The Altar Boy

At the end of August I made a visit to the Pfalz region of Germany with friends. We went to visit friends of my friends (if you follow). The couple I’ll call Josef and Beate showed us around the historic city of Speyer. The Speyer Cathedral is the most important Romanesque church on the planet.

A bold boast, but true. For starters, it contains the world’s largest Romanesque crypt. The crypt has been described as ‘the most sublime monument on German ground.” [1] Speyer is the last resting place of both kings and emperors. The Pope had to crown a king (always men, natch) for him to be officially titled Holy Roman Emperor. Depending on political conditions, the Pope might – or might not – name the ruler “Imperator Romanum”.

Rudolph von Habsburg, a lugubrious chap in an unusually true-to-life depiction for the Middle Ages. He died in 1291.

The oldest grave belongs to Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1039. Take that date in for a moment. This church was consecrated almost a millenium ago. And it’s built on the site of an older church, founded hundreds of years earlier. Speyer is the heart of ancient Germany.

Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl came from the Pfalz and is memorialized with a plaque in front of the cathedral. Kohl was notorious for bringing dignitaries to admire the cathedral and then making them eat Saumagen for lunch. [2]

“In appreciation of the merits of Bundeskanzler Dr. Helmut Kohl.” Plaque placed in thanks for the way he pointed to the Cathedral as example of the Christian roots of a united Europe. No mention of the Saumagen though

Speyer’s Cathedral was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981. Yes, the breathtaking and harmonious proportions make this a site and sight to see. But what really blew my mind was the story of Josef, which he told me as he showed me around the cathedral and the crypt.

He spent much of his childhood in a boys’ home run by nuns, just around the corner from the church. The sisters had plans for him to become a priest. Each Sunday he served as altar boy, taking part in the church services. [3] Then he met Beate, the woman who has been his wife for 52 years, and that took care of that.

As we stood at the high altar Josef talked about the years after his mother died and he came to live as part of the religious community. I looked out over the vast interior of the Cathedral and almost felt dizzy. Yikes. This wasn’t some great monument for him. He wasn’t describing a thousand of years of history; he’s literally at home here. This grand space helped formed him as a human being. Josef, his story, and the soaring church are beautiful.

NOTES: [1] – German poet Reinhold Schneider. [2] Saumagen is the German version of Scottish haggis. Instead of suet and sausage in a sheep’s intestine, the Pfalz version uses pig’s stomach. I’ve tried it, and it’s not bad. Tasty, even. [3] Josef is 74 years old, so the services would have been conducted in Latin.

Speyer Cathedral’s Dimensions [Source: Wikipedia]

  • Total length: 134 meters/ 440 feet (from the steps at the entrance to the exterior wall of the east apse)
  • External width of the nave (with aisles): 37.62 meters/ 123 feet (from exterior wall to exterior wall)
  • Internal width of the nave: 14 meters/ 46 feet
  • Height of the nave at the vertex of the vaults: 33 meters/ 108 feet
  • Height of the eastern spires: 71.20 meters/ 233 feet
  • Height of the western spires: 65.60 meters/ 215 feet
  • Crypt Length: east-west 35 meters/ 114 feet; north-south 46 meters/ 150 feet; Height: between 6.2 meters and 6.5 meters/ 20 feet and 21 feet

© Text and Photos Jadi Campbell 2018. Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Duck Duck Goose or The Animal Kingdom: A Paddling

One of my favorite places to be is on water, scanning for bird life

November 11th, or 11/11, is an odd German holiday known as St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag).  St. Martin of Tours (316 – 297 CE) is a saint associated with modesty and altruism (aren’t they all?). Legend has it that St. Martin slashed his cloak in half to save a homeless person from freezing. His holiday used to be followed by a fast that lasted a long, hungry period of weeks, stretching out to Christmas. [1]

But St. Martin’s Day is celebrated here in southern Germany by eating a special dish of duck or goose (Martinsgans), accompanied by red cabbage cooked with apple, and homemade dumplings known as knödel.

