Table of contents:
And so it Begins
Pyramids and Friskies
The Ring of Ire
The Cauldron and the Kiss
The Scone Also Rises
Beware the Eids of Valentine
Queen of the Black March
Fixing the Spring Break
Silence if the Round
No Van Shadow, This
Back to the Beginning
The Desk in the Narthex
Patrick walked toward the entrance to Taverna Java, the bistro near campus that Bianca liked. Hands in his pockets, he strode quickly, his head down, a slight forward tilt to his body. After the stress of his day, he hoped for a simple, quiet dinner with his fiancée. He knew she would talk mainly about her plans for their upcoming wedding, and that was fine with him; the less he had to talk this evening, the better.
Bianca sat at the table directly in front of the big window at the bistro, a copy of the school newspaper open in front of her. He sat down across from her and opened the menu, although he had the entire menu memorized and he usually ordered the same thing every time (the bistro served decent fish and chips, and they had Guinness on tap– he limited himself to one a week, and today a stout felt medically necessary). Bianca kept reading, her blunt-cut dark brown hair covering most of her square face. Without looking up at him, she tapped her cheek. “What happened to my kiss?”
“Sorry, Bee – it’s been a lousy day.” He stood again, leaned over, and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “My adviser thinks I need dozens more references, which I’m not sure how I’m going to find, and then I had to go to this ridiculous meeting for the new counselors….” He trailed off. Bianca had not looked up from the paper. She did not notice that he had stopped talking. He stared at the top of her head: she had put more highlights in her hair. The dull vanilla stripes looked odd against her dark complexion.
The server came and took their order, forcing Bianca to finally look up. She folded the paper and put it aside. “You were saying something about references?”
“Never mind, it’s not a big deal. I just need to find more.”
“Well, there are thousands of books out there – I’m sure you’ll find something.”
Patrick did not pursue the topic. Bianca had dropped out of college in her second year, so she never really grasped the seriousness of academic pursuits. But she always appeared to be amazed by his ability to recite poetry and literature from memory, and she did not mind that he spent a great deal of time reading. Besides, she wasn’t the clingy type. She had her own job and her own apartment, she liked doing things on her own, and she never expected him to make decisions for her. Since they weren’t getting married for another ten months, Patrick assumed they still had time to work out any ‘issues,’ such as where they would live,
The server brought their drinks, setting them down quietly. Bianca raised her glass of merlot slightly. “Salud,” she mumbled.
Patrick tipped his stout bottle. “Slainte.”
“How was your day?” she asked, after a moment of silence.
“I told you – lousy.” He concentrated on pouring the stout into the glass, not meeting her eyes.
“Oh, yeah. Well, I was reading something that will make you laugh.” She opened the paper again. “Listen to this. ‘Dear Hero’ – that’s supposedly a girl’s name – ‘My boyfriend was helping me to make salsa, and he forgot to wash the chili residue off his hands before he went to use the restroom. He started yelling and said that his penis burned like crazy. Is this really dangerous? It’s been two days and he says he’s still sore. I’m worried about the next time we have sex. Will he recover from it? Is it possible that whatever he got on himself might rub off on my private parts?’” She rolled her eyes. “That’s hysterical.”
Patrick nodded once, forcing a slight smile.
“Don’t you think that’s hysterical, sweetie?”
“Yeah, it’s hysterical. What was her answer?”
“Oh, she says that he needs to wash carefully with cool water and apply some sort of cream, like for diaper rash, and if he’s still sore he should go to the doctor. The column is called “Helpfully Hero.” It doesn’t say she’s a doctor or anything, so I wonder how she knows this stuff. She looks like a student.”
“Oh, is there a picture of her?” Patrick idly wondered if this was the same woman he had been forced to talk with earlier. “Does she have really short black hair and glasses?”
“No, her hair is a little shorter than mine, no glasses. It’s not a very clear picture.”
Probably not the same person, Patrick thought. He recalled how, when he stood next to her he had been able to look directly into her eyes. Were they hazel? No; they were brown – a very deep brown, so dark they were almost black. There were many literary references to demons with black eyes; Patrick laughed to himself at the idea that the woman was somehow possessed by demons.
“What’s so funny?”
“Hmmm? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about the name ‘Hero.’”
Bianca nodded. “I know – that’s such a stupid name for a girl. It should be ‘Hera.’”
“Actually,” Patrick countered, “Shakespeare used the name ‘Hero’ for a female character in one of his plays.”
Bianca smiled at him absently. “Only you would know something like that.”
“I think a lot of people probably know that.”
“Yeah, like all the people who are doing their doctorates in middle-age literature.”
“Medieval literature. And I think anyone who’s read Shakespeare probably knows that.”
“Fine.” Bianca grit her teeth.
Patrick had a sudden inspiration. “I was just thinking: what if we went to Europe for our honeymoon? We could actually visit England. We could do a sort of historical tour, maybe go to France too, or Italy. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to go to Europe. What would you think about that?”
“Why would we go to Europe?”
“For the history, and the culture. Don’t you think it would be wonderful to see Westminster Abbey or Victoria Station? Or we could go to Rome, to see the Coliseum.”
“If I wanted to see those things I could go find pictures of them.”
