Free Essay

Hard Writer

In: Computers and Technology

Submitted By nokulanne
Words 51512
Pages 207
and Other Stories

Arthur Dobrin
©

2010

2 Arthur Dobrin

CONTENTS
Passing Stranger — 3
Love the One You’re With — 19
Lemon — 40
Shila — 59
Ayew’s Last Letter — 73
Girls in Paradise — 80
The Coriolis Effect — 98
The Train to Amsterdam — 121
Black Ice — 134
(E)ruction (D)isorder — 154
Coral Fish — 169
In Treasured Teapots — 179
Deep Well — 196
The Harder Right — 210
Notes — 222

THE HARDER RIGHT 3

Passing Stranger

A

WOMAN.

Perhaps that’s why. The first and still the only in the clergy association.
Or maybe it is because of where she is from.
No one from San Francisco had come to live here before. Occasionally an outsider moved to this town, in the northern tier of the state, but the flow is almost always in the other direction, away from, not into. And the few that do come to stay aren’t from California, a place that to this day, decades after it had long faded, is believed to be an incubator for radical lifestyles and subversive politics.

4 Arthur Dobrin

Or perhaps her name—Ailanthus—a strange one, where here, if you are named after flora it is Rose or Violet or another sweet smelling flower that could be grown in the garden. It must be a name given to her by a hippie mother, a band given to bestowing peculiar names on their children. No one knows of a girl being named after a tree. They never heard of an ailanthus before she arrived, certainly never saw one growing in this land where trees are conifers and hardwoods. But her mother, from Brooklyn, had seen many sprouting in unexpected places and thought them beautiful, with clusters of yellowish flowers that turn rust red throughout the seasons, the tree growing where no other would take root. When they discovered that Ali was her shortened name and learned what her given, formal name was, a few thought that if she were going to be named after a tree, it should be Pine. She heard it before, as a schoolgirl, sometimes as a taunt, other times spoken affectionately. She knew all the variations, such as Ice Cream and Traffic. An athletic friend gave her the pet name, which she liked, Soccer.
Tree-of-heaven is its common name, a good one from parents who thanked God for delivering a child, a good name, she thought, when she became a woman and found herself in this career. And the tree is an appropriate metaphor for those who harbor malicious thoughts but won’t speak of them to anyone except behind closed doors—an invasive species, a threat to natives, insidiously taking root where it doesn’t belong. If her mother knew that the scent of the male flowers resembled cat urine, would she have given her that name? It never occurred to Ali to ask until now.
Being single also raised suspicions.

THE HARDER RIGHT 5

Unmarried, thick black hair that cascades like rivulets to her neck, a pleasing round face with soft gray eyes, never having been married, at least according to the story she chooses to tell—in her early thirties, affable, restrained and with a voice as beautiful as the best in any church choir.
Chaste? No one asks the other question, but speculation circulates: wasn’t it in San Francisco that one of them became a minister and isn’t that the city where there is a congregation just for those like that? Does she even own a dress? And her expensive cowboy boots that she wears for all occasions, how can you explain that?
Like a priest, she said with a smile when first asked by one of the pastors in the association about her not having a spouse, not realizing that her response raised hackles for a different reason. Later she realized the clumsiness of her quip. There isn’t a Catholic church for miles and the local university, the largest private college in the county, only recently removed from its website a denunciation of “false
Catholic doctrine” and how one could not "be a good Catholic and a good, spiritual Christian." At first, some did think that maybe for her it was also a religious requirement, but that misconception was quickly dispelled after the meeting, about a year after her appointment to the congregation and she joined the Buffalo County Clergy Association, when she was asked to present a short lecture at one of the monthly meetings. “I am a cantor,” she said, explaining that her training was slightly different than that of a rabbi’s but was authorized to perform and carry out all the same religious duties. A rabbi was a teacher, the most learned in the

6 Arthur Dobrin

community, she said, happy to enlighten her more insular colleagues; as a cantor she was the leader of congregational prayers, prayers always sung in the Jewish tradition. As a professional cantor, having graduated with a Master’s degree in Sacred Music and receiving investiture as Cantor from the seminary, she was ordained clergy and it was not unusual in these circumstances for a congregation to employ a cantor instead of a rabbi.
“I am the leader of the congregation,” she said.
Of the Tamarack Jewish Center, an aspirational name for a group that rented space from The Benevolent and
Protective Order of the Elks.
“Just like all of you are. In yours. I officiate at weddings, tend to the sick and preside at funerals. I am their clergyperson.” A strange locution but most got used to it and if she wanted to refer to herself this way, that was fine with most.
Other questions: No, her father didn’t dress in black and wear a long beard. (At least not since college.) We are from the liberal branch of Judaism, she said. No, I don’t mind that you serve ham sandwiches after our meetings. I don’t eat lobster, though. We never ate it in my family. We didn’t keep kosher in my family; not even my grandparents. But just in case the kosher laws are immutable and He’s watching, you know, this is the one food that if he found me eating, He would strike me dead.
Yes, it is true, there are Jews who won’t drive on
Saturday, do any work, including cooking or turning on electric lights, or touch money on the Sabbath, she said in

THE HARDER RIGHT 7

response to an Evangelical minister who led a trip to Israel and had seen some of these things with his own eyes, but
Reform Jews don’t abide by those rules. No one dared ask her if it was true—‘I heard . . .’—that Jews had intercourse through a hole in the bed sheet. But how would she know about that

anyway? Having

sex

on

the

Sabbath

was

considered a blessing, she said at one meeting, when there was consternation about sexualized contemporary life. Even if you aren’t married? no one dared ask, but if someone had, she would have waved it off with a joke. She had lots of jokes, most of which she never related to the Buffalo County
Ministers Association, many of which, though, she told to her congregants over a dinner at their homes.
Everyone agreed that Rabbi Ali, as she was universally known despite her disclaimer, had a wonderfully selfdeprecating sense of humor. It served her well in fending off
Rev. Tyler who was glad to have the chance to meet a Jew, a person he tried to bring into the warm arms of Jesus or those who, in charming innocence, tried to set her up with an eligible bachelor. Of which there were none at the Jewish
Center. Those who were single would make good companions for her widowed mother in Boca Raton.
A Jew, most of all.
Although, if anything, her fellow clergy had been too solicitous towards her, exhibiting a genial condescension, even an effusiveness by the pastor calling himself a Christian
Zionist, accepting her membership into their association as if proving their Christian magnanimity. But now, for some her religion was enough to prove the point that they had been

8 Arthur Dobrin

mistaken, even though the charge, brought and debated at a meeting where Ali was asked to leave when the vote was taken was couched as “behavior unbecoming a minister,” as reported in the minutes, without names attached to positions or the final tally listed. Expulsion edged out censure. ‘Money grubbing’ was uttered off the record, in a phone call, on a walk to the car in the church parking lot. But the main motivation couldn’t be that since the Jewish Center, too, was split, with as many detractors as supporters, often expressing the same outrage. When the matter became public, making a brief appearance in the national news, Ali knew that she had to leave Tamarack, Buffalo County.

Leading

a religious community, spending her life as a

religious leader, came unplanned, as much a surprise to her as it was to her parents, who, while expecting something unconventional from their daughter, found this calling and the place to which it took her startling. Music, not religion, was her passion. She had piano and voice lessons, she performed in every school musical, spent her money on records and concerts. She wanted to be Madonna. She listened to Barbra Streisand. She started her own grunge band and learned arias from Kathleen Battle. She imitated Liza Minnelli and was happy when she could buy a CD version of Cabaret because her LP of the show was too scratched to listen to.
Countless songs lurked in her head and she never knew silence or stillness. She was always churning with melodies and lyrics. Ali was always singing to herself; songs became vocal when prompted by random events, a sight, a

THE HARDER RIGHT 9

sign, an overheard conversation, phrases from dialogues with friends, a recalled memory. As the controversy in Tamarack erupted, she found herself singing “Money makes the world go round, the world go round,” and she thought about being a
Jew in a Christian world, where it wasn’t whether you believed in Jesus but which church you attended and the Jewish bible was treated like an embarrassing relative, a crazy uncle locked in the attic. She hadn’t known these waters before moving here. For Ali, being Jewish was simply one of many identities that she carried; she came from places so heterogeneous that being different was taken for granted.
Ali’s immersion in music led her to the Berklee
College

of

Music,

in

Boston,

where

she

majored

in

Performance, did summer stock in the Berkshires, and after graduation, performed in a variety of plays, musicals and legitimate theater, in troupes Off Broadway and in Los
Angeles, where she was seduced into settling, hoping to parlay her small part in a big musical film—which one reviewer said she was the only breath of fresh air in an otherwise stinker of a movie—into a screen career. While waiting, she did voice-overs for TV commercials, worked as a singing waitress and did the back-up banjo playing on the CD of a pop singer from Finland that, when the album became the indie hit of the year, gave her just enough money and hope for a year to alleviate a bout of melancholic gloom.
In Los Angeles Ali missed the urbanity of New York and Boston, the ability to get places without a car, the gray skies of cold, damp days and the flaming leaves of autumn.
She slowly closed in on herself and spent more time reading.
She took up yoga for six months, registered for an art class,

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and tried meditating. But the solitude was more than she wanted. As she became more introspective, she also wanted to extend herself, not with companionship but with giving.
What really compelled her to perform, she discovered, was what it

brought

to

other

people.

While

she

needed

approbation and attention, the audience needed her just as much. One Friday night, after reading an ad in a local newspaper, out of boredom and curiosity, she went to the
Creative Arts Temple, where, along with a congregation of mainly young singles and couples, she sang, clapped, laughed and listened to a sermon that moved her to tears. As she wrote on her application to the cantorial school in San
Francisco, “God took me by the hand and brought me through the doors of heaven.” This struck the admissions committee as being a little too Christian in its language, but, after some discussion, they chose to interpret her remarks as aesthetical.
“But you’ve never been religious before. Why now?” she was asked at the interview.
“I’ve always been religious—spiritual—I just didn’t know it, but that’s what music has been. I’ve always been moved by the human voice, but nothing like the way the sacred music of the temple touched me. I now know how important it is being a Jew, to be a Jew, when I went to the temple in LA for the first time. I now go every Friday night. If possible. It’s important for me to support the cause of the
Jewish people. I don’t know what else to say, how to explain it.” 1
THE
HARDER RIGHT 1

As a rabbi, she would need to be more articulate—a teacher, a

scholar,

a

spokesperson

on

behalf

of

the

congregation to the larger community, an organizer, a comforter to the sick and bereaved. As a cantor, the beauty of her voice and command of the liturgical music would be sufficient. Ali’s desire to use her talent to serve the Jewish community grew deeper with each course at the school, her appreciation for Jewish heritage deepening and she was never more certain that she had made the right decision by the time she graduated.

Finding a position as a cantor was more difficult than getting work in the theater. Large synagogues wanted an experienced cantor to assist a senior rabbi, while small synagogues wanted a rabbi, not a cantor, to lead the congregation. Ali resigned herself to remaining a congregant when she learned that a group in the Plains States, one that rented space in an
Elks Hall on Friday nights, had received a sizeable grant from a member whose software company made him a millionaire when it went public, hoped that with the help of a professional, they could grow into a full-size congregation.
“Do you really want to go to such a God forsaken place, Ali?” her mother asked.
“Nowhere is forsaken by God,” she answered with humor. “Are there really Jews there?”
“Enough to pay me a half-time salary.”

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“And the other half?”
“The

person

who

gave

the

endowment

has

connections,” she said. “He arranged for me to teach music part-time at a community college, about an hour’s drive away.
There are a few private colleges around. So I might be able to get another class. And giving music lessons. That’s enough for me to get by.”
That part was easy, the money, having more than enough to get by. The hard parts were: no balsamic vinegar or kettle potato chips or authentic Italian sauce, craft beer or
Napa wines—she lived long enough in northern California to have become a foodie; there being no other single Jew her age for her to talk to in person; the brutal winter cold and her not taking to snow shoeing. In some things she surprised even herself, for not only did Ali perform all her pastoral duties well, as the only clergy for the congregation, she found great pleasure in it—the advice sought after by members more than twice her age, the comfort she gave to those in need, the confessional secrets she kept locked away.
She grew accustomed to the deprivations and found the newborn meaning in her life more than compensation.
Not being able to reverse the diminishing number of congregants—that was

dispiriting

but

also

challenging.

Despite the unlimited funds provided by the benefactor, membership never exceeded fifty. Sometimes more guests attended than members. Only when there was a wedding or bar mitzvah or funeral did the Elk’s Hall fill to capacity and it looked as though the Tamarack Jewish Center might have a future. 1
THE
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When her first contract expired, after two years, the board voted to retain her and offered her lifetime tenure, the funding assured by the benefactor.
“No,” she countered, “five years.” And negotiated a full-time salary “so I won’t have to divide my attention. If I can’t build the congregation by then, then I’m the wrong person. You need someone else.”
Members were scattered as far as one hundred fifty miles from Tamarack—a horse farmer, a social worker, a mining company manager, the director of a lumber mill, store owners, teachers, secretaries, a doctor, an accountant, a real estate agent, a mechanic, an extension agent on an Indian reservation, an organizer with the Farmers Union, retirees, four children. The reality was that Tamarack Jewish Center couldn’t grow without a new influx of Jews into this part of the state, an unlikely prospect, although not completely impossible, as the conversion of a declining meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa into a kosher meat slaughtering company showed how a community could be revived and transformed in a few years.
When Ali talked about her struggle to keep the Center going, the minister of the New Life Bible Church offered to give her materials that he had used on how to build a congregation. His was a successful mission with a new church with theater-style seating; several Sunday services were held to accommodate the thousands of worshippers. Ali read the books he

gave

her

and

everything

she

could

about

congregation building. At her urging, TJC hired a consultant for three days, an expert in taking small congregations and

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Arthur Dobrin

expanding

them

to

what

they

called

“full-service

congregations.” Her board then sent Ali for in-depth training at the inter-faith Alban Institute.
Her diligence, her competence and charisma didn’t matter. All the right tools with all the right experts still needed the proper materials and this was lacking. No new industry came to Tamarack, no failing company was infused with fresh cash, and Ali’s optimism continued to be only her public face. And this she could no longer maintain when a family, with the bat mitzvah girl in the van, died in a road accident on the way to the service. Shortly after, another congregant died a painful death from melanoma.

The phone call couldn’t have come at a worse time for Ali.
“Rabbi Cohen,” the caller asked. She didn’t bother to correct him.
“Who is this?” she asked abruptly.
“My father died. I’m calling from Chicago.”
“My condolences,” she said. “I’m sorry. But what was your father’s name?”
The caller explained.
“He lived in Grange.”
“Grange? That’s not too far from here. Did he just move in? I’m sorry I don’t know your father.”
“Twenty years ago.”

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“How could I not know him? I think I must know every Jew within two hundred miles of here.”
“He wasn’t a joiner.”
“You mean that he was a loner?”
“No, he was actually a social person. His work took him to Grange.”
“Then why don’t I know him?”
“He didn’t like organized religion.”
“Then why call me?” Ali’s voice began to get higher and louder.
“Because he was a Jew. And he wanted—I want—a
Jewish funeral service for him.”
Uncharacteristically, Ali blurted, “So now you want to take advantage?” She couldn’t control herself and words flew out of her mouth. “What chutzpah. So now you want an organized religion—you want me-to provide the service, when he never supported us?”
“You are the only rabbi there.”
“Only because Jews support me. They belong to the
Center.”
“I’ll pay you. Don’t worry about that. Whatever your fee.” “It’s not about money. My fee is membership in the
Center.”
“Look, I have no choice.”

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Arthur Dobrin

“That’s not my problem. You should have thought about this before. Maybe if people like you joined . . . ”
“So what do you expect me to do, rabbi?”
“You should have thought about this before you needed me.”
“But you are a rabbi. This is what you’re supposed to do.” “It’s not fair that you call on us when you need us but you don’t affiliate with us when we need you.”
“Look,” he said. “You’re a rabbi. You have a duty. To all Jews. Especially at death.”
“I have a duty to Jews, all Jews, when they are alive, who support the Jewish people, not to ones who die and turned their back on us.”
“He never did anything against Jews. He was proud to be a Jew.”
“That didn’t do me—the Jewish Center—any good.
With Jews like him there wouldn’t be any synagogues at all.”
And so the conversation looped and circled. Finally
Ali ended it.
Until the next day when a reporter from the
Associated Press wanted a quote from her, to defend herself.
And the following day calls from local TV stations,
CNN, newspapers domestic and foreign. Magazines. Vile, vicious, cruel callers screaming, whispering, threatening:
Woman. Socialist. Lesbian. Jew.

1
THE
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Until she stopped answering the phone.
But had to answer to, explain herself first at a special meeting of the TJC, then to the Buffalo County Clergy
Association. The same at both—a divided group; the same questions, the same support, the same accusations and disappointments. Her failure, ultimately, the inability to bring the group together. Tikkun olam, repairing the world, she learned at the cantorial school and she took it to heart, her mission through song and music. She couldn’t repair her reputation, the Jewish Center, Christian-Jewish bonds.
Ali hummed a niggun, a wordless melody, as she searched for herself.
“How vast are your works, Adonai. Your designs are exceedingly profound,” she sang the text of Psalm 92.
So profound she didn’t understand.
Then Hine Ma Tov: “How good and pleasant/When brothers and sisters dwell in harmony.” She sang at the service, the congregants, too, a hymn, a folk song, a melody they all knew but the room was emptier than usual.
This could never be. Not for her. Here. She explained as she tendered her resignation from the pulpit. Not now.
Someday. Maybe.

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Arthur Dobrin

Love the One You’re With

W

HEN

MARCUS

AND

THEA decided

to marry, they, like many couples, imagined their ideal future and, sure that their love was true, exchanged wedding vows at the West Side Community Christian Congregation, even though neither of them thought of themselves as religious. They wanted to honor their families’ traditions. They pledged to be each other’s life-long companions, take pleasure in each other’s accomplishments

and,

remain

together

through

whatever hardships that would befall them, and stay faithful to one another. In private they pledged to have a loving family,

1
THE
HARDER RIGHT 9

with two children—a girl and a boy—, although if both were the same sex, they had no preference which.
Approaching seven years of married life, the Wheelers took stock of their marriage. They made an inventory of their lives: their work was going well, they had good friends, and they would choose each other as spouses again without hesitation. Life was good, but not perfect. A great sadness was that all four of their parents had died in the intervening years.
Because of this they felt their lack more keenly—they were childless. When they finally acknowledged that there might be a physiological problem, they went to a fertility clinic. There they established a schedule for their sex lives—what time, how and how often, and under what conditions they were to have intercourse. What started as a romp, with jokes as such, ‘With medicine like this, who wouldn’t want to be sick?’ and cute pictures drawn on the calendar taped on the wall above the bed headrest, in six months became work, a tedious chore. Sex was no longer pleasurable and spiritual. Instead of being a shared joy, having sex was a duty, a regulated one at that.
Thea’s enthusiasm was stoked with a rekindled love for
Marcus and the thought of what sex might bring, but Marcus’s interest, to his great astonishment, waned. He found the regimentation distasteful. Sex became one more area of
Marcus’s life where he was measured by performance on demand. He was no longer sure whether Thea desired him or whether he was merely a means to an end for her. He was jealous of a child that didn’t yet exist.
As a result of the burden Marcus felt, Thea’s eagerness for sex began to fade. She continued because she

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wanted her own family. But she also felt like a double failure— no longer attractive to Marcus and being unable to conceive. It turned out, though, that further tests revealed that it wasn’t
Thea who was the problem (a word they tried to avoid to describe their condition but couldn’t) but Marcus. On the advice of the fertility specialist, Marcus switched from briefs to boxer shorts, stopped using the stationary bicycle at the gym and the hot tub after his workout; he gave up smoking marijuana, began taking vitamin supplements and drank ginseng tea while abstaining from coffee. He also visited an acupuncturist who claimed to have great success in curing male infertility. On the acupuncturist’s wall were children’s crayon drawings. Twice a week for six months, Marcus with thin needles sticking from various parts of his body, stared at the pictures. When he told Thea that he wasn’t going to see the acupuncturist any longer, she thought his complaint would be about being pricked with needles. Instead, he detested the silly drawings she displayed and Dr. Jenny’s cloying attitude, treating him as though he were the child they were trying to create. There were other options, Thea said. Marcus didn’t care any longer. He could no longer imagine a life with a child.
“I know we wanted kids,” Marcus said to his wife, his eyes wide open staring at the ceiling. “But the more we’ve tried the worse things have become.”
“Between us, you mean?” Thea said, turning on her side to face him.
“I’m done with it. No kids. That’s it.”

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THE
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Thea had thought about using donor sperm, but she would never suggest this to Marcus.
“I don’t want to give up.”
Marcus didn’t respond.
Thea understood Marcus’s silence. She had become good at interpreting that. Marcus put out the reading light on his side of the bed and fell asleep on his back; Thea put in earphones to listen to her playlist. She was nearly asleep when the Aretha Franklin cut came up on shuffle. She had always liked the song and knew it well. Now she heard it in a different way. “If you are confused/And you don’t remember who you’re talkin’ to . . .” When the song was over, she shut off her iPod and looked at Marcus who was sprawled on his back. She sang the refrain of the song to herself several times—‘love the one you’re with.’ She didn’t believe in signs, but she took the injunction to heart. Marcus was here with her and she did love him. Before turning off her light on her side of the bed, she reached over to touch her husband’s leg. She rested it there for a moment, then stroked his shoulder and breathed in deeply the salty smell of his skin. He mumbled something she couldn’t understand and turned on his side facing the wall, and his breathing became deeper as he fell away from her.

It took Thea several months before she had the courage to tell
Marcus what she had been doing. She wanted this to come out right. If she presented it wrong, not only might this end the

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chances of having children, it could also mean the end of their marriage. Her fears were unfounded. Rather than pushing him further away, Thea’s revealing that she had been investigating adoption came as a relief to Marcus. He wanted a child, too.
The thought that they would no longer have to subject themselves to further tests and laboratories felt as though their marriage had been given back to them. They would have a child after all.
What they hadn’t anticipated was that there would be more interviews, more explanations, more questionnaires, more scrutiny and more humiliation. Rather than feeling welcomed as new parents, they felt as though they needed to bare their inner selves—strangers with probing questions now pried into their lives. They had exchanged physicians for social workers. There were background checks, psychological tests and other procedures they found exhausting. And when they were finished, they were put on a waiting list years long and all that without a guarantee that there would be a child at the end. A friend asked if they had considered international adoption, something they had considered initially but had dismissed as each day they expected the adoption procedure to be completed. But now facing an indefinite delay, the question came as an epiphany. The only question they had was why they hadn’t pursued that course sooner. It was as though the American agencies put up obstacles. So they began researching the possibility of adopting overseas. Marcus and
Thea

considered

every

country

from

which

Americans

2
THE
HARDER RIGHT 3

regularly adopted and finally settled on Haiti, one close enough that they could visit regularly until the adoption became final.
Every spare minute was spent on the Internet researching the possibilities. The numbers were staggering:
380,00 orphans, many left by families too poor to raise the children themselves. The Wheelers couldn’t understand why, with such obvious and pressing need it took up to three years to complete an adoption. So when they found Suffer the
Children, an independent Christian agency in Virginia that sponsored La

Chance

Orphelinat

Secondes,

near

Etang

Saumatre, an orphanage caring for more than 100 children, that promised an expeditious process and had several testimonials from families that had adopted through them on their website, it became their choice. They contacted Suffer the
Children and received an immediate and encouraging reply, via email, from Rev. Noreen Quimby, the founder and director.
After filling out an online questionnaire, they received a telephone call from the founding pastor and director of the agency, who assured them that their application would be quickly processed and that would have a child in less than a year. “Of course, when dealing with a country like Haiti, there is always the unpredictable. But we have had much success there. Jesus wants these children to have a loving home.”
The Wheelers sent a small processing fee to the agency, a sum considerably less than what other agencies had required. Rev. Quimby phoned again, this time to thank them for their “contribution to help save the children” and told them that the orphanage itself would shortly contact them.

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Marcus and Thea were surprised that less than two weeks later, they received an email from the director, Marie Auguste, of La Chance Orphelinat Secondes, with an attachment, a photo of Ghislaine, a neatly dressed two year-old seated in front of a white-washed building with a corrugated blue metal roof, her braided hair fixed with pink and green wooden beads.
She smiled at the camera.
“What do you think?” Noreen Quimby asked. “Isn’t she adorable?” They agreed with her, absolutely. Thea bought a picture frame and placed the photo in it.
“Do you really think this is such a good idea?” Marcus asked, knowing what Thea’s answer would be. “Maybe we should wait until this is final, when she’s really ours. So many things can go wrong.”
“Not this time. It won’t. I know it.”
Rev. Quimby called every few weeks. On one occasion she told them that they were expected to visit the orphanage at least once before the adoption could be finalized, so they could meet Ghislaine in person. Everyone needed to make sure this was the right thing to do.
Thea couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. But Marcus became skeptical when Rev. Quimby said that she would arrange for the air tickets and they should pay her directly.
She then asked for additional money for the adoption. The amount now neared $10,000, still nearly the same that other agencies were requiring for international adoptions, but nearly

2
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twice as much as they had been led to believe what would be required. Marcus knew that Thea would dismiss any doubts that he raised. And if he persisted, Thea’s heart would take her to
Haiti and away from him. When he did research on international adoption procedures, he saw that while Suffer the Children’s approach was unorthodox, in some respects it wasn’t unique. The need for homes for children was so great and the resources so scant that Marcus concluded that it was unreasonable to expect that things would be run as they were in the States. He wanted transparency and accountability from the agency, but that seemed impossible. However, as far as
Marcus could tell everything that Suffer the Child did was legal, even as it shaved the edges. Having satisfied himself,
Marcus put aside his own misgivings and, as each day passed, grew more loving towards Thea, as together they wrote letters to Ghislaine, and when they received a reply from the orphanage, which came with some regularity, their spirits were lifted together to heights they hadn’t experience since the days they first fell in love with one another. With each phone call from Rev. Quimby and each letter from Haiti, they became more eager to see their daughter, to hold her, to bring her home. They talked about how they would raise her, bought parenting books, discussed what nicknames they would give her and began scouring the classifieds for a larger apartment, in a neighborhood with better schools.
The FBI fingerprinted Thea and Marcus; a background check was run on them. They passed psychological and physical exams. Rev. Quimby offered assurances that all this

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was routine and, in fact, everything was going very well. She remembered them in all her prayers and she was certain that she was doing all that she could to move the process along quickly. She had connections, she said.
“You know what I mean.”
Although the Wheelers knew that a home visit by a social worker to assess their suitability as parents was a legal requirement, they resented the presumption that anyone, particularly a stranger, could make a judgment based on a few hours talk with them that would not only determine their future but also that of a orphaned child, or that they needed to be judged by anyone. Their suitability to become parents had never been raised by the fertility clinics, why now by an adoption agency? Knowing that they had no choice, that there would be no child for them without the interrogation, they agreed. They rehearsed what they would say, cleaned their apartment to new levels of anti-sepsis, re-doubled the amount of reading they did about raising children, adopted children, children adopted from Third World countries, and about Haiti itself, testing one another on the geography of western
Hispaniola, finding the location of the orphanage on a map that they hung above the television set in the living room, and learning the

difference

between

Creole

and

French

pronunciation. They needed to be expert parents in every way, they thought, which, in their minds was ridiculous, if not insulting, but a necessary precaution they were willing to indulge, for the cost of failure was too great, one that they couldn’t bear.

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Another email from Suffer the Children said that a
“Dr. Bien-Aime has gone over there to see Ghislaine and you have a healthy, on-target child and you should take great assurance in that,” which they did. When the formal report didn’t arrive within a month, the Wheelers were assured that it was on its way. “This is Haiti and you know how things are there. But we can thank Jesus,” she tacked on, as she did when she ended most conversations.
The home inspection was anti-climactic—a brief and cordial visit by a plain woman, one who looked like she had just graduated from a college that frowned upon make-up or a dress that wouldn’t be found left-over even in a Goodwill store. She politely refused a cup of coffee but did cheerfully accept a Cola. She asked some questions, took notes and walked from room to room in bright curiosity, without a hint of condescension.
Relieved at how they had worked themselves into a state of anxiety for no reason, Thea could hardly contain her enthusiasm a week later when they received a call from Rev.
Quimby telling them that the report was so positive that a preliminary visit to the orphanage wasn’t necessary. Their dossier had been sent to an official department in Haiti, where it would be reviewed. This was usually the point in which the process became “thick with many hands,” she said. But, hadn’t everything gone right until now? The pastor told them that she had a dream about Marcus and Thea, with Ghislaine, in a beautiful blue house and they were all very happy.
“Do you have a dog?” she asked unexpectedly.
“No.”

