Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-Seven

The television in Marguerite’s living room had been switched on, but neither she nor Connor paid any attention to it.  A vintage black & white horror film from the 1930’s flickered unwatched across the screen as Marguerite, dressed in a terrycloth bathrobe and with deep rings under her eyes, paced back and forth across the carpet.  Connor, holding an unopened can of beer in his hand, sat on the edge of the sofa and watched helplessly.  It frightened him to see how badly Marguerite’s condition had deteriorated in just the past few days.
“I’m still having the same horrible dreams as before,” announced Marguerite, “even though I’m not part of the experiment anymore and don’t have those metal discs attached to my head when I go to bed.  Everything is just the same as it was.  I’m afraid now to fall asleep.  I don’t dare to close my eyes.  I’m sure those awful creatures are only waiting for that to happen.  That will give them their chance.”  On the television beside her, a vampire dressed in a long opera cape stepped from a closet and advanced on a young blonde woman who stared at him transfixed.
Connor heard the fear in Marguerite’s voice and wished he were able to do more to console her.  He searched his mind for some comforting formula but in the end could think of nothing useful to say.  “I only found out myself last night that the metal discs and the electric shocks are no longer needed to induce lucid dreaming, at least not for us.”
“Why not?  I thought it was the electricity that caused the dreams to be so vivid in the first place.”
“Maybe at first it was, but now apparently not.  I can’t tell you why that is though.  Perhaps once we’ve learned to dream lucidly it becomes a skill that we’re able to practice on our own without the need of any outside help and without even willing ourselves to do it.”
“There’s got to be more to it than that.”  Marguerite’s voice was emphatic.  “It’s those creatures that follow me when I’m asleep that are causing this to happen.  I’m certain of it.  Now that they’ve found a way to manifest themselves they’re not willing to disappear.  They want to stay inside my head and continue torturing me.”
For the first time, it occurred to Connor to wonder if his lover might not actually be suffering a mental breakdown.  The thought of psychosis in someone so close to him was terrifying.  “Please, stop thinking like that,” he begged.  “Those horrible things you imagine aren’t real.  They only exist in your mind, nowhere else.”
“Are you really sure of that?”  Marguerite was desperate.  It was pathetically obvious she badly wanted to believe what Connor was telling her, but at the same time she could not help showing how deeply she doubted the truth of it.  It was there in every word she said.
“Yes, of course I’m sure,” Connor lied.  “How could these creatures exist independently of you?  Where are they now if they’re real?” 
“Perhaps they come from another dimension, some parallel universe.”
“Oh, come on, Marguerite.  You’ve been reading too much science fiction.  You know as well as I do that such things aren’t possible.”  Connor did his best to keep his own reservations to himself.
“It’s easy for you to say.  You’re not the one having these problems.  You’ve been sitting here all afternoon telling me about some dream you had where you went time traveling back to the East Village in the days of the hippies.”  Marguerite said the last words as derisively as if she were making an accusation.
“Counterculture would be a more accurate description,” Connor corrected her.
“Oh, will you please stop it!” Marguerite lashed out.  “I’m being stalked by some malevolent force and you’re out enjoying a rock & roll concert.”
“It does sound pretty silly when you put it that way.”
“Does it?”  For the first time, Marguerite seemed to be hearing him.
Connor pressed his point.  “Yes, it does.  Just listen to yourself.  I understand you’re badly frightened, but you have to keep some sense of perspective, don’t you think?”
Marguerite all at once gave in and sat down limply on the couch beside him.  Without even thinking about what she was doing, she took the beer from his hand and popped it open.  “Eww,” she said after she had tasted it, “this is warm.”
“Would you like a cold one?  I’ll get you one from the fridge.”
Marguerite shook her head.  “No, it is not important.”  She hesitated.  “There is something I want to tell you that I’ve never let anyone else know about.”
Connor sat back and waited silently for her to continue.  He had no idea what was coming but was sure it was bound to be unpleasant.
“When I was very young, only about twelve years old,” Marguerite began, “I was molested by my uncle.  He was an airline pilot who often had stopovers in Zurich where my family was then living.  My parents would welcome him and invite him to stay at our home.  Since he was my mother’s brother, she trusted him completely and had no problem leaving us alone together while she went shopping.   That was when he would touch me.”
“My God, that’s horrible.”  Connor was too shocked to know what else to say.