“Yes, but just think how cool it would be to actually be there to see them up close.” He stopped for a moment, considering how to pay for it. “Maybe your father would help us to arrange a short tour.”
“I’m not asking my father for money for that.”
“Fine – then I’ll ask my father.”
“But I don’t have a passport.”
“We can get you a passport – there’s more than enough time.” He felt excited at the prospect of seeing Europe – even just a few parts. And what better reason than on a honeymoon? He hoped she was feeling the same way….
“No.” She crossed her arms.
“Because. I’m not going anywhere that far away. Besides, it’ll probably be expensive and then that means less money for the wedding. So, no.”
Patrick went silent, contemplating a different approach to the argument. “Imagine if we …”
She cut him off quickly. “What I’d really like to do is go to Las Vegas and stay someplace nice, like a suite at the Bellagio or the Wynn. Then if you really want history you can go to Excalibur, or the Luxor or something.”
He shook his head. “No, Bee – I really would like to…”
“Can we talk about something interesting now?”
Patrick suppressed a sigh. “Of course….”
“Good. I just don’t want you to get distracted from our plans. So…I was thinking that we might just go with lilac for everything. What do you think?”
“Sure, Bee – whatever you want…”
“Well, it would be nice if it was something you wanted too. By the way: do you ever wear that lilac shirt I got you?”
Patrick gazed over her head, remembering the day he had first tried the shirt on. Looking in the mirror, he had been disgusted by the slightly effeminate appearance. Wearing that shirt was not going to happen. “No, I haven’t had a chance.”
“Hmmm…okay, but I hope you wear it soon – it suits you.” She swept a strand of hair behind her ear and reached for her bag – the brightly colored, oversized ‘designer’ hand bags that she always carried cost hundreds of dollars and looked, to Patrick, ridiculously large and undignified against her short frame. Patrick sometimes suspected that the real reason Bianca liked Taverna Java was because the chairs and tables were on the shorter side – she did not have to worry about her feet not touching the ground. “I have samples for us to look at….”
Patrick laughed quietly again at his own thoughts. All he wanted to do was go home to his little spartan apartment, put on some sweat pants and an old tee-shirt, make a cup of tea and stretch out with some Joycean tome, but Bianca had her plans to discuss, and he wasn’t up to an argument he would just lose anyway. She had taken his smile as a positive sign and continued to chatter to him, about colors and flavors and flowers and favors. He took the magazine clippings she handed him and began to scan through them.
Hero lived for Saturdays. Saturdays were farmers’ market days. Saturdays were fancy-coffee-and-pastry days. On Saturdays she would get up early, harness up Hasani, her large black leash-trained cat, and off they would go. After buying their veggies and herbs and flowers for the week, they would head over to the coffee tent for a cappuccino and a croissant. Hasani always got a shot of warm milk, into which Hero would add shreds of the croissant, and after eating, if no one was waiting for the small table they occupied, they would usually call family members to chat about the week prior. Hero’s father, Oliver, would be thinking about dinner right now, and probably gathering herbs from the garden of his home in Banbury. Her brother, Dante, was most likely sitting at a table at one of the outdoor cafes along Las Ramblas, sipping a glass of wine and feeding bits of bread to his Chihuahua, Alvaro. Her mother, Lorena, lived in the same time zone as Hero, so Hero could call her later in the day without disturbing her. She chose to call Dante.
“Diga.” Hero could hear music and chatter behind her brother’s voice.
“Arf! Arf! Arf!” Hero tried not to laugh as she barked into the phone.
“Un momento. Alvaro, Hasani te está llamando.” Dante laughed. “He says he can’t talk right now, his mouth is full.”
They both laughed. Hasani sat on Hero’s lap, watching her face, and occasionally turning to scan the crowd.
“Como estás?” Dante’s voice was exceptionally clear today. Both he and Lorena usually spoke to Hero in a mix of English and Spanish; she liked the combination, which had a musicality that plain English lacked.
“I’m fine. Are you on a date?”
“Oh, please. There’s no one I have even the slightest interest in. Alvaro doesn’t count.” Dante paused, taking a sip of something. “School’s okay? Anything new?”
“Yes, everything’s okay. I started the training for the counseling position. The first meeting was kind of a waste of time. Which café are you at?”
“L’Opera, por supuesto. Did you meet any interesting people?” Dante encouraged her to find new friends at every opportunity; networking, he believed, was a very important skill.
“I only talked with two people, the director of the counseling program, and some jerk that was just unpleasant. But the director seems really nice. What about you?”
Dante laughed. “No, we haven’t gone out so don’t even ask.” Dante had a neighbor at his building who was clearly in love with her brother. The man was about Dante’s age, with sharp cheekbones and streaky blond hair. Hero thought they would make a beautiful couple: her brother’s dark delicate features would juxtapose nicely with León’s lighter coloring. Besides, León loved Alvaro and would take care of him whenever Dante came to visit Hero or their mother.
“I just think he’d be the perfect boyfriend. You said he’s a good cook, right? And he’s a great writer?” Hero wanted her brother to find someone steady.
“I’ll think about it. Speaking of boyfriends, are you still with that creep? What’s his name?”
This subject came up almost every week. “His name is Kamal, and he’s not a creep.”
