Novel for 2016

 The Incurables


John Michael Gorrindo


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The Incurables

By John M. Gorrindo

Twenty-Four Chapters


Chapter I

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the art of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By all conventional habit of the young dismissing the old, Ulrich Hoffstetler hadn’t much left at age ninety. Almost everyone he had ever known of any personal importance was dead, including his only wife and two children. He was confined to a wheelchair due to poor circulation in his extremities, but he continued to smoke, nonetheless. A keen mind buoyed him, though, and he exercised his unabated interest in many intellectual subjects by a rigorous embrace of the internet’s encyclopedic realm. Since their inception, personal computers had always fascinated him, and he knew that without their constant provisions his mind would wither and his fragile life would simply end. He guarded his computer and its peripherals with a constant wariness, equally fearing theft as well as attack by virus. Hoffstetler did have money. His wealth was by no means ostentatious. Its origin was as purloined cash he carried out of Germany after the war in 1946, providing the seed for the small business he created that would see him through exile in America for the next fifty years. Looking ahead was always Ulrich’s salvation. Dotage comes around in finality, and he had always prepared for it. But he hadn’t quite figured on being physically incapable before a steep mental decline. So it was that father time cut out the legs from underneath him before turning him into a senile fool. Still, Hoffstetler could both afford to maintain a private residence and hire both a live-in nurse and housekeeper to help him survive independently longer than most. Mortality and Death as a rule rode in tandem upon his slumping shoulders and whispered endlessly into his ear. Such murmurings were neither directives, paranoid chatter, nor dark forebodings. They were more clarifications of what lie on the road directly ahead. Death had never been a stranger to Ulrich and had always informed his next move. This was not only instilled by his service as a medical ward for the disabled at Hartheim Castle opened by the Nazis in 1940. No, Schloss Hartheim had neither been the source nor terminus. There had been the Hitlerjugend just before, and even prior the arrest and disappearance of school friends and their families in Frankfurt during Kristallnacht. No matter the interminable number of terrors witnessed and enough to kill the spirit of most boys, Ulrich Hoffstetler’s nimble sense of adaptation coalesced around a core of listening to the whisperings of death. Death was the grand arbiter and explicable when nothing else seemed to be. It made ultimate sense. Life, on the other hand, was capricious and a vagary. Life trembled with senselessness. Hoffstetler had never been in essence a survivor directed by the end of days. He had been a Nazi only by the necessity to follow a national directive to be so. He had only been a facilitator of lethal injections given to the infirm and insane at the euthanasia center of Hartheim only because he had been assigned to such a post. And as an observer only, Ulrich Hoffstetler had easily willed himself not to shudder at the memory of exploding fiery debris falling atop those Jews huddling on the sidewalks scrambling to escape the destruction of Frankfurt’s Borneplatz Synagogue during Kristallnacht. Nothing had ever compelled Hoffstetler to crack and leak vital fluid. He moved through life at every turn with mechanical fluency, no matter the horrors surrounding him. Nothing much surprised nor frightened nor upset him or his conscience. However questionable that conscience might be judged, he was socially agreeable by nature and this spared him undue scrutiny. There was an elegance to his speech and he was a polite listener. The outward expression of his existence did not propagate disturbance and sought to resonate harmoniously within the social milieus he found himself. Hoffstetler’s successful attempts to meld socially came more the harmless tweaking of the physics of sociability and never through the con. That many Nazis had easily crossed the permeable membrane from war time Europe to post-war America was commonplace knowledge to Americans themselves, and there were enough German-Americans everywhere that had already helped create and sustain America’s sense of pride and accomplishment that whether they had come to America before or after the war didn’t cause a ripple’s difference in social terms. Ulrich masterfully kept a low profile just in case, though, never drawing attention to his past. Even marriage and fatherhood boiled down to mastering a set of sanguine-inducing algorithms Hoffstetler learned by seeming rote from everyone he had ever known who had ever had success at it all. Marriage, in particular, he had early on decided must be thought of as a working arrangement; an agreed upon separation of responsibilities and mutual respect for the domains each partner owned dominance of. He took full accountability for his responsibilities and chose a wife by design that would keep to her own and fulfill her role in same. As for being a father of an only son, Hoffstetler knew that if he simply was present when needed and provided seamlessly that his son would love him for the graces of contiguous stability he provided as the head of the family. Hoffstetler knew best that every human being he had ever known needed a family more than did he himself. He took all things human on the basis of experience external to himself and never took seriously that he should be what he needed based on some naturalistic, individual assessment. Follow the statistics of what human needs demands and plot yourself upon the line that cuts through the scattered dots on a graph of linear regression. Hoffstetler appeared born to carve out a linear path as directed by the statistical algorithm so described. His housekeeper barely noticed the man she took care of because he barely showed himself to the world. He was the world some degrees removed, for that matter. For the housekeeper, who had no problem with the world- why would she have a problem with a man who was more iconic of the world in toto than he was a discernable individual? It was as if she were taking care of a mental note she carried in mind based on an article about how to take care of the elderly- detached elderly care, as it were. She liked it that way, and, of course, so did Ulrich Hoffstetler. All things were what they should be for the housekeeper, and Ulrich of course had hired her full well knowing that she would loyally remain because she needed an employer first and foremost who would fulfill the perfect role model of an elderly charge who would never create complications. Hoffstetler had crafted a simple set of questions at her interview which covertly tested just what it was that would make her serve for the long term. The trick was to recruit someone whose credentials and references spoke for themselves. This left only the important task of measuring compatibility as the applicant for housekeeper would be a live-in position. So Ulrich Hoffstetler sat with the then-applicant Sarah George in a sunny breakfast room where he spent breakfast every morning and holding her application in hand asked the following: “I see you have never been married.” “Yes, that is so.” “May I call you Ms. George?” “Yes, sir.” “Let me see- this application tells me you are fifty-five years of age?” “That is correct.” “What hours do you most naturally keep?” “Waking at five and to bed by nine thirty.” “Does peace and quiet suit you?” “It suits me fine, sir.” “What kind of home do you wish to work in?” “One of order and predictability.” “What brings the best out of you?” “The quest for cleanliness.” “Give me a typical menu for the meals of a day.” “Oatmeal with raisins and bananas topped with cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg for breakfast. Egg salad sandwich with sweet pickles and tomatoes for lunch. Poached salmon, braised asparagus, and a vinaigrette salad for dinner.” “What do you do on off hours?” “Embroider and read.” Based on two written recommendations, eight interview questions and one interview confirmation Hoffstetler knew without a doubt that Sarah George would be a housekeeper of remarkable distinction. Ulrich and Sarah would never sound right together as two names sharing the subject of a conversational sentence. That there was a cat, a parrot, and a nurse who reported daily to help administer to Hoffstetler’s daily regimen of medication more or less rounded out a plausible household of inhabitants. As for the third party, Erika Jansen was the old man’s ministering nurse who injected a modicum of life-giving energy into the small, tidy rooms of Hoffstetler’s house. She was in her early thirties, healthy as an orchard in bloom, possessive of a crackling intelligence, a happy wife, and loving mother. Her daily round was to drop in and give care to a manageable number of aging, homebound seniors who, much like Ulrich Hoffstetler, were wealthy enough to live on their own by means of family support or by the help provided by a housekeeper. Hers had not always been, but was for the time being a most manageable life, no less made so by the short walking distance between her own residence and all those she visited throughout the week. It was here in an unassuming neighborhood in Phenolica, a suburb of sorts situated between the ocean on the west, a greater metropolis to the south and to the east and north an even greater mountain wilderness rising up out of river-blessed agricultural plains and valleys, that Erika Jansen was living out a quiet but meaningful existence based on humanitarian work and domestic bliss. Hoffstetler’s medical needs had recently grown to the point that he now needed a nurse to drop by once a day. His increasing propensity for nodding off to sleep without warning left him concerned that he would forget to take the correct assortment of pills in correct dosage every day. Some medications were required once or twice daily; others three time a week. He naturally used a transparent plastic pill sorter with four pill compartments provided for every day of the week, and just a couple of years previous had still been able to refill it faithfully and with accuracy. But Hoffstetler knew that he was slipping and that he could not trust himself any longer. Erica Jansen took care of this and also filled his prescriptions. Hoffstetler needed someone to bathe him as well, and he had retrofitted his master bedroom’s bath with a special shower and toilet that allowed for a man who could barely stand up on his own to both bathe and use the toilet with the aid of someone else. Sarah George had been given an upstairs bedroom and bathroom of her own. Her room overlooked the shady street below, lined with oak trees and tall hedges behind which well-manicured lawns were sure to include well-spaced rose bushes within their prescribed borders. Hoffstetler had for years spent most of his active hours in his library, adjacent to his bedroom as adjoined by a set of opposing glass-paneled doors. Built-in book cases lined the walls, full of hardbound books and personal papers. A long desk dominated by the double monitors of a very fast computer system made up the working core of the room whose floors were dark stained oak. Modernity as mined from the brushed aluminum encasements of his computer and its peripherals cushioned him to virtual safety enabling Ulrich Hoffstetler to keep his aging blood’s tide high riding astride the wild bronco that was the physical world once removed and continuously mediated, reduced to sound and vision on a high definition computer screen. Naturally it would follow that it was the aging papers as stored in large anonymous looking dockets on the book shelves that Hoffstetler found less and less useful. That hi-technology made his paper documents non-important was convenient. Oh- they were safe from destruction- having been scanned and digitized long ago. It provided an easy palliative to the dread that he would prefer not to acknowledge their existence. They were like shadows thrown behind the computer; a convenient backdrop whose appearance paid its respect to the idea of a serious man with an archive while the hard bound books provided the irreplaceable aesthetic of the old world library. There were three dockets on the top shelf of the hardwood bookcase, entitled Micah I, Micah II, and Micah III. Why would the old Nazi, ward intern to the doctors of death at Hartheim Castle name his son after a Jewish prophet? Well- a minor Jewish prophet in all truth. Perhaps an appeasement to the Holocaust? No, there were both historical and aesthetic reasons for naming his child Micah. Careful premeditation was Hoffstetler’s way. Whatever the choice it must make beautiful sense to qualify as his male child’s name. The name Micah itself possessed a beautiful ring. As homonym with the mineral, there was a physical appeal. God, too had commissioned the prophet Micah to come out and denounce the evils that had taken hold of Samaria and Jerusalem. The consequences of the wickedness comprised his prophesy. "Evil cannot befall us," Micah beseeched. If the Jews continued their evil ways "Zion shall be ploughed up like a field, and Jerusalem shall become ruinous heaps, and the mount of the Beth-Hamikdosh forest-covered heights!" They did not listen and were destroyed by Babylon one hundred and thirty-three years later. Hoffstetler knew his prophets though he was an atheist. Religion as a path to redemption was anathema to Ulrich Hoffstetler; but religion as history was a wonderful tool for quickly accessing philosophical wisdom. Micah held enigmatic meaning as a word. In Hebrew it was a taunt, asking “Who is afraid? Weakened? Disheartened and cowed?- Are you a wuss?”. It was also for the Hebrews the pregnant query “Who is there?” It was Micah who was there- and he was brave enough to ask if you were brave enough to claim existence. Micah embodied the concept of calling people out. Hoffstetler was supremely pleased by this. With dismissive irony Ulrich, the former Nazi, named his only child Micah. The second part of the story behind the name began in Austria in a Tyrolean castle when Ulrich Hoffstetler was seventeen years old. The land upon which the castle stood had belonged to nobility since the eleventh century. Schloss Hartheim itself was built in the early seventeenth century. It was a famous Austrian landmark; a classic Renaissance castle. The castle changed hands in the early nineteenth century and in 1896 was offered to the Regional Charity Association by its last noble owner. This society decided two years later to transform the castle into a home for ‘Schwach und Blodsinnige, Cetinose und Iditen’ (Mentally Defective and Feeble-Minded, Cretins and Idiots). Schloss Hartheim, which had once housed nobility had been given over to the warehousing of the mentally ill. The work carried on by the home’s doctors between 1898 and the eve of World War II was in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath. But in February 1939, the Nazis, now in full control of Austria, seized the castle. In early 1940, Schloss Hartheim was retrofitted and became one of six newly instituted euthanasia centers, the first facilities of which were to be used for the mercy killing of both mentally defective adults and children. Just after the opening of Hartheim’s euthanasia center, Ulrich Hoffstetler, a young upstart in the Hitler Youth both driven by ambition and looking for a way to avoid orders for frontline duties in an escalating war, ingratiated himself upon a Hartheim doctor who happened to be visiting a Youth rally. The doctor’s name was Rennaux, an acclaimed physician who ranked high in the Reich regime. He was the father of Hoffstetler’s best friend, a fellow Youth with whom he trained and served. Something appealed to the young man about working in a real castle. Asking for the permission to interview for a staff position at the hospital, Hoffstetler received agreement and took the train from Frankfurt to Linz, Austria in the spring of 1940. Poland had been invaded in September of 1939. The war was on and Hoffstetler’s conscription loomed any day. As a member of the Hitler Youth he was already registered with the Wehrmacht. Hoffstetler wanted no part of infantry life and to be put into harm’s way. He knew intimately through his confidential friendship with Dr. Rennaux’s son that medical doctors were amongst the most important and powerful members of the Third Reich. Given the vital importance of ideology to the Third Reich, doctors’ services and advice carried as much weight as did the commanders of the Wehrmacht. The struggle was not only carried into military battle but as well into the homes of all Germans who families seeking to root out and destroy polluted, degenerative genes. Hoffstetler also knew that Dr. Rennaux was a deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, a hospital which had just opened in the beautiful Tyrolean area of northwestern Austria. The timing was critical, and Hoffstetler knew he must vie for employment there immediately as staffing was still in process. All of this vital information came the way of Dr. Rennaux’s son. The work at Linz and Hartheim was a secret operation. The public had not yet been properly desensitized to the killing of especially children based on eugenic principles. The Third Reich was sure that the open killing of undesirables would eventually become accepted especially accelerated by the fact the country was on a firm war footing, but in the meantime, secrecy surrounding Schloss Hartheim. Hoffstetler himself had only been told Hartheim was a hospital. For the Nazis and the team of death doctors they had assembled the operation of a euthanasia center was experimental in nature, attempting through a variety of trials to find the quickest, cleanest way to kill large groups of human beings and dispose of them with minimal trace. Dr. Rennaux risked bringing Hoffstetler on site based solely on his own methods of recruitment, and though it did not follow human resource protocol, he exercised his deputy directorship to do so. The doctor needed reliable staff that he could personally vouch for. The institution was behind schedule for full staffing as the rush order to open the center had strained human resources. Rennaux did not necessarily trust the given provisions for staffing the center. He knew through his son and other sources that Hoffstetler was a qualified candidate; rather the calm, cool, and cold blooded type but a zealous patriot as well. The doctor looked for these qualities that preceded Hoffstetler during that first crucial meeting. Rennaux was particularly keen upon observations of Hoffstetler during the castle tour. The litmus test would be the Youth’s reaction to the sights, sounds, and smells of two inextricably related functional spaces in the castle: first, would there be composure when first walking into a ward filled with idiots and cripples- almost all of them children; two, will Hoffstetler keep his cool in the rooms of death. They met in Dr. Rennaux’s office, and Rennaux directly took Hoffstetler into the castles’ grand, open lobby courtyard. The open air columns and vaulted arches running along the porticos supported the three floors with a clear view to the fourth floor and the building’s ceiling. The two quickly ascended the staircase to the third floor. Quite suddenly, a nurse threw open a door and Hoffstetler was ushered into a hospital ward. Litmus test one: He did not flinch, wince, nor show any outward sign of disgust, fascination, empathy nor any other emotion one might expect of most human beings upon being introduced for the first time into a large ward room housing dozens of young, forsaken bodies and minds twisted by a soul numbing array of deformities. Dr. Rennaux patiently took Hoffstetler from one bed to the next. The moment of truth was to have Hoffstetler walk up and prompted to closely inspect a young person whose mental facilities were perfectly intact but whose physical deformities qualified him as a “wasted life”. Hoffstetler looked on as if he were inspecting animal stock at a regional fair and fest. Dr. Rennaux let Hoffstetler mill among the ward’s patients for a full hour. Taking the pace slowly he explained the separate conditions of perhaps two dozen patients. Meanwhile most of the patients cooed, gurgled and mumbled unintelligibly. Rennaux carefully chose patients who suffered from representative conditions. He patiently gave Ulrich Hoffstetler a brief but complete historical view of the Third Reich laws that had necessitated the opening of several euthanasia centers. “When the Der Fuhrer came into power in 1933, how old were you, Ulrich?” “I was eleven years old.” “Perhaps you were unaware of the threat to the German race at that time. Am I not right, Ulrich? Still enjoying the veil of childhood innocence. Not yet a member of the Youth, were you? Der Fuhrer was wise to inspire the laws that quickly began to save Germany from genetic pollution. It was doctors especially who had alerted him of the threat. He listens to us. Now that you are part of the Youth, I know their programs have taught you well about such dangers and more.” “Yes, Herr Dokter.” “Let me be clear about what you see before you here in this ward. Granted, it must be a shock. Not every day do we see such a concentration of those whose lives are unworthy of living. I want you to understand how the Third Reich has heroically and systematically approached the threat of the German race’s genetic pollution. “In 1933 the first great genetic protection law was passed- the Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases. To protect future generations and to improve the German race the nation was ordered to separate, exclude and sterilize those who suffered from congenital feeblemindedness, schizophrenia, hereditary epilepsy, manic-depressive psychosis, severe alcoholism, hereditary deafness, hereditary blindness, severe malformations, and Huntington’s chorea. Of course, I have forgotten perhaps the greatest scourge- schizophrenia.” “Later the law was expanded to include habitual criminals and involuntary abortion of a fetus carried by a mother with hereditary illness.” “Yes, I remember a few years ago about a female cripple in our apartment building in Frankfurt who became pregnant,” Hoffstetler interposed. “It was a scandal. She was not married. Perhaps she had been raped. She had an abortion. They tried to keep it secret, but we found out.” Dr. Rennaux continued the litany, unperturbed. “In 1935 the Marriage Health Law forbade persons to be married if they were considered to be carriers of hereditary degeneracy.” Rennaux took a breath followed by a short pause of silence. “Maybe you are not aware because the following directive has only recently been declared, Ulrich. The Reich Ministry of Interior has just ordered midwives and physicians to report at childbirth the family history, hereditary diseases, family alcohol or substance use, and infants born with such conditions as hydrocephaly, missing limbs or bifida of the head and spinal cord, and paralyses. “I am one of the doctors to whom those reports are submitted. A group of us so assigned make the decision as to whether those children should be euthanized or allowed to remain home.” Dr. Rennaux paused yet one more time and looked at Ulrich with great intent. “Ulrich, all these children you see here- would you agree their lives are not worth living?” Ulrich Hoffstetler did not answer immediately. He slowly scanned the room, looking at the useless, paralytic limbs, spinal tails, mangled teeth extruding from lipless mouths, lifeless stares from hollow eyes, pin heads, and drool trickling from the corners of mouths. “We cannot allow these genes to pass on to the next generation,” Hoffstetler said rote-like with insincere sincerity of what he imagined should be said. Just as he finished speaking, Ulrich Hoffstetler heard a small voice to his right. “Who are you?” It was weak and plaintive but persistent as it asked once again. “Who are you?” Ulrich was hesitant to acknowledge, but he turned his head to look from when the voice came. A small boy with splayed feet and a bifida of the spinal cord at the neck lay on his stomach, his head on its side and eyes trained on Hoffstetler. Hoffstetler approached him and looked at the clip board and attached form hanging from his bed. Micah Adamsky, the chart read. Ulrich Hoffstetler wanted to answer the boy, but he quickly thought the better of it, deciding distractions as such were hardly warranted. He took one more look at the boy, who was now mute, and once again gave Dr. Rennaux his undivided attention. “Prevention will cleanse the nation’s blood lines, Ulrich. This is a noble cause. In 1933 we started with sterilization. But the problem is much larger; more widespread than we had realized. A true demographic of the disabled and mentally retarded was statistically calculated after Der Fuhrer came Chancellor. Now that the Third Reich has finally put our great country back on the track to economic recovery and industrial redevelopment, we can institute policies that will truly strengthen and make our race great according to the modern methods of the 20th century’s single greatest resource- science. This will both create and preserve our place as the predominant force in Europe, if not the world. “And so it is for this greater good that we must show both mercy for our Germany and these malformed beings as well. I have a book for you, Ulrich. It is a gift from me. Here, take it and read it as soon as possible.” Dr. Rennaux reached deeply into his doctor’s white coat pocket and brought forth a leather bound edition, giving it to Hoffstetler. Ulrich Hoffstetler was flummoxed. A gift from the great Dr. Rennaux on their first official meeting? He couldn’t feel more honored and proudly impressed. Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Living by Professor of Psychiatry Alfred Hoche and Professor of Law Karl Binding,” Hoffstetler read slowly and clearly, out loud. “Thank you, Herr Doctor! I will read this straight away when I return home.” Dr. Rennaux smiled. He then raised his arm, and pointing the way, ushered Hoffstetler out into an adjoining hallway. Rennaux closed the ward doors and the two of them were left in sudden silence in an empty corridor. “Once again, what do you think of the lives these poor unfortunates lead, Ulrich?” asked Dr. Rennaux. “It will never be a productive life. So it can never qualify as a good life.” “Can you imagine the cost to the state and to the society to support them?” “It is a loss for all of Germany, Herr Doctor.” “Good. I now need to show you two important places down this hallway, Ulrich.” Along the freshly painted white, third floor portico which over the balustrade offered a beautiful architectural view of the vast castle courtyard, Dr. Rennaux led Ulrich Hoffstetler to a pair of double doors. It was perfectly silent save the percussive sound made by the hard leather soles of their shoes in contact with the concrete floor. The doors were thrown open and there was an anteroom. Through the anteroom and another doorway was a room with large diameter black pipes fitted into the walls designed to fill the room with the pipes’ exhaust. “Yes, I’m glad you understand. You see, we are simultaneously doctors of mercy and agents of economic betterment, Ulrich. We must end the suffering of the irreparably damaged disabled while staunching the economic bleeding they cause for the Reich. Our charge is to humanely end the wasted lives of these creatures who have been forsaken to sub-human conditions. Do you believe you can faithfully help serve such responsibilities?” “Oh, yes, Herr Doctor. I believe in your mission and am ready and able to serve the cause.” “We deliver the passing of our patients in this chamber, Ulrich. The gas comes out of those pipes. Of all our options, this is most painless.” Ulrich stood and stared and though he did not show it there was a flutter in his stomach if only for an instant. Dr. Rennaux stood still and quiet for a moment. He then invited Ulrich to move on to the second and last room. The walls of this last room tenaciously held on to the stench of death. This was the final stop to oblivion and death without a trace. It was an ugly, utilitarian concrete constructed space with arched ceilings and windows of thick, opaque glass gridded over with metal bars. The floors and walls were stained dark which repeated attempts to clean had failed in eliminating the stains. Steel trapdoors of different sizes were seen fitted into the concrete floors. This was one of the Third Reich’s’ first functioning crematoriums. “We cannot return the bodies to the outside world, you must understand, Ulrich. It is here that we cremate the corpses. It is better that way. This provides the clean-up needed to maintain proper hygienic for the center.” The miasmal of death that was to linger a lifetime was the price of one interview. But there would be plenty more to come, and time to become so accustomed. Hoffstetler did what he could to close off his nostril passages within the confines of the hellish space and his stomach churned into knots. He stared straight ahead, poker faced. Dr. Rennaux did not lift his gaze from Hoffstetler for a long minute. He then politely ushered Hoffstetler out of the crematorium. “The job position we need filled is that of ward assistant. The job entails many tasks. In essence you will do anything a supervising doctor or ward nurse asks you to do. The nurses feed and clean the patients until they are ready for dispatch, but you will be asked to do other more physical tasks that include mopping floors, other sanitation-related duties, and helping move patients in and out of the ward. Some patients are bussed offsite to other centers that function the same as ours. You will need to help move them downstairs and out to the busses. Conversely, you will help inpatient bus loads enter the facility and settle into their assigned wards. Are you interested in such work? Think about it for a minute while we walk down to my office. It is entry level and in all honesty is drudgery. I know you are a smart, well-educated young man, but you must show your mettle. You can do that by showing that it is very important work you are doing for Germany. And it can lead to promotion most directly to becoming a doctor’s assistant. They have a higher ranking than the nurses.” Hoffstetler was led downstairs to the administrative offices on the ground floor and into Dr. Rennaux’s small but comfortable office. Hoffstetler was offered a seat and Dr. Rennaux sat opposite him at his desk. Dr. Rennaux took a pipe from his pipe rack, filled it with tobacco from a humidor, tamped it down, clenched the stem between his teeth and lit a long, sulfur-tipped match. He let the flame take hold and them lowered the match at just the optimal angle for lighting the tobacco but not burning his finger. “What say you, Ulrich? Keep in mind that whether you say yes or no you have been shown something kept secret from the public. It will take time to socialize the work we do with the greater public. But in time all good Germans will understand how important the work is that we do here. But in the meantime, you carry on your young shoulders the grave responsibility of complying to a non-disclosure agreement that comes with this interview. Breaching that agreement can lead to your imprisonment. I have taken the risk to show you because you come highly recommended by your Youth commander, as well as my son.” Ulrich’s spine stiffened while straightening. Delivered out of a fetid crematorium into the confines of a comfortable office space filling with the pungent sweetness of cherry tobacco smoke, Ulrich Hoffstetler regained full vigor and became wholly self-possessed once again. “Oh, yes, Herr Doctor,” he answered proudly. “I gladly accept this position if so offered me on behalf of you, good doctor, Schloss Hartheim, and the Third Reich.” Ulrich Hoffstetler signed the non-disclosure agreement, was given a promissory job offer letter, and rose to shake Dr. Rennaux’s hand. On the wall behind the doctor was a poster featuring the eugenic program’s poster child- the image of a stunted idiot in a Charlie Chaplin-like suit with a smiling physician in white coat behind him captioned by, “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too.” Hartheim was part of the first wave of mercy killing unleashed in institutional cover under the Nazis. Eugenics was first manifest as a sterilization program in 1933 and over a calculated number of years culminated with the advent of war in 1939, became “mercy killing” at the hands of the State. Schloss Hartheim opening was coincided with the unfolding the Nazi plan to organize a secret operation targeting disabled children for death. So it was as a seventeen-year old Hitler Youth that Hoffstetler found himself drafted into service at Schloss Hartheim based on not only his successful interview but also the superior results of his intelligence and achievement testing. Dr. Rennaux had plans for Ulrich Hoffstetler. Hoffstetler was escorted out of the building by guards and shown his transportation. Before Ulrich Hoffstetler boarded the vehicle assigned to take him back to the train station, turned back and looked up at the block symmetry of Schloss Hartheim with its corner turrets. For some strange reason, and for all that he had just seen and heard and understood; for all the success the meeting with Dr. Rennaux wrought, it was the name Micah that preoccupied his thought and rang most clearly in his mind.


Chapter II

“So I control myself and choke back the lure of my dark cry. Ah, who can we tum to, then? Neither angels nor men, and the animals already know by instinct we're not comfortably at home in our translated world. Maybe what's left for us is some tree on a hillside we can look at day after day, one of yesterday's streets, and the perverse affection of a habit that liked us so much it never let go.” Duino Elegies, The First Elegy Rainer Maria Rilke

One of Sarah George’s favorite rounds was grocery shopping, which she always combined with her favorite form of exercise- walking. She always took along a wire carriage basket on wheels that folded up for convenience of storage. She liked the soft yet high pitched squeal its wheels made as it rumbled along the uneven sidewalks of Phenolica on the way from Ulrich Hoffstetler’s house to the local Shopping Bizarre. The bizarre was bizarre as in extravagant, and always a pleasure to visit for someone like Sarah George. Shopping was the greater thrill perhaps, but browsing was equal in enjoyment. There were two dozen proprietors in the maze of shops all sharing a common roof, selling an endless array of fine foods-local and imported cheeses, wines, freshly baked breads of every kind and description, fine local meats, a farmer’s market of fruits, vegetables, nuts and honey, and a few bakeries. Ulrich Hoffstetler knew a way into Sarah’s heart was through her stomach, and when helping her organize the weekly meal menu for his small household always encouraged her to buy something special for herself. He could afford to be generous. And he could hardly fail to keep Sarah George pleased. She especially liked Greek food- feta cheese, domales, quality olive oils and traditional dishes such as moussaka. What could be more delicious than a casserole of eggplant and ground lamb with onion and tomatoes bound by a white sauce and beaten eggs? Sarah George always shopped in the morning around 10 AM when she knew all the shops were opened and most had received the day’s shipments. By 10 Ulrich Hoffstetler had been fed breakfast, the dishes were safely stowed in the dishwasher, and any laundry needing done was already in the washer. She usually shopped four times a week as fresh vegetables were always a priority. Today’s shopping list included veal, string beans, potatoes, mushrooms, pasta and a bottle of rich, white pinot gris. To buy an imported wine could be construed as betrayal in Phenolica, so Sarah George made sure the pinot gris was at least local to the state if not Phenolica. Along with adjoining valleys nestled into the large rolling hills and scattered tall, rocky peaks in the area, Phenolica was one of the state’s great wine regions. Decidedly white, middle to upper class, conservative and home to an aging population which included a slow but steady influx of retirees, Phenolica was a small boutique city, featuring boutique agriculture (vineyards), boutique shopping (such as the Bizarre), boutique county fairs (with plenty of llamas and alpacas on display), and monthly jazz concerts (mellow but still ‘outside’) at one of the favorite local boutique wineries. Sarah George had been born in Phenolica, grew up in Phenolica, and had lived her whole life in Phenolica. Though she had never found love and marriage in the town, it mattered little. She planned on remaining in the town until she; well- until she was no more. On a given Saturday morning, Sarah George left to go shopping. Ulrich Hoffstetler knew just how long Sarah George would be gone. Her return trip was invariably two hours in duration. There was a window of time for him to pursue private activities. Hoffstetler decided to do something he rarely did, and that was to exert the massive energy needed to reach up onto his book shelf and take down an archive volume of Micah’s collected writings. Steering his wheel chair over to a corner, lower shelf of his massive book case, Hoffstetler locked the chair’s wheels and arms trembling, leaned forward, struggling to grab secure hold of a large archive box labeled Micah III. Pulling it onto his blanket covered lap, he pivoted the chair around and wheeled back to his massive desk. He leaved through the uneven compilation of loose-leaf papers stored in the archives box folder, most of which differed in paper quality, weight, size, and color. Some looked still fresh, others were yellowing; still others were stained with coffee and food. There was an easy find in the middle of the pack, a pink, stapled clutch of lined notebook paper bordered with multi-colored flowers. It was the type of paper favored by school girl. Hoffstetler turned to the third page and started to read:

January 5, 1997

I think the man in war sheds tears but never the skin that holds his cellular identify bound to form by that thing called upbringing. He could have walked the streets unattached unabashed disaffected; a non-proprietary unowned entity; a no one that everyone could be if so wanted. So, so, so- do you want it? No, he didn’t. Didn’t want to live out a history conjured by throbbing desire as driven by endocrine biology. But what of his mother his father his siblings his friends? Where were the invisible ties of blood of kindred sympathy and conviviality and natural attraction? His mind wandered like his feet as did his shoes. The woods, the great mountains, the sidewalks whose former hand laid smoothness now rippling buckles split by the roots of trees planted too closely. It didn’t matter. The boots walked carry feet and bones and flesh and a cerebrum constantly flushed-out by surging blood and the faux-triggered, synaptic firings short circuited across what had once been thought to be impenetrable boundaries. And it was naturally like a war and it was all so natural. Humankind is always at war even if it is sitting in prayer like the pope in silence inside the gates of Auschwitz. Eternal war of opposites for without them we cannot even intellectually suppose that without contraries there is no progression. And then we up the ante and roll it over on its back. How hapless is the beetle; how helpless the land tortoise when turned over to lie on their shell. We outthink ourselves. Without contraries there is no progression- so it is the 6 and the 9; the love and the hate; the peace and the war; the wisdom and the ignorance; the joy and the pain; the life and the death. Oh, to be alive; alive and nothing more however swings the traversing weight along the axis of thought. Yet death will claim ye. Claim ye in the end that some call the new beginning. And so we need the war to have the peace; the hate to have the love; the death to give a new life. And this conundrum is nothing but nature playing out its mysterious, age-old process on yet one more level endless in example. It is the gift wrapped in entropy that keeps on giving. It is all so natural. No, he didn’t it. He didn’t want the nightmares that plagued him in his pure and clean lifestyle. Unlike when a younger man, there were no substances to cloud his vision when now at sleep. But his sleep was held hostage by the past. The new, drug-free clarity allowed passage through the portals provided by the veils of sleep to reveal the long suppressed denizens of subconscious memory. Now, to be haunted by things long past that self-medication had at least protected him from when he finally was able to retire to bed; Hauntings that were once buried in brain tissue, long gone only to rise to life; twisted in form, sight, and sound that dragged the sleeping mind into the theater of the unconscious every passing night. It still persists. Sometimes the night terrors take on what is really a metaphorical guise; but were actually pure memories so disguised like a dramatic historical fiction starring those who were once upon a time significant and central to his life. They would reiterate the wedge issues that plagued his life and times; the painful rejections; the horrid faces of pain and angers on faces of ill-fated lovers leading to breakup and breakdown. Other times it would be a mundane event or series of events; perhaps cyclic in nature but never allowed to complete; never allowed to progress like Sisyphus with the rock on a hillside only to have the stone roll to a nadir which beckoned to be pushed back up the slope once again. The inability to fulfill a simple responsibility like arriving to work on time. Finishing the passage, Hoffstetler, his hands shaking sending tremors through the pink pages, stared ahead feeling a little breathless. No matter how much time went by- and Micah had been dead for twenty years- Hoffstetler would forever find it difficult to believe that this had been his flesh and blood. But perhaps it was simply a matter of something that skipped a generation. But the manic writing style was far from foreign to Hoffstetler. He had studied poetry while a school boy in Frankfurt. His mother, Adalgisa, was a trained classical pianist, and an aficionado of modern German culture. Ulrich was born in the midst of the greatest flowering and revolution of the arts in Europe since the Renaissance. Encouraging Ulrich to fully engage in being born at such a fortuitous time, she would have him, for example, read poetry to her at night once he could properly read. She also took her small son to many art exhibitions in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s before the rise of the Third Reich. Fond of poets, Adalgisa Hoffstetler worshiped Maria Rainer Rilke and almost daily read from his Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. She would quote lines from such poems when searching for the proper way to express a piece of wisdom to her small son. At an exhibition of Max Beckman’s paintings, Ulrich witnessed for the first time Beckman’s The Night, a masterpiece of horror depicting rape, torture and murder. In utter fright, Ulrich ran from the painting to his mother’s side. “There is so much ugliness in this painting, mama. It’s frightening and I feel ill.” She smiled faintly and speaking lowly but clearly, leaned over close to her son and quoting Rilke said, “Do not fear the darkness, Ulrich. And remember, ‘Beauty’s nothing but the start of terror we can hardly bear, and we adore it because of the serene scorn it could kill us with.’ ” With such a grounding in the German proponents of the country’s modern art movements, Ulrich was naturally aware of the Nazi attack on Weimar culture- especially the visual arts- later after his mother had died and he was a teenager. What was called a national disgrace- a total of 16,000 pieces- were confiscated and exhibited at the famous Entarte Kunst (Degenerate Art) organized by the Third Reich in 1937 in Munich. In homage to his mother, Hoffstetler visited the exhibition with his mother’s sister. Though Micah was American-born and grew up during the reign of popular art, the modern hegemon, his nightmarish stream of consciousness that bored deep into the darkness reminded Hoffstetler of the art movements he had known as a boy. Usually emotionally unsusceptible to reminders of pre-Hitler Germany, Micah’s writing triggered an uncontrollable reaction. A flood of memories washed over Ulrich Hoffstetler as a blinding cascade. He began to drown in a sea of images born of the Weimar years; a collective of his many museum visitations with his mother. He became a little breathless again. Suddenly the cataract froze as one of the fast passing images suddenly grabbed the corners of his mind’s eye and anchored into stabile, motionless clarity. Ulrich Hoffstetler immediately recognized the image as that of another Beckman painting. He loved this painting, Die Synagoge in Frankfurt am Main, a take on the famous Borneplatz Synagogue painted in 1919. He was now delivered from the onslaught and flood. Hoffstetler remembered the majestic building itself before its demise in 1938. He felt hugely sentimental about the synagogue as it was akin to the landmark that pinpointed his childhood in terms of place for Borneplatz Synagogue was the crown architectural creation in his neighborhood in downtown Frankfurt. Was the painting’s sphinxlike cat looking in the direction of a sloping-synagogue a forecast of its destruction during Kristallnacht? Some of the critics read the painting as such, and attributed powers of prognostication to Max Beckman, painter a la reader of a crystal fall, but Ulrich Hoffstetler simply remembered what a surprise and relief it was to see the painting for the first time, just after the horrible fright provided by The Night. It was the night of Kristallnacht in November, 1938- a night that saw the destruction of a thousand synagogues- that taught Ulrich Hoffstetler the irreconcilable lesson that as a youth of sixteen had to find some way of surviving Nazism. He also saw that the Jews were marked for death. Furthermore, and more importantly, he knew that the only way he could survive with his life was to find a role, and play a part in the greater scheme that was arcing in acceleration towards war, yet somehow removed from physical danger. He could only pray that he would not be drafted into the Wehrmacht. Ulrich Hoffstetler’s preoccupation with survival molded him into an entirely pragmatic young man. Ending with Kristallnacht, it naturally began at the age of ten when his mother died in 1933. With her death he suddenly was wrenched and cleaved away from her love of art rooted in aesthetic chaos and revolution- especially as in play with pre-Weimar artistic movements. His soul took on the same struggle that divided Germany during the Weimar Republic’s moment in the sun. The new order and the old order vied for supremacy. But even within the new order there was a split. This phenomenon was to be found in the Weimar art movements. Hoffstetler saw there was no real choice between fanciful chaos and rejection of the status quo versus pragmatism. This was mirrored in the New Subjectivity found in German Art- but not the Verist side. It was the Classicists a boy like Ulrich Hoffstetler was to gravitate towards, with their cool and precise bead on what some called hyper-reality. As he grew into a teenager Hoffstetler was inspired by the utilitarianism involved in reconciling design and mechanization giving birth to mass production and consumerism. The Nazi’s drive to fully industrialize German life was proof to Hoffstetler of the pragmatic good of this utilitarianism, even with the social ills associated. This was an orderly way out of the chaos set into motion by the Great War’s which destroyed so many good people as did the following depression. Still, there existed in Hoffstetler a nostalgia as found in his fondness for Beckman’s painting of the ill-fated Borneplatz synagogue. It was a brand of restorative nostalgia; a feeling of loss and longing for a stabile childhood. This nostalgia did not extend to what Germany had been, however. But he saw no concept nor tool available as borne of that time available to him in his need to survive in the new Germany. If the synagogue’s image did arise on occasion it would serve a momentary pause in life’s inexorable drive to entropy as defined by a life based upon expeditious decision making, and as such was a harmless bit of existential relief. Ulrich Hoffstetler’s father, Hugo Hoffstetler, was a remote figure who worked as a diplomat in the German Embassy in Washington D.C. Ulrich’s mother in no way wanted to have her son educated in America. Her strong-willed stance was something her husband could not impeach, and given his complete devotion to his work, he consequently rarely came home, serving as a good patriarch only through his faithful financial support of the family. After Hoffstetler’s mother’s death, his father still chose to remain in New York City, arranging for Ulrich’s continued upbringing to be carried on by his wife’s sister. It was Ulrich Hoffstetler’s uncle who arranged for his nephew to join the Hitler Youth in 1938. Ulrich Hoffstetler was running out of time. He hurriedly reassembled the Micah III archive and shelfed it with greater fluidity and grace than he had in taking it down two hours previously. Sarah George could presently be heard at the back porch whose stairs led up to the back door which accessed the kitchen. Perhaps Hoffstetler had been fortunate that his father’s genes had influenced his psychological core and life preferences more than had his mother’s, as opposed to the tragic outcome that Micah’s core had been more determined by grandmother’s than by his own father’s. Could in this family tree Mendel’s laws of genetic be applied as taught to the Hitler Youth in their handbook? And do some fatal proclivities skip generations as those same laws declare? How much of it was fate as decided by chance? How much of it was destiny decided by the sum total of life factors? Hoffstetler could only ponder forever more why it was both his mother and his son had died at their own hands.


Chapter III


“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life


“Just a reminder, Mr. Hoffstetler- Erika Jansen will be here today at 2 PM,” announced Sarah George. “Thank you, Sarah,” responded Hoffstetler, who even at his most tired, listless, or ill-feeling always managed to issue a polite rejoinder to Sarah George. Erika Jansen sometimes worked on Saturday afternoon. Her schedule indeed changed a little every week. Home calls to the elderly required flexibility. One never knew when an emergency might arise. As the mother of two young children, she was fortunate to have the services of her mother as baby sitter when her duties as nurse called. Erika was more than a licensed home care nurse. She also was a state-licensed physician’s assistant and had worked for several years in health care teams along with doctors and other health care professionals. The work was rewarding and the pay good, but after having had children she found that her career did not give her the flexibility of schedule she liked, and given her husband’s income was sufficient, she decided to pursue home care services on a part-time basis. For Ulrich Hoffstetler, what initially had interested him in Erika was her licensed status as physician’s assistant. As a PA, she could diagnose and treat disease. Even more importantly, she could prescribe and administer medicine. Hoffstetler did not like the “conventional physician” and their typical bedside manners. He also liked the idea of receiving treatment at home. He needed the care, but was militantly opposed to entering a medically staffed retirement home. There was no relative to pressure him into this, anyway, but he was bound to die at home, and would not be caught dead in a hospital if he had anything control over the situation. When interviewing Erika, Hoffstetler was very attracted to the tangential he discovered about her. Erika had a background of interests and skills beyond medicine and therapeutics. For example, she had been an avid painter as a child and teenager and her interest in the visual arts had never faded. Recently, she had taken up painting and silk screening once again. The greatest therapy Erika Jansen had to offer the aged Hoffstetler was her ease and skill as a willing conversationalist. Her interests and knowledge cut a wide swath, as did Hoffstetler’s. He always looked forward to her visitations, holding great affection both for her and how stimulated he felt when he was in her presence, even if she was poking holes in his arm in order to hook him up to an IV. Erika Jansen enjoyed the discursive talks as well, but felt a failure as a therapist. She simply could not convince Hoffstetler of the need to quit smoking. Hoffstetler said it was simply too late. At ninety, there was no reason to change life styles. Not even his chronic affliction of peripheral artery disease- which was growing worse as time passed- put the fear of God into Hoffstetler. Clearly, PAD was a result of smoking. In his early eighties, he began to limp involuntarily, and PAD was diagnosed immediately. Beside claudication, he suffered also from limb ischemia. It had been almost a decade since he had lost that battle, succumbing to life in a wheel chair. Since being so confined, things predictably had gotten worse. Hoffstetler underwent several invasive procedures. Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) had already been administered four times over a ten-year period. Stenting had successfully prevented him from limb amputation, but after a decade its days of usefulness were numbered. For the persistent smoker, arteriosclerosis was something that took hold, entrenched and only got worse over time. Hypertension was another symptom from which Hoffstetler had suffered from for forty years. Erika Jansen had decided that since her patient was loath to quit smoking, that she could impede his advancing vasoconstrictive disease best by controlling his hypertension. Medications in pill form no longer helped prevent Hoffstetler avoid acute episodes, and in such dangerous bouts of escalating blood pressure she resorted to intravenous doses of enalaprilat, or Vasotec IV. Erika Jansen knew that it only a matter of time. Her role was to medicate and entertain a dying man. Sometimes she thought it was all an absurd waste; that another patient willing to participate in their own healing would be more worthy of her services. But as she got to know Ulrich Hoffstetler she began to see him in a much broader light. Long since she had gone soft; refusing to judge him as an uncooperative patient, and instead chose to appreciate him for his refined interests and knowledge. Hoffstetler was careful not to reveal things to Erika that he naturally hid from everyone else. Since she did not probe into those darker places she quickly understood he would allow no one else to go, their conversations flowed with an enjoyable freedom monitored by discretion and restraint. On this particular Saturday afternoon, Erika Jansen first inventoried Ulrich Hoffstetler’s supply of medication. “It appears you have been both accurate and timely in taking your medication over the past two weeks, Ulrich.” “Oh yes, I try my best to keep close count; as always. The penalties one suffers for taking too much or too little are….well, you know.” “Let’s examine your legs, Ulrich. How do they feel? Are you experiencing extreme any cramping, swelling, or numbness?” This was Sarah George’s cue. She came into Hoffstetler’s bedroom and one at a time, raised up and locked the two leg extenders of the wheel chair parallel to the floor while Erika Jansen held up one leg, then the other before setting each down on top of the long, narrow pieces of cupped metal. “Oh, I don’t know. They swell and cramp off and on,” Hoffstetler answered, his voice trailing away. He was loath to admit that his legs had also been experiencing more pain when trying to sleep at night, elevated on his bed. Erika Jansen gently rolled up the leggings of Hoffstetler’s pajamas to the knee. Then she inspected his legs from above, looking among other change from her last examination, as well as degrees of swelling, new varicose veins, and skin discoloration. Both legs were markedly cold to the touch; more so than ever before. Much of the skin was shiny. Atrophy had long since reduced Hoffstetler’s calves to a mass of sagging skin. The musculature of his legs now extinct, his knees and ankle bone looked like grossly enlarged condyles. Hoffstetler did everything he could to look away and spare himself the ugliness his body had taken on during the past decade. Erika Jansen picked up each leg gently, one at a time, inspecting underneath. Afterwards, she stood, the limbs in questions laid out before her, crossing her arms and looking intently at Hoffstetler. “There is increased skin discoloration in both legs, surrounding your ankles. You feel clammy all over. There has been quick deterioration of your condition since I last visited. If this worsens at the current rate, we can assume sores and infection will soon enough follow. Intravenous infusions will no longer act as palliative. As we have discussed so often- amputation might become the only life-saving treatment. Ulrich smiled half-heartedly, while doing everything he could not to meet Erika’s eyes. “Well, let’s not sugarcoat it too much.” His feeble attempt at humor died with less than a whimper. “No,” Erika said, poker faced. “Let’s not.” Suddenly, and for the first time, Erika Jansen had lost any softness towards her patient which she had developed cautiously and surreptitiously over time. Hoffstetler looked up. Rarely did he experience abject emotional shock, but that was what had overcome him. This was not Erika’s usual kind and supportive tone he had come to rely on. “How much time are we talking about?” Erika’s sternness remained fixed. “You mean the need for amputation? I can’t say with exactitude. Perhaps a few months. You’ll have to see a specialist and have a scan. You could suffer a heart attack before amputation as far as that goes.” “And if I quit smoking now; is there a chance to turn it around?” Erika shook her head and turned her stare to the floor. “Ulrich, there is always a slim chance, more so a change in attitude embracing life as opposed to being fatalistic. But to be frank, I see the degeneracy as having passed the point of no return. You are living on borrowed time. It’s time you fully admit that to yourself. Can’t you at long last, see?” Throughout a decade of wheelchair confinement and the consumption of an additional four thousand packs of cigarettes as well as countless cigars, Ulrich Hoffsetler had taken his condition in ridiculously good stride. He somehow didn’t miss an ambulatory life. It made no sense other than that Hoffstetler had the power to shunt all pernicious reality to ground like a lightning rod. But now death- let alone mortality- was beginning to take on a discernible guise; even a persona. It was not the persona of that, the messenger, Erika Jansen, but the rise of some dark form Hoffstetler saw lurking in the natural shadows seen on the floor along the wall under the windows as the sun light streamed through to the other side of the room; or the movement of yet another dark form- one that naturally should not exist- running across the ceiling like a hallucination. These were forms without color, depth, or value added dimension according to any sense’s chosen tool of measurement. Ulrich was a man who though seeing was believing because the matter-of-fact was the only source of fact upon which our reason could rely. There would be no cheery asides nor witty repartee between Ulrich Hoffstetler and Erika Jansen today. “I will fill these two prescriptions for you,” said Erica. “I will also make an appointment for a heart and circulation specialist who after examining you will most likely arrange for an MRI scan. Prepare for this, Ulrich. Be immediately available. I’ll get back to you within twenty-four hours.” Sarah George appeared once again, her timing perfect, standing sentry as for the changing of the guard. No doubt she had overheard everything. Ulrich Hoffstetler remained dead panned silent while Erika Jansen turned and left the bedroom on her way to the front door.


Chapter IV


One light is left us: the beauty of things, not men. Robinson Jeffers


Micah saw no good reason, nor bad. He’d rather think of the blood running through his veins as clear water in river; fast running in spring; lazy and low after months of dry heat in late summer; cold and bracing in the winter. There was great beauty everywhere, but not within. The human body housed the anguish of existence. Blood instead of water. Couldn’t water just do? Micah wished he could replace his blood with water. Micah saw his ancestral past as a murky path that led through a long cave; a vast structure of subterranean stone walls silent save the sounds of scurrying creatures and mineral-rich water droplets falling from an unreachable ceiling. He was not by nature a spelunker; but few people are. What drew him otherwise against his will into the cave was his grandmother; a woman he never met; the most important woman of his life that he had never had in his life. His maternal grandmother’s name was never referred as passed his father’s lips, but Micah loved its sound- Adalgisa. “Noble hostage”. Its meaning haunted Micah almost as much as her choice to take her own life. A woman of such energy, talent, and intelligence- an unfathomable loss to not only her family but the world, over which Micah ruminated constantly. The need to find a missing link; a lost and forgotten savant; an omniscient persona who existed as the source of light and life for generations to come. Micah felt the dearth; the bareness due to Adalgisa’s self-delivery into oblivion; leaving no provision for someone like Micah who would inevitable arise in the wake of her passing. What she had to offer would have been so well-received; if only she had understood that many things skip a generation. Micah had pressed his father on Adalgisa; on pre-war Germany; on the culture of Weimar. Ulrich Hoffstetler refused to confer the secret of those times and how Adalgisa fit into them. It was unforgivable. Micah never did forgive his father for this ultimately selfishness; this self-protective niggardliness; this theft of a goddess singular to the family tree.


