RICK EDELSTEIN - NOT IF...WHEN!
Rick Edelstein was born and ill-bred on the streets of the Bronx. His initial writing was stage plays off-Broadway in NYC. When he moved to the golden marshmallow (Hollywood) he cut his teeth writing and directing multi-TV episodes of “Starsky & Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Chicago,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” et al. He also wrote screenplays, including one with Richard Pryor, “The M’Butu Affair” and a book for a London musical, “Fernando’s Folly.” His latest evolution has been prose with many published short stories and novellas, including, “Bodega,” “Manchester Arms,” “America Speaks,” “Women Go on,” “This is Only Dangerous,” “Aggressive Ignorance,” “Buy the Noise,” and “The Morning After the Night.” He writes every day as he is imbued with the Judeo-Christian ethic, “A man has to earn his day.” Writing atones.
An earth body is amazingly inconsistent. Amazingly due to the fact that it still functions relatively well. Relatively because the mortality rate is ludicrous, where the human species believe that when you are over 65 you are what they call a senior citizen, a golden ager, close to end times. One can barely translate what 65 means other than the knowledge that such may be considered the gestation of being, not absurdly a suggestion of termination. With all of the body’s contradictory elements it took over 2,700 megaclicks to infiltrate the system in order to expedite the assignment.
Moving to the music Paulina interrupted her food prep by grabbing a dish rag and using it as a veil during a dash of belly dancing while plunking a dash of paprika and other ingredients into the mix.
Harrison entered the kitchen enjoying Paulina’s moves as he attached an apron to join her in creating a meal which of course, as they both were food junkies, includes appetizers, salads, main course and of course delicious desert. They moved like a seasoned couple who could win a dance contest gliding around each other on trips to the refrigerator, cabinets, intentionally bumping butts in perfect two/four rhythm when interrupted by the phone.
Harrison looked and followed the repetitious distinct tone until he found the phone on the kitchen table under a napkin. He signaled for Paulina to turn off the music as she was closer to the stereo. She did and Harrison answered.
“Hello....” he listened and made a masturbatory gesture. Paulina grimaced as Harrison replied. “No, Mr. Davidoff moved out taking his computer only leaving this phone. My name? Kanye West. Yes, E S T like in West.” He disconnected and returned to join Paulina in the food prep.
“What are they selling this time, Kanye?” Paulina asked.
Harrison adapted an East European accent, “We have been informed that your computer has a virus...ad infinitum...”
“Ad nauseam,” she completed, as they weaved in and around each other using utensils and spices enriching their anticipated meal when the doorbell sounded. “You expecting?” Paulina asked.
“No. You order anything?” Harrison asked.
“A round trip to Barcelona.” Paulina responded as she walked to the door.
“Gaudi called and said next year.” Harrison cracked.
Paulina opened the door to Luciana who was dressed in a soft blue jacket, ecru silk blouse, smart beige skirt and clean, unblemished running shoes, all on a perfect posture of a body.
“Yes?” Paulina asked.
Luciana bobbed her head, “Yes. Good. Yes. I pushed the button at your front door where there is a note.”
“Yes, there is.” Paulina said.
“The note said,” Luciana continued, “If no answer try kitchen door. If no answer there leave a note but leave. Accurate?”
Paulina looked at Luciana and then to Harrison, “We hooked an off-one. I don’t know what she’s selling yet. Throw her back in?”
Harrison continued his food prep, “Check her out first.”
“Okay,” Paulina said and turned to Luciana. “Can I help you?”
“No, thank you,” Luciana said, “I do not require help.”
Paulina growing impatient, turned to Harrison, “She does not require help,” and turned back to Luciana, “And you are here because?”
Luciana’s body seemed to coalesce in affirmation, “Ah, yes, because. Because you have been chosen, if you are Paulina Echaverria de Gutierrez and...”
Paulina wavered between impatience and curiosity, “Well that’s refreshing. Most people have difficulty pronouncing Spanish names but you even rolled the r’s perrrfectly.”
“Yes, I did,” Luciana simply said.
Harrison called over, “What is she selling?”
Luciana, leaned to be able to see him clearly, “And you, Harrison Aaron Davidoff have also been chosen.”
Harrison put the pot on the range, turned up the heating to just-so very carefully, called back, “We already have subscriptions to the New Yorker, the Weekly...”
Paulina completed, “The Rolling Stones, the Times delivered to our door every morning so if you are here to...”