“Yes, he is. He’s too needy, he asks too much of you. It’s not right. He doesn’t even have teeth of his own. I hate him! Mamá hates him! And if your father met him, he would hate him too.”
Hero was laughing now. “I know, I know. Poor Kamal – no one likes him.”
“That’s because he’s a creep! I tell you what: when you get a new boyfriend I’ll ask León out. Es justo?”
Hero glanced up and saw Patrick Murphy walk into the coffee tent with a slightly stocky, very tan woman wearing a short denim skirt and a white elastic-y peasant blouse that unfortunately emphasized her boxy shape. Even with the five-inch bright pink wedges she was wearing, the top of her head barely came to his shoulder. Hero couldn’t help but notice that the woman’s shoes and her outrageously large purse were the same shade of pink. Suddenly, she wanted to go back to her little apartment.
“Bueno, I have to go now. Give Alvaro a kiss for me.”
“Alvaro dice, ‘besa mi culo.’” They both laughed again. “If you call Mamá later tell her I’ll call her tomorrow.”
Hero stood and brushed the crumbs off her lap. The tented coffee house was busy now, and people were gazing longingly at her little table. She grabbed her mesh shopping bag and picked Hasani up so he would not get stepped on in the crowd. She walked past Patrick Murphy and his companion without acknowledgement, but as she left the tent, she heard a giggle and a voice behind her: “That girl was gigantic!” Hero had a feeling that Patrick Murphy’s companion had uttered the statement. Wow, she thought, a perfect match!
At her apartment, she found a box at her doorstep. After rinsing off her veggies and fruit – she had found blueberries, which needed to be in muffins! – she noted the return address: Banbury. Inside was a shoe box and a note on simple monogrammed stationary:
Just a little gift to usher in the start of the new school year. Wear them well! See you at Christmas!
Love always, Your Father (Oliver)
The shoebox contained a pair of bright red printed fabric pumps with tiny kitten heels and pointy toes. She had developed a taste for interesting shoes when she had lived with her father in England after high school. She generally kept her wardrobe simple (straight jeans and long fitted tunics in different colors and fabrics), opting instead for the most amazing and glamorous shoes she could get. These were definitely fabulous.
“Hasani – we need to call Grandfather to thank him!”
Hasani jumped to his spot on the plush purple loveseat, ready to ‘chat’ with Oliver.
“New shoes?” Gunnar leaned back in his squeaky desk chair as Hero walked in to their small office Monday afternoon. The ‘office’ had once been a large storage closet for paper and classroom supplies. Two large windows provided plenty of light, and a surprising number of electrical outlets allowed Gunnar to plug in all his electronics at once. He occupied the desk closest to the door, the one that had the computer; a variety of textbooks lay open before him.
Hero paused. “How did you see them so fast?”
“Easy – the bright red cherries on them were screaming at me.”
“Too much, huh?”
“Nope – they definitely look awesome with black jeans. Another gift from daddy?”
“Of course!” Hero laughed. The thought of calling Oliver ‘daddy’ was amusing; Oliver, tall, gingered and lean in his patch-elbow cardigans and corduroy pants, did not look like a ‘daddy;’ he looked like a well-groomed, upstanding, middle-aged professor. She put a small bag with two home-made blueberry muffins in front of Gunnar. “So what’s in the stack today?”
“Oh, the usual: jilted lovers of the same sex, couples who don’t know which direction it goes in, someone who wants to tell his mom that he’s really NOT gay…we’ve got quite an assortment today! You make the best muffins.” He finished one within seconds. “How was your weekend?”
“Quiet. Got the new shoes, went to the farmer’s market, did some baking, finished my intro section. What about you?” She opened her first diet soda of the day.
“Same. Tried to get my roommates to help clean the apartment – ended up doing it by myself. No Kamal this weekend?”
“Nope – he had to work.”
“Hmmpf... some boyfriend.” Gunnar snickered.
Hero rolled her eyes. “Gunnar, people don’t have to spend every moment together….”
“I know, but…shouldn’t people who are supposedly together see each other at least sometimes?”
“Fine, I’ll drop it. I was going to go see that new hack-and-slash movie, but no one wanted to go. Interested?”
“No! I hate those movies! I’ll have nightmares for weeks.” Hero got a pen and started shuffling through the stack of submitted questions Gunnar had left on her desk. As usual, some of them were printed directly off the website and some were written in Gunnar’s short round print. She thought he made up some of these questions himself – though he had explained that some of the submissions just ‘wouldn’t print.’
“I’d be happy to come over and keep the bogeymen away. You have a queen-sized bed, right? We’ll both fit.”
“Gunnar! You’re creeping me out!”
“Okay. Hey – a new Disney film is opening. That might be your speed.”
“Bite me, Gunnar.”
“I’d love to.” He licked blueberry-muffin crumbs off his fingers and turned back to his books.
