images.

This would be the final scan involving diffusion tensor imaging of Alan’s frontal lobes. Previous scans had involved the study of responses to a variety of topics. In addition to emotions such as sadness, joy, anxiety, and fear, there were cognitive studies that examined Alan’s problem solving techniques as well as his reaction to global events. In all, there were over one hundred fifty scans taken over the past two years.

About the Author

Bruce Forciea

Bruce Forciea is known for taking complex scientific concepts and making them easy to understand through engaging stories and simple explanations. He is an Amazon Best Selling Author and author of several books on healing and biology, along with science fiction thriller novels. His fiction writing draws on a diverse and eclectic background that includes touring and performing with a professional show, designing digital circuits, treating thousands of patients, and teaching. His stories include complex plots with unexpected twists and turns, quirky characters, and a reality very similar to our own. Dr. Forciea lives in Wisconsin and loves writing during the solitude of the long Northern winters.

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