“Yes,” said Marguerite, “but what was even more horrible was that I enjoyed it so much.  I knew even then that it was wrong, but I didn’t want my uncle to stop.”  She covered her eyes with her hand.  “You see, he was a very handsome man and the first adult who paid any attention to me.  And I was so lonely, an only child with no other companions.”
“You shouldn’t feel guilty about any of this when it was you who were the victim.  You were too young to understand what was happening.”
“Perhaps.  But even now, when I think about it, I still feel a thrill as I remember his kisses.  I loved the touch of his hands as they caressed my body and probed inside me.”  Marguerite stole a glance at Connor to better gauge his reaction.  “Doesn’t it disgust you to hear me tell you this?  In my heart I know I am no better than a whore.”
“Did you ever tell Dr. Reicha about this?” Connor asked.
“No, never.  I’m sure he would not have let me in the project to begin with if he’d known I had this on my conscience.”
Connor took Marguerite’s hand.  “There are some very good therapists who could help you work through this.”
“It is too late for that.  It was my lust for the forbidden that opened the door in the first place to these creatures who want so badly to hurt me.  They know what I did, and now they are preparing to punish me for it.”
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” exclaimed Connor.  “You didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s your uncle who should be in jail for the rest of his life.  He’s the one who’s the pervert, not you.”
“Oh, he has already paid for what he did.  Exactly a year after he and I were first together, his plane crashed on a mountaintop as he was once more traveling to my city.  He’d sent a postcard the week before telling me how much he was looking forward to seeing me again.  No one ever discovered what caused the crash.  Everyone on board died.”
“He deserved worse than he got if you ask me.”
“Now it is my turn,” sighed Marguerite in resignation.  “That is the reason they are coming for me.”
“No one is coming for you.  Can’t you see that the only one who is punishing you is yourself?  You’re so filled with guilt for something that wasn’t even your fault that you’ve invented these creatures who you imagine are all set to carry you off to hell.”
Marguerite began to cry.  “Oh, if only I could believe you,” she said.
Connor held her tight.  “Inside, you’re still a child in pain.”

Monday, March 25, 2019

Downtown Graffiti 6

Graffiti is the ultimate form of outsider art. When everything is modern and high tech and completely uniform in appearance then there must always be those who rebel against this bland sameness and assert their individuality by creating their own visions in street art.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-Six

Connor had been looking forward to a night’s sleep in his own bed.  Earlier that day, Elicott had met with him in his office and formally advised him of the decision to remove him from any further participation in the project.
“I’m sorry, Connor, but Dr. Reicha and I have no choice in this matter.”  Elicott had seemed genuinely grieved.  “I think you knew that already when you decided to tell me of your relationship with Marguerite Zilander.”
Connor had taken the news with a great deal more equanimity than would have been the case only a week before.  “Yes, I understand completely,” he replied, “and I have no complaints.  There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s best I go – both for myself and for the experiment.  You’ll have one less headache if I’m no longer here.  Two less headaches, actually, since I’m assuming you’ll be letting Marguerite go as well.”
“Yes, I’ve already spoken with her by phone.  She sounded almost as relieved as you are to be leaving.”
“Considering all the problems she’s been having, that doesn’t surprise me at all.  I think she and I will both be much better off once we’re out this environment.  Then we can put this all behind us and get on with our lives.  We’ll finally be able to close our eyes at night without having to worry what’s going to happen once we fall asleep.”
“Well, I can only wish you both the best of luck.”  Elicott had smiled unexpectedly.  “You and she make an attractive couple.  I hope you’ll be very happy together.”
Connor had in turn held out his hand.  “Thanks, Professor.  I appreciate that.  I hope you and Dr. Reicha do well on the next stage of the project.  Maybe I’ll read in the paper someday about the awards you two have won for all you’ve accomplished in advancing scientific knowledge.”
Thinking back on that conversation before he lay down, Connor smiled to himself.  He realized it had been a long while since he had felt so positive about his future.  Now that he was through with the project, he thought, he’d be able to get his life back on track.  He’d put the sad business with Gallagher and his ex-wife behind him and get himself a job, something solid that would give him a measure of self-respect.  Looking beyond that, he thought of Marguerite and wondered what future they might have together.
Connor’s head had barely hit the pillow before he was fast asleep.