Monday evening’s counseling workshop turned out to be far more productive than the first meeting had been. Dr. Burton had focused on the types of files that were kept for every undergrad, and how the information from those files would be used to help the undergrad succeed in his or her chosen academic program. Patrick found the task of filling out forms with personal information to be much easier to deal with than being forced to have ‘pleasant conversations’ with total strangers. He had actually read through the notebook from Friday, and had completed the forms that asked for career goals, current academic status, educational background, current coursework, and plans for graduation. The forms were the same kind used for academic counseling intake, intended to give the counselors sufficient information to be able to assist their counselees in their academic aspirations. An additional questionnaire, not normally required of the undergrads, asked the respondents to provide more personal information, such as where they had traveled, where they would like to travel, hobbies, pets, family, five things that might appear on their own ‘bucket list,’ and at least one thing that no one knew about them. He wasn’t sure what that information would be used for, but maybe it was just part of the ‘getting-to-know-you’ fluff that a lot of organizations employed in order to try to make their employees like each other.
The requested personal essay had been a challenge. Normally, personal essays were intended to give the reader a snapshot of the person’s background, to help elucidate some of their motivations, their reasons for why they were where they were at the moment. One generally did not have to spend too long on one’s childhood, especially when the entire essay was not to exceed three pages. So Patrick did not have to explain the materially adequate but rather stiff dynamics within his adoptive, Irish-Catholic family during his childhood (e.g., a distant father, a preoccupied mother, virtually no affection between family members, only his older adopted sister Glynn providing any sort of emotional nurturance), nor did he have to go into detail about the fact that, during his childhood and adolescence, whenever possible, he had escaped to some secluded spot with a book.
Cleo, his orange-tabby cat, kept her eye on the end of his pen as he scratched out notes before he wrote a final draft. She sat on the desk within easy reach, listening with her eyes half-closed to Patrick’s faint mumblings.
Patrick chose instead to outline his experiences while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, omitting the fact that his choice was simply a natural extension of his earlier tendencies. He had quickly learned that he was quite adept at expressing himself through the written word, and that became his preferred medium. But his preference for composition rather than oral dissection precluded him from wanting to become a teacher. He wanted to use the language at a grander level, to exhibit its beauty, to preserve its sumptuous qualities. He had learned from his childhood that there was really only one way to achieve such an ambition. He, therefore, had decided to become a priest.
Describing his time as a seminarian had been easy; discussing why he left the seminary was not. He wrote about the classes that he took and the friars who had been his role models, helping him to understand and appreciate the rules necessary for canonical life. He had eagerly anticipated the study and reflection that would comprise most of his life after his ordination. He had met his one-time best friend in seminary, and the pair had been inseparable for almost three years.
Emilio, Bianca’s older brother, was everything Patrick was not. Emilio was outgoing and gregarious, often playing practical jokes on people which he would sometimes ruin by laughing. He was talkative, funny, and had no problem saying what was on his mind. He loved pop culture, pop music, and socializing, and was so empathic that people of both sexes were simply drawn to him. He never made judgments or pronouncements. He had often told Patrick that if he had not decided to become a priest he would probably become a therapist of some sort. Emilio could always make Patrick laugh, even in the most challenging situations. Patrick was always Emilio’s silent partner in crime, the straight man to Emilio’s comedic turns. The more cerebral of the two, Patrick had been Emilio’s coach through some of the more demanding classes at seminary.
“He really used to make me laugh,” Patrick told Cleo. “He had all these jokes, and a great sense of timing. Whenever I had a bad day, he just knew what to say to cheer me up.” He brushed the cat’s whiskers lightly as she wrapped her front paws around his fingers.
As best friends, they had felt comfortable discussing everything about their lives and their goals with each other. But how could Patrick explain the conversations he and Emilio engaged in on many a night in their double room at the seminary, when they had talked about the vows of celibacy, and what that truly meant? And how could he ever reveal anything about the night he had been awakened by Emilio as he offered Patrick a chance to fully understand their forthcoming vows, to engage in a shared secret of frowned-upon behaviors that they would one day have to pledge to abstain from completely?
“I can’t write any of that,” Patrick told himself. He put his hand across his eyes momentarily, drawn back into that night. The cat watched him, sensing the shift in emotion.
It had happened after a particularly long conversation, in which Patrick shared his lack of experience with females and his assumptions about that part of his life. Patrick had taken a long time to fall asleep. He had then been awakened from his half-sleep by a number of unfamiliar sensations which had seemed somewhat pleasant at first, but had confused and horrified him once he was fully awake. He had opened his eyes to find Emilio in his bed, pressed against him. Emilio’s hand was inside Patrick’s pajama bottoms, gently caressing Patrick’s privates. Patrick had frozen for a moment, ashamed at his slight but perceptible physical response to Emilio’s ministrations. Pushing Emilio away from him, Patrick had flown in only his pajama bottoms to the bathroom, where he had hidden for more than an hour. When he emerged from the bathroom, he found the room empty, had quickly packed his things, and called his sister to come and take him home.
He blushed at the memory, not wanting to look at Cleo directly lest she discern what was traipsing through his mind. “Why?” he asked out loud. “What did I do to give him the idea that I…?” He didn’t want to finish the thought.
Cleo stared at him openly, the question clear in her eyes. He voiced it aloud. “Did I do something wrong? What did I do that caused it?”
Refusing to put a label to the experience, even in his own mind, he scanned through his life after that event, wondering if he had done anything since then that would be considered so … inappropriate. He had tried to live his life very carefully, never allowing himself to act in any way that might be misconstrued. Looking at Cleo once again, he could plainly read her thoughts: ‘Why didn’t you talk to someone about it?’
