CITIES OF REFUGE
Adolph’s visage dissolved for weeks afterward in molten tears and when the magma of anguish finally hardened it had become a terrifyingly indifferent death mask. This mask now blockaded Adolph’s feelings except toward those who had been with him when his Shifra, the purpose of his life, and their baby together, the meaning of their love, had all died together.
From behind this mask Adolph now witnessed the God-given world as if it were a swarm of insects. He detached himself like a child pulling wings off of an innocent fly.
Young Mathew could not comprehend his mother gone forever from his sight and touch. He created nightmares out of things that people whispered concerning a mysterious act that Adolph had performed against his mother’s wishes. Mathew had always feared Adolph the way he had always feared that dog behind the neighbor’s fence. Mathew had not felt, had not understood, the notion “my father” when Adolph had been this man in Mathew’s home who had power over his mother and himself, and now he was alone with him, without his mother.
Adolph could not look at Mathew without seeing the fist of Herman striking another blow. Adolph could not look at himself for hating a child.
Sarah and Brahm witnessed this transformation of Adolph and so they decided to rescue young Mathew and raise him themselves despite their age. Adolph did not protest nor did he come to visit Mathew except when he was also visiting his parents. Adolph continued to live in the home that he had shared with Shifra but now that home was a shattered temple. When the mask would fall sometimes at night Adolph wailed alone between the hard cold walls surrounding him.
Finally, Adolph returned to the family business with a vengeance. He shouldered responsibility and command and ruthless business sense like it was a suit of armor. Adolph soon persuaded his father and mother into semi-retirement. He made his brother Reuben into the Executive Assistant, essentially Adolph’s Chief of Staff and Adolph’s de facto bodyguard. He made his sister Judith into the company’s General Counsel and Spokesperson. Adolph had big plans which he powered with the pyre of his dead heart.
Adolph had made the decision with his parents’ consultation and blessing to convert Sarah’s Shop into a franchise so that capital would not be a limiting factor to the family. Most power still resided with Adolph’s family, including the selection of suppliers, advertising, and most pricing. The businesses multiplied during this time and the Sarah’s Shop franchise was shepherded into state after state after state. Adolph privately called them his “tribes”.
To cultivate more cash flow Adolph quietly contracted with a suspected Asian mobster to take advantage of garment sweat shops in different states. Adolph soon was accruing profits like a hen farmer gathers eggs in a factory farm.
It was Adolph’s appraisal that Modern Man was moved only by fear of death, hence money and religion; that Modern Man no longer feared God, hence mendacity and self absorption. Adolph thought to himself, “Who the hell had I been to have disagreed?”
Adolph went to his parents’ house one evening and found Mathew wearing one of Sarah’s dresses and dancing and clapping and his mother and father dancing and laughing.
Adolph blinked, “What the hell is this, Mother?”
Sarah said, unconcerned, “Mattie-boy likes to wear my dresses and be silly.”
Brahm laughed along, “This boy is going to be a real clown someday!”
Mathew, caught up in the gaiety, flounced around the living room and said to Adolph brightly, “Look, Daddy,” and that happy phrase went straight into Adolph’s heart where it lived for no more than a moment.
Then a suspicion sprang around Adolph’s heart and strangled the happiness, and he said, “Mother, why the hell are you putting him in a dress?”
Sarah was defiantly cheerful and said, “Mattie-boy picked it out himself. He likes wearing my clothes. For goddsake, Adolph, he’s just a little boy, what are you so worried about?”
Adolph was like a circus lion swatting at his trainer and he growled, “What am I worried about? Do I really have to tell you? Father! Say something!”
Brahm was much softened in his old age and he said, “Mattie-boy is a good boy,” and then he winked at Mathew and asked him coyly, “Am I right, Mattie-boy?” and Mathew giggled and curtsied and replied, “I’m a good girl,” then he looked to Adolph, expecting him to be silly with him like Sarah and Brahm but instead Adolph glared fearfully back at him and Mathew stopped.
Mathew began to cry and he ran to Sarah who clutched him and looked hard at Adolph and scolded, “What is the matter with you?” but she stopped, seeing the disability that Adolph now suffered. Sarah pulled Mathews face into her neck where he sobbed hotly and then Sarah herself swallowed tears.
The God-given world grew ever more a liberal and chaotic nemesis. Adolph became ever more a dark citadel against that world. The Meistermann family wealth served ever more to tithe religious endeavors and politicians. When upheaval and riot threatened, the National Guard protected the Sarah’s Shop franchise.
