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In the heartwarmth of sunlight, we journey together again. Sidra smooths myrrh salve into my sore muscles, while Sola swipes her open palm over the horizon.
Then they invite in unison. "Come Danu, let us venture home."
Sidra's eyebrows lift. "We'll leave the past forever."
A whispering breeze whorls the sisters' long hair as we hasten toward the horizon. Soon, we stand on the surrounding ledge of an invisible bowl pushed deep into the Land of Milk and Honey.
Sidra puts hands to hips. "It's the Valley of Plenty."
Sola rubs my shoulder. "And the Valley of Work."
A moist green trail lowers us into the luscious gold lowlands. Along the way, black-tressed Sidra turns to heavenly song and we pause beside the path. Sola throws her golden hair to one side of her angelic face while I stand at her side.
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Like a hurricane, sister Sidra suddenly bellows with all her heavenly might. "Spin little maiden!" Her dark locks billow as she twirls at high-speed to her own acapella. Bronze form and dark hair toy with the breeze while her curves distort and amplify. The draft from her dance draws my spirit upward.
At peace within myself, I move easily with Sola to the other side of the footpath. Sitting on mounds of winter wheat, we watch Sidra make music. Her silhouette becomes a spinning blur as arms fold inward and hands knead full hips. Simple song turns to pure exhilaration as my mind planes along on waves of awe.
Rubbing my neck, Sola tells me to trust her and her sister. "The pain of your growing will yield to the delight of our harvest. Daughters of Fela and Gola, Sidra and I have no need nor way to lie." Sola moves her hand to my brow. "Don't you trust your senses, Danu?"
While Sidra's dance continues to waft our flesh, I look into Sola's eyes. "I trust the two of you more than my senses."
Sidra's twirl finally slows. She frolicks to our side and places her hands on my shoulders - just as a dark purple bolt jumps from the sun to a distant black forest.
My skin chills in alarm. "What was that?"
Sidra manipulates my temples. "Don't despair. Enlightenment will come when the Winds of Time are right."
As the searing brightness of the electric bolt dissipates, the sisters' lithesome arms slide from my upper body and their oiled hands hang intertwined down my back. My cramped neck loosens as their limbs engulf me with loving tenderness. Their clasped hands press my spine as their oiled bosoms cushion my chest.
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My fingers touch their soft lips - until another bolt blasts across the heavens and the ground rocks with thunder.
I woke from my slumber, that first night back in Kansas - to a knocking at the door. In the middle of the night, the knocking sounded very far away as I yawned and sat up on my couch. Outside the window, there hung a sliver of late August moon against a starless sky.
Stumbling to my feet, I grappled into my jeans and half-yelled. "Who's there?"
No reply came and the knuckle-knocking turned to a stick-rapping. I grabbed Abraham and bellowed as loud I dare at so late an hour. "Hold on a minute!"
I poled my way out into and across the dank living room. Unbolting the door, I cracked it open and asked who it was, so late.
The stark silhouette of a tall feline, backlit from the low-level amber hall lighting, offered forth a long, skinny hand. She announced herself with a contrived accent. "Herr Daniels, I am Eleanor with the Raven Financial Institution."
Shaking her cold, rigid hand, I asked what she wanted.
She smoothed her tight leather skirt against her dark brown, fish-net hose. "Can I come in to chat with you for a second, dahling?"
I pulled my zipper up and stepped politely aside as the teutonic dominatrix high-heeled her way in and tried to take control. "I must have a moment of your time, so turn on the lights, dahling."
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I told her that I didn't have any electricity.
She said it was such a shame. "Lucky, I have a nightlight on the end of my flashstick - I mean flashlight on the end of my nightstick."
As the long-limbed blonde perched her things on my edit console, I said that I got the picture. She drew a nightstick from the leather sheath affixed to the back of her briefcase, flashed its focused light in my face and spoke hollowly. "I'm here to help you, if you'll only let me, dahling."
I told her that that was good and pushed the red-ringed head of her laser-beacon out of my face. "Sit down and don't flash that light in my eyes again, please."
Hiking her short, brown skirt a couple inches, she sat and crossed her long, boney legs.
I cleared my throat and sat on the padded stool opposite hers. I told her that she better be careful prowling around in the night. "At the very least, you're liable to get your long fingernails broken, Lenore."
She directed the light beam onto her aryan face. "No, dahling, I'm not Lenore. Eleanor is my name. I am Ms. Eleanor S. with Ra..."
"With Raven Finance. I know."
Cross-eyed beyond belief, her left eye looked into my left eye, and her right into my right (even though we were facing each other). She knew I'd seen something wrong with her eyes and made a confession. "I am a surgical experiment and proud to have made the sacrifice for the supreme cause, dahling."
When I asked what I could do for her, she said that she had come to help me "forevermore."