Ulrich Hoffstetler knew, of course, that his refusal to bare his past roiled his son’s blood. Hoffstetler was prepared to suffer the personal retributions necessary to hide his Nazi past- especially those eighteen months spent at Hartheim Castle, but he was not prepared to accept the large cost for which he would be liable. But the fault lines that came to define Hoffstetler’s existence started with the mangled heap of child named Micah at Hartheim. The erstwhile Micah; never to be thought of as the ersatz. He was the first child that Ulrich Hoffstetler helped kill; helped euthanize. In the interview for the Hartheim staff position, Dr. Rennaux had not divulged to Hoffstetler the most sensitive information about the euthanasia program. In August 1939 the Reich Ministry of the Interior issued a decree requiring all physicians, nurses, and midwives to report newborns and children under the age of three who manifest severe mental and physical disability. To rid the country of the burden of the incurables, the useless eaters- whether child or adult; German national, foreigner or Jew- the euthanasia program which Hartheim was part of was established by decree by Adolf Hitler. It was top secret as the Reich knew the German people were reviled by the idea of so-called mercy killing- especially as practiced on their own children. After health care professionals country-wide had reported the names and addresses of all those children under their care that suffered from potential incurable diseases, the state instructed the euthanasia medical team and their program, called T-4, to contact the parents of these children, and convince them to have their children admitted to hospitals for treatment. Deception was used as a matter of course. Ultimately the children would be killed and causes for their deaths reported back to the parents under pretense. Micah’s parents had been approached according to such lies and connivance. They felt helpless as Micah’s deformities were so severe, and when presented with an “experimental treatment” offered for free by Germany’s best doctors, they felt there was little to lose. Because Micah’s pulmonary system was so compromised due to his misshapen skeleton, the medical team knew it would be a simple task to create a false scenario under which Micah would not survive the treatment. Micah’s case was simpler than most. The morning Micah was murdered, the supervising nurse had just abruptly left her post in Micah’s ward, running to the water closet where she was sick and vomiting. The doctor turned to Hoffstetler, the ward orderly, and issued the order, “Roll that cart over here.” The small, metallic mobile cart was white with a small table top covered by a thin white surgical towel on top of which lay syringes, rubber-sealed vials of “medication”, a bottle of alcohol and small box of cotton. “Hand me that syringe and the vial on the left.” Two doctors held down the small child while the third was free but continued to order Hoffstetler. Protocol determined such overkill. The cruel ridiculousness of it even struck Ulrich Hoffstetler. Why should two grown men be needed to pin a small disable child- one who could barely move- to his bed? Hoffstetler moved closer to the group of doctors. “Prepare a cotton swab with alcohol.” Hoffstetler complied. Yet another expression of confusion. Do you really need to inject to kill so cleanly? The doctor pierced a vial with the needle of a syringe, turned it upside down, and pulled back on the syringe’s plunger, drawing back several milliliters of yellow liquid. Sliding the needle free of the vial’s rubber seal, he held the syringe vertically while pressing on the plunger, releasing whatever amount of trapped air remained followed by a clean spurt of liquid. The doctor then reached over the child named Micah. Micah was face down, just like the day Hoffstetler had first met him. Micah’s view of Ulrich Hoffstetler was unobstructed, and when Micah finally realized it was Hoffstetler, he stopped arching his eyeballs, straining to look behind him in order to see what the doctors were doing. Micah suddenly became oblivious to what these three men were doing to him. His eyes betrayed neither the fact that two doctors were pinning him to his bed, nor that a third stood over him with a syringe. Having caught sight of Hoffstetler, Micah instantly fixated on him, as if suddenly hypnotized by a vision. Hoffstetler felt the grips of Micah’s stare; a last voluntary nervous system response that this God forsaken crippled boy who had been wrested from him unaware parents thinking that an invitation to Hartheim was purely for therapeutic treatment would ever have in his very brief and tortured existence. The doctor plunged the needle into Micah’s arm. The stare remained fixed on Hoffstetler. Very quickly, Micah felt things speed up momentarily, then slow down, then nothing. But his eyes remained fixed in place, but they had started to lose their luster. His pupils dilated. His pulse was taken. No one said a word. The doctors then asked Hoffstetler to bring to them a rolling gurney. Once positioned parallel to the bed, two of the doctors slid Micah’s body over onto the gurney, and covered him with the sheet from his own bed. “You know what to do now,” one doctor said to Hoffstetler. Ulrich Hoffstetler gripped the grilled iron foot board of the bed and began to roll it over to an adjacent autopsy lab where a resident doctor who conducted examinations and experiments on both living and dead bodies would be given the opportunity to work on Micah’s corpse if he found it worthy of interest. Hoffstetler knocked on the door, and no one answered. He knocked again and waited. And then again. Confident no one was inside, he opened the door and backed into the lab, pulling the bed behind him. He parked the gurney next to an examination table, and waited for a moment. Looking at the lifeless mass hidden by a white sheet, Ulrich Hoffstetler tried to remember what Micah’s face looked like while he was alive. He was terrified to lift back the sheet and see for himself what that face looked like in death now that a few minutes had already passed since the injection. Hoffstetler had seen a few people euthanized by injection already, and the one thing he knew is that life oozes out of the pores of the skin, and the strands of the hair, and the retinas of the eye just as would blood from the veins if they had been cut and the body let to bleed out. Life drains out of the body rather quickly, but not all at once. He wanted to actually say good bye to Micah, but was overtaken by the fear that the sudden unmasking of the boy’s face would reveal just how much life was already gone over the course of time it had taken to wheel his corpse into the autopsy lab. Micah’s death; his uncontested murder- had catalyzed a colossal process in Ulrich Hoffstetler. Shortly after leaving the autopsy room, he experienced an irrevocable cleavage of his soul; bifurcated; each half driven into permanently divided and polarized other-halves. The death was powerful enough to mark him for life; as powerful as an experimenter’s first-ever fix of an über-opioid that served not to overdose but transform him into a hapless, lifelong junkie. There was no going back it seemed. His conscience and sense of empathy had been cut off from those pain receptors so normally assigned. He still knew what was right and wrong, and he knew how to express to others at least in appearance- whether he considered something right or wrong- or be casually indifferent if called for. In other words- he could act- but he could no longer feel the twinge of moral pain when faced with evil; no longer feel the revulsion or the disgust. All senses that make for human consciousness were not destroyed but disconnected from their previous wiring schema. Those parts of the brain that sense, perceive, feel, and judge all in symphony were rewired in a matter of a few minutes. Now, more than seventy years later, and as death beckoned, Ulrich Hoffstetler could still not see that it was his mother’s soul that died forever in the body of that crippled boy, and that the spirit of the “Noble Hostage”, Adalgisa, had forever been cremated along with that murdered boy’s corpse. Ulrich Hoffstetler let go his mother and his grief for her passing while paying the incalculable price of becoming an indifferent Nazi. But that loss did not satisfy compensation for the bargain of exchange. It had been much too small in the scheme of such things, and skipping a generation sought out the next in the blood line to be bled out.


Chapter V


“If I lose heart or flinch when I hear shots- that’s a sign of a false view of life.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, serving as a volunteer gunner in the Austrian army, upon being granted the request to be posted to the place where he was in most danger, the observation post ahead of the front line where he could survey the enemy guns. The Russian front, March 1916


Micah Hoffstetler, of course, had known full well his father had belonged to the Hitler Youth- that knowledge was harmless enough; it wasn’t as if the youth of Nazi Germany had much choice, no matter the degree to which they had become assimilated into the hate-filled ideology of the Third Reich. What remained of Ulrich Hoffstetler’s life and associations from the time he joined the youth in 1937 until the end of the war when he was already twenty-three years old had forever been a mystery. Micah’s father would never elaborate. The fact that many men having served in wartime as soldiers never divulged their experiences to their families was a universal phenomenon. And according to this tight-lipped tradition of grown men who had seen the horrors of war first hand, it was an easy enough veil for Ulrich Hoffstetler to stand behind. From the other side, the veil was like the gauzy haze that thwarts and blinds the man who would be seer. Micah was not one to aggressively probe and prod his father for family truths, especially as concerned his father’s life, or for that matter, his grandmother’s. But the more he suppressed the desire for the need to know, the more his mind became unhinged. As he grew into his twenties and had left home to study at the university- a place that could comfort him usually when he needed it- Micah began to take on a life where his increasing knowledge and understanding of all things intellectual served best to destroy the order of things around him. It was the deconstruction of the insecure scaffolds upon which torrid little men under direction scrambled about building false constructs for the controlling few that occupied the first stage of his awakening that formed his sense of what was conventional reality that makes for historical fact. That this historical fact would lead directly to what was self-concept for a civilization; a pretense that again was false, proved fatal for Micah’s sense of life as something worth living for. The chaos behind the false certainty that most men carried as the savior of their existence was inchoate by nature, and perhaps Micah had had it all too easy growing up to have the strength needed to face the implied void when the form and function that filled it seemed to preoccupy nearly everybody else, keeping them busy and staying true to the straight and narrow like good Christians, for example. It was like in addition to the basic laws of physics there is this dark matter that no one can see or touch but whose bylaws most everyone lived by in addition to the assumed order and nature of the hence-to-fore known universe, even though the very existence of this dark matter was never assumed to exist as provable. In other words, the sheer understanding that behind certainty there was chaos; that behind assumed truths are the lies they really are; that men lived in the grips of dark things whose influence could easily be denied; that appearance almost always deceived; that good was good only because it delivered us from the pain that was there a priori; the totality of this understanding shattered Micah Hoffstetler. Deep insights lift some souls, and drown others. Come the new millennium, the Third Culture which had successfully mounted the world and had become the new intellectual Masters of the Universe, with its high priests and priestesses who first asked themselves and then others like them the highest of high questions in endless polemic and conversation building on each other to the top of thought pyramids, their peaks conductive and networked in a display of new connectivity. Micah could be found tripping and falling hard on the concrete passages running along the ground between these new pyramid worlds while his own lonely heart was found tossing himself back and forth between the philosophy of Schopenhauer’s Pessimism – “Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence? or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood.”; and the rejoinder of John Cage- “I think there’s just the right amount (of pain in the world).” The Third Culture was the voice of contemporary thought marching forward into the mills of reshaping the world as everyone knew it; forging new paradigms according to new information; new technology; new theories; new axioms; new investigations; new methodologies. The Third Culture was the voice of the living who thrived like Da Vinci had once thrived. It maintained that survival of the species passed through their gates. But Micah took deadly serious the words of the dead; those titans and colossi which had moved mountains of thought and wisdom. He somehow had grown up believing death and only death conferred legitimacy. It had become his religion truth and as for Truth, it did not qualify as expressed by one of the living. Truth was province of the dead. So it was the weight of the contradictions and disagreements internal to the collective body of wisdom of the dead versus their modern counterparts that created a foment and toxic soup that he could never sort sufficiently and balance. There seemed a gaping chasm between the two; a dark matter-light matter aversion. But he ran frightfully from his own soul’s grain, working to go against it. He worked his psyche’s fingers to the nubbins on it, and then again until they were erased. Micah often meditated on the sight of Phillipe Petit, walking the wire strung between the Twin Towers. Micah put himself in those sky walker’s shoes, placed psychologically mid-span between the towers of dead and living thought pulled both ways by their polar gravity with balance only achieved by the ends of his balancing pole whose axis was at right angles to the towers’ own. He remembered a carpenter once using a level in order to demonstrate to him how if one comes down too hard on either side, the level would tilt, sending the liquid inside the bubble’s level to one side or the other- the spirit’s bubble out of balance. And so life went accordingly, the craftsman had told him. Perhaps if Micah had become a wood worker, would he have kept himself right according to the influencing nature of an inert material such as wood, accountable to geometry, mass, and gravity? Would not he be led astray by the charged, electromagnetic nature of thought? It was as if in the Twin Towers the poles of dead and living thought were routed like lightning strikes across, from tower to tower, as if Tesla himself switched on a giant wireless transformer. What Micah pondered is that his cross axis to a magnet could not be conductive or magnetic- it must be inert. The poles of one giant magnet created by two towers were to be kept in check by the balancing pole. Like Phillipe Petit, Micah kept traversing between the poles along a wire tightened just so, providing passage while preventing undue undulation and rotation. Phillipe crossed along the one hundred and thirty-foot length eight times, but Micah was forever traversing, always in risk of falling. Still it was the world of wood that kept him in precarious balance in a world where mankind’s nervous system was now exoskeletal and showering sparks on all earthly creation. Tightrope walking was metaphor for how being subjected to lethal danger intolerant of anything short of perfect execution would proffer a sense of peace, harmony, simplicity, and ease. Was it Petit’s ability to focus that blocked out the distractions, to keep him alight atop the wire, that prevented a fatal fall in the abyss below? More about the balancing pole. It was critical. All sky walkers used it. It was obvious that one needed to carry something in balance, to be in balance. What must we carry that is external to our body and mind? Or could it ever be self-contained; a matter of finding some axiomatic pole within the mind transcendent to electrical and magnetic forces that we hold aloft and balance across the path we fire along through the synapses of the brain? More questions than answers; more mystery. Funambulism of the mind- how did it work? How could we learn it for promoting smooth sailing as the mind bridged daily chasms? What was the analog of the high wire act, where sticking out your arms horizontally spreads out you mass and improves your ability to fight rotational forces, giving you enough time to correct your motions if you start to slip? The pole increases your weight, lowers your mass, and increases rotational inertia, positioning the body so that it fights against the wire’s want to rotate. And the effect the body’s wiggle produced with each step is reduced by the pole’s gift of increased inertia. But the Third Culture and its huge success and wealth as associated with its triumph in the world of computing and Big Data- it was reissuing the priorities on investigating the mind. The days of the Freud and the unconscious had fully given way to what is conscious. What had once been important about the mind- what conventionally had become accepted as what a healthy mind should be thinking as measured by behavior- had been replace by investigations into just what was mind and thought; of how one defined it; of how it is designed and functions bio-chemically and bio-electrically; how it has evolved; that is was an Aqueous Machine, an information processor with operational parameters that fell within scientifically definable neurological capabilities. How to reconcile the moral content of that part of the mind that houses the soul with the idea of mind as machine? Perhaps they weren’t housed together as such…. Micah was sure that McLuhan was right- that by inventing electric technology that we had externalized our central nervous systems, and that Cage was right to say that “there’s only one mind, the one we all share,” and that we had to go beyond private and personal mindsets and understand how radically things had changed; that Mind had become socialized; that “We can’t change our minds without changing the world.” This last thought absolutely crippled Micah. He could never see it as an opportunity, only a high-density weight around his neck. But this was all found in the books and measured chatter as commonly found among his peers back at the college campus; in intense but polite conversations that took place on benches shaded by beautiful deciduous trees and in lectures and seminars for philosophy, anthropology courses he attended in windowless lecture halls and lifeless cubical classrooms made exclusively of poured cement. In that interstice called the night life, pursuit of comradery and controlled substance abuse imbibed with copious amounts of nicotine in the face of punk and post-punk nihilism flared his nostrils, sluffed off his humanoid skin to reveal his reptilian scales, elevating the sensual and being sentient becoming all desirable in the face of a punk philosophy that said, “Fuck you!” and a post-Punk rejoinder that did one up by saying, “We’re all fucked.” A self-imposed sobriety was just as important a pursuit, ironically. This was also a time when love and sex were increasingly seen as dangers gambles; potentially “lethal” ventures. Youth was becoming increasingly risk adverse in terms of intimate relationships; sex crossed lines and destroyed them with no chance of return; surrendering to another was questioned as whether to be an act of love or sacrifice; as personal priorities, individual choice and freedom had elevated to such heights of high esteem that even the most attractive candidate for sexual relations- mainly for the heterosexual- was seen from such dizzying heights as to be rendered unreachable without the necessity for a deathly swoon from a cloud in order to descend, become earth-bound again, and to touch someone physically. Perhaps life was dead; hence, man and woman was dead; sex was dead; love’s cost was too great a sacrifice. There were disturbing sounds from the other side of the world, especially in Japan, where within a generation’s passing grown men would swear off the pursuit of finding a mate and cohabitate with life-sized dolls and their accoutrements, sitting with them at home, combing their hair; clothing them anew every day; taking them for rides on Sunday afternoon to the park down by the local lake. The old were abandoned to homes where Southeast Asians, especially women; whose culture still took care of their elderly, were trained and hired to care for the aging Japanese, whose populations was beginning to shrink as the young found sex, marriage, and having children both increasingly infeasible and undesirable. Micah was born in the United States in 1975, wedged between two distinct generations, having roots in both, but choosing to belong to neither. That niche was an historical accident. By choice, he best identified with his paternal grandmother’s life during the Weimar epoch; that defunct fifteen-year period of German life that quickly rose and abruptly withered like a patch of mushrooms between two world wars. This transported his soul to another time, place, and sensibility, alienating him from his contemporaries and most of his peers. Micah’s mother perhaps could have offered her son an alternative identification, but her death in an automobile accident just subsequent to his sister’s birth doused the light of possibility. Micah could somehow not be sparked by her roots. Was it because she came from a gentile, low profile, Midwest family? The fading black and white photographs of she and her parents sitting and smiling together on the front porch of a clap board house in a small Nebraska town felt totally foreign to Micah. Whatever that essence, it did not flow in his blood. Maybe it was bound to skip a generation as well. He had never met his maternal grandparents and memories of his mother were scant and shallow as she had died when Micah was only three years old. Though he would never self-attest to the true reason behind his alienation- that his mother’s roots were associated with the rural Mid-West- it was true. And this was a question that never seemed to enter anyone’s mind. No one would have ever thought to challenge him on this account. Family members, for instance, were not close enough to care enough to be aware of less think about such minutia. But for Micah, this was only a truth of convenience, for he actively searched for reasons to distance himself from his immediate family.


Chapter VI


You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.

The Epic of Gilgamesh


In his constant seek for balance, Micah would take the weekend off from school and hitchhike south to Carmel and Big Sur. He would sometimes stop off at Carmel Point and walk down Scenic Road to visit Robinson Jeffer’s Tor House and its adjoining Hawk Tower, those stone edifices masoned from coastal granite boulders by the poet who loved and identified more with stone more than he did human beings. Climbing Hawk Tower, Micah would survey the grand sight of a steep granite knoll covered in tall grasses and fields of planted red ice plants falling off to a road below snaking along a meandering rocky coast giving way to fine pebbled sand washed by the Pacific Ocean just beyond and stretching out forever to the horizon. The knoll was covered in a healthy but not too closely spaced number of Monterey Pines, their large branches looking spindly even in their great size and arcing extensions, cantilevering and filling in the broad spaces between their wide placement with an ample green canopy. The gentle colored noise of the ocean’s breakers excited a soundscape that was a cushion to the ears, the wind modulating initial, pure white noise generated from water falling on itself into a colored version by sliding about the spectral formant’s window in a whoosh of ever moving chorus and phase effects. This, for the visitor, could be taken as an absolute; a permanent element; eternity embodied in the aural signature of just where one stood on this earth. Just to the south and in sight was Point Lobos, preserved for posterity as a state park, and further on lie what was America’s most magnificent coastline, Big Sur, where the coastal range from its knobby peaks pointing through the low lying coastal fog and clouds tumbled down across rolling hills and expanses of redwood forests to a raucous sea crashing headlong into a long expanse of rocky shoreline. Micah always brought his own poetry with him in a leather bound notebook. He did not share Robinson Jeffer’s vision of the hawk and the stone and what just exactly it meant when the sky and the earth and the sea all met in one vision, but he knew it was a natural place to come for solitude, rest, and to write. He tried not to chase there both the dragon and his own soul, but his strength sometimes failed him. Though the greater Carmel area offered many beautiful inland retreats such as the Zen center at Tassajara Hot Springs which was a long car ride reaching far into the heavily forested Carmel Valley, Micah felt imprisoned by the serried trees and his lungs felt an oppressive pressure that caused an arrhythmia of breath. The coast, the expanse of sky, the salt-laden air kept cool by temperate ocean waters, the tremendous views- these are what Micah’s soul need to remain calm. Sometimes he would venture into Big Sur itself, leaving behind the crown jewel called Point Lobos, a headland carved out into several coves, each harboring aquamarine pools, heaving eternally with the restless tides and currents. The coastal high way past kept moving south on past exclusive Carmel Highlands, the gateway to Big Sur proper. Big Sur, the fabled idyll of nature persisted in its idiosyncratic wildness, populated sparsely by mainly reclusive libertarians and aficionados of any conceivable kind of countercultural activity and attitude: Rugged individualists, meditating Zen Buddhists, pantheists, hermits, back-to-the-landers, off-the-gridders, and marijuana growers, just to name a few; living behind series of locked gates traversed by long, lonely stretches of forested roads few ever saw or traveled. With the smug, coastal suburb of affluent Carmel behind him, Micah, the hitch-hiking poet, had entered into the wild, where trespassing onto private land could amount to a shotgun leveled at your face, or a misstep on the trail could have you tumbling into a rocky gorge or worse off a sea cliff into a current-tortured stretch of the Pacific Ocean which would likely never yield your body back from its tumultuous maw. Hitching a ride from Carmel Highlands south for just a few miles, Micah would ask the driver to let him off just north of Bixby Bridge. At the time of its construction, it was the grandest undertaking for a bridge built in California, allowing for passage of goods and people into Big Sur during colder, rainier months. Prior to its completion in the fall of 1932, residents of Big Sur were mainly on their own during winter. The grand arch bridge allowed the completion of a road running the entire length of the rugged coast. Micah would walk out onto Bixby, eponymous with the brush-choked creek which flowed far below and through the canyon the bridge spanned; a hundred meters long and hanging nearly three hundred feet above the gorge. He would stand for a moment and pay homage in mind to a friend he had grown up with; a young man who after graduating from high school had joined the ranks of the Church of Scientology. The young man studied this new religion assiduously, while paying the exorbitant fees for the long list of required courses, all the while building a lucrative construction company. His dedication elevated him to OT status- Operating Thetan, a state superior to Clear. The OT is- in Scientology parlance- “knowing and willing cause over life, thought, matter, energy, space and time (whether she has a body or mind or not).” With his spiritual rise it made sense that his business ambitions would rise along with it. But in the end, he, the erstwhile millionaire, found himself in financial free-fall. An inveterate social climber, he had over-donated to the church in desperate attempts to gain entrance into its sanctum sanctorum of uber-elite while otherwise under assault by litigation from construction clients who were suing his company for breach of contract due to shoddy workmanship. The young man had ascended rapidly to level OT VIII, a status whose admission required fulfilling an assigned study course that promised that the truth of one’s life would be so revealed at a cost of $28,000. It was here at Bixby that on a Thursday morning in late May the man-become-OT VIII parked his BMW E32 750il in the narrow, dirt parking area just above Bixby landing at Division Knoll and Castle Rock, and walked out onto bridge past the first stanchion to mid-span of the great arch. His final choice in life was to decide which side of the bridge he would jump from, facing the Pacific or the Bixby Creek gorge, choked with vegetation blocking view of the creek until it spilled onto the sand of a small beach. The creek’s water was running low, seeping into the sand before it could reach the sea. He had rather to fall in a rushing creek, but he would be found crumbled in the sand. “The West is the Best.” The last view chosen would be that of the Pacific. It was a life affirming choice, even as it marked his death. His body was not found until four days later when a hiker located it in the hard scrabble bushes just off the sands of the beach directly below the bridge. Micah had stood there on Bixby Bridge, mid-span, more times than he had remembered. It took him months to make good on a promise he made to both himself and his remembered friend. A memorial poem was long overdue. Finally, on one cold and windy afternoon, Micah bent his body into the wind and struggled to keep upright as he made his way to mid-span of the suicide bridge. He took out a poem and in a loud voice, raised above the wind, cried out these verses:

Who Shall Go Follow?

At the dawn of your time

Commence choice’s hour

With your powers unleashed

By Will manifest


You saw method in science

A new science of knowledge

Some saw it as madness

But for reason there’s guise


Baby in play

Through a rigor of steps

Mind forged in the courses

By study and pay


Acolyte of new powers

Trained to overcome all

All that All ever was

That kept Man less than God


Your Mind over Matter

Energy harnessed

Collapse Space between hands

And Time will still, too


The signs were most clear

The proof in the bank

The money you earned

Was your science’s thanks


But your wife’s cancer was hers

She’d not the power to cure

Her death sent your power

Searching like-power’s lure


One teaching from many

Arose into view

If life becomes failure

You must go retool


You ran from your loss

From the limits innate

In the powers of mind

When at war with one’s fate


But you winged straight and true

The pigeon flies home

Enter crystalline palace

Where the Choice bid with tomes


Throwing money at Masters

Levers thrown wheels steered

Who granted you rankings

That made you a Clear


This your Church and your Master

Your admittance forbade

Your donations fell short

For your loans went unpaid


Your millions gone squandered

Truth now, power allayed

Stripped naked in contrast

The light was in fade


Oh down to the beach

Look out now over the sea

Ne’er a man to be seen

From the bridge at mid-span


You stare at abyss

The abyss stares at you

No philosopher’s words

Were ever so true


Man is bridge in between

Demi God and the Beast

But you chose to take leave

From the stage to be freed


As bridge there is greatness

for Man someone said

But you leapt from its rampart

Casting All to its Death


Who shall go follow

If you have gone first

If suffering in hollows

A soul’s hunger and thirst


Micah held the page that had been torn from his leather-bound poetry book and released it to the wind. Taken full force by a rapid rising column of air gusting from the ocean straight up to the railing of the bridge nearly three hundred feet above, the poem was caught mid-air. It did not fall nor falter but flew upwards, out towards the ocean, and soon was soon swallowed by a bank of fog rolling on shore. This ritual act of memorializing his friend set Micah hard to contemplation. He began to think hard in contemplation; about suicide and particular the suicide of his good friend and his grandmother. He read poetry and philosophy and psychological texts about death and suicide. About good and bad death. Could suicide ever be a good death? It appeared increasingly to Micah that it could be a good death- even beyond the idea of legalized euthanasia such as taking a loved one off of life support. Micah began to see that suicide holds many mysteries, but that the victim’s surviving family and friends can take on some strange understandings that seep in unconsciously so; understandings that could prompt consideration, too. The suicide of someone close can confer legitimacy to the act itself. Taking one’s life can gradually take on an aura of normalcy; of a viable option; of a bona fide way to eradicate a deep-seated problem with existence. Micah walked north off the bridge, the fog enshrouding the structure and the road. It suddenly started to rain and he dashed for cover as provided by the nearest relief- a squat tree whose branches were green with small leaves and teeming in thorns.


Chapter VII


“Clever people master life; the wise illuminate it and create fresh difficulties.”

“What an artist learns matters little. What she herself discovers has a real worth to her, and gives her the necessary incitement to work.”

“The artist need not know very much; best of all let him work instinctively and paint as naturally as he breathes or walks.”

Emil Nolde


“Don’t forget nature, through which Cezanne, as he said, wanted to achieve the classical. Take long walks and take them often, and try your utmost to avoid the stultifying motor car which robs you of your vision just as the movies do or the numerous motley newspapers. Learn the forms of nature by heart so you can use them like the musical notes of a composition. That's what these forms are for. Nature is a wonderful chaos to be put into order and completed. Let others wander about, entangled and color blind, in old geometry books or in problems of higher mathematics. We will enjoy ourselves with the forms that are given us: a human face, a hand, the breast of a woman or the body of a man, a glad or sorrowful expression, the loved by another, even if it should be on a different plane than the hell of animal desire. The cold ice bums exactly like the lit fire. And uneasy you walk alone through your palace of ice. Because you still do not want to give up the world of delusion, that little "point” still burns within you—the other one! And for that reason you are an artist, my poor child! And on you go, walking in dreams like myself. But through all this we must also persevere, my friend. You dream of my own self in you, you, mirror of my soul.” Max Beckmann, Letters to a Woman Painter Erika Jansen’s art studio was a converted back porch of an old, wooden house that had once been the family home of wine makers whose surrounding vineyards had been sold off to developers a generation past. The porch had simply been glassed-in on three sides by rows of windows that stretched from the veranda’s cantilevering roof down to the height of the old railings which were removed and rebuilt as walls. The windows provided a view to a large backyard carpeted with untamed grass and filled with fruit trees. Two small easels and one large one were placed on one side of the studio, along with brushes, paints, pallets, small work tables and a large basin sink with hot and cold running water. The other side of the studio was more den than studio, with book shelves, desk and computer along with a large table set at a right angle to her desk which she used as a place to sit and sketch on paper and sometimes on canvases. The shelves of books were filled with every imaginable size of book, from miniature to grossly over-sized, as this was the hallmark of a painter’s library. There were massive tomes devoted to show casing the complete inventory of a given museum, such as the Uffizi in Florence, or the complete works of a painter, and books of more manageable dimension that contained the most famous works of a solitary painter or of an entire art movement. Erika had painted as a child and young teenager. It was a passion originating from within; the one thing growing up that was solely her own. The whirlwind of social and school activities that came with being from an upwardly mobile, well-to-do Greenwich, Connecticut family swept her up, diverting her attention from her original passion as she entered high school. She was a brilliant student and high expectations followed her throughout her schooling. Turning fourteen, life’s prescription was definitively filled by her family’s wishes to see her fulfill her academic promise. The advantages she had been afforded were not lost on Erika. Erika Jansen never took anything for granted nor lost vision of anything’s innate importance. She shouldered the weight of personal responsibility that comes along with one’s family and social milieu giving one every opportunity to succeed in life. With acute attention she paid all due diligence and respect to the community that had lionized her. By the time an upcoming private school child was a high school sophomore the steady drum beat of “prepare, prepare” was sending percussive shots ringing down the halls of school, home, and up and down a child’s racked nervous system with a non-stop urgency. The little free time that remained from the already full schedule of school studies were devoted to tooling up for the standardized tests which commenced junior year. In addition to the stock staples of assuring the highest of achievement in mathematics and English, acing advanced placement tests in physics, chemistry, biology, and history were key to garnering grade point averages above 4.0 which positioned students for a shot at entrance to the best of universities. Evenings and weekends were the province of tutors shuffling in and out of the Jansen’s residence. Amidst the new priorities flowing from the competitive grind, Erika’s parents relegated her love of painting to a “quaint past”; a found remembrance and artifact of an innocent childhood; a proper touchstone which they could in conversation tell their friends what their daughter was like and what she “spent her time doing” when she was young. Artistic pursuit of some kind- whether it be music or painting- was a necessary line item in the resume of the well-to-do child. Her mother especially leveraged Erika’s talent and her past association with painting towards elevating their own self-worth, but only because it had had its proper place. Mother was glad it was a relic of the past and certainly they had no intention of having it interfere with their daughter’s more serious career plans. Erika’s father, Peter Jansen, was a medical doctor, and it was of no surprise that he in particular would wish his only child, Erika, to follow in kind. Erika was conscious of her father’s wishes long before he openly expressed them. She was an observant child out-of-the-womb, and knew what nearly everyone was thinking no matter their relative degree of discreetness and self-restraint. And Erika also loved her father; he was a good man at heart and faithfully lived up to the credo of his profession- the Hippocratic Oath. She was impressed by his professional dedication and on the home front, he was devoted to being a faithful husband, attentive father, and consistent good provider. He had given her so much and she felt obligated- even happy- to accede to his wishes. During the spring of her senior year in high school, as expected, Erika was notified of her acceptance to several prestigious universities. The process of choosing was Erika’s first real test of willful independence, a trait that she had been nursing in private, waiting for the right moment to reveal it to the world. On the face of things, the choice between the riches set before her could scarcely be conceived as arduous labor, but a wrestling match ensued between Erika and what ended up being her most adamant adversary, her mother, Jane Jansen. Raised voices, passionate objections, and wide-eyed appeals were never the norm of emotional tenor in the Jansen household, but Erika’s choice of a west coast university struck a tremulous nerve in her mother. Stanford University was academically a fine choice, but for the young and sheltered Erika to suddenly leave home alone for a California destination some three thousand miles away was simply unacceptable to Jane Jansen. Harvard and Yale had accepted Erika as well, and how could anyone refuse admission to the crème of the Ivy League? Erika dug in her heals and declared with resolute firmness that Stanford was perfectly suitable, and that it was time for her to explore the world. Moreover, she refused to be forced to attend a university not of her choice. Even if her family threatened to revoke financial support she would not fold. The trump card was held by Erika’s father, and in supporting his daughter’s choice, showed that he could place Erika’s well-being and rapidly emerging sense of independence above the controlling interests of his wife. Erika’s mother, used to getting her way in important family decisions, felt for the first time ostracized and forsaken. Wounded, she retreated both physically and emotionally except for brief contact with both her husband and daughter for the better part of a year. Jane Jansen, Erika’s mother, was a former noted debutante and scion of the landed gentry of Greenwich, Connecticut. Her father, Jason Harticourt, moved to Greenwich from New York City when his father, an investment banker, who was already near sixty years of age when Jason was born, decided that retirement at the family’s summer retreat in Greenwich would be appropriate for the needs of the entire family. Harticourt’s professional and social peers of the New York financial community had carried on the passion of rich Manhattanites for buying property and building estates in Greenwich; a trend which had preoccupied the generation before them. The short train ride to New York City made the beach front and country allure of Greenwich all the more inescapable. Jane Jansen became the first generation of her family that had actually grown up in Greenwich as opposed to Manhattan. She had attended school Greenwich Country Day School, rubbing shoulders with Greenwich’s richest children. It was the same school attended by America’s 41st president. A disproportionate number of notable people had either been born or had lived in Greenwich; the list was inordinately long for a town of sixty thousand. Among those residents included sculptures and painters. And in all fairness, it was Jane Jansen’s exposure to the Greenwich’s art scene as passed on to her daughter that jettisoned Erika into that world as a small girl. There was a series of private art teachers Erika much enjoyed once her parents saw she had a passion for drawing and painting. One of Erika’s most memorable art teachers had told her about Greenwich’s Cos Cob Art Colony and their attraction to the French impressionistic style of painting. The teacher, a brilliant and beautiful young debutante of Greenwich herself, was proud and knowledgeable about Greenwich’s art credentials. On one particular afternoon at her teacher’s plush studio as found on the grounds of the young woman’s parents’ Greenwich estate, Erika’s teacher spent part of the lesson telling Erika about how the Cos Cob art colony had been deeply involved in the most important art exhibition ever, the New York City Armory Show of 1913. It had revolutionized American art, she told young Erika. She showed her young, wide-eyed student an oversized art book which contained hundreds of photos of the landmark exhibition. Erika was not only struck by the art objects therein photographed, but also the overwhelming beauty and power of the large format art book itself. From that day forward she swore to become a dedicated collector of art books. But this was just a minor spin-off of that most important experience for a young, impressionable art student. Enough could not be said about the influential nature of this day in a teacher’s studio. Erika suddenly became beholding to the European masters of modern art. The Armory Show catalog revealed Erika’s pantheon in one fell swoop- Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Léger, Braque, Kirchner. She was simply struck like a clapper does a bell with the deep resonance of never forgotten impression indelibly stamped on her inner eye. American art forms of the day- abstract expressionism and the pop art of Warhol and Lichtenstein were all fine and well- but the Armory show masters became Erika’s great influence. Stanford, the San Francisco Bay, and California- they all provided Erika a clean transfusion after a closely regulated, incubated life as nurtured by the blue chip, blue bloods of Greenwich. But Erika, her tuition and living fees covered by her parents, remained a good girl sans chaperone, dutifully devoted to her studies as always, respectful of her parent’s support, and in the customary four years earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology. She came to believe, though, that medical school and a career as physician was not what she wanted. The fear was that the incumbent responsibility would compromise family life, raising children, and yes- rekindling her avocation as a painter. Erika settled on a compromise, applying for the physician’s assistant program again at Stanford. It was a worthy medical career that would provide her with a suitable family life. Dr. Peter Jansen was disappointed with his daughter’s decision. As his only child, his dream of progeny carrying forth his professional mantle was dashed. But after reflection, he turned. His worried, disappointed thoughts soon withered and peeled away, revealing to him what was in his heart. He turned to truly believed that the choice should lie with his daughter, understood her concerns, and in final gave her the support she fervently hoped that he, the most important person of all, would eventually confer. Erika left Stanford vindicated and prepared for a life she had as carefully scripted once on her own as her parents had her childhood. Did she realize that they had actually taught her how to envision and realize a career as a physician’s assistant? Soon after Erika gave birth to a baby girl. Erika and her young family decided to remain in California, which was the nightmare come true for her bereaved mother. They chose to live in the wine country north of San Francisco, a financially feasible choice which also afforded ample professional opportunity. Ulrich Hoffstetler was a fortunate old man and progressively ailing invalid, for when he needed Erika Jansen’s unique abilities and home service, she was available. After several years of establishing a career as physician’s assistant while her husband’s career as neural surgeon blossomed, Erika moved forward to the next step in her life’s grand scheme. Planning on having a second child, she would need more control over her daily schedule. No longer did she want to be at the beck and call of the doctors she worked for. She would have to become self-employed. Erika applied for a state license for patient homecare, and began to build a new career, serving mainly the elderly, of which there were many in Phenolica. Ulrich Hoffstetler was one of Erika’s first patients. Soon after she had a second child, a boy. And with the help of a supportive husband and a good nanny, Erika took the first steps towards becoming a painter again, some fifteen years after she had put down her brushes and palette as a teenager. On a bright spring morning Erika walked toward her art studio through the family room at the rear of the house. A wide canvas stood on her largest easel, with a partial first coating of oil paint having been applied to a third of the surface, the remainder revealing the preliminary pencil sketch she had wrought at her drawing desk a few days before. She heard birds chattering, and against a tall, broad colonnade of eucalyptus trees growing massive and tall beyond the fenced property line saw them flitting about the fruit trees in her verdant backyard. For no apparent reason she was drawn to her book shelf. She had meant to get to work straight away, but found herself reaching for the top shelf, taking down a new volume just purchased: The New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. Maybe it was that she just hadn’t had the time yet to take a good look at it. She had recently bought the volume in the bookstore at MOMA in San Francisco, having been prompted by a conversation she had recently shared with Ulrich Hoffstetler concerning his youth in Frankfurt. He mentioned for the first time details about his life during the final years of the Weimar Republic and his knowledge of the reigning practitioners of modern German art as narrated by his mother, the supreme tour guide who took him on many museum visits he experienced while still very young. It wasn’t that the brief epoch’s art fascinated her that much. But it could. Still, she wasn’t all that familiar with the art and artists of Germany’s Golden Twenties. She had been much more influenced by French painting going back to Delacroix and Courbet and ending with Matisse; a world of enormity big enough to inspire any young painter. But Erika was no longer young, and was, in her mind, no longer a painter. Her knowledge and receptivity to art, artists, and art history were a distant echo. Yes, she had been building up to this critical point- going through the motions- a suitable art studio had been designed and constructed; and it had been outfitted in a most complete manner. But how could she just sit down and start painting again when she hadn’t rubbed her mind’s shoulders up against the activity in context of art history? This concerned her. Mechanically she had started to sketch something simple, choose some colors, prepare a palette and begin to put paint to canvas, all still familiar and all still part of the muscle memory. It was like a dry run meant to get the juices flowing. But what then? What meaning was there invested or there for discovery? No, she wasn’t entering into the arena content to produce a staple of still lives, landscapes, and portraits as if this is what the weekend hobbyist-painter did. To be thought of or to think of herself as a decorative painter wasn’t good enough. It was not her desire nor motivation. Erika was patient with the process of going step-by-step to accomplish her missions and goals. This was her modus operandi; it was how her mind worked and the rhythm to which her body moved. That mechanical aspect of art would follow suit and work well for her, but what was the vision? Vision is neither mission, nor goals; it is primary; the headwater of the three, she thought. At least- this is what she thought. But completely untrue to the rest of her existence and how she had always lived her life since coming of age and leaving home, a meaningful act of putting paint to canvas held a mystery that confounded her now that she had come this far in life and having been away from painting for so long. Her natural reaction, then, was to study art history; the lives of artists and their works. It seemed the logical place to start. Picasso said he worked all his adult life in order to achieve the spontaneity of a child. Was it a natural ability lost to age? Even for a genius? “If a luminary of art says such a thing, what am I up against?” Erika asked herself. “Could a bourgeois such as myself really in all seriousness ever become an artist?” She slayed herself with doubts. It was not like Erika. It was not how she talked to herself; how she treated herself. But the hard question was real, and Erika always recognized and responded to the concrete and real. The question at the heart told her that what she wanted was to become an artist. But she was sure she had never really lived and thought like an artist must live and think in order to really be one. So where to start. Reason, she thought, would illuminate and then solve the problem. Employing it she was shocked at where it led. It told her that her passion from a previous time in life- that very special time in life- was a residue that had held over and swayed her with sentimental notions. It had catalyzed all that had followed; leaving her family and the comfortable confines of a predicated blue blood existence; helping inform her career choice and even choice of mate. Having a rich husband was necessary for her to return to the joys of painting. Was all this really true? Erika had never really questioned herself in unflinching, rigorous, interrogational severity. She suddenly found herself deconstructing her life and question its validity; its legitimacy. A short step out of the family room into the art studio alone on a spring morning somehow portended a flood of self-investigation to the point of self-persecution. “Artists,” she concluded, “are filled will self-doubt.” This rejoinder was a wry reprieve; a ploy of humor there to save her from a frightening foray into dangerous high waters, as she felt herself floundering and had suddenly woke up to the stark fear of drowning in what she only knew to call her “sub-conscious.” But in truth, she had no idea just what it was inside that felt so challenged; why it paralyzed her; why she felt so uniquely ill-equipped to deal with it. This, for a woman who had always mastered everything she had ever done in building her own independent life.


Chapter VIII


"As to the future of art and literature, with which these inquiries are chiefly concerned, that can be predicted with tolerable clearness. I resist the temptation of looking into too remote a future. Otherwise I should perhaps prove, or at least show as very probable, that in the mental life of centuries far ahead of us art and poetry will occupy but a very insignificant place. Psychology teaches us that the course of development is from instinct to knowledge, from emotion to judgment, from rambling to regulated association of ideas. Attention replaces fugitive ideation; will, guided by reason, replaces caprice. Observation, then, triumphs ever more and more over imagination and artistic symbolism i.e., the introduction of erroneous personal interpretations of the universe is more and more driven back by an understanding of the laws of Nature. On the other hand, the march followed hitherto by civilization gives us an idea of the fate which may be reserved for art and poetry in a very distant future. That which originally was the most important occupation of men of full mental development, of the maturest, best, and wisest members of society, becomes little by little a subordinate pastime, and finally a child's amusement. Dancing was formerly an extremely important affair. It was performed on certain grand occasions, as a State function of the first order, with solemn ceremonies, after sacrifices and invocations to the gods, by the leading warriors of the tribe. To-day it is no more than a fleeting pastime for women and youths, and later on its last atavistic survival will be the dancing of children. The fable and the fairy-tale were once the highest productions of the human mind. In them the most hidden wisdom of the tribe and its most precious traditions were expressed. To-day they represent a species of literature only cultivated for the nursery. The verse which by rhythm, figurative expression, and rhyme trebly betrays its origin in the stimulations of rhythmically functioning subordinate organs, in association of ideas working according to external similitudes, and in that working according to consonance, was originally the only form of literature. Today it is only employed for purely emotional portrayal; for all other purposes it has been conquered by prose, and, indeed, has almost passed into the condition of an atavistic language. Under our very eyes the novel is being increasingly degraded, serious and highly cultivated men scarcely deeming it worthy of attention, and it appeals more and more exclusively to the young and to women. From all these examples, it is fair to conclude that after some centuries art and poetry will have become pure atavisms, and will no longer be cultivated except by the most emotional portion of humanity by women, by the young, perhaps even by children."

Max Nordau, “Degeneration” 1892-93


Ulrich Hoffstetler lay alone at night in bed, his bedroom cloaked in darkness, struggling to relax into slumber only to find himself once again embattled, forced to stave off a stream of polluted thoughts that flowed unabated through his mind. Sarah George always turned in early and the house stood in absolute silence. The silence was such that Hoffstetler could hear the bioelectrical charge coursing through his nervous system, a wicked kind of white noise that reminded him of just one of the horrible ill-effects accompanying the coming out from under the influence of ether in a hospital recovery room when his tonsils were taken out at the age of four. The old, disabled man was an atheist and not given to prayer, but he regularly prayed to himself- not to God- for a good night’s sleep. At age ninety a bad night’s sleep guaranteed an uncomfortable, upended day to follow. Hoffstetler feared the lack of a quality sleep, but he also feared slipping into the black hole of his dreams, most of which of late had been nightmares. Just as he started to surrender to sleep, he would often awake with a start, a surge of fear flooding his nervous system as triggered by that last slip of conscious guard that knew all protection against a bad dream would be revoked once yielding to an unconscious state. The nightmares had become a regular occurrence, and they often proved hostile enough to rudely awake him. He found himself breathing heavily and fraught with fear, muttering nonsensical sounds that were cries for help. Various muscles would cramp as well, sending his body into tremors. Hoffstetler’s only reprieve was that the exact nature and narrative of the nightmares he quickly forgot after having been awake for an hour come the morning. A hot cup of quality coffee was the quickest morning cure for suppressing the horrors of the last night. As adroitly as Hoffstetler had always handled his life, avoiding confrontations and open disagreements with both professional and personal ties, he found that at the end of life he had to contend with the truth of what it was to be alone and dying. And that truth meant facing one’s life in toto. Forced to relive his memories in the cumulative round as life was now nearly completely behind him with only a sliver ahead was something this man who had always outdistanced life’s threats and consequences with deft avoidance found himself ill-equipped to manage. Good health, youth, a family, an ample income, and a nice town to live in could mask all manner of past sins; sins of omission perhaps more so than commission. But old age, solitude, and physical deterioration erased all running advantage. Everything that had ever been left far behind in the wake of the psychic sprint was discovered to still be on the chase. Catching up with you, they catalyzed an unavoidable roll call of regrets which became darkly manifest, parading by like a series of ugly, haunting figures on a zoetrope’s animation reel with one’s eyes and mind held prisoner, fixed on the unmercifully strobing of light slipping through each slit of the contraption’s revolving wall. And many nightmares were just so- an unbearable repetition of a problematic scenario vague in essence but sure to generate a feeling of helpless horror. It was a dreamscape devoid of imagery; ambiguous in form and obscured in darkness; like the machinations of a black hole sucking all into a void of unintelligible process. There was never more given than a vague sense at hand. What surely remained, though, was the feeling of dread caused by something that was not truly decipherable. But those nightmares that occurred during the depths of the REM cycle- rare due to Ulrich’s uneven sleep patterns- were experienced much like one would while awake, watching a film. There were actors, dialogue, life-like movement, and narrative action. Images were recognizable, proportional in size, and projected onto a well-lit screen that would be the sub-conscious theater of mind. On this particular night, Ulrich Hoffstetler did slip into a deep sleep. With the mind in complete surrender, the imagery; the narrative; began. Ulrich was once again a young boy at his mother’s side, holding her hand as she guided him down the M Frankfurt. They ambled together on a clear, cool night along the Frankfurt Museum Riverbank, the famed Musuemsufer, passing in front of the Städel Museum. It is lit from ground up by search light, a symmetrical brown stone building with Corinthian columns and heavy brows Ulrich begins to inhabit the dream image; seeing and feeling all that must be believed, for this is his dream state: There she is, Adalgisa, my beautiful mother moving with fluid grace; a striking figure mysteriously lit as object-in-foreground against an urban backdrop- the scattered city lights of downtown burning from beyond the far, northern bank of River Main. But she has been beyond my reach for so long! Is she real or a mannequin? Oh, tell me she is real! Her face is not rigid nor cold nor withdrawn. Her hand is holding mine, and it is soft, warm; enveloping my small manus with those deceptively familiar, long fingers of a pianist. Oh, Mother, you are alive! I remember how you were! Your fashionable, low-waisted, long dress, flouncing flirtatiously about the knees; the bounce in your youthful step as you lift your heels effortlessly, stylishly so! You so-to pivot with each step on the balls of your feet as if to break into a full fox trot. Mother! You, a woman freed from the corset; your curves conforming to the new, radical female slenderness; the ‘neue frau’ with the Bubikopf haircut topped by a red cloche hat. I love you mother! I wish I could have given you the ropes and ropes of pearls you so much wanted. You taught me about everything that matters. But tell me! How is it that you no longer dead, at my side, and I again a child! I am looking up at you and beyond is the night sky about our beloved Frankfut! We pass the Städel Museum, coming off the Museumsufer, and it is 1937. The Nazi stormers, those black-shirted picayune gnomes! They have violated the museum portals; penetrating and clawing their way in. A rumbling and a foul wind emerges after them; kommen der Entartete Kunst- the degenerate art- the 77 works of the vile and imbecilic! Spurting like pus from a boil! Frames are flying from the doorway, sucked out by a vortex. We are on assault! Are they gutting our beautiful city’s most precious treasure; culling out the most meaningful pieces that identify our modernity; that spills the vision of life as seen and felt but for the appearances that deceives us? Or is it the filth and chaos that is being cleansed; disemboweled from the public halls where we spy but don’t observe? Mother- oh, please watch out! You still walk with nonchalance and joy! How is it? Can’t you see? We are assaulted by this storm! The frames are dismembering; the whores and bankers and war cripples and green faced drunks are released from the tyranny of the wooden square! The barb wire is unraveling and sprung towards us! The profiteers are trying to strangle us with the strings of their marionettes; The raucous comedians crawl like worms in attempts to seduce us with their stagecraft; the revues- their audiences and their stagemeisters point their wicked spindly fingers and laugh piteously at my present wretchedness. Their forms balloon into phantasmic zeppelins, huge and bloated; filling the charged skies with growls and screams! The air is polluted with foul things; with chemicals, mustard gas, burning rubber; rotting flesh. Mother! Please awake! We are about to be smothered. Hold me tighter, Mother! Pick me up! Cradle me in your long, willowy arms! Run like the wind, Mother! But Mother has become a Dada Cyborg; a human-machine hybrid. Her hands become stiff and stylized. She really is both a woman and a mannequin. She was born ready-to-live with clothes ready-to-wear. Now that I think she is dead and I remember her to be alive- and then dead again, as she let go my hand- I understand that she now resembles both a real woman and one that is not- a mannequin. Look at her- I remember. She reminded me of the Frankfurt mannequins in the shop front windows; and they reminded me of her. Which is the New Woman? Are they not both chimeras? The image makers broadcast their woman-as-adjustable; like the mannequin- with arms and legs and neck and hips that can be twisted into any stylized shape. It was not real, was it, the New Woman? Was she not too perfect? The athletic figure, the unflappable self-confidence; the conspicuous pragmatism; the smart make-up; the professional life; the material addiction. Perfect components perfectly fit together- more a mechanical assemblage whose blue print followed pre-determined aesthetics following slavish detail. Was she a cybernetic memory haunting me; the montage of communication and automatic control systems found both in machines and living things driving forward a Weimar, New Woman mannequin? Mother, now that you are dead, is this how I remember you? As a montage? Were you ever real? What was it happened to you? How could you do away with yourself when you appeared as perfection? Even in the corruptness of you love for the decadence we saw flying out of the mouth of the Städel. Do not raise the pill to your mouth, Mother! Not in front of me as a child! Is this all real? Is the cyanide real? I see you open your mouth and as you gesture slowly to put the pill past your lips, a bilious lather of imagery rolls out of your mouth; a menagerie of figures as seen ripped from the canvases of German paintings- of the Blue Riders; the Bridge; the Cubists; the Dadaists; the Namenlosen- those who would not be categorized. It is not certain that Ulrich Hoffstetler truly awoke from this nightmare. It is not certain he remembers what he dreamt the next morning. Can we be certain he ever truly experienced this nightmare; or ever dreamt something so horrific? But an old man on his death bed who has always hid the truth from everyone he ever knew in the second life he fabricated in exile to America can be imagined to have had such a nightmare. It is true his mother’s suicide was never explained and flew in the face of what he, Ulrich, the boy- knew to be reasonable and true. It is true that she always showed him a relaxed and carefree love. He also knew that the mannequins in the Frankfurt store fronts reminded him of his mother, and she of them. Now that she was gone forever and for so long she no longer reminded him of anything other than the love she gave him. And as for the mannequins; he hadn’t looked at one in a decade and as his mother was gone, so were they from any form of remembrance. It was good to start to forget as one approached closer the day of death, one useless and false thing at a time. Maybe he would even forget what he had been and what he had done at Hartheim. He was not sure if life would necessarily improve at all, and it was not something he cared to wish for. Perhaps he would strive to remember and perhaps tell.