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She saw one in the vision, but that didn’t matter. She trusted her dreams.
As if by miracle, two months later they were approved. Ghislaine had been granted a passport. The schedule had been moved up. Although the usual procedure was to make a preliminary visit to the orphanage before taking the child home to the States, Suffer the Children was going to dispense with this step.
“Jesus visited me and told me that you were the parents, you were the ones. What should I do, Jesus, I asked and he said that you were beautiful people and I should follow my heart.” Their first visit to Haiti would be the only one necessary for the adoption. “I hope that the two of you are able to go by the end of next month,” the pastor said.
“Are you kidding?” Thea shouted into her phone, her face turning hot with excitement. The news was too good to be true. “I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
“Well,” Rev. Quimby said in her supportive but authoritative tone, “there still is paper work to be completed.”
And the remaining $10,000, she added, dropping this casually, as though it were no more significant than a change of email address, although this was the first that Thea had heard that more money was due. This now brought the total to
$30,000.
“Yes, of course, we’ll get it to you right away,” Thea said, certain that she must have been wrong, that Rev. Quimby had told them before, that she simply wasn’t remembering correctly. While concerned about the additional money, Marcus

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knew that amount was within the bounds of costs for foreign adoptions. Before they had found Suffer the Children, it was what they were willing to pay. They had the money.

Anticipating

Marcus’s skepticism and growing dislike and

distrust of the pastor, Thea could only say, “I know . . . I know what you are thinking, Marcus. But please, don’t make me . . .”
—that the Rev. Quimby was smarmy, that she was a fraud, that the program was a scam, that they were throwing good money after bad, that they were chasing their losses, that the adoption may be illegal . . . all that may be true, but what if it weren’t? There was Ghislaine, the girl with the broad smile, the plaits and the pink and green beads, the one whose photo they had framed and sat on the dresser in the bedroom.
It was for her that they had to put aside their misgivings and that, having received the documents needed for Ghislaine to leave Haiti, were ready to go to the island to bring the child— their child—home.
“You go, Marcus,” Thea said when the pastor called to tell them the date was set for them to pick up their child. “I’ll stay home and get everything ready.” She couldn’t believe she was suggesting this and that she was going to wait even longer to touch her and smell her. “I really don’t think I could stand to see her in an orphanage. I don’t want to have that image of her in my head.” She also thought that Marcus’s holding
Ghislaine, needing to care for her on his own, was the best way for him to overcome his reservations. Besides, she admitted to

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him with a hint of shame, she was frightened of going to such a poor and dangerous country.

Now

that he arrived, Marcus was glad that Thea wasn’t with

him. They had looked at photographs, watched documentaries and YouTube videos about Haiti and knew the statistics about
Haitian poverty, but Marcus was unprepared for what he saw the moment he stepped into the tropical sun at Toussaint
Louverture

International

Airport,

walked

across

the

shimmering tarmac in the mid-afternoon to the terminal and then outside and into a taxi—miles of half-completed buildings with rebar pointing at the clear sky like gnarled, iron fingers, debris and rocks where there had once been pavement, goats and dogs rooting through garbage, children half-dressed and shoeless, beggars at each road stop, and the sweet smell of cooking food mixed with that of rancid oil and charcoal. His head reeled from it all, the heat and the aromas and the sights.
When the taxi tipped forward and titled on its side,
Marcus was hurtled from the backseat to the front of the car.
The air was filled with smoke and dust.
“My God. Earthquake,” the driver said in English, then rattled off a string of sentences that Marcus couldn’t understand. The two of them pushed against the door on the passenger’s side, squeezed out, then with great effort pushed the car back onto its four wheels. Around them buildings had collapsed, corrugated roofs peeled off, the road completely gone. Trees were uprooted.

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“I have to get you back to the airport,” the driver said.
“You have to go home. I have to go to my family. Look. Look.
This is bad. This is very, very bad.”
“How much further is it to Etang Saumatre?” Marcus wanted to know. “How long to the orphanage?”
“You can’t go there. You have to go home. This is no good. No good. This is no good here. Just look!”
The driver got back into the car and tried to start the engine. “No good.”
After a few more turns of the key, the engine kicked over. “Get in,” he demanded.
The driver maneuvered the car around the rubble and began to turn back towards Port-au-Prince.
“Where are you going?” Marcus shouted.
“You have to be safe. I can get you back to the airport.” Marcus, without a thought, shouted, “I’m not going back. Take me to the orphanage. I have to get my daughter.”
“That’s not going to be possible.”
Marcus took out his money from a pouch that hung around his neck and thrust a fist-full of bills into the driver’s hand. The driver looked at the money and turned the car around again.

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The car radio wasn’t working, but as they traveled they asked people along the road what had happened. The capital city was cut off but they heard that it had been destroyed. Even the president’s palace had collapsed. Haiti was cut-off from the rest of the world.
Still they continued eastward. Roads were nearly impassable, as they were strewn with rocks and blocked by downed lines and trees. The driver knew his way through valleys and across hills now shrouded in night darkness. They left the trunk road and followed what seemed to Marcus to be no more than cow paths and walk lanes. The only light was from the car’s headlights and that of a lantern from a lone pedestrian. Fatigued from the long ride, where he had napped intermittently throughout the night, his back and head aching from the jouncing, Marcus arrived at La Chance Orphelinat
Secondes. It had taken them all night to go twenty miles. When
Marcus stepped out of the car, his strength returned, even as he was overwhelmed by what he saw and he had not eaten in nearly a day.
The green metal signboard, for La Chance Orphelinat
Secondes, about ten meters by six, was thrust into the ground upside down as though thrown like a spear; the iron fence surrounding the compound lay twisted on its side, and the concrete dormitory was in rubble. The front wall of another house was gone, exposing the inside like that of a cut-away dollhouse, the furniture undisturbed. A boulder that had tumbled from the mountainside left a swath of destruction on the hillside behind the compound and stopped just short of

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the pink office building that stood unscathed. Children and adults sat, bandages over wounds, limbs twisted in impossible directions; cries and moans filled the air.
On the lawn were blankets and sheets covering more than a dozen bodies, many of them small. Marcus looked at each girl, most covered with dust and blood, comparing them to the photo in his hand, and he called her name out loud. He asked several if they were Ghislaine, but no one answered him.
The only sounds were cries and moans and that of shovels hitting stone.
A woman approached Marcus and looked at the photo he showed her.
“Ghislaine,” he said.
“Yes, I know,” the woman said, and pointed him to bodies covered with sheets that were laid out on the lawn near the flagpole that still stood. Johanne pulled back the shroud and Marcus looked briefly at the girl, recognizing her only from the beads in her braids, the same ones that she wore in photo that was folded in his pocket. He covered her again with the thin blanket and his knees buckled. When he recovered his strength, he lifted her from the grass and placed her in a shallow grave by the boulder, then another child on top of her and took a shovel so he would cover her with the thin soil himself. Later in the day, when his mind cleared, he realized that Thea hadn’t heard from him since he gone through customs the day before, when he called to say that he was fine and laughed about wearing shirtsleeves while she was bundled

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up trying to stay warm in the winter weather, she would be frantic watching the news on TV—where was he, was he safe, what about Ghislaine, were they together, when would bring her home?—and worry coursed through him. But there was no way to reach her. Cell phones were constantly busy. Whatever passable roads there had been were blocked and gone; there were no working telephones; flights in and out of Haiti were canceled; entire areas of the country were cordoned off; everything he saw, everything he heard led to the same conclusion: Haiti had succumbed to the earth’s sharp fury. He looked for the taxi; it was gone with his luggage and the supplies and gifts he had brought for Ghislaine and the orphanage. Despite the isolation or perhaps because of it, Marcus felt redoubled in his efforts to help. He only stopped digging and hauling, wiping, binding, and holding when he couldn’t move any longer, when he retched on his empty stomach.
In the dark, Marcus was shaken awake.
“Monsieur.”
Standing above him was a young woman holding a child whose head rested on her shoulder.
“I am Johanne. I am an assistant nurse,” she said. “I have a new Ghislaine for you.”
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw that a few feet away another woman stared at him, her torn dress exposed her right shoulder and her legs were white with the dust of concrete.

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“Your Ghislaine has been taken by God, but he has given you another,” she said. “I have found Ghislaine’s file under the rubble. Everything you need is here. This girl, she needs a home, too.”
When Marcus stood up, the woman gave the girl to him. Before he could think, he took her and held her against his chest.
The girl woke momentarily, then adjusted her body, and settled back into sleep. He could feel her breath on his neck. Marcus was as mute as the nearby woman. The girl, who had been washed and cleaned, snuffled.
“How can I take her?”
“How can you not?”
“She’s not my daughter.”
“Take her, please.”
“I can’t leave. I want to stay . . .” Marcus was nearly hysterical in his protestation.
“You can save one life,” Johanne insisted. “This one, you can take care of it forever. If you stay, we have to care for you, too.”
Johanne thrust Ghislaine’s folder under Marcus’s arm.
He took it into his hand.
“There’s a boat at the lake. It can take you to the
Dominican Republic. If you get there before morning, it would be best. The driver knows where to drop you on the other side.” She then asked, “Do you have money?”

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Marcus felt for the purse he had hung around his neck and under his shirt. It was still there.
“You need some for the boat and maybe to give to the guards on the other side.” She didn’t ask for herself or the orphanage. He felt relieved.
In the D.R. he could call Thea. But if he stayed at the orphanage or even attempted to get back to Port-au-Prince, there was no way of knowing how long it would take before he could talk to her and assure her of his safety.
“I can get out of Haiti tonight?”
“Yes.”
“Then take me,” he said, holding out the child out for
Johanne to take.
She pushed the girl back against Marcus.
“You have to take her. You see what is here. If she stays, there is no food, there is no medicine. We have nothing.
What will happen to her? You tell me.”
“I can’t do that. I can’t take her. She’s not mine.”
“We have too many suffering children. This is one that you can help. God wants you to take her.”
Hearing that, Marcus’ unease was stirred again. But when he put his hand on the back of the child’s head to reposition her on his shoulder, she nuzzled against him, wrapped her arms around his neck and whimpered from some pain which he could only begin to imagine. She woke and began to squirm. The folder fell to the ground.

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“Here,” Johanne said, reaching down and picked up the fallen papers. “Are you going to take it?” She put the thick file in front of him. “Are you going to go to America with your
Ghislaine? Isn’t that why you came?”
Johanne took Marcus by the elbow. He resented being manipulated by her, but he let her lead him to a grove of trees.
The child was asleep again.
“He will take you to the lake,” she said to Marcus.
Johanne spoke rapidly in Creole to the man who took the folder from him. Marcus felt a nudge on his back. He turned around and the woman who had been standing nearby looked into his eyes and in a soft voice speaking Creole handed him a small cloth bag.
“For the child,” Johanne said, and the woman stood still as she and Marcus continued across the broad opening towards the lake. When Marcus looked back, the woman was gone. Marcus climbed into the skiff and placed the child down on the plank of the open boat and he sat beside her. She leaned against him as the boat putted in the darkness, the only sound that of the engine and the water slapping against its bow. He felt nauseated by the fumes and splashed water on his face. Marcus thought about what he would say to Thea when he placed the call to her in the next few hours.
“We have our child,” he said to himself, rehearsing the conversation, convincing himself that the child was really with him, that the two of them would be home soon, that he and
Thea would come into her room at night to look at her, having

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fulfilled their dream of having a family. He had no idea what he—they—would tell Ghislaine, as he knew that one day she would ask about her life in Haiti.
Marcus fingered Ghislaine’s packet that was on the seat beside him. He picked it up and dangled it over the side of the boat. Instead of dropping it into the water, he returned it to his lap. He and Thea would open it together. He then put his hands into the lake to quench his thirst and scooped a handful of water in his palm. He choked on the salt water and vomited.
The boat drifted towards the shingle beach where border guards, waiting for the day to begin, dozed in the dark.
As the sky lightened Marcus marveled at the deep blue of the saline water. In the distance were pink flamingoes and as the boat neared the shore a crocodile plunged into the water and disappeared from view.

3
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Lemon

“T

HIS ISN’T JUST YOUR

decision to

make, Walter,” Roseline said. The church president sat with her hands folded on her lap, her youthful-looking face shining under a halo of tight white curls of hair. As always, she was impeccably dressed. “It affects us all.” Roseline leaned forward, selected an almond biscotti from the candy dish on the coffee table and nodded as Walter poured her a steaming cup of tea. The cookie snapped as she bit into it.
Roseline

brushed

the

crumbs

into

a

napkin.

“The

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congregation supported you on everything you’ve done.
Especially Emmet and me.”
“Yes, that’s more than true,” Walter Braithwaite said with genuine appreciation. “I can’t have asked anything more than what the two of you have done for me and my family.”
Walter recalled the many times in which Roseline and her late husband defended him, particularly during the first few years of his tenure, when members wanted to fire him over his—lack of experience, poor judgment, emotionalism, not spending enough time with the frail and elderly, spending too much time on community affairs, his uninspired sermons, focusing too much time on the church’s youth and, because he did not yet have children himself, his inability to understand family life, all charges containing a kernel of truth. When Walter was installed at the United Church of
Christ of Fairview a dozen years ago, the church was content in its quietism. It was a solid congregation of professionals who enjoyed tempered gospel singing, a little exuberance and
Sunday socializing. Living an upright life and avoiding scandal was enough for them. But Walter, fresh out of seminary, challenged them. More than rectitude, he wanted justice. His agreement with the board of elders when they appointed him was that while he would consult with them before he brought new programs and procedures to the church, they needed to give him room to innovate. Jesus challenged the powers of his time, the young Rev. Braithwaite said, and today’s Christians needed to do the same. “If you don’t like what I do, you can dismiss me. But give me a

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chance. We have to change to stay relevant.” He marshaled the theories he had learned in school but it wasn’t his ideas that won them over but his sincerity. In his inaugural sermon, he talked about the dual role of the church and his place in it: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable; prick deep enough to wound and offer salve to heal. He spoke to the congregants, about them, for them, although, to his dismay, most heard the first part of the message as being directed at others, while taking too seriously the second part as applying to themselves.
Walter held himself to the standard he set for others, ceaselessly examining his own conscience and motives. But some couldn’t abide by the changes. For the first few years it wasn’t at all certain that he would stay, but he succeeded in winning enough support that gradually pride replaced selfsatisfaction in the congregation, in no small measure because of Roseline and Emmet’s guidance. They served as the
Braithwaite’s tutors. The turn towards activism was reflected in a dentist who gave up his practice to represent the district in Congress; Walter’s chairmanship of the county Human
Rights Commission; and the church’s successful initiation of an ecumenical soup kitchen. Under Walter’s direction, the church bought a housing complex that was converted into an owner’s cooperative. UCCF adopted a sister church in Ghana and the church guaranteed the first year of the college tuition for the valedictorian of the local high school there.
“You know we’ve never had a minister as beloved as you. And we still admire you, Walter. More than ever.”
Roseline spoke not as a church official but as a friend.

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“I know that and appreciate it,” Walter said sincerely.
“I always have. It means a great deal to me.”
The vocal and unstinting support from Roseline and
Emmet had helped him get through the roughest parts: when
Gwen started a group for abused women and some parishioners confided in her that they themselves were victims; when Walter opened church doors first to Alcoholics
Anonymous, then embraced a gay man who joined the church. A leading elder and his wife left the church over this, saying that they were afraid of being infected with AIDS by touching a door knob or eating off a church plate.
Roseline had called to see him and suggested they meet in the parsonage, not his office.
“And it’s because I love you that I need to tell you. Not this. It’s

more

than

you

that’s

involved.

The

entire

congregation is in this together.”
The entire church, Walter thought. It always seemed to come down to that. He understood that well enough and he accepted the burden—never being an individual, always the ever-vigilant role model who was his church’s face to the world. They were his flock, he was their surrogate, and so how he looked and what he did mattered to everyone. This careful calibration of his image and personality came with the career that he had chosen.
There were thoughts that he couldn’t express, doubts that crept around the edges of his theology. He could never admit to his congregants that he had reservations that his childhood friend— “the finest person I have ever known”—

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going to hell because of his suicide or, that when he attended a commitment ceremony for his lesbian cousin, he wished that it was he that had been the officiant, not merely a guest.
He and Roseline sat in the living room, the afternoon sun streaming through the white curtained window, but whose house was this? The congregants called it his house,
Walter’s, their minister, but he didn’t own it. He wasn’t like other homeowners. He didn’t hold the mortgage or pay property taxes. Neither did he pay rent. Part of the salary they paid him (“we know that it is too little”; “you deserve more and we’ll give it to you when we can afford it.”) came in the form of the parsonage, a Cape Cod house with dormers in a

suburban

maintenance

and

middle-class lawn care

neighborhood, included, all

repairs,

under

the

supervision of a church committee that had the final word before any changes could be made. And there was nothing he could do about the person (there was always one) who surreptitiously examined the tidiness and cleanliness of the household whenever he visited.
He and Gwen felt as if they were guests in the house.
But he could never say that, even to the parishioners that he and Gwen had befriended. They talked about buying their own home, but they couldn’t afford it, particularly with Gwen now staying home to take care of the two children.
He wished that Roseline would leave. Gwen would be home soon with Malcolm from his nursery school and Walter didn’t want to have this conversation with their son present.
“From the beginning, we’ve done what we can. Tell me what else I can do to help.”

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“There isn’t anything. You’ve done more than anyone could have asked. But this is my decision,” he said without conviction. “What about Gwen?”
“Mine and Gwen’s.”
“She goes along with this?” Roseline asked.
“Roseline,” he said, “do you think that I would decide this without her?” Walter shook his head. Roseline’s face turned warm.
“This is the most difficult decision of my life.”
“Then don’t do it. We’ll all chip in. You have taught us not to be like crabs in a barrel but like bees in a hive,”
Roseline said, quoting from one of Walter’s favorite images of greed and cooperation.
Roseline and Emmet had always been major financial contributors to the church and from now on, Roseline said, she would turn over her Social Security checks directly to the
Braithwaite’s to help with whatever additional burdens they may bear.

Walter’s predecessors at UCCF had arrived married and with their children, so June’s baptism was an especially joyous occasion. A senior minister from the metropolitan area,
Walter’s mentor at the seminary, assisted with the baptism service. The social hall was freshly painted mint green and tables were decorated with red and white roses; members brought their best covered-dishes and a special cake was

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ordered from the area’s premier bakery, a triple-layer chocolate covered chocolate confection with small plastic figures of June, Gwen and Walter perched on top.
June became the parish’s child, spoiled by everyone, adored and pampered. She thrived in the light of attention.
One advantage of being a minister, Walter discovered, was that he had time to be a father and husband in new ways.
Aside from Sundays and the many nighttime meetings,
Walter controlled his own schedule. This allowed Gwen to practice as a social worker while Walter brought June to the bus stop in the morning, arranged doctor’s visits, shopped for food, did laundry, vacuumed, washed dishes and picked up his daughter after school. Initially scandalous and even shameful, it

took

several

years

for

the

Braithwaites’

egalitarian marriage to be accepted; it was when Gwen, at
Roseline’s suggestion, took on the position as head of the women’s brigade that she won the women over. And when
Emmet pointed out to the board of elders that Walter’s domesticity didn’t detract from his pastoral duties, male parishioners first forgave, then understood and finally legitamized his behavior.
The Braithwaite marriage became the measure of marital relationship in the church and was even more celebrated when they announced that they would adopt their second child.
“There are so many children in need,” Walter sermonized. “God provides for all, but He requires us to be
His servants. Jesus said, ‘I wish everyone were like little children, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’

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We must provide for each. And we each must do what we can. The little angels that have descended in our midst sometimes make a hard landing. These heavenly wayfarers must also be clothed and fed.”
Taking in a child wasn’t unusual for families in the church. But usually they were a niece or nephew; a few were raising their grandchildren. No one adopted a stranger’s child. Walter broached the idea of adoption to Gwen.
“We already have an angel,” she said defensively. “We don’t know what we will get when we adopt.”
She thought about foster children who often bring with them wounds and scars beyond repair.
“You never know what you’ll get,” he responded. “God gave us a gift the first time, but we can’t know what another child will be like. You do want another child, don’t you?”
“I think about it every once in a while,” she said. “It would be hard, but yes, I do.”
Walter laughed. “Well, this is the express train. We can have a kid without the nine stops in between. No morning sickness, no stretch marks.”
Gwen was unconvinced. Over the next few years,
Walter quietly persisted. Her desire for an larger family grew the more Walter spoke about the virtues of an additional child, how their love for each other would expand, how his heart broke thinking about unloved children and how much they, all three, had to give to the world. And he was right, she

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thought—there was something selfish about bearing a child when one was already waiting to be loved.
When Gwen told Walter that she was ready to adopt, he waited until the idea had firmly settled before mentioning his next idea.
“The greatest need is for older children to find homes,” he said.
Again, he was right. Gwen couldn’t impeach Walter’s heart but something else was at stake. Once more thoughts of foster children entered her mind.
“What about June?” she asked.
“What about her?”
“It’s one thing to have an infant. She’ll get used to that. She’ll be jealous, but she’ll get used to it and she’ll be the loving big sister.”
“June will, I know,” Walter agreed.
“But it’s different if you bring in an older child.” She hesitated. She wanted to say this right, but she couldn’t express her real fear. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. We have to think about June. I’m worried about her. What this will mean to her. Why not become foster parents, let’s see what it’s like?”
“That’s like living together without being married,” he said, knowing this was something they both disapproved of.
Walter hugged her. He said, “It will mean that she’ll have a brother who will love her, just like we do.”

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She felt small and uneasy in his arms. Gwen began to quiver and couldn’t explain to Walter why her eyes welled with tears.
Gwen confided in Roseline her concerns about adopting an older child.
“Where there is great love there are always miracles,”
Roseline recited Willa Cather’s aphorism to Gwen. “Emmet and I will be glad to be the godparents. It is a big step, but
Walter has challenged us to take big steps before and he was right. He has afflicted the comfortable and we’ve been made better for it. Just as we have set up a trust for June, we’ll set one up for this child, too.”
It wasn’t the money, Gwen said. But she couldn’t articulate what was bothering her. She felt shamed by her reservations, less a Christian than she ought to be, not an acceptable feeling for a minister’s wife. She never revealed her qualms again.
Walter and Gwen looked through The Heart Gallery photos provided by the Office of Foster Care and Adoption
Services, each child smiling as if this were their school yearbook picture. The Braithwaite’s sat with the pictures and read and re-read each of the children’s stories until they selected a twelve year-old boy, the one with buck teeth and glasses, the sun glinting off his forehead and his hands clasped as though in prayer. By the time they were approved, a quick process because they were such a desirable family,
Gwen was as committed to her Malcolm as was Walter.

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For months June happily chattered about having a new brother, but her enthusiasm wilted when she saw the photo of the child they had selected.
“It’s not a baby,” she cried. “It’s a boy!”
Gwen picked her up and sat her on her lap, and they talked. “Of course, he’s a boy. He’s your big brother.”
“I don’t want him,” she sobbed. “I want a baby to play with.” Walter and Gwen paid more attention to June than ever and patiently told her the advantages of having an older brother; they cajoled, they soothed and sang and dreamed and played and gave her more of what she asked for until a flood of attention and promises overcame June’s resistance.
In anticipation of his arrival Walter and Gwen, with
June’s help, painted the guest room, now known as
‘Malcolm’s room.’ Arrangements were made at school and the church planned a gala, much like June’s welcome five years earlier. They bought a boy’s bicycle and, learning that he enjoyed puzzles, put several in his room.
The Braithwaite’s house was filled with balloons and other decorations chosen by June when Malcolm arrived and
June was thrilled when she shared the spotlight with
Malcolm at the welcoming party at the church. Malcolm was overwhelmed by it all. He stood wordlessly and not mixing with other children. In the mornings, Gwen found him not on the bed but on the floor hugging his knees to his chest.

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June’s mood changed within week. She became sour and sullen and was often cross with her new brother. She frequently refused to acknowledge Malcolm’s presence and always sat between her parents at grace so she wouldn’t have to hold his hand. She cried when Gwen directed her attention towards her brother. For the first time June had trouble in school and was punished for pushing another child.
“I hate him,” June blurted out, ignoring Malcolm, who was standing next to Gwen.
“You don’t hate him,” Gwen said.
“That’s a terrible thing to say, June. He’s your brother.” “No he’s not. He’s not my brother. I hate him. He is somebody else’s brother. Bring him back.”
“Malcolm, please go to your room. I’ll be there in a minute. Do your homework,” Walter said. “I’ll be right in to help you study.”
Malcolm stifled his cry and walked away, leaving the door ajar. He picked up his math book and said half-aloud, “I don’t need any help.”
“He’s horrible.”
“We can’t return him,” Gwen said.
June began to sob.
“Yes you can. You took him here. You can take him back. He has lots of brothers and sisters where he came from.” 5
THE
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Walter shot back, “No we can’t. We can’t just return him. We didn’t buy Malcolm. He’s not a toy.”
Gwen took his hand to calm him down.
“You’re not a baby any longer, June. Just accept it.
He’s your brother. That’s it.”
“No he isn’t!”
“Don’t sass me, young lady.”
“It’s OK, Walter.” Gwen tried to soothe her husband and daughter.
There was no consoling June that night, even as
Walter and Gwen took her into their bed. Malcolm fidgeted in his own bed.
But June was right. They could return Malcolm. Before bringing him home, they learned that the adoption wouldn’t be finalized for a year. During that period, the state could take the child away and return him to foster care. The
Braithwaite’s dismissed this proviso as debasing, an insult to their soon to be expanded family.
“There’s no lemon law for children,” Walter said. “My
God, he’s not an thing but a person.”
Malcolm, it turned out, was quiet and polite and deeply wary. Slowly he allowed June to touch him but winced when Walter put his arm around him. When he was chastised, no matter how slight, he hung his head and apologized.
While the adoption agency never said so, they thought that he must have been abused.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he said.

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“Mom,” Gwen corrected.
“Please don’t send me away.”

“I

wanted to talk to you without Gwen here,” Roseline said.

“You know how persuasive you can be, Walter, and how loyal she is to you. I didn’t want to put her in the position of defending you. She would have to do that in front of me.
She’s such a good wife. I think I know her well enough . . .”
Roseline stumbled. “She’s talked to me and the other women of the brigade . . . she loves Malcolm as much as her own child. As June.”
Walter’s

mind

filled

with

retorts,

with

many

explanations. He could be very convincing and knew that he would be able to make Roseline understand. But he said nothing. He couldn’t betray Gwen or June. He would take the blame for the decision, take it alone, allowing him to be seen as the failure, the fraud.
“I know that she doesn’t agree with you.”

It was the other way round; it was Walter who came to agree with Gwen. At first he dismissed his wife’s concerns about what was happening to June as being overly solicitous. Her expectations were unrealistic, he said. Of course, June would have a hard time. They knew that. All children want to

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preserve their places. No child wants to share her parents’ affections. But June didn’t adjust and, in time, Walter, too, began to worry.
“Some jewelry of mine is missing,” Gwen told him. “I can’t find the ring you bought me last year.”
“You must have misplaced it.”
“I looked everywhere.”
The ring remained missing.
Shortly afterwards Walter found that his wallet, which he kept on top of his armoire, had been opened and the two ten dollars bills he always kept in it were gone.
The next week June told Gwen that she saw Malcolm with the ring.
“He put it in his pocket,” June said. “He was playing with it and then put it in his pocket. I saw him do it.”
Malcolm denied knowing anything about the ring and volunteered to help Gwen to look for it. She glared at him and Malcolm’s mouth began to twitch.
“Is there something you want to tell me? Lying will only make it worse.”
“No, Ma’am.”
“You’re not helping yourself, Malcolm.”
He stood silently.
“I’ll ask you again. Did you take my ring?”

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Malcolm wiped his running nose with the back of his hand. “June . . .” he began.
“ . . . saw you,” Gwen finished. “What did you do with it? If you tell me the truth, it will be much easier for you than living with a guilty conscience. God knows everything.”
Walter searched Malcolm’s room but didn’t find the ring. His punishment was not being allowed to play with his friends after school for a month.
June’s mood improved during Malcolm’s punishment.
She agreed to sit next to him at dinner and asked him to help her with her homework. But as soon as Malcolm was permitted to visit with his friends again, June’s mood plunged deeper than ever. She complained about having a fever, a sore throat, an aching tummy, and didn’t want to go to school. She pleaded to stay home. She wedged between her parents during grace, then ate little. Each night she cried when they finished reading her a story and sometime before
Gwen and Walter turned off their lights for the night, she was standing at the foot of their bed holding her cotton blanket and sucking her thumb. It was clear to the Braithwaites that
June’s anxiety was related to Malcolm. But they thought that it had been long enough for her to adjust.
In the privacy of their bed, after June had been returned to her own bed, Gwen shared June’s concerns with
Walter in the dark. They lay side-by-side.
“He’s only twelve, Gwen. I’ll tell you something I’ve never confessed to anyone before. When I was his age, my

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friend Clarence and I were caught shoplifting. It was the candy store we used to go to all the time. I don’t know why we did it. We had money to buy what we wanted. Thank God the owner never told our parents. He just scared the hell out of us by saying that the next time he would call the cops and get us locked up in the state pen.”
“Did you ever steal from your parents?”
“No.”
“So it’s different.”
“With love, we grow out of it. I wasn’t always a man of the cloth, you know. We can give Malcolm that love.”
Gwen turned towards Walter. She touched his cheek in the dark. “I am finding it hard to love him. Not the way a mother should. I know it’s my fault . . .”
“No it’s not.”
“But I don’t know about him, Walter. He’s too quiet.
Too polite. It’s like he has locked up something inside himself that isn’t good.”
“We all have our own devils to wrestle with, Gwen.”
“Something about him scares me.”
“I think it’s June you’re scared for.”
“Is that wrong?”
Walter thought that it was, until the next incident, when June told Gwen what she had seen. Malcolm was in his room but the door was open. He was in his underwear and turned to look at June when he noticed her there. He was

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scratching his “private thing” and asked her to come into his bedroom. “But I didn’t, Mommy. I ran away.”
As soon as he did it, Walter regretted slapping
Malcolm across the face, but he, too, was frustrated by
Malcolm’s passivity and his lack of candor. Fortunately, the bruise didn’t swell and was barely visible on his dark skin.
Malcolm wouldn’t say anything, so his teacher wouldn’t have to report an incident to Child Protective Services. And he and
Gwen hoped that June, too, would remain quiet. They didn’t want anyone else involved. There was enough shame as it was. The best thing to do was bring back Malcolm on their own and admit to their failure to provide him with a loving home. Perhaps another family would do better. Perhaps he would be different in a family that wasn’t the center of a church’s attention or in a family with a girl.
They tried. At least this much was more than most were willing to do. This is what he said to Gwen and June.
But he felt the blame as his own.