“How does she know our names?” Harrison asked gently stirring the elements in the warming pot.
Paulina called to Harrison ,“Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Linked-in, out, no one is anonymous anymore.” Then back to Luciana, “Isn’t that so, whatever your name is?”
“Luciana. From Lucianis. Latin. Light.”
“Your parents set a high bar,” Harrison said from a distance.
Paulina started to close the door, “Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Luciana...”
Harrison, wiping his hands on the apron, came over, “Wait a sec, hold up. I haven’t been surprised by anyone since a politician decided to be honest.” He faced Luciana. “Why are you here, Luciana?”
Luciana said in elemental tones, “You, each, individually, have been chosen.”
“Yes,” Harrison said, “I’m from the chosen people tribe, which is not always the good news.” He and Paulina exchanged looks which, as a result of living together for three years, could communicate without always verbalizing. Harrison nodded, to Luciana, “Okay, come in.”
Luciana entered and as Paulina was about to...Luciana closed the door behind her.
Paulina was cautiously polite, indicated chairs. “Make yourself comfortable.”
“I am always comfortable.” Luciana said as she sat erect on the seat of the chair, legs together, hands resting on each thigh.
Harrison left the stove, facing Luciana. “Okay, we have been chosen, you say. For what? Life insurance, some kind of annuity, an investment scam, get to it, Luciana, what, specifically are you selling?”
Luciana looked straight into Harrison’s eyes. She did not blink. Just observed past Harrison’s veneer of cynicism. Then said, “Phase one begins. First query.”
Harrison continued what he considered a staring contest with Luciana, but talked to nearby Paulina, “She’s good. Really good. Whatever the pitch is, we may have to go for it.”
Luciana said. “Shall we proceed?”
Harrison broke the staring contest (and lost) as he walked around a few paces trying to get what her game is, he turned sharply to Luciana, “Are you for real?”
Luciana, was, for the first time, intrigued, anticipating that perhaps the chosen one might be more prepared to cognize another reality, namely her Source. “What reality are you talking about, Harrison Aaron Davidoff?” she asked.
Paulina said to Harrison, “She’s giving me the jitters, honey, maybe it’s time for Luciana to egress from our premises.”
Harrison turned to Paulina, “We’re in too deep...can’t let it go until I find out her game.” He sat down and assumed a casual posture which was not reflective of his inner edginess. “Your move, Luciana.”
Luciana was aware of three distinct aromas. The food preparation was pleasing; perfume Paulina was wearing she found imposing; and Harrison’s human emanation violated her olfactory senses. She started to question this human species until she was interrupted by an incandescent
evanescent miniscule flash before her left eye which reminded her to focus on the assignment. She acquiesced and focused. Looked at Harrison, then turned to Paulina. “My first query is for each. What, and please choose only one, what is most important in this, your life?”
Paulina looked around, at the ceiling, corners of the room, the door. “There has to be a camera. This is some magic show like the Carbanaro effect. Come on, Harrison, let’s just...”
Harrison was determined. “No, baby, not until her hole card is revealed.” He turned to Luciana, “Okay what is most important? My next breath. How’s that work out for you, Luciana?”
“I am not here to question or evaluate your response, just to record it for further evaluation.”
“Ah,” Harrison thought he was gaining entrance to her secret. “You are recording us. For what? Some TV show, an article about...”
Paulina pushed. “Where’s your recorder? Hidden mike in your jacket?”
“I record,” Luciana pointed to her head.
“In your head, huh?” Paulina commented distrustfully, “And when you forget what was spoken or...”
“I do not forget,” Luciana effortlessly said.
“Everyone forgets,” Paulina insisted.
“I do not.” Luciana stated.
“Oh really, okay,” Paulina needed to defuse Luciana’s assertion. “Tell me, miss-I-do-not-forget, let’s see now, okay, when you first knocked on the door and I opened it, Harrison and I talked about subscriptions to...to what, Miss-I-do-not-forget?”
Luciana rolled out the information without a pause. “We already have subscriptions to the New Yorker, the Weekly, The Rolling Stones, the Times delivered to our door every morning.”
Paulina looked at Harrison, “I am spooked, baby, so you better, we better find out what, who...talk to me, Harrison, because I am not a happy camper!”
“Okay, easy baby, Luciana is no threat, she means us no harm, isn’t that right, Luciana?”