When it gets dark, nighttime glows with candles from lantern processions (Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge). The streets fill with adults, accompanying children who carry hand-made lanterns. In our village the procession is led by an actor dressed up as the saint. In some areas the  parade follows behind an actor dressed up as a Roman soldier on horseback. [2]

The tradition to eat a goose (today usually replaced by a duck) on St. Martin’s Day is believed to go back the medieval tax system. November 11th was one of the days when medieval vassals had to pay taxes, and peasants often paid with a goose. [3] Another popular story is that a gaggle of honking geese betrayed Martin’s hiding place: he hid in a goose pen from the people of Tours when they wanted to make him a bishop. [4]

Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings statues in Boston’s Public Park. I love the little kid playing among the ducklings

All the local restaurants and beer gardens have duck and goose dishes on their menus. Reserve your table now! they cajole.

***

In all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never ordered or willingly ate duck. Bizarrely shiny, glistening, reddish shellacked duck carcasses hang on meat hooks in the front windows of Chinese restaurants throughout the city. And hang. And hang. And hang. Just the idea of the oldness and congealed fat covered with flies of this ‘special dish’ turned my stomach. Strongly flavored meat that’s been aging for probably as long as the restaurant’s been in business? Yuck! I’ll take a pass…

But I recall with glee the Peking duck Uwe and I ate in Beijing. The restaurant specialized in only Peking duck, along with all the pomp and circumstance such a dish demands.

Our Chinese friend Weiyu orders for us, but every single table  wants the same meal. Waiters are formally dressed, complete with chefs’ toques, mouth masks and protective gloves. By the end of the evening they carve hundreds of plates of duck.

These guys are fast! Snick snick snick and your duck is parsed into a meal

May November 11th bring you flights of fancy and a visit from the Bluebird of Happiness. By now the ducks and geese, indeed, all migrating birds have already left for warmer climates. Despite the record-breaking warm days here in Germany, winter is coming (yes, we hear you John Snow).

Have a great St. Martin’s Day.

NOTES: [1,4] German Holidays Time and Date.com [2] Martin was  a Roman soldier before becoming a saint… See also wiki/St. Martin’s Day. [3] Medieval peasants had it rough. Taxes were collected as well upon marriage and death, St. George’s Day, and spring and fall. Source: Peasantry Their Problem and Protest in Assam (1858-1894) by Kamal Chandra Pathak. A group of ducks on water is called a paddling. The collective noun for geese on the ground is a gaggle; when in flight, they are called a skein, a team, or a wedge; when flying close together, they are called a plump. Quora ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. For more about ducks and geese go to my earlier posts The Animal Kingdom: 1 and 15. Say this 3 times, fast: Future posts will feature our feathered friends!

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

The Waterfalls of Laos: South 2

We’re enchanted with bodies of water. Yes, the Amazon River is definitely on our wish list…. We love them all, from the impossibly old cultures and antiquities found along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt to the remote beauty and haunting calls of loons on the back trails of lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks, to the ever changing scenery along the Mekong.

The Mekong River defines Laos in many ways. Laos is a landlocked country, but visitors forget this fact because the river runs the length of the land. When it reaches the southernmost border to Cambodia, the Mekong River divides up into a landscape of fast-running parallel streams.

It’s a quiet region, frequented mostly by nature lovers and stoners (see the first half of this post for some details on that aspect of travel).

Locals still go fishing in what looked like awkward and probably highly dangerous but effective fashion.

The Mekong River is wide and sleepy in places up north. Here, though, the river definitely rolls and tumbles. This method of fishing is surely the smartest way to work with the force of the waters and guarantee a good catch.

Here are some reasons why you should visit Southern Laos: the sweetness of a part of the world that isn’t in a hurry and has spectacular scenery.

The chance to get into areas that are still relatively untouched by mass tourism.

Footbridge on the Bolaven Plateau

The natural world: biologists and botanists continue to discover new species. And the flora and fauna that Laos contains are beautiful.