No, he could never reveal that experience to anyone, despite his decision to not return to the seminary (after weeks of prayers and penance) because of it. He had almost completed his courses, and had been about to start his diaconate, and his final decision had been an agonizing one. He could never let anyone know how that one experience had caused a resurgence in his adolescent insecurities, when he had asked himself, over and over and over again, why the girls at school had disregarded him, why he had been unable to overcome his nearly debilitating shyness, why his parents – despite providing rather well for him and his adopted sister – had otherwise never really acted very interested in him?
He was sure that other people had similar insecurities, but rather than following the route many of them took (such as going to ‘therapy,’ an idea he found laughable; or worse: revealing all their deep dark secrets in some public forum such as a blog or a discussion group or a daytime talk show of some sort), he preferred to keep those thoughts to himself. He had found that the less of himself he shared with others, the less likely he was to be hurt by others. He had even managed to deal with most of his insecurities. All that seemed to remain of them now was the occasional overwhelming feeling that, somehow, there was something that was totally, completely, and yet absolutely undefinably ‘wrong’ about him – a feeling that Bianca often unknowingly reinforced.
Shifting his thoughts back to the pages in front of him, he had written an impersonal personal essay that adhered to the specified criteria but had omitted the intent. He was fully aware that his answers appeared somewhat lacking in self-disclosure. But he would not concern himself with that. He had done what he had been instructed to do. He would not reveal more of himself to people he wanted nothing to do with.
At Wednesday’s counseling workshop, the new counselors were shown the offices where they would be working. The main office was in one large room, with sixteen cubicles: each cubicle had a campus phone, a desk and two chairs, a set of school catalogues, a file drawer of all the forms that the counselors would be using in their work, and two small cupboards that could be locked.
Dr. Burton finished the session by going over the agenda for Friday’s session: they would be assigned specific cubicles, and would be trained to use the main campus database to access records and personal information for their counselees. They had already received key cards and passwords, and had been instructed in the process of submitting curricular recommendations, filing petitions, and overriding holds. They would also be assigned cubicle partners; their partners would serve as liaisons when necessary. They would each receive a ‘dossier’ on their partner, based on the answers provided on the forms they had turned in. They were to study the dossier, and then each pair would ‘present’ their partners to the rest of the group at a dinner to be held the following Thursday evening. “Nothing formal,” Dr. Burton had specified, “just a quick introduction: who they are, what they study, how close they are to finishing – whatever you think the group might like to know.”
Patrick had raised his hand, but spoke before he was acknowledged. “Can we ask for a specific person?”
Dr. Burton, ever the congenial sort, smiled broadly. “Now what would be the fun of that? Everything is going to be done semi-randomly: you’ll be matched with someone who’s in a different program from you.”
“Can we ask to not be paired with a particular person?” Patrick was persistent. Hero noted from two rows away that everything about him seemed the same as it was at the first meeting: his demeanor, his mood – even his posture! Only his shirt seemed different; the dark green hue highlighted the reddish tones in his hair. Focusing her gaze on the end of his long narrow nose, she smiled to herself, assuming that he was hoping the same thing she was hoping.
“No; that wouldn’t be fair. Like I said, everything will be random for the most part. Just think of it as good practice. After all, you won’t know your students well before you meet them the first time.”
Hero did the math quickly in her head: there were twenty-nine other counselors, but there were only sixteen cubicles, which meant that only half the group would be in the office at the same time. Half the group would be in from eight in the morning to noon, and the other half would be in from one in the afternoon to five. She had the eight-to-noon schedule, but there was no way she could know before Friday what anyone else’s schedule would be. So she had about a seven-percent chance of being stuck with the self-satisfied Mr. Murphy. Maybe she’d get lucky and he would work in the mornings. As long as she didn’t have to share a cubicle with him, she could deal with the rest. She did not want to spend her time quarreling with that tall stick figure with the slender pianist’s hands and icy blue eyes.
Back at her apartment, she found Kamal sitting on the front steps of the main entrance, waiting for her. He still had his chef’s coat on, dotted with a variety of stains. A large brown paper bag sat beside him. He put his phone in his pocket as she walked up, flashing his broad white smile at her. “Bonjour, cherie!” He followed her into the small lobby and up the stairs to the third floor.
“Bonjour, habibi. What are you doing here? I thought you had to work.” Hero could hear Hasani from the stairwell: his meows had a raspy ‘bourbon and cigars’ quality.
“I got to go home a little early today. Where were you? I waited for so long.” Kamal leaned against the door frame as she unlocked her door, took his chef’s coat off and hung it on the rack, and carried the bag to the little kitchen, ignoring Hasani’s twirling. Hero put her briefcase down, took off her purple ballet flats, and slid her feet into a pair of fuzzy slippers. While Kamal set out a variety of little containers on the kitchen counter, Hero slipped up behind him and put her arms around his slender waist. She leaned her head against the back of his warm smooth neck.
“You smell like cigarettes, habibi.”
“I know. I told you I would TRY to stop, but today was very hard.” He took two plates down from the cabinet. “So I bring you dinner.”