Chapter IX


“You must suffer me to go my own dark way.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


It was a Wednesday morning and Erika Jansen had called the day previous, letting Sarah George know that the appointment for Ulrich Hoffstetler’s MRI scan had been scheduled for Thursday. Sarah George called a small group of drivers who remained on standby for situations such as this. The company was unusual, providing the driver only whereby the car the client had to provide. They invariably would arrive at the client’s house by means of bicycle. “Please send a driver over to Mr. Ulrich Hoffstetler’s as needed for tomorrow. Arrive no later than 9 AM. Mr. Hoffstetler is an invalid and uses a wheel chair. Make sure the driver is strong enough to lift him into and out of the car. We will be traveling to the Phenolica Medical Center for an outpatient procedure. The driver will wait for the procedure to finish, and then return Mr. Hoffstetler to his home,” she explained in dry and even tone. Ulrich Hoffstetler awoke from his latest nightmare early on Thursday morning, just as dawn was breaking. He could not return to sleep. “Better I wake now. We are soon enough to leave for the MRI,” he muttered to himself. The nature of his nightmare slipped more quickly away from his memory with every stimulation that came with being awake. The more he talked to himself, the faster the fleeting memories would recede into oblivion. Sarah George was up to any task associated with taking charge of Ulrich Hoffstetler’s care, but preparing for traveling out of the home could be trying. Preparing for the exigencies of travel required carefully packing a bag for the old man, much the same as one would for a baby. And Hoffstetler demanded he be dressed properly, which she had to manage on her own. Hoffstetler wore pajamas and a robe and slippers at home, and the matter of the old man’s attire occupied a small part of Sarah George’s time and concern. But going out required preparations be attended to the night before and time enough set aside the morning of to make ready for whatever may be the scheduled affair. Hoffstetler could have remained in bedclothes for the short journey to the medical center, but he would never want to be caught outside the house in what he considered to be inappropriate attire. “They will just ask you to take these clothes off, Mr. Hoffstetler,” Sarah George cautioned, but no matter. Hoffstetler ordered she clothe him in black corduroy pants, and long sleeved black turtle neck. The driver arrived and wheeled Hoffstetler down an access ramp that had been custom built connecting the front door’s porch and the driveway below. He lifted the old man out of the chair and placed him in the back seat of Hoffstetler’s midnight blue Crown Victoria. The wheel chair was folded and stowed in the car’s trunk. Sarah George sat in the back seat next to Hoffstetler, having alighted from car’s other side. The Phenolica Medical Center was the town’s most sophisticated and costly center of service. Once fully developed, it achieved gold standard status as Phenolica’s showcase piece of community infrastructure. But it was not a general hospital. It was solely private. Having said that, only private ownership in an agricultural area could provide and in and out patient hospital with top flight emergency room, surgical suites capable of the most technically demanding types of surgery, pre-natal intensive care, a wing of doctor offices for private examination and consultation, laboratories, and a specialty complex that housed high tech equipment such as MRI and PET scanners. With a growing population of the elderly, most of whom were well-off and covered by the best of medical insurance, the economic opportunities for private medicine to flourish in Phenolica were seized and realized by a group of investors which included local winemakers, retired doctors from San Francisco and a few venture capitalists from Menlo Park. The MRI center was around back of the center with a ground floor, rear entrance. When Hoffstetler’s car pulled in under the covered drop off parking area annex, Erika Jansen was already there, standing in wait. She did not have to come, but she never let escape a chance to take part in magnetic scan. The hi-technology fascinated her and she wanted live access to both the technicians and the doctor who would be reading her the results. The exchanges between everyone were warm enough but mainly formal and brief. An MRI attendant wearing the customary long, white coat and briskly pushing a wheelchair suddenly emerged through the portal as the tall sliding glass doors opened automatically with a pneumatic whoosh. Hoffstetler was lifted out of the car by the driver and gently set in the chair. The attendant waited for Hoffstetler to settle in and then rotated the chair 180 degrees as on a dime and pushed the old man, his head held low and shoulders slumping, on through into the building. The hallway strongly smelled of carbolic cleaning fluid and its Navajo white walls and cream colored floor tiles shown preternaturally bright and spotless beneath recessed lighting shining from the ceiling far above approximating the color temperature of studio kliegs. Sarah George excused herself and unceremoniously spun off from the group, choosing to make herself comfortable in a waiting room handsomely furnished, carpeted and generously supplied with all manner of periodicals, magazines, and newspapers as neatly placed and organized in three different display racks. “I’ll be here if you need me, Erika,” she said. Two doors down on the left was the MRI room. Erika Jansen opened the door and the attendant pushed Hoffstetler through on his wheelchair. The walls; the ceiling; the floors- everything gleamed white. A smaller control room was immediately on the right, self-enclosed as partitioned off from the larger space where the MRI scanner stood silent and mammoth. Inside of the smaller space a viewing window allowed the control technician to clearly see all activity surrounding the scanner as sitting at a spacious desk atop which were computer keyboards, and three LCD screens: one for monitoring images as pre-processed, a post-processing monitor, and one for auxiliary viewing. The attendant wheeled Hoffstetler through a side door inside the larger room which accessed a changing room. Carefully he unclothed Hoffstetler, forcing the old man to put on a hospital gown. Presently, they reemerged from the changing room, Hoffstetler seated once again. Hoffstetler’s driver was dutiful and still present, and along with the attendant, lifted Ulrich Hoffstetler onto the patient table which stuck out like a tongue from the perfectly circular opening of the MRI’s life saver shaped galley. As set in place on his back, he was to be slid head first through the circular opening into the body length tubular tunnel that was surrounded by gradient and radio frequency coils and a magnet that was powerful enough to move a piece of metal the size of a car and was five thousand times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field. A nurse took over the patient responsibilities, draping a thin blanket over Hoffstetler’s body, covering all but his head which was resting on a small pillow. She explained that there would be four scans taken, requiring him to move into various positions. The first would be taken of him lying on his back, then he must assume perhaps the most uncomfortable position which would face down lying on his stomach. This would be followed by two more scans, each taken as he lay on opposite sides. This would allow for the complete coverage of his leg’s arterial flow network. The difficult part was that he would have to remain motionless throughout once he was retracted into the galley’s tube and for the entire length of each scan. Each would take several minutes. A blurred image would result if he moved about. She apologized for the hospital not having an upright MRI scanner available for that would have probably have given him some relief for at least a couple of the scans. Hoffstetler listened calmly, saying nothing; nodding his head on occasion when necessary. “I’ll be right over there in the control room, Ulrich,” said Erika. “I know this is your first MRI. If you need something, don’t be afraid to call out. There is a microphone in the tube. We’ll hear you loud and clear. It will all be over before you know it.” Erika stopped and thoughtfully paused, looking intently but gently down at Hoffstetler. “Are you claustrophobic?” Her eyes turned warm and a smile etched its way across her face. Hoffstetler saw the chance for cutting through the aseptic atmosphere surrounding. “I’m so skinny that once you slip me in there you’ll have a hard time finding me later on.” Everyone was relieved and laughed. Three hours later the results were ready. Hoffstetler was resting back in his wheel chair, and directly wheeled out to the waiting room where Sarah George was waiting with some water. He was exhausted but somehow still intact. Erika Jansen conferred for several minutes with the doctor whom had already read the post-processed results with ease and speed. Erika maintained calm and perspective throughout the consultation, but the news was nothing if calamitous. “No,” she said, “that’s alright. I can take the responsibility for telling Mr. Hoffstetler the results. If he wishes to talk to you directly, he can call after I’ve spoken with him.” The doctor nodded solemnly. Erika Jansen took a ride back in the Crown Victoria with Hoffstetler and Sarah George as she had been dropped off at the hospital by her husband earlier. In fact, his office was in the very same complex. The ride back home was void of conversation; as silent as a group of pall bearers in a hearse. Ulrich Hoffstetler had fallen asleep in the waiting room, and continued to sleep as they traveled home in the car. Sarah George did not particular feel it her place to ask Erika Jansen any questions before Hoffstetler himself had been told first. A woman of strict propriety, it would be forward to do so. Erika Jansen was motivated none in the slightest to speak up as well. Anything she had to say was for Ulrich Hoffstetler to hear first and it would be in a private setting. Looking over at the old man, she watched him sleep. His facial skin was thin and blotchy and his mouth hung wide open as he snored. She had already read him the riot act just last week, but now she would have to tell him just how long he had left to live. It was but a narrow window even if he were to have his legs amputated. Erika Jansen was a medical professional who knew three things: all life is finite; every individual was ultimately responsible for their health all uncontrollable factors considered; every individual participates in authoring their life and determining their death. In main, these philosophical viewpoints coexisted with little conflict within her thoughts and emotions. In fact, they reinforced each other as do the panels of a triptych. In fair weather, their strength in unity basked neatly in the sunlight, but they were also forced to travel dark seas that batter away at reason’s airtight cases in which the mind takes inordinate great comfort. Ulrich Hoffstetler was not her first terminal patient. But there was something hidden in him that she wished he would express before he died. She didn’t belabor the point, and could return to a clinical professionalism as expressed in a fatalism especially given his advanced age. Still, her knowledge of history told her that Hoffstetler had buried in him a world of knowledge and experience that should not be lost to the world. Somehow she would have to elicit it before the curtains were drawn. She had not much time.


Chapter X


Comes meus fuit in illo miserrimo tempore. (My companion through the worst of times)

Inscription on Sir Walter Raleigh’s tobacco pipe which he was smoking just before the moment of his beheading in the Tower of London, 1618


The Crown Royal came to rest in the driveway outside Hoffstetler’s house. However gentle, the coming to a stop awoke Ulrich Hoffstetler. He became conscious slowly; sluggishly. Still slack jaw with mouth hung wide open, he could not focus on what was around him. A little drool still remained on his chin even though Sarah George, who had been sitting next to him, had been diligent in keeping it clean. The driver took the wheel chair out of the trunk and unfolding it, wheeled it alongside the rear door. Opening the door, he reached in and asked Hoffstetler to put his arms around his neck. Hoffstetler’s head suddenly slumped forward and he could not comply. The driver braced and lifted as gently as he could. Hoffstetler winced in pain as the driver slid his arms underneath his legs and commenced to lift. The MRI scans had exacted an effect on Hoffstetler similar to that of an out-of-shape middle aged man taking a fifteen-mile hike over granite rock. He was trembling with weakness and pain. Sarah George led the small procession into the house, followed by Hoffstetler being pushed up the ramp by the driver, and then Erika Jansen. Once Hoffstetler was put to rest back in his bed, Sarah George thanked and paid the driver. She added a generous tip. Then she and Erika Jansen closed the door to Hoffstetler’s bedroom and retreated to the kitchen while the driver left out the front door, mounting his bicycle and peddling away through the quiet suburban streets. Sarah George stood leaning up against the front edge of the kitchen sink, her legs crossed and arms folded. Erika Jansen sat at the breakfast table and briefly starred out at the immaculately manicured backyard through the breakfast nook’s picture window. “How long does he have?” asked Sarah. Erika turned her attention to Sarah and squinted her eyes as if to better focus her thoughts. “Perhaps a few months. Amputation is a not an option. His age precludes such a treatment. He doesn’t have the strength to learn to walk again with the aid of a prosthesis. He will need to walk at least some if his circulation is to improve at all. Amputation is done below the knee, but the peripheral arterial disease will invade above the knee if he isn’t able to stand up and exercise at least minimally. Surviving the recuperative period, too, would be a real concern. The prognosis is that he will die from some sort of vascular failure; perhaps a heart attack; thrombosis, a blood clot, an aneurysm. But short of that, untreatable leg ulcers might well develop before an acute vascular failure. Infection and gangrene are distinct possibilities, too. The pain will become unbearable. Then amputation might be forced on him, but that amounts to a death sentence.” “What can I do?” asked Sarah George, her heart emptied by an onslaught of futility. “We have to contact his nearest of kin. Affairs must be put in order.” Erika stopped short and looked down for a moment. She reengaged. “Can you stay until the end, Sarah?” Sarah George was silent for several seconds. “At this very moment, I can’t say.” Her gut began to twitch and twist. “What about euthanasia?” “It is legal in California, but only very recently. Mr. Hoffstetler would have to sign over power of attorney to someone else. That person then can request physician assisted dying. But Mr. Hoffstetler would have to sign the power over while he was still compos mentis. Yes- this is a viable option. I agree that a discussion must take place and it should happen right away. I will speak with him about it at the first opportunity.” “Must power of attorney be signed over to a family member, or could someone else legally serve?” “Family is preferred, but it’s legal to assign the power to some other responsible party.” “I’m not sure Mr. Hoffstetler has any close family at all. I’m completely unaware that any exist. How that is possible, I don’t know. Why I have not stopped to investigate this before, I don’t know. You are his only close contact, Erika.” “The two of us, I suppose.” “You could not legally preside over an act of euthanasia, could you?” “No. Physician assistants may not legally preside. A physician need be.” “When will you talk to Mr. Hoffstetler about this?” “Tomorrow. I’ll come back tomorrow morning after breakfast.” Erika Jansen stood up, walked up to Sarah George, and reached out both her hands. Sarah responded and they clasped their hands together. Sarah, a sentry of stoicism, felt her eyes welling up with tears, but would not allow them to spill over onto her cheeks. “I agree euthanasia is called for. And I think Mr. Hoffstetler will agree. But a lot details must be worked out before the legal process can be set into motion,” Erika said without a trace of sadness or resignation in her voice. Erika Jansen left Hoffstetler’s home and walked the quiet streets back home. Not a soul was to be seen nor heard. The afternoon was warm and the air still. “Viable options narrow down choices, and for that we can now be thankful,” she said to herself.


Ulrich Hoffstetler was too tired to eat the night of his scans, and slept all the way until the next morning. Sarah George did not like the fact that he had not eaten, and almost called Erika Jansen with the request to administer an IV of glucose. Surprisingly, Hoffstetler did wake up fitfully at seven the next morning, responded to Sarah George’s inquiries into his condition, and ate a good breakfast. Erika Jensen arrived at 10 AM as promised. Sarah George announced her presence to Hoffstetler and bid her enter his bedroom. Erika smiled, and approached, standing at his bedside. “How are you feeling, Ulrich?” “Well enough to have eaten. Thankful for that.” “I need to speak to you about the scan results.” Ulrich said nothing and his unfocused gaze turned down towards the foot of his bed in which he lay. With a slight gesture he nodded his head and lifted his left hand beckoning towards Erika. Erika gathered her wits and the calm professionality that was a preternatural ability guided her every sense, action, and response. “The resident radiologist and MRI specialist at the medical center confirms all the warnings that I have already discussed with you, Ulrich. Your atherosclerosis in the blood vessels throughout both of your legs- including above and below the knees ranging all the way up to your hips- has progressed to that of complicated lesions. The surface of the interior plaque is erupting with hematoma-hemorrhaging. In a matter of weeks you will most likely suffer an attack of thrombosis. This means that there will be local hemorrhaging at these eruption points and the coagulating blood will break off into the blood stream leading to a total blockage of blood flow at some point in your circulatory system. Chances are high that it will occur in your lower legs below the knee because the plaque is particularly bad in that region and many of the vessels are quite small. If it breaks off in a vein, it is called venous thrombosis, which usually occurs in a deep leg vein. Pain and swelling will eventually lead to infection or gangrene if not treated with an anti-coagulator drug. But if the coagulated blood breaks off in an artery, you will suffer an arterial thrombosis, which can eventually cause an embolism potentially causing infarction of any of your organs, including the heart. Drugs can help in the short term, but there is no drug therapy that will cure your advanced atherosclerosis. You will continue to experience episodes akin to thrombosis and it will weaken you so much- in part due to the deprivation of oxygen- that you could easily just fall into a coma, or die outright from a heart attack.” “So what else is new?” quipped Hoffstetler. “You’re wrong, Ulrich- the bit about the complicated lesions is new. With that many points of eruption distributed throughout the vascular system in your legs, thrombosis could happen at any moment.” Hoffstetler knew where the conversation must go. “I don’t have any immediate family, as you know, Erika.” “None, Ulrich? Absolutely none?” “Well, none to speak of. None I trust. Erika, you are the only one. You must take charge.” “So it is we must speak of physician assisted dying, Ulrich. It is an option that must be considered. The suffering you are bound to experience in the next several weeks will end your life in any real sense, whether you die outright or not. If you don’t sign over the power of attorney in rapid order, you will lose the window of opportunity to do so. And if you go into a coma without having signed it over, it will cause all manner of complications for anyone connected with your caretaking.” “You mean physician assisted euthanasia, don’t your Erika?” Hoffstetler asked rhetorically in a querulous tone. “Call it what you will, Ulrich; but yes, if you insist.” “Let’s not be politically correct, Erika. Let’s call it according to its real name.” Hoffstetler’s nose screwed into the middle of his face, his brows swelled and grew heavy over his eyes, and his mouth took on a shape of ugly contortion. Erika palpably felt the resistance from Hoffstetler as if he were physically pushing against her, but she couldn’t guess its nature. She attempted to revive the issue at hand. “I would never force you into accepting such a course of action, Ulrich. I would only advise. But the time for some final decision is upon you.” Ulrich relented. “I know- I…I apologize. It’s not that at all. Not at all. I…it’s just that…I must tell you now something I have never told anyone here in the United States.” Erica had no idea what might be said, but braced for something utterly unexpected. “I assisted in euthanizing scores of people.” Erika found it difficult to respond. “How is that, Ulrich?” “I worked for eighteen months as a ward orderly at Hartheim euthanasia center for the Nazis during the early part of World War II. I assisted in the what the Nazis called “mercy killing” of mainly children with physical and mental deformities and incapacities.” “Were you forced to work in the hospital?” “I chafe at saying- no. I sought the job through connections. It was simply a ploy to avoid serving as a foot soldier.” “Where does this leave us, Ulrich.” “Just closer to a real understanding of what I truly must face.” This was perhaps the truest sentence that had come out of his mouth over the last sixty years. “If you wish to speak to me in depth about your experiences, of course I am here for you as your medical advisor.” “And friend?” asked Hoffstetler. Erika momentarily feared being drawn into a drama she felt might send her tumbling down a slippery slope, but her conscience superseded. “Yes, of course. And friend.” “Laying bare this knowledge opens a gaping wound, Erika. I do not know if I could ever survive the process of divestiture.” “Physically you will not survive either way, Ulrich. To unburden yourself before you pass is all to your benefit, either way, and perhaps posterity, too, as well, however indirectly.” “Perhaps there is time for this in due course. But I must ask you about the legal process. How do I give you the power of attorney? And will you accept the responsibility? “Are you absolutely sure I am the right person for this? “You know you are, Erika. There is no question; no alternative.” Erika looked hard at Ulrich and paused. “Yes, I will accept the role.” Her face took on the guise of a bereft but stalwart matriarch. She cleared her throat and thought deeply for a moment, glancing down at the hardwood floor. Looking up, she spoke slowly and clearly, “First of all, we must find a physician to assist. The End of Life Option Act is the California law governing euthanasia. The law prefers death result from withholding life-support and only certain terminally ill patients may end their lives with the aid of lethal medications as prescribed. The law only allows administering euthanasia if a patient is deemed terminally ill and expected to die within six months. A medically confirmed diagnosis must be filed and the patient must obtain a mental health screening to confirm the patient has the capacity to make such a decision. If lethal injection is requested, you must establish legal residence in California. That is also easy enough. But the catch is that a physician may not prescribe lethal drugs as requested by the patient until after three requests are made at least fifteen days apart. That’s forty-five days.” “So we must start post-haste.” “I don’t know if I meet all those requirements, but it sounds relatively straight forward.” “The bit about the six months is troubling. I know a good health care lawyer. You should consult with him immediately. I’ll call him and arrange for consultation- possibly today if I can manage it. “Erika, I…I don’t know how to thank you. I do have an estate lawyer and I will have Sarah George request his presence here today if at all possible. My will must be reviewed in light of this.” “Ulrich, I promise to take care of all the medical aspects. I’ll do what I can to assist with the legal.” Hoffstetler raised his hand and vaguely pointed two fingers at Erika. “You know- just for the record- it wasn’t the nicotine that put me here- it was the method of delivery. And you know- all those other nasty substances mixed in. Nicotine is the only drug known that both lowers anxiety and improves performance. It even protects brain cells from Alzheimer type degeneration I hear. I’m cogent as hell, aren’t I? We smokers are on to something, but just haven’t worked out the kinks.” He smiled mischievously. Erika actually found herself with the urge to laugh, but managed to subdue it as escaped by a grin. “Free cheese is always available in mouse traps.”


Chapter XI


Each man is in his Specter’s power Until the arrival of that hour When his Humanity awake And cast his Specter into the Lake Jerusalem

William Blake


Micah enjoyed advantages most university students didn’t share. His peers were well-off, no doubt, but perhaps out of guilty reflex and denial refused to consider themselves part of the one percent. But in hushed tones behind his back they exchanged jabs and mean-spirited comments about Micah’s essential anti-social attitude and life style. “Oh, yeah, he’s definitely too good for the rest of us. “Feel that cold shoulder? I’ve got a spear of ice piercing my side. “Who else do you know at this university who lives alone?” Micah was a budding poet and loner. He considered the two to go hand in hand, but such thinking caused him a twinge of self-deceit as that was such a conventional association and certainly occasioned many exceptions. But the convention stuck. If the shoe fits, wear it. Perhaps it was not so unusual as found at an exclusive private university, but there was bound to be social blow-back. Micah wasn’t all that keen on making friends on campus, and considered the role of the serious student in a university similar to that of a monk in a monastery. There was a medieval quality to his way of thinking. Ulrich Hoffstetler had offered the support necessary to allow Micah to rent his own apartment off campus. Micah did request the extra money on the grounds that to be immersed in campus life would actually be a distraction to his studies; that life would not be in balance; that he would grow out of touch with the rest of the world. He fed himself the same reasons, but knew they did not vie with his predisposition to reclusive study in a cloistered environment. His father didn’t find it necessary to consider a litany of reasons and was inclined to indulge his son, who had proved throughout his youth to be a devoted, disciplined student. Money was not an object, and Hoffstetler simply cautioned his son to live up to his end of the bargain- do his best to succeed brilliantly at his studies. In the end, Micah’s track record had been impeccable, and he deserved special treatment. After all, Micah was his only child. But Micah was still on probationary status, and the support was up for review after his freshman year. Micah’s truest reason for requesting private, off campus digs revealed itself gradually. Even for Micah, he was not completely conscious of the deepest motivation. Micah had declared himself an English major, bucking the overwhelming trend of university students and their parents to consider higher education a means to a high paying job; strictly vocational. His father did have a conversation with Micah about the pragmatic wisdom of choosing such a course of study, but he was sympathetic given his rich liberal arts background provided him as a child by his mother and the rich mix of cultural life in which he was immersed in Weimar Frankfurt. Hoffstetler was in silent reverence of his mother, and believed he was passing on the torch from grandmother to grandchild. Hoffstetler also knew that an English degree was a good basis for any number of masters programs including law, political science, foreign language studies and of course, education. Micah truly loved English literature, though, and for a young man who eventually would become overwrought by personal problems, his intellectual loves in life were clear and he was devoted to them. He was hoping he could develop his creative writing enough over the four years of undergraduate school to earn him acceptance to some Master of Fine Arts program. Perhaps Stanford, or at Iowa’s Writer Workshop. It was in the second semester of his freshman year that he met his first and last mentor, a professor of English poetry named Ambrose Sharp. Professor Sharp was originally from London, had studied at Oxford and was an internationally renowned Blake scholar. Micah took two course that Professor Sharp taught, including a course on poetry of the romantics, and fell under the spell of not only William Blake, but of Professor Sharp himself. Micah did not know where the influence of the professor began and the attraction of William Blake left off. But he quickened to realize for the first time in his short life that he had spiritual needs and aspirations, and that through the portal mythopoetics perhaps he could take the first baby steps on the road to self-discovery. He began to understand that if one were properly trained to decipher dense, obscure works of art such as Blake’s The Four Zoas and Jerusalem one could open up the possibility of not only creating a new religion but revealing a new cosmogony within which a young person could cleanse their vision and commit to a mystical path that integrated all aspects of the human being and the human experience. That his joy seemed born to this revelation reinforced the necessity for him to maintain his cloister off campus, and also drew him closer to Professor Ambrose Sharp. In the beginning, Sharp took on the role as gatekeeper to the new cosmogony. That a single man could hold the keys to an entire new licensed existence drew Micah in. The attraction was ineluctable. The professor was a stunning departure from any person Micah had ever known. Sharp would appear as if in trance while lecturing, his body poised like a dancer’s with every movement informed by some lofty meaning; deftly uncloaking the obdurate veil obscuring Blake’s densely prophetic works. And he did so like a frenzied Hamlet with a professorial method to his madness. It was pure theater; always sustained by the highest tone imaginable consistent with a lauded art critic who had come to educate as would a Southwest shaman does with a cache of peyote buttons. The lecture hall was his Kiva. His rhetorical flights were unfaltering, unaffected by his dramatic affectations, their syllogistic logic firmly in place like a Spartan warrior’s stance on the battle field, rhythmically alternating with air borne mystical allusions whose feet wafted away like rising smoke into a heavenly void. Like a classical actor in perpetual soliloquy he commanded the front of the classroom as if it were the Shakespearean stage. An oversized screen on the wall behind him was his tabula rasa used to implant indelible images on the student psyche. Blake’s gothic style illuminations were projected there upon with the room lighting dimmed just enough to transform the large lecture hall with its steeply raked seating into what felt at times like an opera house while still allowing everyone to follow Sharp’s every movement and catch his every facial expression. Pierce brought Blake’s illuminations to vivid life, exploring the iconography; explaining why a standing figure’s right foot was advanced of its left; further, what was the significance of a tree’s placement foreground and to the left of the composition; how it is that Blake’s affinity to gothic painting was critical to expressing the core philosophy of his cosmogony. Ambrose Sharp was antithetical to the academic as called from central casting- that dumpy professor with leather padded elbows on his pull over sweater, sagging pants and bulky leather satchel. If clothes make the man, Sharp was the shining example. He was not a dandy, per se, but style truly mattered. And the professor’s clothes appeared to have been bought in a London haberdashery as opposed to some California department store or boutique. For that matter, perhaps they were straight from the desk of a professional fashion designer or tailor. He was trim, fit, handsome, and had cultivated a high sartorial style. A black head of hair was always trim and combed in place. There was gray at the temples, but just so. A razor thin mustache traced across his lips in linear perfection; geometrically true, but still appearing natural. Somehow Ambrose Pierce, a man who upon first glance elevated style far above substance, was speaking a heightened language delivering the most mystical, non-material of messages. Mythopoesis was his métier; as was Blake’s. Joining hands across a span of over two hundred years, what they held in common was that the understanding of the world and the self was to be found in the mythopoetic experience. Each man and woman is born into this fallen world where they are bound- at least in the short term- to grow as lapsed souls, moving from innocence to experience; symbolized by the four human essences, each once positioned at a cardinal point, disintegrated from a once, unbroken unity. We, like the world, are broken, and seek for integration. Our state depends on the union and agreement of the four elements within- intellect, emotional Life, life of the senses, and that highest form of power- the three “I’s”- instinct, inspiration, imagination. This construct portrays life as what it truly is- a marriage of heaven and hell both as conjoined exist together in all places at all times. Pierce had the power to wake sleeping giants and rally students to the clarion call of his poetics; to the invisible principalities of life where awareness was the starting point for living life in accordance to spiritual principles. But these spiritual principles weren’t to be seen through the conventional lens of traditional scriptures, but through putting oneself in a crucible with the best poetry had to offer, in an effort to revitalize an art suffering and on the wane in the Western world. Young students- hopefully eager to sign up as select stewards responsible for carrying forth the torch of human kind’s knowledge and understanding to posterity- were Pierce’s charge. Ambrose Pierce was the grand wizard of recruiting, and his students looking to sign up to defend and promote the Blakean cosmogony. Micah’s attraction to Ambrose Pierce was both philosophical and physical. Something came alive and began to twitch inside of Micah. Enthralled from the beginning of the course, Micah desired to find a way to get closer to the fire called Ambrose Pierce. After a month of classes, Micah began to summon the courage to approach the professor. He needed a pretext, and he finally found it when the class was assigned their first paper. The class having ended, he walked down the steep staircase from his seat that led down to the lecture area. “Professor Pierce, how do you do? My name is Micah Hoffstetler. I have a question about the paper.” “Ahhhhhh- Micah. What an unusual name; a remarkable choice. You must come from a most interesting family.” Pierce extended his right hand to Micah, who took it in turn, followed by Pierce, who placed his left hand on top of. “Please let me know your question, Micah.” Micah was close enough to smell Pierce’s cologne and now he could feel the softness of his hands. “Yes, Professor Pierce. Umm….the thesis of the paper……you require we choose a particular aspect of the Blakean cosmogony. Does that mean I cannot choose one perhaps more general in nature?” “Micah- stand tall in your decision- try to convince me through the agency of your writing that whatever thesis you choose will come alive in a particular way, a remarkable way.” He smiled mischievously, just short of a wink and a nod. “In all seriousness, Micah, it is a challenge to manage the general and not become mealy mouthed, you know. What exactly did you have in mind?” “Perhaps I can’t create a thesis in short form and show you before I really commit to writing the paper.” “Oh yes- that of course is a great idea. Then come to my office hours in the Regency Center on the second floor. How is this Friday at 2:00 PM?” “That’s kind of you, professor. I promise to come, and to come prepared.” * Regency Center was an unusual complex rarely seen on a college campus. Ten years previously a new college president strode into prominence and decided to make his mark by developing a campus center that would become the social and political heart of student life on campus, something he considered to be lacking. It dominated the center of campus and was an imposing structure that dwarfed the older, original buildings of the college. The multi-story structure was part shopping mall, part social center, served as headquarters for student clubs and activities, and featured a food court. There was also a gym and exercise center; as well as squash and handball courts; with non-segregated use policies forcing teachers to share the sports facilities with the students. Most unusual- the center contained all the offices for all campus-wide professors and teaching assistants. The building design was circular, and like many hotels, each floor overlooked a giant park-like courtyard containing many places to sit scattered around a large atrium and water fountain. Some professors assigned office space in the Regency Center were disgruntled, calling the massive complex a monstrosity and gross inconvenience. Having to walk between the surrounding buildings, where all classrooms were still located, and their office in the center was considered a waste of time. The noise levels were a problem for many of them, as the construction of their office walls and floors were substandard when it came to abating extraneous noise. The traditional types clung to the quaint reasonableness that a mathematics professor should have an office in the mathematics building. But the college president wanted to break the mold of insularity and ivory tower reclusiveness that marked the attitude of old academia and force professors to enter and exit a grand social space every day that would heighten their profile and ultimately make them more accessible to students. Professor Ambrose Pierce, though, loved the complex and made it both his work and playground. He was in his element, and was thriving. A fitness buff, he was often seen playing handball with students, holding a seminar outside in the courtyard by the water fountain, and eating in the food court. Micah was punctual for his Friday meeting with Professor Pierce, arriving a few minutes before 2:00 PM. He waited outside the third floor office until the appointed time, standing in the outside hallway next to a massive column and balustrade, peering over the side and enjoying the view of the water fountain thirty feet below. He gripped tightly his smart phone waiting for a silent, rhythmic vibration to alert him as to the exact meeting time. At precisely 2:00 PM Micah knocked gently on the office door. There was no answer for several seconds and then suddenly the door was swung open to its fullest extent, Ambrose Pierce holding on to the doorknob up against the wall and gesturing with his other arm, extended out, at once welcoming and ushering Micah in to take a seat. “So good to see you once again, Micah. Please, take a seat here at this guest table. I have a spot of tea ready for us. You know, some parts of me are still definitely British. I do hope you like Darjeeling.” He smiled broadly and his eyes sparkled, an affectation he seemed to be able to switch on at will. Micah sat while Ambrose Pierce continued to stand and pour a cup of tea for his student. Micah was astounded that he was actually being served by the professor as if he were an honored guest- and there was actually a tea cozy covering the tea pot. “I’ve demerara sugar if you care for that, and the milk is tepid but not too hot,” Pierce said after pouring the steaming Darjeeling into a porcelain cup with saucer. After a minute of very small talk interspersed with a few sips of tea, Micah gave the professor a typed brief detailing the proposed thesis for the Blake term paper. Pierce put on a pair of reading glasses, held the paper in two hands, read for a minute and then set it down. He continued to thoughtfully glance at what he had just read while taking another sip of tea. “Well, do not take it personally my boy, but this is far too general. You propose a structural analysis about Albion, the Fourfold Man, describing each element, how they integrate, while elucidating their individual domains as reference in the major prophetic works of The Four Zoas and Jerusalem. Well, really, this is the Blake cosmogony in summa. “So what do you suggest, Professor Pierce?” “May I suggest you choose a single dynamic- a select axis from within the Fourfold Man, such as the opposing cardinal points of Urizen, the Intellect, and Urthona, the Zoa of Inspiration; between the zenith and the nadir. You know, dear boy- reason versus imagination. This is the sexy kernel of Blake you know.” Micah blushed and looked away for a moment. “Yes, I….I think that’s a good idea. I like that suggestion. What you say is good advice. I will regroup, do so more research and delve more deeply into the particular.” “Micah, you’re a fine lad. I’m so glad you find my advice helpful, because, really, I don’t want to force this on you. You need to find affinity with advice for it to be of use.” The two sat and took more sips of tea in a moment that was to be an interstice between the semipermeable wall of the professional and personal that sometimes characterizes teacher-student relationships at the college level. Professor Pierce’s tea cup hovered a bare inch above its saucer as he held up both close to his mouth, finishing the last quarter cup, savoring the concentrate of demerara sugar that had collected at the bottom. “Micah, before you go, I have a proposal for you. I cordially invite you to a soiree at my house tomorrow evening. A couple of Saturday nights every month I have a group of friends come over and we share conversation and wine. But it is not entirely informal. A piece of literature is chosen as the evening’s nominal topic of discussion. Perhaps you can browse through and familiarize yourself with De Profundis by Oscar Wilde. Are you familiar with it? We won’t expect too much from you, dear boy, as this is such late notice. I do apologize for that.” Micah was shocked, and in a most excited way, but tried best to hide his emotions. “Well, Professor Pierce, I will gladly accept. Umm, yes, I’ve heard of De Profundis, but am ashamed to say I have never read it. But it will tonight and will do my best to try and keep up with the group.” Thank you dear boy, and, please, don’t worry about contributing, everyone will understand. You’re a newcomer and everyone will simply be happy to have you grace our presence. But I will help you along- here- a present for you; please. Take this copy. It is yours.” Ambrose Pierce stood and walked a few steps over to a book shelf, pulling out a slim volume from between two larger tomes. The professor walked over to his desk, wrote his address and phone number on a yellow memo pad. He peeled off the top sheet, affixing the stickum to the cover of De Profundis, and finally handed both to Micah. “If you have trouble finding this address, give me a call. We’ll see you tomorrow night at 8:00 PM. Bring a bottle of wine, heh? But don’t worry if you haven’t had dinner. In fact, you will be better off coming hungry. There will be plenty of delicious food and you’ll meet a whole host of shining, new personalities of great spirit and wit.” Micah was terrified by this point, wondering how he could compete in what promised to be a bevy of high powered intellects and entertaining raconteurs. But enamored by the gracious gentility of Ambrose Pierce, and drawn by the prospects of finding kindred poetic souls in the true-to-life soiree overcame the shyness and social anxiety that often caused him to hesitate joining gatherings filled with strangers. Micah looked down at the address on the stickum, “Oh, actually I live quite close by to you. And, thank you so much for the book. I’ll read through it later and bring it with me tomorrow night.” “Ohhhh, so you live off-campus! How wonderful. We’ll see you then!” Ambrose Pierce’s smile and sparkling eyes etched indelible into Micah’s visual cortex.


Chapter XII


Each man kills the thing he loves

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,

And some when they are old,

Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

Some with the hands of Gold:

The kindest use a knife, because

The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,

Some sell, and others buy;

Some do the deed with many tears,

And some without a sigh: For each man kills the thing he loves,

Yet each man does not die.

from the Ballad of Reading Gaol Oscar Wilde


Micah left Ambrose Pierce’s office with head abuzz, feeling a sustained wind at his back pushing him onward, as if getting home quickly was somehow imperative. He was wearing a small backpack into which he could have taken a moment to stow away the book Pierce gave him, but he carried it instead. He was locked into motion and had no mind to stop for anything. The book became a measureable weight in his hand that seemed to increase in both volume and mass the longer he held it. The walk home took him thirty minutes, and by the time he opened the door to his in-law-style rear apartment, the book, a slim paperback, had become curled up with the paper binding misshapen from the force he had applied and damp, too, from hand sweat. He was a little shocked and was at wonder with his unawareness of how tightly he had been clutching it. The real burden Micah felt was the necessity to read the book, which wasn’t particularly long, but he knew very little about Oscar Wilde and wondered if he would be able to absorb its contents properly before the soiree come Saturday night. He felt as if he were on deadline to complete a pressing piece of class work. “De Profundis is a pompous sounding phrase,” thought Micah. Leafing through a Latin dictionary, he was taken aback, understanding the translation to be, “From the Depths”, or “Out of the Depths”. Opening to the foreward, Micah discovered that the title was not Wilde’s, but Wilde’s literary executor’s. Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis (“Letter: In Prison and in Chains”) had been Wilde’s semi-serious choice. Micah also hadn’t known that several authors had written works entitled De Profundis. The allusion had been a popular one in the nineteenth century, taken from Psalm 130, containing the line: A song of ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. There was too much here that Micah quickly surmised he didn’t know. Sitting at the kitchen table, smoothed the book’s cover and opened it. Micah found it curious and a little surprising that the book was actually some kind of very long letter. The whole thing initially felt odd. A feeling of deep insecurity began to infect Micah, and he felt a panic. How could he possibly fit into a small group of literati- friends a renowned English professor and art critic- if he were comparatively unread and untutored in the history of English literature, its authors, and classical languages? Surely he would come off a fool and insert his foot directly into his mouth- or someone else’s for that matter- at some course during the evening. He would have to say something to legitimize his invitation and validate his presence in such a select group, wouldn’t he? Yes, he aspired to be a poet, and of course was no stranger to books and literature, nor the creative process, but he had not spent his entire youth preparing for a soiree with university illuminati. He figured he would be the youngest in the crowd and the greenest. Micah had heard about but never really read Wilde, knowing only a little bit about the storyline associated with The Picture of Dorian Gray. This was cause for more panic. He was aware, though, that Wilde was as much a celebrity as an author- perhaps the first celebrity author; a man some proclaimed the first modern; and a gay icon. As he started delving deeply into the book, he realized that the work was a not really a piece of literature but a soul-wrenching confessional; expression of unrepentant, unrequited love; and cry of self-torment and suffering. Micah marveled that a man of upper crust breeding and an Oxford education who graced society during the height of the British Empire’s world power; an artist touched by true genius, and who had been become the most highly acclaimed British dramatist of his time, could have thrown away his life for the sake of an addicted love to a much younger man; some callow youth, leech and destroyer so completely unworthy on any account. As Micah penetrated into the heart of the letter’s first half, he became annoyed with Wilde’s star-crossed obsession for an abusive lover. He tired of the dull round for the reader who had to suffer through what seemed an endless series of break-ups and predictably ill-fated make-ups. Interspersed among the detritus of human anguish was more predictability-self-loathing- but also remarkable passages in which Wilde declares the value and nature of art in relationship to lies and truth and beauty and God and the human soul; and of suffering in the quest for a spiritual resolution to all the self-inflicted pain. The book was one long lament to his once and forever beloved-betrayer but Wilde surely knew and wished that due to both his fame and infamy, the letter as delivered to his literary executor would eventually be published, as it was not given directly to the designated recipient. Micah tried in vain to understand what would motivate a man of high genius to openly confess his gay nature in a country that would jail or exile him for such felonious homosexual acts, and also to freely describe the lurid details of a love obsession for a much younger and inferior man who was undeserving leech and charlatan, all of which led Wilde to destroy his social standing, professional station, and marriage. It also led him to be forced to abandon his children. For someone who was on top of the world and hadn’t shown prior self-destructive tendencies, it all seemed nonsensical. Furthermore, he alludes to and affirms his indulgence in trafficking in under aged “rent boys”. Given that public disclosure of private peccadilloes in 19th century England was tantamount to suicide, open admissions seemed beyond comprehensible to Micah. It was a progenitor piece of reality television, scripted between a front and back cover written before the advent of television and cinema, neatly confirming Wilde’s observation that “There is only one thing in life worse than begin talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Micah sat and read slowly and deliberately, delaying dinner and ignoring the discomfort of sitting for too long in a wooden, kitchen table chair. He felt enervated by the time it was all over, though no longer completely panicked by the prospects of having to contribute to a conversation about the book. He felt like the schoolboy he still was; satisfied in having completed an assigned homework. He got up from the kitchen table and moved to his small living room, sinking comfortably into the sofa. The sun was starting to set and it drew his attention as it glared into his right eye through its corner, warming that same side of his face. He peered back out through the kitchen to the door and windows beyond that led back outside and afforded a view to the west. The sun now assaulted both his eyes, and he squinted in reaction to the patch of yellow fire that hung heavily on the horizon, sinking into oblivion. Micah could not help but now wonder about Ambrose Pierce’s choice of De Profundis, and what it all meant. What did it tell one about the nature and purpose of the group who would be meeting together over the topic the next evening? Micah’s pondering trailed off; his tiredness overcame him. Suddenly, the sun had set, dusk had fallen, and he was asleep.


Ambrose Pierce’s home was separated from Micah’s in-law unit by a mere ten-minute’s walk. Early Saturday morning Micah awoke and seized by a sudden twitch of nerve, impulsively decided to search out the professor’s home and stalk it for clues as to what it might portend for the evening. Like a nervous teenager drawn out into the open by force of curiosity, he set out, following the local grid of suburban streets until he came to Alabaster Way. Turning on to his street of destination, he slowed his walk, swallowed back his nervousness, breathed a little more deeply, and began to scan his surroundings, eyes moving back and forth along a horizontal plane. The street’s houses boasted big square footage and luxurious amenities as compared to those in the area surrounding. Alabaster Way was its own little niche of affluence. Micah approached number fifteen, and there he stood on the sidewalk in front, with a neatly trimmed hedge standing between him and Ambrose Pierce’s front yard. That part of the house facing the street appeared to be the living room as there was a large picture window overlooking the front lawn, the border hedge and suburban street beyond. It was a contemporary looking Northern California home, covered in redwood shingles. Nothing more of the house could be seen as the tall hedge bound it in on both sides and from the front. A few yards further up and the hedge turned a corner, travelling up into the property, bordering the driveway. Micah walked slowly towards the opening to the driveway, and saw what appeared to be a brand new, red sports car, brilliantly reflecting the morning sun off its unmarred, perfectly polished surface, parked well off the street just in front of a garage. There existed no signs of anyone-nobody to be seen nor heard. The house stood in what appeared to be absolute silence. And there was nothing unusual about any of what Micah was able to discern. However much dissatisfied that he could not catch a telling glimpse of something, he was satisfied that he had at least made the effort and taking a walk to see the house in the quiet morning hours quieted his nerves.


At noon, Ambrose Pierce sent his houseboy off with a substantial shopping list, and he hoped that Chad and Jeremy would arrive on time to do the cooking and food preparation a little later in the afternoon. In the meantime, he had some time to himself. Pierce sat alone by the kidney-shaped swimming pool in the backyard, sipping blended fruit juices with fresh chunks of lime floating on top of the ice and thin slices of orange slipped into place on the glasses lip. Ambrose Pierce enjoyed socializing, and liked to think he gave the appearance as if he might even be spendthrift in giving too much of his time over to it, but he essentially lived alone and devoted most of his time to his professorial duties. Not having a family compensated for the time needed to chase both his pursuits. But Pierce also- despite his profession’s call and demand for ultimate substance- was thoroughly a master of appearances, whether it be his natty apparel, fashionable hair style, or red sports car. To his way of thinking it was all win-win. His soirees, held two Saturdays a month, were emblematic of his dual nature, and self-consciously so. They were certainly social events- and it’s questionable everyone invited would have shown if they weren’t- but there was always the professorial touch elevating the event into some sort of literary forum. But Pierce, the affable and charismatic raconteur, did not want others to consider the evening to be primarily intellectual exercise with a meal thrown in out of hospitality. He cleverly touted it to his friends as being a modern day revival of an ancient Greek Symposium; a time for men to gather to eat, drink, talk, and perhaps sing together. The talk part of the equation was nominally the substance of the event, and to jump-start the discussion Ambrose Pierce had at least in recent times favored having each event include a mini-seminar focused on a piece of literature. He would lead discussion, priming the pump with his own introduction and monitor the proceedings just in case its edge, focus, or for that matter- civility- needed some tidying up. The question usually was whether the forum was held at the beginning of the evening before the bottles of potable spirit were uncorked, or later on. Pierce kept true to the Greek Symposium by keeping it Greek and faithful to the original. He even had a sunken living room acting as an andron, with mosaic floor, tapestries surrounding as well as couches lining the border of the space. Pierce promoted his soirees as something special as should be expected from a man of his education and station- a ritualized institution where serious discussion was a necessary component. The crowning achievement for Pierce was that he could validate, iron clad, that only men were invited. This was the most important rule of any ancient Greek symposium. Adhering to the original legitimized the soiree to in fact be a symposium; faithful in keeping to the core spirit and rules of decorum. He attempted to keep the division equal between those men younger and older. And in assigning himself symposiarch, Master of both Speech and Drinking, Ambrose reserved the power to invite whom he wanted, not only based on age, but on their erudition, looks, and behavior. The modern term “looks” could be exchanged for the ancient term “beauty”, as the Greeks extolled beauty in either sex to be erotic. He drew his inductees from the university populace- including his classes- and it worked perfectly well for his purposes. Brilliant… Ambrose Pierce appeared to give some things up to chance less he came across too controlling, but he was very conscious of orchestrating events the best he could. It was his house, his invitations, his food. The role of symposiarch did not change hands as they did in ancient Greece; it remained with him and him alone. Have no doubt, Micah Hoffstetler had been singled out for a trial membership in Professor Ambrose Pierce’s coterie. And the primary test was obvious. It had to do with his sexuality; not his erudition. He was a cub being mentored by Professor Pierce. He would be introduced as a student in his first year of college and not much would really be expected of him in terms of holding up his end of a sparkling repartee. What the symposium needed was a new young man. The older men tended to stay- but the younger were more restless, did not always find the group to their liking and rotated out more often. Ambrose Pierce was not only symposium creator and host, but also in charge of human resource development. Active recruiting was the price of doing business. Micah had caught his eye; and it was always a boon to recruit a young man sincerely interested in poetry. And Micah had been so bold to let Pierce know through intimation that he fancied himself a poet. He was a bona fide prospect. Recruiting young men to a soiree with value-added intentions involved was not, Professor Pierce said to himself, exploitive. He preferred the appraisal that it provided the chance for a young man to better appreciate the arts, beauty, exercise their debate skills, and find an appreciative older man who could act as mentor in all things aesthetic. And for all this, the ancient Greeks saw the relationship between younger and older man as both natural with no bondage involved- because it was meant to be strictly temporary. Once the younger man matured, he would necessarily move on. The young man-older man tableau was a healthy piece as is part of a long list of customary scenes both young men and older men should experience as demands the fully-lived drama of life. Pierce saw that this was a valuable tradition that should be revitalized for the benefit of all men. His idea of revitalizing the ancient Greek culture in terms of the symposium would be a great boon to contemporary gay and bi-sexual men of all ages. All things else being equal, perhaps Pierce’s idea could be thought of as pioneering for his community, but equivalences rarely prevail inside complex, cross-activities which factor in large doses of sex and passion. So how could what Pierce portended in offering be taken at face value? Was Ambrose Pierce really incapable of being honest with himself, not willing to self-admit that what he was doing was nothing more than trolling for low hanging fruit, dressing it up in aesthetic seduction? He was too much of a star for others to call his motives machinations. His fans, which there were plenty of, were either in league with Pierce or sold on his brand. For those who took the bait gladly, recruiting for sexually enticing members was a patina-as-spin-off from what was in its inception a profound idea tainted by modern politically correct criticism and general paranoia. Or if they were to calm critics who labeled the symposium as being racy entertainment at core, it was explained away as a boys-will-be-boys kind of thing; and that the honest excitement was to be experienced in receiving an invitation to attend a gathering based on having met social and intellectual eligibility requirements. These were thoughts that raced through Micah’s mind. He was young, sensitive, and talented, but he was more than that. Micah was not yet worldly nor world weary. He was open to suggestion, and not overly cautious, but he was nobody’s fool. Micah was willing to see what there was to be seen and heard in the world of Professor Ambrose Pierce.


Chapter XIII


And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time; Love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his own nature infuses into the lover.

