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As she handed me the check,I saw it tatooed into her knotty forearm - an ugly, blue-gray serial number. After I quietly paid Sarah, she left to get my change, not knowing I'd gotten a glimpse of hell in those still-legible numerals. While she worked the register, I looked back out the window, assuming she'd been a child of the Warsaw Ghetto when hitler and his nazi jack-offs were raping Europe. Glancing over behind the counter again, at pastel caricatures of the Shloyman brothers, I guessed they were very young during the war, too. But they were probably in some suburban prep school while Sarah was working her way through the school of survival. She and the rest of her family no doubt slept in a rat-infested cellar and stole garbage from the gestapo. Her family didn't care that their hunger pains might be ended by a bullet in the head rather than by garbage maggots in the gut.
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Looking outside once more, into the now-vacant lot across the way, I couldn't help but visualize how Sarah's belly must have swelled with emptiness while she watched her relatives die from disease and despair. Leroy and Irving were most likely, at about that time, watching the latest Bob Hope flicks in their uncle's theatre. Across the Atlantic, Steven's father Solomon was probably sharing his combat rations with the survivors of hitler's Armageddon.
So, in appreciation of a job well done, the US-of-A maintained Solomon's wife on a meager Army salary. Then, when he perished in the Korean wastelands, Sarah and Steven were probably unable to make do with a military pension. Hebrew School for a surviving dependant wasn't on the G.I. Bill of Rights, yet.
Reexamining the chaotic delicatessan, I wondered whether these particular summerbirds, like so many of their snowbird peers, owed their easy lifestyle to clever manipulation of the system. Sarah was the righteous one; though, in their dyslexic view, she appeared the failure. In the eyes of her God, she was certainly chosen to deliver a message of faith. Not because of her suffering, but because of her fortitude and humility.
Asking myself where the justice was, if there was a justice, I looked out the gravy-splattered window into the hazy sky and slammed my fist down hard on the granite sill, hoping there were many more than only a handful of good Jews left in America. I knew there had to be plenty in Israel.
Sarah's soft voice stirred me. "David, thank you for stopping by. Let me freshen up your tea."
While she topped off my glass, I examined her sinewy profile.
Suddenly, she looked right at me and held her hand to her chest. "My God, we've been waiting so very long."
A dreamy look settled over her weathered eyes, but I didn't know what she was talking about. Uneasy, I looked away. Maybe I knew her from someplace in the past. Apparently, the years of medical abuse had left me with wider memory gaps than I once thought.
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Afer a minute of self-meditation, I cleared my throat and finished my soup, feeling guilty at enjoying its good taste. I felt even guiltier for remembering how everything had tasted the same for so many years. Disgusted to be dwelling on my trivial misfortune, I downed the tea and left a tip.
As I caned my way to the door, Sarah ran up to me, shoved the tip money into my free hand, and spoke passionately. "You may need this, my David."
It was all I could do to smile nervously; and after she went back to waiting tables, I discreetly transferred the tip to Steven.
Making my way outdoors, I felt a heavy pain in my chest, the pain of ignorance. Ignorance of the plight of others, the unheard suffering of so many millions for so many thousands of years. My passing pain was insignificant, but I still couldn't forget it, not yet anyway.
Standing at the curb, I did everything I could not to forget the ghastly image of Sarah's serial number or how ungodly wicked the butcher who burned it into her flesh was. I was just about to turn around and ask Sarah where she knew me from when a yell turned me instead.
"David R. Daniels!! Is that you guy??"
It was Uncle Izzy from Clark City, Tennessee. He tossed his cigar into the gutter and we shook hands with great gusto.
We asked each other the same question. "What are you doing down here?"
I told him I was still off-work, recuperating from a longterm medical problem, and I'd driven my parents' car down.
He told me I looked great, that he and my aunt knew the damn doctors had me screwed up all those years, but my parents told him to mind his own business. He said that was why he hadn't talked with them for so long. "Your Aunt Pearl and I stay down here most of the time, because she likes being able to garden all year and I like how easy it still is to get Havana cigars. We don't fly in them high-society circles like your parents like to."