Shelly Kisherman no longer held power over Adolph after Shifra died. Shelly now would read the articles about Adolph’s growing empire and she would hear the rumors and she would wonder if Adolph might actually have her murdered but then she realized that then he would never be able to claim his son Isaac.
Adolph started to see Shelly whenever he wished to see her and thus he saw Isaac whenever he wished to see him. For years he played a comfortable charade of being a male acquaintance of Shelly, leaving to Isaac any shade of innuendo that he might invent as he grew older. Adolph could not bear to marry Shelly and so he bided his time while he wrestled with his feelings about Isaac.
Isaac did suspect the truth when Adolph, this “male acquaintance of his mother”, encouraged him to become a doctor and offered to pay his tuition. Adolph established a college fund for Isaac and called it a charity.
In contrast, when Mathew was legally a young adult he moved out of old Sarah and Brahm’s house. He moved in with his boyfriend Drew who was a producer at the advertising firm that won the Sarah’s Shop account. Drew opened the world of fashion for Mathew. Mathew changed his surname from Meistermann to Masters in order to free himself professionally and mentally while keeping his eye on the treasure that was legally to be his someday since he was Adolph’s sole male heir, or so he thought.
Drew stood behind Mathew in the kitchen and hugged him, saying, “Thank you, Matt. Without this Sarah’s Shop account I’d be out turning tricks.”
Matt steeped his cup of tea and said, “What ‘thank you’? I didn’t select your agency. My father did.”
Drew laughed and said, “I am thanking you as you are my very own representative of the Meistermann family.”
Matt soured and pointed out, “My father can drop your agency at the shake of a feather in his rich man’s hat. That’s what he does. He could do that to me.”
Drew asked, “What do you mean ‘to you’?”
Matt asked in return, “How much do you love me, Drew?”
Drew said, “Uh-oh. Uh, as much as I ever did?”
Matt became darkly serious and said, “Adolph will always be our greatest fear. If he found out about us I would be disowned and he would make sure that you couldn’t turn a trick in a men’s prison.”
Drew was philosophical and said, “Matt, all of us are used to hiding.”
Matt then said, “No one should have to hide! But Adolph is worse than you can imagine, Drew. He would probably have some private eye following me right now if he cared about me at all. It’s only because he doesn’t want to think about me that we are safe.”
Drew continued to be thoughtful and then started to say, “But, Matt, despite, I mean, even if he doesn’t understand…”
Matt interrupted, saying bitterly, “What Adolph wants is what Adolph understands.”
Drew proceeded, “He is still your father and that is deep, dear. I know, I remember my own fa…”
Matt interrupted again, “Would your own father hate you? Adolph hates me!”
Drew protested, “Oh, Matt…”
Matt raised a fist, “He hates me and he has always hated me and I don’t know why! My mother protected me until she died. Then,” and Matt choked, “I was just fucky lucky enough that Adolph was too miserable to do anything but not care at all about me anymore! Thank God for my grandparents,” and Matt sobbed and Drew reached out and put his arms around Matt and said, “Well, he cared about your mother. Isn’t’ that…,”
Matt suddenly pushed Drew’s arms away and shouted, “He killed my mother! She wasn’t supposed to have any more children! The selfish monster didn’t care. All that matters is what Adolph wants! And sooner or later he will want to destroy us!”
Drew became fearful of this possibility which had always been bas relief in the back of his mind but which now Matt was carving into a grotesque.
Drew shrugged helplessly and asked rhetorically, “What can we do, Matt?”
Matt then began in earnest to ask, “Drew, you know it is contrary to my nature to even contemplate a violent act?”
Drew answered quickly, “Of course.”
Matt asked, “And do you remember the documentary we watched last week about the success of bargain-priced, first-rate cosmetic surgery?”
Drew nodded hesitantly, “In India, right? You’re not really thinking about…”
Matt said, “Listen to me. You know how we both agreed that I would look like a movie star if I had more of an aquiline profile and a jutting jaw?”
Drew smiled, “Yeah, I said I could call you ‘Dash Riprock’,” but Drew was confused and he asked, “What has that got to do with…”
Again Matt said, “Listen, listen, listen to me, Drew. Remember that life mask you had made of me? Listen to me carefully, Drew, I love you: now what if I as ‘Matt Masters’, the mask, could kill my father and then escape as, well, ‘Dash Riprock’, the alter ego under that mask?”
Drew asked aghast, “What the fuck? You’re joking, right?”
Matt stared intently into Drew’s eyes.
Drew said, “Good God, you lunatic, you would need a whole new identity, a new passport, a new social security number and a new driver’s license…”
Matt snorted, “Yeah, like that can’t be done.”