Symposium, Plato


Micah cleaned-up, chose nice but not too dressy of attire, and left home at 7:45 PM, walking blindly into the night with a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in one hand, and his copy of De Profundis in the other, headed for a social event whose complex layers would test his youthful inexperience, native presence of mind, self-confidence, and powers of objective observation. The driveway was lined on both sides with long lampadaries, ablaze and standing upright in tall holders made of forge-bent metal bars. At the bottom of each line of torches where the sidewalk turned up into the driveway stood a young man, wearing sandals and dressed in white tunic as cloaked in a golden mantle. They were like twins- with dark, curly, professionally trimmed hair, and both sported neatly trimmed beards. One approached Micah as he entered the driveway, and greeted Micah in Greek, “Πώς είσαι? Καλώς ήρθατε στο συμπόσιο,” (Hello, how are you? Welcome to the symposium.) handing him a program whose cover was graced with a colorful illustration of a group of men talking while sitting on couches in an andron. Micah was amused- and surprised; but if only for the idea of someone unsuspecting stumbling upon such a scene in an upscale suburb. But Micah was not gobsmacked to see the theatrical mind of Professor Pierce already at work in the driveway. Cars were not allowed to park in the driveway, and in their stead was rolled out a long red carpet, running up between the torch lines, stretching the driveway’s length from sidewalk to front door. Slowly walking up what could be considered the gauntlet along the carpet provided, Micah came to the front entrance, a large set of double doors which were both wide open. Just inside were several men milling about what was a large dining room that led into an even larger, modern kitchen. Ambrose Pierce was in the kitchen, peering into the oven, and the savory aroma of meat and spices, baking at 325 degrees generated a warm wind that wafted across the room into Micah’s nose. The men looked friendly enough, thought Micah, as he held up his bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This immediately caught the attention of an older man, wearing a blue silk shirt and black suit pants. He approached Micah with attentive quickness. Nodding his head, he took the bottle from Micah’s hand and chimed, “Hello, I’m Rex. You are…?” “Micah. Glad to meet you.” “Micah- very unusual name; I mean- it’s very interesting. I like it! You must be new to our group, yes?” “Yes- first time.” “Here- I’ll take the wine for you. A welcome offering!” Rex took the wine, and then suddenly paused making himself still-to-stare at something. “Perhaps a student at the university?” Rex said in mock wiliness, eyebrows furled and mouth in clown-like contortion as he made notice of the paperback in Micah’s hand. “Oh, yes, well. I was told to study up.” Rex let loose a broad, deep, and resonant laugh as might a baritone singer on the opera stage. “Such a dutiful school boy! Ambrose does bring the best out of his young apostles!” Micah was suddenly saved by Ambrose Pierce himself, who seemed to have magically appeared at Micah’s side. He put a reassuring arm around Micah’s shoulders. “Oh, Micah, I’m so glad you have arrived and, I see you have already met one of our more ebullient members. Really, you’ll have to forgive dear Rex here, he is a real rascal sometimes, but he means no harm. Now, Rex, this is Micah’s maiden voyage, and let us ease him into the fold.” Rex smiled, dipped his head down once in tacit agreement, and extended his hand out to Micah who took and shook it. “Oh, no harm meant, Micah, we are all glad to make your acquaintance.” “Micah, as punctuality is a virtue I insist upon, we will be meeting in the living room in just a few minutes. Here, let me introduce you to another university student who will act as chaperone for you tonight, Micah. I can imagine how this all might be just a little overwhelming.” Looking over the heads of the crowd, the professor called out, “Sherif! Here, Sherif!” An Adonis-like figure, tall, svelte, and with a face of such youthful beauty that the collective faces of a Classical Greek statuary would drops their jaws in wonder, approached. Micah momentarily lost his sense of calm and the liquids in the semi-circular canals in his inner ear’s vestibular system were disturbed, nearly throwing him off-balance where he stood. “Dear boy, do attend to Micah’s needs tonight, won’t you Sherif? Now, I must return to my duties as chef, and a bell will be rung when our formal discussion time is to begin.” Sherif’s mouth gave a little upturn, intimating what appeared to be a smile, but his eyes were forthright, sparkling at Micah, as if moon shine was reflecting off the quiet waters of a pure blue lake beneath clear, night skies. “Micah.” Sherif said quite slowly, his eyes appearing to peer back into his thoughts as if attempting to decipher a semaphore he just received in transmission. “That is the name of a Jewish prophet,” he spoke calmly and clearly, a mask behind which burned controlled intensity. “The Old Testament Micah was a little younger than Isaiah and prophesied to Israel during the reign of many kings. He was moved by the social wrongs of his times, and sympathized deeply with the common people. In fact, he became their advocate and defender. He proclaimed the wickedness of Judah and Israel; prophesied their destruction as punishment from God; their eventual restoration; and even the coming of Christ.” Sherif looked up Micah as if something very special had just happened, seeking out concurrence. “Micah- who gave you this very illustrious name?” “I…I’m not sure, Sherif. Perhaps my father. We never spoke about the meaning behind things in our family.” Sherif cocked his head a mere degree that might have been twenty. “How completely tragic.” Sherif again spoke slowly; clearly; every word marked. His head moved back a degree to a plumb and square bearing. “You might wonder about how I know.” “Know about the prophet Micah?” asked Micah. “You obviously have read the Bible. That much I gather.” “Have you read the Bible?” inquired Sherif. Micah searched for how to say something akin to something closer to none. “On occasion.” Sherif finally offered a true smile, exposing a set of teeth God-given perfect, unmarred by the signs of orthodontia. “I know more than the average. I’m a classics major at the university. And you, I assume you attend as well.” “I do. I’m taking Professor Pierce’s Romantic Poetry class.” “I met Professor Pierce in similar fashion. Last year I took his The Bible as Literature class.” “Are you prepared for tonight’s discussion?” “You look nervous, Micah. Try not to be, though in all honesty, it comes with ones’ initiation into the group. True, a direct question might be asked of you, but that’s all part of the fun of your first night. Try and enjoy it. There are plenty of men here who enjoy talking- sometimes far too much- so the spotlight won’t be thrown your way due to expected competition for the spotlight, you know. And Professor Pierce is a fair and adroit symposiarch. He won’t allow agreements- if they do occur- to escalate into ad hominem attacks.” “That’s a relief. I’m no English scholar- though I hope to be. Symposiarch- I see that Pierce is called that here in the program. I suppose that means presider.” “Well, that’s a bit formal sounding, as if we were holding a forensics tournament. I prefer to think of it as ‘the leader of a convivial gathering’. That is the true meaning as comes down to us from Plato’s Symposium.” Micah was now feeling more relieved than not, but he was still on edge. Suddenly there was a loud ringing of a sizable brass bell, and Ambrose Pierce’s voice rang from the kitchen. “Let us convene, good men!” “Come let’s find a comfortable place to sit together,” said Sherif. Taking Micah’s arm and leading him towards the sunken living room- the vaunted andron. The entire first floor of the house was finished with hardwood flooring, and it squeaked and groaned a bit as nineteen men traipsed across the main living room into the remote section that was sunken and had direct view of the backyard pool as seen through tall rectangular windows. This was the andron. And once on the edge of the descending steps into the andron. the mosaic floor appeared in the midst of five surrounding couches. The mosaic was something special; a decorative touch meant to enthrall. It was a piece of art, too, and even though it was a replica, had been required the work of fine artisans and as such Professor Pierce had spared no expense. It was a professionally rendered facsimile of an ancient Greek floor mosaic, made with a dozen different types of stones of a variety of colors interspersed with terracotta and colored glass tesserae. The duplicate featured the nine Muses in portrait, copied from a 2,200 year-old mosaic recently excavated and restored in an archeological dig in Zuegma, Turkey. All the men took seats on couches surrounding the mosaic, which was eight feet square. Inscribed inside the square was a circle, and within that, eight more geometrically similar lesser circles. Each smaller circle contained a head and shoulder portrait of a muse, and was co-tangent to two neighboring muses as well as to the circumference of the greater circle. The eight lesser circles created a center figure outline that was a concave octagon, both regular and symmetrical. Muse Calliope was placed in the center of the octagon, circled by her eight sisters. Professor Ambrose Pierce was the last to descend into the andron, and remained standing while all the men jostled about, choosing a suitable place to sit and which men to sit with. Her pursed the tips of his fingers and thumbs of his right hand to their corresponding counterparts of his left. He had taken off his shoes and walked barefoot, his bleached white feet standing in ultimate contrast with his black levis pants and black turtleneck knit. He patiently waited for everyone to settle in and then started to speak. “I honor your presence, and before we share some notable news concerning our group, let us remember before whom we sit, and who they are all who bless our collective imaginations and inspirations- the Nine Muses.” Pierce had already fully inhabited his lead role, and aligning his feet in slight variation of ballet’s second position, he gracefully bent at the hips, his back as straight as an arrow, and with outstretched arm and poised hand, pointed to the mosaic below him upon whose one corner he stood. “Let us acknowledge these goddesses as not only the inspiration in literature, science, mathematics, geography and the arts, but also as the nine women, who, like our mothers, are always with us in spirit. We as a symposium of men pay our respects to the women who cannot share such an occasion. “We recognize Calliope at center; she is the greatest of the nine sisters; the finest of the nine Muses. She is the protector of Epic poetry and the arts, and for most of us here tonight, that elevates her importance all the more for we are to be counted mostly as poets and artists. And it is no matter if it is by vocation, or avocation. A poet is a poet is properly measured by the flames of his passion and trajectories of his thought. “Let us further recall that each sister personifies a field of knowledge of an art. Each is symbolized by an emblematic object. Calliope, Goddess of epic poetry carries the writing tablet. Clio carries the scroll as she is Goddess of History. Euterpe is lyric poetry’s Goddess, carrying aulos, the Greek flute. Thalia, Goddess of comedy and pastoral poetry holds the comic mask. Melpomene is Goddess of tragedy, and carries the tragic mask. Terpsichore plays her lyre as she is the Goddess of Dance. Erato plucks her cithara and is Goddess of love poetry. Polyhymnia has in hand a veil, as she is Goddess of sacred poetry. Finally, Urania is home to the globe and compass, and is astronomy’s Goddess. “We cannot say in certainty from whose loins these inspirations burst forth. Some say they are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Others say they were borne of two Titans- Uranus and Gaea, making them primordial goddesses. I propose we vote later tonight and secure a date wherein we can discuss the origins of the Nine Muses. “So as we enter into our featured discussion tonight, shall we keep in mind the sources of inspiration that move within and without us; who lay before us in this beautiful, iconic mosaic that embodies the spirit of ancient Greece; and while we may sharpen our tongues in preparation for sharing opinions that may spark strong disagreement, let us not forget that we can respond and yield simultaneously; relax and make more flexible the borders of our souls before we speak; enough to better receive the philosophical and spiritual offerings that the Nine Muses forever bare for posterity, if only we are open to them. “Let me now my good friends welcome a new member tonight. I am so happy to introduce him to all of you. This is Micah Hoffstetler- please stand Micah. Micah is an aspiring poet and is a student of mine at the university. He shows an earnest desire to carry forth the spirit as embodied by the Nine Muses. Please show him a warm reception and do introduce yourselves individually tonight after the discussion.” Micah stood and actually smiled, nodding his head in appreciation to the warm applause the group gave him. He was beginning to feel at home. Professor Ambrose Pierce demonstrated great skill as symposiarch, sublimating his more theatrical side most often encountered in the lecture hall, which surprised Micah. Micah took him to be naturally over-the-top when on stage. But the Nine Muses introduction struck Micah, and he could see that the professor understood that presenter, presider, and lecturer were all unique roles which he had mastered. His opinion of Pierce began to soar. Professor Pierce proceeded: “I have asked you all tonight to read De Profundis, the letter written in the Reading gaol as addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas by Oscar Wilde in 1897. As we are men who believe that the love between men remains today more taboo than celebrated for the time honored, noble affection that it is, let me frame our issue, at least as a point of initial reference, by reading a quote from the Trial of Oscar Wilde. Wilde being tried at the Old Bailey, and is in the dock, as they called it- on the witness stand- answering charges from the both the prosecution and the judge. What I am about to read is an exchange between the trial judge and Wilde: “What interpretation,” asked the judge, “can you give us to the verse: ‘I am the Love which dares not tell its name’ ” “The Love referred to”, replied Wilde, “is that which exists between a man of mature years and a young man, the love of David and of Jonathan. It is the same love that Plato made the basis of his philosophy; it is that love which is sung in the Sonnets of Shakespeare and of Michaelangelo; it is a profound spiritual affection, as pure as it is perfect. It is beautiful, pure and noble; it is intellectual, the move of a man possessing full experience of life, and of a young man full of all the joy and all the hope of the future.” “I will start the round of discussion by offering a polemic, and then, please, give me your response. The love between Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas- whom we should maybe better call “Bosie;” the love of an older man for a younger man; was neither noble nor pure. What drew Oscar and Bosie together created a toxic relationship which ultimately destroyed Oscar Wilde. And for that personal destruction, it was ignoble in effect, and cannot be considered on par with the love of David and of Jonathan.” Professor Pierce paused and looked around the andron. After several seconds of nervousness, the ice breaker arrived in full force. Remaining seated, an older man named Marcus began to speak, “Oh, let’s not judge Oscar and Bosie’s love based on a tragic outcome. Oscar’s true love was Bosie, independent of nobleness, purity, or even the obsessive quality of prolonging a failed relationship that led to Oscar’s downfall. What’s is clear, here, is the paradox that love overcomes all, because Oscar remained in love with Bosie until the end. Even when love leads to tragedy, if it is true, it remains and proves transcendental and worth dying for.” Professor Ambrose Pierce smiled wryly and was excited to hear an opening line that was sure to provoke debate. “And who would like to counter this polemic as to the transcendental power of love?” A young man sitting in the couch next to where Pierce was standing stood up and set forth his argument, “Pure and noble love? Does it really, in fact, truly exist? No matter your sexual orientation, love is a basic human need, and is in that sense, universal. Our choice of sexual partners and for what pleasures we seek is individual, and if we must fight for the right of man-to-man love, that is wholly another argument. Some believe the ancient Greeks promoted so-called Platonic love- touted as the greatest of loves- the man-for-a-man. But we are now moderns- living in the 21st century. Is anyone love any greater than another? Again- I ask; does pure and noble love exist other than as an ideal? Freud and Jung and Maslow; psycho-analysis, the collective unconscious, and humanistic psychology; these are the tips of a spear that we now have as intellectual weapons with which we can war upon the ignorance of those who idealize love. Co-dependent relationships are well-documented and well-understood. Addictions for romance, sex, and for relationships are the subject of endless books published in the last quarter century. The reason is because almost all relationships- at least in the modern sense- fall into one of those categories of failure. Oscar Wilde held an entirely idealized, unrealistic view of love. In fact, for all his literary genius, he knew nothing about love. He was destroyed by his ignorance.” Sherif turned to look at Micah, who by this point was staring at the speaker with amazement, as he looked so young- too young it would seem, to deliver a brilliant reply, extemporaneously. “Who is that?” asked Micah. “Donatello- we call him Donny.” Professor Pierce was becoming animated, excited by the quick start to the discussion, which was rapidly becoming febrile in temperature. “So we have the ideal versus the realistic. A classic thesis-anti-thesis. So-logically moving on- is there a synthesis, or would someone else care to show support for either side?” “It’s really a lurid disgrace- the whole story,” blurted out an older man, cue ball bald with a long, black beard fringed with gray. “It’s a story of human bondage, and it only serves to denigrate both the gay and NAMBLA communities. I mean- the Oscar Wilde scandal only served to make it that much harder for gays to come out; for homosexuality to be accepted. For man-boy love to be accepted.” “Oh, Charles, I don’t think that is necessarily so,” said Rex. “If not, it didn’t help. Trafficking in sex with sixteen-year old boy prostitutes; you know, the Rent Boys; when the penalties are considerable, was self-indulgent on Wilde’s part,” responded Charles. “Legally, I trust you know what the laws were in 19th century England; but what about morally? Should we judge Wilde and label him immoral?” challenged Marcus. Charles shook his head. “Here’s the thing. Oscar Wilde was in a position to influence society at large in a quest to promote gay rights. He was a celebrity; a widely admired artist; he commanded the attention of much of the public- at least in London. Listen to this quote from De Profundis. He took out a piece of paper from this shirt pocket, unfolded it impatiently and read:” The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colours of things: there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder: I took the drama, the most objective form known to art, and made it as personal a mode of expression as the lyric or the sonnet, at the same time that I widened its range and enriched its characterisation: drama, novel, poem in rhyme, poem in prose, subtle or fantastic dialogue, whatever I touched I made beautiful in a new mode of beauty: to truth itself I gave what is false no less than what is true as its rightful province, and showed that the false and the true are merely forms of intellectual existence. I treated Art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mode of fiction: I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram. “He certainly had no shortage of belief in his powers and influence, did he?” Charles delivered a rhetorical challenge to the group. “So what is the social use of such genius? Of such power and influence? He never grew in spirit enough to take those amenities and put them to work for a higher purpose. He never thought of his fellow gays as part of a community; nor himself as a part of that same community. He was a dandy who pursued pleasure, period.” Professor Pierce stepped in. “I hesitate to interrupt and tell me if I am in error to propose a redirect. I see a good opportunity here- may we return to my call for a Hegelian analysis? Let us forget further charging Oscar Wilde personally for the time being. But can we learn from Wilde’s fateful actions and those actions he did not take? So between the ideal and the real- is there a bridge perhaps that can be built between the two using Charles’ argument calling for the artist to assume more social responsibility? Can the love ideal be reconstituted if artists- people who at least know a lot about beauty, which naturally leads to love- become social activists for the oppressed, using their fame and their work as weapons in the struggle? If the real is fallen and barren, can artists assist in a resurrection?” Micah was surprised and stirred as Sherif rose to speak. “I don’t think that we should stray too far from the our subject so early in our discussion- we are just beginning to explore Oscar Wilde and De Profundis. We can attest to the power of artists in the 19th century who bravely spoke out against social inequities and assumed the mantle of social activist- such as Emile Zola in France- but I am more interested in the tragedy of Wilde’s fall. Well, actually- his, Bosie’s, and Wilde’s family as well. “Even though there were a few bold trail blazers who actually wrote about “the love that dare not tell its name,” such as John Henry Mackay, who wrote The Hustler and The Anarchists: A Picture of Civilization at the Close of the Nineteenth Century, Wilde was living in a world hostile to homosexuality called the British Empire, with iron clad rule of law and where homosexuality was illegal. His pursuit of personal pleasure perhaps provided him with a vicarious excitement, as it took him underground and into places he ultimately found stimulating for his art. We cannot excoriate him for failing to take on a homophobic society; he chose to pursue art, truth, and beauty as he lived it. I think his actions spoke for themselves. He made a choice, and however socially irredeemable or self-destructive, they are part of the Wilde aesthetic that is reflected equally in his art and life. We learn more to see the tragedy of his life, and his early death, and realize that his life was cut short. We can only speculate on him becoming an activist if his life could have had a second act. We learn less when we fault him for not contributing as a social activist.” There was one counselor in the group, a constitutional lawyer named Raphael who taught at the university. For the mention of the illegality of homosexuality, he was well-prepared. He stood and opening a leather bound notebook, proceeded to edify all: “A brief historical overview for you all: In England, Henry VIII enacted The Buggery Act in 1533, which established buggery- defined as anal penetration and bestiality- as a felony punishable by hanging. The death penalty remained in place until 1861- over three hundred years- with the last two men convicted and sentenced put to death in 1835. The Offences against the Person Act of 1861 reduced sentencing to life imprisonment. In 1885 there was public outrage in London over a perceived increase in female prostitution, and as an amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill which was actually written to protect women from brothels, prostitution, and human trafficking, the Labouchere Amendment was passed- even though it targeted homosexuals and had nothing to do with female prostitution- and its text reads as follows: Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour. “There are more details here, of course, but it was under this amendment that Oscar Wilde was prosecuted in 1895. He was accused of having sex with over twelve young men between `1892 and 1894 and was sentenced to two years’ hard labor. Sexual acts between two adult males, with no other people present, were made legal in England and Wales in 1967. “It’s also interesting to note that in the 1980’s and 1990’s gay rights organizations made attempts to equalize the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals, which had previously been 21 for homosexuals but only 16 for heterosexual acts. By the year of 2000, the ages had been equalized to 16.” It was Professor Marion White’s turn to speak. He was the group’s intellectual elder, both chronologically and in terms of the respect he commanded. Well, in all honesty, some of the respect was couched in fear. Also a member of the university community, he was a classics professor of long standing. As was his custom, he paused at length before spinning out his verbal compendium; all the while unsmiling; making good use of a double-pregnant pause, after which he surveyed the group as a king would his court, with the members under his scrutiny never sure if his large and rueful eyes betrayed misanthropic condescension, or perhaps just a world weariness that was mistaken for balefulness. Micah felt as if he were just another one of Marion’s little fools, and rather squirmed under the old man’s gaze. As for everyone else, they prepared themselves for the lengthy lecture to follow. “We can better than speculate on Wilde’s spiral into oblivion. Perhaps truth is always asymptotic, but we can approach the truth of his life quite closely as nakedly expressed in the various forms his writing took. His oeuvre portended his true-to-life denouement. In one example, he presaged De Profundis- a confessional- with a piece of earlier art criticism- the Socratic dialog-constructed aesthetic on art, The Critic as Artist. One quote found therein frames an initial investigation for us: ‘We cannot go back to the saint. There is far more to be learned from the sinner. We cannot go back to the philosopher, and the mystic leads us astray.’ “With Wilde we have the Englishman who, like his French contemporaries, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, embraced the New Hedonism. The New Hedonism advocated a life of passionate personal experience, to be enjoyed most fully in youth, when the senses were sharpest. ‘Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us,’ said Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray. This was a time in the spiritual development of western man when the proverbs now came from hell, not heaven. It was a romantic urge, the release of Prometheus; a product of the time- and one poetic progenitor of this was William Blake- and so we pay deference to Professor Pierce now, who in his Proverbs of Hell writes, ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’. “But Wilde carried this proverb to the next logical place. He did not seek wisdom as if it were a means to an end, but rather pleasure itself. As Blake was one who lived more in the fantastical projections of his imagination- an idealized space; which was his form of excess; Wilde desired the concrete pleasure as experienced through the senses. Blake did not allow himself such pleasures. Again, Wilde writes in The Critic as Artist, ‘The Greeks were a nation of artists, because they were spared the sense of the infinite. Like Aristotle, like Goethe after he had read Kant, we desire the concrete, and nothing but the concrete can satisfy us.’ “Wilde is in part interesting because he was an accomplished critic before he was a novelist or dramatist. If we are to admonish him for hot being a social activist who fought the good fight for his kind, I would proffer that while a critic he struggled and with good effect on another front. The prevailing demands of Victorian literary critics were to subject literature to moral scrutiny and judge it according to its social utility. Wilde fought to free modern literature from such strictures. “One example of what Wilde considered anathema was the prominent critic Matthew Arnold’s so-called Touchstone Method, which introduced scientific objectivity to critical evaluation of poetry. He believed that to best judge a poet’s work, a critic should compare it to passages taken from works of great poetic masters, and that these passages should be applied touchstones to the poetry being judged. Finally, he would have us all eschew most poetry that did not sufficiently pass the touchstone test. Reading it was not worth our time, he said. An example of the severe strictness of this method is as follows: even Shakespeare fails the test of being a most highly ranked poet because he thought too much of expression and too little of conception. Yet another: Shelly and Pope are barred entry to the top ranks because they ‘lack seriousness’. Wilde’s response to this was to satirize the Touchstone Method in The Portrait of Mr. W.H. “Now to De Profundis, and how his downfall is foreshadowed in his writing. We can see in this confessional document that life imitates art. The roles played by Wilde and his lover, Bosie, are presaged in the characters found in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Take the three main characters in the novel: Basil, Lord Henry, and Dorian Gray. “Dorian Gray is a symbolic personification of both Dionysian intoxication and Apollonian form; of Dionysian involvement and Apollonian unapproachability. He is able to enjoy the Dionysian pleasures to which he wants to abandon himself, but at an Apollonian distance. “Lord Henry and Basil are both enthralled by Dorian. In the case of Lord Henry, he sees that Dorian has what he has not- youth- and suppressing his Dionysian side chooses to live vicariously through the life of Dorian. Instead of seeing Dorian as symbolizing his need to involve himself in life, he contents himself with philosophic contemplation. He feels it is sufficient to experience his own life through Dorian’s. He has persuasive powers over Dorian, too. Lord Henry is like the devil sitting atop a man’s shoulder, constantly whispering into his ear. He tells Dorian that art is superior to life, and to disconnect himself from the suffering he causes people by regarding the horrors of life- including the one’s he creates- as a spectator experiencing a dramatic tragedy, thus protecting oneself from pain. Hence he advises Dorian, ‘To become the spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life.’ This proxy existence of Lord Henry’s is an experiment which the novel traces the consequence of to the end. “Basil, on the other hand, is a tortured soul. He is the artist that paints the picture of Dorian Gray. He sees his best work as stemming from his passion for a young man- Dorian- whom he sees as a Prince of Life. Without Dorian’s inspiration, he could not paint. Basil, too, has repressed the Dionysian side of his personality. Only through Dorian can Basil feel that he is alive. And instead of seeking to develop the Dionysian side of his own personality, he seeks to perpetuate his experience through art. “Basil is punished by Dorian-cum-Dionysos for not giving expression to his Dionysian side, and by Dorian-cum-Apollo for thinking too highly of his art. The Picture of Dorian Bray traces the consequence of Basil’s artistic idolatry. “Coming back to Wilde’s ill-fated love for Bosie- Basil represents Wilde, and Dorian, Bosie. Like Basil feels about Dorian, Wilde does about Bosie: “My life as an artist depends on him.” Wilde, like Basil, perceives himself as one who perpetuates his experience through the medium of art; not life, and that Bosie- his Dorian- beckons that he give himself over to the New Hedonism. Wilde is fascinated and obsessed with Bosie, however shallow and anti-intellectual he is. “But in the end, Basil cannot countenance Dorian’s cold, antipathy towards those he has ruined, and putting aside his infatuation for Dorian, entreaties Dorian to repent and seek redemption. For this, Dorian murders him. Wilde sees himself as Basil, attempting to humanize his inspiration. De Profundis can be seen as a long lament, for Wilde had beseeched Bosie numerous times over the course of their relationship to show more empathy, and because he remained callously self-serving, the couple broke up many times. But Wilde always took back a whimpering, simpering Bosie. Because of their failure, all that is left for Wilde is a lament and a search for acceptance of what has come to past.” There was a slight murmur and hush among the group after Marion finished. His inevitable contribution was mostly perceived as the modus operandi by which the professor could dictate the course of the discussion due to his opinion’s sweeping scope and shear length. He was always a hard act to follow. But Timothy, a precocious, self-assured psychology student, came off the mark smartly, and like a quick halfback passed the pigskin, saw some daylight and shot the gap. “I will piggy-back on what Professor White has said and attempt to translate parts of his analysis into modern psychological terms. “Oscar Wilde was an easy mark for Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde, for all his artistic genius, was ill-equipped to deal with the real-life consequences of investing everything into idolizing a romantic ideal. He in fact dehumanized Bosie and transformed him into the youthful embodiment of Greek perfection- something other than a true-to-life human being. But in doing so, he immediately experienced the all-too human inadequacies of becoming dependent on a callow, narcissistic youth.” Timothy carried a text, and opened it. “In De Profundis Wilde writes, ‘In your case, one had to either to give up to you or to give you up. There was no alternative.’ Moving on: ‘…through an artistic aversion to coarse scenes and ugly words; through that incapacity to bear resentment of any kind which at that time characterized me; through my dislike of seeing life made bitter and uncomely by what to me, with my eyes really fixed on other things, seemed to be mere trifles too petty for more than a moment’s thought or interest- through these reasons, simple as they may sound, I gave up to you always’. “Wilde’s natural temperament was to avoid confrontation and pain. He always wanted to look on the sunny side of life and preferred to believe that pleasure could be pursued without regard a potential hijacking by the dark side of experience. In contemporary terms, Wilde and Bosie were involved in an addictive relationship, one that was formed by two people sick with their own separate addictions. As is common to say these days- they enabled each other. Wilde’s addiction is easy to identify: It was a romance addiction. Sex was not central to their relationship. Wilde was addicted to the ideals of romance and the gifts conferred by youth in terms of beauty and pleasure. Wilde’s desire was to experience everything in life, and that all experiences were material for his art. As for Bosie’s initial love for Wilde, Wilde experienced it as an homage, among other things. ‘All homage is delightful to an artist, and doubly sweet when youth brings it. Laurel and bay leaf wither when aged hands pluck them. Only youth has a right to crown an artist. That is the real privilege of being young, if youth only know it.’ Another telling quote that shows Wilde succumbing to the romantic tragedy of their relationship as if he willingly invited pain into his life was: ‘I knew you have feet of clay. Who knew it better? When I wrote, among my aphorisms, that I was simply the feet of clay that made the gold of the image precious, it was of you I was thinking.’ “Lord Alfred Douglas- Bosie- became and remained the love of Wilde’s life. Wilde remained committed to him, despite all of Bosie’s faults, which were substantial. Some see this as a saving grace, but Bosie remained abusive of Wilde up until Wilde’s death; leeched off of him; and a threw terrible fits if Wilde did not give him what he wanted. Bosie lived beyond his means as he was a member of the aristocracy and didn’t understand the value of money. He expected Wilde to foot every bill even though Wilde came from respectable yet certainly less well-off family. One glaring fault of Wilde was that not only did he give in to Bosie on almost every account, but he would not have ever involved himself with Bosie if Bosie had not been of the upper class. Both were fatally arrogant, classist, reckless, and extravagant.” Ambrose Pierce stood forward for a moment, capturing the groups attention once more. “Marcus, after all that’s just been said, due you still believe true love is dying for? Do you still believe Oscar and Bosie had a true love?” “Yes, I really do. Even with all their weaknesses taken as a whole, I still don’t believe we can denigrate the love they had for each other, even though it turned tragic. Their personal faults would have existed with or without their love for each other. The love was real; and so were the imperfections. Love does not always win, but it overcomes because it lives on, even when the body has fallen away.” Charles shook his big, bald cranial vault and his beard along with it. “Using each other as they did, does denigrate love. Tragedy results when love doesn’t overcome simply because a disease in the relationship destroys it. We have not yet talked about what Wilde was actually arrested for. Lord Alfred Douglas was a boy monger; he trafficked in rent boys; he supplied Wilde with male prostitutes who were as young as 16. These boys were, of course, not upper crust private school boys out on weekend larks. They were expendable and disposable- both for Wilde and Douglas. Both Wilde and Douglas were classist Dandies, and took full advantage of their social status in London society, at a time that Britain was a world power. You can celebrate their relationship and split hairs as to whether there was love there or not, but Wilde fell on his own petard. He did confess to his recklessness in De Profundis, but not in a complete way- not as concerns the full exploitation of rent boys. “Are you passing judgment on prostitution as being immoral? And actually, Oscar and Bosie symbolized how homosexual love could germinate without jealousy,” challenged Marcus. “Maybe I am passing judgment. One’s views on prostitution doesn’t necessarily follow a prescribed viewpoint as attributed to one’s sexual orientation. And I certainly think that many gays experience jealousy as well. I return to what I first said at the beginning of our discussion. Wilde’s desires included but were not limited to gay love. He was pursuing pleasure for hire. He was not motivated strictly by the noble and pure love of an older man for a younger boy. Lust was involved as well, and that was his undoing. His arrest had to do with having sex with male prostitutes; including under aged boys. He did no favors for the gay community in doing so; no favors for those who would have liked to have come out after that historical period. Sex between males was not made legal in England until 1967. I think there is good reason to believe that without Wilde’s escapades, revision of the law could have happened sooner.” Micah sat in rapt attention, but remained silent, listening intently to the men, and absorbing the environment in toto through all his senses. The discussion continued, but had peaked. Several minutes later it was obvious the men’s interests were waning and their attentions had shifted to their stomachs. Ambrose Pierce provided his closing summary, and a short discussion pursued during which the group decided on the next piece of literature, book, or topical theme to be explored for the next symposium. The meeting was then adjourned. It was a pensive group that retired to the dining room for the symposium dinner. Most of the men were craving a glass of wine after having to confront representative struggles of historical significance that they knew too well all men of their kind faced, so often suffered from during times of aloneness and anonymity, and on a daily basis. Delving deeply into the trial of Oscar Wilde which to this day carries with it infamy and notoriety was painful for some. But the analysis and concerns touched on the controversial matter beyond the simple matter of bigotry towards and legal persecution of homosexuality. Self-destructive behavior was really the crux of the discussion, and as such gays engage in such behavior in perhaps their own peculiar ways. Or perhaps not? Were pseudo relationships dynamics slightly a breed apart from heterosexual? Should gays be wary of pitfalls common to their own kind? For example, there existed a division among them as to the rightfulness of promiscuity, which all of them knew gays are accused and manifestly proud of practicing with zeal. Did gays engage in freely open sexual relationships more often than others; and was this the cause of identifiable problems for their primary relationships. Were, in fact, gays less prone to jealousy? Fidelity- did gay men factor it into relationships differently and consider it less a virtue than heterosexuals? And what of prostitution? Perhaps it is a vice that should be legal, but is it ethical for a sixteen-year old boy to engage in such acts? What was the proper age? Finally, Charles had mentioned NAMBLA. The love of an older man for a younger boy was considered the highest ideal of love according to Plato- or at least some believed his texts as translated from the Greek said as much. And certainly Ambrose Pierce’s symposium revitalization existed in part to facilitate and celebrate this principle, but age was necessarily a consideration. The group had never invited a member younger than the age of eighteen. It would not be illegal, per se, but if a young man younger than the age of consent or his family had filed suit against someone in the group for some form of sexual abuse it would surely destroy the lives of more than one person in the group- including Ambrose Pierce’s. Pierce had not been happy to hear NAMBLA’s name uttered by Charles, and he did what he could to dissuade mention of the group without appearing to invoke censure or censor. But the symposium was his group, and there were some guidelines he enforced, albeit by intimation more often than not. The group had to be considered part of the university culture, however much an outlier, because almost all of its members were affiliated with or attended the university. Legitimacy was conferred on the group because of the association. This gave Pierce and the group some social shelter, too, because the university was as socially laissez-faire as any in the nation, and after all, this was the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Dinner was always relished as Ambrose Pierce was a real foody. The menu was always different and the recipes often of his own creation. It was self-serve in the kitchen where the mouth-watering aromas laid siege to every ones’ senses once the lids were removed from their serving vessels and the savor of the night’s repast carried aloft in a heated rush. The men crowded around the food, filled their plates, and then moved to the dining room table where they could grab a wine glass and pour themselves a glass as chosen from at least a score of bottles, some having just been corked. The men were free to mill about and sit where they wanted. Several chose to eat in the backyard poolside, sharing chaise lounges or sitting together at one of four circular patio umbrella tables. Micah chose to eat his food, for which he was very hungry, and drink his wine outside. It was a beautiful evening. The moonless sky was filled with stars and so clear that the milky way could be seen brushed white across the entirety of the night behind a star-studded foreground. He walked through the door in the kitchen that lead outside and then to the far side of the pool which was lit by several underwater lamps, and took a seat at a wooden umbrella table. Behind him was lavish greenery that had been planted along the length of the fence that bordered the rear of the pool and Pierce’s property. Before and during the customary parade of long-standing members came his way, often times in pairs, paying the obligatory courtesy call to a new member, Micah began to withdraw into himself; falling into deep reflection which was perhaps his most natural way of being; his most natural self. Naturally he wondered if the group thought he was gay; if Pierce thought he was gay. And if he did not even offer a muted, inexpressive intimation in the affirmative, would he even be invited back? Micah mused if he were gay, but he didn’t feel much of an affinity for sex of any orientation. Perhaps he would become gay someday. It didn’t much matter. He felt too young to know the difference, somehow. He surmised it was odd, but there were a lot of odd things that he not only was, but wasn’t. Micah had never had a truly intimate relationship with either a man or a woman. He valued his friends, but perhaps he had learned from this father that keeping an Apollonian distance and not easily giving oneself over to someone else was always wise. After all, sex is always dangerous. Looking up at the sky, Micah spotted the constellation Orion directly above him. The ancient Greeks will always be with, he thought. And Orion was the most magnificent; the most recognizable; the most life-like. Micah remembered peering one time through a friend’s telescope at the hazy patch below Orion’s belt. “Oh my God- a swirling kaleidoscope of colors!” he exclaimed. It was the Orion Nebula, a mass of interstellar gas that served as a nursery for the birth of new stars. Orion was a great hunter, and perhaps due of his prowess and skill at killing, his fate was sealed. Many stories attributed to the birth, life, and death of Greek mythological giants, and this, too, was true of Orion. One story tells of Orion’s desire to hunt and kill all the earth’s wild animals. Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth- mother nature herself- commanded Scorpius, who became immortalized as the constellation constantly chasing Orion across the sky, to hunt down Orion and slay him. Gaia’s will was done. So it is that the hunter becomes the hunted.


Chapter XIV


"It is better to go to a house of mourning, than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man. And the living takes it to heart."

Ecclesiastes 7:2

“I love that the great state of California will help me die,” Ulrich Hoffstetler mumbled to himself, reading an email on his smart phone sent from Erika Jansen. Her third and final application for access to a lethal injection drug and permission to administer it to Ulrich Hoffstetler had been approved, and she was passing on the news. The darkness of night was lifting gradually, transforming into early dawn, and was beginning to make its photo-imprint on the curtains of his bedroom windows. Hoffstetler lay on his back, head cocked to its side, staring at the face of his phone which had lit his face with the light of ephemeral images that would be the world’s electronic likeness. Hoffstetler’s night full of dreams having just passed were beginning to rapidly fade in memory, and he chastised himself because he had already promised himself to focus on them upon awakening, but he had foolishly turned to his phone instead. He doubled back on his dreams, dropped his phone on the bed and strained to remember and make sense of a single face, a solitary scene, a lone narrative; however fragmentary or surreal; desperate for any reminiscence that might stick and connect him to something, anything; even if it could only be considered a chimera. In the last remaining days, Hoffstetler surmised the subconscious should begin to steadily rise in prominence, supplanting the hegemony of the conscious, and begin the race to build a bridge to that world the soul shall inhabit before being usurped by the unconscious; by coma and a death experience without the optimal transition. “I want to step across the bridge from a conscious or sub-conscious state; not an unconscious one,” he thought. This was willfulness that fed off wishful thinking, and not within the purview of choice for most men. Hoffstetler preferred to believe death by lethal injection to be a rapid enough process that it would qualify as transition from the conscious- not the unconscious. And this would give him control over at least one aspect of death that he considered advantageous. Had he not read the chronicles in the books concerning deathbed visions? For this man who had buried his own wife and child, and had grown so old that nearly everyone whom he had ever known was dead, such thoughts did arise. What there was to look forward to was not death itself, but one last aspect of life; life’s final journey and offering- that being the journey across the bridge that links the living and the dead. It is the responsibility of every living person to study the process of death; and investigate all its mechanics, both explainable and otherwise. Was it that Ulrich Hoffstetler didn’t know, that when the chosen candidate for death is seen pointing towards or even rising up to gaze at what appears to be a ghost unseen by anyone else and a wave of ecstasy passes through and over them; their eyes filled with joy and pacific wonderment; that this deathbed vision happens during the very act of expiring? How then can this be fulfilled; how is it that such a process be allowed to take place if the drugs present in a lethal injection during the administration of euthanasia are allowed to control the passage across the bridge? Hoffstetler’s thinking was becoming muddled, and for this he was not completely aware. But he did seem to recall one face surrounded by a few others from one final dream. They were not photographic faces but rather cartoonish. The central figure was the self-portrait of the painter Otto Dix in the haunting Neue Sachlichkeit painting To Beauty (An die Schönheit). If there really was an onset of dementia, it had yet to affect Hoffstetler’s ability to scour his subconscious. The figures in To Beauty are rendered conventionally- unsentimental and socially typecast. And of course, there is no beauty to be found. These were an earmark of Neue Sachlichkeit aesthetics; so much so that one did not have to be more than a casual observer of art to recognize it. What it told Hoffstetler was that his dream had not penetrated far into his subconscious memory. Dix himself held a telephone. The call had yet to be made it seemed. He stood coldly with cruel menace, surrounded by corrupted pieces of humanity; but still sidling up with telephone in hand. When would the call be made? When would the gatekeepers unlock the portal to make possible the next leg of the subconscious journey? Hoffstetler fervently hoped to be dreaming about his mother soon again, and however strange and surreal it would feel real like the night when he dreamt of them walking along the River Main in front of the Städel Museum. Perhaps it was a signpost that soon he would be revisiting her and the Weimar world they together shared would be theirs once again; and that perhaps she would even tell him that she would be there to escort him across the bridge when the time came. Six weeks had passed since the MRI scans, and the promises both Erika Jansen and Ulrich Hoffstetler made to put into motion Hoffstetler’s final will and testament were being fulfilled. Hoffstetler had contacted his estate lawyer and reviewed his will. Erika had a few days previous applied a mandatory third time for the legal injection drug that would end Ulrich’s life. Sketching at her drawing desk in her art studio, Erika Jansen put down her drawing pencil and looking over at her wrist watch, realized it was time to prepare to leave for Ulrich Hoffstetler’s. She was alone at home and had spent the morning drawing which was more a vehicle to her mulling over just what needed to be talked about between patient and medical overseer. There were several questions that Hoffstetler needed to answer in order for Erika to do her job as fiduciary liaison to the county and state, for as far as she knew, Hoffstetler had no family. It was an uncomfortable and unusual position for a physician’s assistant to be in, but she wanted to help Hoffstetler as a friend. She need do extraordinary things given the extraordinary circumstances. Who else did he have he could trust? That was a question that had to be finally resolved on this day. Sarah George had hired a male attendant for Hoffstetler, who was having increasing difficulty getting out of bed, into his wheelchair; and more trouble mounting the toilet. He was not yet completely bedridden, but it was imminent. Erika left home, the sun shining, and walked unhurriedly to Hoffstetler’s house. She carried with her a docket of legal papers dealing with the planned euthanasia. Turning the last corner, she spotted Sarah George watering the flower beds in the front of the house. Sarah was unaware of Erika until she arrived at the gate. “Hello, Erika.” She momentarily turned her head away from Erika, turned off the hose bib, rolled up the hose, and moved it off the lawn and onto a concrete pad. Turning to Erika, she wiped her hands off with a small hand towel and exited through a gate, ushering Erika to follow her to the front door’s stoop. The impulse to do what was of functional priority ruled her actions, as Sarah George always felt duty-bound to the conventional bounds of her position, but she suddenly found herself halting mid-step, pivoting and starring at Erika. Erika looked up casually and unruffled, awaiting what appeared to be the expression of some pressing concern. “Erika, I know this might be taken to be inappropriate, but I would like to talk with you here- privately- before we go in.” Erika smiled reassuringly and nodded slowly. “Sure.” “How close are we to the final day?” “It’s not set yet, but I will know very soon- at least in terms of being granted legal access to a euthanasia drug. If that permission is granted- which I believe it will be- I would say no more than a month.” “I am looking for a new job, Erika, and have a good, local prospect. But my prospective employer needs to know when I can start.” Her face grew intent. “Have you spoken with Mr. Hoffstetler about this?” Sarah George looked down in some embarrassment and shame. “No… I haven’t.” “I think today is the day to bring that up, Sarah. How is he, today? Is he well enough to talk about a few things of importance?” “I don’t really know. He sleeps an awful lot. The last I saw him, he was awake and reading.” “I’ll help you through this, Sarah. You don’t have to talk to him alone and unsupported. Is there pressure for you to join your prospective employer as soon as possible?” “Well, the sooner the better, yes. But I haven’t told them about Mr. Hoffstetler’s condition, nor even that I work for him.” “Oh……..well, I can’t help you there, can I? Sarah looked a little flummoxed. “No, I guess you can’t.” “Tell them what you have to- that you have a contract that isn’t up yet; or perhaps even the truth, right? I can’t see where decent folks wouldn’t have some understanding, especially if they really value you. And I can’t see that somebody else wouldn’t hire you if they don’t.” “Alright.” Sarah George started to clasp her wrists and wring her hands. “Is there anything else?” “Umm….yes…..I….I need to know about the provisions of Mr. Hoffstetler’s will and testament.” “Provisions?” “I….I mean if there is a provision in regards to me.” “Do you have some reason to believe there is?” “Well…..yes…at least I overheard something that sounded like there is.” “Overheard who?” “A couple of days ago- the estate lawyer was here. I overheard Mr. Hoffstetler and him speaking. He’s visited a few times, but I think his last visit may have been his last.” “I will let you know. Mr. Hoffstetler will be showing me his will perhaps today. It could be that he will ask me to be executor.” Sarah George’s face became unwound and her eyes were no longer screwed down to the size of a bead. “Well, that is a relief, Erika. I have been very concerned about his choice. I still am not aware of any family that could serve as such.” “We are his family, Sarah.” Sarah George, a woman who was alone with her thoughts in equal isolation as was her charge- a ninety-year old man with no family- was struck hard by the truth of what she had just heard. So infrequently did she hear any truth actually uttered; especially as expressed directly and meant to edify her life; that she nearly lost her presence of mind; something that never happened to her. “Thank you, Erika. I really……really feeling so……so…..alone with all this. It’s getting harder every day.” “I hate to put it this way, Sarah, but this time will soon be past. And I suppose we can thank Mr. Hoffstetler for having the courage and thoughtfulness of delivering us all from what could be a much more difficult situation.” Sarah George nodded and turned, beginning to walk slowly to the front stoop. Erika followed, and the two entered the house. Sarah George led Erika into Ulrich Hoffstetler’s bedroom. “I will wait in the kitchen,” said Sarah. “By the way- the attendant is on duty and in the back of the house at the moment. Call if you need him.” Erika walked into the bedroom and closed shut the double glass panel doors. For Erika, who hadn’t seen him in a week’s time, Hoffstetler’s continuing deterioration was evident; his health continually and predictably in terminal decline. Hoffstetler was conscious and awake, but made no effort to raise his head from his pillow. Erika took a chair and moved it to the side of his bed and sat beside him. He turned his head and looked up at her. “Any news from the state?” Hoffstetler’s voice was wan and weak. “I expect final news within a week’s time.” “Do you have a physician contracted for administering the euthanasia?” “Yes, that is the significant news I have for you today.” “Good. I must talk to you about my will before my energy is spent.” “Yes, Ulrich.” “Here, on the nightstand. This is the last will and testament.” Erika picked up a manila envelope and slipped its contents into her grasp. She leafed through the document and read intently for a couple of minutes in silence. “I want you to be the executor. No one else is qualified. Will you please?” “Yes, of course, Ulrich.” “As you can see, you are in my will. You have been my friend- my last and only friend here, at the end.” “I am your friend, Ulrich, and am honored to help execute your last will.” “I know Sarah is concerned. She is quiet, but I see it in her eyes. It is felt. Let her know that I have provided something for her, too.” “She’s found a new, prospective employer, Ulrich. She’s afraid they’ll get cold feet if she asks them to wait a few weeks. But I imagine your provision might give her incentive to stay.” “Stay until the bitter end? Yes, I need her to do so. Somebody has to tend this house in the meantime. I will offer her an increased wage for the time remaining. I haven’t told her that- please do tell her.” “I think she’ll agree to stay. I’ll talk to her.” “You see in the will- I am bequeathing the house to a long lost relative. She is the daughter of my mother’s niece, originally from Germany, but who actually currently lives in California. I have not seen her in many years, though I do exchange email with her on occasion. There is no other family I can name. Most were killed or disappeared in the war. I need you to contact her and ask her if she won’t come to visit- as soon as possible. Her name is Wilhelmina Roth. Her contact information is in the will. We need to have her take charge of caretaking this property immediately after my passing. I need to know if she can manage.” “And your notes and personal papers; your computer and its private information. Why have you willed them to me, Ulrich?” Tears welled up in Hoffstetler’s eyes. “You may do what you want with my library. Keep it if you wish. You deserve the books, especially. You will read them. But the rest- especially the personal papers- I want them burned. Destroyed.” “Are you sure?” “Oh, yes. Please, yes.” “Why destroyed, Ulrich?” “My son’s memory must be taken with me.” “Why ‘taken’?” Hoffstetler began to weep and a strained, repressed cry labored to pass through his constricted throat. “To this very day……..I can’t……I can’t bare his death. When I am cremated, I want them to place his writings in the furnace with me.” “I know he passed far before his time, and no father should have to bury his son. For this I am most sorry, Ulrich. I feel so much for this loss.” “Yes…..but what….what you don’t know…….” “Is what, Ulrich?” “How he died.” “You told me he died in a mountaineering accident. Are you saying that is not the case?” “That’s a lie, Erika. I hid the truth from you. For shame, I lied.” Hoffstetler’s eyes had been tightly shut since the onslaught of tears, but now the tears were beginning to pass. He reopened them and looked at Erika. “Do you want to tell me the truth?” “Yes. He….he killed himself. Suicide, Erika; suicide. Just like his grandmother did.” “Grandmother? Which grandmother, Ulrich?” “My mother, Erika. And now I follow them. Death by my own hands.” Erika looked away for a moment; towards the curtains that were partially drawn allowing only a narrow column of bright sunshine to enter the room; its light beams clearly visible in relief against the darkness of the rest of the room as they streamed in, casting rectangular-shaped illuminations raked at a steep angle upon the parquet hardwood flooring. Strong shoulders attract the heaviest burdens. Erika Jansen had been chosen not only to be an executor to a will, but to also end forever the history of three generations as they existed in this corner of the world. It was a disagreeable request, however understandable. “You see, Erika- on the book shelf. The three blue volumes of papers there. Those are Micah’s writings. I recovered them from his apartment after he died. And I have kept them all these years; and shared them with no one. I want them to burn with me in cremation.” “What kind of writings, Ulrich, are they?” “Mainly diary entries and poetry. A lot of poetry. He studied poetry at the university.” “Perhaps the poetry is good. Perhaps it should be shared.” “No….please. Anything but that. It’s much too painful; I cannot allowed it to be shared or published. You must help me, Erika. Help me destroy the Hoffstetler curse.” “I think it best you rest now, Ulrich. Do you need anything? Should I call Sarah or the attendant?” “No. Later. Later.” Hoffstetler had reached a point of exhaustion and was quickly falling off into an unresponsive state. Erika slipped the legal document back in the manila envelope, stood up and quietly walked out of the room carrying the envelope in her left hand. Closing the double glass panel doors quietly, she proceeded on to the kitchen and found Sarah George sitting at the kitchen table, staring out through the breakfast nook window at the well- tended flower beds in the back yard. Erika said nothing while taking a chair and sitting down across from Sarah. “Sarah, I have Ulrich’s last will and testament here. You were right. He has given you part of his inheritance.” Sarah was rather distraught looking, and though the news did provide some relief, it was not visible. “I am to be the executor; a responsibility I have accepted. As executor, I will need your help.” Sarah listened without saying a word. “Ulrich needs you to stay until the end- and begs you do so. And he will increase your wage to compensate for the inconvenience and emotional cost associated. I understand your position, and will talk to your prospective employer on your behalf in attempts to help you, but I urge you stay- for everyone’s sake. I’ll make sure you receive hazard pay as it were for the last two months of your employment.” Sarah bowed her head and covered her face with her hands, but only for a moment. Suddenly she removed her hands and brought them down quickly into a folded position on the table’s countertop. She stared at Erika with a face forcibly drawn back into composure with a sudden surge of will; her eyes exaggeratedly open with the whites of her eyes showing clearly all around the circumference of her irises. “Alright,” was all she said. “I will stay in contact with you daily, now. You will need to know all the developments as planned. You should know a doctor has been contracted to administer the euthanasia, and perhaps most importantly that this house has been willed to a German relative of Ulrich’s who is living in Monterey. I wasn’t aware of her until today. Have you ever heard of her? A Wilhelmina Roth. She must be rather elderly herself.” Sarah George shook her head. “I’ve never heard her spoken of; nor seen here. This is news to me.” “I have to contact her immediately. After I do, I’ll let you know what I discovered.” “Where will the euthanasia take place?” “We could do it here at the house, but it will take place in the hospital. I’ve arranged for that. His body will be cremated.” “Please take this name and phone number. A Mr. John Hobson. He’s the man who wants to hire me.” “I’ll call him later today. And one last thing before I go, Sarah. Don’t let anyone touch Mr. Hoffstetler’s books, papers, or computer. I have been instructed to take care of them. Don’t let anyone near any of it.” Erika Jansen’s walk home was no more hurried than the previous that morning. She returned home with extra burdens, much of which was detailed in the will that she had filed away into the document holder under her arm. She was not anxious to share it with her husband when he returned home from the hospital. Erika had crossed a line most in the medical profession would consider ill-advised, unprofessional, and dangerous. Her husband would by no means approve. Becoming personally involved with a dying patient- to the extent of becoming instrumental in arranging an act of euthanasia while becoming executor to the patient’s estate- especially for a physician’s assistant- sounded wrong and fraught with all manner of liability, both easily imaginable and not in kind. Erika had never been the kind of person- however humanistic she considered her motivations and actions- to stick her neck out into unchartered territory. She had always been protective of herself and her family first. It was the first time in her career that a predicament of this sort had arisen. She had been drawn in. So easily, too. Was it out of pity for a lonely old man? Well, yes- pity had legs. Friendship also played a part as well. But the ease with which she had walked into Hoffstetler’s end game was what was strangest. She was agreeing to all of Hoffstetler’s requests- without argument. The strangeness for Erika soon transmogrified into the realm of the haunted; of feeling she had become party to a planned exorcism. The casting out of a family curse was a hair raising proposition. She couldn’t suspect seeing herself take part in cleansing the darkened souls of a family whose downfall stretched back to the very inception of the Nazis and the rise of Hitler. And for whose benefit would this exorcism be? It could not be for the living. And so she was loath to have to drag a distant relative into this affair. They were the only family link left. The house itself could well become haunted after Ulrich Hoffstetler’s death. The poor woman would be inheriting not only a house, but a family curse, possibly. Euthanasia might not have the power alone to vanquish a curse. No, the benefit would be for the dead. The truth is, the dead are always with us, and for some they never loosen grip on the living.