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As a couple of Hispanic kids skateboarded by, I asked if he still had the house and dress shop in Clark City. He said he'd given the house to Sherm and his family a few years before, that it was a waste for anyone to keep more than one house for no good reason. Then my uncle loosened his belt and told me that he was pretty much retired, so he'd converted the dress shop into a corporation and divided the stock up. Drawing a fresh stoogie, he coughed and unwrapped the fat thing. "I gave 21% of the stock to Sherm; 20% to the employees; 20% to the Shriners; 10% to B'nai Brith; and 10% to the Salvation Army. I kept 19% for your Aunt Pearl and myself."
Pulling a kitchen match from his short-sleeve sweater, he struck it on Moses and asked what was wrong with my leg. Blowing the match right back out, Iz tossed it into the sewer and chewed gingerly on his unlit cigar.
When I explained about the hard mattress in the White House, Iz tugged his ear lobe thrice. "Well, I think you'll find things more your style at Camp David." Then he schmeltzered loudly and we both chortled.
After I recovered from the laughter, not necessarily from the outdoor odor, he told me that Sherm still used the riding lawn mower I'd sold them 25 years before. "Pay Sherm a visit some time and tune her up for me, 'cause I got in my will for Sherm's oldest son to tow my coffin to the Tennessee Sinai Cemetery with that damn contraption. And it's an awful long way from C.C. to Memphis."
I didn't know if he was joking or not, but we laughed some more and talked for a time and I felt much better.
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Somehow the subject got around to justice and I asked my uncle about Sarah. "Shloymans' waitress is a survivor of the concentration camps; so why do they still treat her like dirt?"
He said that nobody treated her like dirt, that she was treated like any other waitress. "Would you want us to give her special treatment?"
I told him it just didn't seem right she should have to work so hard after what she'd endured.
Wise Iz sighed. "I know it doesn't seem right on the surface, but she wouldn't take charity even if it was offered. She's proud. She likes to work, to contribute. If she were unable, that would be a different story."
I told him he might be right, that I'd never thought of it like that before.
"Sure I'm right, David. And the special treatment they do show her is spiritual more than material. Just 'cause you've had trouble with your family and they're Jewish don't be too quick to judge my friends who might look like them." Izzy spat a chunk of chewed tobacco into the drain and slapped me on the back. "Lighten up, David. Enjoy life with the rest of us."
I promised I'd try and he said I should forget about my past difficulties with my parents. He said they treated my older sister Victoria the same way, so I shouldn't take it personal. He guessed no one ever taught either of them how to be any different. "But I guarantee, if you go back to the condo and tell your parents you love 'em and want to start over, things will be different."
I shook Uncle Izzy's hand, thanked him for the advice, and asked him to say hello to Aunt Pearl and Cousin Sherman. He ordered me not to forget to tell my parents that I loved them.
Quickly, I asked Iz about the Pyres. He didn't know much. Martin had recently sold his Tennessee mansion and moved to Kansas City with alcoholic Xandria and yuppie Stanley.
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Before I could ask anything else, Leroy poked his heavy head out the door. "Hey Tennessee Izzy, get your stinkin' can back in here, right now. It's showtime at Shloymans'. Us boys are gonna make our own comedy video, better than Henny's."
As soon as Irving disappeared, I asked Izzy one last question, whether he knew what 'Ha-Tikvah' meant.
He massaged my bicep. "Sure I do. Ha-Tikvah's Hebrew for 'hope.' It's also the Israeli national anthem, the one written by Sam Cohen." Iz rested his free hand on Moses and got real serious. "David, do you know what men who wear pants, wives who don't cheat on their husbands, and normal children all have in common?"
"Not really. But I'm sure none of them would ever be featured on televison."
Iz jabbed my gut and guffawed. "That's the punch line! That's my joke for the video."
I gave my good uncle a hug. As he hobbled on back to the door, though, I wondered if I'd ever see him again, in this world.
I shouted at him. "Don't forget to give Aunt Pearl a kiss for me. Shalom."
He bellowed back. "Shalom and L'chayim!!" And the heavy glass rattled shut after him.
As I hurried to the Caddie, I felt revitalized, reassured there were plenty of good Jews left in America. Getting in beside Moses, I glanced toward the distant gulf and guestimated the sun to be forty degrees above the horizon. Morningmystery's note said she'd be at the abandoned express office outside Vero Beach an hour before sunset. Calculating 40° to be 1/9 of 24 hours, about 2 2/3 hours, I still had an hour and forty minutes until the appointed tryst.