Plus you never know when you’ll sail into the middle of a local festival. We literally did just that as we headed down river from Pakse to reach 4,000 Islands. A long boat race was going on, and Uwe and I didn’t need to be asked twice if we wanted to stay for a while and watch.

We tied up alongside these other boats that were watching the races
Religious offerings make any boat even more beautiful
Joyous. Wet, but joyous….
All takes place under the watchful tender eye of the Buddha

We booked our trip with a gentle young guide and a variety of boats. The infrastructure is simple compared to Germany or Hong Kong, but with cell phones and patience it all went smoothly. When you’re in a place as lovely as Laos is, it’s all good.

One last waterfalls photo, Bolaven Plateau

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. For more about Laos’s waterfalls in the north, go to my earlier post The Waterfalls of Laos: North.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Waterfalls of Laos: South 1

On our last trip to Laos we headed south to the quiet little city of Pakse in the Chapasak province. We wanted to see old ruins – and really spectacular waterfalls!

For the latter we booked a guide to reach the Bolaven Plateau. Hiking in to some of the waterfalls was a gloriously steep, wet walk.

Later, with the same guide (and boats) we were carried to 4,000 Islands (Si Phan Don). I was beyond amused to notice the signs on some of the guesthouses in  4,000 Islands, announcing that special, magical pancakes were available for breakfast…. My German husband missed the inference and asked why I was laughing. “Guests can get their pancakes laced with the noble herb,” I informed him. [1] Sure enough, plenty of tourists in the 4,000 Islands region spent all their time literally hanging out in hammocks. They were all way too relaxed – or something – to be ambitious. They were in no hurry to explore.

Or move.

The Mekong River splits into branches at this end of Laos and tumbles over  boulders and channels cut through rock.

When the French colonized Laos they came up with a bold (and ultimately quixotic) plan to build a railway through the region. They  wanted to go around the waterfalls and create a faster, easier way to travel and ship goods either to the north, or to the southern Vietnam port of Saigon. The result is what a CNN article wryly refered to as “Laos’ first railway: 14 km of rust” [2].

The Mekong defeated the engineers, and 4,000 Islands is a beautiful sleepy area.

But the waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau. We hiked in to as many as our young guide was willing to take us to.

Part Two to follow.

NOTES: [1] I turned 16 the year that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was released. If you know me, you know this fact explains everything, including what makes me laugh. [2] travel.cnn.com ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. For more about Laos’s waterfalls in the north, go to my earlier post The Waterfalls of Laos: North.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

Dinner with Guillermo

I’ve written before about travel karma. [1] You know, that sense of crushing inevitability when the tour bus arrives late because of the traffic, and it’s crowded, and the guy in the seat behind you won’t stop whining, and you’re about to turn around and open your mouth and give him something to really complain about. Travel karma is a bitch.

It can also be awesome. Uwe and I spent a too-short week on Gran Canaria, and we ate twice with Guillermo Ramirez. But let me back up.

Eating is a major aspect of traveling with my spousal unit. If you see us poring over the guide books, we’re probably checking out the historic, cultural, and Nature highlights of wherever we are.

Okay, kitsch sneaks into the mix sometimes too

I can guarantee you we’ve already scoped out all the good places to eat! Gran Canaria was no exception, and Uwe found a highly praised locale kitty-corner to our hotel. Hungry, on Thursday we headed over to Restaurante de Cuchara and entered a small family restaurant, probably 12 tables max. The owners greeted guests like old friends (most of them were) and only the owners’ handsome son Guillermo spoke English. He took it upon himself to serve us each course – which he was also cooking – and explained each dish with pride. The meal was great. I’ve retained a little of my high school and college Spanish (moving to Germany and having to learn Deutsch highjacked most of the foreign language area of my brain). But I could read the flier on our table that said Restaurante de Cuchara was serving a special six-course menu on Saturday.

Even before we finished dinner, we’d made a reservation for the coming Saturday. We got the last free table.