Chapter XV


We have art in order not to die of the truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power


Hugo Hoffstetler had promised his wife, Adalgisa, he would arrange for the visas necessary to allow both her and his son Ulrich the legal right to enter and live with him in the United States. In the spring of 1927, Hugo, a Nazi spy masquerading as a staff official, first reported to his post, working at the behest of the German ambassador, the honorable Hans Luther, as headquartered in the German Embassy, a converted seventy room mansion, just west of Thomas Circle on Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington D.C. Though the building was a handsome object of architecture, the German legate was never happy with it as a functional work space even going back to its inception in 1893 when Kaiser Wilhelm II was in power. Plans at renovation or change of venue were interrupted by the catastrophe of world war in 1914. Adalgisa was emotionally attached to Frankfurt, and did not want to leave for long, but it would naturally be exciting to live in Washington D.C. for perhaps a year. Hugo told his wife the position was temporary. For this you could say he did not want to upset his wife, as he in truth had no idea how long he would stay in the United States before reassignment. But he could not have had his family join him in any case. Espionage did not mix with family life. As a spymaster, Hugo had to work without family encumbrances. Moreover, war was in the offing, as anyone attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs working in espionage was necessarily aware. Hugo chose to lie to his wife, and planned on letting her down gently over time by lowering expectations; telling her that his request for permission was still in review by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. He would reduce his wife’s hopes with acts of attrition. Adalgisa was unaware of the true nature of Hugo’s work, and remained in the dark until the end of her life. According to appearances, Hugo’s career had always consisted of posts assigned by the Reich’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and he had served in both the United Kingdom and France. As he proved his worth and his loyal service to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over many years cemented a high reputation, his fluency in English placed him on the short list of serving in the United States, and this combined with his military intelligence background as having served with distinction during World War I saw him recruited into espionage at the request of high military command. Hugo was nearly fifteen years older than Adalgisa when they married in Frankfurt. Adalgisa, seeking an affluent husband who could help here maintain an active cultural life among the cultural elite of which she had grown accustom in Frankfurt, married Hugo when she was quite young, and before her imminent awakening as a liberated woman of the Weimar Republic. Ulrich had been born when Hugo was stationed in Paris, and though Adalgisa was a devoted mother, her wealth allowed her to hire a small staff of servants and also afforded her the time and freedom to pursue her own interests as Hugo spent long periods of time away on assignment. Hugo was a man of education and wealth enough for Adalgisa, and her discerning family approved. In addition to Hugo’s ample salary provided by his valued work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he had also earlier received a generous inheritance from his parents, who had co-owned an armaments factory in Munich. After their untimely and early deaths due to heart disease, Hugo sold the family interest in the factory and moved to Frankfurt. Those husbands on foreign assignment were want to keep tabs on their wives and families back home, but there was no one to keep tabs on Adalgisa for Hugo, and neither was he particularly concerned about possible errant behavior. She had always been faithful and easy to please, or so it seemed when he was actually paying attention. As well, Hugo was a man whose original family no longer existed. In Frankfurt, certainly, there was no one to do his bidding on such scores as checking in on his trusted wife. He was content to spy on foreign governments, but not his wife. Both his parents were dead and his two brothers had died in the Battle of the Somme on the say day in August, 1916. Neither of the brothers had married, and they were survived by no children. The rise of the call for an ascendant German race, and the national socialist movement as headed by the Nazis that called upon all patriotic Germans to help build a thousand year Reich became the life blood of Hugo Hoffstetler’s mission in life. The death, disgrace, and humiliation of the German nation after World War I, made personal by the tragic fall of his brothers on that August day in France, was to be a phoenix rising from the ashes on the back of the Nazi eagle. His devotion to the Nazi cause necessarily became most important, and his family fell to second. So Hugo Hoffstetler must to rely on the fact that Adalgisa was firmly rooted in Frankfurt, and that she had plenty of her own family living there to keep her in good spirit and proper company. This appeared a workable calculation, but what Hugo could not see was the social revolution that swept up the young women of the Weimar. Hugo had become a loyal Nazi, and in his absence, Adalgisa- left to her own devices- and an aficionado of the arts, quickly matured into a young woman who lived for the moment in sensorial enjoyment of the brilliant, chaotic beauty that bloomed and erupted all around her in that cultural crucible called the Weimar. Whereas Hugo Hoffstetler was totally committed to becoming an important instrument in the rising tide of war, Adalgisa did her best to ignore what had already been violent demonstrations of mushrooming hate as had been perpetrated against Frankfurt’s Jewish community. No one could not be an active citizen of Frankfurt and not be aware of impending doom- but she was as devoted to her enjoyment of life during a cultural renaissance as Hugo was to Adolf Hitler. The year 1929 was an apotheosis of life’s pleasure. Young Ulrich was now old enough to attend elementary school, and with Hugo on assignment in the United Kingdom, Adalgisa was free to pursue whatever she deemed a worthy diversion. A worthy diversion was not a wanton nor wild debauch according to contemporary definitions. Attending Berlin-style masquerade balls and abusing alcohol at cabarets where decadent, half nude performance artists such as Anita Berber and Sebastian Drost staged choreographed neo-gothic horrors of sadomasochism were not indulgences people remembered her by. But the emancipated antics of Cabaret life were not foreign to her and raised a smile. For the time- the Golden Twenties- her behavior was self-prepossessed. She was attuned to the intellectual and the artistic expressions of the Weimar. She served on entertainment committees of local musical associations in helping to organize chamber music concerts at evening soirees, or brought classical musicians into the great art museums along the River Main to entertain at the grand opening of art exhibits. The freedom with which she pursued these civic-minded activities were part of a greater mosaic of pastimes that made her a liberated German woman of the Golden Twenties. For these freedoms she was not unaware. Unlike her mother and grandmother’s generations which had been oppressed by world war, economic disaster, and a cultural atmosphere deadened by Prussian authoritarianism, she could enjoy such activities as shopping for the latest in women’s fashion. And these fashions were designed to liberate the female body- free her from the heavy, thick materials that covered her every inch and the corsets that bound her like straightjackets. Adalgisa was bound and determined to have her poor mother be the last in generational line to have to suffer under the orthodoxy of imperial culture and its imprisonment of the German woman. Also, buying beautifully designed, fashionably new clothes was more than just securing high status; it was much more. Style and fashion enhanced the sexual attractiveness of herself as a woman; promoting the importance of not just her sexuality, but more importantly, her sexual identity as woman. It also promoted an image of independence while projecting an aura of self-confidence and self-worth. The New Woman of the Weimar was a desirable image for Adalgisa; an image with substance and worth pursuing and becoming. The New Woman was neither abstract nor unattainable- at least not for her class of economic means. And to place high value on fashion and style- such as the Bubikopf ; on the slender, athletic physique; the erotic allure; the freedom to smoke and drink; the ability to go out; to work; to move about freely in the offices, cafes, streets, theaters, and be a member of the parliament if you could somehow be elected; to enjoy sun, nudity and nature; to experience sexual fulfillment; to live for today. But Adalgisa was also attuned to responsibility towards others; her responsibility as a mother especially, and that the freedoms and enjoyments she felt entitled to had to have some redeemable social and political purpose and promote Germany’s betterment as a whole. As she pursued self-fulfillment she constantly wove it in to her social service activities. She had joined the Bund für Mutterschutz- The German League for the Protection of Mothers just after Ulrich had been born. Some of Adalgisas’ more libertine friends laughed at her membership. The BDF for them primarily promoted persisting clichés of family and motherhood that were just unadulterated dictates as distilled from the standard Protestant and Catholic litanies, but Adalgisa saw it differently. “Don’t you ever pick up a copy of Mutterschutz?” she would chastise. “Let’s remind just what is the New Ethic. The BDF advocates for women and children; specifically, in promoting the equality of illegitimate children; legalization of abortion; sexual education; women’s political and social equality. How many of you have slept with a woman or know of someone who has slept with a woman? Tell me that. When you were just children BDF successfully lobbied the German parliament from including lesbian women in the law criminalizing homosexuality. Did you know that?” To add to Adalgisa’s informed nature was her proactive stance-as-citizen. She regularly served helping as a counselor at a local sexual health clinic sponsored by BDF, which dispensed advice on contraception, marriage, abortion, and sterilization. But for all these liberal protections of anyone who was a member of a family, just what was the BDF’s stand on monogamy? For the New Ethic and its role in Weimar culture of sexuality, this had to be considered a litmus test. The BDF defended monogamy, but perhaps its most provocative stance was that marriage does not necessarily lay claim to “all justified love relationships.” For the sex reformers of the era, enjoying life was a priority; and so it was for Adalgisa, who was able to justify to herself the dual role as responsible mother, and dutiful wife- but also free to pursue secret lives. It really just came naturally for some of these New Women; so highly educated and brilliant at mastering the quotidian; it was in the air. Adalgisa was by no means alone. Every act of self-assertion made by Adalgisa was in league with all her friends, and their mingling in cafes, shopping expeditions, attending fashion shows together, meeting in a committee; attending the cinema, music concerts and art shows; it all served to embolden each and every one who took part. The women encouraged each other to be fearless; keep a focus on positive thoughts; experiment with the new; and to keep informed. They read newspapers, magazines, followed advertising, and made sure that at home they read stimulating literature in order to join literary clubs. They would plan trips to see friends outside of Frankfurt, too; keen especially on visiting Berlin. The self-permission; the entitlement; but also the dues paid to society- all of it bolstered the acceptance that they, too, had the to pursue secret lives which would help continue the process of free woman from the grips of traditional German norms. But Adalgisa knew that vigilance for all her sisters was most important. She knew how tenuous all the hard-won rights of women were. It had only been a mere ten years previous that the newly drafted Weimar Constitution had enacted women’s right to vote; equal opportunity in education for women; equal opportunity in civil service appointments, and equal pay for women in the professions. It had only been twenty years since German universities had allowed women gain admittance. These were fragile rights. They were constantly under threat. Could such a good and powerful woman have vulnerabilities? Adalgisa was too connected to the woof and warp of the inner workings of socially responsible Weimar culture to be called a rebel, but she enjoyed the company of those who even advocated anarchy. That she would happenchance meet a spirit of rebellion with glamorous allure in the world of art or literature; journalism or politics; or perhaps in the world of psychiatry was not so surprising, especially since she was in love with modern painting and by natural extension, revered the painters who filled the local museums with the most daring, provocative, and prescient art that had ever been seen not only in Germany, but the world. In the spring of 1929 she served on a committee that helped organize the reception party for contributing artists whose worked comprised an exhibition of paintings celebrating the work of The Bridge, The Blue Riders, and The New Objectivity movements. To the grand opening and gala reception, she brought little Ulrich, who was only six years old. He was delighted by the tables of delicious food set up in the reception hall; the bratwurst, sauerkraut and horseradish sauces made his mouth water upon sighting and then there was the pumpernickel bread and Sachertorten. But after eating to his satisfaction his mother was intent on the educational tour; sure to have him join her in reviewing the exhibition; its paintings; and to meet some of the painters and patrons who milled together late into the evening. This would be the agenda until poor Ulrich could take no more, and would sneak off to find a bench to sleep on. Amalgisa would take Ulrich by the hand and talk to him gently and authoritatively as she walked in front of and along a long parade of paintings representing the best modern German painting had to offer. “This, Ulrich, is a painting by one of guest artists here tonight, George Grosz. What do you see?” “Oh, mother. How can I say? It’s so strange.” “There’s these four men. What do they look like to you?” Adalgisa pointed to each one separately. “The one in the back is a fat, fat priest, mother. See his holy hat and he’s holding out his hands.” “Yes! Very good, Ulrich, darling! And he is blessing who- there- behind him?” “Those are army men with steel helmets. But why is the priest’s nose so red?” “Well- think about fat men with red noses. What makes a fat man’s nose big and red, Ulrich? What about in the front?” “I don’t know exactly. One has a large cup on his head. He’s holding a newspaper.” “And the two just in front of him?” “I don’t know! Someone cut off the tops of their heads, mother! Where did their heads go?” “That is something steaming in the man’s head. Do you think it’s his brains?” “Oh, no! It looks like my do-do.” Adalgisa covered her mouth, trying to half-heartedly suppress an uncontrollable laugh. “You’re so observant, Ulrich! That’s exactly what it is!” Suddenly Adalgisa put on a stern, drawn expression. “And look here- in the front. What do you think about him? Do you see that cross on his tie?” “Yes, mother. I see the men here in Frankfurt with their black shirts wearing bands on their sleeves with that same cross on it. And that man has a captain carrying a long staff riding a horse inside his empty head; and he’s holding a sword. His teeth look rotten. His cheeks look bloody.” Adalgisa was suddenly overcome by her son’s responses, and starring at him with a sudden objective sobriety, paused at length after Ulrich stopped speaking. Ulrich finally turned his attention away from the painting and looked up at his mother. “What are you looking at, mother?” “You are right, Ulrich. The men in the black shirts do wear those crosses on arm bands. And they do not believe in freedom for you or me, darling. Always remember that.” That a young boy would find interest in a gallery of modern paintings in preference to running around a large, well-lit open space in a vast museum gallery what with all its long halls and magical portals to annexed space, or looking for other children to talk and play hide and seek with or you’re it is a thought to be reckoned with, but certainly Adalgisa had always shared the love of painting with Ulrich, and starting at a very young age, they had spent many special moments together because of it. Ulrich would have been content to spend time doing just about anything with his mother; he was that enamored with Adalgisa. But through osmosis as happened over time Ulrich had also grown to understand that paintings held something special and perhaps even magically powerful for anyone who really took the time to look. He knew one had to learn how to look. He didn’t know how well he could look, but he saw more each time. This much he knew; this much he could measure the difference of. Adalgisa took her son’s hand again and resumed their stroll through the exhibition. A smile and ease of manner returned to Adalgisa, but she refrained from saying to much other than, “Doesn’t that catch your eye, darling?”, or “Ulrich, look, there!” Ulrich marveled at the larger-than-life images much more potent than anything he ever saw in any magazine or book. In awe he contemplated the tortured and emaciated figure of Christ being lowered from the cross in Max Beckmann’s Kreuzabnahme (Descent from the Cross), a defiled Jesus with no beard nor hair and a face drawn and sunken papering over a skull covered alone with jaundiced, leathering skin. No less captivating were the abstract figures that collided to make Vasily Kandinsky’s Komposition 8; the black circle with red nimbus painted in the canvas’ upper left-hand corner appearing like a burned out sun become a red giant; encroaching the orbit of and engulfing a fiery earth into its blackened body. This dying sun still shines its diminishing light down upon a riot of angles enough to keep their play visible- acute, obtuse, and right together that appear to be pieces of a disjointed- perhaps dismembered- rectangle; with small circles dispersed in and around; playful with hints of celebrating the tools of the draftsman and painter- the compass, the paint brush, template, proportional divider and protractor. It was as if the field of plane geometric figures along with the means of creating them in a material world would survive as absolutes the day the sun dies; regardless. Of course, Ulrich could not articulate the abstract associations to himself nor anyone else- not in words anyways- but he could feel their effect. He knew they were alive with a vitality and that they were real in their own way. Then there were the canvases Ulrich stumbled upon with his mother that contained images only imaginable as to have their source dredged up from a disturbed human being’s worse nightmare Otto Dix’s The Skat Players hung in the corner and lured Ulrich’s protracted stare. What Ulrich couldn’t know was that the trio of maimed and disfigured men playing cards were not phantasmagoric visions conjured from a haunted night’s sleep, but invalid soldiers playing together; men who had only physically survived a terrible war; a war to end all wars that killed millions of people and was still completely unbeknownst to a little boy of six years old. The decaying remains of humans surviving battle were still animated with life, though, such as the one skat player who, with no arms, had to hold his cards with his toes, leg elevated to eye level. It was the life that remained that Ulrich could feel in the painting, and despite the truncate terror of limbless men at play Ulrich somehow knew that their survival meant something important, however deadly so. Adalgisa had let go Ulrich’s little hand, but he hadn’t noticed. His eyes pulled his body forward from one painting to the next, he feet being so commanded, serving what he saw. At length he stopped, unconsciously so; however unaware of most everything except for the canvases his mind had been entering cum automata; and there he stood, his eyes transfixed on the last art work to be consumed that night. Mealtime in the Trench, another Otto Dix work; this time an etching proved all Ulrich could absorb. The stark horror of a soldier, his tongue fully extended in grotesque wag-and-attack, slurping up rations dripping from his filthy hand as pawed from a can, sitting in a trench next to death embodied as a deformed, dismembered skeleton, grabbed Ulrich’s mind like an eagle’s claw and would not let go; not easily, and not soon. Transported and held captive in a world only direct violence or the inhalation of ether in the operating theater could conjure in a young boy’s mind, Ulrich was oblivious to the tall man standing next to him, asking him over and over, “Have you had enough, my boy?” Finally, the man squatted beside Ulrich, coming down to his level, placed his hand on his shoulder, and turned his face towards Ulrich’s own, meeting his eyes slightly from the periphery, careful not to upset Ulrich’s stare with too rapid an intrusion. “Hello, my boy; I want to know- have you had enough of Mr. Dix?” The man wore wire rim spectacles, a compact bowler hat, and sported a fine, trimmed mustache that shown ever the more prominent by an expertly clean shaven face. He blue eyes sparkled and he grabbed at his lower lip with his upper teeth in playfulness, wanting to appear as friendly as possible, and not as interrogative as his repeated questioning might otherwise be taken by a little boy. Face to face with a strange, unexpected face hovering so close, the fetters Mealtime in the Trench had on little Ulrich were finally unshackled. At his recognition, the man smiled. Then lifting up the black shaft of his walking stick with his left hand, he pushed its silver knobbed top against the stiff bill of his hat from just above his brow, ever so gently, in order to reveal from under a protruding lock of thick black hair. The man’s smile remained throughout and was true enough to have the power to bring Ulrich firmly back to a functioning, conscious state. “My, aren’t we a precocious lad. I would very much like to know your name.” “Ulrich Hoffstetler,” Ulrich answered clearly and calmly. “Ulrich, it is my pleasure. My turn now….” Still squatting, he raised his right hand from his side and offered it to Ulrich, which the boy took with no hesitation. “Janus Reingold, Ulrich. Please call me Janus. An absolute pleasure.” Janus stood while shaking Ulrich’s hand, adjusting his bowler so as to return it to its previous position of top hat perfection. “So, how did you get here tonight, Ulrich? Is your driver waiting for you nearby?” “Well yes, Herr Janus, I hope he is still outside with the car.” “Rather, good lad. And tell me, did you come alone as well?” “Oh, no, Herr Janus. My mother and I came together.” “She must be a very smart and pretty lady to have such a good looking, clever son.” “Yes, well, some little boys are lucky to have wonderful ma-mas.” Janus Reingold laughed. Thoroughly enchanted to be blessed with such a talented little raconteur at his disposal, he reflected on how this little boy presented the best company he had be afforded in days. Adalgisa was engrossed in conversation on the other side of the atrium gallery space, intently talking with a friend she had considered long lost. “Oh, so much has happened since we last saw each other. We can’t possibly catch up in one evening. We must meet tomorrow for lunch somewhere, Elke.” “Must you go now, Adalgisa?” Adalgisa was drawn to glance across the space, and discovered that the unconscious reflex was due to feeling the presence of Ulrich, and that a tall and handsome man- somebody strangely familiar- was speaking with him. She did not feel alarm at what she saw; on the contrary, it assured her that Ulrich was not only being entertained, but was in safe hands. She did not stop to consider if this was intuitive or rational as based on actually knowing this stranger. But she would keep a watch out, all the same, but in the meantime she would not have to abruptly curtail her tête-à-tête; not just yet. Adalgisa revived the topic that had preoccupied. “Well, yes, I have volunteered at sex clinics ever since I joined BDF; here in Frankfurt, that is. Usually medical professionals are preferred in the downtown chapter, but there are not always enough available, and they do provide counselor training. I took advantage of it. I have learned an immense amount- and have met so many wonderful women.” Elke’s eyes opened wide. “That’s marvelous! Fascinating! What advice are you free to give?” “Each woman that comes for help bears a unique situation, but you can imagine their needs: advice on marital discord; raising children; questions about contraception; problems with their sex lives; and, well, of course- about abortion, too. How free am I, you ask? I must be sensitive and as far as I am concerned, prudently careful. I am not there to advocate ideals on the behalf of the BDF, necessarily. I pick and choose what I say, making sure I don’t promote imbalances in people seeking help, many of whom really could use a visit to a psychoanalyst in my opinion.” “I have never visited a clinic like this. Now, I am so curious. I’ve never thought Claude would much approve of such a thing- but you are inspiring me to consider. I have heard women talk about this part of things- so much. Does the BDF really counsel you to tell women that they should freely consider pursuing extra-marital affairs if they are unhappy with their husbands?” “I must say, Elke, that is something I do not openly advise, as stamped with my own personal imprimatur, but I will discuss the philosophy as supported by the luminaries- the Marie Stritts, Lily Brauns and Helene Stockers- if I think a woman can manage the radical nature of it. Who is the woman with whom I speak? Are they educated? Come from a traditional, religious family? What are their politics? To me, all this matters greatly. There is no prevailing consensus on any of this for German women. I must find out first all about to whom I speak. The BDF is founded and practices an advocacy for women and children and family life that appears mixed in message, as well. The uninitiated can be sorely confused. It promotes traditional family bonds, but not patriarchal dominance and abuse. I mean to say- if one considers a conventional marriage to include the right for a man to strike his wife, then we do not believe in this conventional sense. We tell women that their bodies belong to them- and no one else. This includes their right to an abortion, though of course, the penalties have only been reduced for those women suffering dire medical circumstances. And if a marriage violates and prevents woman from experiencing sexual happiness- the answer is yes- the BDF believes that if love does not flower in the marriage, then love must be allowed beyond the restraints of marriage. This is already practiced quite openly by many men. We are saying that women should be allowed the same. No more double standards. It is a biological and spiritual imperative to liberate one’s sexuality if it is imprisoned.” “This is not pure license you are talking about, Adalgisa. It is not a call to free love.” “The BDF has its free love advocates; and some of its founders believed as much; and practiced in kind. But most of us do not preach shall we say- irresponsible love- in counseling sessions.” “I am terribly fraught, you know, Adalgisa. I am a coward. I know Claude has other women. His trips to Berlin for business are not for business alone. But I say nothing. I have no real proof; but a woman just knows.” Adalgisa put her hands on Elke’s shoulders. Elke’s eyes teared, and Adalgisa reached around Elke’s neck and pulled her close to her. Elke’s chest heaved as she strained to confines her cries to only whimpers. Adalgisa stroked Elke’s fine, short blond hair. Adalgisa gently released embrace. “I must get Ulrich home, Elke. It’s very late. Let’s meet for lunch at Tobens tomorrow, shall we? Let’s say, a little before noon so we have time to talk.” Elke then took out a satin hanky from her purse, dabbing daintily and slowly at her eyes, vainly attempting to contain the damage her tears had already perpetrated as her mascara was already running in thin black streamlets down on to her rouged cheeks. Elke remained silent until composing herself. Looking up she confirmed the date. “Yes, of course, tomorrow at Tobens. Until then, Adalgisa.” She smiled warmly, touching Adalgisa’s cheek with an outstretched hand, and then suddenly turned and made a departure from the atrium, her high heels squarely making percussive contact with the tiled floor; broadcasting an insistent click and clack as if marching to a silent, periodic pulse driving her legs like pistons with the persistence of that steady beat; all the way to the museum’s entrance and beyond, outside to the portico, past the Doric columns, down the marble stairway and into a waiting car whose door was held open by a driver dressed smartly in service uniform. Adalgisa’s heart was sad, but expansive, and she watched Elke take her emotional leave, taking a stream of still shot photographs with a mind that worked both fast enough and in turn, slow enough, to capture and see each step in still and to perceive all as the analog flow of events we most usually take reality to be rendered in time and space. Unaware, Ulrich had run across the atrium, and was now at her side. “Ma-ma! Ma-ma! I want you to meet my new friend! Here he comes.” Taken by surprise, Adalgisa looked up with a broad, spontaneous smile, and her eyes fell upon the stranger; the stranger that really looked so familiar, but was still a stranger. Janus Reingold sauntered towards her, swinging his cane about in mock casualness and smiling facetiously. Ulrich held his mother’s hand. “This is Herr Janus, mother.” Janus doffed his hat, took Adalgisa’s hand, bowed, and kissed it in what appeared to practiced but in the most natural of manners. “How do you do, Madam?” “Ulrich, you haven’t been bothering Herr Janus, have you?” “I don’t think so, ma-ma. Perhaps you should ask him.” Both adults laughed, she with more embarrassment than him; as it is when a child so innocent but sharp-minded can pierce the ice with words only the babe could ever imagine to say in a prescient state of mind. “Oh, I marvel at this young man- and I marvel that you, Madame, has the perspicacity of bringing such a young boy with such a ready mind capable of understanding and learning from that challenging world we call modern art.” Adalgisa found his words perhaps more an opening salvo than a greeting- but they carried music all the same. His manners were a little theatrical, but perhaps not patronizing after all. She was not flummoxed, but a little overwhelmed at his sudden, formidable male presence, both in physiognomy and speech. Janus Reingold was a sight to behold for most female eyes and Adalgisa felt her pulse quicken a little, which would not have been so bad, but it was uncontrollably so. “Yes, Herr, Herr Janus? Well, I am Adalgisa Hoffstetler. Very nice to make your acquaintance.” “Oh, do excuse me, Madame. Janus Reingold. Um- yes, well- I was quite intrigued to find a young boy studying Otto Dix prints so intently there on the other side of the atrium. It is not a sight one would easily chose to forget.” “Herr Janus knows Herr Otto Dix, ma-ma!” “Yes; well he is town actually, Madame.” “I am aware. I’m sorry he could not attend the grand opening. He did promise. But word came late. He’s postponed. Tomorrow night he’ll show, hopefully. I must say. We are disappointed as many of his works are on display.” “I’m sorry as well, Madame. You sound as if you perhaps organized this grand affair.” “Yes, with the help of many others. At least the grand opening. As for the exhibition itself, the curator did a wonderful job, don’t you think?” “I must be honest. Frankfurt is very fortunate to have gathered all this landmark work in one place. Do you share my thoughts?” “Pray tell, Herr Janus.” “Madame, the time draws nigh on the days we Germans have remaining to encourage and celebrate such free expression and to enjoy its unobstructed, uncensored display.” “Such pessimism. The old guard; the Prussian militarism- it’s under check in the Weimar, isn’t it? So, just how is that, Herr Janus?” “Madame, haven’t you heard? Just a few days ago something terrible in New York City happened. So grotesque the horror it was that they now call it Black Tuesday. Do you invest in stocks and bonds, Madame?” “Well, my husband takes care of the family investments. He attends to it while living in Washington D.C..” “I see. You must contact him immediately.” “I must admit I do not follow your thinking, Herr Janus. What happened in New York?” “I would much rather share with you details of the aesthetics and ground breaking nature of the anti-war art Ulrich found so captivating, but I must now speak to what is indeed of greater immediate importance. The exigencies of life so call. To be sure, the news of which I speak is thus: that there was a stock market crash in New York City’s financial district. “Oh, well, it may affect my family’s investments, by chance. Cause for personal alarm here, ten thousand kilometers distant? Perhaps. So, just what is this about time drawing nigh, Herr Janus?” “Yes, I have yet finished. Stock prices have plummeted. Lives are in ruin. Institutions are bankrupted; unemployment will soon explode like an algae bloom. And its repercussions are soon to resound across the Atlantic, Madame. You are phlegmatic in response. Grace under pressure is a noble virtue. Or is yours guile? Still, Germany need gird her loins. She has been dependent on American banks to keep her afloat and out of harm’s way. Remember the loans they granted to stave off default on war reparations just five years ago, ending the occupation of the Ruhr Valley? And hence, this saved us from the scourge of runaway inflation? Continued access to American money remains vital, and that source is drying up before our eyes and as I speak.” “Filthy lukka is sometimes not so filthy, wouldn’t you say, Herr Janus?” Adalgisa’s smile shown from an uplifted corner of her mouth. “You do give me cause for some comic relief, dear lady, but I must be so forward as to say Germany cannot afford such blitheness.” “So we really are to frown and fret. Must we, really, Herr Janus?” “I suspect the worse, Madame.” “And what does the worse consist of?” “The rise of dark forces. The rise of the Black Shirts.” “They are a frightful lot, granted. Street thugs; coarse and loud; an assault on common decency; with voices that drown out the rest. But they are just one party out of seven and not part of the grand coalition. Herr Janus, do you really feel confident that they will achieve power by what means- a coup d'état?” “No, I fear something much more insidious in nature. The NSDAP will use and then abuse the democratic system. They will not break the system outright, but seek legitimization through election. Once in power they will overthrow the system itself- from the inside.” “And how will they manage to garner such a large percentage of the vote? Are they commanded by skilled politicians, or just rabble rousers?” “Herr Hitler is very skilled. Experienced; determined. Pursuant to this stock market decline, I envision a terrible depression here in Germany which will create such fear and destitution in the German people that out of desperation they will turn to a party outside of the coalition as savior. The Weimar’s democratic experiment will be considered a failure. Herr Hitler will leverage the depression that is sure to befall Germany; using it as a pretext to usurp power; offering the masses a vision and a way forward according to authoritarian principles.” “You seem to borrow from the dialectic of the narratives we see in the bioscopes- authority or anarchy. No choice in between.” Herr Janus smiled with admiration. “Yes, so, Madame- you are attuned to the artistic and philosophical visions that provide the story lines that help make our films the greatest in the world.” “Yes, I thought I was. I have provided my mind with what I believe to be a worthy understanding. But I am not psychologically prepared for what such an understanding may portend in real life. Vision is not the same as preparedness for consequence.” “Well said, for I must be prepared, Madame, for my life, and the lives of my family depend on it.” “And how is it different for you rather than for me?” “Are you Jewish, Madame?” “No, are you?” “Can’t you see? Or won’t you say? Of course I am.” “I try not to assume.” “We will soon be engulfed in a world full of those who assume and feed the frenzied hate.” Herr Janus, I will now give you my name. It is Adalgisa.” “Is it yours for the giving? Telling will do.” “And so I tell you. And what do you tell me? Do you say- do you prognosticate; that like Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, Hitler- who is a topical tyrant; who is a master-mind animated by the lust for unlimited power; who terrorizes society with the help of his gang of killers; will hypnotize the German people and drive them forward in a suicidal state; and…” “And will kill me, my family, and all the Jews he is able to round up like cattle. Yes, I am. It is Hitler’s first promise and last laugh. And as envisaged by The Last Laugh, Hitler’s credo is that the magic spell of authority protects society from decomposition; that authority alone fuses the disparate spheres into a whole; and that like the fall of the hotel porter in the film- bereft of his uniform representing authority- forebodes of a turn to anarchy.” “And it goes without saying that you don’t believe an American millionaire will save the hotel porter by bequeathing him his fortune, do you, Herr Janus?” Janus Reingold smiled wryly and then gestured towards little Ulrich who was falling asleep on a bench. “I believe duty calls both of us, Madame. I have some business to attend to.” “Really, Herr Janus? At this late hour?” “Oh, life is always pulling at my collar. It’s been my pleasure, Madame.” Janus Reingold took Adalgisa’s hand and after bowing, kissed it.


Chapter XVI


The time itself provides the immeasurable inner force which, as spirit and destruction, desire and rage, presses chaotically forward, towards change or downfall. The greatest part of this force is dissipated by internal conflict with the accepted norms and is pent up in the unconscious. Whatever stands ready in this area of the repressed--the innate, eternal values as well as the regenerating forces of this transitional period--we are in a position today to make available to resolute utilization….. Above all, primary importance must be accorded it in our educational system so that we can find the way to the psyche of each individual human being. And it must be carried through without restraints, by accepting all consequences, and with the full awareness of the absolute, irreconcilable opposition to everything and anything that today in the name of authority, institution, power and custom, stands in the way of the fulfillment of mankind.

Otto Gross, Protest and Morality in the Unconscious


Tobens was a hideaway; a restaurant designed for maximum privacy. The seating was provided by booths which wrapped around circular tables, covered in heavy table linen. The booths were thickly padded and their backs stood tall, blocking the clear view of those sitting, and their surfaces were lined with soft leather. Dark stained partitions made of tongue and groove hardwood planks separated pairs of booths that stood back-to-back, the partitions tall and connected to the ceiling by an opposing pair of masonry columns, decoratively painted with geometric mosaic designs. Carpets and acoustic tiles dampened the sound of the diners eating and chatting. Full length curtains covered the windows and the lighting was muted enough that candles were used on table tops even during lunch. The waiters walked about the maze of booths quickly and silently as if barefoot, furtively entering and exiting the dining room into the kitchen through a pair of swinging doors in the back, hidden from dining view. Elke arrived first and requested a booth. “Do you have a reservation, Madame?” the maître d’ asked. “No, Herr, but can you please accommodate for two shortly? My friend has not yet arrived.” “Of course, Madame. For your leisure, please comfort yourself and take a seat here. I’ll call you when your table is ready.” “Thank you, Herr.” Elke sat at the far end of an elegant Biedermeier sofa placed at a right angle next to the maître d’s lectern. Her dress hiked up just above her knees as she crossed her legs and smoothed her dress down with her hands running across her lap. She then leaned back and tucked away her wisp-like frame into the rounded corner, rather hoping she might become one with the furniture. After smoothing down her clothes, she placed the open palm of a white gloved hand gently upon one side of her face and starred into space, her thoughts tormented by a hornet’s nest of conflicted thoughts, generating less signal and more noise; more heat and less light. Having just left the salon, her red cloche hat was worn sans veil, and had carefully been fitted so as not to disturb her freshly coiffed Bobikopf. Once settled, and sitting Sphinx-like, her brain waves eased into an alpha state, aided by the fact there was nothing nor no one to distract her. Elke’s thoughts ineluctably slipped into reliving the past, tumbling down the steep escarpment that had been her life. Mental journeys such as these were common events of the soul, and when in the beginning of such self-hpyno-induced excursions she had fallen as far back as her psyche would allow or was able, she was always delivered into the kitchen of her childhood tenement home, working together with her mother, usually baking, but sometimes cooking. Her mother had raised her along with an older brother, and as a widow of a war casualty, a soldier who had been killed during the first week of the war in 1914. Elke would now be rock bottom, thrown into the trenches of her origins; but for all its material impoverishment and indignities, it was the hearth of her heart that she had all at once with the power of memory disinterred and rediscovered; the rekindling of a love now lost to her and one that would never return; that of her mother’s. Elke watched the miracle of memory spin forth a reel of happiness like one sometimes saw in a film palace; domestic bliss of daughter and mother in aprons with arms sprinkled in flour dust as one rolled out the dough for the bottom of a pie and the other for the top. The poverty was not an affliction for the little Elke because her mother never let on how difficult it was for a widow with no war relief to raise two children, working as a seamstress for a Jewish tailor in Frankfurt’s Judengasse. She brought home not the tiredness of having working from dawn to dusk but an energy and faith that bolstered her fatherless children; giving them hope enough to believe perhaps life would afford them a chance. Elke would often stop by the tailor’s shop, and visit with her mother after school was out. Over the course of time she began to meet Jewish children in the neighborhood, many of whom grew to know and become affectionate with Elke, who was petite, beautiful, and unassuming. She was polite, and a good listener. Her friends valued these traits more than she really ever knew. Her mother had been raised in the German countryside, the daughter of farmers who brought their produce into Frankfurt-Am-Main on occasion, and it was on one of those journeys on the family’s ox-drawn cart that she met her husband-to-be who worked in the market warehouse that bought her family’s harvests. Once she married- to her parents’ chagrin- she moved into Berlin, but she was not one to relinquish her country manner nor her Catholic piety. Elke never did taste the farm life that had been her mothers. Frankfurt, an historic and industrious city of trade and culture became her world. After the war she graduated from gymnasium with some financial help from the good tailor her mother had faithfully worked for, and became an older teenager who was mentored into new womanhood, Weimar-style, by her long time, well-to-do Jewish friends, who took her into their beautiful homes and taught her the feminine arts of style, makeup, and fashion. “We’ll soon be going to university, Elke, and you will suddenly be on your own,” they would instruct her as a sorority of supportive voices. “You will need to find a suitable husband. And you may think you have nothing to offer, but that is not true. But we will provide you with a finishing school education for the young Weimar woman. This is a new world, Elke- women have a new weapon- their manner and their looks.” To the degree such comments may be interpreted as patronizing, her richer Jewish friends meant well, and had always done their best to make her life bearable, but the hardest things Elke certainly had to face alone. By this time, her older brother had joined the German army and was stationed in Bavaria. She continued to live at home and needed to help support her mother, whose good health through all the years was at the precipice of beginning to fail. Elke was faced with poor prospects of earning even livable wages. At the age of eighteen her gymnasium degree documented her talent for languages- both German and those foreign tongues she had studied, but with no work experience she would need to find any kind of job just to survive. In the meantime, she would have to find the time to continue studying. Her hopes were to become a stenographer or translator for a publishing house or newspaper. For a young woman whose economic roots were in urban poverty, this was an ambitious goal. Were there growing chances of advancement- even freedom- to be had for young, employed, single woman during a time of turbulent, even revolutionary social change in an unstable Germany, still reeling from the devastations of a war that had killed millions of its young men? Though the conservative forces of religious orthodoxy and Prussian patriarchy still welled deep in the blood and soil of Germany, the mushrooming prevalence of a new mass society; a society of consumers; and an economically supported new urban way of life that was spreading across continental Europe and America carried with it the promise of chance for the poor waifs of the Great War. As a young adult, Elke had entered the mainstream of urban life when single women were making great strides in finding employment in such as the retail industry- especially as shop girls in the growing proliferation of department stores. Helping well-to-do female customers find the proper size and style of ready-made clothes that had put so many small tailors out of business was not a difficult job to find in Frankfurt, especially if you were young, slim, and attractive. Elke found a position as shop girl with little trouble; her smart looks and accommodating personality sealing the deal with little else needed to be said. Elke was happy to find employment, but was clear thinking enough to know that not only would the work be tedious and boring, but so poorly paid that the desire to find something better would soon become all-consuming. The next step up the food chain was set just in front of her. Elke’s objective was to become one of the living mannequins that fashioned clothes and demonstrated wares in the department store’s display windows. The position would provide her with a wage that would allow her to start putting together some kind of decently fashionable wardrobe and perhaps even give her access to quality shoes as well. It was not long after becoming a sales assistant that Elke realized that she was making a good impression with her supervisor and other middle management as well. She excelled at the mandatory training she was given prior to her officially being hired. The training in essence taught young trainees to strictly keep in check their own personalities and emotions while interacting with customers. Like actresses, they were expected to demonstrate complete control of their bodily and facial gestures, maintain straight posture, use urban speech patterns and lose any regional dialects. Learning any number of idioms along with more well-developed sales pitches appropriate to speaking with customers that would enhance chances of making a sale were necessary to a sales assistant’s success, too. In the eyes of management, Elke proved herself a natural actress, and her trim appearance and pretty face helped tip perception towards her being thought of as positive glamour stock for the department store. After a short probationary period, Elke found herself promoted to the position of display girl after succeeding brilliantly as an emergency substitute for two girls who had fallen ill. The job proved exhausting. Because of her petite size, she was sought after to fashion clothes exclusively, and this meant eight to twelve hours of changing from one outfit to another; sometimes showing one hundred and twenty unique fashion ensembles in a single day’s work. The display windows were a clever instrument of modern advertising that served the store’s commercial interests, but were also stages that elevated a host of young, mostly uneducated lower class working girls into clear view of thousands of urbanites- both men and women- who in their daily peregrinations along the busy sidewalks of downtown were often stopped still in their tracks by the sight of living mannequins at work. The phenomena had become quotidian, in effect creating a mise en scène in front of every major department store. But was Elke to become the stereotypical Lotte- a German working girl using her high profile visibility to catch an amenable man of means? At the outset, she hadn’t been thinking in such absolute terms as she was too busy trying to establish a solid work reputation that would further her chances at a viable career- something young, industrious German women- even of the lower working class- could aspire to in the new Weimar. But it was inevitable that a young, attractive, hardworking, sociable woman would draw attention and find herself at the doorstep of opportunity. Elke worked extraordinarily hard for five years as a display girl, acquired a wardrobe- some at huge discounts as old stock lost in the department store’s vast back-logged inventory- and shoes and make-up as well, and began to find the time and money to frequent cafes with her girlfriends and attend a few of the rapidly growing number of movie palaces that were flourishing across Germany’s urban centers. Elke enjoyed movies of all genres; from historical pageants such as Madame Du Barry, whose alluring sets and costumes blinded the average viewer to its abuse of history and its antirevolutionary message; to the theme of true love will overcome the pestilent horror of the vampire in Nosferatu; the celebration of German culture and the thrill of being swept up in the anarchical outbursts of ungovernable instincts and passions in Die Nibelungen, and the fall of tragic heroine like that of the film Destiny, who lead actress submits to fate, sacrificing her life in order to reunite with her lover in the hereafter. Film narratives changed with fast-footed attunement keeping pace with rapidly changing times, reflecting the struggles of Germany to rebuild the nation, and of the individuals- men, women, and children- who in the midst of family losses and economic depression, ran as fast as they could to either stay in the same place or be fortunate enough to catch hold of a brass ring in the train of modernity that roared past raining sparks of change that both burned down old institutions and magically built new ones in their place simultaneously. The burgeoning film industry was on the bonus end of this new, double edged reality called creative destruction. For those who were optimistic about the new ethic, they reveled in what was called Aufbruch – the departure from the shattered world of yesterday towards a tomorrow built on the grounds of revolutionary conceptions. It was at a screening of the film Variety, a silent music hall film that even in its new realism sensibilities radiated the spirit of a fast fading, bygone era of post-war film making, that Elke, through another friend, first met Adalgisa Hoffstetler. Elke was sociable, but shy, and as one of the hoi polloi, rarely took initiative to cross class lines in her social interactions. The severe social etiquette of Germany deterred any impulse she might have of crossing class line. She had learned the limits of this as a youth in the Judengasse- despite her acceptance among a small group of good-hearted friends from socially progressive families, as well as in her thousands of interactions with middle and upper class women in the department store. But Adalgisa was surprisingly different; dare it said unique. ‘Moneyed bourgeois’, with taste and culture was written all over Adalgisa, but she never used it as a protective shield nor point of spear against Elke, treating her as someone beneath her station; or more to the point- ignoring her. And it was through Adalgisa’s unconditional acceptance of Elke- an acceptance it must be said was based to no small degree on Adalgisa’s perception of Elke as being a humble and courageous young woman- that Elke was finally introduced to Claude Behringer. Claude was a successful and much sought after fashion designer, and had actually seen Elke work as a living mannequin several times; and had also been in and out of her department store, too, for he did business with them. But she had never seen, or at least, noticed him. It had remained a mystery to Elke just why Claude was attracted to, initially loved, and eventually married her. Perhaps Elke was too accepting of others, their motivations, and what they truly thought; taking them at face value and resigning herself to the strict social protocol of what should be said, or left unspoken; or what should be asked, or left unquestioned. She did not question Claude, but followed the paths of least resistance offered her, just as she had done at the department store, or with the girlfriends of the Judengasse in her formative years. Now, five years after marriage, with no child and by whom many in Claude’s family considered barren, she had begun to suspect Claude of being unfaithful, and though she had visited a psychoanalyst a few times, had not dared to speak a word of her fears to anyone she knew- including and foremost of all, Claude. It was only as steeped in the serendipity of meeting Adalgisa once again after nearly two-years absence that her feelings had come rushing to the fore. Their conversation at the grand opening revealed to Elke suddenly and in violent emotion just how much she loved and trusted Adalgisa. Toben’s front door suddenly whooshed open and Elke daydream reveries came to an abrupt end. “Elke, hello! I’m sorry to keep you waiting.” Elke composed herself, stood excitedly, and hugged the woman before her. “Adalgisa, this is such a pleasure for me. How is it we let time slip from our hands like this?” “Excellent timing Madame and Madame, your table is ready,” said a smiling maître d’. “Oh, maître d’, it’s not a corner booth, is it?” asked Adalgisa. “As a matter of fact, no Madame.” “Very well, then.” Occupying each side of a freshly linened table surrounded by a single wrap-around cushioned seat, the two women scooted onto the cushions and made themselves comfortable. Sitting next to a lit candle were three fresh gardenias floating in a crystal bowl of water sat in the middle of the table, filling the booth with a heavenly scent. Adalgisa and Elke had always been content as friends just to be in each other’s presence, and small talk was usually what they shared. The comfortableness between them provided all the reason they needed to spend the time together. It was unusual for them to be alone together for they usually saw each other in the context of small groups of friends and this was the first time either could remember urgent emotions having brought them together. Today was different, and Elke was hoping she could depend on Adalgisa to navigate the unchartered waters of a conversation she would rather not have with anyone. But small talk was their ice breaker as was the inviting atmosphere of Tobens and as both of the women were hungry, they preoccupied themselves with the menu and ordering. Once the waiter had brought their meals and the women had a chance to satiate their hunger, the mood became ripe for deeper conversation. “Why did you choose to enter psychoanalysis before actually confronting Claude about your suspicions?” “Honestly, Adalgisa, I thought something must be wrong with me for Claude to treat me so coldly. He just sort of suddenly became distant and- I don’t know- sullen.” “You believe all this to be your fault?” “His family believes I’m barren.” “So you think this is about being childless?” “I suspect as much. At least at the root of things.” “But you have yet to approach Claude with any of your feelings or suspicions?” “No, not in so many words. Not directly.” “Seeing a psychoanalyst might help you deal with some of your fears, but it won’t come to any avail if you don’t summon the courage to confront Claude.” “I do understand that, yes, Adalgisa. But I am convinced he is having an affair. I found a letter in the inside pocket of his suit jacket written by a woman addressed to him. That they are having an affair is irrefutable.” “Do you know anything about this woman?” “I believe she lives in Berlin. As time passes, Claude’s fashion career has him working in Berlin more and more- up to almost two weeks a month now. You know- the fashion and garment industry is just huge there. In fact, he has mentioned several times that we may well have to move to Berlin within a year’s time.” “How is it with your psychoanalyst? What comes out of your sessions?” “He is brilliant, and helpful about some things, but subscribes to some radical ideas.” “Do you mean to say he fobs solutions on you that make you nervous or afraid?” “Well, yes, after a manner of words. Yes. He is very keen on sex, you know. I mean- he seems to think that the problems between Claude and I are sexual in nature.” “And?” “The doctor seems to subscribe to this cult surrounding a now past psychoanalyst named Otto Gross. Have you heard of him?” “Oh, Otto Gross!” Adalgisa stared at Elke with surprised, widened, and unbelieving eyes. “Do you know who he is?” “Oh yes, I do. My mother had a friend who spent time getting to know him more than twenty years ago at the back-to-nature commune Monte Verità, in Ascona, Switzerland. Have you heard of that place?” “No, not at all.” “I’m sorry for the aside. Anyway, please go on.” “Oh, never mind. Otto Gross- he is what my psychiatrist calls the apostle of free love. And to make a long story very short, the doctor seems to advocate that I should let Claude pursue his extra-marital romances, and that I should consider one of my own.” Such blunt speech coming from Elke shocked Adalgisa. “Really? He advocates it?” said Adalgisa, her usual steadiness thrown off by the shear outrageousness of what she was hearing. “One clear message of my psychiatrist’s was to repress nothing. And that sexual freedom might not only allow Claude and I to be closer and have a better marriage, but it will also help us combat the fetters as slapped onto our bodies and minds from the greater society. I find it intriguing, but quite overwhelming, Adalgisa.” “Yes, that is Otto Gross- book, chapter, and verse. He was a firm believer in polyamorous relationships. Frankly, I’m quite shocked that there no exists a practicing mental professional who subscribes to the dictum of Otto Gross. He is nearly forgotten now a decade after his death. For the sake of argument, just what do you think Claude would say if you did have an affair?” “He’s a rather phlegmatic man, as you know, Adalgisa. He thinks before he speaks; he guards his true feelings; he does not overreact; and he takes pride in controlling his temperament and manner. What I mean to say is, I really have no idea what his reaction would be. I do think he’d be incredibly shocked, and might simply leave the room and not choose to speak of it at all. If he were truly hurt or frightened, I believe he would leave the house and go to Berlin. That’s my intuition speaking.” “So, Elke, how do you, yourself, feel about experimenting with a polyamorous life?” “One side of me is still my mother’s daughter, Adalgisa- a good Catholic; a believer who has always thought that if you have a problem you go to the cathedral, confess if need be, pray to God. But I am not completely of that ilk. There is another side, however mysteriously amorphous as resides in my soul.” “So there is a competing tussle inside as concerns an unrepressed sex life. Something like the conventional standard practices of religion versus the New Woman.” Elke turned a slight smile. “I would be forward of me to put it exactly that way, Adalgisa, but yes, something like that. But I must say I am intrigued by what my psychiatrist suggests.” She paused for a moment and wiped the corners of her mouth with a white linen napkin taken from her lap, set it back down and took a sip of water. Clearing her throat, she said, “Adalgisa, I know I must confront Claude about the letter, and I have yet to muster the courage. But your opinion I value and trust. I trust it will help show me the way forward.” Adalgisa set down her fork and folded her hands together, propping her forearms up on her elbows. “My dearest Elke, you’re such a precious flower. It is hard to know what to say to you, my beautiful one. I will say that if I give you ten pieces of advice, perhaps only one or two of the ten will be worth anything. But I would say foremost that you must be true to yourself. Your psychiatrist seems to think “one size fits all,” that Otto Gross’ philosophy is somehow medicine for everyone. That is the problem with Otto Gross- his responses are not measured; his prescriptions tend not to include any other therapeutic options. He seduced his female patients, using sexual liberation as therapy. In one or two cases, such heavy-handed, unconventional behavior led to his patient’s suicide. He was a terribly afflicted, unstable individual- an opium and cocaine addict for many years, and in the end was found, frozen in the streets of Berlin, dying from pneumonia, broke and homeless. Deranging one’s senses led to the truth and the light- like a German Rimbaud, that is what he preached. I think the libertine lifestyle is one of creative destruction- and whatever is created- however valuable it may be- leaves in its wake the kind of destruction that tears apart families, and individual lives. It’s a huge gamble.” “Your fellow sisters of the BDF- we talked about this at the museum- some of them believe that extra-marital sex is an option as well, don’t they? But what I really want is for you to tell me directly what your personal opinion is about choosing such a perilous yet perhaps courageous course.” Adalgisa did not answer immediately. She looked down and gathered her thoughts. “I simply believe that every set of marital problems are ultimately unique to the couple involved. Extreme measures that rely on liberating one’s sexuality through pursuing open marriages have already proved not to be fail safe. The risk is clear- some people are destroyed by such pursuits. The record from Monte Verità, and Ascona are already in, though most people are ignorant about this because so few really know nothing about counterculture from before and during the war. Their commune is now on the dust heap of history as far as that goes. And so is Otto Gross. And as for BFD, only a small minority of those working or those with influence who shape the message coming out of BFD actively profess free love; as I’ve said before to you- I might mention it as an option, but I do not promote it. What the other counselors profess- well, let’s just say that don’t influence my own opinions. Here in Frankfurt, the counselors operate free of organizational or peer coercion. “What I’m saying, Elke, is that here is no magic wand or panacea. Personally, I trust you enough to say that, yes, Hugo living in Washington D.C. cannot help but limit happiness for our marriage. Again, in confidence, I will say I, too, have found cause not to trust Hugo, but I have no proof. So to, I do not actually know the nature of his assignment in Washington. It is obviously cloaked in secrecy. “But Hugo does not really figure into what is most important to me. That sounds cold, I know, but my own happiness and well-being I invest more in my son and my work, such as with BDF, or the museum, or the lecture series I organize, or my piano playing, or the books of poetry I read. If you find my example inspiring, then I urge you to find meaningful work, and perhaps hopefully have a child as well.” “Hopefully,” Elke said, her voice trailing off. “This talk and uproar about Germany’s New Woman- it is attacked by many for its sexual politics- but there is so much more. Just look at yourself- how you were able to gain employment, work hard on your own, and individually forge a new life. How many degrees is this removed from you dear mother’s upbringing in her erstwhile agricultural existence or her low wage years of manual labor in Judengasse. The distance you have come is without precedence in civilization- not just Germany, or the western world- but I dare say anywhere at any time.” “Yes, there has been movement, but in truth, my station in life can only now be sustained by the financial means Claude affords. Without him, I’d slip back into poverty and tenement life.” “Then you must not upset that apple cart, Elke. Don’t put your marriage in jeopardy- at least not yet. I suggest you get to work again- get the training you always wanted in the beginning- your idea of becoming a translator and working in the publishing industry was a viable root for you.” “So I must be silent and suffer.” Elke did not utter this as a question. “The true and quick answer is yes, Elke. But in the meantime- between initial suffering and ultimate salvation- pursue personal development; education. And consult over time with lawyers about your rights if indeed you do eventually decide on divorce. “And depend on good friends to help keep me sane.” “And perhaps seek out a new psychoanalyst, as well.” “Oh, well- perhaps you’d be most edified to meet me my good doctor, Herr Doctor Janus Reingold. He’s quite well connected. Here- take this- his card.”