In his dream, Connor found himself on West 3rd Street.  Without having to look at his watch, he somehow knew it was nearly midnight.  He was standing outside The Purple Onion which he saw was now nothing more than a seedy strip club.  Heavy black curtains hanging inside the unwashed windows blocked any view of the interior.  A few middle-aged men, obviously the worse for drink, staggered through the doorway and brushed past him as they went in search of whatever cabs might still be prowling Sixth Avenue this late at night.
“It wasn’t as upscale a venue back in my time as it is today,” said Deirdre who had suddenly materialized at Connor’s side.  “I used to dance here three nights a week to earn a few dollars, but I never made that much money.  My boobs weren’t big enough to get me many tips.  They’re only a size A.”  Deirdre sadly plucked the front of her tee shirt and let it fall back against her chest.  “But I still like to come back once in a while to visit.”
“Never mind what you’re doing here.” Connor couldn’t be bothered trying to hide how upset he felt.  “You can go wherever you like.  The real question is what am I doing here?  I’m out of the project.  No more metal discs attached to my head when I go to sleep and no more volts of electricity zipping through my brain.  I shouldn’t even be having this dream.  Instead, I should be lying in my bed back in Brooklyn with a few unconnected images passing through my unconscious that I won’t even be able to remember in the morning.”
“You don’t really need any of that high tech equipment to dream lucidly.”  Deirdre couldn’t hide the excitement in her voice.  “Not anymore anyway.  Now you’ve got the trick of it, and you can do whatever you want in your dreams.  Isn’t that fantastic?”
“I’m not sure that’s the way I’d describe it myself.”  Connor hadn’t yet been able to regain his composure.  “I was sort of looking forward to going back to my old life.”
“And what kind of life was that anyway?  Sharing some rundown apartment in Brooklyn without a single friend to care what becomes of you?  That isn’t living.  And you know it too.  It’s just killing time until something truly important comes along.”
“And dreaming is important?  That’s not the way I heard it.  I always thought it was what I did in my waking hours that mattered.”
“You don’t understand what you’re being offered.”  Deirdre lifted her eyes to Connor’s.  “Back in the ‘60’s we were trying to expand our consciousness, to go as far beyond the day-to-day mindset as we could get.  All the things that people think are so valuable and that they work themselves to death trying to achieve – money in the bank, a high paying job, an expensive place to live, a summer home in the Hamptons – those are nothing but distractions that blind these poor souls and keep their minds in chains.  Life is too short to waste on trivialities.  We have to use the time we’ve been given to open our eyes and see past the everyday reality around us.  It’s nothing but an illusion anyway.”
“If that’s illusion,” asked Connor, “then what’s reality?”
“It’s what I’ve been trying to show you in these dreams.  Can’t you see that?  This is the greatest trip of all.  It’s using your mind to go wherever you want and to control your own destiny.  It’s only when we can leave our conscious selves behind us that we really become free.  Otherwise, we’re nothing but sheep being led to slaughter.”
“You make it sound pretty convincing.  I’d no idea you could be so eloquent.”  Connor lifted his arms in surrender.  “All right.  So show me what you’ve got in store for me.”
Deirdre gave him a coy smile.  “You were wondering who Donny was, weren’t you?  Why don’t we go meet him now?”
It wasn’t what Connor had expected her to say, but he had no problem with it.  “Sounds like a plan to me.”
Deirdre began walking east with Connor at her side.  When they reached Washington Square Park, Deirdre turned and entered at its southwest corner.  Though it was almost twelve o’clock on a cold winter night, the park was packed with people.  Old winos sat drinking Thunderbird from pint bottles packed inside brown paper bags.  Lounging on the benches beside them, young white college kids passed among themselves small sheets of paper marked with faint dots of blotter acid or else exchanged barrels of sunshine that had the strength of each tab clearly marked on them.  In another section, tough looking dudes from uptown argued with one another in loud voices as they sold nickel bags of Mexican grass to passersby and sometimes glassine packets of smack to the junkies who crept silently through the shadows hoping to score a fix.  Sharply dressed characters sporting large Afros smiled at the clueless teenage girls visiting from New Jersey and tried to cajole them into going back to Harlem with them to have some fun.
“This is where I first met Donny,” confided Deirdre.  “I’d just gotten into town from Warwick, Rhode Island and didn’t know any better than to stay away from the bad guys.  One of those pimps was sweet talking me and telling me all about his brand new Cadillac and how he was going to let me drive it.  He was wearing a yellow tie so bright it glowed in the dark.  He was all set to take off with me when luckily Donny showed up.”