On Saturday night Guillermo again brought each course to our table and told us how he’d prepared them. Our meals cost a grand 30€ apiece.

Here are some of the dishes we ate those nights: A fermented, champagne-style gazpacho. Rabbit in a roll that you ate with your hands. Melt-in-your-mouth croquettes of suckling lamb. Grilled Canarian cheese with tomato jam. Quail stew with chickpeas. Cod fish Bras style. Canarian pork cheeks stew. Duck breasts. Pickled cucumber on edamame purée.

I was dying to ask him a question. When he came with our desserts I said, “We’ve been wondering if we might ask you, where did you train as a chef?” He smiled. “NOMA, in Copenhagen. I worked for a while in Bangkok, too.” NOMA! We knew NOMA has been repeatedly rated the best restaurant in the world. [2]

Guillermo was back on Gran Canaria for a few months, helping out in his parents’ restaurant. This particular dining experience was a way to show off what he could do with local ingredients and creativity. I told him that I blog and would be writing about him. I added, with absolute certainty, that I think he’ll be famous someday. His cooking is that good.

No, I didn’t receive a discount for saying I’d write a rave review. And yeah, travel karma. Sometimes you hit it just right.

NOTES: [1] I wrote about travel karma in a post I unimaginatively titled Travel Karma [2] NOMA was rated the Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

I have no idea if Señor Guillermo Ramirez is still in the kitchen, but here’s the contact info for this tasty restaurant. Restaurante de Cuchara, C/. Alfredo L.  Jones, 37; Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Tel: 928 26 55 09. Their website: Restaurante de Cuchara

6 October 2018 update… Note to anyone lucky enough to be heading to Gran Canaria: Guillermo informed me that he’s opened a new restaurant named Picaro. Here is the link: Restaurante Picaro If you are in Las Palmas, go!

Text © Jadi Campbell 2018. Photos © Uwe Hartmann 2018. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Amsterdam

NOTE: I first published this post 5 years ago. I reprint it as a prayer for our world. —Jadi

The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.

I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m  American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.

A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:

Friday Buddha, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma
Friday planetary post, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma

“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.

An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.

A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.

The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.

The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.

In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.

“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”

Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.

He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.

The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland.  We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.

Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.

Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.

Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.

A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”

Bagan, Burma

NOTE: This post originally marked my first year of blogging. I’m still at it, 6 years later. Thanks for your support.  — Jadi © Jadi Campbell 2013. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Hit and Run – 12

“Don’t put the lies on me!” Margaret began, but Lou refused to let her interrupt him now that he was finally describing the truth.

“Oh, come on. Admit it, Margaret. Thinking I had some tragic event in my past, or wait, even better, a tragic flaw somewhere in my own genes that a dead twin inherited and lived out to the bitter tragic end, rather than me – thinking those things made you look at me twice. Three times. But when you get down to it, the human condition is the same for everybody. We’re all either hit and run victims or slowly dying of chronic mortality.

“After the first story it just got harder and harder to tell the truth. I was going to cop to it, the very next time we met for a date, but you were so insistent on hearing about Joey. Suddenly you were interested in him, and really by extension, in me. The tragic survivor who’d lost the identical twin he was nothing like but boy were they close.”

“The factoids about twins and genetics?”

“Googled,” he admitted. “But the postcards are real. I did actually collect them in the dreams of making a Grand Tour.”

“You, not Joey,” she spat the words.

“Me, Joey, it’s the same thing, you mean you still don’t get it? Whatever you want to name Joey’s hopes and dreams: if I made them up, I realized something over the course of doing that. They’re all mine. My dreams, my hopes, my wishes for a life I didn’t have. You helped me see what I really wanted to be, but never had the courage to go after. Margaret, I changed my life because of you and because of Joey both! I even planned on buying us tickets for a Europe trip, the one I told you Joey always planned to go on, but more importantly the one I might have liked, too!

“Fuck me,” he cursed violently. “I’ve gone along being so content to be safe in a normal, middle class life. I like this life. I want a decent paying, steady job, and a partner to love. The house with the white picket fence. A shaggy dog, and the tire swing for the kids strung up in the back yard. All of it.