Chapter XVII


A Death-Bed Imagining the death of the Kaiser


"This is the State above the Law.

The State exists for the State alone."

[This is a gland at the back of the jaw, And an answering lump by the collar-bone.]


Some die shouting in gas or fire;

Some die silent, by shell and shot.

Some die desperate, caught on the wire;

Some die suddenly. This will not.


"Regis suprema voluntas Lex"

[It will follow the regular course of—throats.]

Some die pinned by the broken decks,

Some die sobbing between the boats.


Some die eloquent, pressed to death

By the sliding trench as their friends can hear.

Some die wholly in half a breath.

Some—give trouble for half a year.


"There is neither Evil nor Good in life.

Except as the needs of the State ordain."

[Since it is rather too late for the knife,

All we can do is mask the pain.]


Some die saintly in faith and hope—

Some die thus in a prison-yard—

Some die broken by rape or the rope;

Some die easily. This dies hard.


"I will dash to pieces who bar my way.

Woe to the traitor! Woe to the weak!"

[Let him write what he wishes to say.

It tires him out if he tries to speak.]


Some die quietly. Some abound

In loud self-pity.

Others spread Bad morale through the cots around . . .

This is a type that is better dead.


"The war was forced on me by my foes.

All that I sought was the right to live."

[Don't be afraid of a triple dose;

The pain will neutralize half we give.


Here are the needles.

See that he dies

While the effects of the drug endure . . .

What is the question he asks with his eyes?—

Yes, All-Highest, to God, be sure.]


Ulrich Hoffstetler’s days were spent completely bedridden; quiet and consisting of alternating periods of wakefulness and sleep. His appetite and digestion were normal. He could also still manage to sit up and eat and drink on his own. With the help of the male orderly his peregrinations to the toilet and use of the bathroom’s special made shower were tedious but uneventful. Sarah George made him his meals and brought them to him three times daily. It was usually during those times that Hoffstetler would venture to speak; but mostly he muttered only “yes, no, please, and thanks” to her brief questions. Hoffstetler lived in his mind and for this his sleep was haunted; a multi-chapter phantasmagoria of hotchpotch events whose beginnings and ends were marked by periods of sleep interrupted by sudden fits of wakefulness; and whose bizarre imagery and quasi-narrative contents were taken from his past as well as sights and scenes unknown. But the deathbed visions had started, too, distinctly different than the rest as catalyzed either by his own physical ebbing or the stark reality of a date-of-death hanging over him. There usually was a river, with him on one side, alone, looking across to where groups of people stood, pressed together, their bodies amorphously conjoined into an undifferentiated, opaque mass with only their heads remaining distinct and separate. Even then the faces were dark and shaded as surrounded by a sky shrouded by darkening clouds that could be confused for the atmospheric backdrop of a painting which depicted a growing and impending storm. That is the sky remained fixed and motionless, and so did the many heads along the river shore, their only claim to life being the indistinct murmur of barely audible, indecipherable speech that in a hushed way emanated from the group. This scenario came and went with the measureless hours, but over time trended towards fewer souls crowding the opposite shore and then suddenly heads that became slowly more highlighted and enlarged with their figures distinct in shape, color, and outline. Hoffstetler could begin to make out hair, ears, eyes, noses, lips, teeth, and chins. Finally, during one visitation during the night, one head advanced to the fore, expanding as surrounded by a glowing penumbra. It was his father, Hugo, a face he hadn’t seen in seventy years, smiling and speaking with a welcoming warmth and tenor. Hoffstetler experienced this in seeming conscious amazement, even as he dreamed, that he could remember the face and voice of someone- even be it his father- that had disappeared so long, long ago. “Ulrich, my son, it is your father. Ulrich- please let me know I am getting through.” “Yes, father- is it really you?” “Yes. And we are all here, waiting patiently for you to join us. We want you to know this before you cross the river. Do not be afraid.” “I am full of fear and the blessing of hope, as well, father. Who else is there? Is mother there? May I speak with her?” “The others are here, Ulrich, my son. Trust me. They will appear when they are ready. I just want to let you know we are here waiting, patiently and with love. Never fear the eternal crossing. I cannot stay any longer, Ulrich. Have faith and be rest assured. I will return to you.” “Father, do not leave me; do not go yet again. Mother, why do you not appear?” The next night, it was the same stretch of darkened river’s water, but this time the surface ripples were dappled with some moonlight, and approaching from the amorphous mass this time, breaking out from the inchoate was a new face, one that he barely recognized, a woman with beautifully kempt gray hair, a diamond necklace and pearl earrings. “Ulrich, I see you, my Ulrich- I really am here, my dear child; and I see you so clearly. I see you are almost ready. Do not fear, my Ulrich- we will be waiting here for you when you finally arrive.” “Is that you, grandmother? Oma; Gross mutter? I cannot believe it is you. Mother and I loved you so much. I only remember the last time I saw you as a dream within a dream. I’m overjoyed, Oma, really, I am. But where is mother? Father did not mention if she were there or when she might come to me. Can you tell me? Mother-mother! Please come to me!” Ulrich heard himself speak in these deathbed visitations with the voice and words of a child; as such disembodied from his own present self or age. It was as if to be called down by the river at the end of life’s journey was to come full circle back to the beginnings of it all; clarifying that life’s path was a loop those arc always bent homeward. Then a short time later that same night, after falling back to sleep following a restless hour, the river appeared once again. It stood so much like a painting; this time the skies were colored with oranges, reds, and yellows. It reminded Ulrich of Munch’s The Scream, and as such appeared to be more a film set one might see in a German expressionistic film such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari as opposed to eternity’s backdrop to a real life dream. The river ran blood red and the masses along its opposing shore this time appeared as a haphazard, slapdash streak of black highlighted with fine line grays and whites. A youngish, male face emerged from this planar background as a superimposed montage, half transparent, the eyes alternatingly opening into wide eyed intensity as followed by their closing into tight slits. The mouth worked in word-shaped form and gesture; and then worked some more; but no words were there to hear. The hair matted tightly to the scalp and then stood on its stranded ends, as if stung into paroxysm and terminal excitement by the effects of a Tesla coil. Suddenly the crackling of what an audiophile would recognize as the sound of an Edison wax cylinder recording filters through to Hoffstetler’s ears and suddenly and competing signal against the background noise could be heard. “I speak for your son, Mr. Ulrich Hoffstetler. He knows of your condition. He cannot be with you at present. He does want you to know something.” “Micah; Micah! Why won’t you present yourself to me, your father?” “Mr. Ulrich Hoffstetler, he knows about the original, poor soul named Micah. He knows what happened at Hartheim. He does not judge you, but he wants you to know that he knows. And eternity knows, too, Mr. Hoffstetler. Also, your son wants to tell you that he is suspended and removed degrees of separation from you at present, and will not be able to speak to you perhaps until you cross the river, but he does want you to know, Mr. Hoffstetler that what happened to him was a mistake; a terrible mistake.” “Micah, Micah! What can this possibly mean? Why do you force me to agonize over the meaning and to suffer from possible misapprehension? Please forgive whatever it is that I may have done to make your life one that might have become unbearable to you. I suffer every day; well-nigh every continuing moment at having you ripped from life on this earth.” “I am not here as anything other than a messenger from across the river. I cannot console nor may I give cause for grief. I will only say that some things are undone that can only be complete upon your own passing. Your son will not return until you have crossed over. But even in that event, I cannot rightfully say when he can be seen.” “Must I accept this ignominy? Must I live out my last few days in abject stupefaction, my son appearing to me in this visitation as only an image of horror that brings me up short against a terrific tirrivee? Spirits unknown to me in the eternal breeches- release me son; release him back to me!” Awaking from this last visitation with a frantic cry and stabbing pain to both his legs, Hoffstetler’s head was thrown back, his back arched, with mouth drawn wide-open. His throat muscles cramped and crimped down tight along his trachea making it almost impossible to draw upon a breath. Then his mandible and maxilla bones locked fully open in lock jaw rigidity and Hoffstetler’s sharp pain sounded as forced through and limited to what could be heard as only a high pitched whistled floating on top of a bed of noise rather than the full-throated scream that it was really meant to be. It was the first time Ulrich Hoffstetler had experienced such a paroxysm of fright and resulting paralysis, with cramping running along most of his breathing apparatus down to the diaphragm muscle. His fear nearly drove him to the brink trauma-induced shock and fainting. The pain was the sharp and unremitting; the worse he had ever experienced in memory. He could not call out, nor could he move. Death felt immanent to him, yet no comforting visions of dead family were there in this lost hour of hopeless fear and pain as spent in the crucible of one’s shattered neuro system. It was a long string of moments lost in the abyss with clear vision of everything around him, even though it was perfectly dark and a moonless night. Maybe Hoffstetler did in actuality lose consciousness, for there was a black out period and next he knew he had suddenly awoken to sun light streaming in from under the heavy curtains opposite his bed. Though his terrible episode with temporary paralysis was clearly forefront in his mind, his directed thought was first about the mysterious messenger who stood-in for his son, and the continuing absence of his mother, Adalgisa. Now awake, he heard noises from the kitchen and front door. Someone had knocked at the front door and Sarah George had let them in. He heard the sudden sound of voices which brought him fully around, releasing him finally from the captive state his terrifying sleep had held him hostage to. Suddenly there was a knock at the door, and Sarah George pushed her head through. “Are you awake, Mr. Hoffstetler?” “Yes; yes, I am.” “Erika Jansen is here, Mr. Hoffstetler.” “Yes, fine. Tell her to come in.” Sarah George pushed at the bedroom door, without loosening grip on the doorknob until it was fully opened. Erika Jansen followed closely behind, holding a docket. She approached Hoffstetler’s bedside slowly with measured, quiet steps. Upon reaching his side, she lowered her right hand and tenderly took hold of his own, motionless wrist. “Hello, Ulrich.” Hoffstetler peered up at Erika as if she stood in a smoky haze, rendering her features indistinct. “Remember, Ulrich, tomorrow we go to the hospital; to the hospice.” Hoffstetler said nothing. “An ambulance will arrive in the morning at 10 AM.” Erika was not sure if she was being heard. “Ulrich- are you able to hear me? Are you awake?” Ulrich Hoffstetler blinked his eyes and nodded in the affirmative, but did not speak. “Ulrich, I just want to know if you have any last requests, questions, or anything else of importance you would like to speak to me about.” Again, just a nod in the affirmative. “Ulrich, can you move? This is very difficult for me to say, but as we discussed, you must self-administer the medication tomorrow. Do you remember that? We can’t proceed unless you are able to take the medicine yourself.” “Yes, I do remember.” “And can you sit up? Can you swallow the medication in pill form? If not, we will have to empty the powder out of the capsules and mix them with a syrup into a sweet liquid-paste form. Do you remember talking about that?” “Yes, I do. Bring along the syrup just in case.” Erika nodded and remained silent for a moment. “Ulrich, listen, I need to do something just for a minute. I’ll be back. Just relax.” Erika Jansen, still holding onto the docket turned and left the room. She walked into the kitchen where, as usual, Sarah George could be found sitting at the table in the breakfast nook, looking outside at the well-kempt, immaculate backyard full of crisply mowed lawn, beautifully pruned bushes and weed-free flower beds. Saying nothing, Sarah George turned her attention towards Erika, but remained quiet. Erika scooted into the bench opposite of Sarah in the breakfast nook. “Mr. Hoffstetler had a very rough night, I take it,” said Erika. “I’m not aware. I didn’t hear or see anything unusual.” “Did you try speaking with him?” “No. He appeared asleep. I didn’t want to disturb.” “Well- keep a close watch today, please, Sarah.” “Yes, of course.” “Now, do you have any questions about tomorrow morning?” “There are some questions I will have after the event, but prior, I don’t know. I’ll just say I will attend.” “Thank you. I think it’s important. Your help could be needed as well.” “How is that.” “Mr. Hoffstetler must ingest one hundred capsules. If he has difficulty swallowing them, we must hurriedly empty their contents into a bowl and mix them with syrup into a paste that then he must then eat with a spoon. It must be done with due diligence and no time wasted. There is a legal time limit within which the process must take place.” “How perfectly dreadful. Everything about this.” “Yes, but it is his will, Sarah. Now I need to ask you again, will you help if your help is needed?” Sarah George tried her best not to appear as depressed as she truly felt. “Yes, of course. I won’t abandon you nor Mr. Hoffstetler.” “I want to let you know that Wilhelmina Roth will attend tomorrow morning at the hospice as well. She arrived last night and is staying at a hotel nearby to the hospital. Afterwards, there will be a conference as organized by Mr. Hoffstetler’s estate attorney. It will take place at his office and you need to be in attendance as do the rest of us. The will and testament will be read and pursuant to its provisions and set of rules, rights, and directives will be issued. I want to reiterate that I have been appointed the executor. That much has not changed. I will make sure that you are to be taken care of as immediately as possible.” “Has anything been changed?” “No, nothing. It is status quo.” “After the meeting tomorrow, a car will arrive here to pick up me and my things. My appointment with the household of Mr. John Hobson remains confirmed.” “Tell me, Erika- why didn’t Wilhelmina Roth arrive until the last minute? It doesn’t seem right. Is there some good reason?” “I haven’t a clue. Granted, it’s not ideal. We must carry forth no matter the truth. And I really see no evidence that it matters one way or another to Mr. Hoffstetler.”


Chapter XVIII


All of this that is happening to me, and happening to others about me, is it reality or is it fiction? May not all of it perhaps be a dream of God, or of whomever it may be, which will vanish as soon as He wakes? The only way to give finality to the world is to give it consciousness. For where there is no consciousness there is no finality, finality presupposing a purpose.

Miguel de Unamuno


Erika Jansen returned to Ulrich Hoffstetler’s bedroom, still carrying the legal docket in hand. “I apologize, Ulrich. I just wanted to speak with you a little before the day escapes us.” Ulrich Hoffstetler’s eyes were clear, and so was his thinking. It was a period of lucidity and he knew it. “Erika, there are no more important questions left, are there? I don’t think there are. I have ideas on things, I must say. But no real questions; not about this life.” Erika approached the bedside and looked down at Hoffstetler. “Perhaps you really do have nothing more to ask, Ulrich.” “No, none. But I’m sure you do.” “I want to confirm two things. First, that you are still comfortable with your choice of tomorrow happening in the hospice as opposed to here, at your home. Second, that your last will and testament stands as is.” “Yes and yes. Especially yes to the first.” “I can’t help but ask why.” “There is a curse in my family. My death will break that curse, but only if it occurs in neutral ground. I don’t want my last living relative to inherit that curse. And if I die here, that curse will remain here.” “Do you really believe that, Ulrich? It sounds superstitious; and you’ve never struck me as superstitious.” “About a curse? Of course I believe that. There must be closure to the curse; finality.” “You believe you inherited a curse from whom and passed it on to whom?” “Why do you ask me a rhetorical question? Must you pretend that you don’t know the answer to that question?” “A little discretion and respect seems appropriate. In the final hour, I have no right to assume. Of these things we have never directly spoke.” “This is ground we have covered before, however intimated. Nothing has changed. Nothing in this life is of any question, for my life is over as planned. I have come to terms. It is the next life that fills me with concern. But perhaps that is simply a natural thing, for it will be a new existence.” “What concerns you?” “I have experienced family visitations in my dreams; I expect them to continue tonight. But my son’s visitation was abortive; thwarted.” “You are fearful that he is unreachable.” “Yes. As he was in life, perhaps in death.” “How has last night’s experience changed your understanding about your son’s life?” “I had abandoned myself to dying without ever truly understanding why he died the way he did. But this strange apparition; this ghostly proxy that spoke for Micah in my dream- he told me that Micah knew and forgave me about what happened at Hartheim. I never told him about Hartheim. At least, I don’t think he ever knew. But the apparition said that Micah was “removed by degrees of separation,” and that only perhaps would he be able to make contact with me.” “Have you ever questioned yourself as to why you withheld the truth about Hartheim to your son?” “Of course I knew why- why would I incriminate myself and burden my son with the revelation? Neither was acceptable.” “There is a question you could be asking, Ulrich. Don’t discount that what happens in this life effects the next life, Ulrich.” “I…I did believe that all had come to closure in this life- until the abortive visit.” Hoffstetler had vainly attempted to remain stoic and uncompromising, but under Erika Jansen’s steady interrogation, he felt himself slipping into uncertainty, misgiving, and guilt. “Perhaps you don’t believe in God, or Karma, or the transactional arc connecting life and death, but it does appear you believe in an afterlife.” “I had never trusted there was an afterlife, but the deathbed visitations have convinced me. The shock of it nearly killed me. So, of course, what you say is that I must make amends now- not later.” “Perhaps expiation is a better word. A stronger course of action. A better bet if I had to put it in do or die terms.” “It is do-or-die time. Give me direction, Erika. There is only you, now. Only your guidance. I must redress the wrong. The death of Micah. The horrors of Hartheim.” “You must vocalize a confession, loud enough to be heard; sincere enough to be believed; bold enough to be truthful. It is to be your last gesture of truth and reconciliation.” It was life on the precipice, and Hoffstetler had put himself there. Life had never had enough on him to force his hand before, but on the eve of the terminus- a terminus he arranged for and scheduled- he found he not only had the words, but could not speak them fast enough. * Hoffstetler asked that his last night be no different than any other; that he spent it in bed, alone, in his room. His male orderly was on call, but stationed outside. Ulrich Hoffstetler’s last mission in life was to experience one more deathbed visitation with the hope of making contact with his mother, and with some luck, his son. The weather that night was windy and in turn rain fell. The storm built slowly in intensity, and the steady sound of plummeting water droplets on the roof helped dissolve away the distractions and fears that could inhibit his sleep cycle from achieving the complete REM cycle and entering fully into the delta phase. Ulrich Hoffstetler was resolute in intent, as always. A man makes a plan, and follows through, come hell or high water; life or death. And in death, making plans appeared no different in process than in life. His mind set on making contact with his mother, he prepared himself for what he hoped would be the last great event of his earthly existence. Fearless and full of high expectations, Ulrich Hoffstetler used meditating in order to relax, repeating a non-descript sound repeatedly in mind and in silence; believing that the abstract as represented by silence would successfully transport him into the night’s first sleep cycle. Hoffstetler would have to accept the results. Coming to the end of his first sleep cycle the rain coincidentally stopped, and the soothing contact of raindrops as stochastically distributed in time, frequency, and amplitude across the surface of the roof withdrew their support. Hoffstetler suddenly awoke. He immediately knew what had happened and cringed at the failure of this first attempt, as whatever it was he had been dreaming was inconsequential in nature as well as being aborted. Worse, he found returning to sleep troublesome. As he was extremely weak and constrained to lying on his back for reasons of circulation, he could not freely experiment with a variety of sleeping positions that otherwise might help induce sleep. After two restless hours, Hoffstetler’s will was tattering; his restlessness fraying at his nervous system such that he would certainly reach sleep due to the exhaustion. This is what happened. Having reached the realms of peaceful sleep through a more fitful reason- actual enfeeblement- as opposed to forced meditation, Ulrich Hoffstetler finally entered into the mysterious realm that had only been scientifically studied since the end of the nineteenth century. The river appeared once more, but there were no serried masses of mysterious creatures huddled together in darkness, only an empty shoreline of what appeared to be smooth sand stretched along a silent flow of water. Suddenly, Hoffstetler’s view arose and flew as it were, crossing the river and descending; its new vantage looking up along the banks towards a beam of moonlight spotlighting a lone, hooded figure draped in a long black robe walking slowly and steadily towards him. The temporal invokes the eternal and the mysterious approach existed outside of time’s measure. Hoffstetler felt his consciousness and conscience pulled by overwhelming gravity into a wormhole, transported across the spatio-temporal into a realm whose physical laws were unknown to his customary sensibilities. But still the figure approached according to the familiar, and Hoffstetler awaited its arrival. The moon beam’s source suddenly could be perceived as traced by sight back to its source- a real moon; a globe on the ascendant; and as it’s full body had broached the black horizon, the latitude of its exposure widened and its intensity increased. At achieving what appeared to be a predetermined threshold of intensity the figure dramatically reached up with a flesh-exposed arm and with the long fingers of an elegant hand that grew in size every second, pulled back its hood. A mane of flowing hair was unfurled and began to wave as if a fierce wind was at hand, but the atmosphere was otherwise undisturbed, motionless, and silent. A beautiful, young face was revealed, too; its eyes ablaze with something akin to light but not exactly so. The final approach was such that Ulrich, whose presence and function had for some time been reduced to only a pure, hence abstract organ of sight, suddenly transmogrified, becoming a fully-equipped being of integrated human perception. “The time draws nigh; nigh; nigh, Ulrich. Only hours remain and having just confessed the truth to your son, it is time seize the one final opportunity and offer now- if not an apology, then an apologia- on behalf of yourself for the death of the little Micah; the first and original Micah.” “Who are you, specter in the moonlight? I am looking for my mother, Adalgisa Hoffstetler. Can you be she? I cannot tell.” “You know how important this is. Do not be willful and stubborn in word or deed. Listen : yield; surrender so as to satisfy what is asked of you. Your mother is not here at present. But if you want to see her, you must abide.” Finished speaking, the specter’s long, black robe flashed brightly as if reflecting an explosive, intense light, and then turned red. Its hand reached down this time and opened a fold below its waist, and there before Hoffstetler’s horrified eyes was revealed the young, crippled Micah Adamsky, in size and age as he appeared on the day he died at Hartheim in 1939, his distorted frame propped up and leaning against the red inner folds of the specter’s robe. Naked, his skin was pale grayish white, veined tattoo-like with a thin, complex blue webbing. His eyes were orbs standing slightly clear of his eye sockets, absent eyelids and eyebrows; staring directly at Hoffstetler. His jaws worked up and down and sometimes in asymmetric motion, uttering muffled sounds that amounted to muted murmuring that Hoffstetler assumed were words. However unintelligible, Hoffstetler hoped beyond hope he could actually squeeze or otherwise conjure meaning from them. In fact, he was becoming frantic. “I…I can’t make him out! Help me specter! What is he saying?” “If you really wanted to hear him, you could, Ulrich Hoffstetler.” “What do you mean? How could you say that? I’m doing all I can within my power!” “You might not be lying, but you must find a way- and quickly.” Then, involuntarily, Ulrich Hoffstetler inaugurated an incantation, and it flowed from his mouth uncontrollably. “Innocent child Sorrow was always mine The day you died And for that I knew To take your name And held it close Until there came A child of mine To bear it hence Anon, anon Abide I did And raised a boy Who gave you legs And a poet’s heart Who set you travel To spread your fate To make those know Who were of right to kind That love is suffering And happiness just the other choice This your voice, your voice Just the other choice Your voice, your voice” The spell was broken and the air was cleared. Micah Adamsky’s words began to rise in volume and reveal itself translucent in slow, limpid cadence. You were the soul I wanted The last soul I wished for To touch Just before I died And when I looked at you As they sunk the needle Deep in my vein I could only hope that you Would reach out To touch me too And so I have waited My deformities unchanged For the chance to meet you Across the river I have waited because I Because I have wanted to To wait and hear the rune To hear the mantram To feel the anti-hex Just from you And you have achieved now My One Angel status Now I am freed Hoffstetler listened with heart palpitating astonishment, and once Micah Adamsky had finished, his cripple frame suddenly morphed into that of a swift, and flew into the sky. “The swift can fly without ever ending his flight. I commend you, Ulrich Hoffstetler.” The specter wrapped the fold of his long robe out across and around his body and his head and suddenly catapulted in reverse, receding at a fantastic speed into the backdrop heavens; a sky now black and moonless for the moon had disappeared- much to the surprise of Hoffstetler, who had lost track of it. With the transmogrification of Micah Adamsky, a profound shift of consciousness occurred, coinciding in the physical world with the resumption of rain. Ulrich Hoffstetler awoke- not in panic or wonder- but in peaceful ease and repose. Mercifully absent was any feeling of bodily or psychic pain. He kept his eyes closed and breathed easily. However chimerical Micah Adamsky’s release into the flight of a swift may have struck rational thought, Hoffstetler firmly believed in the reality of what he had dreamt. He continued to breathe, evenly and with sustained purpose. Soon he fell asleep again. Soon, appearing through a mist, a river was again revealed to him, but not the mythic river from the previous dreams. Ulrich Hoffstetler found himself on the Frankfurt water front, overlooking the River Main. The imagery and feeling was as if the scene was intensely real, containing not even a shadow of suppressed conscious doubt that what he was experiencing might be a dream or otherwise altered state. He saw upon the water three professional quality, competitive-style rowing boats, flat and low to the water; two with eight scullers each and a coxswain, and a third with a single rower working double oars. They glided with ease across the imperturbable waters of the Main, its surface glassy smooth and surreally placid. The boats left no wake in their movement, nor any other physical indication that they were actually resting in the water. The rowers drew attention neither individually nor in groups. They emanated a sense of anonymity and Hoffstetler was not aware of any distinguishing aspects that might establish some sense of their identity. Hoffstetler stood along a riverside esplanade, gripping a handrail that was anchored into a low stone wall that served as the barrier between the shore and the waters below. The three boats crossed back and forth, in and out of a view more akin to a camera’s than to a pair of human eyes, as there was no peripheral vision that perceived objects vanishing according to asymptotic fade-out. The boats simply were there to be seen or suddenly not, but once they moved off-screen into sudden blackness, they would move in from out of the black again from the opposite side and cross over into view again, traveling in the same direction as if on video replay. For an indeterminate amount of time Hoffstetler experienced what appeared to be a reoccurrence of the three rowing vessels, crossing back and forth before his eyes- an unnatural scenario perhaps but not so for a dream- but the feeling of the place was preternaturally convincing. A noon time sun overhead beating down on his head and the briskness in the air and fresh breeze coming off the water and blowing up the concrete embankment onto the esplanade at once propel and sustain the power of the dream perceived as real life. In due time the two longer row boats crossed out of view yet one more time but failed to reappear. The lone rower drifted across Hoffstetler’s view once more, now alone. The sole sculler ceased rowing, propping both oars up at equal level, somehow locked in place above the water. Now the boat fixed still in the river as well, and with the scene now static and more photographic in appearance, the rower became the object of interest. It became the artifact present that continued to move in gesture, rising elegantly straight up from a sitting into a standing position, turning and stepping off the flat of the boat, then proceeding to walk across the water towards the shore where Hoffstetler stood. Discernible features that would identify or otherwise lend description to just who or what the figure was remained imperceptible to Hoffstetler. But by and by the mysterious figure walking across the water of the River Main slowly came to assume aspects of being a living mannequin in graceful motion, and increasingly appeared to be female in shape. Soon the figure was clearly perceived as mannequin-like; indeed, it was revealed to be naked, faceless, with a color and surface sheen that was like polished obsidian. The living mannequin approached water’s edge and suddenly a flash filled the dream’s field of vision with the blinding power of a thousand klieg lights. The atmosphere remained highly charged as if a substantial electrostatic field had locked into place, but the lingering glow dissipated revealing a new scene, that of the mythic river Hoffstetler had dreamt of both of the previous two nights, and there on the other side was the same robe-clad specter that he had encountered just the night before. Hoffstetler again found himself being involuntarily lifted into the air, brought floating over the river, and set down along the opposing shore, not too distant from the black messenger from origins unknown. What happened next is only something any man who had ever loved his mother and had lost her to death could have wished for. Again, as happened the time previous, the specter’s arm reached up and a long hand with elegant fingers took hold of its black hood and pulled it off, revealing a woman’s face. But this time there was no wind that took hold of her head of hair, dramatically transforming it into a flickering flame of high intensity motion. The specter revealed itself to be Adalgisa Hoffstetler, standing in perfect grace and poise, her hair fashionably cut in her customary and preferred Bobikopf style, just as it was the day she perished from her earthly life. Within moments after her identity had been clearly revealed to Ulrich Hoffstetler, the black robe sloughed off her fully clothed figure. Her outfit and accoutrement communicated to Hoffstetler the sense of home he once knew. Adalgisa stood before her son and her face which at first notice was fixed in appearance and motionless, soon became lifelike and broke into a smile as her eyes moved about in an almost playful manner. “Ulrich, my son, did you really believe I would forsake you?” “Mother, this is my last earthly wish fulfilled. You have come to show me way over.” “My son, I am not your deliverer; and I alone cannot show you the path across, but I have come to be here for you in these, your final earthly hours. I cannot call you because you have called yourself, my son. So, I have appeared to let you know I really am here, and am waiting. Every man should die with the comfort of such knowledge.” Ulrich Hoffstetler began to weep uncontrollably, yet through the torrent of tears and throbbing convulsions of his throat he was still able to clearly speak. “The last I knew they pulled your body out of the River Main. They told me you took your life, and I believed them. Father seemed to believe it, too. And in this belief I have had to remain faithful. Faithful, for the sake of my sanity. To quell the tyranny of misbegotten truth and the anarchy it conjures. But now I ask in utter anguish, was it really true? In this moment of reunion and reckoning I find it impossible to believe. Tell me, mother, tell me! What am I to believe? What is the truth?” “The dead cannot speak the truth to the living, my son- least not of a world they no longer inhabit be it the same you still do. And when you have crossed over, you will find that truth and lies do not occupy the same lofty perches of significance as to the exigencies of the new existence. And for this you will quickly learn, it is a blessing.” “For this I am to be grateful, mother, really? Do I ask too much? - for I do want to make my exit without knowing the truth of what is most important in this life.” “The poor of the earth learn to live without enough food and clean water and safe streets. Even so, the incurables of life- those, such as yourself- who have hidden the truth in shame and fear from others all their lives- cannot ask in return for the truth withheld from them when they themselves had no control over what was true and what was not.” Adalgisa’s words fell upon Ulrich Hoffstetler with the weight of an obelisk driving down upon his head and shoulders descending in an instantaneous and unimaginable forcefulness. What had The wall which had until this moment been impenetrable by the smallest leak of cognizance began to crack and let bleed into the dream the functioning parts of Hoffstetler’s conscious brain. The field of vision and soundscape that once carried voices turned opaquely black and silent; soon after being sucked down and forever down into a kind of infinitesimally small point of non-existence seemingly located in the heart of Ulrich Hoffstetler’s brain. A lightning bolt struck the copper lightning rod atop Ulrich Hoffstetler’s house and a huge clap of thunder coincided in time. Hoffstetler shrieked in fright and as had happened two nights before, he experienced a near full body cramp that momentarily paralyzed his breathing and stiffened his musculature into a living rigor mortis. But the shriek was masked by the immense volume of thunder, and was reduced into a reed-like whistle by the clamp-like hold his tightened muscles had over his voice box. Though naturally awoken by a direct lightning strike as emphasized by ear-pealing sheets of thunder, neither his orderly nor Sarah George bothered to get up and check on Ulrich Hoffstetler. Something told them it didn’t matter.


Chapter XIX


Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.

Sir Edmund Hillary


Micah was ready early as usual; waiting on his front porch with his camping equipment neatly packed next to him. It was just after 6 AM on a sunny Saturday morning and though all around him in the surrounding trees the birds sang with abandon as if animated by the likes of an engaging subject matter of conversation, he did not hear them. He kept his ears trained for the sound of a Land Rover- an unmistakable sound as heard echoing across the asphalt streets even a good distance removed in the suburban quiet of a weekend morning. Sherif finally did arrive- fifteen minutes late- for which he hastily apologized, as it was to be a long drive into the Sierra Nevada, and the plan was to pitch camp before nightfall. They would have to drive east from the Bay Area on I-80 across the Nevada state line and entering Reno, turn south onto a scenic highway that would take them down the eastern escarpment of the Sierras on past Mammoth Lakes before reaching their destination and trail head in that part of the mountain range where multiple peaks towered at 13,000 feet and more. Their ultimate hiking destination was a collection of lakes in Pioneer Basin, located in the John Muir Wilderness as reached by hiking over Mono Pass, a treeless, rockbound saddle of granite. The pass exceeded twelve thousand feet in elevation, and this fact required caution and would force Micah and Sherif to camp for a couple of days in the public campgrounds below Mono Pass in order to acclimatize. “Oh, I’ve climbed above 13,000 feet, Micah.” Sherif was indeed confident. “That elevation never bothered me. What about you?” Micah looked over at his friend and only stared for a few seconds before turning his head away while remaining quiet. Of only one thing Micah was certain: Altitude sickness is a threat no matter how fit a hiker or climber, but he had no experience at elevations above the tree line, which Mono Pass certainly was and which Pioneer Basin straddled. In fact, he didn’t know how his body would react. Having no personal experience in high elevations, it was anecdote which Sherif’s pointed question had more brought to mind. Micah vividly recalled once having met an avid mountain climber who had made several ascents in the Andes. During one particular climb, the man’s climbing partner- who happened to be a better athlete than himself- experienced a life-threatening attack of pulmonary edema at 19,000 feet, whereas his less-fit buddy suffered no ill-effects at all. He told Micah strength or fitness sometimes favored, but genetics many times was more important and until exposed was an unknown quantity. Micah was concerned and considered it a gamble the two of them were taking. Only two days’ acclimatization had been scheduled, and it didn’t seem to Micah sufficient, as they would be traveling from sea level to 10,000 feet elevation- that of the campground’s- in just ten hours’ time. Spending two nights camping before heading out to tackle Mono Pass was all that was allowed. He knew that six days would be much better than two- but he and Sherif had to return to school and work in a week’s time. Most able young men, flush with strength and a sense of adventure, wouldn’t worry too much about such things, especially if they were experienced hikers and mountaineers. To say that youth sees itself infallible, even indestructible, is perhaps patronizing and replete with exceptions- true enough- but most stereotypical statements cautionary in intent are more often true than not. In the case of Sherif, he tended to dismiss the danger- at least for himself. His experiences in the high Sierras fueled his reasoning hence bolstering his self-confidence. But Micah- a more cautious personality- had fewer experiences to go on and hence wary. But the long trip by Land Rover, first crossing the Central Valley- the agricultural heartland- followed by the gradual rise into the foothills that over eighty miles finally peaked at 7,200 feet atop Donner Pass lured Micah into a luxuriated, unworried state, his senses filled with the slow change of both the flora and geography. The combined assault on the olfactory nerve at journey’s outset by chemical fertilizers as mixed with the onions in the farm fields aside the freeway in Vacaville transformed over a two hour’s span of time into deep draughts of crisp, clean air hanging clear in the Sierras, made fragrant by the spikey oil from pine needles as generated by a loamy soil that reached down to a granite bedrock. Views unfolded in slow processional transformation as well, perceived uniquely due to the knowledge of grand nature nearby passed unseen; especially coming abreast of the hidden American River canyon with its once gold-laden river beds still carrying clean water down from the high country alongside the county seat of Auburn where the digger pine trees- much maligned by the early white settlers due to their inadequate shade and poor lumber- grew in abundance; mercifully giving way to firs, cedars, and a variety of pines- white bark, lodge pole, Jeffery, and sugar as the elevation exceeded 5,000 feet. Once over the pass, the Land Rover made the quick descent down into the town of Donner Lake- the star-crossed location where doom and starvation had descended upon the Donner party. The original transcontinental railway tracks above the lake were visible from below as cut into shear granite, ducking in and out of snow sheds as it skirted a precipitous ledge along the steep ridge bordering Donner Lake to the south; eventually climbing down out of the Sierras and off Donner Pass into the valley below home to the historic western town of Truckee, more than one hundred fifty years past home to a large population of Chinese immigrants who once could be found held up in their crowded, segregated camps at night, while during the day were transported by train to work up on Donner Pass, where they risked their lives building the most treacherous leg of the Transcontinental Railroad, withstanding constant physical danger along with horrific racial discrimination which finally had them deported from America in the 1880’s, despite their significant contributions to the country’s development. Now in the rain shadow of the great Sierras, and having crossed the geographical border of the Great Basin, I-80 followed the Truckee River alongside in a river canyon. The Truckee river eventually would veer off to the northeast and empty into the other worldly beauty and mystical geology of Pyramid Lake, a large, alkaline body of water that bordered the Black Rock desert and its one-hundred-mile long playa that rivaled the heat and dryness of Death Valley. As part of a greater Piute Indian reservation steeped in poverty, the lake and its signature pyramid island made an alien out of everyone who visited it. I-80 continued east, crossing the California-Nevada state line. The next destination was Reno, a not-so-smallish and growing city built on gambling, but forever the poor step-child of Las Vegas. Turning south midtown onto a connector road, the Land Rover moved on towards Carson City, the greater Carson valley and Highway 395 proper. Looking to the west, and before reaching the Carson valley, the eastern escarpment of the Sierras was already on grand display. The geologic violence that had created the Sierras was not readily apparent on the western slopes as the foothills were so broad and gradual in their ascent across the many mountain passes that allowed motorists east-west access up and down the four hundred miles of mountain range. But Highway 395 tracked its way through basins, dry desert lands, and along rolling hills that lay far below an escarpment of granite on the Sierra’s eastern side that in the southern reaches sprang vertically out of the earth to dizzying heights at times 9,000 feet above their mountain bases. As one drove further south, the escarpment became more grand; more immense; the mountains more cragged and rugged; the elevations of the peaks soaring towards the continent’s highest; and the granite began to take on multiple colors of gray, white, red, yellow, and purple that shown magnificently during sunsets. This all culminated in the far south of the range at Mount Whitney- a mountain nearly as large in mass as Everest. The Sierra Nevada is geologically young; a four hundred thirty-five-mile plate of granite rock thrust up out of the earth along one side and axis as if wrenched free by a Titan; tilted like a piece of plywood at an angle causing the river basins and watersheds to flow east to west contrary to the neighboring, older geology of California- the Central Valley- where the great rivers all ran north to south. The great thrust and tilt happened along the eastern side, creating not only a massive, extended escarpment, but also a barrier to moisture moving inland east from the Pacific Ocean, capturing ninety percent of all available moisture which mainly fell as snow in the Sierra’s upper elevations before the weather systems had a chance to spread its bounty on the winds to those lands further east. This barrier that was the great escarpment; the great wall of granite, created the western boundary of America’s single largest geographical feature, a vast rain shadow called the Great Basin; a hot, dry, and often hostile region of mostly rock bound, treeless desert; but in places such as Nevada full of hundreds of small mountain ranges; pronounced but short wrinkles as seen from a passenger jet, that scraped the sky and held hidden mountain valleys of lush meadows and groves of Aspen trees. It was a glorious drive through one of America’s most beautiful rural and wilderness haunts, and the two young men spoke to each other with ease and spontaneity, their conversation ranging across borders that unlike the land they crossed, knew no boundaries. Micah had attended a few more symposia at Professor Ambrose Pierce’s home, and though he found the occasions informative and even sometimes exciting, the only friendship that had arisen from his experiences there had been with Sherif. Sherif was nothing short of special, not only in Micah’s eyes, but from any fair minded source of appraisal. He was blessed with good looks, proactive intelligence, earnest diligence, social grace, prodigious athleticism, good self-discipline, and seemed a fearless fellow. Perhaps Sherif’s most compelling personal trait- one extremely rare in any man, young or old- was his sense of fair play and his commitment to treating everyone with equal respect, demonstrating a belief that every human being was a valued, worthy individual. It was this last attribute that most impressed Micah, giving cause for putting Sherif on a pedestal had Micah been prone to hero-worship, but Micah was content to simply admire Sherif’s fine human example. Micah was a sceptic, dour as to the likes of men, but not a cynic. The cynic would look at the impossibly attractive, too-good-to-be-true, Adonis-cum-Apollo that was Sherif, and dismiss him as a boy scout Pollyanna; but the skeptic with some heart would have to otherwise defer. Sherif gave Micah reason to think that it was worthwhile to aspire to higher values, and not to be discouraged from their pursuit simply because such humanistic merit appeared so infrequently or manifest falsely in others. Micah admired his friend, and considered himself fortunate to have drawn his attention. Being discrete by nature, Micah had never pried into Sherif’s life, but had over time came to believe that his friend was bi-sexual. For all his openness, Sherif rarely made reference to intimate relationships past or present, and emanated the aura of being unattached. Micah’s own relationship with Sherif had always consisted of intellectual conversation at café’s or occasional matches on the tennis court. But slowly over a period of a several months Micah had visited Sherif’s apartment enough times to notice the smell of perhaps perfume or cologne in the air, or the sudden appearance of a new photo of a beautiful girl or handsome young man sit in a new frame on a desk or book shelf. Then were noticed somebody else’s shoes sitting outside, socks or peds stuffed inside; sizes too big or too small as compared to Sherif’s; both male and female; not belonging to the apartment for it was only Sherif who lived there. Micah was not surprised by his finding, and it certainly made sense considering Sherif was a member of the Symposium. The larger question; the one that Sherif had never ventured to ask, and the one that hung over Micah’s head was about Micah’s own sexuality. Micah was not a virgin, and had made love to a few young women, but he had never touched a man and had never cultivated any intense, sexual level of intimacy with any human being. He was too guarded to be fully self-aware of his sexuality in totality. The repression at work was palpable. If someone had told him he was too on edge he would have admitted as much to himself without intimations. There was good reason to judge Micah’s attraction to poets such as William Blake and Robinson Jeffers as vehicles for escape from intimacy. Blake’s propensity- or perhaps proclivity- of supplanting all concrete things our limited senses are capable of perceiving to in real fact be allegorical symbols and principalities that function in a self-appointed, personally-transcendent cosmogony seemed tailor made for relating to all things in life- and death- as idealized objects. This natural abstraction could extend itself any and all human beings. And Jeffer’s life-long attempt to equalize the divinity and sacredness of all of life and nature; stripping human kind of a proprietary or paragon status; would help a young man like Micah fall under the influence and find a falcon worthier of love than a fellow human. These were not diseases; but they were preferred deflection points helping to steer one away from all things common and conventional; enough so that Micah tread the earth insulated and removed from even his emotions; for emotions, too, are common and conventional due to their shear omnipresence. If it held water that Micah preferred inhabiting a landscape that captivated his attention to the wonders of rock and sky rather than questions concerning the emotional or sexual status of himself or others, the southern Sierras would serve good enough purpose. Micah and Sherif had now left civilization far behind, and with it self-analysis. Making good time, the two young men had by noon reached Mono Lake, an alkaline body of water sitting still-life and death-like in a desert basin atop a volcanic field. Alongside the highway the barren, rocky landscape was stippled with a series of small, conical craters, giving evidence of a large plumb of lava menacing far below the surface. The two islands of tufa rock projecting out of the surreal quiet of the lake were extra-terrestrial in appearance. Beyond the lake to the east the Great Basin picked up in earnest desolation. This was just a prelude of what was found thirty miles further south down 395- the great Long Valley Caldera; the eastern annex to Mammoth Lakes. It was one of the largest calderas in the world, beneath which existed a supervolcano subterra. The defining volcanic eruption in that caldera happened three-quarters of a million years ago and was so large that the lava, hot gases, and debris collapsed on itself, erasing an above-ground conical structure that most associate with volcanic activity. If a volcano of such an immense plumb size ever exploded again, it could destroy the entire western half of the United States while sending enough ash across the face of the earth to threaten all life as we know it. After passing Mammoth Lakes area with its well-known hot springs that dotted the Long Valley Caldera; and before reaching the largest town on 395, Bishop, the Land Rover turned west at a nearly nonexistent town called Tom’s Place onto Rock Creek Road. Uninhabited, all that seemed to mark the place was the fact that it was a turn-off into the high Sierras. Before following the fifteen-mile ribbon of asphalt that tracked Rock Creek up a steep ascent into the heart of the Southern Sierras towards the trail head, they would stop at Rock Creek Ranger Station- nothing more than an unmanned kiosk- and from a wooden sleeve built into a sign large enough to advertise the kiosk as read from the passing highway, the two young men secured the registration forms necessary for gaining permission as self-assigned to hike in the John Muir National Wilderness Area. After filling them out, Micah and Sherif tore off a stub for proof and deposited the other half into a locked metal box with a depository slit cut into its top side. Still early in the afternoon, the young men were on schedule and checked into Mosquito Flat Campground, the last of many campgrounds available as situated near the end of the road. Again, it was an unmanned facility; the camping spaces were free and first-come-first serve. At the road’s cul-de-sac loomed the tallest peaks of the John Muir Wilderness, granite summits whose vertical crags were still filled with ice and snow. The car was now parked at the entrance of a flat, high mountain valley that was also a pass. If followed, it would eventually trail over the peaks and down onto the western escarpment of the mountain range. The road followed up into Rock Creek Canyon, the creek feeding and then draining out of a long series of lakes along the seven and one half mile two lane road, ending in the Little Lakes Valley. The valley was a narrow flat between peaks; longer than it was wide, and along its hard granite face was etched out in long, shallow eroded pockets a rosary bead of glaciated lakes whose waters had created a belt of lush greenery that bordered and outlined the watery chain. Having climbed a mile in vertical elevation along Rock Creek Road, they were now camping at 10,000 feet. They were right at the tree line, and just above them up the flat there were no trees at all; and the view of all the surrounding wilderness, most of it fully exposed, barren granite, lay before them, unobstructed to the eye. The early afternoon light shone through a cloudless sky and the sun was appearing to accelerate along the arc of its trajectory en route to setting in the Pacific Ocean. Still, this was the Range of Light. No matter the time of day, it was a world of treeless granite with fetches of rock flats and massive peaks. The quartz, feldspar, and mica scattered light in vast quantities that created a reflective majesty few places on earth had ever countenanced. Getting out of the vehicle, Micah and Sherif decided to immediately explore the surrounding area; to stretch their legs and check the local lakes for evidence of fish stock. Only a couple hundred yards distant was the first lake they stumbled upon, a small, round body of water called Serene Lake; isolated; unfed by the nearby creek, and some ways distant from the rosary bead formations further up Little Lakes Valley. The air was noticeably thin, and both the young men found walking and breathing a little labored. The first lake they came upon looked good for fishing, so the two decided to return to the Land Rover and grab their fishing poles. Returning with their fishing tackle, they hastily readied their rods and reels and cast out their lines into the clear, blue waters. Though morning would have been a better time to fish, they would tried their luck now in the early afternoon. “I’m not much of an angler,” said Micah ruefully. “So who taught you how to fish?” “No one.” “Go figure. Then no supper for you. Every man for himself.” Sherif smiled while staring off across the lake, craning his neck back and training his eyes upwards towards an imposing peak he realized was along their planned route and perhaps was easily scalable. “Well, lucky we brought some groceries.” “Enough for a couple of days if we didn’t overlook anything.” “Hmm. I’ll admit I brought some extras you don’t know about.” “Shhh. Don’t scare off the fish.” About fifteen minutes later, Sherif’s pole could be seen jerking and being pulled into a tight arc. “Steady!” he said under his breath. “Grab the net, Micah!” Sherif tussled with the line and stepped back a few steps from the shoreline. Micah readied the net, and soon enough Sherif had reeled in his catch close to shore. Micah walked into the shallow water, reached over and netted the fish. “As I thought!” said Sherif. “A German brown! Look at him!” Sherif reached down into the net, grabbed hold by the gills the glistening brown fish speckled with orange dots and drew it out. He knocked the fish on the head with a stone, looped a chain through its mouth and one gill, locked it down and set the freshly killed fish afloat on the clear lake water, tethered safely on the chain. Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the same luck visited Micah, who was shocked and amazed that he had gotten a bite. Roles reversed, Sherif took the net, stepped out into the lake and scooped up the fish. Again it was a brown, ten inches long, and about the same size as the first catch. The two resumed to fishing, but after another forty minutes, not one nibble on their lines. “We’ve disturbed whatever else is in here. Let’s try our luck further up the flat,” said Sherif. Micah quietly acceded. The two left the lake shore and returned to the trail, hiking further south, following the Little Lakes Valley’s Rock Creek which led them towards the first of the long chain of small lakes. After ten minutes, the young men came to the shores of a long, narrow slip of water, Mack Lake. “I’m actually feeling a little weak after that jaunt- not energized.” Micah coughed and cleared his throat. “Yes. It’s the elevation. I feel it, too. One of the things about the lack of oxygen in your blood stream is that it makes it more difficult for your body to convert its food stores into available energy.” Sherif bated his hook and prepared to cast. “It’s like lethargy. It’s hard to sustain the motivation. I’m ignorant when it comes to most things biological, but what you say makes immense sense.” Mack Lake was scenically attractive as it was further up the flat and marked the first of the rosary bead of lakes. Some of the other local lakes could plainly be seen up ahead. Rock Creek ran straight through Little Lakes Valley to Marsh, Box, Hart and Long Lakes, connecting all the lakes into one system. “You think the fishing might be better here?” asked Micah. “I’m not sure. They don’t stock these lakes necessarily- probably not regularly. They used to, but they’ve tapered off. Especially in federally administered areas. The lakes at this elevation were originally fishless. Once stocked, they would support fish life, but fish don’t thrive so well naturally. I’d say we’re doing alright considering. If Serene Lake had fish stock, maybe Mack Lake does, too. Let’s just say we’re investigating for future reference.” After an hour, Micah and Sherif became restless. The fishing looked hopeless and their hunger told them it was time to cut their losses and head back to the campground, two fish in hand. The skies remained crystal clear all that afternoon, into the evening, and throughout the night. The high elevation, absence of light pollution and clean, clear skies offered Micah and Sherif what felt like ringside seats to the firmament on special display. A meteor shower animated the night, and like Picasso with a light pen in the dark there seemed an invisible hand drawing trails of light arcing long and streaking fast across the face of the Milky Way. The arresting beauty served to remind the young men that they spent precious little time enjoying the night skies. As perched atop a mountain pass in the wilderness, it was the closest human senses could come to touching something infinite. It had been a very long day. The young men didn’t find the energy to engage in conversation. After cooking, eating, and cleaning up, they silently star gazed, watching the great meteor showers for an hour, and then retired to their tents.


The morning of their departure commenced at dawn. The previous day had been set aside for acclimatization- light hiking, fishing, and preparing for the hike. Economy of thought and action guided Micah and Sherif throughout. Their preparations proved them to be models of industrious efficiency. Decision making came easy and was mutual. Their thinking clear and concise. Mutual agreement on nearly everything braced their hopes for a successful adventure. And don’t forget the moleskin………. By 7 AM they were ready. They left the campsite and moved the Land Rover over to a parking area at the trail head. The first part of the hike was the most brutal. Within the first few hundred yards, all manner of flora had disappeared. They were above the tree line, and had entered into a world consisting only of blue sky and granite rock. They were fully exposed to the elements. With fifty pound backpacks and city-pampered feet, they could only hope blisters wouldn’t erupt within just the first couple of hours of the relentless uphill trudge. Switchbacks took them up a very steep face en route to Mono Pass, whose peak elevation was 2,000 feet above Little Lakes Valley. At lower elevations, the hike would have presented a challenge, but there would have likely been at least some shade and certainly more oxygen available. But even for the fit, the first two miles of this hike could only be experienced as a physical shock for someone not yet fully acclimatized. Their progress was steady and an hour into the ascent they were off the switchbacks and headed more straight on line into a saddle between two peaks that climbed to the pass. Suddenly they heard a clamor behind them. A pack train of baggage-laden mules were coming up quickly behind them, led by two men on horseback who accompanied another six people on horses, clients who had paid for a wilderness expedition on horseback. The two men in lead were employees from one of the many pack stations that operated throughout the southern Sierra. They were straight out of central casting- tobacco chewing, unshaven, gruff, unsmiling mountain men with handlebar mustaches who wore black leather chaps, cowboy boots, plaid shirts and black leather cowboy hats whose side bills were curled up tight, sweeping back across the top of their ears. Once the pack party had approached within fifty yards, Micah and Sherif stopped and moved to the side of the trail the best they could, giving easement for the party to pass, but the trail was abutted by large granite boulders and there existed only tight spaces in between for a hiker to wedge in and stay clear of the passing animals. By the time the party was within fifteen yards, the pungent smell of the animals swept over the young men. There could only exist a feeling of helplessness for Micah and Sherif as eight people on horseback and five large mules carrying huge loads cinched down to pack saddles with canvas forced their way past. The young men stood still and looking up at the pack leaders looked for some sign of friendly acknowledgement. This was not in the offing. The first man looked down at the two hikers in disdain and said nothing. Or was it disdain? It looked and felt like it. The second man choose to speak. “If you know what’s good for ya, dontcha go makin’ a move at all, boys. Watch out for the last mule. He’s kinda skittish. He’s liable to kick ya square if ya spook him. That wouldn’t be good fer any of us.” Micah and Sherif remained calm, quiet, and didn’t move a muscle. Their hearts raced a bit as the huge animals past them. The bellows-like sound of large volumes of air forced out through their flared nostrils assailed them at ear level. Individual hairs of the pack animals’ coarse coats were plainly visible and their tails swished away flies from within just inches of the hikers’ faces. Micah and Sherif studied the sureness of the horses’ and mules’ hoof steps, hoping the beasts could maintain balance if surprised by stepping on a hidden cobble sized stone buried in the thick granite dust which powdered the trail sometimes inches deep. Thousands of passing pack animals had ground the trail up into a mix of cobbles buried in granite dust. The last mule managed to behave itself and the two friends, relieved, watched the party progress steadily forward along the rocky trail headed for Mono Pass. Gruffness was the way of many pack operators, the inherent danger engendering their attitudes. Liability weighed heavily on their shoulders. On a rocky mountain pass one animal run amok in the group could run riot through the entire pack train, with animals loosing first their nerve and then their balance, pushing each other off the trail; tumbling onto the rocks and crushing their riders or throwing them to be dashed on the surrounding boulders. Micah and Sherif understood this, but hoped they cleared the pass before encountering another pack train. Soon enough they had reached the passes peak elevation. It was 9 AM. They took off their backpacks and rested. At 12,000 feet they stood at the nadir point of a saddle that rose up steeply to a northern bound ridge, and a mountain peak, Mount Star, to the south. “Micah- here’s our chance to climb a real Sierra peak,” said Micah motioning with his eyes and pointing up towards the peak of Mount Star. Nearly the entire peak consisted of rock pilings; of granite flats and boulders assorted in size; structure into both loose and stable fields and patches as stacked together in a massive, vertical pile a thousand feet tall. “You want to ascend another thousand feet on this, our first day out?” “It’s only 9 o’clock. We can make the ascent in an hour. If we tire, we’ll have no problem making camp by afternoon, even if we stop short of Pioneer Basin. There are plenty of good places to camp along the way.” “I’d like to, Sherif, but not on my first day. I’m feeling light headed as it is. But don’t let that stop you. I’ll wait for you down here.” “Are you sure about that?” “Yes; really. It’s alright. Go ahead. Just make sure you bring down some photos for me.” “Thanks, old sport.” Sherif loosened the draw strings which secured the opening at the top of his backpack, rooted around a bit and pulled from its contents an empty, tightly folded day pack. He unzipped it and stashed inside a digital camera, power bar, water bottle and windbreaker. “Thanks, Micah. I’ll see you soon enough.” Sherif wasted no time and was suddenly off. It was an easy ascent- or at least Sherif made it look so- and after propping himself in a sitting position against his backpack which he had leant up against a boulder, Micah witnessed his friend’s ascent with rapt attention, watching Sherif’s figure became reduced to a speck but still discernible even as he drew near the peak. The view from the peak was predictably breathtaking. Each panorama offered a unique take on the surrounding geography. Looking east, Rock Creek Canyon was directly below, and all the lakes that dotted Little Lakes Valley shown brilliant blue in the morning sun. Climbing steeply up out of the canyon on the other side was Mount Morgan, towering seven hundred and fifty feet above where Sherif stood. Due south and only about four miles distant was Bear Creek Spire, an arête that drew many climbers. The northeast view looked down Rock Creek Road and down the escarpment to Highway 395 and beyond to the Owens River Valley and the Great Basin. To the northeast Sherif could look down on Mono Pass. Beyond the ridge on the other side some four miles as the crow flies was their ultimate destination, Pioneer Basin. Sherif was enthralled, of course, and reveled in an experience that was as rare as it was exulted. But what intrigued him most was not the grand vision as seen from a bird’s eye point of view, but rather the microworld he discovered as coating the surfaces of some of the granite rocks he was surrounded by. Rock lichen of many assorted colors- green, orange, red, and yellow- grew on the rough grain of some granite surfaces, clinging to life in this almost sterile and mainly hostile environment. It was the only visible form of life Sherif encountered on his climb. After taking photographs in panorama around the peak and of the colorful rock lichen, Sherif decided it was time to descend. Getting to Pioneer Basin while still daylight was a priority. Micah had taken off his hiking boots to check his feet as he felt some hot spots. He quickly decided he best prevent blisters by applying some mole skin. After he finished he looked up, and could make out a tiny human figure descending Mount Star. “He’s already on his way back,” Micah remarked to himself in wonder. Within another twenty minutes Sherif had successfully returned, seemingly none the worse for the journey. “Brilliant, Sherif! You’re back!” “You missed a chance of a life time, my friend.” “So show me your photos.” Sherif fished his camera out of his day pack and handed it to Micah. Micah browsed through the photos, studying them intently. “So this must be Pioneer Basin.” “Yes. I think we can make it by late afternoon, no problem.” “Take a rest first, Sherif. Let’s eat something.” * Eating a meal at 12,000 feet after a long hike is supreme enjoyment. Strapping on a backpack and resuming the hike after such a meal doesn’t come much naturally. It was past noon and the still air of morning had given way to a strengthening breeze that at times whistled through the rockbound pass. The sky blue of the morning was turning a darker hue. The temperature was perfect for hiking, and the dry mountain air clean as any on earth. Just below the summit of Mono Pass, Micah and Sherif could see its horizon just a couple of hundred yards ahead. Once at the summit they had passed out of the saddle and the trail was no longer rockbound. The young men had already passed Summit Lake, just one of a thousand tarns dotting the higher elevations of the southern Sierras, appearing more to be snow melt as filled a gouge in the summit’s exposed granite. Far above the tree line, barren rock fetches covered with all manner of sizes of granite pebbles, cobbles, and boulders spread out before Micah and Sherif, descending steeply a thousand feet lower in elevation due north to Golden Lake. Their attention was drawn to the northeast, though, where parts of Pioneer Basin were now in sight. To reach the string of lakes at Pioneer Basin they would have to descend two thousand feet over a distance of a few miles, and then climb back up another thousand for a final leg. By late afternoon the two friends arrived exhausted at Pioneer Basin, choosing to make camp at the lake where the maintained trail ended. Pioneer Basin offered tremendous views in every direction as it was surrounded by massive granite pinnacles and ridges along three sides, dominated by four contiguous peaks, including Mounts Hopkins, Crocker, Stanford, and Huntington, soaring from two to two and one half thousand feet above the basin. And the young hikers had arrived to find that they had the lake to themselves. It was a pleasant surprise. Young and strong enough to sustain a brisk pace, Micah and Sherif were not only elated to have arrived before sunset, but were also aware that they had pushed themselves hard. Walking on nothing but granite all day, it had taken its toll. Both had blisters on both their feet and their hips and knees were ached. The afternoon sun had quickly slipped below the horizon atop Mount Hopkins, and the air temperature was falling quickly. Micah and Sherif worked quickly to set up their individual tents, collect some wood for a fire, and water from the lake to cook with. To prevent diseases such as giardia they both filtered the lake water and added water purification tablets. Dinner consisted of freeze dried food, boiled in and eaten directly from their prepackaged pouches. Remnants of the sunset, the dim fringe of light outlining the ridgetops to the west was quickly fading. Absent the sun, nighttime temperatures 11,000 feet, even in the midst of summer, felt like a winter night coming on. It was just about dark, and Micah was looking forward to building a fire. “Sherif- my lighter’s in my backpack; I can’t remember where- I’m too lazy to search for it in the dark. Sherif did not answer. His head propped up on his backpack, he was lying prone on his sleeping pad which he had unrolled across a rocky patch of ground. “Sherif- hey- did you hear me? Are you sleeping?” “I have a massive headache, Micah.” “Shit! Man alive. Didn’t I warn you?” “Oh, I’ll be alright. I just need to take some ibuprofen.” “Where is it?” “Look in my tent. My medical kit’s in there. It’s green with a red cross on it.” Micah grabbed for his flashlight, turned in on, and walked over to Sherif’s tent. Unzipping it, he quickly found the medicine kit and carried it over to where Sherif lay. Micah sat down next to Sherif, and searched through the kit for the ibuprofen. “Here, take two. And drink as much water as you can. You’re probably dehydrated. Did you drink much water when you climbed Mount Star?” “Oh, I…I don’t really remember.” Resolute and always on top of his game, this did not sound like Sherif at all, and Micah was rapidly becoming concerned. “Come on, Sherif, let’s get you into your tent and your sleeping bag. You need to get warm and rest immediately.” Micah helped Sherif up, and it was difficult for Sherif to walk without listing and he nearly lost balance. Micah grabbed hold around his back and shoulders, which was not easy, as Sherif was significantly taller and heavier than Micah. Sherif stooped and crawled into his tent, Micah shining the flashlight ahead, showing his friend the way. “I’ll be right back, Sherif. I’ll get your backpack and sleeping pad.” By the time he returned, Micah saw that Sherif was lying on his side, outstretched. “Here. Let’s get you in your sleeping bag.” Micah took off Sherif’s hiking boots, laid out the sleeping pad inside the tent and pulled Sherif’s sleeping bag from its stuff sack. Micah reached over and gently grabbed and rocked at Sherif’s shoulder. “OK, Sherif, roll over here; this way- on top of the pad. Now I’ll lay the bag over you. Keep your socks on for now. I’ll put a water bottle next to you. You really should drink as much as you can. Call me if you need me. I’ll check on you later. Now- how are you feeling now, Sherif? Talk to me.” “It’s OK. Yeah…. thanks.” Sherif’s voice trailed off. Micah returned to his tent. After getting ready to sleep, he pulled out a small wilderness preparedness booklet he was carrying and shining a light on it from his head lamp, he hurriedly looked to see if therein was contained some information on altitude sickness. Micah succeeded to find a scant section on the topic. Given their current elevation and the insufficient time they spent acclimatizing, the article noted that expect a 50% chance of becoming sick from the altitude. Being young and male were liabilities. Genetic factors were often as important as fitness. Most often, altitude sickness at their current elevation would manifest as AMS- acute mountain sickness. Edema of the lungs or brain was always preceded by AMS. Pulmonary and cerebral edema were always a possibility, and cerebral edema could kill in hours. Micah prayed this is what Sherif was suffering from, as the symptoms resembled and were no more dangerous than those of a hangover. Is so, he’d no doubt feel better within twenty-four hours. With no medical training, and no other campers perhaps within miles of where Micah and Sherif were camping, Micah was beginning to feel a panic. Neither of them were carrying medication such as dexamethasone, which was the common prescription for either pulmonary or cerebral edema. Edema was a possibility- but not a probability. Still, Sherif had made four separate rapid ascents and two rapid descents covering a change of seven thousand feet in elevation in a period of twelve hours. Micah brooded on this point. But what could he do? Micah surmised quickly that his only rightful option was to monitor Sherif’s condition. Cell phone signals didn’t penetrate this far into the wilderness. Making a descent with a disabled Sherif would be next to physically impossible. He could build a makeshift travois and pull Sherif through endless miles of granite rock, but to do so at night without help over this rugged terrain seemed suicidal. Micah tried to calm himself. Sherif was strength personified. Sherif would pull through alright. He’ll just have to check in on his friend regularly over the next few hours and make sure he wasn’t coughing, or had developed a fever. Micah just had to make sure Sherif was sleeping peacefully. The silence was deafening. No breeze; no clitter of insects; no lake water lapping at the shore. When a man breaks down while in the wilderness, nature’s majesty no longer counts for squat. It becomes clear how uncaring the physical universe is towards the well-being of any individual creature. William Blake considered nature a seductress; throwing a veil over human senses. Micah understood that all too well now. He sat in his tent struggling to keep his fear in check. His physical exhaustion was no longer felt. Adrenaline coursing through his system, he was wired awake. Using his watch, Micah dutifully followed a monitoring schedule, checking-in on Sherif every half hour, and if he even thought he had heard a noise come from the tent, he’d immediately go to inspect. After three hours had passed, Micah was becoming persuaded that perhaps Sherif was sleeping peacefully. His breathing was steady and there were no extraneous sounds such as coughing. Nothing was interrupting Sherif’s sleep. Adrenalin levels were now waning in Micah’s system, and by midnight, his own weariness was overtaking him. Emotionally and physically drained, he lay down for the first time, with some reluctance. Sleep over took him. The sound of a crow awoke Micah with a start just in the pre-dawn hour. He slipped on his sandals and went to Sherif’s tent. Opening the zipper, he peered in. Sherif had not moved at all since putting him to bed the night before. “Sherif; Sherif….it’s Micah- hey, it’s morning. Can you hear me alright? You need to drink some water. Come on, wake up, buddy.” Sherif moaned, but did not speak. Micah leaned forward through the tent’s opening, reached in and grabbing his friend’s shoulder as he had the night before, gently rocked Sherif’s body. “Sherif, Sherif. Wake up.” Sherif moaned a little but remained speechless. Micah took a closer look at Sherif’s face. Sherif hadn’t opened his eyes. Perhaps he was unconscious. Placing two fingers on his cardioid artery, he felt for a pulse. It was distinct, but seemed weak. He couldn’t tell. Micah simply couldn’t tell. “I’m no doctor; I’m just no doctor.” Micah cursed his impotence, backed up out of the tent and stood up. The sun was beginning to reach up from behind the top of the ridge to the east, creating a penumbra of light behind Mount Huntington. Paralyzed with doubt and considering nearly all available options futile, Micah could only hope that some hikers or a pack train would appear. But it was still dawn, and that could be hours off. He did have a flare gun and a whistle, his only two tools for emergency communication. The morning hours dragged on interminably. Minutes felt like hours. Sherif’s condition hadn’t changed; he remained nonresponsive. In between his visits to Sherif’s tent, Micah scouted the area within a few hundred yards of the campsite, looking for evidence of anyone. Luckily, Pioneer Basin was perched well above the canyon through which the trail that accessed the basin had passed. Micah could backtrack a few hundred yards from the lake and command a view that would reveal to him any person or party of persons coming in from Mono Pass or alternately, trekking from the opposite direction through the Mono Creek valley and the four recesses that fed into that same valley. Even so fortunately positioned, by 10:00 AM, Micah hadn’t spotted anyone. He was beginning to lose hope. How to sustain hope? At 11:00, dark clouds started rolling in from the west. One more time Micah left the campsite, walking out along the trail, away from the campsite and the lake, looking down into Mono Creek canyon. Suddenly, he saw what appeared to be a pack train coming down into the canyon from Mono Pass. His heart leapt to his throat. Micah grabbed his whistle and started blowing it with frenzied repetition, the shrillness cracking the silence of the wilderness in half. A minute passed, and Micah ceased, feeling a little breathless. Micah did not have binoculars handy, and didn’t know if Sherif had brought a pair. Presently he couldn’t check for a possible reaction on the part of the pack train; not by sight anyhow. Not knowing if the whistle had worked, he began to worry that the pack train’s destination was the Mono Creek recesses and not Pioneer Basin. Micah would have to do everything he could to get their attention before they had passed the trail junction below. From his day pack, he took out a single-shot breech-loading snub-nosed flare gun, its body orange and grip panel, black. Shoving a red flare plug into the breech, he cocked the hammer, extended his arm its full length nearly vertical and at a shallow angle as leaning into the canyon below, pulled the trigger. There followed a deafening blast and accompanying sizzle. The flare sped skyward several meters before a trail of red smoke began to appear. With the smoke came crackling and a fizzle. The flare streaked out and over the canyon, reaching an apex as following a parabolic path and continued trailing red smoke into the canyon below. A pack train leader’s head jerked to the side as he heard the report. Looking up he saw the trail of red smoke. “We got some trouble up in the basin.” The pack train’s destination was indeed Pioneer Basin. They suddenly saw another flare and the late report as it was a good distance away. The leader halted the train. “J.C.- signal back,” commanded the pack leader. From astride his horse, the man called J.C. reached into a saddle bag took out a flare gun identical to Micah’s and loaded it. “Mind yer ears, folks!” J.C. called out, and with that warning, fired a return flare. The pack leader leaned forward on his hands which were holding on to the saddle horn. He watched the flare trail intently for several seconds. Releasing the saddle horn, he relaxed his arms while still holding on to the horse’s reins. He coaxed the horse to turn in place a couple of steps in order to face the rack group while speaking to them. A dozen people, nine of them payed clients, were all ears, and wondering what was going to happen next. “Folks, it looks like someone needs assistance from somewhere up in the basin. Now we have a duty to try ‘n’ help if help is what is needed. But not to worry, this won’t hinder us none, folks. So I’m ridin’ ahead to check this thing out while J.C., here will take the lead. You’ll be comin’ up from behind me and we’ll meet back up again at Lake #1. J.C.- make sure you satellite phone is activated.” “Yes, sir. Will do.” With that, Jeremy, the pack leader, pulled at the reins and the horse pivoted back to a forward stance and started up the trail that climbed out of the Mono Creek canyon. Micah couldn’t believe his eyes. There was red trail of smoke clearly seen in the yawning canyon below accompanied by a late report. He turned and ran excitedly back to camp to alert Sherif. “Sherif! Sherif! Some help is coming. A pack train is on their way! You’re half way out of here. We’ll get you out safely, don’t worry, my friend.” Sherif did not respond.


An hour later, Jeremy brought his horse over the last rise of canyon cliff and entered the flat above the canyon that was the entrance into Pioneer Basin. Micah was waiting for him and had watched the solo horseman’s progress continuously from the top of the canyon. “You the one who shot the flare?” “Yes, sir. I don’t know how to thank you! We’ve got an emergency.” “We? Where are the others?” “Just my friend. He’s in his tent. Just a few hundred meters up the trail by the lake. He’s quite ill. Some kind of altitude sickness. It’s really quite severe. He’s unconscious and won’t respond.” Jeremy spit some tobacco juice to the ground and wiped his mouth with the back of a leather-gloved hand. “Don’t sound good, my friend. How long he’s been up here in the high elevation?” “We acclimatized for two nights in Little Lakes Valley, and then made straight for Pioneer Basin, but he stopped along the way and scaled Mount Star back down in Mono Pass. He wanted me to come with him, but I refused.” “You were smart not to.” “Do you have some means of calling out for help?” “Sure do. Let me check on yer friend and if it’s as bad as you say I’ll call out for medevac on a satellite phone. What’s yer name?” “Micah. My friend is Sherif. He’s in the orange tent by the lake. We’re the only campers here at the moment.” “Right. Well, I’m gonna ride ahead and check on ‘im. The pack train will be here in maybe another hour, but I can call for a SAR helicopter right away if need be.” Jeremy thwacked his horse’s side lightly with both boots and headed for the lake. Micah felt so relieved that he became weak, finding it difficult to breath and walk. He stood still for a minute, placed one hand on his forehead and breathed heavily for a full minute before making a move to follow the pack leader. When Micah arrived, Jeremy had the satellite phone in hand and was pulling out the long antennae. “I’m sorry to say yer absolutely right. Yer friend is seriously ill. Maybe even in a coma. Give me a minute.” Micah stood frozen staring at Jeremy, trying not to tremble. Jeremy first called J.C. “I’m callin’ in medevac. Two male backpackers here. One is fine. The other looks like a case of HACE. He’s in bad condition. Am located at Lake #1. Proceed as directed and meet me here. Am calling in SAR medevac.” Jeremy terminated the call, opened the line, and dialed another number. “Hello, Inyo County SAR, this is pack leader Jeremy Rollins from Rock Creek Pack Station. Am calling in for SAR medevac. One case of apparent HACE to report. Patient is white male, in his early twenties. Need immediate evacuation. Repeat; immediate evacuation. Location is Lake #1, Pioneer Basin, coordinates 37 degrees 27.641 minutes east; 118 degrees 48.162 minutes north. Thank you. Copy that.” Jeremy terminated the second call, collapsed the telescoping antennae, lowered the phone, and looked over at Micah. “I’m sorry to say yer friend is real sick. I ain’t no certified doctor, son, but I know my wilderness medicine. I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Not often- but I’ve seen it. Pray the weather cooperates. Normally it’s an hour or two before the copter gets here. We just have to hold tight. You should contact yer friend’s family. He’s gonna be flown to the Northern Inyo Hospital in Bishop. “Yes, so may I use your phone? But first I need to find a contact number.” Micah was faced with something for which he was wholly unprepared. “Is he going to make it?” Mikah asked. A shutter took hold of his lungs and diaphragm. Jeremy took out a fresh wad of chew and stuffed it down past his teeth into the fleshy pocket inside his lower lip. Taking his time, he put away his canister of tobacco, tipped back his cowboy hat, and looked up at the sky which was now threatening rain. “Looks like yer typical summer thunderstorm. Let’s hope it’s over and done fer real quick like.” Looking over at Micah, the pack leader said quietly, “You best count yer own blessings. Young men find their footing when danger comes callin’. It might be yer time to answer the call. Right now, yer friend is countin’ on you. I don’t know how any of this is gonna turn out. Time is not on yer side, though. Better call his family, son.”


Chapter XX


There are the things that are out in the open, and there are the things that are hidden. The real world has more to do with what is hidden.

Saul Leiter


From across a teak wood desk, Dr. Janus Reingold spoke in hushed tones with another man in the confines of his psychiatric office. The property of a wealthy architect who had recently developed a few upscale office buildings in Frankfurt, Reingold’s building was typical of modern Bauhaus design. Construction materials were steel, glass, and concrete. The building was curvilinear in shape and line- as if a thick edge had been cleanly excised from along the circumference of a circle as cut away from a smaller concentric circle. The convex side was virtually a wall of glass- consisting of a continuous stretch of framed glass panels behind which resided a row of offices. All the offices shared equally advantageous views as distributed along the curved arc of one hundred thirty-five degrees. Office doors accessed an open-aired, second floor hallway which looked out upon a beautifully landscaped, multi-level terrace planted with a variety of well-kempt trees, flowering plants, and sculpted hedges. Psychoanalysts were becoming a fact of life in urban areas throughout continental Europe, and were rising in number in Frankfurt. But few offered services from behind doors in what was otherwise considered a non-medical facility. Dr. Janus Reingold was a staff doctor at a local hospital, and through his work there he had referenced to him more well-to-do and well-educated clients. Being seen entering Reingold’s office might be construed as a visit to a financial planner or attorney. There was no professional plaque on his door. Reingold was on the vanguard of psychoanalysts who was establishing private practice offices that were physically separate from hospital or clinic settings. Many of the bourgeois clientele to whom he catered would not have ventured into a psychiatric office if it didn’t assure a measure of privacy and anonymity. Dieter Beck had come to Janus Reingold’s office as a colleague and confidant, not as a patient. Both Beck and Reingold were charter members of the new Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute (the FPI), and there was much planning to put into place to ensure the new institute’s success. Reingold had prepared a draft paper on the arm of the institute that trained both professional psychiatrists and layman to become certified psychoanalysts. “How long do you think the FPI must share facilities with the Institute for Social Research, Janus?” “Oh, it might be a good marriage for the long term, Dieter. Give it some time before you judge. We get to share facilities, resources, and students. For this first phase- for getting established- I couldn’t think of a more fortuitous relationship.” “I suppose,” said a dubious Dieter. “They have been cooperative to date. I think we are a boon for them as well. Later we will see if co-administration is mutually advantageous and that political issues don’t hinder our mission.” “What’s your deepest concern? “It’s not about funding or budgets. It’s about them interfering with our program. They’re a very idealistic collection of hyper-intellects, and don’t really have much experience with applied ideas. But they’re very opinionated about others’ actions. What we do is cutting edge- mistakes are going to be made. They have extended us understanding as such.” “And so you suspect they will turn from friend into foe; from supporters into savage critics?” Janus Reingold smiled mischievously. Dieter demurred only a little. “Call me a paranoiac. But that’s really to say I’m protective. I’ve seen close up how things went in Berlin. It was difficult enough without having to work within the confines of somebody else’s world. So tell me, Janus- what happens when the first patient under our care commits suicide?” “Never one to ask the most awkward of questions, are you Dieter? Well taken, but that is just one example of an occupational hazard existing out of thousands for the medical profession; just as a when a patient dies in surgery. Personally, I think we will be able to handle that when the time comes. Taken as a whole our colleagues up to the task- in all its demands. Take heart and hope for the best. We need your optimism, you know Dieter. Our profession has come of age in Germany. And you know that- you are a part of it. Ours is a great accomplishment, and future opportunities seem limitless.” “What about Director Grunberg? I see he’s leaving. Who do you believe might fill his seat?” “That is a few months off. There are only rumors circulating, but there’s a good possibility Horkheimer will fill his shoes.” “Max? Really! He’s just an unsalaried lecturer at Frankfurt University, isn’t he? Very good fellow, though.” “You talk about “applied” thinking. Max has done a lot of varied things in his life- despite the fact he’s rich. He gets on well with just about everyone I know of.” “But he’s not a Marxist. Do you think he’ll force the institute to become more heterodox?” “Now we are talking about something truly substantive and of prescient importance.” “You don’t sound miffed. You’re the resident voice of working man. Is the revolution now not only lost in its purest form, but passé as well?” “No need to be nasty, dear Dieter. For one, you misconstrue me and my socio-political positions. And secondly, you should be asking a different question, don’t you think? We were on the cusp of a good conversation just prior. Let’s explore what is of paramount importance here.” “Yes, yes, go on. I beg your indulgence.” “The big picture, Dieter- focus on that with me, please. Forget about the FPI for just a minute. Look around us- we are tumbling directly into another economic calamity. Hear the hoovering, Dieter? We are being sucked headlong into the decade’s second depression as caused by the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange. The Social Democrats have already failed. The first depression discredited them, even though loans from American banks did save Germany- but it turned out to only be only as good as the economy could sustain it. Now that there has been a Wall Street Crash the American banks will cancel their credits to Germany. World trade will be sure to collapse as protectionist measures slap high tariffs on imports. This time around the ruling coalition will bear the brunt of the blame. Come the next election the far right will capitalize. The Nationalist Party is already the second largest party in Germany. The economic decline will no doubt propel them into power. I predict that in the next election their party will command the most votes and take control of the most Reichstag seats. I’m sure of it. For the Institute of Social Research to remain known as Marxist in leanings is suicide. Horkheimer knows that. I will be honest with you- I have spoken with him.” “Oh you have?” “As two Jewish intellectuals from wealthy families living in the same German city we of course know each other, Dieter.” Dieter followed Reingold intently and in silence. “Max Horkheimer must reform the ISR’s stance. He will likely reshape the research into an academic enterprise. Interestingly, he is not giving up on Marxism entirely- at least not for starters. He is hoping to perhaps “shade” the Marxist bent, and integrate the views of both Marx and Freud, but if the Nationalist Party does get into power, having either Marx or Freud figureheads of the institution’s intellectual foundation will be unacceptable.” “They of course will vilify the ISR. So what is the contingency?” “A secret plan to flee Germany- perhaps to America.” “And Janus- just who might be able to catch hold of a brass ring on that bus?” “We must all work together in an attempt to make that possible, but each one of us must have our own personal plan of escape. The contingency, I’m afraid, exists with each of us individually. If Nazism is swept into power, it will more likely than not be an existential crisis for each of us, apart from the institution.” “The Nationalist Party will favor some of us. They will have need for psychoanalysts.” “And who might that be?” Janus Reingold raised his eyebrows. “Really, there is a fine line that separates psycho-social analysts. There are those who seek to have the individual better conform to society’s claims on them; to boost their productivity; to be better workers. Then there is coming at the problem from the other side. To reform the ills of society helps in therapy of the individual, because their fates are cast in the same lot. A smart therapist with ambitions to change society can justify to right wing nationalists what he is doing is in the state’s interest with enough calculated, smooth talk.” “It will take a like background to match the talk, Didi. Apart from those of us who could possibly be that deceptive, I’d say that someone like Felix Boehm wouldn’t need be. He is a good example of a colleague who will curry favor with nationalist politicians.” “Then there Groddeck. He’s a racist and pro-eugenics. The nationalists want to sweep the gene pool clean. Eugenics is a flash point. If as a medical professional you do not support it, then you will be suspect.” “With the ascension of the Nationalist Party there will be a purge. I for one, will not survive it.” Janus Reingold spoke matter-of-factly. “Are you actually preparing to flee?” “I probably should be, shouldn’t I, Didi? But to act on that fear is to encumber a huge burden of guilt. I would be abandoning so many good people who could use my help- colleagues, patients, friends, family.” “Are we being spied on and evaluated from within FPI?” “This was one reason why I asked for this meeting with you.” “Really?” Beck was taken aback. “I believe FPI is being spied on by the Nationalist Party, yes. I believe they have already infiltrated most cultural and academic institutions at this point in time. The FPI is compromised and draws attention because of Leonid Aronson.” “Why- because he is a Russian Jew?” “Of course he is hated for being both a Russian and a Jew; and perhaps by extension suspected of being a Bolshevist exporting revolution to Germany. But the bolshevist democrats have been defanged in Germany. The Spartacist Uprising is ten years behind us. Dreams of an international proletariat are fading. But the other side of that is that Russia is now in the grips of a dictator. Stalin believes in a nationalistic style of communism. He’s consolidating power at home. Maybe later he will export it- but for Stalin the communist revolution in Russia is not yet secured and is always under threat from counterrevolutionaries. He is obsessed with rooting out all home grown opposition.” “But really that is just about protecting his own regime- not Mother Russia. Trotsky’s international proletariat revolution has gone to hell, hasn’t it?” “Yes. But getting back to the point- our problem is Aronson. He is known to have a brother highly placed in the Russian national security agency.” “An apparatchik in Cheka?” “Now it’s called OGPU. And the rumor is that Aronson’s brother is using him to track down counterrevolutionaries in both Germany and other countries in Europe. To track them down, kidnap them, and bring them back to Russia. Or just to assassinate them when found.” “Can you imagine that?- an assassin in psychoanalytic clothing. Without Leonid Aronson- at least his money- FPI would not exist.” “He is our financial angel, yes. And you can see ultimately where this will lead. The Nationalist Party will set out to demonize Russia because of their interference in German politics and for fomenting an actual worker’s strike and revolt against the Weimar Republic. Ten years have passed, but this has yet to be forgotten- or forgiven. They will seek to purge all communist influence and operations going on in the country. Leonid Aronson will be targeted as a spy working for OGPU, and we will suffer closure due to guilt by association. The Nationalists will consider everyone at FPI suspect- especially those who are Jewish. We will all be purged.” “If we ask Aronson to leave the country now, would he understand- would he comply?” “In the short term that would be a drastic measure to take. We could lose all our financial support and immediately. It is possible that getting rid of Aronson wouldn’t help, either. But it is a proposal we must consider. It is why I wanted to talk to you. I support Horkheimer’s ascendency to directorship, but the Aronson question hangs over us.” “So we must spread this discussion. But how to do it safely?” “I have divided the staff into two lists of names. I want you to talk to this list of colleagues here.” Janus Reingold handed Dieter Beck the list. “Look it over. What do you think?” “Let me see your list.” Dieter reached over and picked up the other list. He studied both carefully and silently. “I think you have made the assignments with intelligence and discretion. I support your idea- however dangerous it is for our positions.” “There is no doubt- I am asking you to enter shark-filled, unchartered waters with me. If you refused I would not hold it against you. It may well end up a fool’s errand. The odds are against success, mainly because if my prediction for Nationalist Party control is realized, we will be purged no matter what happens with Aronson. But his continued directorship would make matters worse for all of us. This blade cuts both ways. On the other sharp edge, Aronson has the power to terminate our positions, but probably not our lives. Our careers would suffer in the short term, but we would still be able to work as staff psychiatrists in hospitals and pursue private practices.” “Yes, and we would be doing him a favor. We might actually be saving his life. So what you’re saying, Janus, is that we could walk away from the ISR to save our own skins at this moment in time, but you place greater importance on trying to save the ISR and our colleagues.” “Yes; I fervently believe in the ISR and spreading the psychoanalytic revolution around the world. Aronson has no business being a part of any of this; and his is a deadly presence that could destroy all of us.” The two men were interrupted by a knock at the door. Dieter Beck stood up. “I will take my leave, Janus. Give me a week. Let’s meet again. I’ll give you a call to schedule our next meeting time.” Janus accompanied Dieter to the door and opened it to let him out. Dieter was startled to see a beautiful woman standing at the door’s threshold. “Oh! Do excuse me, Madame, I was just on my way out.” “Adalgisa, please.” Janus Reingold was surprised as well, but acted as if Adalgisa Hoffstetler’s unannounced presence was not unexpected. Dieter looked back at his friend, smiled, and turned away to walk down the hall to the stairwell. “Please come in, Adalgisa. Take a seat. I must say, this is a most welcome surprise. May I offer you a beverage. I can ring for coffee or what have you.” Adalgisa sat down. “Thank you, but no, Herr Janus. I must apologize- I don’t know why I didn’t call you, Herr Janus. I don’t live too far away. I decided to take a walk and find out…..” “Discover if I am, perhaps, an imposter.” Janus Reingold rejoined, smiling broadly. “Oh, nothing like that, Herr Reingold. I have already vetted your credentials.” “That’s intriguing. I’m honored that you care. Perhaps it is a dubious honor. So tell me, Madame, has the vetting been worth your time?” “Oh, it took no time at all. In fact, it was a coincidental discovery that required no foot work.” “You are always a step ahead of me. Touché, Madame. So pray tell, how may I be of service?” “I am actually here to talk to you about one of your case patients, Herr Janus.” “Oh, come- that is certainly unethical, Madame. You know that.” “Yes, I know it is a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality. But your client is a dear friend of mine and I fear for her life.” “And who is your friend?” “Elke Behringer.” Janus Reingold did not respond immediately. He studied Adalgisa’s face and body language. “Why do you fear for her life?” “We have discussed those psychoanalytic visitations she has taken at your office in length. I know what she has shared with you, Herr Janus. I also know what you have told her in response. Unless you are privy to more than what she has told you personally, you would most likely have no cause to believe her life is in danger. It is not as if she would do harm to herself.” “So your fear has to do with someone else harming her. That amounts to a police matter.” “Perhaps so; yes- and if I were absolutely sure about it, I would contact the police, and wouldn’t bother you. In fact- I may well contact them soon enough. But I have other stones to turn first. The issue I intend to take up with you, Herr Janus, is that she has followed your counsel, and is now having an extra-marital affair. She did not anticipate that her husband- who is also cheating on his wife- would find out so quickly and would react so violently.” “You are leveling a scurrilous accusation at my person, Madame. And on what factual basis do you do so?” “I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, Herr Janus, but given Elke’s background; her impressionability and her fragility; and gathering from all that she has told me, I cannot help but question your judgment in suggesting such a potential harmful choice under the auspices of psychiatric therapy.” “I am loath to breach confidentiality, Madame, but I will consider it at present. Perhaps we can discuss what the ill-influence you accuse me of, but first you must convince me just how is it her husband plans on killing her.” “We are talking about Claude Behringer, the fashion designer, Herr Janus. Do you know him?” “I can’t say I do.” “He is having an affair with another designer who works in Berlin. It is convenient as she is not married and he spends half of every month in Berlin due to his work. But after Elke started her own affair, Claude told his lover that he planned to do away with Elke. His lover was so frightened- she took their affair to be a lark- that she contacted Elke to warn her, and in the meantime ended her tryst with Claude.” “I am sorry for Elke, of course, but this is rather circumstantial evidence. It is based not only on Elke’s word to you, but also the word of Claude’s lover. A she said, she said.” “Aren’t you concerned for Elke? Don’t you care?” “I understand that you are searching for the greater truth. And I am sorry to come across as cold, but discussing patient cases is punishable. I must ascertain facts the best I can under the circumstance. That you love your friend is clear enough. You are perhaps in disagreement with something I may have said in therapy that could have been misconstrued by Elke herself- I don’t know- but I will save us all the time and misgiving. I suggest you ask Elke to come to the office and have us all speak together. It is unorthodox, but I will confide in you that I believe we do live in dangerous times. Our country is unstable and so are many of its people. People you might not suspect can and do turn suddenly violent. I have seen it, and I’m sure you have to.” “That is a good and generous offer, Herr Janus. But I am exceedingly curious. Elke said you champion the Otto Gross school of “Repress nothing!”; of free love and polyamorous lifestyle. She also said that you actually told her that both she and Claude should have affairs, as if this would help their marriage. I must know: Did you encourage her to engage as such?” Janus Reingold, imminently charming and always ready with a smile, was no longer smiling. He starred of into the distance beyond the seat in which Adalgisa Hoffstetler sat on the other side of his desk, measuring just what it was he needed to say. After a long pause, he made eye contact once again. “Psychoanalysis requires discovery, and patients are in essence debriefed of their psychological make-up and personal history. The therapy is in part a result of the talk. A full analysis unfolds. Discovery-analysis-therapy: it’s all woven together. That is my current method. Specifically, my approach to therapy involves and allows for interactivity between patient and psychoanalyst. It is a new model that was pioneered in Berlin. Strictly speaking, Freud and his loyal disciples- the old guard and originalists of psychoanalysis- don’t agree with this new model. What this new model allows for is the therapist sharing with the patient their own psychological history; their own humanness as it were. I concede it is controversial. I proceed according to trial and error. That much I will admit as well. My chosen field is a young science. Experimentation is required to advance it. Mistakes are made, of course. But many beneficial methods are being quickly discovered due to the healthy abundance of experimentation. My colleagues are formidable thinkers and practitioners. Our successes outweigh the mistakes in my experience. As far as Otto Gross is concerned- I don’t know how much you know about him in depth; and I am somewhat surprised that you even know who he is and what he represents- I will say that I do mention him to some patients. In therapy I tend to be didactic. I believe it is important to expose patients to the various schools of thought extant in the fast changing world of psychotherapy. It can be argued that some patients should not be overexposed, as it can create confusion. But I tend to respect the intelligence of most of my patients, as well as their ability to sort out the options.” “Please excuse my choice of words, but I will use your own, Herr Janus. Clarify- do you dispense therapy or traffic in options? Don’t you think that prescribing something tailored to your client’s needs is the prudent, professional thing to do?” “Sometimes limiting treatment to a narrow prescription is what is called for, yes. But the world is wide open, even in therapy. Many patients are not so troubled that they cannot consider more than one therapeutic model or prescription if you will. And moreover, Adalgisa, we live in a revolutionary time. Bourgeois women in particular are experiencing and experimenting with real freedom for the first time. I am a fervent feminist. Most of my private patients are women, and most are grappling with issues surrounding marriage, motherhood, sex and work as experienced in the context of urban modernity. I feel a personal and professional responsibility to address the radical changes as faced by women in Germany. Otto Rank’s free love manifesto is considered irresponsible and illegitimate by many in the psychoanalytic community, true. But I personally believe that it has a sound basis in limited applications, and may be appropriate for some people. Of course, Otto Gross would argue that his manifesto will free all of us, but I am not a missionary on his behalf. As far as Elke Behringer is concerned, I will tell you that I only mentioned Otto Gross, his beliefs, and some of his biography in passing. I did not ultimately settle on free love and extra-marital relations as a panacea for her troubles.” “Be that as it may, Herr Janus, she certainly fixated on that option. She said you advocated mutual affairs. It appears to me that she was looking for an excuse- a validated excuse- to have an affair, and you gave it to her. What I really think is that she sought revenge; ” “That may be so, Adalgisa. I have not seen her since all this has transpired, and she never mentioned her desire to have an affair. Obviously a lot has transpired since my last consultation with Elke Behringer. But in the end, Adalgisa, each of us is responsible for our own actions. She did not strike me as non compos mentis or anything close to it. She was troubled, but was not exhibiting a non-functional, irrational state. She never mentioned being in harm’s way. Whatever choices she has made no one else can be held responsible for. Her level of sanity is testament to that.” “Elke Behringer is a free agent but not as stable a one as you would have me believe. Didn’t your analysis uncover her deep insecurities? I have known her for several years and am well-acquainted with her background. I am also a feminist, Herr Janus, and a practicing counselor for women at BFD. What we women face in today’s society I am well aware. Did you know that Elke comes from a poor background and married up in life? I can tell you that her father is long dead and brother serving far away on duty with the Wehrmacht. Her mother is aged and helpless. It is a precarious position- don’t you think? In this age of the libido unhinged? Claude Behringer has shown himself to be duplicitous and with his threats, the dangerously unstable character in this drama. I have to tell you I am disappointed that your first reaction to her crisis is to treat it as would a lawyer- instead of a doctor- and wash your hands of it. Did you not take the Hippocratic oath?” Dr. Janus Reingold had met his match, and he knew it. He couldn’t beg off and politely curtail the conversation; in effect being dismissive; saying he had things to attend to. That would not only be cowardly but could bring a world of trouble down on him both professionally and legally. The crux of the problem lay with Elke’s husband’s intent, and whether it was truly murderous. It was hard for him to believe it, but he could not simply ignore the possibility. He did care about his patient, but moreover realized if some harm came to her he would be tied into the affair because of this very meeting with Adalgisa Hoffstetler. Her cantankerousness led him to believe she wouldn’t think twice of accusing him of professional negligence if bad turned to worse. This very forward woman had ineluctably drawn him into the crucible. Dr. Reingold would have to be proactive and assume that Elke needed protection. Reingold concluded the police should be informed if Adalgisa Hoffstetler’s accusations were true. But first, there must be a meeting between he and the two women in question. “Adalgisa, if you wish both of us to be able to help Elke, you will have to put aside your misgivings about me and have us cooperate. You want my help but I cannot help either you or Elke unless there is trust between us. Please arrange for the two of you to visit my office for a joint discussion. I am quite open to initially helping, but if there is a real domestic threat, know that I am bound by moral and professional duty to notify the authorities. Call me with an appointment time.” Adalgisa, her temper having been sorely ruffled, began to calm as Janus Reingold took out a calling card and wrote a number on the back. He handed it to her. “My home number is on the back. The office number is on the front.” “Thank you, Herr Janus. I…I must apologize for being so accusatory, but I’m still not convinced that you did not incite Elke to act rashly. I’m truly frightened for Elke.” “No apology needed, Madame. Misunderstanding, I believe, stands between both you Elke, and myself. Let us sort it out. We’ll come together again soon do our best for her. And by the way- there will be no charge for this session.” Janus Reingold smiled coyly and flashed a sheepish look with his eyes.


Chapter XXI


I think in the corridors of power these dangerous kinds of orders are issued in a much more vague way, passed down two or three levels of command before they're given to the assassin.