“I am not capable of harm or threat. I am here because each of you have been chosen and my assignment is to determine...” She stopped. Again that incandescent evanescent miniscule flash before her left eye. She nodded in accord. Faced each of them. “My present query is, are you religious?”
Harrison erupted in laughter. “Nailed it. A born-again evangelical hustler, wanting us in her fold. Relax baby, I got her game.” He turned to Luciana, “Okay, Sister, you want us to buy some literature, sign up, make a donation, lay it out clean and simple.”
“I am not what you say nor do I want anything from you except a response to my query. Are you religious? Each of you.”
Paulina said to Harrison, “Do we really have to indulge this Jesus freak?”
“I got to play the hand out, baby.” He turned to Luciana. “Okay, am I religious you asked. Hmmm...got it. I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol is a man nailed to two pieces of wood.”
Paulina laughed, “George Carlin couldn’t have said it better.
“Because he did!” Harrison smiled. To Lucia, “No, I am not religious and if there is a God who is omnipotent then look at all suffering which makes big-G God a mean-spirited sadist. And if that’s not enough just look at the freaks who use God as a reason to season their greed.” Harrison grunted. “If I was God I’d prefer the ones who don’t believe in me. Can I get an Amen!”
Luciana was not affected by Harrison’s emotional energy and easily turned to Paulina. “Are you religious, Paulina Echaverria de Gutierrez?
Paulina shrugged, deciding to play it straight, “Religious? Hmmm, I was raised Catholic but all the rules and horny priests turned me off.”
“Do you believe in God?” Luciana asked.
“No,” Paulina cracked, “But he does piss me off and I agree with Harrison because I get angry at that son of a bitch God who lets innocent children suffer so horribly. You want more? Genesis, except for Noah’s ark, he killed them all. God is love? I don’t think so!”
Luciana heard some inner direction, conformed, asked Paulina, “How can you not believe and yet be angry at?”
Paulina shrugged, “I am a living conundrum, baddabumbum.” She exchanged fives with Harrison.
Luciana listened, consented, asked, “Last query of Phase One. Do you have a guiding principle, a methodology of dealing with the puzzling existence of this existence called human life?”
Harrison said, “Good it’s the last, Lucy baby, because I’m running thin on indulgence.”
“Your answer?” she asked.
Harrison snapped, “There are no answers. Only decisions.”
Luciana turned to Paulina. “A principle or guide to your...”
Paulina retorted, “I don’t need any principle or guide. You just do your best and enjoy the puppy.”
“Puppy?” Luciana asked.
“Just a word...used for anything, including life.”
Luciana experienced the incandescent evanescent miniscule flash before her left eye. Submitted, stood. “That completes Phase-One. There will be a Phase-Two, with your permission.”
Harrison smiled and emitted a fan-fare, “Ta dahhhh. Okay, here it comes baby.”
Luciana walked to the door. “It may be me or some other.”
Paulina looked at Harrison, both puzzled, “You don’t want anything down, something to guarantee we...”
Harrison completed her search for clarity and closure. “To guarantee that we qualify for your infamous Phase-Two?”
At the door Luciana is stoic. Listens. Then, “You each have qualified for Phase Two. Good bye.” She leaves closing the door behind her.
They are both in a confused silence.
“What just happened?” Paulina asked.
Harrison breaks out into a wide smile, laughs and claps his hand in brief applause, “Brilliant! A great set-up. We, you and me are hooked, biting the bait for Phase-Two which will be the pay off, the big closer, selling us something grand, some major investment in commodities or a teen-ager’s garage dot-com venture, it’s a teaser to get us salivating. I love this!”
“I don’t know,” Paulina cautioned. “Luciana is ... is weird. And her I-don’t-forget, you have to admit, Harrison, is a bit uncanny, I mean she did remember exactly...”
Harrison’s phone rang. He made a gesture – to be continued – picked up the phone, looked at it. “My son. Give me courage.”
“You love him so don’t get uptight...he’s just evolved from acne, so be patient, honey.”