“I want all those things,” Lou repeated. “But thinking about Joey made me think about all the other things that might be out there, too.”

“He doesn’t even exist!” Margaret shrieked. “He’s a figment of your imagination! Worse, he’s based on a stuffed elephant.” She stuffed her keys back into her coat pocket and grabbed her purse. “I’m going to Ginny’s. Pack your things while I’m gone. I don’t think I want to talk to you or see you for a while.” Margaret made a wide circle around the part of the room where Lou stood, and the door clicked shut.

Lou crouched, picking up the fallen postcards on the floor. Carefully Lou collected the images. What he’d told her was true. In the course of constructing a more and more elaborate lie about an identical twin, who died, Lou had listed all of the qualities and personality traits he secretly wished were his. Oh, not the tragic genetic defects, of course; but even those had become precious. They had set his imaginary doppelgänger apart and made him special.

In the embroidering of their story, his and Joey’s, Lou had slowly inhabited that figure. At first he’d worried about convincing Margaret, afraid the deception would be noted. But she fell in love with him as the surviving, desolate half. Little by little, Lou did more than imagine himself in the role. Lou dug around in the dirt of his nonexistent twin’s grave. Out of the Petrie dish of that humus he rewrote his DNA code, twisting the strands anew.

What would you be if you could be anything? If you could rebuild your past, your family, the developmental arc of your genetic arrangement, what would it look like? Lou had dived into the conundrum and slowly constructed a human being who was still himself, boring, dull, predictable, good enough but not spectacular; and yet, so much more than the sum of his parts.

Lou retrieved the last postcard from underneath the coffee table. Lost in thought and regret, Lou shuffled them together and dropped them in a pile. God and Adam looked up at him, hands stretching out to meet.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 11

Margaret surprised Lou by silently allowing him to go back to her apartment with her. His hopes she’d let the topic lie were dashed as soon as they were in the door and had taken off their coats. She crossed the room without speaking. Margaret kept her back to him. She paused in front of the sideboard and pulled out a large manila envelope.

Margaret flicked a quick wrist. Flip. A post card of an Algarve fishing village sailed through the air of the room and landed at Lou’s feet. She gave her wrist another vicious flick. Flip. God and Adam skidded through the room and glanced off his shoulder. Flip. Hadrian’s wall in northern England crashed to the floor. Flip. The believers at Mont St. Michelle landed hard on their faces down under a chair. Flip. Flip. Flip. Lou was attacked with a blurred fury of paper, but he made no move to ward it off.

When she ran out of Joey’s postcards Margaret stood clenching her hands open and closed. “Was it fun? Stringing me along like some little kid believing in Santa Claus? Or was that the Easter Bunny, some rabbit being pulled out of a hat by you, faking me out, making me believe in magic when it was all sleight of hand? When it was all lies?”

“Margaret,” he begged. “Listen.”

“To what? More stories about Joey? Jesus Christ Lou, I listened to you talk about a stuffed toy!”

“You listened! For the first time since we’d started dating you were actually interested in what I had to say. You listened to me, you heard what I was saying for once! Because when I talked about myself, Lou, good old dependable predictable boring Lou Bocci, you couldn’t care less.” Lou’s body was shaking. “I know you were thinking about breaking up with me, because I’m not shiny enough. I know the signs warning when someone’s getting bored. All this bullshit about how you women want to be equal, you’re as good as any guy, you can do the same jobs we can and earn the same incomes, you don’t need us to survive! Well, that part’s certainly true. But you still want a shiny-armored knight, or at least some pinch of romantic scenery. Gondolas in Venice or a barge on the Nile.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Margaret almost shouted the question; somehow her voice remained level.

“You wanted to be carried away, sail off starry eyed down some river. Women need to drown in a sea of love. Oh, my love was real enough. Is. But the package it comes in, me, that’s not flashy enough. My last three relationships broke up for no reason whatsoever, just, ‘It’s not going to work, let’s end it while we’re friends.'” Lou’s arms waved as he angrily mimicked a female falsetto.