“What happened then?” asked Connor.  He was imagining an ugly scene all set to erupt in fireworks.
“Donny was cool.  He knows everybody in the Village, and nobody bothers him because he’s so crazy assed.  Before the pimp even knew what was happening, Donny was handing him a black power rap and telling him how if he wasn’t part of the solution, then he was part of the problem.  He even told the guy about a new store on Avenue A where he could trade in the tie and buy himself a dashiki.”
“Sounds like Donny is good at tossing the bull.”
“The very best.  He told me later he got some of what he was saying from Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and the rest he picked up reading Iceberg Slim.”
As Connor and Deirdre talked, they passed through the arch at the top of the park and walked along Fifth Avenue as far as 8th Street.  Then they turned east and headed toward Broadway.  Along the way, they passed a Bookmasters and then a store called Azuma that sold inflatable furniture and other unorthodox household items.
“I always thought the big bookstore in the Village was Wilentz’s,” Connor remarked as he looked in the window of Bookmasters where a set of Hesse’s novels were on display.
“It’s a few blocks back the other way near McDougal.  It’s not really that big, but every writer in the city hangs there.”
As they crossed Broadway there were suddenly no more storefronts.  Connor looked south and saw only shuttered warehouses.  “You don’t want to go down there alone at night,” advised Deirdre.  “There’s a nasty crowd that hangs out at that welfare hotel, the Broadway Central.  But they do have a bar inside called the St. Adrian Company that’s fun.”
Once Connor and Deirdre had passed Cooper Union, all its doors and windows carefully fastened in the nighttime hours, they found themselves on St. Mark’s Place.  Physically, the street seemed very much the way Connor remembered it from the few times he had strolled across it in his waking life.  But there was far more energy, and the longhaired bearded crowd that filled the street were a more raucous fun-loving group than had been seen in Manhattan in many years.  Connor watched as a group of police exited a squad car and raced into a walkup on the south side of the street.  It reminded Connor of a Keystone Cops routine.  A crowd gathered on the sidewalk and started shouting to those on the upper floors, “Look out up there.  It’s a bust!  The pigs are on the stairs.”
Next door to the building that housed the Electric Circus and the Dom was a head shop named Intergalactic.  “Here we are,” announced Deirdre happily as she stopped in front of it.
As they entered the narrow storefront, filled with rolling papers, water pipes and other smoking paraphernalia, Deirdre suddenly left Connor behind and ran toward the young giant standing behind the counter.  “Donny,” she yelled out and threw her arms around his neck and started kissing him.
Connor felt a momentary pang of jealousy but then relented when he saw how happy Deirdre was with her boyfriend.  They had the look of two people who belonged together and who would never willingly allow themselves to be separated.
“Donny,” Deirdre said when she had finally disentangled herself, “this is Connor, the guy I was telling you about.”
“Out of sight,” said Donny and extended his hand impulsively.
Connor looked at the big bearded bear of a man confronting him and liked him immediately.  There was nothing fake about him, no affectation in the peace symbol bandana he wore in his curly unkempt hair, only a genuine good nature.  There was also something strangely familiar about the man, but Connor couldn’t place what it was.  He wondered if he might have met an older Donny at some point in his waking life.
Donny checked his watch.  “It’s time we got going,” he exclaimed.
“Where are we headed at this time of night?” Connor asked.  “A party?”
“The best ever,” said Deirdre.  “Wait till you see.”
Donny locked the door of the shop behind him and the three crossed to the other side of St. Mark’s and then down Second Avenue.  On the corner outside the Gem Spa, they saw the first of the big choppers that lined the avenue’s curb all the way down to 6th Street. 
“What are all those bikes doing here?” asked Connor. 
“They’re here for same thing we are.”  Donny’s voice was full of excitement.  “It’s time to go see the Hell’s Angels’ house band, the good ol’ Grateful Dead.”
Connor had heard the name, but had never heard any of the band’s music.  To him, they were just an oldies group from another era.
The sidewalk crowd began to thicken.  Connor caught sight of an overhanging marquee a block below them that proclaimed: “Feb. 11 to Feb.13 – The Allman Brothers Band, Love, The Grateful Dead.”  Above the lettering on the sign was emblazoned the name “The Fillmore East.”
“Don’t worry about the time,” said Donny.  “I know it’s already past midnight but the band probably is still onstage finishing up the early show.  Usually Bill Graham has to come on and chase them off or they’d never stop playing.”