“I’ll try,” he said as he pushed the button to answer. “Hey, Billie, how’re you doing, kid?” Listening and seeing Paulina’s gesture with her hands on her heart. He nodded. “I sent you the check three days ago....why would I lie...it was Friday...they don’t deliver on Sunday...come on, Billie, relax, your old man got your back...you really want to go this route? ... No, I’d rather not...” Harrison looked at Paulina, shakes head, his face indicating displeasure despite the attempt to... “What are you saying? What’s this about? ... I don’t give a shit what your therapist said, I...okay, yeah, okay, yea ‘n verily this sinner admits I have not been as great a father as I could have been at trying times but hey, Billie, you haven’t always been that great a son so can we declare peace and... Christ this call is turning...well, yes, I guess I’m glad you made break-through with the shrink but I wasn’t there, Billie, so there are other p.o.v’s to consider...p o v points of view...I did not abandon you, god damn it, our marriage fell apart, your mother and I would have killed each other if we didn’t split...no I am not dissing your mother...it would be cool if you could cut your father some slack... not in this lifetime huh...whew, you are one tough kid...yeah and you come from one tough father....God damnit, Billie, you are twenty-one...all right good even better, twenty-two, a-k-a also known as...in bold underline an adult. You know what an adult is?...don’t get smart ass now...yes I’m going to tell you even if you don’t want to listen because it’s important for me to say. An adult, Billie, takes full responsibility for his life, not blaming mommy not blaming daddy...uhmm hmmm...but I’ll bet you still want me to send a monthly check, don’t you?...Yeah, that sure is an adult way of saying goodbye.” Harrison disconnected. “I love him but I don’t like him.”
Paulina was empathic, “I’m sorry, baby, Billie is just...he’ll grow out of it, it takes time for kids nowadays to mature.”
Harrison wasn’t buying as he paced the room barely reigning in his fury as he raged to the gods. “Where do you get the balls, the temerity to make me the bad guy while you fuck up all on your own. Who put a roof over your head? Who pays for your education and even covers your car insurance? Who guaranteed an unlimited supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Who went to the schoolyard and straightened out that punk bully who was messing with you? You should be grateful for the fact that you are alive, that you my first born son breathes in and out, be grateful because if your mother and I did not fuck on that hot summer’s night you would not exist so fall down on your knees you ungrateful kid for the life that we gave you.” He ran out of breath, in dark sadness he just leaned against the wall knowing there is soothing that painful chasm.
Paulina softly said, “I’m sorry your son hurt you.”
“And I hurt my son,” Harrison grumbled.
“Hurt people...” Paulina paused, “hurt people.”
Harrison gestured to wave off the heavy emotions, “Let’s get to work.”
Paulina nodded and they both expertly moved into their original intention, prepare their foodie-feast, taking out items from the refrigerator, grating, slicing, mixing, spicing...they were like a fine tuned couple in their distinct movement within an effective rhythm.
The door bell rang. They stopped the prep, looked at each other both knowing they were thinking the same thing. Harrison said, “Phase Two? I’m not sure I’m ready for Looney Lucy.”
Paulina said, “Answer the door, honey, if it’s her, what the hell, we need a break from your Billie blues.”
Harrison walked to and opened the door to:
Luciano, dressed as a man in a conservative suit, hair close to the scalp, parted precisely, shining in a gelled substance,.
Harrison stared at her/him trying to comprehend the slickened hair, slightly more masculine energy but there was no doubt that this is Luciana. He turned to Paulina, “This isn’t Halloween is it?” And then to Luciana, “Luciana?”
“Oh...Luciano, you said, right?”
“Yes. Right. Luciano.”
Harrison chuckled, shrugged, turned to Paulina, “Talk about a break!” “I am here for Phase-Two. You are Harrison Aaron Davidoff, correct?”
Turning to Paulina, “Can you believe this baby!”
Paulina leaned over to see Luciano dressed in a male suit with hair glistening straight on his/her scalp. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”
“Neither am I but let’s jump off the cliff and build our wings on the way down.”
“Or crash.” Paulina said.
Harrison turned to Luciano, “Let the games begin. Yes I am Harrison Aaron Davidoff.”
“May I enter?”
“Yes, sure.” He held open the door.
Luciano entered, closing the door behind her, walked to the chair, sat erect. “I am comfortable.”
In clear vision, Paulina looked at Luciano, “I don’t know whether to laugh or...” she turned to Harrison who was no help, back to Luciano, “You are not Luciana?”
“Luciano with an O,” he replied in a neutral tone. “You are Paulina Echaverria de Gutierrez?”
“Yes, I haven’t changed any vowels.”
“I am not cognizant of the meaning of such.”
“I don’t know about this charade so, Harrison, I’m just going to...”
“No, stick, hang in, please, baby, we have to nail her end game,” Harrison said.