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Heading north along the coast, I wondered whether Uncle Izzy had told Sarah to say she was waiting for me. It didn't seem his style, though. And what a coincidence it was that the author of the Israeli national anthem was named Sam Cohen. Was he related to Sam 'the crippled man' Cohen, owner of the Big Top out at Puberty Park, Nevada?
After counting nearly ninety milemarkers along US 1 (and deciding Sam Cohen was a very common Jewish name), I pulled up to a cranky Cuban on the shoulder. He had a plump beef jerky stuck in his mouth and a sticker on his American Flyer bicycle that said: "FUCK FIDEL!"
I asked him (the bicycle rider) where the abandoned express office outside Vero Beach was, politely.
The wavy-haired soul thumped a bongo drum that dangled from his handlebars. "Don't sir me, amigo. I tell you the same thing I tell them two krauts in that old convertible that ask me the question an hour ago. Get lost, amigo!"
I held Margot's note in front of his big playful nose, but he said it didn't prove anything.
I tried the password, English translation. "Hope."
He slapped the bongo twice and changed his tune. "Morningstar's good people jus' like my Lucy. But if I tell you how to get to her special place, you got to promise me to keep an eye out for them krauts' nazimobile."
I told him I would. While he gave detailed directions to Miss Morningstar's savannah, I noticed the glitzy rhinestone intitials on his bongo: RR.
As I peeled off toward the everglades, the good-natured guy shouted out. "Tell Morningstar Uncle Ricky says hi."
For fifteen minutes, I slipped across cinder byways and slid around tight gravel turns, contemplating the self-righteous socialists of the sixties who journeyed via Canada to Cuba to help Castro harvest sugar cane. Would they have done differently if they'd known hothead Fidel had begged Khruschev to nuke the USA? Were they really pascifists or simply passivists?
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At any rate, two lanes of dust finally diminished into one car's width of tall brush. Stout branches slapped the Caddie's undercarriage in cadence to the flashing-by of the wireless telegraph poles which lined the left shoulder. Then the path turned into a weeded rut, too narrow for anything but a grocery cart, and I slowed to a stop.
I figured a few minutes still remained until the designated time and combed my hair, the best I could considering my hand was cramped horribly from hitting the sill in the deli. Finally, I climbed out.
The hot summer air broiled my lungs as I limped toward a sign which hung crookedly on a square pole. The dusty placard was too weathered to read, but had a faded red arrow pointing to a ridge on my right. A steep path of gravel and dried bark led me to the crest of the ridge.
On top, I struggled to my feet, the air cleared, and the dust settled. Hoofbeats pounded the tundra now before me, in a regular rhythm, counting down the time 'til dusk, so it seemed. The sun, at present a crisp and cool orange ball, hung above this widest and flattest of plains.
My anxious eyes focused on a horse and rider circling below. The horse paused and its long front legs lifted, clawing wildly at the air. The rider spun the steed towards me, then broke into a breath-taking gallop.
As the pair approached, I saw the rider was indeed the awesome Miss Morningstar. Cantering up the incline to my side, she cast a long, cool shadow over me. High above, she sat bareback and nude, save for a shear white-linen loin cloth tied in a bow above each hourglass hip. Intertwined with the right bow were two long-stemmed roses.
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Suprisingly calm (considering the sensuality of this creature over me), I smiled and said hello.
She nodded and we moved in total silence down a gradual slope toward her special place. Her long black locks dusted her stallion's flank as the twosome appeared to float in timeless unison. Mustering all the forebearance I could, I walked without relying too obviously on Moses.
In no time we were at the tundra's hub. The express office was a simple, strange building, assembled from railroad ties which seemed to have endured as a testament to some passing, not extinct, culture. Drippings of creamy clay mortar gave a vertical texture to the dwelling's stout brown walls. I saw no windows, only an undersized doorway three feet high and just as wide, providing sole access to the humble abode's innards.
Lifting her left knee to her swollen breast, Morningstar slid gracefully from the mount. Standing as proud as all womanhood, she flicked the rope and it dropped from her steed. The horse stood there, obediently, fluorishing its tail.