The three friends passed through the crowd milling about outside the box office.  Some people were begging for tickets, some were sitting along the curb and either drinking cheap booze or smoking grass while still others lay passed out on the pavement.  Without having to show tickets, the three passed into the smoke filled lobby and then into the hall itself.  Inside was a derelict theater that looked ready to collapse at any moment.  Cables hung loosely from the ceiling in defiance of Fire Department regulations; spotlights shone on the stage where a blonde haired musician was pounding out blues riffs on a slide guitar while his band roared full throttle behind him.
It wasn’t like any concert Connor had ever been to.  Half the crowd seemed not to be paying any attention to the music.  Instead, small groups sat playing cards in the aisles while others lounged against the walls.  Everywhere there was a thick haze of smoke reaching up the vaulted ceilings high above them.  Standing in the upper lobby were tanks of nitrous oxide in front of which stood long lines waiting their turn.  At the snack bar, it looked like all that was available were containers of juice and yogurt.  In back, couples danced to the music as they handed oversized joints back and forth.
“What a scene,” said Connor as he tried to take it all in.
“If you think this is something, wait till the Dead come onstage,” laughed Donny.  “Everything gets really trippy then.  And we’ve got the best seats in the house.”  He pointed to the center orchestra.  “Those suckers cost me $5.50 apiece.”
Connor sat down in an empty seat and decided to go with it and enjoy himself.  Deirdre took the seat beside him and threw her arm around his shoulder.  “This is too much, isn’t it?”
“What have I been missing all these years?” Connor asked her.  He had to shout to make himself heard above the roar of the music.  “Is this really New York?  I didn’t know you could have so much fun in this city.”
“It’s 1970 now, and this is how it is every night of the week.”  Deirdre’s voice was joyous.
“What happens when you have to get up for work?”
“Who does anything that crazy?  Work is for straight people, not for us.  All we want to do is party and make love.”
Connor looked again at the scene pulsating around him.  “You know something?  I could really get to enjoy this kind of life.”

It was past 6 a.m. when the late show finally ended and the audience staggered out the Fillmore’s doors onto Second Avenue where the winter sky was already turning light.  They made a strange sight amid the neatly groomed office workers already moving toward the Astor Place subway station.
“Hey, Connor,” said Donny as he bent forward to slap hands, “this was groovy as hell.  The three of us are going to have to get together real soon for another night out.  Right now, though, I’ve got to head back to my pad to get a few hours shuteye.  I’m supposed to be at work at noon.” 
“I enjoyed meeting you,” replied Connor.  “I can’t wait to visit here again.  It’s a lot more to my taste than where I come from.”
“Wherever that is,” laughed Donny.  “Deirdre’s been acting very mysterious about where you actually live.”  He put his arm around his girlfriend’s shoulder and gave her an affectionate hug.  “Not that it’s any of my business to begin with.  I don’t want to pry.”
“I told you,” said Deirdre.  “Connor’s from a strange faraway place.”
“He must live on Staten Island then.  That’s about as strange as it gets.”
They all laughed uproariously over that, and then Donny parted from them and made his way back to St. Mark’s.
“What a totally awesome guy,” said Connor to Deidre as Donny disappeared from view.  “But what was all that talk about where I come from?  Doesn’t Donny know this is all a dream?”
“Sure he knows.  Donny was the one who really got me into lucid dreaming.  Not many people thought about it back in our day, but Donny figured it all out for himself.  He went a lot further than those researchers of yours ever did in their clunky university experiment.  It was Donny who gave me the idea of projecting myself from the dream state into waking life.  That way I could be out in the real world even while my body was still sound asleep.  Donny always said that being awake in your dreams was the ultimate freedom.”   
Connor reflected.  “So to Donny this is a dream too and I’m part of it.  That’s wild all right.  But why not tell him who I am?   Would he freak out?”
“You and Donny and I are all having the same dream.  But Donny and I are having our dream here in the East Village in 1970.  When you wake up, you’ll be almost 45 years ahead of us.  It’ll still be New York City, but a totally different world from the one Donny and I live in.”
“And you don’t want me talking to Donny about the future, is that it?  Why not though?  Is Donny having such a tough time in 2014 that you don’t want him to know what’s coming?”
