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Michael and Me
By Pam Schwartz
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Pam Schwartz
All right reserved.
Chapter One"From the errors of others, the wise man corrects his own" -Publius Syrus
INSUFFICIENT FARE: ON THE SHORE OF NIGHTMARES
Things had gone so well the previous day that Molly woke up the next morning thinking of fellow band "groupie" David Lawson. She felt encouraged to call him with a report on the outcome of the letter she had delivered to Michael, the guitarist. To her surprise, he asked if they could meet later that night after work. Her unusually short 58" frame and less than lovely face and figure did not stop this avid fan from being seen with her, a fact she truly appreciated. Molly headed into a swank section of London she hadn't seen yet where David tended bar in an expensive restaurant. Twenty-four hours after they talked, David could see Molly was still flying high from an experience he certainly wouldn't mind having for himself, and he listened with interest. They sat in the hotel lobby for a few minutes and then went out for a stroll. David licked his chocolate ice cream cone, while Molly finished an Italian ice.
"So it was great?" he asked her. "What you expected?"
"Oh, yes. We didn't talk that long, but I'm sure I put everything I ever wanted to say in the letter," Molly answered.
"Wonderful. Even if you don't end up talking to Michael again, it seems like it's all been worth it."
"Yes, it's enough," Molly had to admit.
At the Underground station near his bar, he checked his watch. "It's late. We should probably take this train back."
Molly looked down the steps leading to the station as a refreshing evening breeze caressed her face.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to stay out a while," she told him. "I feel so pumped up about having to go back to New York tomorrow."
"Oh. Yeah, I understand. It was good seeing you again. I'm so glad things worked out. And: well ... happy landings tomorrow."
"Thanks for everything," she smiled. "We'll keep in touch."
Molly waved goodbye and threw her empty Italian ice cup with its little wooden spoon into a nearby sidewalk trash bin. She turned a corner when suddenly a mid-sized, darkly colored car came speeding past and was about to roar by her. She nearly jumped at the sight of something being thrown out of the car and into the window of a restaurant to her right. Glass shattered. Tires screeched. It accelerated to get away. In a horrific second she instinctively knew.
She cried out frantically, "It's a BOMB! It's a bomb! Oh!" while her shaking hand pointed toward the broken window.
People screamed and scattered. Molly froze, looked at the restaurant, stalled a moment, and turned to run away. BOOM! The blast shattered the calm of the evening. She felt heat and bright light behind her as she fell forward, screaming. Her hands stung as she hit the pavement with palms open. Her knee felt sharp pain as it banged down on the concrete. Dirt, flying concrete and glass pelted her from the direction of the shattered building. A brick hit her head, and something mashed down on her foot. She lay there numb and stunned. The smoke began to clear.
Others stumbled out of the restaurant gasping and coughing. Flames and smoke engulfed the building. Molly could barely lift her head. She lay there, waited and began to drift away feeling numb. She remembered sirens coming ever closer. Through her half-opened eyes she saw shoes running by. A fire engine and several ambulances arrived first. The police yelled, "Get back!" at a curious crowd of spectators. Red lights swept across buildings causing her to feel dizzy. White-uniformed paramedics arrived to help victims. White hot lights flooded the scene. A TV news van sent in a camera crew.
In this confusion Molly heard a cultured, delicate female English voice, "Are you all right, love? Can you move or get up at all?"
Molly nodded her head weakly and grunted slightly, though it was far from certain if she could. She gripped and pulled hard as she struggled to a nearly standing position. The paramedic brushed some dirt off of her; she never saw the woman's face but did catch a glimpse of her finger pointing to police talking to witnesses and less injured victims. She lost focus in a blurry haze. Molly barely took a step, her eyes looking lifeless, and fell back to the ground with a thud. The paramedic turned to see this and bent down beside Molly. Holding the victim around the shoulders, she lifted Molly's head to check her eyes. She turned toward an ambulance.
"Over here, quick! This one's going into shock," she called out.
"Let's be cautious in case there's internal bleeding," one worker whispered as she was lifted on the stretcher.
Another placed an oxygen mask over Molly's face as the ambulance's back doors were shut. The ambulance left this scene of hell on earth: fire, smoke, confusion, and people running, screaming and crying, siren wailing loudly.
Molly lay on a table, though she could not feel the coldness of the emergency room slab. The doctor tore the shirt from her chest, yet she knew no embarrassment. Another doctor spoke in hushed tones, "The face is turning blue," and noted it was strangely still and peaceful.
There was no motion at all, yet somehow she was seeing it all from above her: The heartbeat monitor was going into a straight flat line. Those around the table looked at each other helplessly. A doctor sadly nodded his head and she dimly saw him mouth the words, "Call it," then turned to leave the room. It was as though her spirit had peeled off from her body and became lifeless, but somehow there was still awareness. As she ascended, the sights faded farther and farther away through a hazy halo glow. A nurse pulled a white sheet over her body, including the face.