A soft smile covered Morning's face as she spoke for the first time. "I'm glad you're here, David."
"Not as glad as I am." Then I asked what she was so upset about the last time I saw her.
She said it was the child in her, grieving. "But the anger has passed."
Flaring her sculpted nostrils, she inhaled deeply and slapped the giant pinto's flank, sending it cantering off toward the setting sun.
As the mottled equine disappeared into the glare, I asked Morningstar what happened to make her so angry. She said she'd gotten some bad news and was driving around Boynton Beach, sorting things out, when she spotted my "older friends' car" parked in the temple lot.
"With good reason, I was mad at the entire world." Her honey-colored nipples puckered. "And I wanted to pluck off your pomegranates for not coming to my special place."
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Discreetly as possible, I checked my zipper again and patiently told her that she didn't seem angry at the time.
Grinning, she gazed into my hungry eyes, withdrew a rose from the loin cloth, tucked it behind my right ear and whispered wetly. "I'm a very good actress, O Romeo."
I told her that she was a true thespian, but better be careful galloping around nearly naked. "A couple nazi chickenheads have been following me and I think they're hot on your tail now."
Her thick, natural lashes fluttered teasingly as she said that she wasn't worried. "Not since you're here, O brave one."
Able to ignore the dramatics (but not her perfectly spherical bosoms), I said that I doubted they (the chickenheads) would do anyone much harm. I told her I thought they were just harassing me because I was Jewish. "Some woman bus driver outside Kingdom City said she was looking for King David."
Morning said she wasn't surprised, smiled seductively, and hurried into her wooden barracks. Returning a minute later, she spread out a burgundy blanket on the tundra, sat gracefully, crossed her legs, and motioned for me to join her.
As I sat, with help from Moses (but nevertheless clumsily), I noticed Morning's soft blanket was of the identical striped pattern and coloring as Menachem's robe. While I inhaled her subtle variety of womanhood, Morning told me she had panicked when my "older woman-friend" emerged from the temple the Tuesday before.
When I admitted the woman was my mother, Morning began to tell me about her grandfather, sadly but deliberately. "Lone Eagle no longer soars the prairies. He no longer loves or counsels me."
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Unable to find any euphemism to verbalize my feelings, I watched Mourningstar's brow quiver in grief as she told me how suddenly her grandfather had departed.
Following a long and painful pause, she finally burst into tearful anguish: "He's dead! Lone Eagle's dead!"
Plunging Moses into the powdered clay beside our blanket, I told Morning I was sorry I couldn't say something to lighten her grief. While I stared at the subdued eastern horizon, Morning pulled a crumbled tissue from my shirt pocket and wiped her eyes. Still weeping, she said she'd received a telegram from Arizona which said Lone Eagle had died of old age. "But I know he was murdered, David."
Suddenly, the neo-nazi perverts seemed more threatening. I told Morning that two jerks wearing black trenchcoats followed her from the temple in a dirty VW and they asked her Cuban uncle how to find her.
I swiped my hair back. "Ricky says hi."
With gentle grimace, she pressed her open hand to my neck and said she was already familiar with the SwizzleSticks. "They would interfere with the mashiachian mission, if they could."
When I asked to what mission she was referring, Morning only rested her head on my shoulder, in silence. While her breath warmed the side of my face, I scrutinized the quiet west horizon, still orange with lingering sunlight.
Somber minutes later, Miss Morning kissed my neck and sat up straight, in what appeared to be a ceremonial posture. Bowing her hair-laden head, she removed a necklace which had been largely buried in her chasmic cleavage. Carefully hanging the rawhide strand on my cane with one hand, she re-smoothed her flowing hair with the other.
A foil pouch dangled from the rawhide, the same as Menachem's. As I turned to Morning for some answers, she swiped the edge of her palm between her breasts, then pressed it (the hand) over my mouth, before I could ask any questions.
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Inhaling frankinscense, my thoughts returned to oiled flesh. I drew a deep breath through Morningmilk's fingers, then a light one. Hypnotically, she peered into my eyes and removed her hand. I was relaxed.
At peace with one another, we watched the hot sun slip beneath the rim of the west horizon. A panoramic haze of heat ripples rose as the sun seemed to douse itself in the Gulf of Mexico, way on the other side of the penninsula.