“Great! What are we having?” Hero hoped it wouldn’t be too spicy, so Hasani could have a taste.
“Lamb tagine with olives and couscous.”
“How long have we been together?”
“About two years now, I think. Why do you ask this?”
“Kamal, how many times have you seen me eat lamb?”
“I don’t know, cherie – maybe twelve?”
“Never, Kamal – the answer is ‘never.’ I’ll just have some of the couscous.” She got out forks and napkins, placing them on the small pub table next to the kitchen. Kamal put the rest of the contents of the take-out containers on his plate.
“Pardon me, cherie – I thought you liked lamb.”
Hero didn’t respond; instead, she called Hasani over and gave him a taste of the couscous. He ate the bit she held out but refused any more, wrinkling his nose at the next bit offered. He turned sharply and went back to his big embroidered cushion. After a minute, Hero shifted to face Kamal. “How is your family?”
“Oh, they suffer so. It is still so hot in Casa, and Ramadan will start soon. I am worried for them.” Kamal ate quickly, always as if the food might disappear before he could finish. Hero watched him, wondering why he never appeared to gain weight. Kamal was not especially handsome by most standards, but he had a cheerful boyish face, and he was tall and dark (two out of three!). She spotted a sprinkling of grey strands in his short, coarse black hair – not terribly surprising, given that he was ten years older than her (and four years older than Dante!). “If only they had a freezer to make ice, they could stay cooler and I would not worry so much. But I have no more money to send them.”
Hero leaned her chin on her fist and poked at the couscous and olives on her plate. She tried to imagine his family’s situation in Casablanca during the summer. Most of Kamal’s family – his elderly parents, his two older brothers, the wife of the younger of the brothers, a very young niece, a very young nephew – all lived in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house on the edge of town. The house had been built by Kamal’s grandfather, who had owned a small but reasonably profitable tea-house in the 1960s. They had electricity and plumbing, although the house lacked heating and air conditioning. Kamal’s older sister had married a French businessman several years earlier, and had escaped the confines: she lived in Paris with her husband and children.
Kamal’s mother had contracted hepatitis several years earlier and required constant hospital visits. His father drew a small retirement pension from an airport security job. Kamal’s sister-in-law provided most of the family’s income, working in an administrative position for a local school. Neither of Kamal’s brothers worked, instead citing chronic fatigue and fear of open spaces. All things considered, the Khadalis were doing okay financially: they had food, they had clothes, they had a secure furnished house without a mortgage, they had access to medical care. There weren’t a lot of luxuries, despite Kamal sending them the majority of his paycheck every month. Still, Hero could not imagine life without a freezer.
“How much would a small freezer cost?”
Kamal had finished his dinner and sat with his eyes closed, his hands folded in front of him. “I think about three hundred dollars.”
Hero bit her lip, thinking again, while she absently pushed the couscous around on her plate with her fork. She could maybe draw a little from her Christmas fund, her travel fund, her book fund, her shoe fund – maybe a little from each wouldn’t seem so bad. The new counseling position paid a bit more than her teaching assistantships had paid. “All right, I can give you the three hundred.”
Kamal opened his eyes, reaching out to grab her hand. “Shukran, cherie – merci.” Kamal regularly switched back and forth between Arabic and French. “Thank you, cherie.” As he started to stand, he struck one knee against the tall table leg, stumbling. “Al’ama! Why did you not get a better table?”
“Because I like this table.” The little square pub table with its higher-than-regular-chair stools was just the right size for Hero’s tall frame; the stools all tucked neatly under the table, making it an ideal set-up for a small apartment. Lorena (her wild Spanish bohemian artist mother) had helped her choose furniture, area rugs and dishes, so naturally the apartment was colorful. Since all the furniture selected was compact in size, Hero felt as if she lived in a comfortable, colorful doll-house – with a modern edge.
“You could get a real table and get rid of this table.”
“Kamal….” Hero picked up the dishes to take to the sink. “I can get a different table, or your family can get a freezer. Which do you prefer?”
“Okay, okay – I take the freezer.” He wiped off the table with a dishtowel, then came to put his arms around her. “Thank you, cherie.” He pulled her closer, nibbling on her ear. “I could stay with you this night, cherie. I could speak to you in only my dirty French. I think you are ready to appreciate my dick.”
Hero spoke a little French, enough to hold her own in simple conversations. Her Arabic, however, was limited to only a few words and phrases. She considered Kamal’s words, curling her lips in, in what Dante had called her ‘turtle face,’ and trying not to laugh. A thought had occurred to her: Kamal was biting her with her own teeth.
Shortly after she had met Kamal he had broken his partials (working-class Moroccans did not have easy access to dentists, so dental care was less of a priority). She had found the sight of him without teeth disturbing, but didn’t have enough money saved up to help him get a new set. She had appealed to her father, telling him she needed money for a new computer, which her father was happy to provide. It was the only time she had told a real lie to her father. She then had lived with nagging guilt for about six months, finally confessing to Dante, who now constantly reminded her about it. She had yet to confess to Oliver.
She continued to suppress her giggling, wondering which was funnier: the idea that she was being bitten with her own teeth, or Kamal’s indelicate, unpoetic murmurings. She unwrapped herself from his arms and stepped back.