Now Molly was in solid blackness and was floating forward through a tunnel. Streams of light began to invade the darkness as scenes of her life danced swiftly past her in a peaceful, pastoral way. The scenes reached some sort of end, with the lights culminating in a brilliant pinpoint of white that grew brighter the closer she came toward it. This light seemed to have a personality, definitely warm and benevolent. But it was blocked and shining through an impossibly tall gate with a turnstile. It was ornately cast in gleaming gold. Twenty-four karats. The kind she could only dream of for her own jewelry in the past world. She was buffeted by sonic waves; these could only be described as the music of some higher sphere. Whatever pain she had felt or injury she had sustained was over. Molly was standing and perfectly fine.
A distinct figure appeared within the light, seeming to be angelic and female and beckoning to her. She was swathed in flowing robes of some sort, or could it be the white sheet that covered her when last seen by Molly's eyes? Unlike then, however, this apparition was healthy and vital, with a certain joy that could not be spoken or known on the other side. Molly had often wondered if this is what happened at the gates of eternity.
"Mom? Mom?" Molly called out to find her mother.
Molly's spirit eagerly hungered to go forward. She wanted to be here more than any place she had known before. As if preconditioned by years of riding the subway, she dutifully reached in her pocket and found a shiny gold token. She inserted it into the turnstile slot, only to find that the bar did not twist forward to let her through.
INSUFFICIENT FARE flashed the sign on the side of the turnstile in big red letters.
"No! No! But I put the token in," she wailed plaintively, but the words kept blinking at her almost mockingly.
The comforting figure was fading away back into the mist. Above her, there were rumblings and flashes of light. Instead of the usual harsh, grating tone heralding the closing of the doors and departure of the transport, it sounded like heaven's door bell. A churning sound revved up, then grew more distant to Molly's ears.
"No! Don't leave me! Let me in. Please let me in! How do I get in?"
But, no, this train was leaving without her. It was not to be. Not yet.
The light seemed to engulf Molly, but then it retreated farther and farther away until it was dim and flickering.
Her life to this moment had flashed like a movie compilation though her supernatural semi-consciousness. The playground cruelty because she was short and "ugly" from birth (resulting from her "Turner's syndrome)"; the battles with siblings; the boring jobs, the dream of going backstage to meet the band, the possibility of a career in film making, her lack of normal "dating"-all the hopes, dreams and nightmares summed up and gone in a flash of magical finality.
The bright light was fully gone. She was left in darkness once more, falling backward, still crying, "No! No! Let me in!" She was faintly aware of other voices, other bodies around her again. It was all a blur. Gone was the celestial music. She was fading back into the world of the living.
The doctor stood by the door of the ER trauma room as he took off his protective latex gloves and scrubs, when suddenly a nurse came running up to him.
"Doctor, doctor! We've regained the heartbeat!" she called out frantically.
He ran back with her to find the sheet stripped away. Molly was writhing and moaning on the table, arms and legs thrashing at the cover that had signaled her demise. However weak, she was definitely alive. Other staff now struggled to calm her down and keep her still.
"Sedation," the doctor ordered.
He reached for the syringe filled with a sedative. Molly felt the needle invade her arm. In minutes, the team calmed her. She seemed to be fading out again, but this time was different. She was groggily aware of being rolled over from the table onto a wheeled cot. One of the nurses and a transporter were on either side as they wheeled it down a corridor; the hall was still aswirl with noise and frantic movement due to the bombing incident; forms rushed past her as she dozed in a drunken haze. Molly looked up weakly at the round white lights lining the ceiling above her, as if trying to remember something. A look of profound regret was on her face. Now she consciously remembered the events that led to this moment.
* * *
She remembered how her move from California to Philly changed her life years ago. In Philadelphia, the day was young, but the night had aged her. Early morning light filtered hazily through the cracks in the venetian blinds, streaking the walls of her new surroundings; the ceiling and floor were blotched with soft rays of sunlight. Slowly this light crept upon her face, but there was no solace. It had been another insomniac night haunted by past ghosts and present anxieties that made her clutch at her blanket and pillow in anguish and whimper softly like a lost child.
Molly Freeman had awakened. It was early 1973 and she would be twenty this year. She looked around the room, the one she had grown up in, and now had to return to. What a mess! For almost three weeks now, her suitcase had lain open on the floor, with clothes spilling out and all over the room. She was hoping to use it again soon, so there was no use in unpacking and organizing.
After all these years, in her London haze, she recalled vividly how a door squeaked open at her mom's home, and hit loudly against the wall, followed by the sound of water running in the bathroom sink. It was 7 o'clock. Dear brother and sisters were up and getting ready for school. With dark circles underneath puffy eyes, Molly dragged herself slowly, heavily, out of bed and ambled down the hallway to the bathroom door. She was barefoot and clad only in an old, faded nightgown on this cold winter morning. The littlest sister, Roberta, already fully dressed, her fresh pre-teen face framed in braids, soon came out and bounced down the stairs. In her bleary-eyed early morning state, Molly hardly knew what was happening, but her other sister, Susan, zoomed past her into the bathroom.
"Hey, I was here first!" Molly grunted indignantly.
Susan (a high school cheerleader type who was gorgeous and knew it) turned to her sister and let out a rather loud, disgusting burp. Molly caught a gust of the stale morning breath in her face.