I was about to tell her that I too had read Poe's poem about forevermore (or whatever), when she turned the light on my chest and snarled. "Dahling, cover your chest. Put that pole away and put on a tunic."
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I told her that she was lucky I had pants on.
She grimaced. "But Brownie und Heinie didn't tell me you had such a big shtar - or such a giant shtick."
I grabbed the flashlight and turned it on her sagging chest. The creme-colored sleeveless blouse beneath her super-tight sepia leather vest had obviously been form-fitted to accentuate her shallow cleavage. She splayed her hand over her empty breast. But not before I could discern a tatoo, mostly obscured by mauve makeup. The SwizzleStick logo's vertical shaft served as the bitch's cleavage line, barely visible.
Pretending not to see the calling card, I handed the flashlight back to the rattled intruder and told her that I didn't know who Brownie or Heinie were, nor did I care whether she approved of my Jewish Star or walking stick. "I'm not going to hide my faith from you or anyone else, Ms. S."
She tried to placate. "As you wish, dahling. I am a full-blooded Deustchekinder, daughter of the neoland. I easily adopt."
I was getting tired of all the bullshit. "You're from a collection agency, aren't you?"
She showed her sharp, crooked teeth. "In a manner of speaking. But that's a rather callous way of putting it, Herr David Daniels, past President of Motion Video." She removed a sheath of pink legal sheets from her valaise and flattened them on my desk. She shone her light on them for an instant, then turned it back on me.
Enough was enough. "Put that damn light down!"
Sarcastically, she said that she would do whatever I wished, then surveyed my living room with the light. "I'm here to help you, even if you are Hebrew, dahling. I will help you clear your conscience of the bad debts my higher-ups have accumulated against your assets."
I told her that I'd been under the weather since January, but I was beginning to feel better, and, as soon as I got back in business, I'd pay off all my bills. "You can see for yourself, I can't even afford electricity."
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She said that that was such a shame. "How much do you still owe on this video equipment?"
I made the mistake of telling her that it was completely paid for. However, when I realized my folly, I decided to make an attempt at reconciliation. "Excuse me for not having on a shirt; but it is the middle of the night."
An angry tick came to her mouth. "So! What of it?"
I told her that I thought bill collectors weren't supposed to make unannounced visits. "Especially not in the middle of the night."
She recoiled, claiming that I hadn't cared to announce my lack of financial credibility on Christmas Eve when I checked into St. Adolf's in the middle of the night. "You stayed for over a month and accumulated a personal deficit of quite a tidy sum against my mentor's namesake." She coughed and refolded her billing papers. "The tidy sum of $20,192, to be quite precise, is way past due, dahling."
I told her that I was a patient at St. Lukes. "Not St. Adolf's."
She said that she knew that. "But dahling, they've been leveraged out by my overseers since your stay." She hacked again and redirected the light onto my face. "Herr David Daniels, once President of..."
I stood up and told her to please apologize to her higher-ups for me, to tell them that I would have never run up such a huge hospital bill if I had known I would be unable to work. "But I have to get back to sleep now, Lenore."
She repeated that her name was Ms. Eleanor S. and strapped her briefcase shut. Standing up beside me, she towered several inches above me, thanks in part to 6" spiked-heel paratrooper bootlets.
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She burped weakly. "You may have to get to sleep, but not before I officially inform you that Raven's representatives intend to petition the Circuit Court, then attach and liquidate your equipment." She belched deeply and frothed at the corners of her tiny mouth. "Of course, if you happen to have an old religious artifact for sale, we could take it for medical and business monies owed our father-firm instead." Her eyes crossed toward the tip of her tulip nose, their irises half disappearing as she tried to act casual. "Even a three-thousand year-old Mosaic Ark would satisfy my leader. He's offering a finder's fee for the right information."
I told her that that was real big of her fuhrer. With Abraham in my left hand, I took her skinny arm in my right and steered her toward the door. When I asked if her father-firm happened to be Pyre Industries, she claimed she was not at liberty to divulge such information.
I tried to make my position perfectly clear, that there was only one way anyone was going to take a single piece of my video equipment, or an Ark if I had one. "You'll have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Good luck and good night, Miss S."
She sauntered toward the door and said that she hoped for my sake that it didn't come to that. Bobbing her empty head a bit to clear the door buck, she asked if I had any other assets. "Possibly in your bedroom?"
Reaching up, I pushed back a lock of her dry-bleached hair and saw a second SOS burned onto her forehead. I lied a little, telling her that I didn't have a bedroom. "I live and work right here in this one room."
She said that we'd see about that. "When the Raven returns in three days."
I nudged her shoulder with Abraham and she jumped. "Keep your hands off me, unless you're prepared to pay with your Semitic soul." Swiveling in place, she started to goose-step down the hallway.
I hammered Abraham into the hardwood flooring and yelled that she ought to return to her new fatherland, now that they were back in business.
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She barked back from the darkness. "Nevermore. Not since they've become such pathetically pacifistic peons."
I told her to have a nice night. "And tell your Herr Hista I said hello."
As her high heels clattered down the steel stairway into what I wished would be the nothingmore, I slammed the door and hurried out onto the fire escape. Sure enough, gangly Lenore folded herself into a polished black Porshe and zipped away. 10-1 she was the same bitch I saw outside the Gas and Eats in Illinois.
Retrieving little Moses from my ceramic cactus, I ambled back to the bedroom couch with both my quiet companions. I had a lot to do before the cross-eyed supremecistess returned to try and claim my video equipment. Needing some sleep, I tried not to wonder if someone really thought that I, David R. Daniels of Kansas, knew where the sacred Ark of the Covenant was.
Two hours later, under lingering moonlight, I made my way up to the emporium and asked Biff if he had any work I could do in exchange for some gas money.
He answered with a half-moon smile. "MPS just delivered my new HMS."
I knew MPS was Midnite Parcel Service. Leaning heavily on mobile Moses, I asked what an HMS was.
Biff said it was an Hydraulic Mop Squeeqee he'd ordered from Gizmonics out in Pasadena. "Granny, the little old librarian, invented the thing. She gave me her catalog and a $3 voucher for chips on the Hound Dog. She said the HMS would be simple to hook right up to the bathroom sink." Biff said that if I took care of it for him, he'd pay me five bucks cash, the $3 voucher, and four out-of-date Polish Sausage sandwiches (with the works).
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I told him to hold the Polish and wheeled the unwieldy contraption toward the backroom, explaining that five bucks was just enough to buy gas to get downtown.
Biff shouted from out front. "Then what?"
I pulled a monkey wrench from O. Henry's toolbox and shouted back that I'd probably have to pawn one of my video cameras. While I worked, Biff lumbered back to change a tank of cola syrup and asked how I was going to do the video deposition for Leo without a camera.
I explained that I had another camera, a better one. "The one I'm going to sell is only a single-tuber. I use a three-chip job for special customers like Leo." I finished connecting the HMS to a tee fitting under the sink and pushed the unit against the wall, on the opposite side of the sinkas the toilet. I told Biff that he better put up a warning sign. "This thing looks like some sort of hotrod toilet and somebody in a hurry is liable to get hung up in it."
Biff pulled a bumper sticker from his smock and grinned. "Granny's Gizmonics thinks of everything." He unrolled the sign and plastered it on the tile above the labor-saving gadget:
While Biff counted out five dollars in nickels, he told me what little he knew about Granny's HOUND DOG casino on wheels. I pocketed the $3 chip voucher and called Lawyer Leonard from the payphone by the Piker's Pastry.
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I was hoping that I could earn some quick cash and put off selling my camera, but Leo's deposition wasn't scheduled for several weeks. My eagerness and disappointment must have filtered through the line.
Leo made a good-hearted offer. "I can pay you in advance if you like, David."
I said that I'd rather not get into any more debt, but that I would like to make a half-hour appointment. "After the deposition, to discuss a legal matter with you."
Leo explained that he didn't handle divorces or bankruptcy cases and I told him that it wasn't anything like that. "At least not directly."
After his secretary Delilah marked me down for 2:00 on the 27th, I exchanged closing pleasantries with Leo and hung up, pensively. I couldn't help but wonder whether I was doing the right thing. Did I want to go public with my life story? Did I want to finance my future from the pain of the past? Sure. Why not? Maybe someone somewhere would even learn something from it.
Biff noticed I was deep in thought and asked if my video business was on the rocks.
Shoveling nickels into my pockets, I confessed business was pretty bad. "Have you seen Dotty around recently, Biff?"
Before he could answer, my friendly landlady strolled right through the door and Biff told her I was just asking about her. After she smiled and asked how I was doing, Biff asked if I was behind in my rent. "If he is, Dotty, I'll beat it out of him for you. Absolutely no charge."
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Dotty calmly explained that she never had to worry. "David always pays Poor Richard's at least one year in advance. He's my best tenant." She winked at me, plutonically.
Little did she suspect my reason for advance payment was to avoid being forcibly returned to an insane asylum for vagrancy, should I suddenly go off the deep end for a second time and be unable to work. I wasn't afraid to tell Dotty, though, that some creeps who called themselves bill collectors were looking for me. "If they ask you where I am or whether or not I moved out, please tell them you don't know."
Dotty said she hoped I wasn't up to some monkey business that might give Poor Richard's a bad name, then looked at me coyly. "Have you moved away without telling me?? Goodness gracious."
After I assured her that I wasn't going to give P.R. a bad name, she told Biff to let her know if he heard of a pre-owned Yugo for sale. He promised to keep an eye out and handed her some goodies for Walker the policeman.