“The

decision has been made, Roseline,” Walter said.

“There’s no more to be said.” He rubbed the side of his mouth with his forefinger.
“I’m very disappointed in you, Walter.” Roseline pursed her lips and stared at him. “I wish Emmet were here to talk to you.”
“I have done my praying, Roseline, I assure you.”

5
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Walter couldn’t look at his guest. “This has been the most difficult decision of my life. But it’s done.”
“Do you know what this might do to Malcolm? To the church?” Walter didn’t want to hear more; he couldn’t hear any more. He felt sick. And he didn’t want to be angry with
Roseline.
“I won’t interfere in your marriage, so I won’t talk to
Gwen. Please reconsider what you are doing.”
“I have another appointment. I have to go. Excuse me, please.” He stood and helped Roseline to her feet.
When Roseline left, Walter put on a wool sweater to stop his chills. It didn’t help. He hoped Gwen would be home soon. 5
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Arthur Dobrin

Shila

T

HE

FIRST

TIME

SHILA

SAID

she

preferred not to was when her mother told her what she was planning for lunch.
“But you like hotdogs,” Rena said.
“I used to like them,” Shila offered as an explanation.
“What’s changed your mind?”
Shila shrugged her shoulders.
“You liked them just last week.”
“They’re disgusting,” she said without emotion.
Shila often described things she didn’t like as disgusting, but hotdogs were one of her favorite foods.
“Why do you say that? Why are they disgusting?”

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Shila stood with her head slightly drooped and her lanky hair brushed against her hunched shoulders.
“They just are.”
“You must give me a better reason than that, Shila,”
Rena said, using a familiar refrain, as she always encouraged her daughter to explain the choices she made. Rena believed that this would help shape her daughter into a good person.
Needing to present good reasons and encouraging her to think for herself would, she maintained, create a person who wouldn’t be bullied by crowds. Rationality and gentleness were the keys to raising a good child, Rena believed.
Rena knew that there was nothing she could do to make Shila happy, not after Shila’s father’s death from a painful illness at an early age. Shila knew him only from photos in an album. She couldn’t remember his voice or his smell. Still, Rena could still raise a thoughtful and kind daughter. “What is it, Shila?” she gently nudged her.
“I don’t want to eat dogs,” Shila finally said.
“Oh,” her mother laughed, putting the package back in the refrigerator. “I get it. Shila,” she said, “they aren’t made from dogs, you know. They’re just called hot dogs.”
“It’s not funny. You hurt my feelings. Don’t laugh at me.” “You’re right. I shouldn’t laugh. I’m sorry.” She sat on the sofa and pulled Shila next to her.

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“If they aren’t made from dogs, why are they called that?” Shila asked fretfully.
“I don’t know,” Rena said. “But they’re not made from dogs. I promise.”
“Still.” Shila remained unmoved.
“What if we called them frankfurters, instead?” Rena offered. “Will you eat them, then?”
“I prefer not to.”
And she didn’t, ever again, eat hotdogs, although for a while she did eat pizza with mushrooms, peppers and sausage. Until twelve, when she realized that beef was cow, pork was pig, and veal was sheep—animals that had personalities, animals on TV shows she had watched to learn her ABC’s.
“Do you want sausage on your pizza?” Rena asked one day.
Having recently learned what sausage was made from, Shila answered, “I prefer not to.”

Soon Shila stopped eating steaks and burgers, foods she once adored. She said she could no longer eat anything that had a face or walked on four legs or had a mother. Since none of these qualities applied to poultry, she continued to eat chicken and turkey, until she watched a documentary in her eight-grade class on factory farming that showed chickens being debeaked and tossed into machines that shredded them and explained how selective breeding leads to fractures and

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chronic pain in the birds. She saw turkeys crowded together in sheds; dead ones needed to be culled daily from the crush of birds. Her mother, too, was horrified when at Shila’s suggestion the two of them watched the video together. Rena promised she would never again buy poultry processed at factory farms.
But Shila remained wanted more. It didn’t matter how the birds were raised—eating chickens was something she preferred not to do. Animal factory farms were completely horrifying and unworthy of human beings, both she and her mother agreed, but eating something that once had a life, like hers, something that ran away when threatened, was cruel in and of itself. Eating flesh of any kind was something that
Shila preferred not to do.

Several

years after her decision to give up meat, when she

took a class in philosophy, Shila also gave up on God. Her mother found out when she reminded Shila that it was time for the two of them to attend the service for the dead at the temple, a ritual they had engaged in annually on the anniversary of her father’s death, but this year Shila said, “I prefer not to.”
Rena didn’t argue with her and suggested that, instead, they light candles in their home.
“I can’t believe in a god that isn’t good,” Shila said.
“I don’t know why He took your father, Shila,” her mother said soothingly. “There are some things we can never understand.” 6
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“It isn’t that,” Shila said.
“What then?”
“Food,” Shila said. “I’ve been thinking about that. I have a book in the library.” She quoted from The Devil’s
Dictionary: “‘Edible: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.’ People eat animals. But animals also eat animals. Cats eat mice. Big fish eat little fish. The world exists on predators and prey. If God was good, why did he make a world where one animal has to kill another in order to live? Since he could have made whatever he wanted, that must mean that he wants animals suffer. That’s cruel. So either God isn’t good or maybe there isn’t even a god. If God isn’t good, I don’t want to worship Him. And if God doesn’t exist, then there’s nothing to believe in.”
“In memory of your father, then,” Rena said. “Let’s light them for him.”
“I prefer not to,” she said.
That night, before dinner, without a prayer, her mother lit a candle while Shila sat in her room. Shila never went to temple again.
Shila’s

mother

was

proud

of

her

daughter’s

thoughtfulness and envied her calm. It was as though Shila was reaching deep inside herself to something steady and sure. She found Shila’s solid assuredness combined with her compassion reassuring in a world that was indifferent to serious things.

6
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She was also proud that Shila set aside a portion of her wages from her job in a clothing store after school and donated it to a charity—at first, ten percent but within a few months half of her earnings. During her spare time, she collected cast-off clothes of her friends and brought them to charities around town. What her mother saw as a noble endeavor turned to worry when Shila not only gave away most of her clothes but refused to buy new ones when the school year began.
“I would prefer not to,” she told her mother when she suggested they shop together for a new wardrobe. “I have enough clothes. I don’t need any more.”
Shortly she foreswore leather and wore only canvas shoes. “No thank you,” she said when she was offered ice cream for desert. “I’m not using anything that comes from animals—food or clothes or anything else. No make-up.”
“What harm is there in drinking milk or eating cheese?” “You need lactating cows for milk. So they are kept pregnant. Do you know what they do with the male calves that are born?”
Her mother hadn’t thought about it before, but now that Shila pointed it out to her, she understood her daughter’s reasons for no longer eating any milk product. She had a harder time with Shila’s refusal to eat fish, which she had always thought of as creatures with so small a brain as to be hardly more than swimming vegetables. When she pleaded

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with Shila to at least eat sardines, Shila said that she preferred not to. The offer to buy eggs from free-range chickens was rejected with “Animals have a right not be to be treated as property,” a comment presented as so self-evident that no response was possible. She presented a homily about not having pets.
Shila’s voice so lacked emotion that Rena reluctantly concluded that her daughter, while a person of great moral conviction and impeccably logical, was a person without passion. Her daughter’s problem was that she felt so deeply that she had to shield herself from being overwhelmed by her own feelings. Shila, she thought, was too sensitive, in both senses of that word and, as a result, had become detached, committed and distant all at once.

Rena

had no answer adequate for Shila when she was asked

why they needed four bedrooms in their house. Wouldn’t a smaller home do just as well? If a guest ever came to stay overnight, she could share the bedroom with her mother or sleep in the living room. A house this large was an unnecessary indulgence that burdened the environment.
“And we can take the difference between the money from this house and a smaller one and give it to people who don’t have anywhere to live. It’s wrong for us to stay here.”
“But this is where we have lived all these years. It’s our home.”
“We can live somewhere else. We don’t have to be here,” Shila said. “Wherever we live is our home.”

6
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“But this is where your father and I began, I mean where we lived—“
“I prefer not to live here any more,” Shila said listlessly. “You are being sentimental,” she said dryly, a description, not a judgment.
Rena’s chest tightened. She closed her eyes briefly before responding. Shila was right: she was being sentimental.
But what was wrong with that? Sentiments make life bearable.
“I just want you to be happy,” she said.
“I prefer not to.”
“Not to what?”
“Be happy. Stupid people are happy. They see all the things that are wrong. All the suffering. The unfairness. And they just do their petty things. But I can’t be happy when there is so much misery.”
“That doesn’t mean that you need to suffer, too,” her mother said. “How does you being unhappy make things better?” “Changing how we live will make things better, not how I feel,” Shila continued methodically. “My feelings are irrelevant.” Moving, then, wouldn’t make Shila happy. Nothing would. But not moving, Rena knew, would make her daughter worse. Besides, she found Shila’s logic irrefutable, her thinking implacable. So they moved into an apartment in the city, sold the car, took public transportation to work and school, and contributed the profit from the sale of the house

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to an orphanage in Haiti and a charity in Africa for children who had been mutilated in civil wars.
Initially, Rena worried about the safety of their new neighborhood. But Shila gave her the statistics: most murders were committed by people who knew the victims; the crime rate was the lowest since statistics were kept; the chances of being in an accident were greater than being mugged on the street. “And if they did break into the apartment, we don’t have anything of value to worry about them taking.”
Her mother wondered about where Shila had gotten her facts, but she couldn’t disagree with her last point. She was right. They had so few possessions that they owned little more than necessities.
Rena’s fears about safety were partially allayed, that is, until Shila stopped riding the bus and began walking, often arriving home long after dark and leaving before dawn in order to get to her class and then work.
“You’re taking a bus doesn’t keep someone else off,”
Rena said, anticipating Shila’s argument about privilege.
“There are enough seats for everyone.”
“I gave my monthly pass to a man I saw every night coming home. He has dirty jeans and he falls asleep. He is exhausted. If you saw him, you would know that he needs the pass more than me.”
“You’re making me sick with worry, Shila. You have to stop.”

6
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“You are being irrational,” Shila said. “But if you want me to move out so you won’t know what time I come in or listen to me, I’ll find somewhere else to live.”
“I would worry more.” And with that Shila continued to live with her mother, who couldn’t fall asleep until she heard Shila’s key in the door but never said another word to her about walking alone in the dark.

Having

graduated from college, Shila began working at a

hospital, in the records department. This seemed to be a turn for the better. While Shila’s demeanor didn’t change, Rena noticed that the circles under her daughter’s eyes grew less pronounced and that color returned to her cheeks. Rena knew not to ask after her health, but it was evident that something good was happening—her pallor became not quite a glow but brighter, her sunken cheeks filled out and once again she was using sanitary napkins. No longer anorectic, she gained some substance. “So how’s work?” Rena asked.
“I’m glad to be of some help,” was her complete reply. Was that a smile Rena noticed, a little emotion in her daughter’s voice? Rena couldn’t keep herself from hoping; she couldn’t remember the last time Shila revealed anything resembling delight. Glad that Shila’s work provided her with meaning, she didn’t dare ask about her love life. Shila had once said that she didn’t deserve to be loved—didn’t deserve

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to feel good—when so many children were neglected and beaten, so many women abused.
Rena’s hope for her daughter’s happiness evaporated when Shila said that she had put herself on a list to donate a kidney. With the flawless logic of a computer algorithm, Shila presented the argument: people die from renal failure whose lives would otherwise be saved by a transplant; people live normal lives with only one kidney; the chances of dying from donating a kidney is 1 in 4,000; no one’s life is more valuable than another; it is obscene to live with something you don’t need when by giving it away you can save a life.
“My life isn’t worth 4,000 times more than anyone else’s,” she said. “Every life is as worthy as any other, not more.” “Who is this for? Someone from work? A friend?” she asked. Rena would be reassured if Shila at least admitted to having friends.
“No. For a stranger,” she said. “My stipulation is that it go to a poor African American. Some people wait two to three years to get a donor. African Americans wait even longer. Even if I knew someone who needed it, I would give it to a person who has the least a chance of getting one.”
“What if it were me?”
“Everyone is the same. Because you are my mother doesn’t mean that you are more important than anyone else.”

6
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Rena understood Shila’s weight gain—she had been too thin to be a donor. Determined to donate her kidney, Shila continued to add fifteen pounds and before the year was out, her kidney was transplanted in a person whose name or condition she didn’t want to know. When the hospital sent her a letter of thanks from the donor addressed to her, she refused to read it.
“I didn’t do anything special,” she said. “I don’t deserve any thanks. Everyone ought to do this.”
“But they don’t,” Rena said. “I can’t.”
“Well, maybe you should.”
Rena had come to think that Shila’s courage as compassion turned inside out, guilt disguised as conscience.
Shila wasn’t a moral exemplar but someone who suffered from an illness, she thought, one that benefited others.

Missing,

the term used by the police, didn’t give Rena false

hope. She knew that her daughter wasn’t missing but gone, that she would never return, even if she could be found, that she was no longer of this material world.
Rena witnessed Shila begin to disappear after the kidney donation. She lost all the weight she had gained prior to the operation. She now even stopped eating root vegetables because tiny life forms are injured when the plant is pulled up, she explained. She subsisted on fruits, nuts, seeds and a variety of pulses. She would no longer use honey—honey collection is violence against bees, she said.

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Although Rena knew the fruitlessness of her words, she expressed her concern to Shila.
“I want to live as lightly as I can,” Shila said, “not to cause any harm to any living thing.”
Before going to sleep, she shook out her blanket and brushed the sheet so she wouldn’t squash bugs while asleep; she emptied the kitchen cabinet of insect repellent, and refused to take antibiotics on the grounds that microbes were living creatures and shouldn’t be harmed. She no longer filtered her tap water, for that, too, killed the microscopic creatures that came out of the faucet. She refused to picnic or eat outdoors because the food attracted insects that could be inadvertently crushed underfoot.
“The least amongst us need our care. No life is more important than any other,” she said.
“Then take care of your own,” Rena said, her face flushing, losing her temper.
“Anger isn’t a useful emotion,” Shila said.
Rena wished that Shila showed some emotion, any emotion, any at all. That would be useful.
“You’re too attached. You have to let go,” Shila said.
“Attachment is the source of evil.”
In another conversation, Shila told her mother that when she died, she didn’t want to be buried, like her father.
The next sentence mystified Rena: “Or cremated, either.”
“What are you saying, Shila?”

7
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“Do you know how much energy it takes to burn a body?” No, she didn’t, Rena thought, and she didn’t want to know. The first night Shila didn’t come home, Rena worried.
The second night she received a call from the hospital to inquire after Shila. No one there had seen or heard from her since before the weekend.
“Is she sick?”
“Yes,” Rena said ruefully.
Partial remains of a body were found in the woods in a city park near the river. Rats, crows and wild dogs had picked apart the flesh; maggots and worms were feasting on the rest. Rotted but intact clothes lay nearby. There was no violence, the coroner’s report said. No force was used. She may have died from starvation, but the coroner couldn’t be certain, the police informed Rena.
She left it at that.

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Arthur Dobrin

Ayew’s Last Letter

D

EAR FLAKA,

Today I received your letter from our beautiful home.
How I miss it! A day doesn’t go by that I’m not thinking about all our uncles and aunties. At night I fall asleep hoping to hear the sound of the frogs and the birds settling in to nest for the night in the reeds. Sometimes I think I hear the brushing of feet in the dust on the path between our houses, thinking that it is company visiting for conversations until it’s time to go to sleep, but I am always disappointed that the sounds are only figments in my mind.

7
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I am glad to learn that everyone is fine and healthy, except for the death of Utmoi. I hope it was a big funeral for him. The last time I saw him—I can’t believe how many years it is already—he was healthy like he always was but already was beginning to be weak with old age. I still think of him with his security guard uniform given to him by the bank. I don’t know if I ever told you that I wanted to be like him when I grew up.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to say my final goodbyes to him.
He was a good man. I know that. I can remember very well when he came home from his important work in the city and was kind to all the children. But even big men succumb to the toll of time. It is too hard being so far away and not being able to smell the water from the lake and feel their breath on my skin and to say goodbye to people when their time comes.
You tell me you are doing well in your schoolwork.
That’s good news, indeed. Keep up your marks, Flaka. You are a very smart girl. Even when you were little, Auntie knew you were a clever girl. You were the only daughter she trusted with the fire and with going to the store with a handkerchief full of coins. Of all the children, you are the one she loved most. As your older brother, I can tell you this in all sincerity. I could see that way she took care of your hair and made sure your clothes were clean and bought you shoes even before she bought a pair for herself. I’m sure you know how much she cares about you.
Flaka, you make everyone in Dundu proud of what you do. Even from here I know that. You really are the girl lion of the village. Ggrrrr!!! With your cleverness you will keep the village safe from the devil himself. This is a big job that you

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have and there is no one better than you to do it. You know the tale. Everyone’s grandmother tells is, even to this day.
There is even a little book about it, so I think you have read it in school even if you don’t remember hearing it at home. I am certain that it is you who it is spoken about. In every generation there is someone who is born to be the leader of the clan and this is you for sure. Maybe you don’t know it yet, but I know the prophecy is true. You have always been fierce and smart, just like the lion that is the protector of our clan, the totem that adorns the doors to the sacred house.
I write to you in answer to your question that you ask again in your letter. When I left, I remember very well the promise I made to you. After awhile, I said, when I had enough money, I would send for you so you too could attend a college here. Now you tell me that you found a college on your own and sent them money from your own savings for your admission application. This wasn’t such a wise idea. I don’t know the college you named. It is in a place very far from here—further than even from one end of our country to the other and back again. No one I asked knows of it. It is a mystery college. And when I went to the library to look it up on the Internet, there was something suspicious about it to me. The website looked like it was put together by youngsters who were up to mischief. I’m afraid to tell you that it may not be a real college. There are many scams like this that take advantage of people like us and you have to be very careful not to fall into their traps.
You didn’t send them much money, did you? If you sent a money order, it may be very difficult to get it back. But I

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will see if I can get it back for you. I’ll phone them and tell them at the college that I’m a lawyer and I will sue them big time unless they give the money back to my client (I’ll call you that). If that doesn’t work, I’ll write a letter on stationery from a friend of mine who works for a lawyer. Let’s hope that this works. I know how hard it is for you to save, and now for you to throw it away in this pulili school is a foolish thing, indeed.
I want to tell you something that I’ve never told anyone before. Please keep this as a secret between us. No one should ever know. Being here is hard, harder than you can ever imagine. In Dundu, all we see are mountains of money in
America, but it isn’t like that here. There are mountains of money but they belong to a few people. The mountains are off limits to people like us. If you are lucky, you might be able to get a small mountain, a hill really, maybe more like an anthill, the kind that gets washed away in the rainy season. And that’s for very few people who come here wanting to get better things. You may think that I have a house and a car, but I don’t have either of those. I live in the bottom of someone else’s house and the bed is no better than the one in Dundu. I can’t even dream about getting a car. If I had stayed home, I would have a better chance. Here I take two buses to get to my job.
But you do work, I can hear you say. That’s true. But it means that I didn’t finish college. College is too expensive. The money you sent to the college for the registration, well that is just a small, small part of what it costs every year. I went for a few months and have not been back. You can stop calling me professor, but please, let everyone continue to think that I’m an educated man. To them I can still be Professor Ayew.

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I’ve had many jobs since I got here. Sometimes I quit, they are so boring or it costs me more to get to them than I make in wages. Sometimes I get fired because I am rude to a boss who hates me just because of where I come from or I get lazy. I haven’t had one steady job for more than a year. Truth be known, Flaka, I’ve never had a good job. The one I have now is like most of the others. I don’t like having to get up in the morning and rush to work. Who in his right mind would want to do that instead of taking breakfast with family and sitting under the eaves when it rains and hear the fronds being beaten? I have to buy all my food. There’s no fresh fish. And there’s nowhere to grow vegetables.
I’ll tell you now that I am lonely almost every day.
Here there is no home, only a place to live. At home you are one of many. Here is no many, only you yourself. It would be a very good thing if you were here with me, but there is something else that I need to let you know. The thing I want to tell you is that every time I get my money a few days later it has been eaten by expenses that I never imagined existed. So I did some things that I am ashamed of. I can’t even write them down on paper because I am afraid that they will be discovered and I will be in big trouble. Just let me say that if
Auntie knew, she would forbid you from seeing me again. My name would be erased from the memory in Dundu, that’s how bad it was.
This is what you have to do to survive here and I am not going to let this happen to you. I am going to tell you this story again: When you were born and mother died because you came out backwards, Auntie took you to hospital. She said that

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your father was dead and now you mother also became late and that if you weren’t in hospital, you too would die. She left you there, as an orphan, but only for a short while so you could get strong. She didn’t visit you because if she did, they wouldn’t let you stay and that would be worse. But while you were there, you got a terrible illness. The news reached our home and when Auntie came to see you, the nurse told her that you had only a short time left for this earth. Everyone made their prayers for you. I remember this well. And I made a solemn promise. I said that if you lived, I would do everything for you like a father. If you came home, I would to make sure that you would grow up to be able to take care of yourself.
I have kept that promise. I paid for doctor’s fees since you came home from hospital sick and need special care even to this day. The money from odd jobs in town went for your medicine. I paid the fees for the school for sickly children. And
I came to America so that I could make enough to take care of you and Auntie for the rest of your lives. And when I left, you asked for me to send for you and I said, Yes, little sister. I promise. A promise is solemn and should never be broken. You should never give your word lightly and I didn’t. I meant it when I told you that I would make the path clear for you to follow me. But there is another duty that has to be fulfilled.
When Auntie took you home, she became your mother.
Mothers take care of their children, and she took very good care of you and me, but when children are adults themselves and their parents are old, then it is time for children to take care of them. Auntie is now an old woman and can’t be left

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alone. Who will take care of her if you come to America? What will become of this dear woman? She can’t be tossed aside like some useless pot. We owe her that, the two of us, to care for her. I will continue to send money home but it is to be used for her. Please do everything you can to give her a good home to live in. I trust that you will do this, you are an honorable sister and daughter. Open an account at the bank and I will transfer the money directly to you. Until then, I will send it by Western Union. Use whatever you need to feed yourself and if there is any extra buy yourself a new dress. You are the protector of the home and the lion. You must be healthy and fierce to do your work.
If things get better for me, someday I will send for you. I don’t know when you will get another letter from me. I am going away for a while and it may be difficult for me to write to you. Meanwhile, I remain your loving brother.

Ayew

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Girls in Paradise

“E

XCUSE ME.

IF

YOU DON’T

mind

me asking, what do you think of our new slogan, Ms.
Tremblay? Do think it’s good? An advertising company in
America came up with it.”
“What?” Melita, lying on a rattan sun bed, turned her gaze from the turquoise waters. The white sands of the cove beach dazzled in their brightness and the hissing of the palm trees blended with the sound of small waves lapping the shore. Melita looked up and shaded her eyes with her hand.
Pillowed clouds drifted across the bright sky over Nyeupe
Mchanga Resort and Spa.
It

was

Kinzoni,

the

minister

she

met

at

the

conference the day before, who stood beside her, his shirt radiant in its starched cleanliness.

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“ ‘Paradise Is Yours.’ What do you think of it?”
Melita squinted. From under her chaise lounge she recovered her tie-dyed wrap that she bought at a roadside kiosk and covered her legs. She was sorry that she hadn’t taken one of the canopied cabanas on the beach instead, feeling exposed in her bathing suit. “It is beautiful,” she said.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
She couldn’t say no. As Minister of Social Services, in a way she was Kinzoni’s guest or at least that of his government. No good could come from rudeness. She didn’t want to be with him or any one else from the government.
Two days of meetings with these officials was more than enough. “Of course not,” Melita said, gesturing to the chair near the umbrella. “Sit.” She pulled herself upright. ”Please,” she added.
It had taken Melita years to accept the practice of staying for a vacation after a work trip. Talking to Kinzoni outside the conference meetings was a line she didn’t want to cross. When Melita began working for the organization that often took her overseas and occasionally to countries that were also holiday destinations, a friend of hers called it hypocritical that some of her colleagues would stay on for a few days for a vacation in the country they were visiting.
Melita initially shared the perception, and perhaps there was something to the charge, but she reconciled herself to the practice. The director at the Committee for the Protection of

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Girls explained it to her this way: “Look. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll burn out and you won’t be good to anyone. You’re already there.”
“This is a rationalization,” Melita protested.
“No. It’s the reality,” said Axel Beck. He had seen many leave the organization after meeting girls whose arms and lips were cut-off. “You think it’s selfish to enjoy yourself.
It’s the opposite. It’s selfish to deprive yourself. You think you make yourself feel better by denying yourself. Everyone needs some rest and recreation. We don’t want martyrs here.
They aren’t any good to the girls we’re working for. You can’t make the connection the way you are between your happiness and their hard lives,” Axel explained. “You do this work because you think it’s important—it is important. Why not enjoy what you can when it’s available?”
While CPG’s concerns for the rights and welfare of girls were

worldwide,

the

work

mainly

focused

on

impoverished countries, so the desire to stay an extra day or two didn’t often arise. But some countries, even poor ones, had exclusive resorts that catered to the very wealthy and when the work took the CPG staff there during Canada’s long winters, it was hard to resist staying a day or two at one of the world’s top 100 resorts, as featured in Travel and
Leisure. When they stayed in such hotels, they paid for the holiday themselves, finding it affordable since the resorts offered sizeable discounts to personnel from aid agencies and a large part of the expense (the airfare) had already paid for by CPG.

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But sometimes the host country extended their stay gratis. The BBC once ran a story condemning the practice.
The contretemps over “the perks of compassion” made news for a week, a motion was debated in Parliament, but, fortunately, the story never caught on with a wider audience.
The story faded and the board of CPG unanimously refused to adopt a policy condemning it, leaving it to the discretion of the staff to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to take a free room. The board and CPG’s director in Toronto trusted their staff’s good judgment.
Melita almost wished they hadn’t. She had been uneasy about this trip from the start. She wasn’t sure that
CPG should participate in a conference sponsored by a government whose human rights record was so abysmal. She was afraid

that

her

participation

seemed

like

an

endorsement, a legitimization, an offering of impunity to men who had done things so unspeakable that Melita decided to never talk about them outside of work. Some things she needed to leave at the office.
Matters had dramatically improved in this country since the first multi-party election two years before. With the end of the civil war, a semblance of normal life returned.
What disconcerted Melita was that the very people who committed the atrocities, the government and the militias, now shared power in a coalition, the rebel leader as vicepresident and the former dictator as president. Despite this there was still much concern in the international community: the country’s most prominent human rights advocate was recently murdered; a newspaper editor was beaten by police;

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the anti-corruption chief was missing; a dissident politician narrowly escaped from a staged car crash; court cases against the powerful were routinely dismissed. And the plight of girls had barely improved. Although outlawed, in many part of the country FGM was commonplace. The percentage of girls in schools was pitifully low. Although suffering from Post Traumatic Disorder, former girl soldiers received no treatment in government clinics, as officials denied that girls had ever been used in the military or in militias; their problems were of their own making. Arranged marriages, especially for teenage girls like these who became the second or third wives of elderly men, still prevailed.
“You play the hand you’re dealt,” Axel said to Melita.
He wanted her to attend the conference as the CPG representative. “These men are killers,” she said.
“Were,” he corrected. “We’re there to help the girls.
The International Criminal Court is there to bring justice. Not us. They investigate crimes. We help girls. If we can get the government to support our agenda, that’s good, isn’t it?”
“It’s a façade,” Melita said. “They’ll say whatever they think we want to hear. Their promises are worthless.”
“You won’t know that until you get there. Although this is a conference, you’re there to get them to agree to our proposed policy changes. At least we have a chance if we can get them to agree to this publicly.”

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Arthur Dobrin

“Do you really believe that, Axel, that they’re serious about this? Why do you think they can be trusted? They’ll say anything, then do what they want.”
Money intended for good causes often found its way into the pockets of officially sanctioned thieves and laws that sounded good on paper were seldom enforced. This was standard fare. And Melita anticipated Axel’s answer, as she often gave it herself to newer employees: look at the countries that have moved from genocide to models of good governance; terrorists who wind up receiving peace prizes; former war zones that are featured as travel destinations.
The world is unpredictable. Besides—the clincher—do you have a better plan?
This trip was different, though. Never before had CPG agreed to participate in a conference sponsored by those who, it was rumored, were awaiting indictments by an international court for crimes against humanity.
Making the decision for Melita more difficult was that while staff from other European NGOs would be present, she was the sole representative from her organization. Since the worldwide economic collapse, Axel couldn’t justify sending more than one person to this meeting. The organization been forced to shutter more than a dozen programs. Only Axel was more senior than Melita and he was needed in the main office to manage the deteriorating finances and to help stave off further shutdowns and redundancies.
Melita was going to have to make the trip herself.

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At

the conclusion of the meeting, other NGO staff departed

Nyeupe Mchanga that evening on flights to London and
Berlin, leaving Melita alone with a dozen other vacationers, including Chiku, a world-famous entertainer who stayed to herself, behind the wall of a villa larger than Melita’s suburban bungalow in Richmond Hill.
“I hope you found the conference productive,”
Kinzoni said as he lowered himself onto the chair. He motioned to a waiter. Melita ordered coconut water. “Don’t you drink?” the minister asked as asked for a pint of pilsner and a plate of beef samosas.
Melita said, leaving it ambiguous as to what she was responding to, “No.” She had learned how to be diplomatic.
“ ‘Paradise Is Yours.’ I think it’s quite good,” Kinzoni said in a self-satisfied manner. “The Ministry of Tourism is going to launch a campaign in Europe and North America soon. We think there’s a niche for us in the upscale market.
This is what we have to sell to the world. I know it isn’t what many think today. But it is paradise.” Kinzoni smacked his lips, then wiped the grease with a linen serviette. “Won’t you have one?”
“No, thank you.” She couldn’t bring herself to take anything from a plate that he had touched. She cradled the green coconut in her hands and sipped the water through a straw. No one else was on the beach, an exclusive preserve for guests.
“I have great hopes for this country.” He held his glass up in front of him, looked at the sparkling amber.

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Arthur Dobrin

“Everyone wants the best.”
“There’s much to be done.”
Melita turned away from Kinzoni.
“Well, I see that you would like to be alone. I won’t disturb you any more.”
“No, please . . .”
“We’re all exhausted, I’m sure, Ms. Tremblay. These meetings can be very tiring, indeed.” He put his beer glass on the table and stood up. “Tonight there’s a reception for some of our special guests. I hope you can make it. You’ll have to try the samosas there.”
“I’ll do my best, Mr. Kinzoni. Thank you for the kind offer.” Melita returned to her villa, the sitting room full of furniture carved from driftwood and piles of woven baskets, the rosewood floor polished to sheen, and at the foot of the bed were batik cloths. The mahogany bowl had been refilled with fresh fruit and newly cut flowers were placed next to the bed. She took a shower in the outdoor enclosure and fell asleep in the glow of the canvas panel walls of the room illuminated by the afternoon sun.
Her plan to dine alone that night was overturned when she read the card in the vellum envelope that had been slipped under her door. The invitation, signed by President
Ambrose Obengi, respectfully requested her presence for dinner. Melita felt angered but also flattered by the personal

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summons. Meetings with heads of state were rare and it was always Axel who represented CPG.
Acknowledging to herself that she had no choice but to accept the invitation, she realized that the only clothes she had with her were those she had brought for a meeting in the tropics—slacks, blouses and sandals. She didn’t have a dress or a pair of high heels; she had no make-up, no jewelry other than another pair of earrings. And there wasn’t anywhere to purchase clothing. Nyeupe Mchanga didn’t yet have a gift shop. What was she thinking, how superficial could she be, being concerned about what she would wear to meet such a brutal man? Melita thought about the girls whose welfare she was there to represent and now felt that it was right that she would meet the president in what for her were her work clothes after all. If his was a bespoke suit from a shop on
Savile Row, she could wear off-the-rack pants from a
Richmond Hill mall.
“Ah, how nice of you to come,” Kinzoni said when
Melita walked onto a patio overflowing with hibiscus and wild ginger. “A glass of wine for you? No, I’m sorry. I forgot you don’t drink.”
“As a matter of principle, before dinner,” she said.
She needed something to calm her nerves.
He snapped his fingers and ordered her a glass of
Chablis.

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“The President is down for a meeting with his political party. This is his home constituency. So he isn’t here on state affairs.”
Melita couldn’t take her eyes off the only other woman in the room.
“Have you met her before?” Kinzoni asked, catching
Melita’s gaze. “Her father is from this district. Her mother is from China.”
“A very beautiful woman.”
Kinzoni laughed.
“For some, the most beautiful in the world.”
“Does she live here?”
Kinzoni laughed again.
“She always stays at Nyeupe Mchanga when she returns home. If I am not mistaken, her primary home is in
Rome. She is a woman of the world.” Kinzoni looked at
Melita. “You don’t recognize her?”
“Should I?”
“It’s Chiku.” The film star, supermodel, singer, TV show-host, the most recognized female face in the world, the humanitarian. The president’s goddaughter.
A tall man with deep creases in his forehead and wearing glasses, his close-cropped hair graying, walked over to Chiku. They talked briefly. He then took a box from an aide at his side, opened it and fastened a necklace of sapphires and white and blue diamonds around Chiku’s neck. She kissed him on the cheek. The president then left

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the room, nodding to Melita as he passed her by and everyone followed except for Chiku and Melita who remained alone with the waitstaff. Perhaps this was an opportunity to recruit the celebrity as a spokesperson for CPG, something that had been discussed at meetings in Toronto, as a way of attracting more funding.
Chiku acknowledged Melita with a raised eye and began to walk toward her.
Melita stared at the necklace that glittered in the candlelight. She estimated how many schools and clinics such a necklace could buy, how many other extraordinary pieces of jewelry Chiku must own, how many more illicit gems President Ambrose Obengi stashed in vaults around the world. Chiku was about to greet her when Melita, avoiding the superstar’s gaze, walked past her with a cursory nod and returned to her room. She wouldn’t tell Axel about Chiku.
She knows that he would have approached Chiku to get her endorsement for the organization. Sadly, this is what fundraising has come to. Without a celebrities name, CPG was just another do-good NGO, one of thousands, one that may well close its doors in the near future.
On the walk back to her villa, under armed guard to protect her against marauding wildlife, Melita already regretted her snubbing Chiku. It’s the girls, the girls, she said to herself. It’s not me that matters but them.

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Hardly settled in her room, Melita received another invitation: once again a handwritten invitation from the president requested her presence, this time in his villa.
“He is expecting you now,” the solider said, standing in the doorway. “Please come with me.”
Had Chiku complained to her godfather about her rudeness? Melita wondered. Before leaving her room, she texted Axel to tell him about the situation, in case she, too, disappeared. “Be careful,” he texted back.
“Ms. Tremblay,” the president addressed Melita,
“please sit down.” He signaled his bodyguard to leave. This villa was twice the size of hers. The doors to the wrap-around patio were open. She could hear the surf, the palm leaves, the insects. President Obengi sat upright on a large chair, a glass of Scotch whiskey next to him and beside that a bowl of tropical fruits, an orange peel curled on a plate.
“Johnny Walker Blue Label,” he said, pointing to the bottle in a silk-lined box. “Can I offer you some? No, my minister told me that you don’t drink.”
The president had removed his suit jacket and tie and sat with his bare feet crossed in front of him. “Minister
Kinzoni told me about you and the conference these last couple of days. He said that he was impressed with you.
You’ve asked for many things.”
“All in the name of justice for girls, Mr. President.
Nothing more”

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“Quite so,” he said softly. “I looked at the proposals you have made. They seem quite reasonable to me.” When he removed his glasses to rub his eyes, Melita noticed his sclera were red. The vigor of his voice belied the beleaguered and haggard look that revealed itself in this room bright with lights. “The future of our country is good. All indicators are positive and would have been much better if not for the worldwide recession.” He poured himself another glass of
Scotch Whiskey. “Would you rather have something else instead? Whatever you want.”
“Nothing, thank you,” she said. Her heart was beating quickly and she could hardly catch her breath.
“Why did you want to see me, Mr. President?”
“I like your proposals. They are eminently sane.
Reasonable. I want to tell you that some of them I will propose to Parliament immediately. We want to bring our country into line with the most advanced.”
He talked about changes in inheritance, outlawing forced marriages, ensuring that schools admit an equal number of girls.
“I’m hungry, Ms. Tremblay. Please join me.” He walked to a table set with cold lobster. “When I was a child, we used to throw these back into the water,” he said, putting on a bib. “They were just garbage that we picked up with the fish we were really looking for.” He stopped and twisted off the legs and pried out the meat with a claw. “Until we learned that you considered these a delicacy. You are right. And we have the best.” He picked up the two-pound lobster and

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cracked the shell with a hammer. “Are you sure you don’t want to join me?” President Obengi grabbed the lobster. “The best part,” he said, as he twisted the meat loose and pushed the meat through the tail.
“Whatever is policy, I promise you that soon they will be law. And, I assure you, it will be more than words. I personally will stand behind each of the provisions.”
Melita’s mouth was dry. Her eyes were wide.
“Is this why you wanted to see me?” she asked. “It is good news. CPG will be happy to see this when it becomes law.” “Of course you have good reason to doubt our sincerity.” He wiped his mouth. He poured another glass of wine, finishing the bottle of Chardonnay. “Come, join me on the patio. It is a beautiful night. Paradise is yours tonight, Ms.
Tremblay.”
She tensed her body as he took her by the elbow to lead her outside.
“That’s a constellation you can’t see where you come from,” Obengi said. “But you have more visible stars in the
Canadian sky. It is the way the Earth tilts into the Milky Way.
You look into it, we are facing the other way.” Leaning on the rail, he made no move to touch her. He rubbed his forehead with his thumb. “There’s so much to be done. So much pain to be undone.” He paused. “I want to make it right. I have a lot of money, Ms. Tremblay. I want to put it to use. So I want to make you a proposition.”

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When Obengi turned to look at her, Melita nearly bolted into the dark below the patio.
“I want to pledge part of my fortune to you. To CPG, that is. I asked my government to do a little research and Mr.
Kinzoni has convinced me that of all the work being done to rehabilitate girls, yours is doing the best job.” He paused.
“And that you desperately need money to stay afloat.” He told her the annual deficit CPG was running. The figures sounded about right to Melita. As an NGO, the Committee for the Protection of Girls’ finances was a matter of public record, easily accessible on the Internet. “My budget office tells me that you don’t have more than a couple of years to turn it around.”
The president moved closer to her.
“What is it, Ms. Tremblay? There’s no reason to be afraid. Don’t believe the stories you hear. I’m a harmless person.” “The pledge, Mr. President?” Melita was hyperventilating. “What’s is this pledge you want to make?”
“Calm down, please. Take a seat.” Obengi pulled over an armchair for her. Melita continued to stand. “I will make personal donations—my own money, Ms. Tremblay, my own money—to support every project CPG wants to build here. I will personally pay for them entirely. No cost to your organization. The money won’t come from my government.”
The president said that CPG could pick the projects and train the staff. “I do have a requirement. It is that all the

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personnel must be local, Ms. Tremblay. No expatriates on the ground. You understand.”
“Who will supervise the programs?”
“The programs are CPG’s. You have the expertise.
This is all I insist upon, that all employees here be locals.” He explained that, however, there was a limit to his largesse.
“But $10 million a year—each year—can go a long way, I should think,” he said, pleased with himself. “But if you should ever need more, you can always ask.” He handed
Melita an envelope. “This is the first year’s contribution.” He laughed again and put his hand on top of hers. “If I were in your country, I would have a big tax deduction.”
She looked at the unsealed envelope with the presidential seal and regained her ability to speak.
“So you are making a donation to CPG,” is all that she managed to say.
“Indeed. I can think of no better way a providing a legacy.” “This is . . . very generous,” Melita fumbled.
“Some benefactors have to be asked to have their names on buildings and such. But you never thought that I would agree.”
“You want you name on . . .?”
“The CPG Ambrose Obengi Centers. Nothing more. It is as I stated. You decide the program. You decide where to put establish centers. I’ll secure the land for you. You decide

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how many to centers to build. There’s no limit. I am happy to make the gift. I can see no end to it.”
Even if he is indicted? Even if his assets are seized?
Even if he is imprisoned by The Hague? And what if CPG continued to receive the grant, year after year, erecting centers in his name, centers that make better the lives of the girls of paradise?
Melita thought about this on the plane home to
Toronto. And she thought about his last gesture, when he handed her a sack made of banana leaves.
“And a little gift for you in making this a reality. Do with it as you please. Don’t worry. No one will bother you at customs control. You have my word.”
At the check-in at the airport she was told that she had been up-graded to first-class and now in the privacy of her sleeper seat she opened the packet again and poured the fistful of uncut gems in her palm. In the hiss of the plane, she fingered the stones like a prayer bead.
The steward startled Melita. “Can I get you anything, madam?” “I’m fine,” she said unconvincingly.
Before landing, the crew, as Melita had seen on many flights before, requested donations in foreign currencies that travelers may not yet have converted to Canadian dollars be given to a charity this time for children with cerebral palsy.
The stewards came up the aisle holding plastic bags in front of them.

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Melita tied the gems in a paper napkin and when a steward reached her row, she cupped her hand so he couldn’t see the napkin she dropped into the plastic bag.
“Thank you for your donation,” he said.
“Thank you for caring,” she responded.

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The Coriolis Effect

K ate

looked at the large

cardboard display in the window of the travel agency. It was a photograph of a giraffe and that of a bald woman. Behind them, in a brilliant blue sky, floated a gaily-decorated hot air balloon. At that moment Kate decided that she would celebrate her divorce by buying a plane ticket to Africa. The agent would recommend a group safari for her, and Kate would take the three-week package tour—airfare, hotel, meals and transfers included—at a price suitable for a schoolteacher. It was summer in San Francisco, a time of fog and cold. School wouldn't open for another month and Kate

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Arthur Dobrin

dreaded the thought of September and needing to face her colleagues who only last month had thought of her, if not as a happily married woman, at least as a married woman. In
June, at the last day of class, she left as Mrs. Gold and now she would return as what, she wondered, and as whom? She saw herself standing in front of the classroom greeting her new pupils. "Good morning, children," she would say as she wrote her name in large letters on the blackboard. "Last year you knew me as Mrs. Gold. I have a new name now. It is Ms.
Tarnished."
If she had found just one friend to confide in, one colleague she could have unburdened herself with, then perhaps it could have been different. But Kate had always thought she valued her privacy.
As she examined the brochure, her spirits lifted like the wafting balloon across the African plains. Until the moment she had passed the travel agency as she walked down Stanyan Street, Kate had had no thought of going anywhere, certainly not on safari. But there it was, as much a surprise as discovering her husband a philanderer.
The longer she looked at the pamphlet the more her senses sang with the possibilities. How good it would be to leave California, to visit the earth's last wild place, remote and quiet. Kate would spend three weeks in which, like a molting snake, she could shed the past. What others would know would be what she told them. She could live as an actor does, in someone else's life. But this would be better than an actor's role for she could write her own script, too. She already began to see herself sleeping under a slowly spinning

9
THE
HARDER RIGHT 9

fan and mosquito net, listening to the haunting night noises, having several lovers and shooting lions. And when she returned home, she could continue to be the person she had chosen to become.
Kate took home a brochure. That night, as she sat at the table eating an omelet with french fries, she looked at the
World Tours booklet. In it was another photo of a black woman wearing a beaded necklace. ‘A proud Maasai,’ the booklet explained. This woman seemed so content to Kate, at peace, at one with her place. But what did Kate know about the woman's life? She looked at the shaved head, the many strands of orange, blue, yellow earrings that pulled her earlobes into large loops, the closed mouth smile. Kate tried to imagine what it would be like to live the life of a Maasai woman. Did she worry about her husband leaving her for someone prettier, someone younger? Was she concerned about what her friends thought of her failure as a wife? Was this woman a good lover, did she care if her husband was?
Did Africans know what love was?

Kate

began to look at women from the moment she passed

customs. Policewomen wore brimmed caps; those mopping the airport floor covered their heads with scarves. Women waiting on the sidewalk in the dark for returning families were mainly bareheaded, and, to her surprise, their hair was stylishly coiffed. Neither did Kate see any bald women at the reception desk of the New Stanley Hotel where she arrived

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bleary-eyed sometime after midnight.
Kate had expressed concern to the travel agent about sharing a room with a stranger. The cost of a single supplement would have put the trip beyond her budget. But
Kate turned out to be the only single woman on the tour, so she wound up with a room of her own. Since all rooms were designed for two people, Kate always had a bed to spare.
Kate slept fitfully the first night. She had brief, confused and disturbing dreams and was out of bed before the sky began to lighten. Kate showered, walked down the polished wooden steps from the third floor to the lobby and was sitting by a large window in the Thorn Tree dining room by 7 A.M. Here, at tables near her and on the street, she saw women more smartly dressed than she, as her wrinkled cotton blouse and shorts were distinctly unfashionable in this city. She looked at their high heels, their clinging skirts, their imitation Hermes scarves, their beauty salon hairdos.
She felt frumpy; her eyes were swollen with fatigue.
Kate watched the morning workers on their way to their glass office buildings as she stood on the sidewalk by the outdoor café with her fellow travelers. She had been told to be out front by eight, no later. She stood amidst a crowd near the newsstand as tourists tried sorting their ways onto various safari vehicles. Kenyatta Avenue was filled with cars,
London-style cabs and noisy diesel-engine buses. Kate coughed and rubbed her eyes with her a tissue taken from a small packet.

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She recognized those on her trip from the ride from the airport on the mini-bus. Although they had all introduced themselves to one another, she couldn't remember their names. A van pulled up and the driver stepped out. He waved his hand above his head.
"World Tours! World Tours! This way. Good morning, ladies and gentleman," he addressed them. Kate thought this was the same driver who had driven them from the airport just hours before, but she wasn’t sure. "Here, madam, let me take that from you." He took a suitcase from an older woman and placed it beside a safari vehicle. "I am your guide and driver for the rest of the time that you are here in Kenya. If you have any questions, please ask. I am here to make your safari a pleasant one. Thank you for being on time. So please listen to the instructions when I tell you." He had a broad smile and a way about him that made the travelers feel safe.
"My name is Leonard. Leonard Nyamusi."
He wasn’t the same driver, Kate thought. It had been dark, she had been tired.
Kate smiled to herself as the driver pronounced the first letter of his name, as though it were an "r.' She would continue to be bemused by the good-natured driver who now arranged the luggage in the back of the van as though they were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. He removed each item several times until, at last, the entire collection of luggage fit. Kate was embarrassed that her piece was larger than that of either couple. What had see been thinking, bringing half her wardrobe? She forgave herself, as she only had one week in

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which to prepare for the adventure. It all had happened so quickly that she hardly believed that here she was, in Africa, half the world away from California.
"OK, do I have all the luggage? All right, then. We are ready to begin our safari." Leonard said. He stood next to the van with the pictures of trumpeting elephants stenciled on the panel door, which he now slid opened. "I promise you that by dinner tonight you will have seen your first wild animal." He glanced at the three single women. Kate stood alone. Kate hadn't known what to expect from Africans, but whatever it was it certainly wasn't a man wearing a pair of ironed jeans, pink polo shirt with an alligator logo and black leather sneakers with a Nike swoosh.
"There are bottles of soda and water for you in the cooler between the seats in the back." Leonard continued the lecture he delivered every month to a new group of tourists:
"There are enough seats in the van for all of you to sit comfortably. Those who sit by a window today change tomorrow so that others can also see. But don't worry; when we are in the game park I will pop open the top of the van and you will be able to stand up. So everyone will be comfortable. And everyone will see everything. Do you all know what the big five are?"
James called out “elephant, rhino, lion, water buffalo and leopard.”
"Right—and remember, it's Cape buffalo," Leonard

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gently corrected James. "Maybe we'll be lucky and see all five.
Then your trip will be great."
"Leonard," Leila said as soon as the driver paused. "I get motion sickness."
"My wife needs a front seat," James added, finishing his wife's thought the way Kate often wished her husband had. Kate hadn't liked Leila since meeting her on the way from the airport, her khaki short, the safari jacket with a hundred pockets, the floppy sun hat dangling from a string on her back, the ropey veins in her exposed legs. Kate sensed that Leonard was indulging her.
"There is a passenger seat next to me," he said. "It's not the best seat for animal watching . . ."
"I also get car sick," Kate blurted falsely, not wanting to concede anything to Leila. Kate moved from the newsstand to the side of the van, nearer to Leonard. "I can't sit in the back. I get very sick there."
Leila's husband walked from the sidewalk to stand next to Leonard as the driver closed the hatch of the van.
"My wife must sit up front," he insisted. Kate disliked the whine in his voice. "When we signed up for this trip, I told the agent that my wife gets car sick and we were told that there would be no problem. They said my wife could get a seat in the front. We have been on many trips and there has never been a problem. There were cheaper tours we could

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have taken, you know."
Kate wondered about that.
She decided to press her point.
"You," Kate said to Leila, "have your husband to hold your hand. If I don't get the seat next to Leonard, I think everyone in the van will have an unpleasant trip. I throw up easily. I don't think anyone paid to have vomit on her lap."
Kate was thrilled with the daring character that emerged without design.
Kate put an abrupt stop to her end of the discussion by opening the front door to the van on the passenger side while James continued to argue with Leonard. She climbed in, hoping that no one had seen the difficulty she had as she pulled herself into the high seat. She removed a well-used copy of a field guide to birds of East Africa she found on her seat. She placed it on dashboard above the steering wheel.
"We will talk about this later," Leila's husband threatened Kate through the window. Kate looked straight ahead and ignored his remark. While the others got into their places behind her, Kate combed her short blond hair and put sunglasses over her hazel eyes. She quickly glanced at herself in the side view mirror. She needed to shed several pounds, she thought.
"Tell me what your special interest is." Leonard glanced at Kate as he turned the key in the ignition. "I will help make this a special safari." The van turned the corner,

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headed past the railroad yard and out onto a two-lane highway. "Some want birds, some want flowers. On my last trip I had someone who only wanted to snap clouds. He never took a single snap of a lion."
"We'll see lions?"
"You never know about animals, but I will promise you that will see a simba before you go home. And even today you will see some animals, small ones."
Kate said little. The country was now open plains and the asphalt road was in disrepair. From the corner of her eye she watched the driver hold the steering wheel with both hands as it shook beneath his grip. His hands were rough but his nails, while broken, were clean. She caught his eye momentarily as they both glanced into the rearview mirror.
"Me myself," Leonard explained, "when I was at Utalii
College, I liked birds. I made a special study of them."
"You went to college?" Kate thought he must have been lying.
"We have a college for people who work with tourists," he said. "It is difficult to get a place. Thousands apply each year, but only a few are taken. But I'm such a good driver and mechanic and my English is very good, so World Tours found a place for me."
"Oh," Kate remarked with a hint of amazement.
"I have been working for WT for twelve years."

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"I saw the book you have on birds.” She picked up the guidebook from the dashboard. “I like birds, too," Kate added, thinking about the little brown birds that flocked to her small lawn. She paid no attention to them and hoped that
Leonard wouldn't ask her about them. She only knew the difference between a sparrow and a pigeon.
"If you want to look at the book to find a bird you see, be free. Or," he added, "ask me. I know all there is to know about birds."
The first request Kate made of Leonard wasn't about birds. It was at the Namanga market in Maasailand, several hours later, at the turnoff to Amboseli, the game park at the foot of snow-capped Kilimanjaro. Kate wanted to know about the women there, those who sold the trinkets, why their heads were bald. Leonard laughed heartily.
"They just are," he said. "The Maasai think it's beautiful. I'm not a Maasai myself."
"Do you?" she asked. "Do you think a bald woman is beautiful?" "I think all beautiful women are beautiful." He lightly touched Kate's arm. "Do you see that bird?" Kate looked across the car park. A bird stood alone in dusty drive. She noted the contrast between Leonard’s dark arm and her pale skin, the vendors' shining pates, the orange and blue feathers of the bird. "It is called a superb starling."
“Superb starling? That’s its name?”

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He laughed again.
"I think all beautiful birds are beautiful."
The traders cajoled the tourists to enter their kiosks.
"Look at this, madam," they called insistently. "Come, just look today. You don't have to buy. You are my first customer of the day. I have a special price for you." A young woman aggressively approached Kate with a handful of necklaces, the kind she had seen around the woman in the brochure, the kind around the neck of this hawker, and attempted to thrust it in Kate’s hands. Kate withdrew. An elderly man reproached the woman. The woman walked away.
"Do you want to buy?" Leonard asked Kate.
She thought of the necklace around her neck.
"Perhaps."
"I'll help you get the best price," Leonard offered.
"No, I don't think so," Kate said.
They walked a little further on the dirt path.
"This cloth would look good on you," Leonard said, unfolding a kanga about the size of a tablecloth that he removed from a rack displaying many cotton items.
"What does this mean?" Kate asked as she looked at the words printed across the bottom of the cloth.
Leonard looked at the purple and white kanga.

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"It's difficult."
"What language is it?"
"Swahili," he said. "Safi Swahili. From the coast where they speak clean Swahili. I don't understand all the meaning.
Mpenzi Hana Kinyongo. It is something about a person who loves but doesn't have something. ‘Lovers don’t have.’ But I don't know this word kinyongo."
"What would I do with it?"
“Many women in Kenya use them as skirts.”
“I could never do that.”
"Then to cover a table," Leonard replied. "That's what I do in my home."
Then Kate said abruptly, "That man. He treated the woman so rudely."
"She is his wife."
"His wife? He doesn't need to be so harsh." Kate didn't like the sound of her own voice, the schoolmarm tone.
"If a man isn't strong with his wife, he is looked down upon as something weak," Leonard laughed.
Kate noted, with slight disapproval, "He's so much older than she is."
"Yes," Leonard said. "Several of these women are his wives. I think maybe she is his newest. He is a very rich man

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this mzee. He knows that many tourists complain when the women bother them. Especially Americans. He is a good businessman. He knows the best way to catch bees is by honey." Several wives? Kate wondered. She would ask later.
"There are many nice things to buy here," Leonard said to Kate. He led her into one of dozen kiosks. Kate hadn't thought of buying anything when she left California. She was shedding, not accumulating. As she walked around the shop brightened only by streaming sunlight through the open door, she saw Pam and Bob. They had purchased a five-foot tall wooden giraffe that was being wrapped in newspaper.
Leonard pointed out a tray of jewelry behind a glass case. "These are cheaper than in Nairobi," he explained. There were gemstones of many colors.
"They are beautiful," Kate said.
"Let me show you, madam," the young man behind the counter said. "I'll make you a good price."
Kate wondered how he kept his white shirt so clean.
Leonard helped her with the gold clasp. Despite herself, Kate

bought

something

more

expensive

than

anything she had at home: a double-strand green tanzanite bracelet. The seller gave her a beaded bracelet as a gift for her wise choice. Leonard helped her put it on her right wrist.
“I’ll meet you in the van. I want to chat with my friend

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for a short bit.”
As Kate climbed into the front seat of the van, she saw
Leonard emerging from the shop. He was putting something in his pocket. Leonard went to the rear of the van. Pam and
Bob stood by while the tour guide re-arranged the luggage to make room for the giraffe.
When they pulled away from Namanga, Kate rolled down the window. She removed her watch from her left wrist. "That is a nice watch," Leonard commented as she dropped the Swatch into her fanny pack.
"It's not much," Kate said, immediately regretting the thoughtless response. She pulled the watch out and handed it to Leonard. "For your help with the shopping."
Leonard took the watch. "I'll keep it in here," he said, putting it in the already crowded glove compartment of the van. She felt worse. "Asante. Thank you, madam."
"Kate."
They left Namanga and drove down a road choking with white dust. The road undulated with gullies and dry riverbeds. Kate felt the grit between her teeth. Someone in the back began to cough.
"What is it?" Leila asked, as Leonard stopped the van.
"Why did we stop?"

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"Do you see something?"
"Is something wrong?"
"I heard something bang."
"Over there," Leonard said to all the passengers. "Do you see the big tree in the distance? There is a tembo next to it. Elephant. Wait," he said as Pam and Bob took out their binoculars. Leonard turned off the engine. "I'll pop open the top." Those behind the driver and Kate were now able to stand. James removed his camera from a bag and screwed on a telephoto lens.
"Can you see?" Leonard asked Kate, who was seated on the far side away from the animal. "Do you want my binoculars?" He gave them to her. She turned to her right and leaned across Leonard towards his window. She could smell him and feel the warmth coming from him. Her shoulder pressed against the side of his chest.
"Ready? Have you taken all your snaps?" he called behind. "I'll leave the top up now. Call when you want me to stop. I want you to go home with good photos."
The road was full of dips and curves. Even though the top had been closed and the windows rolled shut, clouds of powder-fine dust

seeped

into

the

cab

through

the

floorboards.
"It is good you sat in the front seat," Leonard said to
Kate. "The ride is better. You are right. It is bumpy in the back. Here you won't get sick."

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Kate gripped the door handle. She turned slightly behind, to look at her fellow travelers. Leila, who sat directly behind Leonard, had closed her eyes and rested against her husband. James caught Kate's eye and kissed his wife lightly on her head.
Leonard muttered something to himself in a language
Kate didn't understand.
"Is there a problem?"
"Hakuna matata," he said. "No problem. Just a little thing." Leonard stopped the van, opened the door and walked to the back.
"What's wrong?" Leila asked.
Leonard asked everyone to climb out.
"It's safe. Don't worry. The animals will stay far from you. Just don't walk away. I'll change the tire in no time."
Leonard unloaded the luggage to get to the spare. He placed the jack under the frame and attempted to loosen the lugs on the flat. Several tourist vans sped passed them, throwing small rocks and dust plumes behind. The World
Tour tourists found rest in the shade in a small grove of acacia trees by the roadside. Leonard distributed sodas that were in the van's cooler. Not until a driver of a Wildlife Trails van stopped to help did Leonard get the punctured tire off and the spare on.
Leonard apologized for the delay.

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"I will try to get us everywhere on schedule," he said,
"but shauri ya mungu. God will have His way." Leonard told them that they were now too late for lunch at the lodge. He would try to arrange something for them when they arrived—another hour or so. They didn't mind. They had come for the animals, after all, and here they were in the bush. This why they came to Africa. They would have an exciting story to tell when they returned. Everyone but Kate took pictures of the van with Leonard resting his hand on the blown tire.
Kate was hungry but said nothing. She would have another Coke. They reached the entrance to the park, an iron gate with the stucco hut for the ranger. Leonard got out to pay the entrance fees. When he returned to the van from the, he asked everyone to alight.
"Another flat?" Pam asked.
Leonard explained that the trouble was with the van's motor, and it was best that he tried to fix it before going on.
"I can repair it here but in the park if it stops, then it will be difficult."
The problem was that he wouldn't be able to get them to the lodge for several more hours.
"It is a short way to the lodge from here," he said.
"Do you want us to walk?" Pam, with the white sunscreen on her face, asked churlishly enough to make her displeasure known.

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"No one walks in the park," Leonard explained. "All the animals are wild. You don't want to be their lunch."
“Or supper,” James said.
“No one walks,” Leonard repeated.
His sternness quieted objections. A look at the ranger on the roadside with his rifle on his shoulder dispelled the residual rumblings. "This isn't a zoo. You must stay in the van. It can be very dangerous."
The signboard next to the gate spelled out the rules for them.
"We aren't going to miss a meal," Bob said.
"Hakuna matata. Not to worry," Leonard responded.
"You'll be there in a short time. You're going to go on other vans." By then, two other tour buses had pulled up to the entrance. Leonard talked to the other safari drivers. Bob and
Pam went with an Italian group; James and Leila got a ride in an open-sided tour truck with young Germans.
"There's room for you," Leonard said to Kate.
"How long before you fix our van?" she asked, not moving. "Shauri ya mungu." Leonard laughed. “It’s in God’s hands.” "Then sharmi a mango," she said in ersatz Swahili. "I'll

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THE HARDER RIGHT 5

stay with you until it's done. You can't stay out here alone with the animals, can you?"
"In college I learned the customer is always right."

Kate's

back ached from the long ride. They had finished

spending two nights in Amboseli, marveling at the elephants and taking early morning photos of Mt. Kilimanjaro before the mountain disappeared in the day’s cloud cover and now they were on their way from the Tanzania border to a game park in the north. It was an arduous ride, full of dust, ruts and heat. They by-passed Nairobi, made a short stop at the
Blue Posts Hotel, in Thika, where they ate a lunch of roast chicken, chips and bananas. They then continued north through coffee fields, pineapple plantations and endless ridges of small farms. They entered countryside of cattle ranches and wheat farms. As they crossed a speed bump (a sleeping policeman, he called it) and Leonard said, "Here. We can stop. This is the equator. There is a toilet by the building over there. When you come back, if you want, give me your cameras. I'll snap you standing next to the sign. Put one foot on one side and the other foot on the other side. You are now standing in both hemispheres at the same time."
After the others had their pictures taken, Kate stood alone under the large metal marker with a map of Kenya.
Nyanyuki, Altitude 6,389 feet. 0° latitude.
Welcome to the Equator.

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Leonard took the picture. Kate looked directly at the camera, her arms wrapped around the pole and smiling.
"Here is something fantastic," Leonard said to the group as a young man with a plastic bucket and funnel approached them. "He is a geology student."
"Good afternoon," the student introduced himself. "I'm
Geoffrey Kamau."
Everyone was leery. They were tired of vendors selling ebony carvings and copper bracelets. They had had enough of kangas, sheepskin rugs, soapstone animals and other trinkets. "I have a little show for you. You don't have to pay.
There is no charge."
Geoffrey handed them a business card with his name on it and invited them to walk with him around the paved path. They stopped at a point parallel to the equator sign.
"How many of you know about the coriolis effect?" he asked. No one answered. The student told them that if they were lost in the woods they could know which hemisphere they were in if they knew about the Coriolis effect.
"Look at the vines. In the north they grow clockwise around a tree," Geoffrey said. "In the south they grow counter-clockwise. Now I will demonstrate to you in this very place the Coriolis effect. First we will walk fifty meters north of the equator, then we will walk fifty meters south and finally we will come back to this very spot."

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Intrigued, Kate followed, with the entire group. The student poured water into the funnel, then placed a small straw on top. The straw began to circle clockwise and drained into the bucket. He repeated the exercise on the other side of the equator. Now the straw turned counterclockwise as it disappeared into the small whirlpool.
"Now we are standing directly on the equator,"
Geoffrey said as he placed the bucket directly on the equator line drawn on the sidewalk. He poured the water into the wide-mouth funnel. He carefully placed the light straw on the still water. The water began to drain. The straw didn’t spin. It floated on surface, as the water drained into the bucket, slowly drawn to edge of the whirlpool's vortex. It plunged straight down without once circling.
Geoffrey

had

papers

certifying

that

they

had

witnessed the Coriolis effect on the equator in Kenya.
Everyone bought a certificate but Kate. She had forgotten her purse in the van.

Kate

no longer went on game drives. When the others left

before dawn for the morning run, she was still in bed. When they left for the evening game drive, she sat outdoors with a drink, looking on the land spread out before her, watching elephants come to the waterhole, gazelles keeping their distance, gray monkeys waiting for fruit from the tourists plates, baboons foraging through the compost pit on the side

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of the lodge. One morning she watched an orange and blue hot air balloon float over the savannah. Kate preferred sitting in front of her tent alone and looking at the waist-high grass blow. Her traveling companions thought this lack of interest in animal viewings as peculiar. The trip wasn't inexpensive, after all. Why would someone come this distance to stay alone without trying to see the wildlife as often as possible?
"Is everything all right, Kate?" Pam asked at lunch one day. "If you don't like being alone, I can stay with you one night. Bob wouldn’t mind.”
"Everything is fine, believe me."
Kate now chose to sit in the dining room by herself.
She had no desire for conversation or explanation. Leila now had the front seat twice a day, on the morning and evening safari drives. Kate. She did, however, insist on sitting next to
Leonard on the trips between the various park lodges.
Kate found deep comfort in the silence of the days in the wild country and warmth of human breath at night.
Bob and Pam guessed that Kate was heartsick and depressed.
They guessed that she had had a soured love affair at home.
By the end of the second week, Kate had become the prime topic of discussions at the dinner table with the two couples, nudging out conversations about lions mating and the number of species of birds they had sighted. Kate knew they were talking about her and she delighted in it. She would have been surprised to know that no one guessed as to the real cause of her distraction—

1
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While Leonard ate in the driver’s quarters, never with the guests, he no longer slept there. He waited for Kate in her room each night when she returned from dinner in the lodge.
He stayed until two hours before sunrise. Leonard risked his job by being with her; Kate risked everything by confusing her vacation for her life.
At the end of the safari, Kate would go back to
California only long enough to close out her accounts. Then she would return to Kenya to spend her life as Leonard's wife. She had no idea that he had meant for her to be his second, junior wife; she had no notion that she wouldn't be able to get a work permit and that she would be more lonely the weeks when Leonard was away from home driving a van than she had ever been before.
Kate couldn't imagine that she would lose all her money investing in Leonard's matatu company that he started with her backing or that when she complained that he was away too long on safaris—choosing to stay with his first wife upcountry before returning to her—and wanting him to spend all his time with her in Nairobi, not with his friends, Leonard would throw her belongings into the alley and padlock the door to the apartment. Kate was unaware that she would be known as the mad European, the white woman who stood mutely in front of the World Tours office waiting for her husband to return from safari, when she was detained by the police for remaining in Kenya without a proper visa.

1
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The Train to Amsterdam

W

HILE MANY

AUSTRIANS supported

a merger with Germany, just as many opposed it. The matter of converting Austria into a region of Germany was so divisive that the country’s chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, scheduled a referendum for March 13th to let the populace decide, once and for all, whether the Austrian people should become
German citizens.
No one in Danilo Altman’s family expected matters to take the sudden turn that it did.

1
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“The Austrian people are too sensible,” Danilo said at the dinner table, as his wife and son listened. “I talked to people in my factory. No one wants union with the lunatics in
Berlin. I’m telling you, we will be safe.”
“Oh, Danilo,” his wife responded. “They only tell you what they know you want to hear. You are their boss, after all.
But you see the rallies. They can’t wait . . .”
“And there are rallies against unification, too, Vera.
Just as many. More.”
A large chandelier hung over the mahogany table, under which was a dark red Persian rug.
“But it won’t be up to us. Germany will get what it wants, Poppa,” Rudolph said. “Heim ins Reich. Home into the
Empire. That’s what I hear in gymnasium. Home into the
Empire. Home into the Empire. The boys at school, they’re all in favor of it. They come to school in their uniforms. They can’t wait to become Germans. My schoolmates are mad for it.” “That’s why they’re still schoolboys, Rudolph, and why the chancellor has excluded anyone younger than 24 from participating in the plebiscite.”
“They may be schoolboys but they make a lot of noise.
But it’s not just them. Everyone favors pan-Germany.”
“Not everyone, Rudolph. Some people just say this but they don’t really mean it. You’ll see when they count the votes. In three days it will be settled,” Danilo said, as his voice grew louder. “I tell you, your schoolmates don’t know what

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the people really want. They’re only speaking as children.”
Danilo picked up his glass of Grüner Veltliner, twirled the wine and sniffed. With a smile he said, “When they know the difference between good wine and bad, then they can speak.”
He took a sip. “Take some, Rudolph,” he said, leaning across the table to pour some in his son’s water glass. “I know. They talk to me in my factory. They come into my office and tell me. They respect me.”
“What do they tell you, Danilo?” Vera interjected.
“They’ll tell you what you want to hear. Behind your back they may be saying something else. You have Nazis working for you.” “And

communists

and

socialists

and

Christian

Socialists. Everyone works for me. Except anarchists.”
“You can’t trust any of them,” she said.
“How can you live your life without trusting people? I have had no problems with my workers, Vera, you know that.
They are loyal. But maybe the women you associate with are different. What do you hear?” Danilo asked his wife.
“You see it for yourself. They are in love with Hitler.
Mention his name and they swoon. They have fallen in love with a lunatic and there is no reasoning with them. Just like the German women. No different. They’re lovesick. Besides,”
Vera added, “Hitler has already renounced the referendum as a fraud. He won’t accept anything but Anschluss.”
“So what do you think he will he do? Invade? We are protected by international treaties,” he said emphatically.

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“He doesn’t care about treaties or laws.” Vera looked at her husband with her soft blue eyes. “And when he comes, he’ll be welcomed like a returning hero. You’ll see.”
“He may be a buffoon, Vera, but he isn’t an idiot. He won’t risk an international reaction. It doesn’t matter that these boys call out his name or the women wet their pants. He seeks acceptance by civilized people—Great Britain and
France. It’s their opinions that matter to him.” Danilo turned to his son. “What do you think, Rudolph?”
“I think it won’t make difference one way or the other,” Rudolph responded heatedly. “We’re already a fascist state.” “But not Nazi!”
“We may as well be.”
“Not Nazis!” Danilo knocked over his wine glass and the white tablecloth turned red. “I’m sorry, Vera. I’ll buy you another on the way home from the factory tomorrow. I’m sorry, Rudolph. Forgive me. I shouldn’t lose my temper. There isn’t enough level-headedness as it is.” Danilo recomposed himself. He continued as though conducting a seminar about an important but mostly theoretical subject. “What I mean to say is that democracy will return one day. Our local Nazis—I know some. Of course. They are in my factory, too. Take
Michael Knauss, for example. He is a fine boy. I’ve known him since he was little. He father used to work for me, too.”
“You see one thing at work. I am sure he is fine there.
But I’ve seen him on the streets, Danilo,” Vera said. “He wears

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the Nazi youth uniform and shouts Hitler’s name and spits on
Jews.”
“I can’t believe this, Vera. He wouldn’t do such a thing.
He’s always polite and well-behaved.”
“He’s the head of the Nazi Youth Corps, Poppa,”
Rudolph interrupted.

“Don’t you know this? It’s no secret.

He’s a bully, like all the youth corps.”
“In the factory he is a good worker. I’ve never had trouble with him. He’s young, like you, Rudolph. Some young people do foolish things.” Danilo looked down at the table.
Then he slowly said, “Some day we’ll all regain our good senses.” He patted the wet tablecloth with his napkin and lifted his head. “Agreed?” Danilo filled his glass to the top, held it up and said, “To a better tomorrow.”
“May it be so.”

Tomorrow

was, in fact, worse. Hitler wasn’t go to wait any

longer to annex Austria and that morning demanded that by the end of the day Kurt Schuschnigg relinquish power to the
German Worker’s Party, an Austrian group that recognized
Hitler as the Fuhrer. If the chancellor refused, Germany would immediately send in its troops to restore order.
Schools were shut as soon as the students heard the
German Chancellor’s remarks; Nazis and their supporters stormed out of Altman Metalworks, and Danilo was forced to close its doors before noon.

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THE HARDER RIGHT 5

The

Altmans

listened

to

Radio

Wien

broadcast

bulletins from Vienna.
“The clown is just bluffing,” Danilo said calmly. “He won’t provoke England. He is clever but not stupid.”
Rudolph listened to his father’s anodyne and sat silently running his fingers through his thick black hair. His neck turned damp with sweat. The newscasts were frantic and dire; they were confused and contradictory.
Rapping on the front door startled the family.
“Don’t get up!” Vera said. She gripped Danilo’s right hand in hers.
“It’s all right,” Danilo assured her as he gently pried her hand from the top of his. “There’s nothing to worry about.
What do you expect me to do, Vera? We can’t refuse to answer. It may be someone who needs us.”
When Danilo opened the door, he was greeted with
“Heil,” accompanied by an outstretched right arm..
“Knauss? Why . . . What . . .?” Danilo stumbled over his words, seeing, for the first time, his young employee wearing a Hitler-Youth uniform. Danilo glanced at the swastika band wrapped around the left sleeve of Knauss’s jacket, a silver chain looped from the lapel to the breast pocket.
“Let me in,” Knauss said. “I want to talk to you.”
Danilo could feel Vera’s and Rudolph’s cold silence behind him.

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“Mr. Altman,” he insisted. Knauss removed his cap and looked up into Danilo’s eyes.
“Can’t this wait? I’ll talk to you tomorrow in my office.” Danilo, much bigger than Knauss who was thirty years his junior, blocked the doorway. “This isn’t a good time to see me.” “I insist, Mr. Altman,” Knauss said as he placed his free hand on the doorjamb and thrust the toe of left boot on the doorsill.
“Vera,” Danilo called to his wife. “We have a guest.
Rudolph. Turn off the radio.” Danilo stepped aside for the youth leader. “Please, Rudolph.”
Rudolph rose from the settee.
“Ask him to stay, Mr. Altman,” Knauss said. “This is for him, too.”
Knauss’s

impertinence

and

Danilo’s

deference

unnerved Rudolph. He stood next to his mother, who remained seated on the button-tufted sofa.
“Let me get to the point,” Knauss said. “You know the news from Vienna.”
“Of course. We are listening to the radio,” Danilo replied. “There’s more you need to know. In my office I have information that isn’t yet public I know for certain that the
German army will be in Austria within days.”
“Rumors.”

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“No, Mr. Altman. Maybe that is what you wish. The reality is that by the end of the week Austria and German will be gloriously reunited.”
“And why are you telling me this, may I ask?”
“Mr. Altman,” Knauss said, “you have been very good to me at the Metalworks. When my father was sick, you paid his medical bills. You helped with the funeral. My mother appreciates the pension you provide her. You are a good man,
Mr. Altman. You have been kind and generous to all your employees at Metalworks. I have no ill wishes for you. But it is unfortunate that you aren’t one of us. You must know that your time here is over.”
“Nazis won’t win . . .”
“You are mistaken. We have already won. Tomorrow belongs to us, Mr. Altman.”
“Why are you here, Michael?”
“I don’t want you or your family to come to harm. I can give you safe passage to The Netherlands. From there you can make your way to England.”
Danilo’s face turned bright red. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. “Get out!” Danilo shouted. “Do you think I am so naïve that I will give my factory to you? That I will abandon my house because you threaten me?”
“Please, Mr. Altman. Take this in the spirit I am offering it. I am not threatening you but warning you and giving you the opportunity for you to save your family. I know

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the plans made in Berlin that you can’t even imagine. Think about it. After this week it may be too late.”
“I’m no fool, Michael. And I’m not a coward. I’m not going anywhere. I won’t run away.”
Michael Knauss stood with his legs wide apart and his hands folded behind his back.
“When my father had no work, your father gave him a job. And you have been very good to all of us at the
Metalworks. All the workers appreciate your generosity.
Whenever there has been a sacrifice to make, you have made it with us. On this there is no disagreement amongst fascists, socialists or communists. I want to repay my family’s debt to yours.” Danilo tried to see beyond the uniform.
“This is the best I can do, Mr. Altman,” Knauss said.
“One at a time. One at a time.” He handed Danilo a businesssize envelope. “This is what he needs.”
Danilo took the packet of papers. He opened the flap and saw a passport with his son’s name on it.
“I will meet Rudolph at the train station on Sunday morning. You and Mrs. Altman must stay home. I’ll accompany him on the train to Amsterdam and. I promise you, I’ll make certain that he will get there and I will see him through immigration.”
“This is madness.”
“It is an opportunity, Mr. Altman.”

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Danilo looked at the passport.
“How can I trust you, Michael?”
“Listen to the news tomorrow. If it is as I say, then you know I am telling the truth. Mr. Altman,” he said, lowering his voice. “ Has my family ever done harm to you?”
Knauss explained his plan: first get Rudolph out of
Austria safely, then Mrs. Altman, and finally Danilo. He couldn’t get all the documents ready at one time without arousing suspicion. He had prepared Rudolph’s documents and needed time to get the others in order.

After

listening to Radio Wien the following day—streets in

Vienna overrun with mobs deliriously waiting for Hitler, Jews dragged from cars; Jewish-looking pedestrians beaten; torahs torn from the alcoves of synagogues; department stores and apartments of Jews looted; one correspondent reported that rabbis were being made to clean toilets with their prayer shawls. What the Altmans couldn’t know was that this was only the beginning and that in less than six months nearly all of Austria’s synagogues would be destroyed, thousands of homes and businesses demolished and its Jewish citizens rounded up for deportation.
Danilo and Vera didn’t follow Michael’s directions completely. They stood near the station as the two young men

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boarded the soot-covered carriage of the train bound for
Amsterdam. They had said their good-byes at the house and instructed Rudolph not to turn around at the station. They would watch from a distance, they told him, and “if Michael does anything funny,” Danilo said, “I will get you,” and nothing did happen. The engine heaved and hissed and the train slowly disappeared into the valley of the forested mountain behind the city.
When Michael returned from Amsterdam, he assured the Altmans that all had gone well. He had walked with their son as far as immigration and needed to leave him there. He watched until he saw Rudolph pass through the barrier and merge with the crowd on the other side, certain that he was safely in The Netherlands.
“Yes, he called yesterday to tell us that he arrived safely and that you took good care of him,” Vera said.
“I’ll have your papers in a month, Mrs. Altman,”
Michael said curtly.
Five months later, Danilo watched his wife board the train with his former employee, now the head of the Nazi
Youth for the province.
Rudolph and his mother waited in Amsterdam for
Danilo. After the success of spiriting out two family members, they were certain that Danilo would join them. But he never arrived. Neither remembers when they gave up hope. It must have been some time before they emigrated from Holland to the United States, before the German occupation and the deportation of Jews from that nation.

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THE HARDER RIGHT 1

Long

after his mother’s death, Rudy Altman returned to

Austria from their New York home to try to find out his father’s fate.
The city of his boyhood was gone, razed by Allied bombings and urban renewal. The Altman house was replaced by a shopping center catering to skiers in the nearby resort. A new, larger train station stood in place of the wooden structure. There was no trace of the Altman Metalworks factory; it had been targeted in a B-17 raid because it was manufacturing munitions. Now there was a park landscaped with mountain flora, its playground filled with children, the pitch occupied by boys his age when he left.
Unlike some other countries, there was no memorial book for Austrian victims of the Holocaust for Rudy to consult. But a manifest at city hall indicated that Danilo
Altman was amongst deportees to Stutthof, the concentration camp near Danzig, the place where soap was produced from human fat.
Through a series of inquiries to historical associations in Vienna, Rudy learned that in 1940 Michael Knauss became an officer in the SS-Totenkopfverbände and had been

stationed near his home, in the Austrian concentration camp, Mauthausen-Gusen, where he supervised slave laborers at the granite quarry. The last mention of Knauss on the camp roster was in 1944. When the camp was liberated, Knauss wasn’t amongst the Nazis captured by the

1
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Allies. There was no record of a transfer from the camp before this date, no death certificate could be located. It was as though he had dissolved, just like Danilo Altman in Poland.
Each spring, as the yahrzeit candles burn for 24 hours in memory of his parents, Rudy looks at the only visual record he has of his parents, their wedding photo that his mother brought with her from Austria. The lighting of the candles causes Rudy to think about Knauss, the young man with him on the train to Amsterdam who played solitaire for the entire trip, then, without a word, patted him on his shoulder as he walked through Central Station and when leaving, his passport stamped and his visa accepted, gave him a stiff-armed salute good-bye.

1
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THE HARDER RIGHT 3

Black Ice

C

HANIA BARELY KNEW

her older

cousin. Although their homes were less than a hundred miles apart, the massif that loomed east of the city made visiting difficult between them. Landslides often closed the single, sinuous road across the snow-capped mountain to the high plateau beyond and in winter the road was impassable.
What Chania liked best about her visits to her uncle’s sprawling ranch were the long-maned ponies. The cousins

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seldom talked, as he was a half-dozen years older than she and he preferred the company of adults.
Two years ago, when Chania was a sophomore in high school, Pandin disappeared. The police never found his body and the case officially remained opened, but everyone knew what had happened: the chairman of the Bhara Human Rights
Committee had been abducted and likely murdered.
This visit by Uncle Rohr and Aunt Hajip to Chania’s apartment in the city was the first time since Pandin’s disappearance that she and her mother had seen them.
“I don’t care that you want to hang out with your friends, Chania,” Khadroma said. “They are your uncle and aunt.” “But I have tickets for a concert with my friends,”
Chania told her mother. “We made these plans week ago. I can’t let them down.”
“Yes, you can. And you will.”
Chania

had

always

been

headstrong.

From

the

moment she entered school, teachers complained about her boisterousness, inability

to

sit

still,

rudeness

and

unwillingness to follow directions. She didn’t hesitate to talk back to teachers. Chania blamed the teachers for treating her unfairly. They were stupid jerks, she said. Chania used other epithets and curses that Khadroma had never heard before.
Despite her disdain for school, Chania excelled on the national examinations, particularly in mathematics, and was admitted to high school.

1
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“Sometimes I think you are too smart for your own good,” Khadroma chided her. “You need to learn to respect people, even if you don’t like them or disagree with them.
You have to get along. Some day you will get yourself in big trouble.” “They’re bigots. They humiliate me. They don’t call on me when I raise my hand. The teacher baited me. He said I needed to bathe and called me a termite in front of the whole class. So I called him a ferret.”
Khadroma was horrified but couldn’t help but laugh, and then caught herself. Prejudice against Bharas was endemic and had existed as long as anyone remembered. In the last few years, though, it had become a drumbeat, expressed with impunity. Teachers, commentators and ordinary people felt free to say that Bharas were sneaky, aggressive, clever, abrasive, dirty, obnoxious, untrustworthy, clannish, thickheaded and self-centered.
“A mangy ferret. That’s what I called him.”
Khadroma knew that Chania was the only Bhara in the classroom and her teachers constantly reminded her of it.
“But don’t use their pettiness as an excuse. You will never succeed in life with a chip on your shoulder. You are bigger than they are. They can only make you feel small if you let them. It was the same with your father and me when we were in school. That’s just the way it is.”
“I’m not like you. I’m not going . . .”

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“Yes. You are going to finish school. How else will get by in life? You’re going to write a letter of apology and that’s the end of it. When you get a job, then you’ll see what the real world is like. You’ll look back on this as the best time of your life.”
“Anything is better than school!”

“You

are looking very pretty today,” Aunt Hajip said.

“You’ve really grown-up since we last saw you. Like a young woman. I like what you’ve done to your hair.” Hajip leaned over and stroked Chania’s thick hair. “How are you, my dear?” “As well as can be expected,” Chania answered.
“She was expelled from school.” Khadroma looked at her daughter from across the room. Chania’s arms were folded across her chest. “For talking back to a teacher.”
“He should be talked back to,” Chania said. “He’s a
Bhara hater.”
Rohr took his wife’s hand. With his free hand he brushed back a wisp of his own hair.
“Chania . . .” Khadroma began.
“It’s alright, Khadroma. She’s right. Things are getting worse.” Rohr stopped himself as Hajip squeezed his hand.
“She’s annoyed because she wants to go to a show today,” Khadroma explained. “I told her that she had to visit with you.”

1
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“Why shouldn’t she go? That’s what girls are supposed to do at her age,” Aunt Hajip said. “Here, Chania.” She handed her niece an envelope. “This is a little gift from your uncle and me. If it’s OK with you, Hajip, let her enjoy herself today. Buy yourself something beautiful. Don’t worry,
Khadroma. We’ll still be when she returns and she’ll show us what she’s bought.”
Chania kissed her aunt on the cheek and nodded her head in thanks.
“That girl gives me headaches sometimes,” Khadroma said when Chania left, then caught herself, thinking about her in-laws’ sorrow.
“She just a teenager,” Hajip said.
“We have something to tell you, Khadroma,” Rohr said, leaning closer in. “We didn’t want to talk about it in front of the girl.” He took a sip of potent pistachio liqueur from a tiny, sculpted glass. “Hajip and I have decided that we are leaving.” “The ranch? Are you retiring?”
“Our property is being taken over by the government.”
He wiped his sticky hands with the napkin. “We’ve been given notice. They say it is for a waterway. Who knows? What’s the difference. It’s only an excuse. We’re not wanted here. We have a year to leave. They’ve offered us a pittance of what the houses, livestock and land are worth.”

1
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“But we have enough savings,” Hajip added before
Khadroma could interject. “Rohr has been putting money in a foreign account. We will use what we’ve saved.”
Khadroma was stunned. The family had been farming the same land for generations. “What are you going to do?”
“We have enough money to start over. Start over some place new. Away from here,” Hajip said. “We’re getting old.
Maybe we’ll just retire.”
“Our passports are in order. We’re going to seek residence in another country.”
Khadroma mouth fell open and she dropped her plum pastry on the carpet.
“We’ve made inquiries. There are Bharas there who will help us settle.”
Hajip said, “We want you to come with us.”
Khadroma was at a loss for words. She leaned against her chair.
“Go with you? I can’t do that,” she finally said. “I can’t go just like that.”
“There’s

a

year.

Long

enough.

And

why

not,

Khadroma? Why not leave? There’s nothing here for you.”
“Chania.”
“Of course. We mean for both of you.”
Khadroma walked to the kitchen and returned with a cup of coffee.

