By Hugh Fox
Luminis Books Copyright © 2011 Hugh Fox
All rights reserved.
"Look At This!" Buzzy (Professor Lox) shouted at his wife as he sat down at the dining room table and opened the day's mail.
"What is it?" asked Malinche. Just a trace of accent. Just a little "spin" on the 'i's' in "is" and "it," almost "ees" and "eet," but not quite. You'd have a hard time guessing she was from Karachi and that her native language was Urdu. Kind of lightish skin too. She could have passed for a lightish Chicano. In fact often did.
"What a harebrained idea, it's an invitation from my Grammar School. Fiftieth anniversary of my Grammar School class graduation. They're having this big reunion in Chicago in January. I mean what a crock-of-shit month to have it in anyway. You wait fifty years and then pick January 12th. I mean it's not even from the school, it's from Fran O'Callaghan, one of the old gang. Fat Franny. I mean I haven't seen her since she was fourteen and now she's sixty four ..."
Malinche took the invitation in hand. It was edged in black and began:
Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows School closed down in June of 1990, Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows Church closed down the following August (1990). Those of us who have maintained contact with each other over the last fifty years thought it might be time to have a general get-together while we still can get together.
"Bizarre! It's absolutely bizarre!" said Malinche with finality.
Of course everything she said she said with finality. She was the surgeon, after all, pulled in half a million a year, and all he was was a Freshman Comp prof at Southwest Michigan Tech in Grand Junction, pulled in a piddly $45,000.00. Although (points on his side) it wasn't called The Freshman Comp Department where he taught, but Language Technologies. Like he taught Language Vectors I, II and III, which was Frosh Comp I, II and III, but like the secret motto of the department went "I won't snitch on you, if you don't snitch on me."
Accent or not, size or not (she was a solid 5' .0003 inches), The Surgeon was the Surgeon.
"What's bizarre?" he challenged her.
"Fifty [feefty] years. You won't even know each other. The face changes 'morphically' through time. It's not just fat and sagging, but irregular growth, noses grow, eyes shrink, hands twist, ears twist ... what I always try to do when I do a Reconstruct is to get the person back to Stage I ... but it's [eet's] impossible ... and what's that Lady of Perpetual Sorrows all about? What Lady is that?"
"Our Lady of Baghdad, geek!" he snapped back at her, then softened, knew better, his fourth wife, after all, and he'd be sixty-four in four months and when he could get it up it had an attention-span of micro-seconds and there was no one on the substitute bench waiting to get into his game, "Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows is the Blessed Virgin. Like she had all these sorrows. Like, you know, Jesus and Veronica's veil and the crowning with thorns and all that ..."
"Crowing with thorns?" she asked, and the worst part was she wasn't kidding.
"Crowning! Jesus gets crowned with thorns!"
Starting to get sharp and testy again, calming himself down, activating a little Suzuki Zen ... coming in and out of Nothing, coming in and out of Nothing, breathe, in and out of Nothing, less than Nothing, zero and then into Minus World ... minus ten, 20 ... countdown into Negative World ...
"And so his mother is sorrowful because he gets crowned with thorns?"
"You got it! Terrific!"
And he reached over and gave her a little kiss.
All these odd odors as he approached her. He ought to be used to them by now, but ... sandalwood and lemon-oil, garlic, cardamom, just an inexplicable trace of humus around her ears.
"I love you," he said.
"Me too," she answered.
"So you want to go down to this thing with me in Chicago?" he asked.
"Sure! Why not?!? I love Chicago!!"
And it was settled, although, as he walked upstairs to the computer to write a Yes-letter to Fat Franny, he was full of misgivings.
There were whole rows of misgivings.
First of all, he was already depressed with all of his six kids gone, Pepe (40) down in Houston working for a garbage processing company ("Detritus Engineer"), Conchita (38) in a mental hospital in Dallas where her mother, his first wife, Maria del Carmen (Bolivian) lived, very successfully passing for a Chicano, although she looked like The Andes Incarnated. Jeeyoun (32) (pronounced GEE ON, as in GEE WHIZ) back in Seoul with his second wife, Mitzi. Which was a ridiculous name for a Korean, but ... three grandchildren who he'd only seen once two Thanksgivings before when they'd come to visit but didn't speak one word of English, and his Korean was beyond totally rusty, more like dismantled. A Japanese son-in-law he'd never met. Then Hannah (24) back in Israel, feeling some sort of what she called "ethno-historical gene-pull" to return to her mother's homeland, Israel, studying for a degree in Computer Science in Tel Aviv, married to a soft-spoken, humid-handed West Banker ... putting off having children until she finished her Ph.D. Sarah (21) and Itzak (14) in New York with Sally. Hannah, Sarah and Itzak all Sally's kids. But Sally had always said "the last place I want to go back to is Israel. I prefer the perfume business in New York."
But he hardly saw them either.
Sol, Sally's second husband, wouldn't let him stay at their place. And hotels, even the Hotel Wentworth down on Times Square, the world's seediest dump, was a hundred a twenty a day now.
And there was this Anti-Pakistani/Anti-Moslem bias that both Sol and Sally had. So he'd converted. Why not?
Jesus ... he'd actually thought of putting up a big poster thing in his room in the basement:
Wife Number 1 — Maria del Carmen Robledo, Bolivian:
Wife number 2 — Mitzi Chung: One kid (Jeeyoun), three grandchildren, whose names he always forgot so he called them Manny, Moe and Jack, which got Jeeyoun (and Mitzi) mad,
Wife number 3 — Sally Bernbaum:
It was a fucking mess, a fucking joke.
It was really all the fault of the Fulbright Commission. All those overseas teaching jobs they had kept giving him, Bolivia, Korea, Israel, Pakistan. And there was always a pair of eyes that got "interested" in him. And this exotique impulse in him that responded to the eyes. And he never seemed to be really getting along with any of his current wives anyhow, the promise always out there that, yes, change, and things will get better for you.
Not that they ever did. He got to the top of the stairs and looked out. A beautiful October day in Michigan, the leaves all bright reds and yellows, like flagrant, thriving skin-diseases. The air crisp and dry. Like you could snap it in half like a Pringle's potato-chip.
But he never got rid of his sense of mortality. One beautiful yellow-red maple leaf fell from the tree outside the window and it became a major symbol for his mortality. ou sont les nieges d'hier? Where are the snows of yesterday? Which in Hebrew would be something like BEMATZAV haroeen avar ... and in Korean chang-nyun naerin nun-ee undie y-sumnika.
Or was the Chang-Nyun supposed to be where the Y-Sumnika was?
Was any of it right? Or do I wake or do I dream?
He wasn't sure.
His brain like a broken microwave oven, a Mixmaster with a broken off button.
He was afraid that some day someone would ask him his name and he'd look up and stare as blankly as the noonday sun in the middle of the Sahara.
My name is everywhere-nowhere, everything-nothing.
Another month and the leaves would all be down. Wasn't there supposed to be some time of fulfillment toward the end of a life? A time to sow and a time to reap. A time to sleep and a time to peep. A time to fuck and a time to roar. What a shame when there ain't no more!
Stood there staring so long at the leaves, projecting himself out into Winter when all the leaves would be gone and the trees like so many gaunt grey-brown fingers projecting agonizingly out of the snow-covered frozen earth, that Malinche came to the bottom of the steps and tapped lightly on the old oak bannister, asked "Are you alright?"
"Just meditating ... meditative ..."
"I still think you ought to have your prostate checked," she said quietly, as if there were some sort of direct mystic link between meditative moods and prostate, as if you cut enough and get "preventive" enough and you're going to cut out Death, prevent It from ever entering into your life ...
"Check your own!" he said, his meditative flow irrevocably interrupted, leaving the bright yellow patch of leaves and sun and going up to his room and stretching out on the bed, invitation to the reunion in hand.
Only one person from his entire grade school class that he'd kept in contact with — Ellen. And even with her, over the last few years she'd (they'd) been getting increasingly arthritic in their relationship. No space, really, no time ... no desire to actually share space-time, her in her perfect little Grimore Park home and (since she'd retired from "management" — and he had no idea of what she'd been "managing") an endless series of quilting events, and him piddling around with Indians, Indians, Indians, where did they come from, why? Each of them trapped in his/her private little time-capsule and never the twain shall meet.
Reached over and picked up the cellular phone next to the bed, dialed Memory 10 — The Berceuse Travel Agency ("Let Us Cradle You to Sleep for the Perfect Vacation"), Binny answered.
"Hey, Binny! Howya doin'? Hey, hey!"
"Buzzy, howya doin'?"
This big act that always went on between them, although it was true, she was the squishiest ripe tomatoish blonde he'd ever known, at that perfect mature peach-tomato age when just squishing down in her computer chair was an act of delirious eroticism.
"Ok, babe ... listen, I'm going down to Chicago on the weekend of January 12th. Big grammar school reunion. 50 years."
"Don't bullshit me, Buzz, that'd make you ... ummmm ... sixty-fourish ..."
"Only my barber and you know, babe, and let's not leak it to the evening news, Ok?"
"And you want your favorite hotel, The Bismarck."
"Any deals on the Palmer House?"
A hundred and twenty a night at The Bismarck, add on another hundred a night for the Palmer House, although the Palmer House ... it was like a trip to Versailles, all the old mirrors enclosed in Baroque gold curlicued frames, the ballroom (where they'd had their senior prom from St. Michael's High), the pool, hot-tub, oh, brother, get Malinche into one of those black second-skin bathing suits and heat her up a little bit, turn on the tambourines and ...
"Ok, the Bismarck it is! And I've gotta come into Midway because the Reunion's out on the Southwest Side somewhere, a place called The Barn, so I thought I'd go down on Friday afternoon, just dismiss my class for a change, send them on a wild footnote chase to the library or something, let Mal the Knife get a sub for a change, should she have anything scheduled for that afternoon, go to the reunion, then spend Friday and Saturday night at the Bismark, give us a chance for a little second honeymoon ..."
"You mean umpteenth, don't you, Buzz? It seems like you've got another honeymoon every other week ..."
"You know how it is when you're one of those uncontrolled forest fires, you've just gotta burn yourself out, babe!"
As if there was anything to burn out. That miserable little recalcitrant stub of his that refused to obey the most minimal commands from Headquarters any more. What he'd liked to have done was to court martial it and take it out and give it to the firing squad, "Ready, aim, blow that fucker off the face of the mother fucking earth!!!!"
But Malinche was kind and patient, wanted him to get prosthetic implants, the kind that inflate when you push a little button, so that Señor Thing would become a kind of remote-controlled automaton, a venereal robot, but he was against that, would bring in The Divine.
"What curses God has visited upon me ... I do the best I can."
And once she herself got going, with a combination of dildos, prayers and her unbridled heat, something, anyhow, usually happened.
Sometimes he felt like forgetting about it altogether, just retire Señor Thing into oblivion, not even try any more, but if there was one thing he had it was will: "Move, you bugger, or you're history!" And he'd usually have a little explosion, get the poison out of him. Like his old friend Jerry Dombrowski (male nurse, Boston) used to tell him: "You don't fuck, you don't survive, all that radioactivity in the semen builds up and that's how the tumors begin." He'd even made up a little song about it years before:
Semen is the demon,
And it's gotta go,
No matter how you do
It's gotta blow,
Recognize the killer
for what it is,
Clean the fucker out if
you wanna live ...
Which was the half-assest little song that Buzz had ever heard in his life.