As the last waves of golden sunlight washed her silken hair, Maidenstar asked a tender question. "Will Lone Eagle's wisdom and love die with him?"
I consoled her with the truth. "If you keep his wisdom and love alive in your thoughts and dreams, Lone Eagle will soar forever."
Her chest heaved and tears flowed down her cheeks as she asked if I didn't think the heavens were beautiful. Requiring no answer, she went on to say that people didn't take the time to look at the heavens anymore. "They don't marvel at them. Somehow they've lost the capacity."
My brow heavy, I nodded in agreement. Then the subject got around to whether mankind would survive to watch the heavens for another thousand years. I told her that I knew we would be given the wisdom to live on, at peace with each other and with our world. "Even if it takes divine intervention."
Morningstar explained that there were so many doomsayers only because it gave them a convenient excuse to continue in sin. Her lower lip curled with frustration as she adjusted her necklace on Moses and spoke harshly. "If only the no-good idiots would funnel their energies into fixing the world instead of fucking it."
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She gasped painfully and cuddled deep into my lap. With my mouth nearly brushing her ear, I asked if she thought anyone really knew the future.
She sat back up. "To a degree, David. Reality is simply a landscape of events, while time is the breeze our spirits feel as they move from one event to the next. Though every event already exists as a point on the polar map of materialization, we can revise the event just before we arrive. Some of us with acute vision, vivid imagination, and maybe even a little technology, can predict the future; while chosen others truly prophesize. They are the chosen few who have endured the future before, and this time wish to make improvements."
Awed by her insight, I watched the sun's afterglow bathe her pliant neck and accent her fawn bosoms as she stared at the rising moon. Then, following a time of mutual reflection, I asked her to tell me about her fallen grandfather.
Dropping her hands from me, Morning grasped the blanket tightly and looked upward. Lone Eagle, she said, used to tell her how it felt to soar with the birds as the currents lapped at him from everywhere, as the wind pushed beneath his wings, the air pressed to his chest. Then, clutching the fullness of her own breast, she said her grandfather used to feel like he could climb higher and higher, forever and ever.
Extending her hands upward, Morningstar sighed. "Until Lone Eagle finally fell into the almighty arms of God."
Enthralled, I asked her to tell me more of the man.
She said Lone Eagle spoke often of solitude. "As safe haven, as a measuring rod, but never as nourishment."
Figuring to have won my confidence, Morningstar asked me to stand, so she could heal my hip. But I told her it would be all right and remained seated. Asking if I didn't believe in the power of the mind, the power of the spirit, she reached toward my cane and removed another, smaller necklace from the foil pouch.
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A white egg swung free, hypnotically, from a fine chain. Wrapping the copper chain around her forehead, she pressed the alabaster keepsake to her wide brow. As she stood with one foot in front of the other, the moonlight seemed to impart a light yellow glow to her ovular amulet's inherent whiteness.
I hoped I wasn't getting involved in Navajo witchcraft.
And she read my mind. "I know what you think, David, but this is not Navajo witchcraft; I promise. And I only read your mind when you wish me to. Your Ohla and my Pohla become one, when your Mohla makes it so."
Trusting, I struggled to my feet. She wrapped the egg's chain around her right wrist and knelt again. Spine straight and vertical, she folded at the waist and knees, spread her thighs 180°, bringing her agile legs into a perfectly parallel sitting alignment, the bottoms of her feet pressed together. The egg glowed brilliant amber as her face drew taut with concentration. The quietude of the dreamy interlude was total, save for the heartbeat in my ear, the whisp of the wind through my would-be healer's hair, and the murmur of some Semitic chant from her moist lips.
Clutching my leg with both hands, she massaged it vigorously. I felt, first, a piercing chill in my joints, then a wave of soothing warmth which spread through my entire lower body. Involuntarily, I moaned with cosmic exhilaration, then took an easy breath.
Releasing her grip on me, Morningmiracle clapped and sprang to her feet. Tucking the egg, glow abated, back into its pouch, the thaumaturgess invited me to enter her abode. "We shall meld our Ohlaé."