His anger faded as quickly as it had come. “Margaret. About Joey,” he said in a low voice. Despite herself Margaret quieted, still eager to know what he was going to reveal next. “It wasn’t planned. You kept asking me about myself, my past, I knew you were genuinely curious, but I knew too I’d better come up with something to keep you interested in sticking around. By the third time you asked about my childhood, I knew the question to follow was going to be, What time can I drop off your things back at your house?

“I’m so…not interesting. I’m just a guy with a decent job who follows hockey in the winter. Haven’t I always been good to you? Treated you right, followed all the rituals? I brought you flowers, waited until you gave me the signal to make the next moves.

“Being normal, a decent human being trying to do his best just isn’t enough anymore. We guys somehow fall short because we’re decent. So, I faked it.” Lou raised his chin and stuck it out at her, defiant. ‘Tell me more about your life,’ you said, and really what you meant was, ‘Can’t you be a little more interesting or special?’ To give you what you really wanted from me, I made something up.”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 10

Margaret and Lou were in love with one another, deeply so, the night they went to dinner in the city at JJ’s. The restaurant was packed, and they had to wait although they had reserved a table. It didn’t matter; they had drinks in the bar and laughed as the bartender bantered with his customers.

Food at JJ’s was always worth a wait and when it arrived the meals were perfect. Margaret’s meal began with spaghetti with white truffle sauce, while Lou ordered the homemade squash ravioli. He talked while he ate and his girlfriend listened, happy to give her full attention to the divine flavors of simple cheese and pungent mushroom. Lou ordered another carafe of the house red wine while amusing her with the story of Joey’s invented secret passwords. “He’d read all these old fairy tales of princes trying to enter secret caves or transformed into toads and needing a password to change back. He thought the old tales were lame.

“‘Open sesame?’ Joey said. ‘Sesame? How about, Open ambergris? Or what about a tongue twister password, now here’s one the wizard won’t ever figure out! How about something like Lonely lovelorn laddies’ lips lie, and lay luckless ladies low.’ God, Joey could be a moron.”

Margaret choked on her wine. “Enough already!” she said when she stopped coughing. Margaret was wiping tears of laughter from her eyes when a voice interrupted.

“Lou Bocci? Lou?”

Lou and Margaret looked up from their pasta bowls. An attractive woman their age in a business suit stood in front of the table smiling widely. “I thought it was you!”

“Ruby!” Lou’s chair scraped as he stood up. Lou and the woman known as Ruby hugged each other tightly.

“This is my fiancée Margaret. Margaret, this is Ruby Warner. We went from nursery school all the way through high school together. Sometime in there we lost track of each other! Ruby, how the hell are you!” Lou beamed at her, delighted. “This was my best, best friend at age 4!”

“So she knew Joe!” The words were out before Margaret could stop them. She couldn’t help it; it was so exciting to meet someone who’d actually known Lou’s magical, tragic twin.

Ruby looked at her and frowned. “Who?” Then her face cleared. “Oh, do you mean, Joey?”

Margaret felt bad; his dead brother was probably a taboo topic between Lou and his friends from back then. “Yeah. You know, his brother,” Margaret said fumbling; but she saw Ruby knew whom she was referring to.

Lou grimaced and mouthed a “no” at her.

Ruby poked Lou in the ribs. “Brother?” She looked back over at where Margaret sat. “Lou told you he had a brother named Joey?”

“I’m sorry,” Margaret tried again as she flailed for words. “But. You know, his twin. Joe, who died. I’m really, really sorry; I didn’t realize talking about him was off-limits for those who knew him.”

“A twin, who died?” Ruby repeated incredulous. She began to laugh. “Oh, I get it! When we were little kids Lou’s favorite companion was a stuffed toy he got when he was born. It was a pink elephant he named Joey. God Lou, you dragged that raggedy thing everywhere! I thought you were going to have a nervous breakdown when your mom finally took it away from you!