As Dotty strolled toward the door, toting a tall transparent thermos of hot coffee and bulging sack of out-of-date donuts, she shook her finger. "You two overgrown troublemakers better behave yourselves."
Biff asked Dotty to please tell Walker to stop by in his new police cruiser, and I pushed the door open with Moses.
As my landlady disappeared into the woods, Biff told me how Walker hated waterproofing toilets in his spare time. "But he can't refuse Dotty."
When I asked Biff when VW stopped making Bugs, he claimed they hadn't marketed SuperBeetles in the US for about 15 years. "But you can still buy a big ragtop in South America, unless I'm mistaken."
I thanked Biff for the work and the info, and told him that when I rode Granny's Hound Dog, I'd break the bank with the $3 voucher he gave me. "What the hell, I'll give you a third of the winnings."
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Biff said it sounded good to him and tightened his belt. "Speak of the devil, there's a latemodel Bug right now. A ragtop." He pointed out O. Henry's latticed windowfront.
I turned around just as the dirty convertible hummed away. I instructed Biff that the next time he saw the auschwitz-brown Volks or a buchenwald-black Porsche while I was in his establishment, not to point at the scum. "If anyone with a German or Hungarian accent in a leather trenchcoat or miniskirt comes in and asks about me, say I moved back to Missouri."
Biff unwrapped a Twinkie. "Whatever you say, padre´."
Limping outside with laden pockets, I made my slow way over to O'Danny's Utility Stop on the Sante Fe Trail. Orville filled a gas can for me and I headed back to the emporium, even slower. After getting my Chevy fired up, I bought three more gallons from Orville and steered toward downtown KCK with a $1400 video camera in the passenger seat.
Leon's Loan Lobby gave me barely enough to pay the overdue portion of my utilities and buy the supplies I needed. On my return to Johnson County, I purchased plywood, plaster, and paint from Orville.
When Walker finished sealing the crapper down in the laundry room, he helped me move all my things into the rear bedroom. We fabricated a false wall over the bedroom door by nailing a bookcase of old video magazines to the plywood. After thanking Walker for his help, I plastered and painted my hatchway to match the rest of the egg-white apartment. I'd be a recluse for a short, in the hope that Raven Finance would eventually get discouraged - after they divulged their intent. Purposely, I left the front door ajar, then went into hiding.
But there was little escaping the boredom and pain of dwelling in a king-sized closet and I still assumed erratic sleep to be lingering denullification. I assumed worsening leg cramps to be from too much day-pacing, night-climbing, and anger. Gainful employment still impossible, I assumed everything but the truth.
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When the business phone beneath my bed beeped, I knew it was probably a bill collector and pretended to be someone else, claiming to be the neighbor down the hall who just happened to hear the phone ring as he was walking by. "David's moved away." I was starting to lie on a regular basis and didn't like it.
Also, on a regular basis, I held my tongue while Brownie, Heinie, and dahling Lenore cracked anti-Semitic jokes out in my barren living room. They purported to be underpaid operatives of Raven Finance and called themselves the Schicklgruber Triplets. On one visit, Ms. Schicklgruber told her bloodlings that I no longer took Arzt Capol's drugs. "But there's no need to terminate the immortal Semite yet. Only to observe, for the time being."
In unified response, Heinie and Brownie bragged that soon they would fulfill their fuhrer's dream. "Sieg heil! Sieg heil!!"
Lenore clicked her high-heeled marching boots on my hardwood floor. "Empire! Empire Forever!!"
When they went away, I wondered whether they thought I was some ancient Hebrew hero, come back from the dead to destroy their plans for a fourth reich. Deciding they certainly thought I had something they did or did not want, I wondered further whether my cloistered existence was better than Formington.
Of course it was. I was free to look out an open window, regardless how small, and dream of a future free from pain, poverty, and loneliness, no matter how distant.
Many unpaid bills remained from my defunct video operation. At weaker moments, I felt a bit paranoid, wanting to stay in the bedroom forever, imagining bill collectors skulking about in the living room and hallway even after Lenore and the boys had completed their semi-weekly inspection.
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I ventured from my bedroom to use the toilet after dark and to sneak down the fire escape for a walk in the back alleys of old town Lenexa. At midnight on Fridays, I left the back alleys and purchased damaged can goods on the loading dock behind Rob's Supermarket on the other side of the tracks, in the so-called suburbs.
Preparing breakfast one Sabbath morning, I dropped a can of surplus Vienna Sausage and it rolled lopsidedly under the couch. Grappling around for it, my hand touched a dusty volume, my high school yearbook. Folded between brittle pages, under the string of a faded tassel, I found a poem I'd written in the Marine Corps. Eating soggy sausage, I read the blood-stained message to an unrequited sweetheart:
end chap 11
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