"How'd you like it if I suddenly belched in your face first thing in the morning?" she protested.
With that, Susan slammed the door in her sister's face. Molly pounded on the door several times and rattled the door knob to no avail. It was now locked.
"Why don't you grow up?" Susan yelled from within.
"Why don't you?" she yelled back.
She gave the door one last pound, though it wouldn't do any good and retreated downstairs to the kitchen. Roberta and her brother Sam were there, busy making their lunches. Since Molly had last seen him, the mid-teenage boy had grown his hair long and become as scruffy-looking a pretend hippie as their mother would tolerate. He teasingly played with the cat, whose name was Puff, tossing a ball of string barely out of reach. Standing off to the side, Molly could hear that the nearby downstairs bathroom was also in use. She heard running water and the babbling, gurgling sound of her mother brushing her teeth. Sophia Freeman soon emerged, outfitted in a crisp white uniform for her job as a nurse at the local hospital. Stressed and rushed as she ever was, she scrambled around the kitchen in quest of a cup of coffee.
"Roberta, why doesn't this cat have any food out?" she barked loudly as she poured herself a cup of the precious black liquid.
"I don't have time," the youngest child whined.
Sophia checked her watch. "Oh, that's right. Come on, you two, you're going to be late for the bus. And, Sam, so help me, if I hear of you skipping classes again ..."
Sam was rather irritable, this being his first day back at school since being suspended for that same offense and also being caught smoking in the boys' bathroom.
"Aw, leave me alone," he huffed. He stomped out, slamming the door so hard that everyone in the room grimaced as it banged. He didn't even take his lunch, Molly noticed.
"Good morning," her mother was saying to her, only just now noticing Molly standing in the kitchen entrance.
"Morning," Molly muttered, then crossed the room to sit at the table. She might as well have said, "What's so good about it?"
"Are you all right?" Sophia asked her.
"Come on, what is it? You look like death warmed over."
"Yeah. Even more than usual," Roberta chimed in.
Sophia flashed Roberta a disapproving look.
"Nothing. I'm okay, I said," Molly insisted.
"Aren't you happy to be back? Or do you still blame only me for the divorce, like he had nothing to do with it?" Sophia posed.
Strange. After a lifetime of hearing her dad called "honey" and "dear" by her mom, it was now strictly "he" or "him" or-Molly's personal favorite-"that man." Molly averted her eyes from her mother's and lowered her head in avoidance of the question, yet at the same time answered it.
"That's it, isn't it?" Sophia noted disappointedly. Then she turned to Roberta and gave her a nudge on the shoulder. "Come on, out with you. You're late."
Sophia pecked Roberta on the cheek with a kiss, and the girl scrambled out. Sophia went over to the coat rack in the nearby hallway leading to their front door, where she began to slip on her coat and collect her purse. With a sigh, she turned back to Molly. "So, what now? What are you going to do?"
This was truly the big question right now, even more so than Why Are We Here? Molly had spent the final year of high school, plus an additional year trying to make it in Los Angeles, while living with her father. Mostly she found out what she didn't want to do. Now she was back in Philadelphia in the dead of winter, longing for the sun and balmy Pacific warmth she missed. The one thing she was certain of was her artwork. It had seemed to be a little too abstract and free-form for some of her high school art teachers, but there was consensus that she had talent. Her repertoire had expanded over the years to include creations in oils, chalk, watercolor and varied crafts. It was her only outlet for expression during those difficult high school years. She had found no supplies since returning home.
Excerpted from Michael and Me by Pam Schwartz Copyright © 2010 by Pam Schwartz. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Insufficient Fare: On the shore of nightmares....................7
2 Did God yawn?....................25
3 Believe in magic....................31
4 And Heaven and Nature sing....................45
5 Worlds away....................49
6 She's not with the band....................63
7 Baby blues and other hues....................67
8 Into the woods....................79
9 Christmas of the cat....................89
10 Nine to five-not alive....................93
11 Out of the woods....................99
13 Hell freezes over and pigs fly....................113
14 Going for it....................119
15 Something for Michael....................127
16 Hooray for Mollywood....................133
17 Moment of truth....................135
18 Molly's parade....................139
19 The sad nutcracker....................145
20 Symphony of shame....................151
21 Symphony of sorrow....................155
22 A Florida Christmas....................159
23 The Pepsi pusher....................169
24 Good morning Chelsea....................173
25 A window opens?....................177
26 Molly's McDate....................181
27 All these zombies....................185
28 The woman she means to be....................193
29 On the wings of maybe....................199
30 In a new old world....................201
31 No access....................205
32 At Stonehenge....................211
33 The icing on the cake....................213
34 Insufficient fare: Remembered....................219
35 Moment of clarity....................221
36 All we need....................225
37 Invitation: Short but Deep....................233
38 All access....................247
39 From the horse's mouth....................259
40 In Michael's garden....................265
42 Something for Molly....................293
43 Acceptance: Still waters run deep....................295
44 Day one....................303
45 Night one....................325
Addendum: Words of wisdom....................1
Addendum: Resource Guide....................2-9 From the Author....................10