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THAT AFTERNOON


We whittle down our lovers, you know, systematically pare away everything we don’t like or accept as being something that reflects back to us a perfect image of ourselves. No, doctor, not like Pygmalion‒worse.

“Objectifying her doesn’t quite catch what I’m driving at. Shaping the image or personality to fit your needs is narcissistic, reprehensible, but hell, everyone tries to do it, and no one seems to really object. No, what I think is going on, and at a much deeper level is when we make love.  When we are making love, we are trying to transform our lover into a sustained idea or feeling that bridges the outside world to our own particular universe. Bend it−her−to shoehorn that person into your particular place an alchemist at work in his laboratory.

“The dance, the seduction, each scent, the sight of her, her taste, eyes, doesn’t matter what color, green, blue, brown or the sweep of her hips or the way her breasts nuzzled up against my chest. Even the soft, wet feel of her vagina, the release, our release, my release inside of her it's till just a marker.  My marker. I admit it."

Lowenstein nodded, showed an animated lift of his eyebrows, thinking, 'Well, the gloves are off. A lot of rage where I least expected it. Of, course it has been percolating since he was eleven. The accident only acted as a catalyst. The curve ball, here, is Eva. The redemption. So now he wants to line up all the women, one by one, load and fire. How to push back, help him move, without re-opening, revisiting . . . well, he seems to think there is no going back it's always there, the disconnect. OK, we'll just see about that.'

“Don’t look so surprised. I know most, no, no man really wants to admit to it. Not at all PC. I don’t care. For a moment she is everything I want suspended, right there under me, and me? I am suspended between two worlds, she becomes the place where I escape the natural world and add my own particular world on top of, thrust it inside her. I am completely transformed. If she would let me, I’d take her three times a day. Who wouldn’t? Each time we make love gives me a window of a couple of hours. We’re basically screwing everything, both literally and figuratively to solve the build-up, then find the release. It’s the place where science and poetry, painting and music and . . . murder originate. Withhold the love and sex and it’s not long before the axe comes out, anyway, enough of that, that’s another hundred and fifty dollars, right?"

Lowenstein felt his pulse thumping, a quick sliding drip of sweat race down the center of his back. He knew that the anger and the rage were a mask for fear; a profound longing to attach to something of permeance. Hyper-sexual, J.B. was still the shunned child on the porch, the lonely friend of the raging Leander. One woman after another and the prostitute, yes. His safety-valve. He always made a point of paying for one in particular. 'OK. She's it. Either it opens the door or we go down the rabbit hole,' he thought.

“So, J.B. . . . what’s a poor schmuck like me to do?”
J.B. stopped cold. It was as though he was just now realizing that he was talking to another person. After an awkward, sheepish smile, he stood up and walked to the window, where he began to survey the strip mall parking lot. Desert Dry Cleaners-Slots, Seven-Eleven-Video Poker, Subway, Arlen’s Spirits-Slots and Jimmy’s 24-7 Lube, then over to the marquis at The Rio: Penn and Teller. 'Do these guys ever take a day off? Last time I was here: Penn and Teller!

What was it Shep sang? Back again, back again swaying under momma's belly. Sailing the blinds back and forth from here to there. Six months in Las Vegas and then back to the desert,

‘Cockroach scurrying from the heat so that he can enjoy the middle way,’ he thought.

He could hear his wristwatch ticking; an old Timex that Leander had given him. The ticking mimicked the clatter and chatter in his head. Often it would calm him, bring him back to moment, help him look out and get past the back of his eyes. Leander. Yes, "No man, I know of, save for Sal, stayed there. Lived in that vacuum and poor 'ol Sal, just plain hollowed and thirsty, looked right through you on to the wall behind you 'cause all he saw was the backside of his own eyes. Wounded bear trapped in his own skin."

Lowenstein watched J.B. and paused, thinking, 'This could screw both of us. He's like a little brother who was just beaten-up by the neighborhood bullies. Look at him, big nervous cat uncomfortable, pacing, trolling the grass, yep. Dare I? Why not.'