"How you gonna rhyme IS and LIVE!" he'd objected to Dum-Dum, and Dum-Dum had turned to him with that Bostonian literary sneer of his, "Ever heard of Emily Dickinson, asshole?"
"Ok, Buzz, I'll get you in there on Sparrow Airlines. They've got these weekend specials, you know ..."
"Come on, Bin, I want a real plane, not one of those coffins with wings. Ok?"
"Then I'll have to route you through Detroit on Northwest."
"Whatever. Whatever you can do."
"And two nights at the Bismark?"
"I'll have it for you by tomorrow."
"Beautiful. You're a beautiful person ..."
Over and out. He could just see her cross her legs and secrete a little. Buzz knew he had that effect on Les Girls. One of the great ironies in his life — oodles of ammunition and a wounded gun. Wounded warrior, that's Sally used to say about it.
"Maybe you should just retire him [heem] to the Old Soldier's Home."
Would have made the perfect parish priest, man. If you make it a sin to use it, he'd like be an automatic saint. Six kids, though. That was the miracle of miracles. Started drifting off into dreamland, drifting down the Indus River out of Afghanistan, his head starting to fill with year-symbols. He had this "thing" about year-symbols, the whole solstice-oriented sweep of the year, the year's death and rebirth, King Sun fucks Mother Earth and it all begins anew.
Only he was almost an Aztec when it came to this dying-sun time of the year when the days got shorter and shorter and then they really screwed the whole thing up with Daylight Savings Time so that there essentially wasn't any more afternoon, just High Noon and High Midnight.
Mercury/Hermes descends into the Underworld and all the channels are open into Hell, time for the demons to make their visits, the Hopi feast of Wuwuchim, put out a little milk for The Dead when they come to visit. His literary enemies (and N.Y. agents) said that all he was was garrulous erudition. But what did they know? Did their spiritual life hang on the ancient hinges of the year the way his did?
He'd said it a million times: "Man hasn't been in contact with The Real since the Middle Paleolithic." Caves and spirit and you take The Sacred Drug and the transformations begin....
Just drifting off into dreamland, descending into the Underworld to meet his Dead, when the phone rang, he reached over and reluctantly lifted it off its cradle.
"Hi, Buzz, this is Ellen. I just got this invitation to Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows Fifty Year Reunion. Are you coming?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah ..."
"So, listen, why don't you stay here. I mean, when are you coming in?"
"Like Friday morning to Midway, hit the Art Institute, do a little shopping, Water Tower Place, then take the 'L' back to Midway, pick up a cab to The Barn ... then down to the Bismark ..."
"Too complicated. You're staying with us, ok? So you come into Midway, go downtown, ok, then take a train out to Howard. I mean call me before you leave. As you come out of the station at Howard there's a bank across the street, I'll be waiting for you there ... ok?"
"Well, I had wanted to ..."
"I had wanted to have ten kids until I had one. Just call me, say, noon ... you can come out here, get settled in and then we'll drive to the reunion together, you come back out here. I don't want you wandering all over Chicago like a lost lamb ..."
"What are you, the Good Shepherd!"
"Close! I'm anxious to see you. It's been, like ...?"
"I don't know, a couple of years ..."
"Ok. Over and out ..."
And she hung up. And he was pissed. Get Malinche into a hotel and something biochemical happened to her. It was like she left her entire collective past behind and she was the lewd, primal Earth Mother again, The Mother of the Caves, juice and bean sprouts and rutting rabbits. Here on the everyday level ... she was studying for Neurosurgery Boards now, always getting more and more and more specialized, like taking the Great Out There and slowly fencing it in, wrapping the fence around her tighter and tighter until all she could move was her index finger. How much do you have to make a year before it's enough? What was she trying to prove?
Redialed Binny at Berceuse.
"Hi, Bin, it's Buzzzzzzzzzzzzz ..."
"You're going back to Mohenjo Daro?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Reunion by Hugh Fox. Copyright © 2011 Hugh Fox. Excerpted by permission of Luminis Books.
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