“Donny never made it to 2014.”  Deirdre looked as though she were about to cry.  “The truth is that he died back in 1972, only a couple of years from where we are now.  That’s what I don’t want him to find out.  It would break my heart if he ever learned he had so little time left.  He can’t find out who you really are.”
Connor was shocked.  “Oh, damn.  Tell me you’re putting me on.  Somebody that hip shouldn’t have to die so young.  Isn’t there anything we can do to change it?”
Deirdre shook her head.  Then she really did begin to cry.  “Don’t you think if there were anything I could do, I’d already have done it?  I can’t though.  It’s Donny’s karma, and I can’t change a single thing about it.”
Connor couldn’t think of anything to say.  He took Deirdre in his arms and pressed her close to him.  Then a thought occurred to him.  “What you just said a minute ago about not letting Donny find out who I really am.  What did you mean by that?  Who is it you think I really am?”
“I guess I can tell you now.  Probably I should have told you before.”  Deirdre looked up at Connor.  “But’s let’s stop in somewhere for a cup of coffee first.  You need to be sitting down when you hear this.”
The two of them walked into a nearby coffee shop on Third Avenue.  Only a few others were inside, all of them ordering the ham & eggs breakfast special.  Connor and Deirdre both settled for the fifteen cent cups of coffee that came steaming in brown stoneware mugs.  Deirdre put sugar in hers while Connor took his black.
Deirdre took a sip of her coffee and then stirred it idly with a plastic spoon while all the while staring down at the stained countertop without really seeing it.  “When you met Donny at Intergalactic, did he seem familiar to you?” she finally asked.
“Yes, he did.  In fact, I was trying to remember if I hadn’t met an older version of him in my own time.  I definitely felt I knew him from somewhere.”  Connor reflected.  “Of course, if he actually passed on in 1972, the year I was born, then that couldn’t have happened.  More likely he just resembled someone I once knew.”
“You and he have all the same interests.  That was why I showed you Donny’s copy of the I Ching.  He was always reading novels too – most likely the same ones you’ve read – and dreaming of becoming a writer himself.”
“I believe that all right.  Not many people are into the same things I am, but as soon as I saw Donny I knew he was one of them.”
“Donny believes in reincarnation.  Do you?”
“Sure I do.  I studied Buddhist philosophy back in college.  We go from one life to the next until finally we achieve enlightenment and manage to escape the wheel of rebirth.”
“Donny was so close.  Maybe if he’d lived longer, he’d have become enlightened in his last life.”
Connor suddenly saw where the conversation was headed.  “You’re not trying to say I’m the reincarnation of Donny, are you?”
“Yes, you’re him,” Deirdre answered simply.  “I knew it the minute I laid eyes on you.  You’re both the same person.”
Connor was staggered by the idea.  “You’re going to have to pardon me if I find that difficult to believe.  The whole concept of reincarnation is great; but it’s a metaphor, a fun way to look at things, not a real phenomenon.  No one actually comes back again.”
“I know it’s hard to accept.  I searched for you for so many years without finding a clue that I was ready to give up believing in it myself.”
Connor drank his coffee and didn’t say anything for a few moments.  “You realize you’re seriously freaking me out here?  Things like reincarnation just don’t happen, not in this world.  If they did, we’d know about them.”
“What about traveling around in time and space in your dreams?  A couple of months ago, you wouldn’t have believed in that either.”
“You’ve got me there,” Connor agreed, “but this is something different.  If it were true, it would change our whole understanding of what’s real and what’s not.”
“So let it change then.  Don’t you see that what you call reality is only what’s inside your head to begin with?”
Connor stared at Deirdre as he considered what she was telling him.  “I’m going to have to think about this.  And I mean really think about it.  Right now, though, I’m just too tired to wrap my head around the whole idea.”
“That’s all right.”  Deirdre smiled.  “You’ve got all the time in the world.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-Five

Jocelyn didn’t see Gallagher waiting for her outside her building when she arrived home from work the next afternoon.  She’d been hefting a bag of groceries from one arm to the other and trying to keep a carton of eggs from falling out the top when she heard his voice whispering in her ear.
“We’ve got to talk, and I mean now” said Gallagher as he took hold of her by the elbow and steered her toward her front door.  “And not here on the sidewalk either.”
Jocelyn pulled back.  The hint of menace in Gallagher’s voice worried her.  She’d seen him angry before and knew better than most what he was capable of at such times.  She had no intention of being alone with him when he was in such a foul mood.
“Hurry up.  I haven’t got all day.”  Gallagher’s tone had grown more urgent. 
Jocelyn pulled back and slapped Gallagher’s hand away as he again reached for her arm.  “What do you want from me now?” she asked.  “The last time I saw you, you couldn’t wait for me to get out of your apartment.   And out of your life too.  Remember?”
“I remember warning you not to say shit to Connor.  If you’d been smart, you’d have taken my advice and kept your mouth shut.”  He cast a suspicious glance around him.  “I don’t want to discuss this here on the street.  Let’s go upstairs where we can talk in private.”
Jocelyn was completely frightened by now.  The last thing she wanted was to have Gallagher inside her apartment.  She could tell something was worrying him as it was from the way he kept one eye on his surroundings as if afraid he was being followed.  “I’m not letting you upstairs, Richie,” she announced firmly.  “No way in hell.  If you’ve got anything to say, you can say it right here.  Otherwise, take a walk and don’t let me catch you hanging around here again.  I’ll call the cops if you do.  I swear I will.”
From the way Gallagher quickly took a step back, Jocelyn could see he wasn’t at all anxious to have the police become involved.  “Is there any place nearby then where we can have a cup of coffee?” he asked.  He smiled bitterly.  “My treat, of course.”
“There’s a diner on the next block.  We can go there.  If you promise to behave yourself, that is.”  Jocelyn gave Gallagher a sidelong glance that showed exactly how unsure she was that he would be able to manage this.

The restaurant on the next corner turned out to be all scrubbed tile and polished woodwork.  Statuesque blonde waitresses in matching black spandex outfits carried orders about on trays etched with elaborate art nouveau designs.   Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik played softly in the background.  For all the false sophistication, the food itself was mediocre.  It was the same as could be gotten for a fraction of the price at any greasy spoon in the outer boroughs.
Gallagher and Jocelyn took a corner table and sat down opposite one another.  They didn’t bother checking the menu as they waited for a waitress to take their order.  Instead, they sat without speaking while all the while carefully studying each other’s expression.  Gallagher’s was flushed and angry while Jocelyn’s was filled with foreboding.  Having others nearby had restored something of her self-confidence, however, and she felt a wave of anger rising inside her at the thought of Gallagher’s high handedness.
Though there were only a handful of patrons in the restaurant at that hour, it took a good ten minutes for a waitress to arrive at their table.
“What can I get you?” asked the blonde when she finally sidled up beside them.  She was in her mid-twenties and had an hourglass figure.  Over her heart she wore a red plastic name tag that read “Ursula” in black lettering.
“Just coffee for me,” replied Jocelyn without looking up.
“I’ll have coffee too, and a toasted onion bagel with a schmear to go with it.”  Gallagher winked at the young woman.  “How does that sound, Ursula?”
“The name’s Randy,” replied the waitress in a bored voice.  “Ursula was the last one to wear this uniform.  She quit last week.”
“Ursula fits you much better,” said Gallagher with sudden enthusiasm.  “It’d make a great stage name if you ever decided to audition for a Broadway show.  With your looks, you’d be sure to get any part you wanted.  I’ve some friends who are producers, major players in the entertainment business, and I could ask them to give you some help getting there.”
Randy was unimpressed.  “Uh, huh.  And all I have to do in return is pose naked for you in your living room so you can see how well I fit the role.  Is that about it?”
“Hey,” protested Gallagher, “you’re hurting my feelings.”
“You have to have a heart to have feelings.”  The waitress didn’t so much as glance at Gallagher as she said this.  Instead, she studied the electronic tablet onto which she’d typed their order and then sauntered away to attend to the next customer.
“What a total bitch,” Gallagher complained to Jocelyn as he watched Randy’s retreating back.  He made sure to say it loudly enough for the waitress to hear.
“She read you like a book,” said Jocelyn.  “I only wish I’d had enough sense to have seen through you the way she just did.”
“I don’t remember you complaining back when we were together.”
Jocelyn started to say something, then thought better of it.  Instead, she remained silent until after the waitress had arrived with their order and had put the food down.  As Randy moved out of earshot, Jocelyn resumed speaking.  “I don’t know why I ever got involved with you in the first place.  I don’t know what I was thinking.”  She cast her eyes down as she stirred her coffee absentmindedly. 
“Well, if you don’t, I do,” exclaimed Gallagher.  “You were tired of spending your life with a dreamer.  And for better or worse, that’s all that Connor’s ever been.”  He laughed mirthlessly.  “That’s why this experiment he’s got himself involved in is so perfect – all he has to do is lie there every night and have himself a pleasant dream.  If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny.”
“My husband may at times have been a bit impractical…”
“A bit?” Gallagher hooted.  “That is so rich.  The guy never had any idea how the world really worked.  He’d take whatever 9-to-5 job and came along and bust his ass at it without ever stopping to think he might make a lot more money working somewhere else.”
“It’s no crime being loyal to the company you’re employed by.”
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.  You and I both know that.  But my buddy Connor was never bright enough to figure that much out for himself.”   Gallagher took a bite of his bagel.  “I tried to show him what was going on, but the guy would never pay attention.  He was just too out of it.”
“Not listening to someone like you could be seen as a sign of intelligence.”
“Fuck you.”  Gallagher’s voice was little more than a growl as he said it.  “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to sit here and take this from you.”
Jocelyn pulled the spoon from her coffee and put it down on the tabletop so hard it gave out a loud ringing sound that caused everyone in the restaurant to turn around.  “Why don’t you drop the bullshit,” she suggested, “and tell me what you’re doing loitering outside my building?  I haven’t done a thing to you to make you angry.  If anything, it’s the other way around.  And what’s all this about my saying something to Connor?  I haven’t seen him for weeks, not since the day he showed up at my door and made an ass out of himself.”
“The hell you haven’t.”  Gallagher pointed an accusing finger at her.  “Your ex stopped off at my place yesterday just so he could tell me he knew everything that had gone on between us.  And I mean everything.  He not only accused me of fucking you behind his back, but he even was wise that I was the one who’d dropped the dime on him.”
Jocelyn was too startled by the revelation to immediately respond.  “What?” she finally asked.  “Are you telling me the truth?  How could he have found out about us?”
“What the hell do you think I’m doing here?”  Gallagher seemed ready to explode with rage.  “The only way he could have known any of it is if you told him.  There’s no other explanation.  It’s for sure he didn’t learn about it asking the I Ching.”
Jocelyn considered.  “I don’t know,” she said unsurely.  “Connor always told me everything there was to know was right there in that book.”
“Will you please cut the crap.”  Gallagher could no longer contain his exasperation.  “Next you’ll be running off to a fortuneteller yourself just to see what’s in her crystal ball.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t say anything to Michael,” Jocelyn defended herself.  “Why would I do that?  I don’t want him finding out I had any part in what happened.”
“It’s a little late for that.  Weren’t you listening to what I just said?  The son of a bitch knows everything.”
Jocelyn leaned back in her seat as the implications of what Gallagher was telling her began to sink in.  “Oh, shit,” she murmured.  “He must be so totally pissed off at us both.”
“He was out of control yesterday all right.  He fucking sucker punched me in the balls when I wasn’t looking.”
Jocelyn couldn’t help laughing.  “Good for Michael.  You’ve had that coming for a long time now.”
Gallagher stood up.  “I’m not listening to any more of this.”  He put his hands on the table and leaned towards her.  “I know you’re the one who tipped Connor off.  It couldn’t have been anyone else because no one else knew anything about it.”
Jocelyn shook her head emphatically.  “However he found out, it wasn’t from me.”
“Fine.  Have it your way.”  Gallagher gave a savage smile.  “But if I were you, I’d watch my back from now on.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Jocelyn felt the fear wash over her again.
“You’ll find out,” Gallagher said.  “All in good time.”  Without elaborating on his threat, he turned his back on her and stormed out the diner’s front door.
The waitress had been watching the scene unfold from a safe distance.  Once she was certain Gallagher had left, she approached Jocelyn hesitantly.   “Will you be having anything else, or should I just bring the check?”
Jocelyn glanced up without really seeing the woman in front of her.  “Yes, you might as well bring it now.  I should’ve known that piece of shit wasn’t going to spring for it.”  She reached into her purse for her credit card.
Randy didn’t walk away with it at once.  She regarded Jocelyn uncertainly for several seconds before saying what was on her mind.  “You want to be careful with that guy,” she finally brought out.  “He’s a nasty one.  I can tell.”
“You’ve got that right.”  Jocelyn reached again for her purse and then put it back down.  For the first time in years, she wished she hadn’t given up smoking cigarettes.  “As soon as I get home, I’m going to start packing.”