“How can we play if we don’t know the rules of this...” Paulina, in frustration, turned to Luciano, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to pass on this performance and go to another room to get grounded, maybe watch Ellen on TV.” She started to move but was stopped by...
“I urge you to reconsider Paulina Echaverria Gutierrez.” Luciano was surprisingly direct.
Paulina glowered at Luciano, “You’re good, really good, but whatever the pay-off, whatever you offer, I don’t know about my partner but this girl ain’t buying.”
“You can not buy, it is beyond mortal cost to accept, to embrace, to admit the splendid offer of an opportunity of such rarity...”
Harrison urged her, “Get to it...and I mean now!”
“...which shall be presented momentarily.”
Paulina cracked, “Are you serious, Harrison, to indulge her, him, whatever, I mean please!”
Harrison gently urged, “There is something about our friend sitting on the edge of her/his chair in perfect posture that does not fit any paradigms we know of. Doesn’t that intrigue you? Even a little bit?”
Paulina was ambivalent. “God, I feel like I’m in a haunted house reaching for the gold ring of redemption in an amusement park but I am not amused.”
Harrison gestured for her to trust him. He turned and glared at Luciano, “All right Lucy, Luciano, here’s the deal. Paulina of my heart already has one foot out the door and I’m not far behind so get to your pitch.”
“Phase Two procedure commences”.
“Commence and then call it a wrap.”
“End to this farce,” Paulina snapped.
“May I proceed?” Luciano asked.
“Roll it!” Harrison insisted.
“I have queries,” Luciano said. “Your individual response will determine if you qualify.”
“My man said one foot out the door,” Paulina impatiently said, “and my other foot is following even as we speak.”
Paulina started to go but Harrison stopped her. “We’re at the finish line, baby, trust me.” Paulina sighed, nodded reluctantly and just stood glaring at Luciano.
Harrison almost barked at Luciano, “Qualify for what? Lay it out or we shall show you the door.”
“I need not be shown the door. I see it clearly.”
Harrison walked to the door, opened it and held it open. “What is your splendid offer and how do we qualify? Now or consider yourself history.”
“History is not written by your kind.” Luciano was about to continue but that incandescent evanescent miniscule flash before her left eye stopped her. She listened. Slightly nodded. Closed her eyes. Opened them. Looked at Paulina. Nodded to herself, at Harrison. “You may close the door.”
Harrison held it open. “Not until you give me something and I’m talking specific and substantial. No more games.”
Luciano nodded, closed her eyes, opened them. “I have been instructed to share information with you. Please close the door and perhaps you may, what is that expression, oh yes, make yourselves comfortable.”
Harrison hesitantly closed the door, pulled out two chairs indicating to Paulina who sat with obvious resistance, Harrison sat and gestured to Luciano.
Luciano listened to the information from within, then not so much talked but opened her mouth slightly as the tumbling words sounded like a stock clerk taking inventory.
“Deforestation of the Amazon - check; global warming not dangerous but a catastrophe - check; sink holes swallowing houses - check; breathing causes death in cities in China, India and Bangladesh - check; polar ice caps melting - check; coastal cities to be flooded - check; intensity of heat waves, hurricanes, tornados - check; increased fracking increased earthquakes - check; nuclear facilities leaking - check; nuclear waste lasting ten thousand years - check; disposal of chemical weaponry into the ocean killing live mammals – check...and done.” She stopped, looking at Paulina and then at Harrison.
The silence was uncomfortable as Paulina and Harrison exchanged confused looks. Harrison retorted trying to lighten the load, to Luciano, “You didn’t mention methane, more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Most of it coming from cows farting, check that!”
Paulina wasn’t cooperating. “Do we have to continue this nihilistic death march. Come on, Harrison, this feels like a PBS special.” She stared at Luciano, “But looking at you, Luciana, Luciano, I feel like it’s a bad sci-fi TV episode with an unhappy ending. I don’t know what the hell is going on, either you’re from another planet or a transvestite with a program not to my liking!”
Luciano simply said, “The former.”
Paulina continued her irritable rant, “So the fact is - this lady is no longer interested in whatever number you are playing on our naïve butts and...”
Harrison interrupted. “Wait a minute?” He turned to Luciano. “What did you say?”
Paulina slammed, “The former what?”
“You delineated two choices of sourcing my nature. The former.” Luciano said.