Nodding graciously, I gave her my hand and let her lead the way. My limp gone, my entire body free of pain, I stooped deeply and easily entered this strange edifice. Its damp void was completely dark and Morning released my hand before disappearing.
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From the lightlessness, she claimed my healing was only temporary. "For only my captain can make it permanent." Then she mumbled something in a foreign language I didn't even recognize.
But a second later, brittle stone struck hardened metal. Sparks flew and a strip of cloth burst into flame, a splotch of yellow-white light washing Morning's cheerful face. She lit a twig with the cloth and built a small campfire on the clay floor. As the fire leaped toward a tile chimney in the thatched roof, my nimble hostess grabbed an army blanket and fell onto a bed of sandbags. Backside up, she arched her acrobatic torso like the rigid undercarriage of a rocking Trojan horse.
Giggling, she rocked back and forth, beckoning first with with her animated finger, then her raspy voice. "Come to me, O fearless Solomon."
Moving to her side, I felt as if I were floating; sitting gently, I reminded her my name was David, not Solomon, and watched our rippled shadows mingle on the jagged wall.
She talked euphonically. "What's it all about?"
I told her I was only a spectator. "I'm not an orator or teacher."
Her eyes smiled. "Not even a messenger?"
I didn't answer, but my shadow on the wall seemed to grow anyway. Miss Superstar had inflated my ego just by asking such a question. So I told her that I thought our human minds were the symbiotic elements of a collective consciousness.
But I footnoted myself. "I could no more know that higher consciousness, than an individual neuron could know what the entire brain is about."
My newfound confidant sighed euphorically. "It's all coming back to you though, isn't it David?"
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When I told her I wasn't sure what she meant, she said I would soon and asked me to tell her more about higher things. I promised to quench her every curiousity, but only after she told me the story of a Navajo hero.
She smiled in agreement and removed an oiled rag from a wooden bowl. The fireflicker licking her upper body as she oiled her bronze calves with the burgundy cloth and asked if I knew the story of Stone.
I told her that I was afraid I didn't.
She told me not to be afraid. "You never were before. And neither was Stone, a Navajo brave who..."
As the new moon scaled the stunted doorway, Morning went on to tell me how Stone's family gave him herbs to smoke so he would serve his tribe's war-like ways. He served them heroically, but the herbs subdued his own mind and his own ways. Stone was badly used for many years and only wanted to die, not fight.
Morningstar described the finale. "The white man and Navajo smoked the peace pipe. Accidently, aging Stone came under the care of a wise old medicine man and was weaned from all herbs. Standing truly tall for the first time in his adult life, Stone filled with the fire of revenge, his villagers slaves to his regenerated strength. Those who once abused him now feared him. Braver than ever, after a year of anger, Stone became the hero of peace he was always destined to be."
The inspirational anecdote done, I agreed that Stone sounded like a fine role model and invited Morningstar for a walk under the stars. With a pleasant smile, she stood behind me and removed my shirt, her bloated bosoms massaging my aching shoulder blades in the process. After oiling our shoulders and our chests with the ancient cloth, she pressed it back into the bowl. Holding the bowl against her taut belly, she led me outside, through the three-foot doorway.
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In the cooling evening, moonlight edified the close-cropped clay to resemble the polished surface of a sleeping lake. With measured grace, Morningstar placed her bowl and my shirt on the blanket in the magnified moonshade of the egglace which hung from Moses.
Matter-of-factly, she said it was no accident our paths had crossed, then spoke with bravado. "It is as it shall be written on the winds of time."
She helped remove my boots and socks, and I wrapped my arm around her waist, and hers mine. Intertwined, we walked proudly to the crest from which I had come. Our path curved eastward and Morning asked me what my favorite star was.
I told her I'd never really taken the time to think about it before. "But I guess Polaris, the North Star, would be my logical choice, because it's the most useful, other than the Sun."
Morning giggled lightly. "That's as good a reason as any." Then she got serious. "But the North Star was once known as Paradise, and will once again." While we continued together, she pointed upward, due north. "Up there, David Daniels, that's where our souls were born, inside TWOLA, the last good garden on the Planet FREEDOM in the PARADISE Starsystem."