"So, J.B. Shari's? The world's most famous brothel, isn't that part of the ritual?  Isn't her name. Let me think. What? Yes, Toni? Is she good? Does she even come close to that French piece of ass? Be honest, now . . . close? How could she? Didn't you say you can still smell her, I mean, the frog, la femme fatale. Wakes you up in the desert. So, does Toni do if for you like, what was her name? Therese?  Right? Jonas? J.B.? No wait, how about Guy?

Ever try that name? After all that wonderful piece of French ass bore his child, not yours. Right?" 


FADE OUT – The Doctor’s voice grows increasingly faint.
FADE IN – ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – J.B. sees himself seated at the principal’s desk.
It was the principal, Mr. Burden’s, labored breathing, his tongue popping after shoving, yet another, peppermint into his mouth.  Just as then, now, he could not put his finger on why he was being disciplined.
FOCUS – Jonas the ten-year old child.
Voiceover - J.B., the adult, speaks:
Why do I feel like Dr. Lowenstein is disciplining me? Why, even as the owner of my own company, when asked a simple question, even by a floor worker, did I always feel challenged? Always seems to come back to that to why am I always so uncomfortable when all I am trying to do is address my own feelings. Is it possible to have two sets of feelings? One for the person you are trying to deal with and the other, your own. Where is the line? Where is it, the space within yourself, where is it possible to accept another’s thoughts and ideas as authentic and meaningful? Is there room for another’s emotions without sacrificing your own? Is contentment just another word for isolation? Wall yourself off, even in a crowded room, and smile.
FADE OUT.
CUT TO MISS LANDOVER’S ROOM

The truth? Mindy, the girl sitting behind of him in the fifth grade claimed he was trying to look up her dress. J.B. dropped his pencil. When he reached down to pick it up he saw some writing. It was a long sentence in block letters, even had quotation marks and a date beside it: graffiti from the ancient past: “If they can kill Kennedy, then no one is safe. November 22, 1963”. Who actually
said it? Why was it there? Who took the time to put it there, and why were they so scared?

All these questions to answer so he stayed to read it a second and a third time. It both scared and interested him. He felt like Indiana Jones. It seemed very important, almost sacred.  Then, just as he was about to raise up, Jonas saw Mindy’s legs move. Slowly at first, then completely spread out, he saw the space where her legs disappeared and there, yes there he saw a pair of thick, white cotton panties.

He was confused. ‘Yes, she, she wanted me to see . . . something, but what? What was it that was so special there? No, this cannot be what Kyle spoke of, so what, where can it be?’  Confused and still, frightened at what he had just read, it was Miss Landover who made the issue clear‒to herself.
Suddenly, the hard, cold hand of Miss Landover was pulling him up. The bank of fluorescent light blurred, a flash of heat then cold ran through his body. Looking behind him Mindy was blushing and nervously shaking her head “no.” It was all the circumstantial evidence that Miss Landover needed to convict and hang the accused.

“Listen to me boy! I’ve got a mind to blister you right here and now! No, better yet, let that, ah, Mr. Burden handle this perversion. Get up. Off to his office, pronto, boy!”

Her breath was, if that were possible, even stronger, and more acrid than before: a mix of rotting eggs and vinegar. Her eyes: two slits and growing narrower. Add this crime to the earlier ones of spilled paint and upset pencil boxes, Miss Landover was well into Poland, massing her troops for an incursion into Russia.

Mindy whimpered as she suppressed tears, Danny, the asthmatic, pressed hard on his inhaler, desperate for a good, deep breath. The air was heavy with history, a humiliation and a memory that was Miss Landover’s and hers, alone. Still, all wouldhave to suffer in some fashion as it blew out the top of their teacher’s head.

Festering for fifty years. Yes, fifty years it had lain dormant, until now. So, looking up into her face, J.B. saw the fear and pain of a frightened young girl and the rage of an isolated, unloved middle-aged woman running from the classroom, her dress soiled red, and dripping, the children laughing, the dismissive teacher shaking her head, “Deb Landover, really? At your age, you should know better by now than to come to my classroom unprepared for, my word, get out and don’t come back until you’ve cleaned yourself, girl.”