“No, I don’t think I am ready yet. Besides, I have homework to do. You can stay and listen to music, but you have to go home later.”
Kamal’s expression darkened for a moment, then cleared. “Okay. I will go home now, and while I walk home I will wonder if you will ever be ready.”
“Okay, habibi – that’s probably a good idea.” She tried to relax her face, calming the tiny prickings in her eyes, and telling herself it was just his way.
At the door, he grabbed his chef’s jacket, then turned and hugged her once again. “I will have next Thursday night off. Maybe we can go out then.”
“Oh – I can’t. I have to attend a dinner meeting at school.” She kissed him on the chin.
“Okay, okay – I think you will not be ready this month. Maybe next month.” He smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes. “See you soon, cherie.”
Hero closed and locked the door. She could hear Kamal in the hallway, waiting for the painfully slow elevator that traversed the three stories of the small building. If given a choice, Kamal never took the two levels of stairs. She thought about his dark flawless skin, his quick smile, and his exotic accent when he said her name: “Hee-row.” Their two-year relationship had not progressed beyond dating. Kamal wanted much more, but Hero had resisted thus far. She felt that something was just slightly off between them. Kamal handled her gently, did not pressure her unduly, was never overtly unkind. She simply did not feel that all the pieces had clicked into place yet. Did she love him? For the most part, yes, but then again what kind of an answer was ‘for the most part’? Determined not to derail her education nor her plans for her future, she was not interested in handing over her privacy, her apartment keys, or her body until she was completely sure.
She sighed, then turned to Hasani. “Ready for a fun night of operational definitions?” Hasani twined around her ankles, purring deeply.
Independent Authors self publishing tales that are
entertaining, illuminating, and thoughtful.
Questman Tales Publishing
Murphy's Path - our first published book!
We had a lot of fun writing it, formatting it, designing a cover for it, getting it reviewed, and generally 'learning the business' with it. For your enjoyment we will publish online one chapter per week for the next twenty weeks.
(You can still find a few print copies!)
(Note: Since our characters use a number of languages in addition to English, we've included the handy Glossary of words and phrases - you'll find it way down at the bottom of the page...)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
A Quest Book
Copyright 2016 by Madeleyn Questman
All Rights Reserved
Published by Questman Tales Publishing, LLC
Battle Ground, WA
First U.S. Edition: May 2016
Printed in the USA
A rey muerto, rey puesto (Spanish) Out with the old, in with the new
A-sala’am alaikum (Arabic) Peace be with you
Abuelita (Spanish) Grandmother
Abuelo (Spanish) Grandfather
Adivina (Spanish) Fortune teller
Al’ama (Arabic) Used as a mild swear
Alemanes (Spanish) Germans
Alli viene un hueso (Spanish) Here comes a bone
Angeles nos observan (Spanish) Angels are watching us
Arras (Spanish) Gold token coins given during a marriage ceremony
Azahares (Spanish) Orange blossoms
Azan (Arabic) Call to prayer
Ba’heb’uk (Arabic) I love you (said to a man)
Basta (Spanish) Enough
Besa mi culo (Spanish) Kiss my ass
Bienvenidos (Spanish) Welcome
Bonjour (French) Good day, good morning, hello
Brazo de Gitano (Spanish) A type of cake
Bréagadóir (Gaelic) Liar
Bueno (Spanish) Good
Cabron (Spanish) Asshole
Café con leche (Spanish) Latte
Calabacitas (Spanish) Zucchini
Callate (Spanish) Be quiet
Cálmate (Spanish) Calm down
Canela (Spanish) Cinnamon tea
Carne pinchada (Spanish) Skewered meat
Casal (Spanish) a specific community outreach center for children
Castanyes (Spanish) Chestnuts
C’est moi (French) It’s me
Chérie (French) Dear or sweetheart
Chicha (Spanish) Nicaraguan corn beer
Comportate como un hombre (Spanish) Act like a man
Como eres (Spanish) See how you are (colloquial)
Como estas (Spanish) How are you?