And she went on to tell how, well over one daez or two thousand years before the dawn of Christianity, the solitary spacecraft StarFlight SALVATION ventured into Earth's solar system. Following eighty-nine years of hibernation along the Rainbow of Souls, so she said, seven space travellers from the garden of Twola emerged from their honey-combed hyperhedrons.
Morning stopped us beside a powdered drift. "All but one of the crew made their way up to the control deck. I will show you who the crew's scapegrace was, and is. He was from a different place on Freedom than the rest of us - the jungle of GREDE. But my captain had no way of knowing his origins or that his croonies had visited Earth before."
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With nimble feet, Morningstory quickly furrowed an array of stars in the soft silt:
Gracefully, she passed her open hand over them. "There - StarFlight Salvation's crew of six and my captain."
Playing along, I told her I assumed the largest star represented her captain."
She smiled. "That's right. And the darkened star that's fallen from Gola's favor is Hista."
Soon, a delicate breeze began to erase the stars, and we moved through moonlight oncemore. When I told Morning I'd seen an identical cluster of stars on Menachem's wristband, my mistress storyteller offered only sketchy details of the desperate voyage to our solar system that began over four thousand years before. As she outlined the tale, we circumnavigated the tundra, sculpting giant rarified rings around her special place. From high above, our barefoot path must have certainly looked like the cyclic scratchings of beachcombers on the sands of time.
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Before long, though, we spiraled inward and approached the burgundy blanket from behind the abode. Morning explained that when an ominous red planet marched across Salvation's temporal viewshield, the vessel's lithe Navigator slid into a diaphanous gravity bubble and told her crew that the crimson orb was the world their siblings on Earth were destined to call Mars for daez to come. Miss Morningview said that the mission's prophetic Culturist gasped at the irony of it all. "In the same 21st century when Earthlings finally abandon confrontation as a viable means of resolving disputes, they also travel to a celestial body named after an obsolete diety of war."
Down on Earth, as we sat beside my cane Moses, Morningwonder sighed with cosmic orgasm. "Then, David, Mars shall become known as THE ROSE."
As I rubbed her back, Morningstar concluded softly. "So the arrival came to pass - at the exact time of the vernal equinox. With outer motion shields resembling a pair of intrameshed pyramids, a three-dimensional Magen David, our craft from distant Freedom set humbly down on Earth's Fertile Crescent, between the Tigres and Euphrates."
To the more mundane, I moved my hands to her wide shoulders and asked what her favorite star was, from Earth's vantage point.
She pointed to a twinkle in the west. "The Eveningstar is my favorite."
I told her that it wasn't a star, that it was the planet Venus.
She smiled and laid down. "And when it's way over there at sunrise, it's called the Morningstar." The natural scent of her body mesmerized me as she swabbed herself with more oil and told me that I should have gotten my own egglace at puberty, when my eyebrow was cut.
I told her I didn't and withdrew the second rose from her loin cloth. Tucking it behind her ear, I made an obvious observation. "Venus is a very versatile, heavenly body."
The oiled lady adjusted the rose she'd put behind mine and loosened my belt, then untied one side of her loin cloth. I undid the other. And we quietly laid together, our roses mingling beneath the heavens - until a frantic howling filled the night.
We sat up and looked around, but saw only a far-off lantern. The horrible animal cry turned to a bizarre, clown-like laughter as Morningstar's horse limped into sight, then collapsed on the far side of Moses.
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Morningstar retied her loin cloth and crawled to the pinto's side. The poor steed's pale tongue was hanging out, and my would-be mistress lifted the steed's heavy eye lids. Then, peering into its mouth, Morningnurse pulled our blanket over the stallion's flank and craddled its giant head in her strong arms.
She growled. "Hope has been poisoned. Get the assholes that did it."
I put on my boots and picked up my shirt. "I can't leave you alone."
She insisted. "Hope is with me."
I grabbed Moses for a weapon and sprinted for the distant crest, toward the sick chuckling. As the grizzly laughter subsided, my pace accelerated and the stars seemed to blur overhead.
But I wasn't nearly fast enough. On reaching the summit, I saw a Volkswagen silhouette already moving. Dashing down to the Caddy, I reached in and flipped on the high beams - just as the little brown ragtop disappeared into the swamp.
Into the dark dampness which permeated the outer rim of the tundra, I roared. "Leave us alone, you fuckin' pricks!!!"