“So Joey morphed into a twin brother, eh! That’s great!” Ruby poked him in the ribs again, this time more gently. “Don’t be so embarrassed, dude. I promise I won’t reveal anymore of your secrets.”

Softer now, she turned back to Margaret and went on talking. Behind Ruby stood Lou. His face had gone absolutely white, like the ghost of his non-existent identical twin brother: Joey, who had just exited the restaurant for good.

“Lou is the most decent, normal, kind person I’ve ever known,” Ruby said. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. There’s nothing weird about Lou. This is one great guy,” she pounded Lou gently on the bicep, “and I’ve missed him terribly since we lost track of one another.”

She frowned a little as she looked at her old friend. “But I don’t want to intrude on your evening! I didn’t mean to interrupt.” She studied Lou’s pale face more closely, began to say something, and reconsidered.

She gave him a placating please-forgive-me-for-embarrassing-you smile. “I need to get back to a business dinner; I’m here to sign a contract. We’re just waiting for the bill, and then we’re heading to the bar for a nightcap to celebrate. Here,” she said, and handed him a business card. “Call me,” she ordered, “so we can catch up and you can give me your contact info. I had no idea you lived in the area! Margaret, it was great meeting you.” Ruby shook Margaret’s hand and gave Lou a last tight hug.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 9

That night they sat in his back yard drinking beers as Lou tended the grill in his methodic way. He had a system, checking and giving the sausages a quarter turn every minute or so. Lou stood and clicked the tongs rhythmically open and shut. It was a desultory summer night and they talked lazily, enjoying the warmth from the last rays of the setting sun. Once the sun set it would be colder. A covered salad and plates and silverware were already on the picnic table and Margaret got them two more beers. Lou measured out the time with his tongs, waiting for the next question to come.

Lou was surprised at how penetrating that question turned out to be. It took him off guard. “Weren’t the two of you ever jealous? I mean, you and Joey were so close, much closer than I ever was with my sisters growing up, that’s for sure. But didn’t you ever feel any jealousy or sibling rivalry?”

She waited for an answer but he didn’t say anything for a long minute. Idly she looked up from her beer. Lou stood on the grassy verge at the grill, metal tongs hanging limply from his right hand. He’d closed his eyes and as she watched something rippled through his body.

In the depictions of his twin who died, Lou willingly spoke in detail about sores that refused to close, the insidious subdermal spread of haematomas, all the strange symptoms that manifested themselves and either joined the litany of things wrong with his brother, or else vanished as abruptly as they appeared. But Lou deliberately avoided talking about the darker widening spread of another congenital disease Joey had: jealousy. It was a fatal condition festering in Lou, too, the inevitable sibling rivalry impossibly squared and cubed to proportions that could fill a room but never be acknowledged. Joey might be incurably ill, but the real elephant in the room was their shared envy. When the boys hit their teenaged years, the fights became ugly and bitter with a resentment that was never far away in either of them.

It seeped into the peaceful moments. Every once in a while they would be in the middle of doing something great together, something only possible because Joey was ill and the boys were able to hang out all the time instead of following normal kids’ routines.

Joey would stop whatever they were doing. “You can stop being the perfect big brother anytime, you know,” he’d say. “Go live your own stupid life. Stop waiting for me to die, so that your life gets to begin!”

Lou denied it, inventing all sorts of protests. “You ass, you’re my brother, the only one I’m likely to get. I didn’t get any say in whether or not I had a brother – or whether I would have picked you.”

“I hate you!” Joey yelled. “You only take care of me because you have to! Go play baseball without me! Like I even care!”

Lou wanted nothing more than to strike his twin, but of course he couldn’t. Instead he laughed, and his voice held a scraping metallic rasp. “Screw you, Joe. I can’t go anywhere, because you’re my stupid, sick, perfect little brother. Everyone loves you best!” he yelled back. “You get all the attention! Every little thing you do is perfect, and you never get punished for anything! The little tragically doomed perfect child. Wouldn’t it be great if a brain tumor or cancer or some congenital disease wormed itself into my cellular make up?”