Comprometida (Spanish) Engaged to be married
Con mucho gusto (Spanish) With pleasure
Dejalo (Spanish) Leave him alone
De rein (French) You’re welcome
Desgraciado(s) (Spanish) Ruined, unfortunate
Diabhal (Gaelic) Used as a mild swear
Diga (Spanish) A greeting similar to hello
Dhuhr (Arabic) Afternoon prayer
Donde esta (Spanish) Where is the
Eleutheria (Greek) Free Will
Escarpins (French) Shoes
Espiritu (Spanish) Spirit
Estoy agradecida (Spanish) I’m grateful
Estoy cansado de sus palabras (Spanish) I’m tired of his words
Eid (Arabic) A Muslim festival
Eid al-Ftir (Arabic) Festival of the breaking of the feast
El Moro estúpido (Spanish) The stupid Moroccan
El Moro jodido (Spanish) The fucking Moroccan
El Moro que sufre mas (Spanish) The Moroccan who suffers more
El Orfanato (Spanish) A Spanish language movie called ‘The Orphanage’
Es justo (Spanish) Is that fair
Escucha lo que tiene que decir (Spanish) Listen to what he has to say
Esponja (Spanish) Sponge
Este flaco palido (Spanish) This pale skinny man
Fenian (Gaelic) Supporters of Irish Nationalism, also derogatory term for Irish Catholics
Fue agitado por un bruja (Spanish) It was stirred by a witch
Galetes (Spanish) Artisan cookies
Gracias por todo (Spanish) Thanks for everything
Grosero (Spanish) Coarse, vulgar
Gruñon (Spanish) Grumpy
Guapo (Spanish) Handsome
Guero Inutil (Spanish) Useless white man
Habibi (Arabic) My darling, used for men
Hala (Spanish) an exclamation like “wow”
Hammam (Arabic) a communal bath
Hijab (Arabic) Head scarf worn by women
Hijo de puta (Spanish) Son of a whore
Hobi (Arabic) My love, used for women
Il Barbiere de Siviglia (Italian) The Barber of Seville
Ingrata (Spanish) ungrateful
Inolvidable (Spanish) Unforgettable
Irlandes (Spanish) Irishman
Kafala (Arabic) Foster parenting
Khobz (Arabic) Flatbread
Laodamia (Greek) A poem by William Wordsworth
L’Opera (Spanish) A coffee house in Barcelona
Las Ramblas (Spanish) Tourist street in Barcelona
Lazeez (Arabic) Delicious
Lazo (Spanish) A traditional wedding ornament, usually a large ribbon tied into a bow
Lenqua (Spanish) Tongue
Magdalenas (Spanish) A type of cupcake
Maravillosa (Spanish) Marvelous
Mascarada (Spanish) A masquerade party
Mal hablado (Spanish) Dirty mouth
Makrout (Arabic) Date filled pastries
Mazel tov (Hebrew) Congratulations
M’entiendes? (Spanish) Do you understand me?
Mercat (Spanish) a marketplace in Barcelona
Merci (French) Thank you
Mejor que un Moro sucio (Spanish) Better than a dirty Moroccan
Mija (Spanish) My daughter
Minijupes (French) Mini Skirt
Mira (Spanish) Look
Mondongo (Spanish) Nicaraguan soup
Muévete (Spanish) Move
Muezzin (Arabic) Man who calls Muslims to prayer
Muy bien (Spanish) Very good
Muy religioso (Spanish) Very religious
Muy sabroso (Spanish) Very tasty
Niña (Spanish) Young lady
No luchamos (Spanish) Let’s not fight
No me quieres? (Spanish) Don’t you want me?
No puedo competir con un fantasma (Spanish) I can’t compete with a ghost
No nos conocen muy bien (Spanish) They don’t know us very well
No sé (Spanish) I don’t know
No te preocupes (Spanish) Do not worry
No tiene que hablar (Spanish) He doesn’t have to talk
Noche de Brujas (Spanish) Night of the witches
Novio (Spanish) Fiancé (a man a woman is engaged to)
Oik (British English) Working class person
Olla (Spanish) A large clay soup pot
Om Kalthoum (Arabic) Famous Egyptian singer
Orphelinat (French) Orphanage
Oui – moi aussi (French) Yes, me too
Panellets (Spanish) Cookies for All Saints’ Day
Pantuflas (Spanish) Slippers
Paraté (Spanish) Stand up
Pasen (Spanish) Enter
Pégame (Spanish) Hit me
Perdidas (Spanish) Losses
Pero (Spanish) But
Polvorones (Spanish) Ground almond cookies
Por favor, ya no mas (Spanish) Please, no more
Por supuesto (Spanish) Of course
Pozole (Spanish) Pork and hominy stew
Puede llevarnos a (Spanish) Can you take us to
Purisima (Spanish) Celebration of the Virgin Mary on December 8th
Que asqueroso (Spanish) How nauseating
Que Desagradable (Spanish) How unpleasant, disagreeable
Que sorpresa (Spanish) What a surprise
Quemadas (Spanish) Flaming cocktails
Querido (Spanish) Dear
Quiere agua (Spanish) He wants water
Quien es (Spanish) Who is this
Ras el hanout (Arabic) Moroccan spice mix
Sagrada Familia (Spanish) Basilica in Barcelona designed by Gaudi
Sala’am (Arabic) A greeting in Muslim countries
Salud (Spanish) To your health – a toast
Se puede morir del sabor (Spanish) He might die from the flavor
Shukran (Arabic) Thank you
Siéntate (Spanish) Sit down
Sin Verguensas (Spanish) Disgraced, shameless
Slainte (Gaelic) To your health – a toast
Souk (Arabic) Open-air market
Te esta llamando (Spanish) Someone is calling
Tia (Spanish) Aunt
Tiene que hacer algo (Spanish) He has to do something
Tonta (Spanish) Dumb woman
Tormentas (Spanish) Stormy weather
Tortilla de patatas (Spanish) Potato torte
Trajedias (Spanish) tragedies
Un momento (Spanish) In a moment, just a second
Vamos (Spanish) Let’s go
Vas a ver que (Spanish) You’ll see
Ven aqui (Spanish) Come here
Verdures (Spanish) Vegetables
Viejas (Spanish) Old women
Wa-alaikum al-sala’am (Arabic) Peace be with you also
Y no puede hablar? (Spanish) Can’t he speak?
Yo puedo hacer esto (Spanish) I can do this