1
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THE HARDER RIGHT 9

“No, no. It’s out of the question. For one, I am too old to learn a new language,” Khadroma said “I can’t start over again.”” “I am already learning myself,” Rohr said. “Hajip and I have bought CDs that we listen to. It isn’t very hard,
Khadroma.”
“You’ve always been smarter than me,” she said.
“Stop, Khadroma. You can do it. Stay with us,” Hajip said. “Soon Chania will be out of the home. She’ll be on her own, and then it will be too late. Then what, if you stay here?
You’ll be alone. That wouldn’t be good.”
Khadroma had managed well enough since her husband died, she said. There was enough money from the life insurance policy to modestly support for the rest of their lives. “Come, come. We are too worried about you. Do you think you will be left alone? If they can take away my ranch, how safe do you think you will be?”
Khadroma always trusted Rohr’s judgment. He understood the world far better than she, she thought.
“I will talk to Chania about it,” she conceded.
She did, after Rohr and Hajip left after breakfast the next day. Khadroma told Chania what Uncle and Aunt had said: they were afraid that there was no future here for
Bharas and they should consider leaving with them.
Chania dismissed the idea.

1
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0 Arthur Dobrin

“I’m just starting my life. I graduate in two months. I already have a job. They will make me full-time when I graduate.” “You can start somewhere else, someplace better.”
“Maybe you don’t have friends,” she added cruelly.
“But I have. I’m not leaving them.”
Chania was right. Neighbors in the apartment house were all Bhara, but she never opened her heart to one. Yet there were things more important than friends, Khadroma thought: all her memories—herself—were planted in this place; tending to her husband’s grave; not conceding to fear.
But none were more important than life itself or her daughter’s future. The future trumped the past.
“You will make new friends, Chania. You’re young,”
Khadroma said.
“And you are thinking like an old woman. The world isn’t like that any more. That’s history.”
“No. It’s reality. You know what it’s like in school.”
“They’re just the teachers. Old people. My friends aren’t like that. My manager is very nice to me.”
Khadroma wanted to be persuaded by her daughter and she let herself be.
But Rohr continued to call Khadroma.
“For Chania’s sake. Please.”

1
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THE HARDER RIGHT 1

“She doesn’t want to leave,” Khadroma explained. “Her life is here. I won’t leave without her. She is still a teenager.
She isn’t as smart as she thinks.”
“I am telling you. No good will come of staying put,” he said. “The fires will only get worse and no one will be able to control them. Mark my words. This is only the beginning of the end. Tell her she must leave with you.”

Rohr’s

predictions seemed accurate when, the following

year, dozens of Bharas died in a community center locked from the outside, choking to death from the fumes and smoke of gasoline bombs thrown through windows. In the west, a tour bus of Bharas was hijacked and all the passengers murdered.
Then there was a lull—no more mass killings, only individual attacks in markets, school grounds and sports arenas. Internet blogs continued to stoke resentment against those “eating unseen at the nation’s foundation.” National newspapers and TV broadcasts condemned the violence; the president expressed his dismay. (Hypocrite, Khadroma muttered to herself). She wished that Uncle Rohr was wrong and that the fires were finally quenched and the country would be stronger from the burnings—like saplings and fresh grass, some said, that sprouts after the periodic clearing of cedars forests and weedy meadows by periodic fires. 1
4
2 Arthur Dobrin

So Chania believed, when she thought about such things at all, one year out of high school and enjoying her work and having gotten a promotion and pay raise.
But when Chania told Khadroma that she was engaged, her mother was irate.
“I don’t approve” she said when Chania “How do you expect me to approve?”
“What wrong with Sopori?”
“What’s wrong with him? How do I know if there is anything wrong with him? I can’t say if he is fine or not. I have never met the boy. But I know enough to disapprove.”
“I want to bring him home, but you don’t want me to.
I’ll bring him here tomorrow . . .”
“No,” Khadroma hissed, “He’s not a Bhara. I’m not going to have his kind in my home. Do you understand me,
Chania?” Khadroma bit her lower lip, her eyes watering with rage. She glowered at her daughter. “We have enough trouble as it is.”
“Fine,” Chania said curtly. “Fine, then. You won’t meet him.” “I want you to stop seeing him, Chania. Find another boy.” Khadroma

met

Sopori

by

unexpectedly,

several

months later, when she returned home from shopping and found Sopori and Chania on the living room sofa.

1
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THE HARDER RIGHT 3

Sopori grabbed his shirt, fumbling with the buttons as he hurriedly put on his shirt.
“This is Sopori,” Chania said unruffled. She wrapped herself in the cotton blanket that had been thrown across the back of the couch.
Sopori’s face flushed with embarrassment as he hurriedly tucked his shirt into his pants.
Khadroma looked at Chania’s rumpled skirt on the floor and said, “Put it on.” She carried her grocery bundles to the kitchen. She heard the scuffling of feet in the other room, whispers and then the quiet click of the front door closing.
“Where would you rather we go?” Chania asked as she joined her mother. She emptied one of the grocery bags and put the tea and sugar in the cabinet next to the sink.
Khadroma arranged the oranges in a glass bowl.
“I told you not to bring him here.”
“We didn’t think you would be back so soon. You said you were out for the day.”
“Don’t you have any honor?” Khadroma sighed, her voice filled more with anguish than anger.
“I honor my heart. It belongs to me, not anyone else.
This is a different world,” Chania said. “It’s not like when you are daddy were my age. The future is with the youth, with me and my friends and people like us who don’t see differences, who don’t care where anyone comes from or anything like that.” 1
4
4 Arthur Dobrin

“Some things never change.” Khadroma added, “Or they get worse. I am thinking about Uncle Rohr’s wanting us to come live with him. I think maybe it’s a good idea. His judgment has always been right.”
“I don’t know what you mean, get worse,” Chania said.
“I don’t go to rallies. I hate politics. Not like Pandin. All my friends hate politics We’re the ones who are making the new country without politics. We don’t care about anybody’s identity. We have good times together.”
“He’ll be like all the rest, Chania, mark my words.”
“He’s like the rest of my friends, if that’s what you mean.” “He just wants to get into bed with you, like every boy.” “He’s already done that.”
“Get out,” Khadroma said quietly, not turning to look at her daughter.
Chania swept a jar of sugar from the counter. White granules and sparkling glass scattered across the tiled floor, like the light snow covering the streets outside.
“I hate you,” Chania said.

“No, I still don’t approve. It is a very bad idea.”
They had spoken on the phone several times, but this was Chania’s first visit to her mother’s apartment in more than a month.

1
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The patches of snow on Chania’s head that had gathered one her walk from the corner bus stop to the apartment house began to melt and trickle down her forehead. Khadroma handed her a washcloth to dry herself.
“We’re getting married, with or without your approval.
If you want to know, it’s Sopori who insists that I invite you to the ceremony. I told him this is what you’d say. I don’t expect you to understand.”
“He must be a good boy, Chania,” Khadroma said. “To ask for my approval. I admire him for that.”
“I love him.”
“I see that you love him. But there’s more to think about. Love isn’t everything” Khadroma took the washcloth from her daughter, folded it and put it next to the sink.
Chania stood next to her daughter.
“You’re no different than all the others,” Chania said.
“You’re prejudiced just like them. ‘Don’t be friends with him, marry only your own kind, don’t live next to them.’” Chania mocked her mother. “Don’t pretend you’re not.”
Khadroma asked Chania to sit down. “But first, give me some tea,” she said. Chania poured steaming water into a brown mug. She dropped in a tea bag. “Sit,” Khadroma said to her daughter. Khadroma stirred in three tablespoons full of sugar. She blew across the top of the cup as she gripped the handle.
Chania continued to stand.

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6 Arthur Dobrin

“I want what’s best for you. This isn’t the best. You’re still young, Chania. You don’t understand people. You still think like a girl.”
“And you, you think like nothing has changed. My friends aren’t like what you say they are. Sopori is different.
I’ve met his parents. They like me.”
“You met his parents?”
“They have been to our apartment.”
Khadroma couldn’t hide her surprise. “You haven’t been living with a girlfriend? I thought you were renting an apartment with one of your friends.”
“I am. Sopori. He’s my best friend. I never said my friend was a girl. It’s what you wanted to think.”
“It’s

OK

with

Sopori’s

parents

that

you

living

together?” Khadroma scolded.
“Yes, it’s fine with them. Why wouldn’t it be fine?
They don’t care that I’m a Bhara.”
Khadroma let out a sigh of resignation. “So what do you want from me, Chania?”
“I want you accept me,” then added, “I just want you to be my mother.”
Khadroma smiled fleetingly, reached for Chania but stopped before touching her daughter’s elbow.
“Uncle Rohr called today.”
“How is he?”

1
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THE HARDER RIGHT 7

“He’s worried.”
“He’s always worried.”
“I am, too. He said that big people are saying it’s time to kill all the termites.” Khadroma hurried her speech.
“Termites. We’re termites. I believe him. I believe him. Uncle
Rohr is right. It’s time for us to go.”
“You go. But not me. Sopori and I are getting married.
Tomorrow. He wants you to be there. And so do his parents.
They said they want to meet you.”
Chania glanced at her mother. She had never seen such sadness in her eyes. Suddenly she seemed much older than she remembered—the hair that was nearly gray, the brown spots on her cheek had spread to cover most of the skin, the slump of her shoulders.
“Nothing is going to change your mind, Chania. I know that. You’ve always been headstrong. Good or bad. So.” She placed her hand on the small of Chania’s back. “Tell me.
What time is the ceremony? I’ll be there. What is Sopori’s family name?”

The next morning it snowed again.
“Where’s the fucking president?” Sopori shouted as he read the news on the Internet. Chania continued to get dressed. “Why doesn’t he say something?”

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There had been looting and several had been killed in ethnic neighborhoods the night before. A Bhara opposition leader was allegedly shot dead in his home.
Sopori’s question was rhetorical. He, like his friends, believed that elected officials in the government not merely condoned the violence against Bharas but were orchestrating it. Politics

no

philosophical

longer

reflected

differences,

not

economic right, left

interests and or

center

ideologies, but ethnicity, identity over all.
“Chania, we need to think about what your mother has said. Your Uncle Rohr . . .”
“Why would anyone bother us?” she interjected. “Not when we’re married. Who cares about politics anyhow?”
“Maybe they won’t bother me. But I don’t know.
Because you will be my wife, that’s makes me a traitor in some eyes. Look at me, Chania,” Sopori said, putting his hands on her shoulders and looking into her eyes. “I’m not enough to protect you.”
“Can we talk about this later, Sopori?” Chania clasped closed a beaded necklace, admired herself in the mirror and brushed her hair. “I don’t want to spoil our wedding day. And don’t talk to my mother about this, either. Promise me.”
“Yes, I promise, Chania. Not until after the wedding. I won’t. But promise me, Chania,” Sopori said, more sternly than Chania had heard him before. “After the wedding you will listen to me.”
“What?”

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Sopori’s comment startled Chania. She looked at him and for a fleeting moment thought of canceling the wedding.
“Let’s go,” he said. “Your mother is waiting for us to collect her.”
“We have until noon for the license. Any time before that is OK. Don’t rush me.”
“We told your mother we would get her at 10. With the snow it will take us a half hour to get there. It’s already past ten.” “She can wait.”
When the digital numbers on the clock changed to 30,
Chania was ready. They drove across town in Sopori’s Toyota sedan. The snow kept most people indoors but every few blocks men and boys, many wearing balaclavas, were moving in drifts, the horde opening and closing like flocks of domesticated pigeons released daily from rooftop coops throughout the city.
Early winter presented additional hazards on the road.
Sopori drove slowly, aware of the black ice under the pure snow. Approaching each intersection, he braked lightly, tapping the pedal until the car came to a gentle stop.
Since leaving the house, he and Chania hadn’t exchanged a word. The only sound was the crunch of snow under the tires.
“Call your mother,” Sopori said. “Tell her were almost there.” 1
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Chania punched the numbers on her cell phone. No answer. “She’s probably waiting for us downstairs.”
“Well, we are late,” Sopori said sharply.
When they arrived, Sopori parked the car at the end of the street.
“I don’t see her. What’s her cell number?” he asked.
“My mother doesn’t have a cell phone,” Chania said.
“I’ll run up to get her.” Sopori began to open the door.
“No, I’ll do it,” Chania said.
She stepped onto the street, glad to feel the brace of cold air on her face. She took small steps to keep herself from sliding. She balanced herself against the apartment house wall. Her hand brushed against a poster plastered on the brick.

Despite the cold, the glass door to the apartment house was open. Across it was sprayed:

Pest Control

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Frozen slush covered the vestibule floor. As Chania hurriedly walked up two flights of steps to her mother’s flat, she slipped on a puddle of melting snow on the marble staircase and grasped the iron railing before tripping.
The door to her mother’s apartment was open. Chania called her mother. No one answered. A chair in the living room was tipped on its side. Chania went into her mother’s bedroom. Bed blankets were strewn on the floor.
Chania turned and dashed down the stairs. She noticed that the apartment doors on each landing were ajar.
Aside from the rapid clack of her boot heels on the steps, there was only silence as she rushed outside.
Chania waved to Sopori to meet her. He drove the car the wrong way down the one-way street.
“She’s gone!” Chania said as she climbed into the passenger seat. “Everyone’s gone!”
“What?”
“There’s no one in the building. It’s empty. I have to find her. It’s my fault. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have made her wait.”
Tracks made by many feet led from the apartment house entrance down the street and around the corner.
Sopori and Chania followed them in the car for several blocks, until the road was choked with people and they couldn’t pass.

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Above the heads in the crowd a ten-foot tall, inflated termite rocked in the wind.
“They’re going towards the drainage canal.”
Chania fumbled to open the car door.
“What are you doing, Chania?”
“I’ve got to find my mother. She’s in the crowd. I can see one of our neighbors. I know she’s here.”
“Don’t be foolish. This is too dangerous for you. Stay here.” “Everyone’s being taken away. I have to get her. I should have gotten her when I said I would.”
“Stop it, Chania. What do you think you can do? You can’t stop them. They’ll take you, too.”
Chania ignored Sopori. She ran from the car, threw off her high heel boots and ran after the throng as they smashed the gate to the canal. Chania was swallowed by the mob as it rushed down the embankment.
Sopori jumped out of the car, turned his ankle as he stepped down onto the ice and grabbed the door before falling. He tried to run but his ankle buckled under him and he fell to the ice, his head hitting the sidewalk. Blood seeped into his eye. In a blur, he watched the mob flow down the embankment, the rubber termite the last thing to disappear from view. Sopori took his cell phone from his parka and called the police. He re-dialed after a dozen unanswered rings. Now a busy signal. In the distance, sirens.

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THE HARDER RIGHT 3

(E)ruction (D)isorder

B

EING RICH MEANT HAVING

a home

by the lake, a fishing boat big enough for friends and a trip to Manhattan every once in awhile. It wasn’t that Durrell didn’t know what real wealth was; he saw plenty of it around him, especially in the summer. Rather, he couldn’t imagine having that kind of money for himself.
For most of his time growing up in Saratoga Springs,
Durrell was surrounded by deteriorated and neglected buildings in a city that seemed destined for a lingering death.
But in the last dozen years, the town made a dramatic recovery. Now Durrell walked by many of the Victorian mansions (more than a thousand, one brochure from the

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Chamber of Commerce claims) that still lined the streets, houses built by the very rich to be near the mineral waters that spout from the earth throughout the area. Many homes had been rehabilitated, and now most of the fine houses, displayed their former glory, had been converted to offices or sub-divided into apartments, but it wasn’t hard to imagine what life had been like in Saratoga Spring a century ago. The elegant baths and hotels that the rich frequented are largely gone but for one. Still, in the last several years, Durrell could see wealth first-hand as tourists arrive during the summer, a few nearly as rich as their predecessors. They come to watch the thoroughbreds, some of which they own, for a week or two at the historic racetrack.
One day Durrell was rewiring an old mansion recently bought by what his friend told him was “a financial engineer and entrepreneur,” to be used by the owner only during racing season, when a transport trailer pulled up in the circular driveway. Unlike a horse transport vehicle with slatted sides, the trailer was enclosed, without windows or ventilation. Durrell watched as the back door of the trailer opened. The roar of a powerful engine echoed and after a quarter hour a metallic orange car with doors that flipped up like wings of a diving seabird (Durrell had never seen any car like this before) was slowly driven down the plank.
The driver, Durrell learned, wasn’t the owner but the car’s handler—its groom, caretaker, mechanic, minder, bodyguard and babysitter. He drove the trailer for the owner from one of his homes to another: Miami, Amagansett and

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THE HARDER RIGHT 5

Saratoga Springs. The cars were otherwise kept in a sky garage in a condo in Manhattan.
“What is it?” Durrell asked.
“Ferrai Enzo.”
Durrell, whose interest in cars amounted to reading automotive magazines in the barbershop, knew the make but not the model but kept his ignorance to himself.
The handler walked back into the transporter. An engine roared and ten minutes later another car descended— cobalt blue with duel vents on the roof, red fenders and doors, and an exposed motor behind the driver’s seat.
“Bugatti Veyron,” the handler said.
Durrell never heard of this make and forgot its name before the end of the day. But he remembered well what he saw—the two most expensive cars in the world. It was better than watching a mare give birth.
Durrell had often thought of owning a sports car: a
Mustang or Camaro or, in his dreams, a Nissan 370Z. To think that he could own a million dollar car was like believing that because he played miniature golf he could beat
Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open. With luck, if he stumbled into a good paying job or inherited some cash or won the lottery or put his money on the right horse, he could at least live, if not an easy life, at least a pleasurable one.
Not until he bought his own house gotten in foreclosure, a sad clapboard cabin with a sagging porch and leaking windows, did Durrell find that he had stumbled upon

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a money pot that was literally under his feet. It was the mineral water, the same that thousands used when they came to “take the baths” at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, soaking in dirt brown bubbly water at $20 a half hour, hoping to cure injuries, skin ailments and arthritis, the same that visitors drank at the ever-running fountains where they can take as much as they want from the underground springs—Big Red, Charlie, Old Iron, Polaris, High Rock or any of the other dozen scattered throughout the city.
Durrell nror his friends bothered with the mineral water. Like most residents, they ignored the peculiar tasting waters. Appreciating its restorative properties was left to a handful of Native Americans who lived a few miles out of town and people like Durrell’s grandparents. They paid no heed to what they ate, but they wouldn’t go a meal without a glass of mineral water and one more before going to sleep.
Every few weeks they drove into town with large plastic pails to collect water from four different springs.
“This one is for digestion,” Pops explained to Durrell years ago. “Take it when your plumbing isn’t working right.”
“Why do you and Grandma drink it every morning?”
Durrell asked.
“When you’re old, you need to make sure things stay in working order. Preventative maintenance.”
The afternoon drink was for pains in the joints, that with dinner for the skin. His grandmother said the water she drank before going to bed was better than a sleeping pill. It puts the mind at ease knowing that what you got for free

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from a spring downtown was better for you than pills made in a factory.
“There are waters for everything,” Durrell was told many times. His grandparents gave him a sheet from the
Lincoln Mineral Spring: “Physicians believe that Mineral
Springs facilitate healing in many ways such as,” increasing blood circulation

metabolism;

and

promoting

cell

oxygenation;

feelings

of

increasing

physical

and

psychological well-being; helping with psoriasis and fungal infections; stimulating the immune system and normalizing gland function and the autonomic nervous system.
“Is there anything that it isn’t good for?” he asked his grandmother. She looked at her husband.
“Yeah, but you don’t want to know. You’re too young.”
Durrell had to take their word for the cures they claimed. He couldn’t stand the taste of what they drank.
Water from one spring seemed worse than the other. He always left their house thirsty. Fortunately for him, Durrell’s parents dismissed the talk of mineral water cures as hokum and didn’t keep any in the house when he was young. They’ll stick with the bottled water they get in the convenience store, thank you. A practice Durrell followed now that he was an adult himself.

Having enough savings from his job as an electrician at the raceway and from moonlighting on non-union work he did around town, Durrell was able to buy the materials to replace

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his porch and build a new one, paint three rooms that had never been painted before, and purchase a couch and 40’ screen TV. When he finished caulking the windows, he began construction of a new room on the back of the house, a project he had to abandon when he cracked a rock that began to seep water.
“Damn it,” he said. He hadn’t known that the house sat on the edge of a bog. The foundation would be too unstable to support the extension.
His

grandparents

didn’t

share

Durrell’s

dis-

appointment.
“This is mineral water,” his grandfather said as he scooped the water into his palm. He touched it with his tongue. “The temperature’s right, about 50 degrees.”
Because it had little odor, Durrell was skeptical.
“Are you sure?”
His grandmother rolled some around in her mouth.
“Certain,” she said. “Not much carbonation.”
His grandfather peered at the mud.
“There’re bubbles here. Small. That’s the carbonation.
All the waters have some carbonation. Some more than others.” “It’s really salty, though,” his grandmother said, cupping her hand for another drink. “More than Hathorn #3.”
His grandfather said it was too salty to drink.

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“Maybe,” his grandmother said, as she filled empty
Poland Spring Water bottles Durrell had scattered behind the house. “But it might be good for something.”
Aside from the seventeen public springs around town, a few other minor springs had been uncovered around the city were on private property. None produced sufficient amounts or enough of a distinctive quality.
The next time Durrell saw his grandparents, his grandfather told him that he had gone to check the location of Durrell’s house on geologic map in the library.
“We were right, Durrell,” he said.
The house, it turned out, was built just slightly to the east of the Saratoga fault that runs from Whitehall to Albany.
A line could be drawn from several springs straight to
Durrell’s house. Laying the foundation for the extension had created a small fissure in the shale just below the thin layer of soil, allowing water that was deep in the earth to percolate through the dolestone into Durrell’s backyard.
This was the first new spring to be found in Saratoga in nearly a century.
“It’s mineral water. No doubt.”
“We’ve been drinking it. We like it.”
His grandmother had come prepared; she poured glassfuls of water into a five-gallon bucket. She snapped the lid shut and his grandfather put it into the trunk of his car.
When they returned to Durrell’s house ten days later, they filled two dozen two liter used plastic soda bottles. His

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grandmother said that they had given some of Durrell’s mineral water to their friends at the senior center.
“Everyone likes it,” his grandfather said. “You know
Maryanne?
“LaBeouf?”
“Yes. She’s crazy about it.”
“They’re all asking for us to bring some. They’ve all given us bottles to fill for them.”
What was so special about this water? Durrell wanted to know. This was the only spring water that prevented an embarrassing ailment of many old people, they said.
His grandfather joked, “You know, old people suffer from ED.” He waited to see the expression on his grandson’s face. “Not just men, either.”
His grandmother laughed.
“Eruction disorder,” his grandfather explained with a smile. “That’s what we call it.”
“You don’t belch,” his grandmother said matter-offactly. “Other spring waters make you bloated. This one does the opposite. It stops you from filling full and belching. It makes the gas go away. It’s embarrassing, belching time, in public. We try to make jokes about it, but mostly we just pretend like nothing’s happened.”
“It also stops farting,” his grandfather added. “It’s good for problems at both ends. E.D. It’s great. It’s like the

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THE HARDER RIGHT 1

clubhouse air has been scrubbed clean. It’s a preventative air freshener.” “The water calms the nerves in the stomach. It’s an antacid. Low in carbonation.”
They went on about the virtues of Durrell’s water as they returned each week to refill their bottles.

The

proposition was this: Durrell’s grandparents would pay

to dig a well in backyard and bottle the spring water themselves, then sell the 12 oz. bottled water for $1 a piece and Durrell would receive half the profits. Durrell thought that the idea wouldn’t work. There was plenty of spring water around town, all of it for free. Locally bottled water was never a big seller. Stores and vending machines were stocked with big name brands. But he had nothing to lose.
His grandparents were going to do all the work. They would get testimonials from their friends—who swear that drinking a glass a day made the air in the clubroom as fresh as outdoors—print labels, make fliers and hawk their product down the Thruway as far as Syracuse and Rochester and up the Northway to Lake George and beyond.
Since it didn’t require any outlay on his part, Durrell accepted their offer. Once the operation began, on Saturdays he pasted labels onto bottles and loaded crates full of mineral water into his grandparent’s camper van. His grandparents talked to managers in convenience stores and coffee shops; they convinced owners of a few B&Bs to offer them to guests. But it was mostly word-of-mouth (an

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appropriate expression for the product, his grandfather said), spreading from one senior citizen to another, that sold
(E)(D)’s Sparkling Health Water. Senior Centers within a hundred mile radius of Saratoga Springs began to stock the water; there were orders from retirement homes and assisted living facilities. They had to get a telephone number just for the company. And Al LaBeouf, Maryanne’s son, created a website for the mineral water. They copyrighted the name.
In less than a year, they sold enough mineral water to buy a new and larger van and to pay the salary of a part-time deliveryman—a woman, actually, Maryanne LaBeouf who brought bottles to the seniors around Saratoga. There was no better advertisement than her enthusiasm for the water. She would open a bottle and sit with players at a card table or hand a glass to men playing pool. She gave away samples in small bottles.
Before the year’s end there was a small profit, an accomplishment that came as a surprise to Durrell. At first he had indulged his grandparents but now, for the first time in years, he didn’t need to work overtime or find after-hours jobs. Profits increased again when a soda and beer distributor took on their mineral water.

Amused by the success of his unlikely product, Durrell used his cell phone to make a video that he downloaded to
YouTube.

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THE HARDER RIGHT 3

He stood with a bottle in his hand and his grandparents in the background.
(Rude noises caused by air released through the pinched neck of a balloon.)
It can happen any time. You have to be ready. Did you know that E.D. affects an estimated tens of millions of men and women in the United States alone?
(Durrell’s grandparents sit sadly around a small table.)
Eruction Disorder. You are not alone. A bummer for you and the ones you love.
(His grandmother belches.)
You don’t have to be ashamed of your ED (His grandfather hangs his head.)
Are you embarrassed to be around friends?
(A loud sound. His grandfather looks around and shrugs his shoulders, disclaiming responsibility.)
Do people want to run the other way when they see you coming? (Another long, rude sound. His grandmother fans her hand in front of her face. She coughs. His grandfather looks sheepish.) Search no longer for an E.D. cure. Get big relief the natural way. Safe, guaranteed treatment.
(He holds up a bottle of (E)(D)’s, untwists the cap and pours a drink.)

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(E)(D)’s Sparkling Health Water sweetens your breath, soothes your stomach and freshens the air.
(His grandparents are laughing.)
And it’s good for you.
(An explosive fart. Durrell’s grandparents look at one another, walk to a man leaning on a cane and offer him a drink.) Be a Good Samaritan. Drink (E)(D)’s Sparkling Health
Water everyday. It’s natural. It’s good for you and for the environment. Salud!
(His grandparents and the man with the cane drain their glasses. Everyone laughs.)
The video went viral—10,000 hits the first day, 30,000 by the end of the week and the next week more than a half million. A story about the video appeared in The Saratogian and was nationally syndicated. Durrell and his grandparents didn’t know how to cope with the phone calls from around the country.
But there was even a bigger shock for Durrell: his grandparents were quitting.
“No more for us,” his grandfather said. “This stuff isn’t good.” Durrell didn’t know what to say.
“Two people in our center had strokes last week.”
“So?”
“And last month, three more.”

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THE HARDER RIGHT 5

“Since they started drinking the water, it’s been like an epidemic.” “I’ve stopped.”
“Me, too.”
“Come on. How do you know it’s the water?” Durrell asked. “It could be a coincidence.”
“From all over I’m hearing the same thing. It’s no good.” “The salt,” his grandmother said. “It raises the blood pressure. It’s causing strokes, Durrell. There’s no question about it.”
“Since when are you doctors?”
Now it was their turn to be speechless. He had never talked to them like that.
“I’m sorry, but just because some people are getting strokes doesn’t mean that it’s the water that’s doing it. Lots of people get strokes, lots of old people. It’s what old people do.” “I’ll tell you,” his grandfather said, his face turning red as he tried to suppress his anger. “Everyone who drinks the water has high blood pressure.” He stopped for a moment to calm down. “You know, we take our pressure regularly at the center. A nurse comes by every month. And we have a machine at home. We use it every night. The nurse says she’d never seen anything like it. Everyone—everyone—has high blood pressure. Even those who didn’t have it before.”

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“It’s killing us,” Durrell’s grandmother said.
“I stopped and now my pressure’s back to normal.”

Soon

after his grandparents quit, leaving the business to

him, Durrell received a letter, followed by a phone call, from a natural and organic food company wanting to acquire
(E)(D)’s Sparkling Health Water to add to their list of soy milk, seasonings, grains, snacks, juice, pet food, teas, and skin care products. Heaven & Earth proposed a deal and sent a contract. After checking with a lawyer and finding no obvious flaws, Durrell, over his grandparents’ objections, accepted. The offer was too good to turn down. With prudent investments, his lawyer assured him, he would never have to work again.
Durrell’s idea of prudence and that of the lawyer’s were miles (furlongs) apart. He didn’t want to settle for a modest life in upstate New York. So Durrell placed the biggest bet of his life. He took all the money from the buyout and bought the major share in a thoroughbred filly from a stable in Texas, a horse with a modest pedigree. Once again,
Durrell was luckier than he could have imagined. As soon as
At Your Own Risk was old enough, she was entered into
Grade I Stakes and went to an undefeated 16 races before being retired to become a successful broodmare, producing nine foals.
From this fortune, Durrell bought himself two cars—a
Porsche Carrera GT and a Lamborghini Murcielago—a

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transporter. He traveled from Saratoga to Gulfstream, Del
Mar and Churchill Downs, Belmont and back home again, happy to live in the two-bedroom house left to him by his grandparents when they died.

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Coral Fish

I

T’S NOT THAT ANYTHING’S WRONG

with

my DNA. All the tests come back clean. This means that my problem isn’t genetic and that my only hope is to change my feelings. I desperately want to, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t. I’ve locked myself away for months thinking about my transgression and I’ve talked to counselors and friends, but while I know I shouldn’t be this way, deep down I feel that most people would think the same thing. It would be much better if I was contrite, but I’m not. I can’t make myself feel sorry. But as long as I feel the way I do, I will have to live with being shunned. I will live in internal exile.

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You won’t understand my part in my sister’s death if you don’t live here, since this is one of the few communities to make my offense a crime. So I better explain the background since I don’t know you or where you are from and my dilemma won’t make sense unless I present the big picture. Several

generations ago things had gotten so bad with all

kinds of dishonesty and greed and violence that the world reached a critical point. Many human-made disasters plagued us. We didn’t have breathable air or drinkable water and our food was poisoning us, mostly because we didn’t know how to control our appetites. We felt entitled to everything; if we could dream it, we consumed it. There were also constant terrorist attacks, wars between countries, civil wars, ethnic cleansings, and gang wars. It was clear that this was a kind of collective slow suicide, with no one able to put a stop to it. It was the part of human nature that was ruling and ruining everything. Cumulatively, it all made the world unlivable.
Then one day the world changed. It was literally overnight. Many believers, Christians and Muslims, attributed this to the Second Coming of Jesus or the Mahdi, while for
Jews it was the Messiah coming for the first time or, if not the actual arrival of the Messiah, then clearly some sort of divine intervention was at play. In India and other parts of
South Asia, it was a sign that the Age of Iron had run its course and a new Age of Gold had arrived tens of thousands of years earlier than predicated by holy books and their

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interpreters. Those given to conspiracies said that aliens had secretly landed and did something to our minds or that terrorists polluted the water. One explanation seemed as plausible as any other. Something miraculous had happened, something that brought about heaven on earth or utopia, take your pick.
Most now believe that this historic change occurred naturally. Initially, this seemed a preposterous theory, but now it is as accepted as the theory of evolution itself. The insight regarding the change came from marine biologists, who observed spontaneous sex changes in fish. Once thought relatively rare, found only amongst a handful of species of coral fish, the conversion from one sex to the other turns out to be fairly common. The mechanisms of this phenomenon in fish are well known and it seems likely that something very similar had occurred with human beings. We still don’t know precisely why this happened with humans, but it apparently had to do with evolutionary survival. The human race had been headed for extinction and the change increased the odds for survival—or something like that. Other scientists say that the timing was pure luck. The change happened spontaneously, the way every million years or so the magnetic poles switch places just like that.
I don’t really understand much about science myself.
But here is how the conventional wisdom goes today: The fear that humanity felt before The Great Dawn was so great that it caused a change in people’s chromosomes. Humans

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shed their devilish, self-centered instincts so as to allow their angelic altruistic side to emerge.
Neurobiologists say that as a result of genetic mutation our behavior, which used to resemble a chimp’s, is now is more like that of a happy-go-lucky bonobo. Bonobos look like chimps but prefer romping in the bushes to beating each other on the head. The pleasure center of our brains now responds to cooperation and harmony, just it once did to money, sugar, power, and drugs. Our instinct for selfpreservation turned out to be stronger than our urge for selfgratification. So we changed overnight.
I know that before the Great Dawn people use to say that “now everything is different” after a big war or when a technological innovation was introduced. But this was really true after the genetic change. Human nature was upside down and inside out from what it had been just the day before and, everyone agreed, the world was far better than ever in human history.
One of the great surprises right after the Great Dawn was that, despite the predictions of people who like to forecast the future, religion and politics didn’t wither away.
Rather they have flourished. I think there are more types of government that there has ever been. There are direct democracies and representative forms of government; there are places where the majority counts, other places that use weighted counts and every other way of vote counting and figuring out fair and just representation. There are areas

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where elders make the important decisions and other regions where children are included from the earliest age.
Something that also might seem odd to you is that there are no passports or visas needed to go from one community to another. There are borders but they are completely open. People are free to come and go as they please. A few move many times to find the right fit for themselves, but most of us like what we have and where we were born. Mostly we stay put because we are certain our way of doing things is the best. We aren’t all happy or always happy, but we aren’t discontent either.
As for religion: Taking the human makeover as a sign from God or the gods or bodhisattvas or whatever, worship services have soared. The Great Dawn won over many agnostics and even some atheists, as it was living proof of that religion was no myth or wishful thinking. The prayers now aren’t any longer prayers of petition but ones of praise and gratitude and from this have followed music and art on a level that the world hadn’t seen for more than a millennium.
Religion

has

been

drained

of

fear

and

submission.

Throughout the world religion is either joy or sober contemplation or ecstatic experiences, depending upon personal temperament.
I’ve tried different religions, too, as part of my wanting to change and hoping I can rid myself of this curse, but that path, like everything else I’ve tried, comes to nothing. 1
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THE HARDER RIGHT 3

I’m guilty as charged—I admit that—and I should be punished. Everyone needs to accept the judgment of the law.
I’m not exempt from it and I don’t think I should be. After all, our laws were arrived democratically by people of good will and they are applied fairly. Even now I am free to leave.
It’s my choice. There are communities that would take me since they don’t have the same laws that we do and what I feel isn’t a crime according to them. But I don’t want to go. I would be separated from everything and everyone I love and
I

can’t

think

of

any

punishment

worse

than

forced

emigration. Being ostracized is almost as intolerable but not quite. What I have begun to think is that maybe my community’s approach to this is wrong after all. When the communities were first established, The Founders argued about whether society should be concerned only with what people do or whether their character, intentions and feelings should also be judged. Most communities decided that all that could and ought to be judged and criminalized are actions. What you did was all that mattered. Think what you like, but you can’t hurt others. But The Founders of my community decided

otherwise.

In

their

wisdom,

they

concluded that behavior and intentions are of one piece.
What’s more, they said that what was in your heart was the equivalent of taking an action. A person is a good person only if their intentions are virtuous and their heart is pure.
And you are a bad person if your intentions or feelings and thoughts are bad, even if you don’t act on your them.

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Therefore,

our

constitution

lists

varying

degrees

of

epicaricacy as a crime. Mine is first-degree.
There are two analogies in The Founders’ Papers, which are read by every high school student that clinched the debate. The first one said, suppose there are two people who are identical in wealth and expenses. One day they are walking down the street when they see a beggar. The first person stops and is brought to tears by the beggar’s tale of woe, and out of the goodness of her heart, tenderly places $5 in his hand. Shortly after, the second person walks by. He doesn’t cry at the sight of the poor man, as did the first passer-by. He is in a rush to get on with his own business, but because his religion demands that he give 10% of his income to the poor, he drops $100 into the beggar’s cup.
Now, we can see that the first person did the better thing because she gave from her heart while the second person gave because it was an obligation. The first was the good person, the second only following rules.
If that was all, then my offense would be strictly a moral failure, as it is elsewhere, not a crime. But the second argument came from the Christian bible. It is quoted in The
Founders’ Papers: “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” They also quoted this verse: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don't go together.” The Founders took this to mean that we have to be pure in our hearts and

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that our feelings count at least as much as our actions. The example turned out to be hypothetical since adultery, like many other vanished vices, doesn’t happen. No one lusts after someone who is married to another person or lusts after anyone but his or her own spouse. But there have been rare instances

of

being

guilty

of

coveting

another’s

possessions. Rarer still, but no unheard of, is wanting to hurt someone. A little gene therapy combined with solitude lead to penitence (the original idea for what you may have called a
‘penitentiary’) has always worked.
But it hasn’t worked this time, not for me. I am here because I have committed epicaricacy. My crime is one step less than murder but it involves an innocent child, so it is very serious. Here is the situation: When I first learned about my mother’s misfortune early in her marriage, I was saddened. I felt sorry for what my parents must have felt, losing a child like that, days after giving birth. They keep the only photo they have of the infant in an envelope in their dresser drawer. I asked my mother who this was when I first saw it. My mother’s eyes moistened and it took her several minutes before she could compose herself long enough to explain that Linda was less than a month old when she died, without warning, in her crib one night. She hadn’t been sick or anything. They never found out why she died. This was hard for my mother to say to me and I was upset that I had asked her. Now I wish I never knew.

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When I thought about it, it occurred to me that if my infant sister hadn’t died, I probably would never have been born and I am glad that I was. I’m here because she isn’t. I have figured out that I am the replacement child. So I am pleased that my baby sister died. I can’t rid myself of that feeling. The truth is if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been conceived since my parents have often said that they never wanted more than one child. So my sister died and I’m not sorry that she did. In fact, I’m glad and that’s what makes me such a bad person, feeling from thankful for the misfortune of three people.
I like my life—or at least I did until I found out the condition under which I was born—and I can’t stop feeling the way I do. If I wasn’t glad about Linda’s death, then I wouldn’t think my own life was worth living. Because if I wasn’t glad about her death, it would be same as wishing that I had never been born. And if I wished that, I would find myself in the same predicament since I would be guilty of not wanting to live, which is the same thing as thinking about suicide. Such violent thoughts are also punishable.

These ruminations have convinced me that it is best for me to leave everything I love and join another community, where feelings and thoughts aren’t treated the same as actions, where epicaricacy isn’t a crime.
But—

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I know I won’t be happy there; a lonely and loveless life is no life at all. And I can’t stand the thought of being separated from my parents and my friends. I know I wouldn’t be happy in a community where people don’t distinguish intent from action and believe that the heartless person who does good things because he is supposed to is just as good as the generous person who is good for its own sake.
Happiness anywhere else is impossible for me, so how can life be worthwhile? If I didn’t care what it would do to my loved ones, I would kill myself. But that would hurt my parents beyond repair. Even if I’m not, I know are happy that
I was born.
Why can’t I be happy, too?

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8 Arthur Dobrin

In Treasured Teapots

G

REG

KIRIMA PLANNED to

BREAK

the

teapots one pot at a time, as his homage to Clifford Rao, an idea that came to him when he unexpectedly inherited the collection soon after the poet’s death.
It was Rao’s influence that led Greg to his own career as a writer. The poet had exposed Greg to a way of life that he had never dreamed of as a child. Greg’s upbringing was unexceptional—never really boring or really challenging, simply ordinary. He supposed that’s why he wrote about the lives of others and rarely mentioned himself. His own life would never make for a best-selling memoir. Greg childhood was devoid of divorce, abuse, drunkenness, addiction or

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THE HARDER RIGHT 9

poverty. His parents fulfilled their duties by providing him with a comfortable home, making sure he went to school with clean clothes and putting food that he enjoyed on the table three times a day. He never asked for more of anything or questioned whether his parents loved him because he didn’t know there was more to ask for and even if he did,
Greg didn’t think he would have wanted it. As far as he was concerned, a good childhood is one where parents leave you alone, where adults have their lives and children theirs. Greg was content as a child and as happy as anyone was entitled to be.
Greg was satisfied in that life—until he discovered
Rao. It was as though windows were thrown open and for the first time he realized that he had been breathing re-cycled and stale air.
Greg heard about Rao in his sophomore year in college. He read Rao’s poems, in an anthology of American poets, the poems taking up two pages of small print. To this day, Rao’s poems are standard in European textbooks and he is considered one of the greatest poets of the mid-20th century, but in America he has fallen out of the pantheon of noted artists, his books are out of print and there’s not even a reference to him in any contemporary poetry anthology.

Diane,

a girl he met in a bookstore on Columbus Avenue,

invited Greg to a happening in a studio loft not far from their college and it was as though the world had broken open to reveal countless vistas. At the gatherings there were no rules,

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no restrictions, random couplings and un-couplings, a cornucopia of new sensations and thoughts. Rao was one of the regulars. Greg remembers Rao opened a dictionary, closed his eyes and ran his finger down the page. He then read the word and asked someone for the first word that popped into his mind. Next he called for a page and line number, returned to the dictionary to select another word, continuing this process until a timer rang, stopping the creation; he then read the collected words in reverse order, all the while jumping on a trampoline. Another time he stood silently for the entire night in front of a lectern. Greg remembers another happening where Rao cut up works of other poets, then randomly strung together the fragments and chose the title for the poem the address of the loft. One poem was

the

letter

‘I’

repeated

a

hundred

times,

interspersed with five letter ‘U’s. He entitled it “Modern
Times.” It was during this period that in an interview in
Playboy magazine, he answered every question by simply echoing the interviewer.
Rao had become a celebrity, appearing in concerts reading his work, joking and pontificating with Steve Allen and David Frost, debating politicians with cutting wit, signing petitions, being honored by cultural institutions, one of a coterie of painters and avant-garde musicians who appeared on the cover of Time magazine in a group photo. He demonstrated for nuclear disarmament and disrupted traffic on bridges and tunnels with faux funerals to protest the war in Vietnam. Rao often used tongue-in-cheek irony in

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THE HARDER RIGHT 1

interviews, while other times blistering social criticism was the weapon of choice.
As brightly as his star lit the sky of America, it was eclipsed by new criticism and changing tastes. First, the public tired of Rao’s aleatory antics and his sententious pronouncements. When his poems took a traditional and romantic turn, he lost all favor. Poetry, he said without irony, was the language of love in all its anguish. Poems are songs of the beating heart of the universe seeking salvation through love. Words were the salve for the wounds that love brings. All sentiments that consigned him to culture’s netherworld. An article about Rao in an influential literary journal derided his poetry as bathetic. And with that review he was made invisible: both by the indifference of the public and by the ridicule of the critics. His colleagues moved headlong into the future while Rao turned his back and walked over the horizon.
Rao moved to France and while his poems were lauded there, he himself refused to appear in public and rejected all requests for interviews. This only added to his mystique. When

Greg graduated from college, he bought a used Fiat

with money that he had inherited from an uncle and started a cross-country trip, reaching the four corners of the continental US. Diane started out with him but they split up

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2 Arthur Dobrin

in northern Maine where she complained about the cold, the same complaint Greg had but not about the weather. The next month he met a married woman in Ohio who had recently separated from her husband and they traveled together as far as Idaho. There she declared that she missed her husband and took a Trailways bus back East. Greg traveled with

three

more

female

companions

before

returning to New York a year and a half later.
The people and towns along the borders of Canada and Mexico intrigued Greg. He wrote several articles for several magazines, and then published a book called
Borders.. Following the same theme, his next book took him to Europe where he wrote about Northern Ireland and the
“Troubles” in Strabane, the Free University in Brussels that was divided

into

autonomous

Flemish

and

Walloon

administrations that didn’t talk to one another, East and
West Berlin, and the tiny villages of Crassier and Crassy on the French-Swiss border. Borders was favorably reviewed on the front page of the Times Literary Supplement and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for a year.
His next book was on fusion cuisine, followed by one on syncretistic religions and another on code-switching languages, highlighting Spanglish and Llanito. His biggest seller focused on the lives of secret cross-dressers. For the last half-dozen years, Greg edited a weekly culture magazine and often was a guest on the Charlie Rose show.
Rao’s writings and his performances now seemed jejune to Greg. But he appreciated them for what they were:

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THE HARDER RIGHT 3

part of an era when everything was questioned, every authority needing to defend its privileges, all boundaries to be crossed. It was a time when life was freed by the imagination linked to courage.

Greg received an email from Diane. She hoped that this was the right Gregory Kirima, the one she had once dated. She admired his books, she wrote, and regularly read his column.
She often thought about getting in touch with him. After she left Maine, Diane said, she married a law student but was divorced as soon as he made partner in a law firm. However, she had done so much studying with her ex-husband that she thought that she that law school would be a breeze. She was right. She concluded her email by asking Greg if it would be all right for her to phone him.
He responded immediately and gladly gave her his cell number. “Do you remember Clifford Rao?” Diane asked. “The poet.” “Of course I remember.”
“He died last week,” she said.
“Really?” Greg was astounded. “Where did you hear that? I didn’t see his obit.”
“There was a notice in the Times last Wednesday.”
“You know, I haven’t thought about him in years. I assumed he died years ago. Where did you hear this?”

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4 Arthur Dobrin

Diane said, “I put in the notice in the paper.”
“You?”
“I am the executor of the estate. Listen. I can explain it to you in person. It’s a little complicated.”
Greg remained silent.
“Listen,” she said. “I’m going to start putting his things in order. I thought you could meet me there.”
“What do you mean, there? Where?
“Rao lived in Prospect Heights.”
“Brooklyn? Are you serious?”
“Yes. Well, when his wife died,” Diane said, “Clifford moved from France back to New York. But he didn’t want to see anyone from his old life. In fact, he seldom left his apartment at all. I was about the only person he had contact with.” Greg regretted that he hadn’t tried to find him to tell him how important he was to him.
“I wished I had known. I would loved to have seen him.” “He wouldn’t have agreed to see you or even to have talked to you on the phone. He didn’t respond to anyone. Not even his family. He was completely private. He and Livia were practically recluses.”
She was inviting Greg to the Raos’ apartment because she thought he might want to write an article about Rao. It

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THE HARDER RIGHT 5

was only right that he be recognized, at least for what he once was and what he meant.
“Well, do you want to meet me tomorrow?”
“Of course I do. Of course.”
Greg read the death notice online. He also found an obituaries in French newspapers. There was a Wikipedia entry about Clifford Rao that was ten sentences long.

The Beaux Arts building near Grand Army Plaza had a large vase filled with sunflowers. ‘How French,’ Greg thought, as the doorman phoned the apartment to announce him.
“The elevator to the left,” the doorman said. “Four floor.” A smartly dressed woman in a black fitted skirt and cerulean silk blouse opened the apartment. Her thick white hair fell to her shoulders. Diane? he wondered. In Greg’s mind, this woman bore no resemblance to the girl who set out cross-country with him.
“Gregory. Nice to see you again. You still look fit,”
Diane said.
“You, too,” he repeated, unsure what he meant by the comment. How do you greet an old girlfriend, one not seen in forty years? He stood awkwardly, his hands shoved in the pockets of his hoodie, thinking that it would have been better if he hadn’t worn his sneakers.

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6 Arthur Dobrin

“Come in,” Diane said, lightly touching his sleeve. She kissed him on the cheek. “Welcome to Rao’s digs. Can I get you a drink? I think there’s a bottle of Bourbon in the cabinet.” They sat on a wide window ledge overlooking traffic circling the Soldier’s and Sailor’s arch across the street. Greg wondered if the huge library just a couple of blocks away had any of Rao’s books.
The apartment was spare: the walls uncovered, no rugs on the floors, no ornaments, knickknacks or mementos, the items that made a place more than a shelter. Except for a dozen photos of Clifford and Livia, the two of them, all taken indoors, that filled a small table.
Diane told Greg that after leaving him on their road trip and returned to New York, she continued to attend Rao’s performances and eventually she became a groupie in the coterie of artists that put on the happenings.
“You know, his work changed when he met Livia. She was a folk singer and very pretty. It was then that his artist friends abandoned him.”
“Jealous?”
“I think that was some of it. He stopped coming to the happenings. He wanted to spend time just with her. Not share her with the group.”
“So they felt threatened.”
“Clifford wanted only one woman. He was really in love with Livia. This was too bourgeois for the group. They

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THE HARDER RIGHT 7

attacked him. Vicious. It was awful to see. They ostracized him; Clifford was dead to them. What assholes! I was the only one of the group who remained friends with him,” Diane said. She shifted in the seat and rested her back against the wall. “Do you want some coffee? I think there’s some I can make.” “This is good, thanks” Greg said, holding his still-full glass. “Clifford took the snub very hard. So he reciprocated in kind. He stopped talking to nearly everyone. He and Livia turned inward, happy with themselves. He publishing. But, you know, I liked Livia as much as Clifford. I could see why he loved her. They were so much alike, really. And I enjoyed both their company until they moved to Europe.”
“So he talked to you?”
“Yes. I would go to the coffeehouses to hear Livia.
Clifford was there. We always talked. It wasn’t more than that.” Greg looked at Diane’s shapely legs. She kicked off her shoes. “After I graduated from law school, I took a position with an international corporation and my work often took me to Europe. I tracked them down in Lyon and we resumed our friendship. Whenever I was nearby, I made sure to see them.
It was once a year or so. But it was enough. I don’t think they wanted more than that. And the best I could figure out, they

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8 Arthur Dobrin

didn’t have any other friends. At least, I never met anyone else. They were very private. The two of them.”
“Did Livia continue to sing in France?”
“To be honest with you, I never thought she was very good. As far as I could tell, she gave it up totally.”
Diane explained that Livia’s death, as could have been expected, left Clifford bereft.
“I’m not sure why he wanted to come home. I guess after all those years in France with Livia he couldn’t bear to be there without her. When he moved to New York last year, he asked me to be his lawyer and executor. He didn’t have much, but he didn’t want the state to get their hands on anything.” “No children, I suppose?” Greg asked.
Diane shook her head.
“They never talked about why they didn’t have kids,” she said. “Maybe there was no room for a third. And you?”
Diane asked, not turning to look at him.
“Never married,” Greg said.
“Are you gay?” she asked.
Greg laughed. “Hardly. My problem is that I like women too much.”
“Well, at least we have something in common,” Diane said. She rose from her seat. “Well, I have to start sorting through things. There are documents and unpaid bills.”
“Can I look around?” Greg asked.

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THE HARDER RIGHT 9

He looked at the pictures on the table, then went into the adjoining room. On a nightstand, next to the bed, was a photograph of Livia. Between it and the window was only one other piece of furniture in the room, a floor-to-ceiling lawyer’s cabinet with oblong glass doors that lifted up to open that was filled with teapots.
“I always met Clifford in the living room,” Diane said.
“There was never a reason for me to be here before. It feels like I’m trespassing, you know.” Diane looked the pots through the little windows. “Livia loved tea,” she said.
“Clifford preferred coffee, but she only drank tea.” Diane squatted to look at the lower shelves. “Now that I think about it, she did use several different pots. I had coffee with
Clifford, but she always had tea with us. I know that she always brewed it, never a teabag. But I can’t remember what pots the tea came it, but these,” she said as she slid open one of the doors, “these are really beautiful. I had no idea that she was a collector.”
Greg said, “I guess Clifford decided to ship them back to the States. They seem to be the only personal things in the apartment. Aside from the photos.”
Diane took out a clay pot with Chinese writing on its fluted sides. On its lid were figures of a dragon and a phoenix. “Please,” Clifford said, as he took the pot from Diane.
One by one, they removed a pot, examined it and replaced it on the shelf. Under each of the pots was a note card with the date and place of purchase and something

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about the pot itself—its age, style, the kind of tea it was used for and a poetic phrase.
“His poems for Livia.”
“You’re the executor, Diane,” Greg said. “What are you going to do with them?”
“What do you think should happen? They don’t look like they’re very valuable.”
“They were to Clifford and Livia,” Greg said with a bit too much annoyance.
“See what I can sell on eBay and throw away the rest, I suppose.” “You would do that? It feels like a betrayal of the two them somehow. Separating them in death.”
“They’re lovely. But I don’t do collectibles,” she said. “I didn’t expect that you’d to be sentimental, you know.” Greg hadn’t either. “If you want them, you can have them,”
Greg carefully removed each teapot from the display case, making sure to keep to keep the poem with its proper mate, wrapped them in newspaper, then placed them in packing boxes that Diane had brought with her. There were more than fifty teapots in all: porcelain, iron, silver, tin, glass, stone, terracotta and purple clay.
Greg had no idea what he was going to do with them either. He kept the packing boxes in a corner of his apartment, under the writing table he used for his work. A plan slowly took shape and before winter set in he knew

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what he was going to do. There was a pocket park near the loft where the happenings took place. There, inspired by
Rao’s approach to art, Greg would randomly read aloud lines from Clifford’s

poems

while

smashing,

throwing

and

battering the teapots to create something new. Then his column would be a reminiscence Rao, resurrecting him—and
Livia—, for a brief moment from veil of forgetfulness into which they had fallen.
Months later, when he decided to keep one for himself as a constant reminder of the vagaries of fame. Greg decided to keep the first one he picked from the box: a Japanese dobin-syle teapot with hand-painted blue camellias and faint streaks of bamboo. When he removed the lid to brew some tea, as he was pouring in the steaming water, he noticed a piece of paper in the bowl of the pot. It was two seemingly unrelated sentences—something, he gathered, about Clifford and Livia. He took out another pot from the box, then another until every one was exposed. Every one contained a piece of paper.
Greg laid out the papers on the floor of his apartment.
One teapot contained Livia’s birth certificate, another a part of letter sent from Clifford to Livia. In another teapot was a studio portrait of them in their wedding clothes. Initially,
Greg thought the sentences were arbitrary, just snatches, but the more he looked, the more he thought that it was perhaps a code. He reassembled the scraps again and again, moving them about like jigsaw pieces, until a narrative, in fact, did emerge. 1
9
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Clifford and Livia were half-brother and –sister. Like a good fabulist, Greg filled in the blanks in the story: Livia, born in Alabama, met Clifford when she moved to New York.
Only after becoming lovers did they discover that they shared the same absentee father.
Since meeting Diane at Rao’s apartment, Greg hadn’t spoken to Diane. Now he phoned her.
“Did you know anything about this?” he asked. “Why didn’t you tell me.”
“I didn’t know. There were hints here and there. I had my suspicions, but I didn’t know. I wouldn’t ask them.”
“I’m shocked,” Greg said. “I don’t know what to make of this.”
“I guess you have another book.” She said this too quickly, with a little too much enthusiasm. “It’s the kind of thing that you write about, isn’t it? They were living on the border, weren’t they?”
“Maybe they crossed it.”
“It is fascinating.”
“Yes. And disturbing.”
“I didn’t know you were judgmental.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
“No. Should it? They loved each other. They didn’t know it when they first fell in love. There are no children. So what’s the problem?” She waited for a response. There was none. “I think it’s kind of romantic. And ironic, too. Clifford

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was the only one that defied convention until the end. It’s funny, Greg. You turned out to be more bourgeois than me.”
Diane called after Greg’s column about Rao was published. The article, understated and reflective, was an admission of his carelessness with friends, the dropped connections, his reluctance to express gratitude, the ways in which we never know how we effect others.
“Lovely piece, Greg,” Diane said. She asked after the book idea about Rao’s life. “I think there’s a great book here.
Their secret is really shocking.”
“Still thinking about it,” he replied coldly.
Diane called and emailed a few more times inquiring about the book. Greg suspected that behind Diane’s importuning was a pecuniary interest in resurrecting Rao’s fame. He presumed she was the heir to all his work. Greg didn’t call back or email her. Some people were worth leaving behind. Eventually Diane stopped contacting him.
With the first snow scheduled for later that week, Greg gathered the teapot papers and went to the park across and there cut the paper into confetti-size shreds and rolled them between his fingers making them into tiny balls as he read
Rao’s poem from his college poetry anthology. As onlookers gathered, he offered them a “piece of history.” A few took the balls of—single letters, smudges, phrases, words, a part of an official seal, dates, place names, a woman’s name, a man’s name with a line drawn through.

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When the sun disappeared behind the tall buildings and the air turned cold in the twilight, Greg walked back to his apartment, scattering the remaining balls of paper behind him, like Hansel and Gretel trailing breadcrumbs as they walked into the woods, hoping to find their way home later in the day. He couldn’t bring himself to smash the teapots.

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Deep Well

D

EEP

WELL,

A TOWN IN

the high

prairie not far from the Canadian border, reached its zenith during WWII, when troop trains from Chicago filled with soldiers on their way to the Pacific Theater stopped for refueling before continuing across the Rockies en route to
Seattle. Lillian, a junior member of the Red Cross, served hot coffee and donuts made in her family’s kitchen to thousands of men, one of whom, Pvt. Stanley Wicks, a 20-year-old, fell in love with her on a November morning. A month later he found himself stationed at Army camp post offices, first in the South Pacific and later in the Philippines. It was easy for him to regularly send letters to the young woman whose address had been written on a paper napkin, and it was easy

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for Lillian to fall in love with the young man who touched her heart with his weekly solicitations.
Stanley Wicks came to Deep Well after the war to ask
Lillian’s father’s for permission to marry her. Not only did
Mr. Robert agree to the proposal, he made one of his own.
“Why don’t you and Lillian settle right here,” he said.
“Lillian’s an only child. There are no boys to take over. I can teach you what you need to know about farming. We’ll build another house for you and Lillian over by the river. This property has been in my family for more than seventy-five years. And it will be yours and Lillian’s to continue when I’m gone.” When he arrived in Montana to propose to Lillian,
Stanley imagined that he and Lillian would return to
Michigan where he would take a job in the Ford plant or maybe in the US Post Office and he would get a G.I. mortgage and buy a house in the suburbs for his new family. At first, he didn’t know what to say to Lillian’s father’s proposition.
His parents were immigrants and his father and uncles all worked in factories in the Mid-west, but after discussing it with his future father-in-law in the downtown bar over a beer, he said yes.

Lillian

received the news coolly. This wasn’t her dream. She

didn’t want to say no to Stanley and neither could she refuse her father’s offer, not after Stanley had already accepted it.
She wouldn’t begin her marriage as a disagreeable wife.

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When the troop trains had stopped in Deep Well,
Lillian imagined herself taking the rails to some far place.
She wanted to be away from the small town and the drifting snow and blistering summers; she wanted more excitement than church suppers and square dances. She wanted to see for herself what she saw in National Geographic. She had read about the study of Edward Thorndike’s 1937 study in
Reader’s Digest. In this poll young recipients of government relief were asked how much they would have to be paid to accept various experiences. A tooth pulled; $4,500; a toe amputated, $57,000; eat a worm, $100,000; live the rest of your life on a farm in Kansas, ten miles from any town,
$300,000. Kansas, she thought. She could settle for that.
Over the years, she tried to hide her disappointment.
One-by-one the shops and stores in Deep Well closed, both her parents died and the nearest neighbors grew even more distant as family farms were sold to corporate owners.
Stanley promised that when the last of the children were grown and the farm could be safely passed on, they would retire to Arizona or California, but this became increasingly unlikely as profits from their farm diminished. Production costs increased and it became extremely difficult to compete against corporate farms that could take advantage of economies of scale. The Wicks owed more on the loan for their combine harvester than they had saved in a lifetime, and none of their children wanted to take up farming.
Lillian’s disappointment didn’t extend to Stanley. She loved him more now than when she read his letters from the

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Pacific; he was a devoted husband and a good father to their children. But her desire for something greater than their circumscribed life in Deep Well was passed on to her children. The older boys went to the state university. The first remained in Bozeman, where he taught Phys Ed, while the other managed a year-round resort in the mountains for the wealthy owned by a famous newscaster. Their daughter left home for Minneapolis after graduating from high school.
Kent, their youngest of the four, wanted to do something purposeful with his life, in the way that Deep Well had once done something noble when the troop trains passed through. His parents’ marriage proved to him that helping others could lead to a life full of love, although perhaps not happiness, at least in the usual sense of that word. When he told his parents that he wanted to be a doctor, they encouraged him.
“We need doctors in this part of the country,” his father said. The nearest doctor was a two-hour drive away and a hospital much further than that.
Kent wanted more of a challenge than being a family physician in a remote region, no matter how important this might be, or working in a community hospital in Havre or
Chinook. He was inspired by the stories he read in Popular
Science, reports about medical advances and breakthroughs expected in medicine in the near future—heart transplants, cancer cures, the elimination of all childhood diseases. He thought he could be of most use in a large hospital or doing research at a university.

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Lillian smiled wanly when Kent said that he wanted to go to the top college that would accept him. He had spoken to the guidance counselor at school and they decided that a military academy was his best choice.
“The education’s better than at a state school,” he explained to his parents.
“We can afford State,” his father said. Kent knew the family’s finances well enough. He would go to State, if there were no other choice.
“There’s no tuition at the academy,” Kent said, “and there’s no fee for room and board. The whole thing is free.
And then they’ll send me to medical school.”
“Are you sure you can deal with them telling you what to do?” his father asked. “I didn’t like the army much. In fact, the only thing I liked about it was meeting your mother.”
“I’ll be an officer,” Kent explained. “I start out as a captain when I finish medical school.”
“I hope the war is over before you have to serve,”
Stanley said.
Kent knew the story about the troop train, so putting on a uniform didn’t seem such a bad thing to do. He willingly accepted the terms of the bargain. After graduation, if his grades warranted it, the military would send him to medical school in return for what amounted to early years of his career as an army officer.
“It’s tough getting in,” Kent said.

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There won’t be many more conversations with our son, Lillian thought. Stanley had never returned to Detroit, and she no more expected Kent to return to Deep Well. She wanted to say, “Going away will be forever.” Instead, she said, repeating an Irish saying she was fond of, “A hundred years can’t repair a moment’s loss of honor.”

The

two nominations to West Point from the state’s

Congressional representative that year were from the same high school. Kent and Norman graduated with nearly identical grade point averages; Kent was the captain of the swimming team and Norman the captain of the football team.
Their total SAT scores matched within a few points, with
Kent receiving a higher score on the math portion but
Norman scoring a few more on the English section.
Kent didn’t much like Norman. Maybe it was because they competed for the same girls. But it was more than that.
Norman wanted too much to be like Kent. Whatever Kent liked, Norman developed a liking for—tastes in music, styles of dress, favorite TV shows and sports teams. Kent found
Norman’s behavior unseemly. It was no surprise, then, that when Kent wrote to the Congressional Representative for a letter of recommendation, Norman did the same. It rankled him. When he allowed himself to look at his feelings, he hoped that Norman would be rejected.

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It was unusual for the academy to admit two students from one high school in the same year, but there were few applications from Montana when Kent and Norman applied.
Despite the warnings of the John Birch Society about communism taking away their freedom, and the American
Legion railing against cowardly draft-dodging war protesters, and politicians linking marijuana and anarchy, and churches preaching the spirit to resist godlessness, young men of
Montana were taking more cues from Haight-Ashbury than
Helena’s main street, Last Chance Gulch; a few from the area had gone across the border to avoid the draft.
No other superior candidates from the state applied to the academy. Soon after graduation, Kent and Norman took a bus to Great Falls, changed planes in Minneapolis for New
York, and another bus ride 50 miles up the Hudson River.
Kent was relieved when he and Norman were housed in separate dorms and assigned to separate companies. He saw Norman in the mess hall, where they sat in silent discipline at opposite sides of the great room. The less Kent saw of Norman the less he disliked him.
Kent easily adapted to the routine of a cadet: rigorous academics, following

regimented orders without

schedule, question, close-cropped and hair,

indoctrination.

Without the distraction of females, he focused on his grades and did better than he had hoped, finding himself near the top of the freshman class. He felt certain that he would become the doctor he dreamed of becoming.

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The call from home came as a surprise. His father had shown no signs of illness. Within a month of the diagnosis of colon cancer, he was dead.
As they sat in the house after the funeral, the children talked to Lillian about her future. Everyone but Lillian agreed that she had to leave the farm. She would be OK, she said.
Her son in Bozeman invited her to move close to him. He and his wife lived in a trailer, but they could find an apartment for her nearby. There was an active club at one of the churches in town where she could meet other widows, he said. The daughter was planning to move from Minneapolis after a bitter divorce and planned on moving to New Orleans.
Kent smelled a hint of marijuana in her hair and liquor on her breath. Lillian’s other son said that he needed to get back to work; the resort was in the midst of expansion and needed his attention.
Lillian said she would manage somehow, for the while, by hiring hands or renting out the fields to neighbors.
“You’re going to have to sell the farm sometime,” Kent said. He knew that she wouldn’t leave. Her roots were too deep, especially with Stanley now buried next to her parents in the graveyard of Deep Well Lutheran Church. She couldn’t imagine anywhere else to spend eternity.
“You’ll be too lonely, Ma,” Kent said to her, as they sat at the kitchen table after the others returned to their own homes. “You can’t stay here by yourself.”

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“I’m not going to let you do this,” Lillian said to Kent, running her fingers through his hair. “You have to stay in school. I’m not going to let you come home. Your life isn’t here. You see what’s happening all around. You can’t return to emptiness. I wish that I had gone when I was your age, with your father. I’m not going to let you regret making this decision.” Kent looked up from his coffee cup and watched tears roll down his mother’s cheeks. He wiped them dry.
“Who will take care of you?” he asked.

Thoughts

of his mother were close to Kent, as he received

weekly letters from Deep Well, always written on Sunday evenings after Lillian returned from the church social. He phoned home, as often as he could, but the lines of cadets waiting at the pay phone were so long that he often had to return to his dorm, in order to meet curfew, before talking to his mother.
Kent had more contact with Norman during the spring semester, when Norman asked Kent to study with him. At first, Kent was reluctant, but after nights together in the library and seeing that Norman truly was a weak student,
Kent felt useful, if not a little smug. Norman was struggling with his academics.
“I don’t know if I can succeed here,” Norman said. “I think I’ve gotten in over my head. This is crazy hard.”

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While he thought that Norman was probably right in his assesment, he offered encouragement.
“I don’t think I’m cut out for the military,” he added. “I really don’t like it It’s not what I thought it would be.”
“Then maybe you should leave,” Kent said.
“I was thinking about that, Maybe going to New York
City.”
“To do what? Don’t you think you should graduate from college.”
“I don’t know. Or I could head up to Vermont, you know, just drop out for awhile.”
“You’ll be drafted. Then you’ll be in the army as an enlisted man. Don’t you think you’re better off being an officer?” Kent heard rumors that Norman associated with cadets who used drugs, a group that, it seemed, wanted West Point’s parade grounds to become Strawberry Fields. Kent stayed apart. He accepted the conditions for his admittance and thought that flouting of the rules was dishonest. The academy’s strict and rigid honor code—no excuses, no exceptions, no second chances; any violation, no matter how minor, meant automatic expulsion; any cadet who knows of a violation must report it and failure to do so also meant automatic discharge—was something he agreed to when he raised his right hand.

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“Come on,” Kent said, as he pushed the calculus text towards Norman across the carrel table. “Let’s go over the questions.” Throughout the semester, as Kent spent more time studying with Norman and seeing him struggle, he came to like him. Perhaps it had to do with familiarity—their shared experiences at the regional high school, his knowing Kent’s family, having lived on a farm struggling to keep from bankruptcy. Whatever irritation Kent had felt towards
Norman dissipated and he began to feel like a sibling helping a struggling, younger brother. Helping Norman to stay in
West Point would distract him from thoughts about his mother and relieve some of his unease about her situation.
Nothing came easy to Norman. While Kent breezed through most subjects, his friend struggled with them all.
But with Kent’s persistence and cajoling, Norman completed his assignments and passed his exams.
“You did well on that paper,” Kent said as they sat in
Norman’s dormitory. Kent picked up a stapled sheaf of papers on top of Norman’s chemistry text.
“It was OK,” he said. Norman took it from Kent.
“A B+. What’s wrong with that? Was that for your
World History class?”
The more enthusiasm Kent expressed the quieter
Norman became. Kent stopped when Norman cupped his face in his hands as he sat on the bed.

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“Well,” Norman said, “this wasn’t a subject you could help me with. You haven’t taken that class yet.”
“Who did help you?” As soon as he said this, Kent wished he hadn’t. There was no need to embarrass Norman.
But when Norman answered, Kent’s discomfit turned to anger. “You did what?”
“It’s no big deal,” Norman said as he picked up his head. “Jesus, it’s only one paper. It’s not like a final or something,” he said in a harsh whisper. He took a few short breaths, then continued calmly. “Besides, everyone does it.
Come on, tell me you’ve never copied a paper.”
Kent didn’t answer. “You know the code,” he said instead. “You promised when you took your oath.”
“This isn’t the Boy Scouts.”
“Are you kidding, Norman? Doesn’t your word mean anything?” “Staying in school means something,” Norman said.
“You do what you got to do.”
“You can’t let this slide,” Kent said forcefully. “You have to turn yourself in.”
“I can’t do that. That’ll be the end of me.”
“Come on.”
“This isn’t the end of the world, Kent. The code is unreasonable. It’s like being executed for stealing a loaf of

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bread. It’s wrong what I did. But I had to. Now just shut up about it, OK?”
Kent stayed awake all night with the lights off, going over his options in his mind. The next day Kent reported to the Commanding Officer and resigned from the academy.
Later that day he went to the CO again, this time to report
Norman’s plagiarism.

“I couldn’t just report him, Ma,” he said to Lillian. “I had to resign first before telling the CO.”
His mother sighed.
“I would never know if I was reporting him because I wanted to save myself or whether I was doing it because it was the right thing. Once I knew that he had copied the paper, I had to turn him in. If I didn’t and they found out, then I’d get expelled. But that should be the reason. I needed to report it because plagiarism is wrong, the army can’t have officers who are cheaters. It shouldn’t be that I acted out of fear that I would be caught not saying anything.”
“But this way you’re out, too. So what did you gain?”
“I spent the night thinking about this. I had to do it this way. If I just told, I’d never know why I did it. I had to do it for the right reason. If I was going to turn him in, it couldn’t be to save my own skin. If that’s all it was, then the honor code doesn’t make any sense. The only way to know if
I really believed in the system was to take myself out of it completely. Once I did that, I knew for sure. Cheating isn’t

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right and the academy had to know that Norman wasn’t honest. Cadets are going to become officers and have men’s lives in their hands. They can’t be dishonest. They have to be men that you have complete trust in.”
“They would know that about Norman whether you resigned or not.”
“But I wouldn’t know why I had done it. And that was important to me, that it was an important value I was defending.” She had raised a boy with too much integrity, she thought. Then she leaned across the table and put her hand on his shoulder.
“It’s alright, Ma. I’ll be OK. I’ll apply to State. It’ll be
OK.”
His grades were outstanding. He would be accepted at
State, he was sure. Kent began to think about the hospital in
Great Falls. Doctors were needed in Montana as much as anywhere. Perhaps this would turn out to be for the best after all.
“Sure it will be,” his mother said.
Kent never knew what happened to Norman and he bore no grudge against Norman. He took his mother’s hand and smiled. She didn’t change her expression and thought,
‘My boy’s too good.’

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The Harder Right

J

ASON WAS A SOUND SLEEPER,

barely

stirring before morning. His college roommate described this as “the sleep of the dead,” but really it was that Jason had an easy conscience, ending the day secure in knowing that, if he hadn’t succeeded in being a good person, at least he was certain that he had tried to live up to his moral standards.
Harsh words, unkind thoughts, being less than generous and too judgmental, putting himself before others—all this bothered Jason, but compared to many of his friends from the neighborhood or other students on campus, he felt that, on balance, he was a decent person, good enough for the moment, and, at least, trying to be better. Whatever his faults

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and limitations, he had never deliberately hurt anyone and what laws he broke were negligible. Jason had a clear conscience and, therefore, untroubled nights.
When asked about his dreams, he said that while he had dreams, he rarely remembered them. He could recall only the embarrassing, sexual ones in detail, which he didn’t reveal to anyone. Mostly, though, his dreams were of flying and getting lost, or forgetting that it was the end of the semester and there was a final that day, and disappointing someone (his father?) with a failing grade—the usual stuff of dreams, but even these were insipid, hardly a cause for introspection or concern.
This dream was different, his first real nightmare.
When he awoke, he found the cotton top sheet twisted and wet. The details of the dream were as vivid now as they had been when he was asleep and the disquieting feelings stayed with him throughout the day. Despite his disquiet, the more he thought about it the more re-assured he became. He went over the scene again.
He had done the right thing; he was certain of it.
In his dream, Jason stood on a hill and saw in the gully below him a freight train careering down the track; on the other side of a long bend were a group of teenagers, with beer bottles in their hands, pushing and shoving each other, and were oblivious to the on-rushing train.
Jason called for them to get off the tracks, “There’s a train coming!” but, as often happens in a dream, no sound came out of his mouth. He tried to get the engineer’s

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attention by throwing rocks at the train, but he failed at that, too. Jason waved his hands, he whistled and shouted until his throat was sore, but the train kept speeding and the teenagers kept up their antics on the tracks.
Jason was going to witness the deaths of a dozen teenagers who were foolishly partying where they shouldn’t have been. Looking down from the hilltop, just as the train entered the curve, he saw a rail spur. If the train took the spur, their lives would be spared. He was about to turn away in horror, unable to alter the scene unfolding before him, but now behind a scrubby bush he found a railroad switch.
If he pushed the lever to the right, the train would be sent down the spur and avoid hitting the teenagers. He grabbed the control but just before throwing the switch, Jason saw a worker on the track on the spur. There would be no time to warn the repairman. Jason watched the train from his perch on the hill, having only a second to decide whether to throw the switch.
Although he felt that he had done the right thing, still the dream haunted him. Every so often he would recall it.
When hearing about a difficult choice made by someone could feel the dream all over again. Mostly, though it was forgotten. The planes struck the buildings when Jason was in school.
When his class was canceled and the college evacuated. He walked into a sky gray from the smoke of the smoldering buildings just a few blocks away. People covered with ghost

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like ash staggered by in silence, others sat on the curb, not knowing where to go, wondering what had happened. The country had been attacked, he heard from an apparition scuttling by. The only sounds were those of sirens; the city had gone mute. Later he couldn’t remember who had stood with her arms around him or whose hand he clutched or who walked miles over the bridge to Brooklyn with him.
Jason returned to Manhattan the next day and found
Washington Square Park filled with photographs of the missing, pleas and poems and commemorations of the dead; the nearby fire station was draped with black and purple banners. Jason wanted to donate blood, but none was needed. There were few victims to care for. He wanted to volunteer—for something, anything—but he had no special skill to offer. He, like many others, applauded the firefighters when they drove by in their trucks.
When classes resumed, his mind drifted. He found his courses pointless and he couldn’t concentrate. The tragedy changed Jason’s desire to become a sports commentator or possibility a music promoter. These were put behind and he thought of them as being childish and trivial things. He didn’t know what he was going to do after graduation, but whatever it was it had to be consequential. The firefighters were inspiring and even the dull duty of the National Guard at Penn Station seemed noble. His real heroes, though, were the men on United Flight 93—“Don’t worry, we’re going to do something”—who, in a failed attempted to prevent the

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hijacking, rushed the terrorists on the fourth plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The attack reshaped Jason’s values. He thought about how lucky he had been to get a scholarship to NYU, a school far beyond his parents’ means. While in high school, he avoided fights and during the summers he stayed to himself in his apartment. He was glad that he was afraid of violence.
He was happy to leave his neighborhood behind when the scholarship allowed him to live in a dormitory. He saw what violence did to his friends and he vowed that he would never use force or carry a knife or gun. Words, reason and intelligence—that’s what was needed, not more bloodshed.
How could violence solve the problem of violence? If he had been asked, he would have called himself a pacifist. But his view shifted that September. There is no reasoning with people who want to murder you; there is no persuading a fanatic. The fight against Al Qaeda was just war and he had an obligation to do whatever he could, not simply to prevent them from killing more innocent people, but to bring freedom to others. If ever a war was right, this was it. His non-violence before 9/11 had been a rationalization for his cowardice. When Jason graduated from college that May, over the strong objections of his father, who still grieved his brother’s death in Vietnam, Jason joined the military.

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Despite

the army’s encouraging him to become an officer,

Jason rejected the commission. He wanted no part of making decisions that affected the lives of others. He wasn’t seeking a military career; the army was a placeholder until he could figure out what he really wanted to do with his life, where best to put his new-found convictions. It was an opportunity to think about his future precisely because he didn’t have to make decisions, a luxury that would be denied if he were an officer. Meanwhile, he would serve his country and test himself.
Jason adjusted quickly to the basic training routine.
Being told what to do, what to wear, how to wear it, what and when to eat made life simpler, something he enjoyed.
Within the first two days he memorized the Army General
Orders and the next week he was designated temporary sergeant. He readily learned drill formations, field stripped his weapons in the dark, and qualified as an expert marksman. To his surprise, the Army Values Handbook was useful in providing him with a way of understanding his activities. At night, as he sat on his bunk polishing his boots and folding his clothes in his locker, he tried to make sense of “loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.” More than any course he took in college, he found the book of practical use, as he memorized the page devoted to ethical decision-making—identify the problem, examine the choices, choose that course most

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consistent with Army values and regulations, and carry out the plan.
Jason expected that the army would teach him how to defend himself and how to kill, but not to get him to think about ethical values. In the Handbook he read the West Point
Cadet Prayer —“Help us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong”; and this from a former Army Chief of
Staff—“The essence of duty is acting in the absence of orders or direction from others, based on an inner sense of what is morally and professionally right.” Without effort, he memorized that a “soldier displays integrity when he or she always acts according to what he or she knows to be right, even at personal cost; possesses a high standard of moral values and principles; shows good moral judgment and demonstrates consistent moral behavior; avoids the wrong and stands up for what is right; abides by principles.” But what did this really mean? What was his inner sense of morality? Did he even have one? And what was he really supposed to do if there was a conflict between his principles and orders he received? His values were clear, but he wasn’t at all certain about his principles. And most troubling was that he had no idea how he would act if he found himself in combat, when there was no time to mull over philosophical fine points.
After basic training, Jason decided to push himself further; he volunteered for the Special Forces.
Questions about his life’s goals and values persisted when he arrived in the southern part of Afghanistan, as part

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of Operation Enduring Freedom. He wasn’t in the country more than a week when the dream he had while at NYU returned. For the next several days, he replayed the scene.
Now he reviewed his choice in light of the decision-making approach in the Soldier’s Handbook. The problem was clear enough: the train couldn’t be stopped and it was going to kill the carousing teenagers unless it could be diverted. He had two choices. He could do nothing and let them die or throw the switch, sending the train down the spur to kill the workman. To do nothing would mean a half-dozen dead; shunting the train onto the spur meant one death. He was sure that he had done the right thing. He wouldn’t watch and say that it was all in the hands of God, a matter of fate.
This would be a rationalization for inaction, He accepted the proposition that by doing nothing, he would have been responsible for a half-dozen deaths, just as had become responsible for the death of the one man by throwing the switch. This was the better of two bad choices. He accepted the burden of free will, the necessity of a guilty conscience.
His army indoctrination had confirmed the instinct that he expressed in the dream. Minimizing casualties was the right thing to do. Jason believed that killing was sometimes a necessary evil, why the death of terrorists wasn’t murder, why it was justified and necessary.
But he was also angry that in his dream he found himself in a situation, not of his own doing, from which there was no escape. Whatever his choice, he would feel guilty for having caused the deaths of one or more people. If

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the teenagers hadn’t been so careless, if they hadn’t been drinking and foolish, the workman wouldn’t have had to die.
They shouldn’t have been there in the first place. But they were. That much he couldn’t change.

Jason’s company was sent to the mountains in the Pashtun area where the Taliban had regrouped after their initial losses at the hands of the American and NATO troops. The men who had so ruthlessly ruled the country and conspired with Al Qaeda now swore to take control again and to renew their holy war.
American intelligence suspected the village of Spin
Kundi was a key site for the rump Taliban. Several commanders of the resurgent Taliban had taken hold there and were responsible for ordering rocket attacks against government outposts and NATO bases. Although they wore no uniforms and represented no government, the terrorists were enemy combatants engaged in war.
Jason’s four-man squad was dropped by helicopter fifty miles from their base and about twenty miles away from Spin Kundi, which lay across desolate mountains. They were to carry out a reconnaissance mission. Since the insurgents lived amongst the civilians in the village, the coalition forces were reluctant to attack. The Taliban were using civilians as shields. Jason’s commando squad was to secretly reconnoiter Spin Kundi from a nearby distance and provide the Americans with information to ensure that the

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Taliban could be precisely targeted by the Air Force, thereby hoping to minimize civilian deaths.
After breaking camp the following morning, the squad separated a mile from Spin Kundi. As Jason approached the crest of a hill overlooking the town, he heard the tinkling of bells. Jason crouched and aimed his rifle at the noise that grew louder behind him. Now, there, three girls tending a bleating goats. Their hair was matted with gray mountain dust. The young girls stood barefoot, their dresses worn pieces of canvas, not one taller than the goats they herded.
They saw Jason, stood still, one clutching a plastic water bottle to her chest. Jason kept his rifle trained on the chest of one, then certain that the girls were alone, he lowered his rifle and, keeping his distance, greeted them in the local language, using the only phrase he knew in their tongue.
The goatherds seemed unfazed by the stranger with the rifle. This, Jason, thought is what they were taught to do when confronted with a wild animal: show no fear, say nothing, stay still.
The shaggy goats grazed on a patch of weeds growing around an outcropping of rock, some huddled around the girls’ legs.
“We have a situation here,” Jason whispered as he held the transceiver in one hand, not taking his eyes off the girls. “What the hell am I going to do with them?”
The squad’s mission required they travel light, so while they had some items in their backpacks, Jason didn’t have enough material to restrain all three. The other squad

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members couldn’t join Jason without risking exposing their positions. There was a quick discussion about disabling the girls by shooting them in the legs but the shots would easily be heard in the town. The squad quickly concluded that they had only two alternatives: the first, let the goatherds go and risk that the girls would reveal the squad’s location when they reached town and, therefore, risk being attacked by the
Taliban. Second, risk the rifle’s report being heard but have enough time to safely retreat.
They put it to a vote.
The goatherds’ eyes were still downcast as Jason raised his rifle, placed his finger on the trigger and aimed at the head of the oldest. The shot will be muffled by the silencer. He will be the only person to hear the pop no longer than a dropped pebble on the hard scrabble earth.
“Turn around! Turn around!”
The sharp sound of Jason’s command frightened the girls. Their eyes widened and all three began to wail. Jason released his finger from the trigger and waved the rifle towards Spin Kundi.
“Get the fuck out of here!” he yelled. “Go, go.”
The

girls

remained

motionless.

They

couldn’t

understand him. Jason stood and move towards them to shove her in the direction of Spin Kundi. His step forward made him like a predator about to pounce on its prey. The

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girls dashed towards the village, their banshee-like wails ringing in Jason’s ears as they raced past him.
They needed to abort their mission. They called the base for immediate evacuation. A helicopter would arrive in ten minutes. As the squad made its way to their rendezvous point and waited, Jason heard the thud of the helicopter approaching beyond the hill. But before the chopper could swoop in and lift the soldiers aboard, Taliban insurgents surrounded the squad and attacked. Jason rolled into a small gully. By the time he was rescued, the Taliban had killed his comrades.
Jason was evacuated to the base with serious wounds to his back and legs.

Upon

his discharge from the army, Jason returned to

college to graduate with a doctorate in clinical psychology
He specializes in therapy with children who have had a parent killed in combat.
Like many other veterans, he refuses to talk about his wartime experiences. And if anyone were to ask about his dreams, Jason would say, “I never remember my dreams.”

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Notes
1. As the minister of a group that has many more followers than members, I often faced the issue that Ali does in “Passing Stranger.”
2. “Love the One You’re With” was stimulated by friends who couldn’t conceive and the story of the
American missionaries who were arrested in Haiti while attempting to get children out of the country after the

2010

earthquake

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/HaitiEarthquake/haitiearthquake-ten-americans-charged-childtrafficking-haiti/story?id=9712436.
3. An acquaintance of mine faced a situation like that of the Braithwaites’ in “Lemon.” A mother in
Tennessee

took

similar

action

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/11/eve ningnews/main6386700.shtml 4. There are several sources for “Shila”: a hospice nurse who felt too guilty to dance; Zell Kravinsky, a millionaire who gave away nearly everything, including his

kidney

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http://facstaff.unca.edu/moseley/zellkravinsky'ski dney.pdf; some orthodox Jains value the ritual refusal of

accepting

food

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748
703792304574503871734922520.html Finally, the phrase used by Shila is a variation of that found in
Herman Melville’s novella, Bartleby the Scrivener.
5. An African friend, similar to Ayew, has to decide whether to keep his promise to his siblings to bring them to America despite his regrets in having left his native home.
6. UNESCO’s dilemma whether to accept millions of dollars for medical research from an African dictator http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/09/world/euro pe/09unesco.html prompted “Girls in Paradise.”
7. “The Train to Amsterdam” is based on ‘Rudolph’s’ true story.
8. An anecdote related by Tzvetan Todorov, in Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps inspired “Not One of Us.” http://books.google.com/books?id=2XvuHA9qTsE C&pg=PA5&lpg=PA5&dq=Facing+the+Extreme:+Mo ral+Life+in+the+Concentration+Camps+excerpts&s ource=bl&ots=whaMQT4reT&sig=GDsjQTwqkEOOAVng5Y4LNyNJ_U&hl=en&ei=lI8gTYT7OIK0lQeI ztiuDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resn 9. “(E)ruction (D)isorder” is based on comments of some students in my applied ethics classes who

2
2
THE HARDER RIGHT 3

think that as long as something isn’t illegal it is ethical. 10.“Coral Fish” imagines a place where what you think is no different than your actions. The idea came to me from an essay by Saul Smilanksy http://philo.haifa.ac.il/staff/smilansky/Not Sorry.pdf I realized that, as the youngest sibling, my mother wanted only two children and I was conceived after a miscarriage.
11.“In the Treasured Teapots” puts together a story told to me by a student about her aunt and uncle’s furtive marriage

and

a

journalist’s

dilemma

whether to reveal a troubling secret from long ago about an

honored

public

servant.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/18/nyregion/1
8blumenthal.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion
12.“Deep Well” is based upon the true story a West
Point cadet whose story is mirrored here.

13. The trolley scenario in “The Harder Right” is a thought experiment created by philosopher Filippa
Foot. Jason’s final decision is based on the true story of

Navy

SEAL

Marcus

Luttrell

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irC4K7Q4JCo.

2
2
4 Arthur Dobrin

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