They had just finished lunch down in the rec room. Joey swept the half empty potato chips bag by the side of his brother’s plate off the table. His thin profile turned bright red. “I’ve had blood tests since the day I was born! Let’s trade places, shit head. You sit in the wheelchair; you go to my physical therapy appointments twice a week!”

Joey stabbed a finger at his twin. “No wait, better yet, take pills with meals and go lie in the hospital for more scans.” The small blue plastic container holding his afternoon medications followed the chips onto the floor. “You know what? You can have people whisper when you walk by the hallway, or let people’s little kids point at you in stores and ask Mommy, what’s wrong with that little boy?

“Idiot!” Lou spit at him. “People point at me anyway. Idiot! I get to hear everyone talk in low voices whether you’re there or not, because I’m the kid stuck with the sick twin brother at home! I’m not even sick, but I get the special treatment right along with you. Don’t you dare tell me about how lucky I am.”

The rage inside filled him up. Lou knew exactly how normal he was. It was exactly that normalness his brother envied, the fact Lou could race around bases and play a mediocre tune on a saxophone. Joey didn’t have the lung capacity for brass or wind instruments, and sports were out of the question.

But Joey got all the attention. Everyone treated Joey special because he was born with a death sentence. Each year their birthday cake had both of their names on it in frosting. Lou could swear the candles always clustered by his brother’s name, because who knew how many more years he’d be around to eat another birthday cake? His schoolwork was always praised, and he was Mr. Clever.

Lou understood an implicit message that said the one thing special about him was that he was totally, completely, but really totally completely average. And that was supposed to be the greatest thing in the world, just being an average, ordinary son… while in secret Lou knew Joey’s condition was the most special thing in the whole universe. It made him unique, it set him apart, and Lou was jealous.

Lou would lie in his bed unable to sleep, feeling the guilt residing in his gut. He knew he shouldn’t be envious of his disabled twin, and his jealousy was wrong. Each time the feelings were followed by sardonic inner commentary. “Is this sick, or what? Oh no, that’s right, it’s Joey who’s sick!” Lou couldn’t even feel unique with his darkness.

He opened his eyes and slowly refocused back on where he was standing in his yard. Lou removed the sausages with short jabs of the tongs. “Sibling rivalry? Were we ever jealous?” He stabbed at the grill one last time and pushed Margaret’s plate roughly across the picnic table at her.

“Jealous? Only all the time. You want to hear about jealous?”

Margaret sat without moving and listened while Lou poured out decades of anger and anguish about his dead twin. She knew the last outburst was directed at Lou the adult, and not himself as a boy with a twin brother doomed to die.

Their outdoor meals grew cold. “God,” Lou said, staring at Margaret with hatred when he finished talking. “God. You have no idea how jealous I was. And Joey was jealous right back.

“But the crowning moment when it was clear to me exactly how not special I am, was the day of a neighborhood picnic. Dad had just finished describing the last round of hospital tests they’d had to take Joey in for. The drunk down the street said, ‘At least you two still have Lou. He’s totally normal, right?’

“‘Yeah, Lou’s a good kid,’ was all my dad said before he turned away. When they saw me standing there listening, they changed the subject.

“That’s me in a nutshell: a good kid.”

Lou leaned across and grasped Margaret by both shoulders. He kissed her, hard, and bit through the cloth of her light sweater. She felt the sharp edges of his teeth press against the skin of her neck, just below her jaw line. “Ouch!” she gasped. It hurt, but she put one hand behind his head and grasped his hair to pull his mouth back up and over her own. He shuddered and bit down on her lip, and she welcomed the pain.

That night Lou made love to her as if he was trying to climb out of his own skin away from the released memories. His earlier admission hung in the bedroom, somewhere up by the ceiling. Like an angel or a poltergeist, the ghost of someone dead but not gone, it hovered. Joey’s spirit looked down and watched them.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.