Paulina mumbled, “The former, the former...” turned to Harrison, “I am over-stressing Harrison. What did I say that has anything to do with the former...the former of what?”
Harrison tried to be calm, cool but was uncollected. “You said to her, him, are you from another planet or a transvestite. She/he said the former.” He turned to Luciano. “Correct?”
Harrison just stared at him. Without looking at Paulina he said, “Are you getting this, baby?”
Long silence. Paulina and Harrison’s short breaths were audible. Finally Paulina bolted, “This is beyond my ken...fuck this!” and stormed out of the room, changed her mind and raged back in confronting Luciano. “Prove it!”
“Unnecessary to prove what is,” Luciano said.
“Bogus. I am not playing.” She started to go but was stopped by Harrison.
“Hold up, baby.” Then turned to Luciano. “You are not from...from here, here being planet earth?”
“And this...your planet earth body?”
“Eases communication with your species.”
Paulina, trying to understand but not willing to bypass her own conditioned reality, “Uhmm hmmm, you are telling us that this is not your body?”
“I am freaking out, no doubt about it, but...okay, okay, if that’s not your body...uhmmm...can you feel anything? I mean if Harrison punches you out will you feel the pain?”
“My body will respond as a mortal body does but I, no, I shall not feel or respond emotionally as your species does.”
Harrison asserted, “You don’t feel physical pain?”
“The body does but not I, no.”
“And pleasure,” Paulina asked?
Luciano attempted to understand the word. “Pleasure, pleasure...the absence of pain, of conflict, absence of comparisons, yes?”
Harrison responded, “Okay, a good enough definition.”
“Then I am in a constant perpetual state of pleasure, yes.”
Paulina was determined to expose what she considered a travesty. “Let’s test this puppy out!” She walked to cabinets, drawers, looking wildly for...and finally found and extracted a long stainless steel seasoning injector needle which has an exceedingly acute, honed sharp point. She walked to Harrison and lightly tapped the point on his wrist.
“Hey, what are you doing, that hurts.”
Paulina smiled dourly, “Good.” She walked to Luciano. “Your arm, please.”
“Your choice,” Paulina said. “but push up your jacket and shirt. I need bare skin.”
Luciano did so. “As you wish.”
Paulina’s voice was grim, “Try not to be emotional with this!” And she pushed the needle deep into the inner part of the arm, the tender naked skin between the wrist and the elbow.
Luciano just observed.
Harrison cautioned, “You’re drawing blood.”
Paulina twisted the needle hoping for a scream, a groan, some response from Luciano. Nothing. Only blood.
Harrison came over and helped Paulina withdraw the needle, placing the entire injector on the table. He spoke quietly to Paulina. “I know this is ultra bizarre but in it’s own way kind of enthralling, wouldn’t you say? Come on, Paulina, I got your back. We have to go for it.”
Paulina harshly retorted, “What it?” and turned to Luciano with a lethal demand, “Whatever you are, from wherever you are, it’s well past time to get to...yes, the elusive it of its. Why, Luciano, are you here with me and Harrison? No more tap dancing. A direct, clear, intelligible reply for...for our species, damn it!”
Luciano was about to reply when that incandescent evanescent miniscule flash before her left eye stopped her. She listened. Slightly nodded. Closed her eyes. Opened them. Looked at Paulina. Nodded to herself.
“Your species has two to four decades at the most. Those who qualify, as a result of participating in Phase Two, shall have the opportunity to transcend this built-in obsolescence.”
Paulina muttered, “I don’t know what to do with this.”
Harrison gently touched her and turned to Luciano. “Opportunity to transcend?”
“This built-in obsolescence, yes.”
“Meaning planet earth,” Harrison said.
Paulina felt stretched beyond comprehension. “You want me to deal with this as a sentient human being, do you, Harrison?”
“No other choice.”
Paulina turned to Luciano, in a voice more assertive than her lack of confidence, “Transcend, you say, transcend to where, exactly?”
“Your astronomers affirm that there are 11 billion inhabitable planets in our galaxy where surface temperatures are neither too hot or too cold to support liquid water. About one in five sun-like stars harbors an Earth-size planet and is only twelve Light years away. You are not alone.”
“Why doesn’t that make me feel better?” Paulina asked.
“Phase Two. Participate and if you qualify you will be offered the opportunity to transcend.”
Harrison insisted, “There have been crisis throughout history and somehow our human species found ways to survive and even thrive.”