Eddie Campbell


Dieter Beck called Janus Reingold at Reingold’s office exactly one week after their last meeting. “Janus, this is Didi. We must talk immediately, and in private.” “Can you drop by the office tonight at 7:00 PM?” “Yes. I’ll see you then.” It was a busy day for Dr. Reingold. He had ministered to a few patients at the hospital and then crossing town, two more at his office. Soon Adalgisa Hoffstetler and Elke Behringer would be arriving. His meeting with Adalgisa, too, had been exactly one week earlier. He had not seen nor heard from Elke since before that meeting. The two women met for lunch at Tobens once again, and afterwards took a cab to Reingold’s office. Having walked up the flight of stairs to the second floor, the two friends stopped for a moment to admire the terraced garden as open to view from the hallway. Walking up close to Reingold’s office door, Elke looked nervously at Adalgisa, clutching on to her small, silver filigreed hand bag with tiny hands, covered with white goat skin gloves. Adalgisa smiled and nodded her head once. Summoning courage, Elke knocked on the door. The two ladies did not have to wait long. Dr. Janus Reingold gently opened the door and warmly welcoming them, ushering them both in. He beckoned them to sit on a couch which created an L-shape with an adjoining chair. An end table with a lamp sat at their junction and in front of both was a rectangular coffee table set with tea cups and a pot of tea. “May I offer you a cup of tea, ladies?” Adalgisa and Elke, both dressed elegantly, nodded politely in acceptance. Dr. Reingold poured a cup for all three of them. “Sugar and cream, too, if you please, ladies.” The three sipped tea for a minute, exchanging only pleasantries. Finally, Dr. Reingold decided it was he who should break the ice. “Madame Behringer, it is good to see you again. It’s been a month now. How are you faring?” “Life is presenting a lot of challenges for me, Doctor.” “Did Madame Hoffstetler explain to you why I wanted all three of us to meet together in private? “Yes, she did. It is not my first choice, but Adalgisa is certain of its necessity.” “Madame Behringer, I must start by asking several questions of a private nature. Please pardon me, but as your doctor I must assess if you are somehow in physical danger as Madame Hoffstetler has claimed. May I please, then?” Elke only nodded nervously. “Alright. So, is your relationship with you husband really as troubled as Madame Hoffstetler tells me?” “I will be clear about this. It has deteriorated to the extent that I do fear for my life.” “Has he ever physically abused you, or threatened you in other ways?” “Claude has yet to touch me. He has raised his voice and cursed me, but never has he battered nor even as much as slapped me.” “Is it true you have had or are still having an extra-marital affair?” Elke looked down and choked back emotion. “Yes, it is ongoing.” “For how long?” “Three months.” “Are you in love, or would you say this is more just a retribution for your husband’s own affair? Or is it both? “Perhaps both. I am confused at present. It’s all clouded by my husband’s threats.” “But you just said he had never actually threatened you.” “Not directly. It is his lover in Berlin that tells me of his plans. As I said, Claude has never actually threatened my life in so many words to my face.” “So you are telling me that your husband found out about your affair, told his lover, and also told her that he planned on doing something harmful to you?” “Yes, that is right.” “How did he find out about your affair?” “I….I told him.” “Did he suspect as much and coerce a confession from you?” “No, I don’t believe prior to my telling him he suspected anything. At the outset I found a letter from his lover inside a pocket of his jacket, and this established the fact he was having an affair. Soon after I asked a friend of mine who knows Claude and works in the fashion industry in Berlin to keep an eye on him. News soon came back to me that he was seeing a woman there. Subsequently I met a man here in Frankfurt when Claude was in Berlin and started my own affair. Claude and I had a fight one night and I told him about the letter, my suspicions and my own affair. He was very angry- the angriest I have ever seen him- but he did not threaten me directly or even spend time arguing. He simply left the house. And I have not seen him since. It was later that I received a telephone call from his lover. She told me some horrible things.” “You otherwise don’t know this woman, do you Madame Behringer?” “No. I have spoken to her on the phone twice.” “So your fears are based on two phone calls with a stranger?” “I find her absolutely credible.” “What violence did she say Claude had planned? “There were no specifics other than he planned on ‘getting rid of me’.” “Now, you have taken that to mean he plans on killing you- but what about his lover-turned-informer? Does she interpret it to mean the same?” “Oh yes- and it was on this basis that she called me- and ended her affair with Claude. She broke off the affair after the first phone call. Her second phone call was much more urgent, as the fallout from the breakup had enraged him all the more.” “Did she tell Claude about the phone calls?” “Yes- at least the initial call.” “So she risked herself for you.” “I suppose she did.” “It’s curious that she would partake in a betrayal of you and then come rushing to your support- all at some risk.” Adalgisa stepped into the fray. “It’s very possible she came to a reckoning after being infused with guilt.” “Madame Behringer, where is your husband now? You say he left the house after your fight and has not been seen since.” “I really don’t know where he is. He has not contacted me. It’s been six weeks with no word from him.” Janus Reingold had reached a point of decision. “I am your doctor, Madame, but not your lawyer. I can offer condolence and therapeutic solace to a patient who has been abandoned by their spouse, and use talk therapy to explore the roots of your marital discord, but I can only offer minimal advice about your legal situation. What I mean to say is that you might consider divorce proceedings. And I would think that someone like Madame Hoffstetler, a counselor with BFD, could inform you of your legal options and rights. Would you agree, Madame Hoffstetler?” “Yes, of course, and we have spoken at some length about these legal options.” “I know enough about the law to know that you have absolute grounds for divorce, Madame Behringer, if you can prove your husband’s adultery. But of course, you are an adulterer as well, and this may well compromise your case, at least in aspects of a final settlement.” “I am grappling with the issue of divorce presently. Adalgisa is helping me,” said Elke. “In final, Madame Behringer, let me say that I advise you to alert the police of your situation. After you have, let me know, and I will corroborate what I can with them as well. Perhaps this will make them more vigilant. This is a difficult case, because your husband has not threatened you directly. The fact that he stands so accused by his lover weakens the cause for alarm- however slightly- but you will have to personally stamp your imprimatur on the urgency of this with the constabulary.” “So I can count on your support, Doctor Reingold?” “Surely, Madame. Contact me directly after contacting the police.” “Adalgisa, are you comfortable with what you have heard- with the doctor’s assurances?” Adalgisa took her time reflecting before responding. “I do believe the word of an attending physician well help Elke’s case, and was why I approached Herr Reingold in the first place. So I am happy to hear you will speak with the police, Doctor. May I add concerning the divorce- Elke has grounds for divorce on at least three counts- adultery, abandonment, and if we can prove it pre-meditations for murder. I will help Elke find the proper lawyer for her particular situation.” “I appreciate your time and support- both of you. Unless there is any more that must be said, I must now take my leave. There are errands I must attend to. My driver awaits me,” said Elke abruptly. Dr. Reingold stood. “Please feel free to call if need be- and do let me know when you have talked to the authorities. And make sure you tell them that your husband’s whereabouts are presently unknown to you.” “Of course, I will,” said Elke. Elke Behringer stood, shook the doctor’s hand and gave Adalgisa a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll call you later, my dear friend.” Adalgisa remained seated, smiled, and watched as Janus Reinhold opened the office door and Elke left. After closing the door, the hard heels of her shoes could be heard punching out a percussive rhythm, fading as she reached the stairwell, and then echoing as she descended to the first floor. Dr. Reingold resumed sitting in his chair, and looked questioningly at Adalgisa. “How does all this sit with you, Madame?” “I feel empty, Doctor. I fell futility.” “Why is that?” “So much is beyond my power; and none of us can truly take the precautions truly necessary to protect her.” “A legal summons for divorce will draw her husband out. If he doesn’t respond to the summons he stands to lose legal advantage. The authorities must be alerted to all of this. I think she should sue for divorce as soon as possible.” “Yes. I actually do agree with that. I….I just worry about Elke’s future. She’ll have to build an entirely new life. I’m not sure she’ll have the finances to properly do that.” “We really shouldn’t allow money to enter in as a determining factor aside from finding a lawyer who can best secure a fair property settlement. The immediate concern is to coerce Claude Behringer out of hiding by means of a summons. It could well serve to sober him and cool his threatening behavior.” “Perhaps. It could just as well serve to enrage him even further. He’s always been a man known for self-control. A restrained individual. I’ve known him a long time. But now I’m not sure I know him at all.” The conversation was suddenly interrupted by a sharp rap on the door. Janus Reingold took the pocket watch out of his vest. Dieter Beck was due at 7:00 PM. “He must be early,” mused Reingold. The doctor stood, walked to the door, and opened it. There stood two large men in fedora hats and long, black coats. They brusquely forced their way into the room, roughly pushing past Reingold brandishing handguns. “Sit quietly, both of you,” said one of them. Reingold moved quickly to Adalgisa’s side, and the door was closed shut abruptly, but quietly. Janus Reingold sat next to Aldalgisa Hoffstetler and put his arm around her. Terrified, and completely taken by surprise, both of them stared and trembled. “Listen very carefully. There are two cars parked in front. Your wife, Dr. Reingold, is seated in one; your son, Madame Hoffstetler, is seated in the other. You will do exactly what we tell you to do, or we will kill both of them.” What Janus Reingold heard was German spoken with a Russian accent. “Who are you people?” Reingold demanded. “That is none of your business. Let’s just say that our clients aren’t happy with you.” Janus Reingold suddenly had his worst suspicions at once aroused and confirmed. “You work for Aronson, don’t you? But the lady here- she has absolutely nothing to do with the FPI, nor the ISR. She is here for consultation.” “Oh, the woman. Well, it is the sins of her husband for which she must atone. He’s more difficult to reach being so far away- we haven’t been able to get to him yet.” The second man had remained silent until now. “We are just lucky to find the two of you together in the same place at the same time.” “My husband? What does he have to do with anything? He is a German diplomat. What has he done?” “I’ll only say this much, Madame. Your husband is no ordinary diplomat- he is a spy, and has committed grievous acts.” “Against whom?” insisted Adalgisa. “I have no time for explanations.” One of the men pulled out of his side coat pocket several objects and set them down on the coffee table in front of Adalgisa Hoffstetler and Janus Reingold. “Here, each of you will take a blank piece of paper. Each of you will take a pen. Each of you will take a typewritten, pre-scripted letter and copy it in your own hand onto the blank piece of paper. The blue one is yours, Doctor; the yellow one is yours, Madame. Write down each and every word as written. Don’t change anything.” Adalgisa and Janus Reingold read the letters. They were suicide notes. “Prove to me you have our family hostage below,” demanded Reingold. “Otherwise, just shoot me.” “Of course, good doctor. Stand up! Both of you! To the window!” Adalgisa and Reinhold stood and walked to the large, framed windows looking west into the sunset. Two cars were parked directly below. One of the men took out a pocket mirror, and catching a ray of sunlight, reflected it, signaling the cars below. After a few seconds, a back door to one of the cars opened, a man exited the door, followed by a small boy. It was Ulrich Hoffstetler. The man ushered Ulrich back into the car, and then climbed in, shutting the door behind him. A parallel set of events happened once more with the other car, this time a captive woman emerging with the man who was guarding her. Each man in the fedora hats grabbed a hostage and marched them back to the couch and forcefully sat them down. “Now write these letters, and do it quickly. Comply or we will most certainly shoot you in the head; followed by the boy and the woman in the car.” Under the threat of imminent death, the world had come to an end for Adalgisa Hoffstetler and Janus Reingold. And the illustrious, remarkable past was prologue for only this to be the final moment? There was no time for reflection nor rumination. The road to a quick execution is shorter than can be imagined. After the letters had been written and signed, one of the men took out a small medicine bottle and took out two ampules of potassium cyanide. He set them down on the coffee table in front of the intended victims. “Bite down hard on them, break the ampule, then swallow,” they were ordered. “Don’t say a word. No last goodbyes.” Each man walked to the side of the man and the woman and stood, pointing their guns at the victims’ heads.


Chapter XXII


Fate loves the fearless.

James Russell Lowell


Medevac in Bishop received the call at 10:32 AM. The winds were up and the clouds gathering. It didn’t look promising. The pilot on stand-by was a veteran of the Gulf War, and twenty-five years older than most of the flyers he worked with. Because he had to, he was conversant with consulting weather reports with his iPhone, but much preferred the live voice of a trusted weather forecaster. Taylor Windsor called the National Weather Service station in Bishop and asked for Ray Lessing. “Ray- how goes it? Listen- got a SAR call for Pioneer Basin. One man down with what looks like HACE, so time is of the essence. The rain don’t bother me as much as the wind. What we got goin’ on that? What about the McGee Canyon approach- followin’ all the way up to Big McGee Lake and then crossin’ up over Hopkins Pass? Can I avoid excessive turbulence in the canyon?” “For the Nevahbe Ridge area my measurements show gusts up to 45 knots, but looking towards noon and the early afternoon my daily forecast is not for increasing wind speeds because I think the storm front is going to settle in for a little while. Yeah, your suggested route is relatively safe. What we have, really, is just a summer thunder storm- granted bigger and more severe than usual. You’ll no doubt encounter lightning up at the pass. Probably hail, too, because the temperatures are dropping. How heavy the precipitation? Perhaps quite heavy- but for only a short period. Visibility will be nil, Taylor.” “Are you risk adverse, Ray?” Taylor chuckled under his breath. “You’re the man, Taylor. Sierra Hotel and Bravo Zulu all the way. You’ve got a man down. Wait until afternoon and he may not survive.” “Copy that, Ray. It was threatening rain in Bishop, too, but the rain hadn’t let loose just yet. Visibility was the real challenge, no doubt. Looking west out of the valley up toward the towering ridges of the eastern escarpment, there were no mountains to be seen. The low hanging clouds looked like swirling balls of black smoke and obscured all view of the great Sierras. Ray called emergency services and asked for flight clearance. It was a go; but with caution. The doctors were notified and while waiting Ray enlisted a co-pilot who helped him roll a gurney out of the hangar out onto the helipad, fold it up and place it on board the Bell-412. The doctors quickly checked all the medical supplies and SAR services on the copter. With rain imminent, the two pilots and two doctors were aboard and air born within fifteen minutes after flight clearance was authorized. Though the local winds had picked up, turbulence was light upon take-off. The first leg would follow Highway 395 northwest across the Owens River Valley and the deep, narrow gorge the once mighty river had carved into the sloping terrain up to Lake Crowley. The Bell-412 was a big copter and as controlled by a competent pilot could comfortably handle winds upwards to fifty knots. Visibility- not wind speed- was the concern. Soon, Taylor Windsor would be flying by instruments. Still flying relatively close to the ground in order to take advantage of the better visibility, Lake Crowley came into view. “OK, here we go folks,” declared Taylor Windsor. Turning west, the Bell-412 flew directly into the weather front that had socked in the escarpment. The visibility reduced to zero as the copter entered the mouth of McGee Creek Canyon. Elevation gain would now be rapid, increasing three thousand feet over the course of the next few miles. This leg would traverse the length of the canyon, ending in a granite bowl at the source of McGee Creek, Big McGee Lake. Now strictly flying by instruments, Taylor Windsor lifted the copter straight up into the storm front, gaining loft rapidly. He buried the bird into the clouds which immediately papered over the copter’s windows a shield of opaque gray. The wind buffeted the craft but the pilot held it steady. “OK, folks, hold tight- it’s up and over Hopkins Pass.” They banked to the southeast and lurched into a steep climb as the copter and its pilot, now to be tested for what they were really made of, flew at first at a steep and then nearly vertical trajectory as they needed to clear a pass that lay only a horizontal mile distant and a thousand vertical feet above. Water started to condense in large drops which soon turned into multiple streams squiggling semi-wild; lurching to and fro in shifting left-to-right adjustments as driven by the chaotic and rapidly vacillating wind patterns rippling down the face of the copter’s windshield. The visibility remained zero. Soon enough, the Bell-412 had cleared the peak of Hopkins Pass. The apex of their flight, at nearly twelve thousand feet elevation, was accompanied by a thunderous assault. Rain, mixed with hail, was now beating the bird’s body like a tin drum. Peals of thunder put everyone’s nerves on edge and sped heartrates as the darkness gave way to bright light twice as lightning struck alongside the copter. The noise became deafening as the hail increased, but once over the pass, the copter started to descend rapidly and the cloak of clouds suddenly turned back a lappet, revealing Mount Crocker port side and a steep fetch of granite sloping into the upper reached of Pioneer Basin several hundred feet below. The sound of the copter could now be heard by Micah and Jeremy Rollins and the rest of the pack train who had gathered in the rain, standing in their ponchos next to their horses, waiting for help to arrive. Due to the thunder and rain and wind the copter was not detected until it was right on them, and was alarming. The animals stirred at the sudden sound of the chopper. “He’s gonna land right here! Take yer horses away from the lake- now!” shouted Jeremy. “Walk them up to those trees and tie ‘em up- quick!” There was a mad dash by the pack train members to grab reins and coax the horses a safe distance off. Jeremy and J.C. each grabbed the reins of two mules and pulled them to the safety that was only fifty meters away. J.C. went down and grabbed the remaining mule as Jeremy returned. The group was fortunate that the whoosh and whirl of chopper blades hadn’t spooked any of the animals. Jeremy continued barking full-throated directions as the pack train were gathering up the animals. “OK- two doctors will get out of the bird with a gurney and bee-line for the tent. Once he’s free and clear, J.C. and Micah will pack-up his gear as quick as possible and stow it on board. It’s gotta be ASAP on yer horse. Micah- as you carry yer friend’s gear to the chopper, I’ll follow up behind you with yer own backpack. Once you’re on board I’ll hand it up. We got bad weather folks. Gotta make this quick and let the bird fly off as quick as it landed.” Immediately after the orders given on the ground, the red Bell-412 started its final descent onto a suitable landing site on a sandy patch close to the shoreline of Lake #1. As soon as the copter landed, one of the doctors jumped out while the other fed one end of the gurney off the side. The doctor on the ground grabbed hold. Seconds later the second doctor disembarked and the two then straddled the gurney, securing a grip on rails along each side. Jeremy pointed to the tent and ran alongside them as rain and hail pelted all of Pioneer Basin. The lake’s surface looked to be boiling, exploding pockmarks erupting over every square inch. Micah zipped open Sherif’s tent, and stood back as one doctor climbed in while the second kneeled in the tent’s portal and looked on. “Yes, it gives every appearance of HACE,” said the first doctor after a quick examination. Fortunately, there are no signs of pulmonary edema.” The two young doctors, veterans of many helicopter rescues, worked quickly and deftly, and managed to secure Sherif to the gurney with no help. As soon as they lifted the gurney and headed back to the copter, Micah hurriedly crawled into the tent and furiously started packing up Micah’s belongings into his backpack. Within two minutes he had accomplished it, and then he and Jeremey dissembled the tent, rolled it up and compressed it into its stuff bag, wringing wet. The controlled but frenzied sprint to take flight was on. Everything happened so fast and with nerves frayed and body exhausted, Micah’s senses were only capable of focusing on what was directly in front of him. The weather helped reduce his field of perception down to the bare necessities rendering him capable of doing only what needed to be done. He was incapable of observing or responding to any stimulation as sourced in space more than a couple of meters in radius removed from his person. Later, as he tried to recall, he had even lost clear memory of being pulled on board the helicopter, Jeremy’s fervent “God speed” or watching the pack train diminish in size as the chopper lifted off and took to vertical flight back over Hopkins Pass and Mount Crocker. As the craft ascended, the hail once again beat the metal body of the chopper unmercifully with a quickly accelerating tempo and force. Micah covered his face and started breathing heavily. The doctors looked on and cautiously monitored him to make sure he wouldn’t hyperventilate. Sherif lie in the gurney cocooned in a sheet and blanket tucked tightly all around him, water beading all over these fabrics and metal tubing of the gurney. The doctors wiped the water off of Sherif’s hair and face, and while one doctor applied an oxygen mask, the other administered an IV. In the well-lit cabin, the doctors busily worked to save Sherif. Amidst the life-saving activities and the medical terminology being murmured as passing from the life-savers’ lips, Micah could not bear the pain associated with looking at his friend’s pale and bluish face; nor watch the good work of medical professionals and take comfort in their expert efforts. He propped himself against the shell of the craft, sitting on the floor next to the gurney, and starred down between his knees which were close up against his face. Shutting his eyes, Micah concentrated on the sounds around him and not the sights. The whirling thwop and pounding thrum of blades became a soundscape in which he could hide and protect his sanity. Micah did not have to wait too long to be released from the confines of the Bell-412. Soon enough the rapid ascents and descents were miles behind and all precipitation had passed. Having exited the mouth of McGee Creek Canyon, the chopper flew clear of the Sierra range proper and returned safely into the friendly climes of the Owens River Valley. Full visibility had restored itself and Taylor Windsor followed the ribbon of asphalt that was Highway 395 as it threaded its way downslope into Bishop, some eight thousand feet lower in elevation than Hopkins Pass. Taylor Windsor radioed ahead for an ambulance. The copter crossed out of the valley of the Owens River Gorge into Round Valley and the Tungsten Hills, sweeping eastward and homeward into the small but important regional hub of Bishop. After flying over the Bishop Paiute Indian Reservation and the single square mile that was the downtown area, the copter circled above the Bishop Airport and descended for a gentle landing at the helipad. There an ambulance awaited. Sherif was quickly but carefully removed from the helicopter and the legs of his gurney were released and unfolded. Two men rolled him across the pad to the ambulance, its back doors opened in anticipation, some thirty meters away. Taylor Swift killed the choppers engine, threw open the pilot’s cab door and quickly stepped out of the craft. He walked around the copter and approached Micah, who stood dazed on the other side. “Son, a police cruiser will meet you here in just a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, I’ll walk you over to the hangar. Let me ask you a couple of questions and help orient you, OK? First off, do you have the keys to your vehicle?” “Yes, it’s a Land Cruiser.” “The officers will ask you about your vehicle. Give them the keys, alright? Tell them where your vehicle is parked. They’ll fetch it and drive it back to Bishop. Don’t worry about that.” “What happens now?” “Your friend is in good hands. The ambulance will take him across town to Northern Inyo Hospital. It’s the best facility within a couple of hundred miles at least. You’re fortunate as far as that goes. But as for you, you will have to report to the sheriff’s station and help file a complete report on what happened.” Micah looked up at the tall pilot. His hand was outstretched. “Thank you, sir. I don’t know how to properly thank you.” His voice trembled. The two shook hands. “I’m sorry to have to speak on behalf of the medical team. They’re off and running. This is highly unusual, son. Your friend is diagnosed with HACE. That rarely happens below 16,500 feet, so it is a rare occurrence here in the Sierra. But it is not unheard of, and unfortunately, it appears he has fallen victim. His family will be notified immediately. Once you’ve filed the police report you can visit the hospital. I’d count on spending at least one night here in a hotel. You might be able to return home tomorrow; perhaps the day after.” “Well- just what do we know about my friend’s condition?” “All I can say is that the SAR doctors say he is in a coma.”


Chapter XXIII


I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality.

Max Beckmann


Along with an old woman bundled in a long winter coat with a fur collar and carrying a large paper bag with looped handles, Micah Hoffstetler waited in front of a K-Mart and Vons on North Main Street for the Eastern Sierra Transit bus. It was due to pick up Bishop passengers at 7:30 AM on its daily route from Lone Pine to Reno. Even though it was summer, the early morning air was chilling and Micah, who was sleep deprived, felt pain from deep within his ear canals. On the edge of the Great Basin, and in a valley set between two of America’s tallest mountain ranges- the White to the east and the Sierra to the west- the night always sapped away all the heat the ground had absorbed from the summer’s long day time hours, leaving the mornings feeling like winter. The morning sky was perfectly clear but the fiery ball that is the sun was not yet to be seen. It had yet to clear the eastern ridge of peaks that were the White Mountains. Great White Mountain itself, California’s third tallest peak, loomed above the sun and Micah could only see the outlines of the peaks as well-lit from behind and below. Mount Tom, Mount Morgan, and Mount Humphreys- three peaks nearly 14,000 feet in elevation- stood out among the many others in the Sierra to the west. From across ten to twenty miles of poisonous creosote and sagebrush covered hills climbing toward these two great ranges of mountains- one granite and one limestone- rose up some ten thousand vertical feet in opposite directions from where Micah stood. There was no place like it in the entire United States. But standing in front of two of the country’s most well-known franchise retail outlets on the desultory streets of a quiet rural town waiting for a morning bus cruelly diminished the mountain magic, and was cause for an added measure of dread that compounded Micah’s feelings of dark depression. It had only been a little less than twenty-four hours since the helicopter rescue. Micah was already on his way home. As for the events that had transpired at the hospital the evening before, only the father had made an appearance as the rest of Sherif’s immediate family were traveling or working outside of the country. After being contacted about his son, the father caught a flight from SFO to Reno, and at the Reno airport rented a car to make the trip down to Bishop, arriving around 8:00 PM. A well-to-do investment banker, he arranged for a special charter flight to transport Micah to a hospital in Palo Alto, the family’s home town. Sherif’s coma was of course a great shock to his father, but the man was a stoic who by nature hid away his emotion. He refused to give in to fearing the worse, or at least showing as much. There wasn’t much to say or do at this point in time but to deliver his son into the best medical hands possible. Micah had waited in the hospital for the father to arrive once he had finished an official interview and filing an incident report with both SAR and the sheriff’s department. Throughout all the questioning he in course endured, no one, including Sherif’s father, expressed frustration or leveled any sort of accusations at Micah. Never once was there even an iota of concern intimating Micah had perhaps shown neglect or malfeasance in what had befallen Sherif in the John Muir Wilderness. Still, Micah felt a terrible burden of responsibility and hence guilt. He had been worried about their lack of acclimatization prior to embarking on the trek, and should have more actively argued against Sherif’s decision to scale Mount Star which was undertaken a mere 48 hours after living and breathing oxygen levels consistent with sea level. To believe anyone was above the laws of physics and the vagaries of human genetics because they appeared indestructible was a grave error. Sherif’s father had offered Micah a ride back to the Bay Area, but Micah couldn’t bear the thought of being held captive inside of a vehicle for ten hours with a complete stranger whom the father had employed to return the Land Cruiser to Sherif’s home. Micah had decided on the anonymity of the bus. The bus arrived fifteen minutes late. It was half empty and Micah settled into a semi-hypnotic state, sitting alone and starring out the window at the desert and mountain landscapes as they pealed by. He was drained of emotion and exhausted. Under the horrible circumstances, spending the night in a cheap, downtown Bishop hotel the night before had yielded him little, if any, sleep. By the time the bus arrived at the Reno bus station, Micah had long been put to sleep by the gentle rocking of bus, his head at first listing and then slumping flush and unconscious against the rattling window at his side. The driver found his berth and parking the bus released the air brakes. The blast of pressurized air awoke Micah with a start. With most of the other passengers already crowding the aisle, he struggled to stand, filed into the queue and walked in a dream state with the herd toward the front exit. A sudden waft of foul air met him as he reached the stairs at the front, carrying with it combined scents of tobacco smoke, diesel exhaust, and fried food. The driver opened the baggage bin doors on the right side of the bus and Micah grabbed his backpack. He slung it onto one shoulder and under its weight trudged in his heavy hiking boots over to the ticket kiosk, buying a ticket for San Francisco. Though he had not eaten since the night before, he was not hungry. He sat on a bench with his chin resting upon folded arms which rested atop his backpack which he had wedged between his knees. For two hours he continually stared into space wishing only for his thoughts to be empty and his emotions to be numbed. He then boarded a new bus bound for the City. Another connection from San Francisco to his ultimate destination on the peninsula added considerably to the total waiting and travel time. Taking a cab from the last embarkation, he didn’t walk through his front door until 10 PM. Micah didn’t come out of his house the entire next day. Later that day in the afternoon he received a phone call from Sherif’s father who told Micah which hospital Sherif occupied. The father said he was still in a coma and in intensive care. The prognosis was unclear, but if Sherif could survive the night, there was a good chance he would over a period of weeks or months, recover. With potential recovery there was the possibility of temporary to permanent brain damage, depending on the severity of pressure and amount of fluid leaking out of tissue and surrounding blood vessels had exacted on brain. After the phone call, Micah had to face the fact that this very night would be the crucial test of survival for Sherif. If he did survive, then it would be a waiting game of perhaps weeks before anyone knew what kind of life Sherif had left to him. Micah, who rarely drank, opened a bottle of cognac somebody had given him for Christmas the year before. Funny that he had received such an odd present. He was known for the fact he didn’t drink. It was quality spirit, sipping away two small glasses did calm his nerves. It was the only thing Micah believed would help him sleep. The next morning, Micah received a phone call from the hospital. Sherif had died. It was the culmination of a terrible nightmare with a signature ending of death, but Micah was not shocked. He had been unconsciously preparing himself the best he could for the worst case scenario ever since he put Sherif to bed in his tent the night the mountain sickness had struck. Micah had protected himself from the bitter reality better than he could have ever known. There was a protective shield he had manufactured to seal over and lock down his emotional self and drive the pain deep into some corner abyss in the far reaches of his soul. * At least temporarily self-removed from over bearing pain, Micah busied himself with an appropriate social response. He called Sherif’s father and offered his condolences. The father said Sherif would be cremated and that there would not be a memorial until all family had returned home from abroad. Calling Professor Ambrose Pierce was the next thing Micah felt the responsibility to do. Sherif was well like in the symposium and Ambrose needed to know about the tragedy as soon as possible. Micah left a voice message which the professor didn’t respond to until late in the evening. “I’m in the process of contacting everyone in the group, Micah. Not everyone knows just yet. We will have a memorial for him in a few days. I’ll let you know when.” Ambrose Pierce sounded dispirited but not enough to diminish his patriarchal air. “Are you alright? What will you be doing the next few days? Will you return to school?” “I’m alright, Professor; but no- I’m going to take some time off. Tomorrow I plan on taking a trip to Carmel and Big Sur. You know; to get away to my personal asylum for some meditation.” “That sounds appropriate, Micah. But you don’t have a car. How are you planning on getting there?” “I usually hitchhike.” “Oh no- that won’t do. Look. I have an extra vehicle you can borrow. I insist you take it. Come by tonight and pick it up.” An hour later, Ambrose Pierce met Micah in the driveway of his house and giving the young man a hug, handed him the keys to a red, four door Volkswagen Jetta. “It’s an older car and as time passed I bought something new so now I never drive it, Micah. It could stand some use. Don’t worry about bringing it back at a prescribed time. Just return it when you’re ready. And by the way- it’s insured.” Micah left the next morning, and by noon, he was in Carmel. He decided to spend the night and to do so comfortably, so he rented a decent hotel room in the downtown area. After checking-in, he parked, took two bags out of the trunk and locked them away in his room. Bixby Bridge was calling Micah. It was his chosen, personalized portal for transmigrating souls. The summer weather was idyllic with a slight breeze blowing onshore from the calm Pacific tempering the unusually warm sun which shined unimpeded across a crystal clear sky. He drove south, passed the Carmel Valley turn off, Point Lobos, and the Carmel Highlands. Now in Big Sur proper, and traveling a highway that had been chiseled out of the cliffs above the ocean, Micah proceeded casually and in no hurry, the Sea Otter Refuge stretching along the coast below him. Twenty minutes later there appeared the familiar sight of Division Knoll. Micah parked below the knoll in the Castle Rock parking lot abutting the north end of Bixby Bridge. Micah killed the engine and stepped of Jetta. The breeze was a little stronger here than it had been in Carmel, but felt fantastic to his skin. He walked across the dirt parking lot, the chafing and grating sounds of small rocks and pebbles rising up from his footsteps. Now the bridge was in full view. It was now afternoon, and at this time of day in summer the Pacific was its customary dark blue above which was the lighter blue of a cloudless sky. Walking out to the first stanchion he was carrying his leather-bound poetry book like he had done before. He gazed first at the Pacific and then down nearly three hundred feet to the beach below where the creek emptied into the ocean and felt some peace for the first time in days. Opening up his book, he turned to the last written entry.

In Memoriam

Your memory is all remains

And it is all I have to carry

But carry this by will I do

A traveler on your ferry

I ride in quiet graceful peace

On board with fragrant oils and spice

You, shipwright with your hidden tools

Built what would shelter me from night


I bear this burden and this pain

On shoulders strong enough to hoist

Portal’s sounding’s calling plain

Threshold to reach there is no choice


Transmigration on the bridge

Let loose the body’s memory here

Release the pain but keep the soul

Conserve the spirit loose the fear


Alive a friend does plant his seed

His breath and laughter keeps you

In death his seed will germinate

And propagate inside you


Micah read the poem out loud three times and was about to tear it from the binding when he heard footsteps coming along the bridge towards him. Startled, he looked up and saw a large man; a man that he knew. The man approached Micah and stopped short of him. “Hello, Micah,” he said without ceremony or warmth. “It’s you, Rex. What are you doing here?” “I followed you, Micah,” said Rex. “Followed me? Whatever for?” “I just had to talk to you, Micah.” “You have been following me all day?” “Oh, yes. Like I said- I have to talk to you, Micah.” “This is alarming, Rex. I am not comfortable with this.” “Uncomfortable? You feel uncomfortable, do you?” “Just what is it you wish to talk to me about?” Micah started to inch back from Rex. “Ambrose called me last night. Told me Sherif was dead. Said he died in the Sierras while backpacking with you.” “He was stricken with an acute case of mountain sickness, Rex. You make it sound like something it isn’t. It was a tragic accident.” “Oh- it was tragic alright. Tragic for him; and tragic for me. Do you want to know, Micah? Shall I tell you, Micah? Yes! I shall. Didn’t you know, you bastard? Sherif was the love of my life. Couldn’t you see that? Didn’t he even tell you? “No, Rex. We didn’t have that kind of friendship. He didn’t talk about personal relationships. And I didn’t ask.” “Yes, and that was easy for him, right? Right?! Because he didn’t care about me! He didn’t love me! He loved you! “Rex- please; settle down. Sherif and I were not lovers. OK? Listen- we were good friends; but never lovers. I can see you’re upset and understandably so, but…..” Rex suddenly lurched forward and grabbed Micah by the shoulders. A much bigger and older man, he soon had control of Micah. No, Ambrose told me you were lovers. And then he told me Sherif loved you. And then you go and kill him. For this I’ll show no mercy. You son of a bitch! You murderer! You have taken all that ever meant anything to me!” “No! Ambrose was wrong!” “Bull shit! Ambrose is never wrong!” Rex’s face was red with rage and foamy spittle spewed out of his mouth. Grabbing Micah by the throat with one hand and the belt buckle by the other he lifted the young man above his head and screamed at the top of his lungs, “To hell with you!” Rex pitched Micah forward, throwing him clear of the bridge’s railing as would a mad wrestler his opponent across the ropes of the wrestling ring into the ring side seats. Micah’s body tumbled wildly head over heel and plummeted from Bixby Bridge to the beach below. As he fell he never lost grip of the leather poetry book. The wanton murderer ran back to his Ford truck, which had been parked behind the red Jetta. Remarkably, he had already put his rage behind him. Stepping up into his truck off a running board, he wheeled the massive, black vehicle around slowly, and so as not to disturb the gravel, turned back off the shoulder of the road and disappeared up the coastal highway, heading for Carmel, maintaining a speed within the limit.


Micah’s body was discovered later that day by two women who parked behind the red Jetta and walked out onto the bridge. One had a pair of binoculars and spotted his body while peering down at the ocean’s shore directly beneath the first stanchion. They had been no witnesses and the police later uncovered no material evidence save the leather-bound poetry book they had found lying just a few feet from the body. The team that removed his body carried the book with them and handed it over to a forensics for examination. The pen ink as found in the last entry, In Memoriam, was tested for age and chemical make-up. The ink matched the ink of a pen found in the Jetta and was judged to have been applied to the paper only twenty-fours previous. Handwriting experts quickly judged all the handwriting in the poetry book to be Micah’s. After just a little more study, a forensics psychologist deemed the last entry to be an abstruse expression as created by a disturbed, depressed mind. In Memoriam was taken to be a suicide note. Micah Hoffstetler’s death was too soon officially ruled a suicide. The sheriff’s office was never prompted nor pressured to dig deeper; nor to consider it an unsolved murder. Ulrich Hoffstetler never contested the police’s ruling.


Chapter XXIV


The counterpart of the suicide is the seeker; but the difference between them is slight. Paul Watzlawick Wilhelmina Roth awoke at 5:00 AM, true to her self-disciplined ways. Digging into her luggage she pulled out a ziplock baggy containing a packet of finely ground coffee- only the best of quality- a small plastic jar of crystalized sugar, and a miniature spoon. Spooning just the right amount of coffee into one of the white hotel coffee cups, sugar in proper measure was then added. Wilhelmina then filled the electric water kettle with bottled water and quick-boiling it, wasted no time in filling the cup near to the brim, stirring efficiently but not to briskly so as to not to cool the hot liquid unnecessarily. Sitting alone in her hotel room, the morning songs of birds filtering in through the room’s sole window, Wilhelmina planted one elbow on the desk at where she sat, lifting the coffee cup by its handle up to her mouth, blowing across the top of the black liquid surface and sipping slowly. Wilhelmina found it difficult to remember the last time she had seen Ulrich Hoffstetler. “When was it we moved to California?” she asked herself. “Oh, yes- well, he came to visit us a couple of years after we bought the house in San Clemente. He was very polite as I recall. Right! He brought gifts for the children and was mindful to ask about all the relatives back in Frankfurt. My husband- well, Ulrich got on well with him as well. I felt sorry for him, of course. He had just lost his wife and as for his dear mother- well- that I so dread to even think about.” For Ulrich Hoffstetler, Wilhelmina was the last living link to his mother; to Germany; to the beginnings of his life. Adalgisa Hoffstetler was very close to her younger sister, Karin, and Karin’s daughter, Edith, who was Wilhelmina’s mother. Adalgisa always had a wonderful way with children, and lavished her niece Edith with the same quality of loving attention she gave her own son. Ulrich Hoffstetler never lost sight of this, and neither did Edith. Years after the passing of childhood and the death of Adalgisa; and after Wilhelmina was born and grew old enough to speak and understand; Wilhelmina would speak so often about her aunt Adalgisa- and in such glowing terms- that her spirit always seemed present, close, and comforting. Ulrich Hoffstetler knew all of this, and even though he rarely saw or heard from Wilhelmina, he held dear this last warm connection which however distant still managed to succor his spirit in the worst of times. Because of this, it felt wholly right and took no deliberation whatsoever to bequeath his home to Wilhelmina. When she received the call from Erika Jansen about Ulrich’s plans to end his life, she was deeply troubled. The fact that an old, nearly incapacitated man would have such intentions did not bother her. She believed in self-managed euthanasia. But she carried a family secret which had never been shared with Ulrich. Wilhelmina had moved to the United States twenty years ago. She brought the secret with her into the country. As the years passed the weight of that secret grew heavier. It had of course occurred to Wilhelmina that one day there would be a reckoning; that the secret would have to be divulged; that someone would have to tell Ulrich. That someone could only be Wilhelmina; but she could never muster the bravery to do what she knew really should be done. A rapidly aging Ulrich could have died at any time, yet Wilhelmina remained timorous- she couldn’t bring herself to divulge the awful truth to the old man. It would only serve to break his heart, she thought. But Erika’s phone call had stripped away the barriers erected by the fear of truth and Wilhelmina had to answer the call for revelation. That this distant relative had remembered her so fondly so as to hand down his very own house to her shook Wilhelmina to her core. Wilhelmina’s petite hands started to shake a little. She set down the coffee cup, placed her open palms over her eyes, bent her head down and started to gently weep. The terror wrought by the social upheavals and unspeakable violence as committed by millions of souls against billions of others always carries deathly consequence for as long as evil vibrations can propagate a wave of death through all matter- both light and dark. The space across which it spreads is greater than the girth of a galaxy; and the time it takes to advance eclipses eternity. And in the wake of revolution and world war the terrible truths transmogrify into horrible secrets that are interred in the memories of untold numbers of perpetrators and victims alike. There were terrible truths Ulrich carried he never shared. Though she was aware there was some participation there, Wilhelmina never stopped to speculate about her distant cousin’s actual role in the war nor the secrets he himself had sealed over, for to even to be curious about such things felt inappropriate, futile, and even taboo. She knew nothing about Schloss Hartheim. What was the T-4 program? She certainly didn’t know the euthanasia program by name. For those children like Wilhelmina who were born in those first few years after the end of the war, they were raised to see the post-war era as one of reparation, restitution, and restoration; not truth and reconciliation. The Soviet Union had brokered for control of half the country and for most Germans, it was not a time for recrimination against their own, for the deleterious effects of war lived on. Wilhelmina would not seek to condemn Ulrich Hoffstetler nor his generation for having caused the bifurcating her homeland. Having the country split into two pieces with one ruled by their arch enemy in ideology- the communists- was the focus of concern; not a sack cloth and ashes reproof of their countrymen. It was the preferred choice for these children not to raise the specter of dead souls- even on a genocidal level; to open too widely Pandora’s box of history; to question too closely their parent’s role in the war; to become too knowledgeable concerning Nazi ideology; to understand how a great people could surrender to the insidious machinations of mass psychological manipulation which successfully had them abandon their moral conscience in collective unison. But now, a former Nazi was hours away from his own suicide, and the conflict tearing at Wilhelmina’s soul was not to ask for that Nazi’s war-time confession, but to burden him with her own. It didn’t sound right; but it felt necessary. * Erika Jansen arrived at Ulrich Hoffstetler’s house at 9:30 AM. Sarah George let her in through the front door and entering the main bedroom, she saw Ulrich lying still in bed with his attendant standing next to him. Hoffstetler’s estate lawyer was sitting at Hoffstetler’s desk studying over some legal documents. Erika walked up to Ulrich’s bedside. “Hello, Ulrich.” She reached out and took hold of his hand. Ulrich smiled. It was pacific; even beatific. “My dear Erika. Good morning. Oh, my dear Erika. The day has arrived. I am ready. And I am at peace. But I will surely miss you, my dearest friend.” Erika was a little stunned, but kept her composure. She realized quickly that Ulrich Hoffstetler had been party to a death bed visitation from his mother. Suddenly, the doorbell rang once more. Sarah George was not expecting the ambulance this early and was curious as to just who it could be. Opening the door, Sarah George was surprised a small, middle aged woman in a long frock with her left arm bent at the elbow so as to hold up the weight of her handbag whose straps had been draped over her forearm. She thought perhaps the woman had mistaken the house’s address. “Hello, ma’am, is this the Hoffstetler’s residence?” Sarah George pushed open the screen door and walked out onto the stoop. “Yes, it is. And who is calling?” “Yes, I am Wilhelmina Roth. I am the relative of Ulrich Hoffstetler.” “Oh, dear. Well, yes- of course Madame Roth. I’m sorry, we just didn’t expect to see you here at the house this morning.” “It was wrong of me to make arrangements to see Ulrich only at the hospice. I really must speak with him here in his home before he is taken there.” “Please do come in. But be advised we’re all leaving soon.” “Yes, I know you are.” Sarah George ushered in Wilhelmina and shut the door behind them. “Please follow me, Madame Roth.” The two women entered the bedroom, and Sarah George lost presence of mind. She found it impossible to properly introduce Wilhelmina to the rest of the people in the room. She stood mute and helpless. “Hello, Ulrich.” The attendant had moved away from the bedside, and Wilhelmina approached, reaching down to take the old man’s hand in her own. Smiling, she met his surprised eyes with a warm gaze, and then looked across the bed, acknowledging the presence of Erika. “Wilhelmina….I….I’m so happy you decided to come by the house. Welcome, my dear.” Tears began to well and flow toward the corner of his eyes.” “Wilhelmina, I’m Erika Jansen.” “Oh yes, Erika. I am so grateful that you have been taking care of Ulrich. You are an angel.” “Thank you. It is not only me. I hate to be officious sounding upon first meeting you, but I must tell you the ambulance is coming soon, Wilhelmina.” “Yes, Erika, so I’m told. But may I please make just one special request? Could I just have a few minutes in private with Ulrich? I’m sorry for this last minute intrusion. I know I should have called ahead to let you know. I have been remiss.” “Oh, of course. We’ll retire to the other room. Shall we everybody?” Sarah, Erika, the attendant, and the lawyer all filed out of the room, the lawyer later than the rest as he was forced to gather up papers from Ulrich Hoffstetler’s desk and file them away into his briefcase. Wilhelmina kept her eye on everyone as they vacated, apparently appreciative as she uninterruptedly “smiled after them”, but also careful to monitor that the lawyer- the last to leave the room- closed the bedroom door securely after him. Still holding Ulrich’s hand while she stood at his side, Wilhelmina looked down at Ulrich Hoffstetler as he lay in bed, and began to speak in a soft, deliberate tone. “Ulrich, I must first apologize for coming at the last moment. My mother-in-law has been quite ill and this has preoccupied me and my family. I would rather not find making an excuse the highest priority. Really, of greater importance I must say that on behalf of my family I want to express our deepest thanks for your consideration. We are humbled- and also surprised- that you would think of us as you have.” “Oh- you mean the house?” chuckled Ulrich. “You are family, and so it is. Tell me Wilhelmina, what is it you wish to really say to me that you would ask for a private moment?” At his bedside, Wilhelmina let go of Ulrich’s hand and found she needed to sit in a chair. She became momentarily flushed with doubt and felt perplexed. “Ulrich, I don’t know how to tell you this; and I have for years been haunted with the twinge of conscious for not doing so.” “Wilhelmina, please unburden yourself. I will not have you unrelieved as I so choose to step off this mortal coil.” “All family harbor secrets, Ulrich, and that includes ours. But I must tell you that this is a terrible secret, and one that should have never been. Please absolve me for what I have to tell you.” “I grant you license. I’m listening, Wilhelmina.” “It’s about your mother, Ulrich. Her death is what I wish to speak to you about.” “You know, Wilhelmina, what you are about to tell me is happening for a reason. And let me assuage your fears- I can bear whatever it is that you must tell me- for the truth I must confess is that I talked with my mother last night. She visited me.” “Visited you, Ulrich?” “Yes; as I sleep. And I asked her about her death. She told me that the dead cannot tell the living truths whose origins are of this life, but that she wanted to tell me that she had not abandoned me and was waiting for my crossing.” Ulrich Hoffstetler again beamed a beatific smile. “You offer nothing but gifts, Ulrich.” “Give me this next to last piece of vital truth. As for my son, I must accept that resolve will not be delivered before my last breath is taken; but I see you are here to yield what has been withheld from me about my mother.” Wilhelmina held her breath for a moment, bit down on her lower lip and fixed unblinking eyes on the old man. “You mother did not commit suicide, Ulrich. She was murdered. Her body was not found in the River Main, either. Your father, Hugo, told my aunt the real truth, and very few people know this. The horror of this- I’m so wrought with guilt that no one has ever told you. How could it be- why should I know and not you.” “It is because my mother loved me so much, Wilhelmina. The purest love leads to the grandest lies. But do not fret. I will be meeting Adalgisa in a matter of hours. Pray- do not hesitate- tell me everything.” “Adalgisa was murdered along with a psychiatrist named Janus Reingold. Their bodies were found in the doctor’s office. The double murder was staged to look like a double suicide. The two were forced to take cyanide after writing spurious suicide notes. The notes served to provide cover for the suicides- that they were star-crossed lovers who would rather die than suffer for their loveless marriages that would always keep them apart.” “Who would want them dead?” “Your father said that the Russian Security Police killed them. They killed Reingold because he had uncovered their infiltration of the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute, and they killed your mother in retaliation for your father’s espionage activities against the Soviet State.” “My mother was purely a sacrificial victim.” The news sent an electro-bio-chemical shock surging through Hoffstetler’s nervous system. The old man flinched and both hands clenched into fists. “Ulrich, your mother would never have written that suicide note if you had not been taken hostage. Do you remember anything?” A long repressed and confusing memory suddenly revealed itself. It felt like a dream because it made no real world sense. Ulrich Hoffstetler suddenly remembered being huddled next to the body of her nanny in a car; being asked to step out of the car by a man he did not know; and looking up to see lights flashing from the windows of a building. “Yes, I do remember something. But tell me more. There must be more.” “The police suspected that foul play was involved from the beginning. There was no evidence pointing to the supposed fact that your mother even knew Janus Reingold well at all. They were only seen once together publically at a gala art exhibit opening.” “Otto Dix,” Hoffstetler murmured. “The Skat Players……….” “What was that, Ulrich?” “Never mind. Please- tell me more.” “Your mother wrote her suicide note left handed. The police took that as a message of coercion.” “And as for my father? How did he know the truth? How was it he was not murdered, too?” “Well, Adalgisa’s death devastated him, and he turned to heavy drink. The guilt he bore was clear to all of us. Effectively it did kill him, Ulrich. But you must know that your father was involved in espionage. He worked for the German Embassy, but his activities were not diplomatic in nature. He was aware of Russian security plans to eliminate not only counter-insurgents, but anyone who was working in league with them. I don’t know for sure, but your father somehow crossed the Russians. “I saw, father, too; but he left me so soon,” moaned Hoffstetler. “Perhaps you need to rest, now, dear Ulrich. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.” “No!” exclaimed Hoffstetler. “I must work, work, work with the little time I have. Tell me whatever more you must.” “Most of what is truly relevant has been told.” “But why was I not told?” “Your father told my grandmother, Karin, because she was Adalgisa’s closest sibling. He did not tell her soon after he came to find out, but later when he became terminally ill. Your father was thrust into the crucible of international intrigue that included espionage and assassination. The security minister conducted a full-scale investigation into the murder of your mother and the psychiatrist as it was considered a matter of national security. Hugo was briefed on everything not only because his wife was victim to the crime but because he had high security clearance. His espionage activities were subject to analysis and in the course of the case review and his interrogation all of what I have told you was revealed to Hugo. No one outside the government was informed of these findings. Officially it was concluded that suicide was the cause of death, as supported by the motive revealed in the notes.” “And who told you, Wilhelmina?” “My mother, when she was dying. She could not bear to carry it with her to the grave. So I was chosen by her to carry on the burden of this terrible truth.” “But why did she not just tell me?” “Perhaps you know the reason for that, Ulrich.” “Hidden truths of my own…” whispered Ulrich Hoffstetler. Ulrich Hoffstetler fell into a daze and became unresponsive. Events unfolded rapidly, and he remained oblivious to the flurry of activity that ensued after the ambulance arrived. Everyone became concerned that the euthanasia would have to be cancelled because Hoffstetler would not be able to self-administer the medication. The End of Life Option act required the patient be fully conscious and physically able to complete the task under their own power. All that could be done was to take him to the hospice and hope that he would revive. The sound of the gurney being slid out of the back of the ambulance while the legs were unfolded from beneath awoke Ulrich Hoffstetler from his trance. The confidence and beatific feelings of peace he had experienced since encountering his mother’s visitation were gone. Wilhelmina’s revelations had stung the nerve in him that had awoken the old man’s sense of true-no; not true- just conventional self that he had lived with all his adult life. A life-long self-definition cannot be erased due to one dream- no matter how prophetic it appeared. As the gurney was rolled into the hospice Ulrich Hoffstetler realized there would be no peace to be found on this side of the river. There would be no cure while he was alive. He would have to die to discover if a cure was to be had at all. Death brought no assurances of peace, the conventional, skeptical voice inside him said. Crossing the river was a metaphor created for consumption on this side of the river. Suddenly Ulrich Hoffstetler doubted his psychic visions as filled his dreams over the past several nights. His rational mind had reawakened and bore all its weight down on the possibility and nascent sense of a possible transcendence that would accompany his death. Once he was rolled into the actual hospice room, he opened his eyes. Voices of those around him were in foreign tongues, he thought, and he could not respond. “I am ready! Give me the pills! Now!” he demanded. He thought he heard a sudden burst of emotion and the sound of someone in tears. He pushed with all his strength to sit up in bed, and found that the head of the bed had been raised by remote control in order to position his body upright enough to be able to ingest the medication without gagging on it. There were voices swirling around him, and though he answered them, he could neither make out what was being said to him nor what his response might have been. Ulrich Hoffstetler now inhabited the fuzzy boundary between two closely aligned worlds but could not fully respond to either in a truly conscious manner. The in-between state rendered both worlds mute and indistinct. There were faces close to his and people touching his hands and face. He could not make out personal features and was only aware of hands and voices speaking polyglot gibberish. A cup was handed him filled with a viscous liquid, the red paste inside a reminder of half-coagulated blood. Lifting the cup to his lips Ulrich Hoffstetler appeared conscious to everyone and in full control of his faculties, but he had already started sense his body evacuating the premises. To those surrounding him, it did not yet appear he was serving absolute, last notice. The red, pasty liquid was sweet, Hoffstetler sensed. He lay back on his pillow and stared at the ceiling above him. Soon his eyes closed and a single searchlight appeared, probing an otherwise black void. Suddenly a bridge appeared, spanning the breadth of his visual field, and the search light faded due to the vivid sunshine that took its place. There was a sole figure, mid-span on the bridge, back turned while peering out across the blue ocean beyond. He raised his hand and let fly a piece of paper into the wind, which took hold of it and shot it skyward. The scene faded again to black, and only a sole voice remained, reciting with utter clarity.


Through the canyon flows a life that’s longing for the sea

The path of least resistance aids

The transport seems but ready-made

For time and space must yield to gravity


The water speaks but comes up short against the sand and trees

A course so broken at the end

The water swallowed by the land

For time and space must yield to gravity


Swallowed by the sand until it meets the salty sea

The sucking sound will never halt

The leeching pulls the fresh to salt

For time and space must yield to gravity


A bridge is made for crossing do not stop to spy the sea

For blinded eyes no view is found

The last sense seeks the muffled sound

For time and space must yield to gravity