The door slamming behind her as she started to run for the restroom. Yes, the door was closed, but not sound proof, so Deb could hear the parting shot of the teacher as she said, “I guess they don’t have time to teach hygiene in the hills, do they class? Now, now settle down, God takes pity, loves his hillbillies, too. Now turn to page twenty-seven, don’t think we’ll see Ellie-Mae back in here anytime soon.”

There was just too much carnage and collateral damage to wade through to try and explain, so before Jonas could take a good deep breath, and try to explain what had actually happened, he found himself standing in front of the principal, Mr. Burden, waiting for his sentence to be handed down.

“Got to admire your, ah that excuse you came up with, son. Almost had me going, too. Son, I’ll have to call your mom and dad. Nothing wrong with liking girls. Just not appropriate what you did, son. Hold, it! Don’t try and deny it. Miss Landover caught you, son. Guess you really don’t understand that bringing in the name of Kennedy won’t help you much either. It’s kind of strange, or did you really see that written up under the desk? Don’t lie to me, son. Just make it worse on you. Do you even know who John Kennedy was?”

J.B. was looking out of the window, alone, again, with his thoughts. The principal’s voice reminded him of a movie voice over or a commercial that was trying to sell him deodorant or life insurance. Yes, he had heard his parents talk of Kennedy, but he did not know the date or the exact year. His fascination with the graffiti? Why would someone post the warning there? Why was that little boy or girl; had it been a little boy or girl? The lettering was perfect and the quotation marks? Who said it? Why was he or she so scared? And why couldn’t it be said aloud? It was a warning, so why hide it? Or was there something else to it? What was the world thinking about, and made them so scared, back then?

He looked at Mr. Burden’s face. Rose, almost red, creased with thick jowls hanging from his neck. He noticed that he wore a lot of cologne, but there was still a faint sour-sweat smell that filled the room.

‘He smiles, too much,’ J.B. thought, ‘smacks his lips, and makes too much noise rolling all those peppermints in his mouth. Why is he always adjusting his pants? So, what is he really after me to say?’

He thought of Kyle and the older boys. ‘Got it!’
J.B. cleared his throat. The principal looked up and said, “So, son, you ready to come clean? Tell the truth?”
“I just wanted to see, you know, sir, if she had hair down there.”
The principal grinned, shook his head, and then reached down to adjust his trousers. He stared at J.B. for a long moment, smiled, popped another peppermint into his mouth, and chuckled.

“God, I wish I was your age, again. All of it so fresh and new and never mind that, son. I’ll talk to Miss Landover. No need to call your momma and daddy. Kennedy assassination, got to hand it to you, son. You’re good! Go on, now, run back to class before I change my mind. But mind you, son, don’t find your way back in here again. Do we understand each other, son?”

J. B. nodded his head and replied, “Yes sir, we do.”
Walking back to class, J.B. felt an odd contentment running through him, thinking, ‘The truth meant a lot of trouble.

Telling Mr. Burden what he really wanted to hear made it a confirmation of what Miss Landover wanted to believe. So, the truth is simply a measurement of what someone wants in that moment.

‘Mindy had on thick, white underwear. She opens and closes her legs all the time. I never got to talk about what really scared me. What I told Mr. Burden, and what Miss Landover believed happened, did not have anything to do with what I was really feeling or explain why that person thirty years ago was so scared.

‘Seems like if you’re talking to someone and they ask you a question, the answer they really want is, Give me anything, but please, no never! Not the truth. Still, better, yet, tell me something no one is supposed to talk about, something that’s never supposed to see the light of day. Something we all carry around. Something we think about, but never talk about that makes us anxious and aroused. Now, take it and make into something that is about, yes, yes me! The one thing I’m always desperate to hear and see and touch. There really is no truth except what is most important to what I am trying to own and or throw away: people, places and even love. The only truth that honestly matters is my own, and even that has to be changed, constantly, to fit the particular time or place or moment.’
                   
FADE OUT
FADE IN – PYCHOLOGIST’S OFFICE

J. B. looked at Dr. Lowenstein and saw Principal Burden sitting next to him. A few moments later Burden slowly fades away. 
"So, doc, right hand at the right time?" said J.B. as he stared back at Lowenstein.
"May be, it just may be, let's see."