On hearing rapid hoofbeats to my distant right, I hurried back up the crest, still cursing the cowardly perverts. Down toward the station, I watched the small outline of a horse and rider disappear into the western horizon. Morning must have healed her horse Hope, then galloped for safe haven.
Catching my breath, I returned to the car on my temporarily healed legs. I was tempted to head into the swamp after the troublemakers, but knew mother's canoe would only get stuck.
I spun the tires in reverse until the path widened enough for a U-turn, then cruised slowly back to civilization, once again wondering what it was all about. I wanted to hunt for Morning and Hope, but didn't know where to begin.
end page 163
Still trying to dissuade myself from believing something I simply could not yet comprehend, I strolled pleasantly as possible into my parents' vestibule. Per Uncle Izzy's instructions, I took a deep breath andtold them that I loved them.
Mom squinted. "Hon, are you drunk?"
Dad got a shit-eatin' grin. "Sure you love us. Why wouldn't you?" Then he grimaced. "But that doesn't change the fact that your mother and me didn't have our car to attend the sneak preview of Sylvia's Mocha Oatcakes."
Mom muttered. "And I heard they were supposed to be homefrozen."
After dad complained he'd just have to settle for Goosebury Ripple again, mom told me I didn't want to go along.
So I went to bed without desert, but with plenty of yearning for more Morningmistress. Stretched out on the bed beneath a low-hung ceiling fan, I reached up and rocked the Casablanca's reversing switch. The blades hummed to a pause, then twisted counter-clockwise, blowing cool air down on my face as I wondered whether StarFlight Salvation could have actually visited Earth two daez or four thousand years before. Could the spacecraft's two pyramidal motion shields really have resembled a three-dimensional Jewish Star, a Mogen David? Indeed, Mogen was the Hebrew word for shield.
After reassuring myself that I wasn't going off the deep end again, I decided that if Miss Morningstar's spirit had truly traveled from light-years away, she was certainly capable of taking care of herself in South Florida.
end page 164
The boredom of the following weeks was lifted occasionally by the diminishing memories of our frustrated tryst. On two consecutive Tuesdays, I did return to the abandoned express office but found no trace of her, or her horse.
On the third Tuesday, it rained heavily, so I rented a serape and an army-surplus jeep from Manny Nortega, Sir Loin's new communal gardener from Central America, and rattled over a hundred miles north, to the outskirts of Vero Beach.
The last leg of my journey to Morningstar's special place was puddled with mud. As I four-wheeled to the top of the crest, though, the downpour slowed to a warm soft drizzle, and I looked out into the wet sunlight. Morningstar's prairie now resembled a giant salad bowl, a dense savannah circling, then tapering into, a round and treeless tundra.
I noticed a thin cloud of yellow-gray smoke, crunched the old Willys into second, and raced down to reconnoiter. Mud flew everywhere as I bashed my way from gear to gear.
Unfortunately, I found no comforting campfire, only the express office's smoldering ashes. Sadly, in the wet and blackened clay nearby, I looked upon the corpse of Margot's recently slain stallion. Horribly mutilated, Hope still bled from gaping wounds where its tail and genitalia once were. My chest tightened as I couldn't help but notice how the rigid equine's tail had been stuffed into its now-toothless mouth. Additionally, its testicles were missing and something unthinkable had been done with what I assumed to be the poor animal's penis.
Freshly burnt through Hope's leathery forehead, into the purple flesh and white bone beneath, was the barbaric SOS. I found a rusty combat shovel behind the seat of the jeep and dug a shallow grave. Using the bumper winch, I dragged the horse into his resting place.
end page 165
Both my legs were cramped up terrible by the time the thankless task of transitory interment was done; and I swore vengeance on the pricks that had done the dirty deed. After driving a charred railroad tie into blood-dyed silt, I gathered my gear and marked the sacred plot, for the time being, with a piece of chalk from the map pocket: ANOTHER NAMELESS SOLDIER.
The cranky old four-cylinder finally fired up, and I sloshed away slowly, wondering what sort of diseased mindset could commit such a senseless crime against all that was decent. As I steered south toward the spiritual void of the summer snowbirds, dry lightning cracked across the dreary sky and served only to amplify my anger.
end chap 9
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