“Two to four decades. Unfit for human habitation. Non-negotiable,” Luciano clarified.
Paulina turned to Harrison, “Are you sure you didn’t slip some drug into our omelets?”
“I wish,” he said, “because this scene is an anathema to any familiar frame of reference.” He turned to Luciano. “I’m in the game without knowing the boundaries. What the hell, Phase-Two it is!”
Paulina said, “And if we do qualify and choose not, n – o – t to transcend, then what?”
“Each being lives with whatever comes with the choices each being makes.”
“Sounds like a New Age bumper sticker?” Harrison cracked.
“It is what it is.”
“Okay, rock ‘n roll. Let’s do it!” Harrison said as he turned to Paulina.
“Take a breath Paulina,” she said trying to calm herself, not successfully. Then to Luciano, “Phase Two, all right, yes, do whatever Phase Two does and end this circus.”
Luciano nodded and said, “Eight-second process. I shall pose three one-word issues and you will respond within eight seconds. Your response shall last no longer than eight seconds.”
“Oh God, I feel like we’re on a TV game-show,” Paulina said.
Harrison, “Where’s your stop clock?”
“Stop a clock?” Luciano asked.
“To keep time, eight seconds.”
“I always know the time.”
“If you think she’s scaring me, you’re right,” Paulina said.
“I shall start. Listen well. Life.”
Harrison, “Life what?”
“Your response within eight seconds. Life.”
“Okay...okay...life...solving problems.” He turned to Paulina. “You’re up.”
Paulina, “Life...enjoying solutions.”
Paulina responded, “I make it a habit not to think of whatever I cannot control.”
Luciano turned to Harrison, “Death.”
“The end,” Harrison said succinctly.
Paulina shrugged, “What was important before you showed up, Luciano, is not so important now.”
Luciano turned to Harrison, “Importance.”
Harrison searched, “Importance...importance...even lies have important truths hidden. Under eight?”
Luciano sat quietly as an incandescent evanescent miniscule flashed before her left eye, understanding, to each of them she asked, “Do you have any questions before considering your qualifications to transcend?”
Paulina hesitantly asked,” Transcend to where exactly?”
“We do not give it a name and if I specified the location your scientists would not understand the parameters which exceed your planetary measurement devices.”
Harrison aggressively pushed, “If I choose to transcend to your no-name place...”
“If you qualify.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said dismissively, what will it look like?”
“Not this. No words in your vocabulary would be a suitable description.”
“Will I have the same body?”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Harrison said.
“Where exactly are we getting?” Paulina asked trying to ignore her shortened breathing patterns.
Harrison asked Luciano, “Will we, will I have an explicit identity?”
“Yes, and you will also be part of.”
Paulina asked, “Part of what?”
“As you are now part of the human race.”
Paulina was urgently reaching for some kind of comprehension, an understanding that wasn’t coming. “But on your planet, if that’s what you call it, no human race?”
Luciano said, “There is another term in a form of communication you would not at present cognize but once transcended you will comprehend all immediately.”
Harrison intruded. “Sex?”
“Not in the form with which you are familiar,” Luciano said.
“And what form is that?” Harrison’s asked in antagonism.
“I cannot offer the explanation in a language which you would fathom.”
“I’m about to regurgitate from these verbal gymnastics that tell me nothing.” Harrison said.
Paulina quietly asked, “Once I transcend will I have a personality, humor, smarts, culture, what?”
“Those who transcend,” Luciano replied, “have everything they need with nothing to want.”
Harrison cracked, “Sounds boring.”
He and Paulina looked at each other, both unsure of the next question, their next move when Luciano reminded them:
“Two to four decades at the most when human species will find life on your planet uninhabitable.”
Harrison, “Sounds like a bad weather report.”
“Shall I determine qualifications?” Luciano asked.
Harrison snapped, “By all means, let us know if we qualify...blues!”
“Not we,” Luciano said. “Each of you, individually, will be determined.”
Paulina softly said, “Please. Determine and conclude this...this experience.”
Luciano closed her eyes, an incandescent evanescent miniscule flash before her left eye, Luciano barely nodded, opened her eyes, looked at each and then stopped at Paulina. “Paulina Echaverria de Gutierrez. You qualify.”
Paulina didn’t know if she felt relief or concern.
Luciano looked at Harrison. “Harrison Aaron Davidoff does not qualify.”
Harrison dismissively said, “Well what do you know, Bubba’s bucha did not qualify. Whoda’ thunk.” He turned to Paulina, “Your game, baby.”
Paulina looked at Harrison, flaws and all... with him she always felt better...better than what? Better than before. She turned to Luciano, “Transcending’s not for me. You wasted your time, Luciano.”
“I have time. No waste involved. Goodbye.” Luciano stood, walked to the door, opened it, closed it on her disappearing form.
They were silent for a seconds when a loud buzzing zzzzttttzzzappp sounded on the outside of the door. Paulina and Harrison looked at each other with a “what was that!”
Paulina ran to the door, slammed it open, not seeing Luciano. She was emotionally strung tight as she stepped out, looking frantically for Luciano. She exceeded logic and started to jog through the streets, calling, “Luciano”...then running at full speed, calling, “Luciano...Luciano...” She finally stopped, exhausted, as Harrison jogged and caught up. It was apparent to him that Paulina was close to breaking as he held her. Paulina’s audible short breaths slowed...until she could breathe at a normal pace, then deeply. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. She was on the edge of sobbing. “Was she...he...Luciano for real?”
Comforting her with soothing sounds even he did not feel. “Yes, no, maybe...there is nothing I can... maybe there was some hallucigenic in our water, maybe... let’s just chalk it up to an I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-that-was experience.”
“Can’t do any better, baby, sorry.”
“You better walk me home, Harrison, because I am short on sanity.”
He walked her home slowly, totally identifying although keeping his emotions in check.
They entered their home.
Paulina stood for thirty seconds, not recognizing anything...looked around wildly. Then got what she needed! She quickly moved to the kitchen and fiercely engrossed herself into food prep, dicing, slicing, mixing.
“What are you doing, baby?”
Paula working frantically, “I have to get on familiar territory. Need to find my own reality!”
Harrsion came over, took her busy hands in his, held them to his face, “Slow down, Paulina, everything’s okay.”
“Really?” she said, feeling nothing will ever be okay again.
“Hey,” Harrison touched her cheeks gently, “You could have gone and left me to my own devices, you know.”
Paulina stopped...looked around...relished the familiarity of her pots, pans and bowls and...she inhaled deeply, grateful as if it was her first hit of air, looked at Harrison in gratitude and smiled, “Okay, darling man, I’m back. I am all right.”
“You sure?” Harrison asked.
“It’s a done deal. We human species are...back, so get your butt over to your side and let’s make a great dinner.”
Harrison hugged and kissed Paulina, she playfully shoved him to the counter, “Make one of your great salads, mister, and on your way turn on the radio. I can stand some easy listenin’ music as this girl craves for some distracting mind candy.”
Harrison turned on the radio and pop music enhanced their graceful moves in and around each other, promising a great feast.
At one point Harrison was close to Paulina, each had a kitchen utensil in hand, and he led them in a dance during which Paulina clacked her utensil against his in perfect time to the music until the radio announcer cut in:
“And now the news. A vicious hurricane hit the East Coast, rising waters destroying Coastal homes and threatening some further inland in which a severe devastation of office buildings in New York, New Jersey, all the way down to Florida where people on the street are wading in water up to their hips but if you think you got it bad check out our Polar bears because sea ice has virtually disappeared and the poor bears are drowning. In the beautiful western part of the good ‘ole u.s. of a. there is a promise of rain which is sorely needed to dampen the 22 million acres that have been burned since the fire season is in full bloom. But folks, listen up and cheer up because I got some great news to wash away your blues. There is a beyond belief great and wild sale at Target, offering discounts on toilet sundries, soap, bath tissues, and brushes to reach you know where for only...”
Paulina rushed to the radio, shutting it off.
They both silently were dealing with what Luciano predicted.
Paulina decided to ignore and cover. “I’m hungry. You?”
“Starving,” Harrison said.
They worked on their food prep silently aware of Luciano’s words.
Quietly Paulina asked, “Ten to twenty decades?”
Harrison not wanting to go there. “Uhmmm...this salad’s going to taste the best ever.”
“And you, Mister Harrison Aaron Davidoff, better be the most loving, caring, nurturing best ever. Promise?”
He shrugged, admitted Luciano, and made his choice. “For ten to twenty decades at least.”
“Even with a deal to stop the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warn, the world will become increasingly unpleasant. Without a deal, they say, the world could eventually become uninhabitable for humans.” [New York Times]