Drew continued, “…and how the fuck could you keep your inheritance?
Matt replied weakly, “Who cares? We could live together on your salary.”
Drew said, “No fucking way! You are insane. Besides, the first thing the police would do is question me!””
Matt began to cry and Drew in sympathy offered, “Look, the only way that insane idea would work is if you as ‘Dash Riprock’ killed your father and then you wore that life-mask the rest of your life.”
Matt buried his head into Drew’s shoulder and blubbered, “Oh, it can’t work. I am stupid, stupid, stupid. I really am insane!”
Matt tried to joke, “You are not stupid, dear. However, yes, you have always been insane but I promise to be your therapist forever.”
Matt sniffed and said, “Yeah, besides, when the police questioned you the first thing they’d do is shove a baton up your ass and you’d crack.”
They both laughed and hugged.
Adolph still kept Shifra’s clothes in the bedroom closet of the house they once shared. He had not throw out anything of hers, ever.
One night at three in the morning Adolph awakened into his boyhood conscience, conjured during the silent witching hour between then and now; from a deeply repressed stratum of his emotions he was resurrected as a love zombie; from an underground river arose that sensitive, romantic apparition of an innocent boy gasping with insecurity and anguish and crying for breath. Adolph sat upright in the darkness gasping. He was sweating. Terror held his throat. He was afraid he was dying!
No. It was something else. Something else was looming in his soul.
He was afraid of God.
Adolph threw back his jumbled covers and got out of bed in the dark. He held his chest with his right hand and stumbled down the hallway leaning on the wall of with his left hand. He arrived at the hall closet, switched on the hall light, and he pulled open the closet door. He fell to his knees and reached into darkness for the worn leather suitcase in the back of the closet in the jumble on the floor. He felt the suitcase and he dragged it out onto the hallway floor. He bowed over the suitcase and opened it. His right hand fell upon the transparent plastic sheet protecting the sheet music for the flute and piano duet that he had written for Shifra and himself to play at Miss Brundage’s pupils’ recital a lifetime ago.
Adolph was breathing faster. He lifted the sheet music out of the protective plastic sheet, caressing it with his fingertips, and he stared intently at the musical notation, the written passages undulating together, rising apart and falling together in arabesque. He closed his eyes and touched the sheet music to his lips and then suddenly it was if his ears raised the sound of the music. Tears filled his eyes as he opened them. A tear fell and tapped the sheet of music. He closed his eyes again. Now he could hear the music more distinctly. It was really so very inspired after all! Adolph had forgotten it for years and now he was hearing it almost as if it had been written by someone else and played in his honor.
He opened his eyes and this time he saw his fingers fluttering upon the keys of the piano, conjuring the music. He heard the flute and he raised his eyes. There was Shifra! She was so young. She pursed her lips upon the flute so sweetly. She winked at him and she smiled trying not to err in the performance. Adolph looked over and there was Miss Brundage! She was sitting so proudly in the first row of folding chairs nodding in cadence with the music. There was young Joshua! He nodded and gave Adolph a thumbs-up sign. There was Officer Cohen smiling with radiant pride at his daughter Shifra! There was Herman! Adolph felt a yearning kinship of the love they shared with Shifra. There were his parents! Sarah had her hands clasped to her mouth, eyes glistening. Brahm gave Adolph a nod. There was his brother Reuben and his sister Judith! They made melodramatic faces humorously at him and he almost laughed as they had intended but he knew they were enjoying the performance. There was Billy and Zelmo! Billy had his eyes closed and he was tapping his knee with the palm of his hand. Zelmo was softly snapping his fingers at Adolph and then he put those fingers to his lips and mimed smoking a reefer in comic appreciation of the performance. There was Shelly and Isaac! Shelly touched her ear and mouthed the words “you are talking to me now.” Isaac put his hand over his heart and gently nodded his head. There was Mathew and Drew! They were holding hands excitedly for Adolph. Adolph was so glad to see them both. He smiled to them in approval. He smiled to them all in thanks.
The tears once more blinded Adolph’s eyes but his fingers could see and they kept on speaking and his ears could drink the endless joy. Adolph was now the happiest he could recall.
Everyone agreed that the truly beautiful moment at Adolph Meistermann’s memorial service was the performance by the pianist and flautist of that inspired boyhood composition of Adolph’s, the duet that he had entitled A Prayer for Lips and Fingers.
This is a section of my entry for Carl Reiner’s Writers’ Contest; to read Carl Reiner’s Chapter 1 go to: [http://carl-reiner.com/contest/?utm_campaign=]
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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS