Chapter 1

You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.

—C.S. Lewis

 

Parkside, San Francisco, California

8:20 a.m. GMT−8, April 30, 2021

 

The fog. The fog billows by. The fog that surrounds during the night slowly retreats. So too begins the morning retreat of the infamous San Francisco fog, slowly but surely back into the Pacific, only to return once again every night. And so it is, the way of Peter Gollinger’s life since he was born. The wet blanket of billowing fog all night is all he knows.

Half-awake, half still in the fog of a traumatic dream, in a full sweat, he bolts up out of bed yelling, “I can’t kill. I can’t. What do I do?” Dazed, he looks at his clammy hands held out in front of him, shaking, gripping something.

Heart rate beyond tachycardic, clammy hands in tight fists, he looks around in panic for someone. “Where is she? Forget where, who is she? Oh, I wish, I wish I could remember these curses of my nights.”

Stumbling to his teeny bathroom, so tight his knees hit the wall when he’s squat on the squeezed-in can, he turns and looks around his one-room studio rental, the highest room in one of those pastel-colored stucco box houses that line the streets of this part of San Francisco.

“Did I just remember a dream? Why now? Did I just dream of a gun? Why? I hate guns. Who am I kidding? Why would I dream of things that scare me?”

He sighs again, looking at his war zone of a bed with the pillows bunched up and tossed about, the sheet and blankets in twisted spirals, flinging in all directions. He glances back into the oval mirror over the sink in his small bathroom. He brushes back his sandy brown hair. Vestiges of the blondness of his younger days. He tries to smile with his dimples arising, but he can only frown as he sees the bags under his eyes, looking so dark and miserable. “If only I could get a restful night. Even once every new moon would do,” muses Peter.

A mug full of microwave-heated imitation gourmet coffee and Peter is ready to start his day at his dilapidated desk, perpendicularly placed next to his one window that provides just a peek of his precious Pacific fog. The walls of his tiny place are bare save three posters. Ones that remind him of someone who meant so much to him. The newest with all the Starship Enterprises, from the 60s to the sixth of the reboot series, which will premiere a month from now. Another with all the alien gods and goddess of the Stargate franchises. And one emblazoned with the X-Files motto: I want to believe.

He clasps his MoxWrap like a lucky rabbit foot. He needs some luck to go his way again. He could never have afforded one of these, but one day last year, MoxWorld Holdings sent him one free. Totally free, with no service fees, even. He won one of those contests where he answered a series of questions. Somewhat personal questions, but free is free.

MoxWorld clearly demonstrated to him why they were the worldwide leaders in all things digital. Out of nowhere, they even sent him a free upgraded unit last week. Other than this quite pleasant tingling feeling he gets from the upgrade every now and then, what’s not to like?

He had to play a promo ad to activate this unit, which said everything:

“The device sitting on your wrist now will change your life. For the better. The MoxWrap is simply revolutionary. Thin, flexible, and available in your choice of seven sizes that allow custom molds around any adult’s arm. Lighter than the now-obsolete smartphone, with the comfort of a terry-cloth wristband, the MoxWrap contains the power of a personal command center. With solar-assisted batteries, the run time vastly exceeds all previous options. You could be in the wilderness for days, and as long as the sun shines, you will have around-the-clock minicomputer power through its satellite links to hectares of processors, the largest databases in the world, and infinite memory capacity. Triple the bandwidth and burst speeds of the best alternative technology allows for applications never imaginable until now. Congratulations on a smart decision.”

He taps his lucky rabbit foot surrogate and the associated processor unit on his desk beams up a screen as well a virtual keyboard hologram. Keyboards are the instruments of his music. Of his magic. For he is an editor. A copy editor, making the written work of others that much better.

He reads his messages, deleting all but the flagged one from MoxMedia he has kept for two days. Fingers tapping the desk, he waits for a message from his managing editor, Jerrod, with news of his bonus, as well as—maybe—an offer to become permanent and no longer a contractor. He rubs his MoxWrap again, wishing for luck.

He picks up an old-fashioned picture frame on his desk that holds an equally old-fashioned photo print of a woman. Someone else no longer in his life, who meant so much to him. She is attractively and tastefully posed, with her long dishwater-blond hair in a ponytail cascading down the front of her open plaid shirt, which is tied up at the bottom, covering her sports bra. Her raggedy blue jean cut-offs accent her lovely tanned legs, which slip right into her grey woolen socks, encased in her medium-height brown hiking boots. She was picture-perfect, his goddess at the top of Mount Shasta.

Catching himself lamenting about what once was, he puts a tank top and shorts on his runner lean body, which is of average height for an American. Within minutes he is jogging down the Great Coastal Highway, in amongst the retreating fog of his beloved Pacific Ocean. Running in the fog is his best therapy for the fog of his brain, trying to resolve what he cannot fathom in the phantoms of his nights.

Walking up to his studio room after his morning ritual outing, he hears his MoxWrap sound. “Argh. Bus will be here in fifteen. Pappy will be so disappointed if I’m late. And Dr. Beverly. I hope she liked the final edit of her book.”

A quick shower and he pulls on jeans and a black t-shirt emblazoned with a yellow banana slug, mascot of his alma mater.

Looking out the bus window at his native California, Peter sees his land of cars, about sixteen million of them. People like Peter, who do not drive, who do not even have a driver’s license, who are creative in finding public transportation options—they are reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, our destructive addiction to gasoline that has governed global politics since the Second World War. At least that’s what Peter thinks as he rides the No. 397 bus from San Francisco to Daly City. How many wars have been fought, in the name of God, in the name of democracy, in the name of whatever is painted to be “just,” to ensure that the oil flows and is affordable? Peter wishes someone could change this.

He taps his MoxWrap to watch the MoxMedia morning news program. The world-renowned newscasters Rhonda and Sahir blare out the latest global events on this Friday morning. “Coming up on MoxWorld News AM: In Washington, the president defends the previous administration’s America First policy as conflicts around the globe continue to escalate. The Great Depression of 2018 has left the country with such a historical unprecedented deficit that it can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman.

“In the Middle East, the price of oil broke through its previous floor of twenty dollars per barrel as the Arabic Confederation last night launched an invasion into Iran, while they amass troops at the Turkish border near Kobanî. Recall that back in 2018, the catalyst for the creation of the Arabic Confederation and the New Kurdistan out of the former Syria and Iraq was the price of oil tumbling below twenty-five dollars per barrel, sending the region into chaos once again. In Moscow, the Russian president issued terse warnings of military reprisal for the downing of three more Russian fighters in Turkey’s latest challenge to Russia’s no-fly zone over New Kurdistan, the two-year-old union of the Kurds in former Iraq and Syria. In the South China Sea, warships from China, Japan, and the Philippines face off. In Europe, the Great Recession continues to take its toll as France and Germany retrench spending again for the rest of 2021, announcing their inability to fund NATO obligations. More after these messages.”

Seeing Rhonda, with her peach-colored blouse and lips tinted peach with lipstick from her signature makeup collection, now being advertised on his MoxWrap, makes Peter think of his sister’s commentary on how the CEO of MoxWorld controls women’s fashions through his female newscasters.

Peter arrives at Angel’s Rest, where Pappy has convalesced for the past four years. As the only grandson of Niklas Gollinger, Peter carries a deep unspoken obligation, the only heir to the family mission his grandfather has passed along—their calling, their quest, their pursuit, their ancestral obligations.

Jenny at the front desk knows Peter very well, given how frequently he visits. Even the attending physicians do not come as often as Peter. “Good afternoon, Mr. Gollinger,” says Jenny teasingly.

“Jenny, it’s just Peter,” he banters back playfully.

“Mr. Gollinger is finished with his breakfast and is expecting you…Peter, Mr. Peter. Oh yes, Dr. Fontaine is here today. She would like to talk with you. Could you stop by her office?”

With a smidgeon of concern, Peter inquires, “Anything out of the ordinary, Jenny? Is he okay?”

“Oh, no worries about Mr. Gollinger. I think Dr. Fontaine is looking for another special favor from you,” replies Jenny with an uncharacteristic schoolgirl-style giggle as she dials the intercom. “Dr. Fontaine, Peter Gollinger is here. Shall I send him down? Okay, he’s coming down now.”

With that, he is reassured and wanders down to the office that Dr. Fontaine uses when she is visiting patients at Angel’s Rest. He sees her waiting in the hallway outside of her office. She’s more than an inch shorter than him, seeming even shorter as she wears sensible black shoes with the slightest of heels, which complement her brown hair, up in a tight professional bun. She wears a white physician’s coat tailored for a woman, unlike the flat draping ones for men. The coat is open and Peter can see she wears a professional white cotton blouse and grey wool pencil skirt underneath. It does not escape Peter’s attention that this is the first time he has seen her in a skirt, however professional, and not in dark slacks.

“Peter, please come in and sit down,” says the doctor as she waves him in.

Out of habit, Peter goes to one of two chairs on the patient side of the doctor’s desk. He looks at her business cards on the desk. Assistant Professor of Clinical Geriatric Psychiatry, UC San Francisco Medical School.

After hanging her white lab coat behind the door, which she closes, Dr. Fontaine opts to sit in the other patient chair, facing him with her legs crossed, top one pointing at Peter. “Once again, you are my hero. My savior. I finished reviewing all your changes and suggestions to my latest manuscript…our latest manuscript. You are simply a genius with ideas, thoughts, and words,” Dr. Fontaine says.

“Dr. Fontaine, of course—you deserve the best a simple editor like me can offer.”

“Peter, we’re behind closed doors now. Remember, you can call me Beverly when I’m not on rounds or with patients,” she replies with a gleam of a smile. “You’re a special person. And I mean not just your editorial skills, but your compassion. I’ve never seen anyone visit their dearest family member in a convalescent home more than you. I think your visits have helped prolong your grandfather’s life, or at least improve the quality of his life.”

“How is he doing, Doctor…uh…Beverly?”

“Dr. Elfante, your grandfather’s physician, mentioned to me on my last visit that your grandfather is doing well, considering the severity of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Having been a smoker for most of his life has taken its toll on his lungs. He’s a real fighter, though. He’s determined to live for some greater purpose. Your visits are vital to his sense of purpose, Peter. You are his best therapy.”

“Beverly, I cannot thank you enough for advocating that my grandfather not be given antipsychotics. That would be the end of him, at least his spirit. He really wants to be cognizant in his last days.”

“Peter, I’ll be candid. My colleagues and the nurses are afraid of his restless nights, his dreams, and how unsettled he is every morning. Dr. Elfante and I had a long discussion about the situation, and I convinced him, after much personal observation, that your grandfather is not endangering himself or other patients. He’s not violent or clinically deranged. He’s just very anxious about trying to grasp his dreams.”

Beverly shifts in her chair, leans on her left elbow with her fingers to her lips. “That said, he seems to have confided in me more than he does in Dr. Elfante. These dreams seem to be a lifetime chronic issue that he’s been grappling with ever since early childhood. Smoking was one of the ways he had been coping with this disorder.”

Beverly pauses, coyly smiles, and adds, “He’s been very candid about how your grandmother had helped him cope. Candid? Maybe graphic would be more accurate. As he felt more comfortable talking with me, he described her administration of a special palliative care. He confessed that prolonged passionate interactions with his wife helped him more than the smoking.”

A little flushed Peter, purses his lips, then asks, “How much has my grandfather talked about his dreams and what he’s trying to solve?”

“Your grandfather’s dreams are suggestive of a prior traumatic event, but his life history does not suggest he has directly experienced or witnessed such an event. His condition could perhaps be the subject of another paper. Carl Jung would have suggested that your grandfather’s dreams are a sign of great personal transformation trying to emerge—his search for a greater context. Context with a greater sense of purpose and destiny. His personal and collective unconscious trying to be brought into the consciousness.”

“Bev, I’m not making the link between the collective unconscious and my grandfather’s affliction.”

“It’s part of our unconscious mind that is shared with other humans, common to all humankind, and stems from latent memories from our ancestral past, even prehistoric past. Jung proposed that evolution has innately imprinted our minds with certain predispositions, archetypes. For example, anxieties such as fear of the dark, fear of death, and even fear of failure might come from this preconditioning. Perhaps in your grandfather’s case, his dreams are trying to bring out some ancestral traumatic event.

“Freud, on the other hand, would call his dreams ‘wish fulfillment.’ There is a forbidden or repressed wish, which may be a result of guilt or taboos imposed by society or family. The dream is the way to transform that wish in a nonthreatening way. It’s an attempt to resolve the repressed conflict.”

Beverly shifts again in her chair, putting both her hands atop her knees as she says, “Of course with Freud, most everything was repressed sexuality. And for a man, that would be his repressed sexual desires for his mother. Freud would have been very gratified hearing how your grandfather’s dream repressions were ameliorated through sexual acts with his wife, who on some unconscious level is symbolically a surrogate for his mother. Jung would have said that the Oedipus complex is an example of an ancient archetype.”

Peter shifts in his chair as he reacts to Oedipus. Was Sarah merely a surrogate for his mother? Ow. Think of something else. And instead he debates discussing the dream he can’t seem to remember last night.

And Peter is saved by the intercom buzzing. It’s Jenny, who says, “Dr. Fontaine, it’s Mrs. Fitzgerald again. She’s having a fit and the staff nurse is requesting that you come as soon as you can.”

Beverly stands up to get her white coat from the door, pauses, and turns back to Peter. “I’ll catch up with you in your grandfather’s ward. We have to talk about the book that I’ll need your editorial help with,” she says with a wink before running down the hallway.

Walking down to his grandfather’s unit, Peter reflects upon Beverly’s propositions. Maybe his grandfather will have further wisdom on the subject, he muses as he enters his pappy’s room. A single room, as the restlessness of his dreams has precluded his peaceful cohabitation with another elderly patient. His grandfather is slightly elevated in bed, with an oxygen mask over a nasal cannula, indicating he is under duress.

“Pappy, how are you today? Needing a little more oxygen this morning?”

Taking off his mask, Pappy, a bit short of breath, says, “Peter. My boy. A little late today, aren’t we?”

“I was talking with Dr. Fontaine about a new project she’s working on.”

“Oh, the good doctor. Why can’t I have her as my physician? She’d be so much better than that Dr. Elephant. She’s so much more compassionate and understanding.”

“So I gather, Pappy. You two have been spending some quality time together.”

“I was simply trying to get her to understand how best to provide me comfort.”

“So, I’ve heard, Pappy. How was your night? Anything clearer?”

“The same, Peter. The same. What I would give for a peaceful night. Peace. Even the partial peace your grandmother provided. It isn’t so much to ask,” Pappy groans. “As always, I awake knowing I dreamt something very important, but I cannot piece it together. Ninety-three years of this. Ninety-one, if you don’t count the years I couldn’t speak. And what about you? Can you remember anything?”

Scratching his head, Peter stares out the window. “The same agony of not being able to put my finger on that important something.” He turns and shivers. “A darkness. An emptiness. A void. The same vagueness, but nothing specific. That is, except for a gun.”

Pappy lurches up, very focused. “Peter, my boy, this is very important. This moment. Tell me more.”

Peter moves closer to Pappy and helps him lean back to rest. “You know how it is. Everything is so fuzzy. I’ve never remembered anything from these nightly torments. But strangely, the past two mornings, it’s different. Maybe a gun, and a woman. Dark hair?”

“Yes. Yes! Gun and dark hair, Peter,” Pappy gasps. He puts the oxygen mask back on. “I’ve waited. Thirty years. For you and me. To have the same dream. And you needed to save her.”

Shaking his head, Peter stares down at his pappy’s aged hands holding his mask on. “I’m afraid I can’t save anyone. Even in my dreams.”

“Everything changes now that I know you and I have dreamed the same images,” exclaims Pappy.

Peter pauses, processing that new fact. “Pappy, I was just down the hallway with Dr. Fontaine, discussing the psychology of dreams. But she explained things in such a simple way that I now understand how these theories might relate to our disorder. She says ours are anxiety dreams. That we, our minds, are acting out some repression. Freud would say it’s repressed lust for our mothers that drives our dreams. Jung says it’s a sign that we’re trying to transform. We’re driven by something that happened to our prehistoric ancestors.”

Peter stares at his grandfather. “What repressed conflict are we seeking to resolve? What transformation are we seeking?”

Pappy takes Peter’s hand. “Peter, all we have is our family tradition to guide us. Please, repeat it for me. Our only peace is in our faith in our tradition. That is the so-called repressed conflict of Dr. Fontaine…and of Freud.”

Peter gulps. Putting on a very serious visage, he says, “The long-tailed star came from the sky, and our lands became ice, and winter became forever. Only the giants of the reindeer dominate. The bright star that never sets will be your guide. Watch for the long-tailed star.”

“Good, my boy. The second part, now.”

“And be wary of the giants, the Reindeer People, for when they arrive, you must flee and seek the mountains.”

Pappy, assuming the patriarchal appearance that has commanded Peter’s and his father’s lives, says, “The third part.”

Nervous, Peter continues, “Follow the black object, for this will guide you as you search for your new life.”

With deepening aggravation, Pappy gasps and admonishes Peter. “Boy, you must. You must. You must not change anything. We have recited this from the beginning of our line. As far back as my great-grandfather, and he said as far back as his great-grandfather, we have passed down these oral traditions. We must preserve them.” Pappy gasps again, and Peter helps put the mask on him.

From under the mask, Pappy mutters in slow, broken phrases, “Follow the vision. And words. Of the black object. For this will guide you. As you seek your new land.” He stops and waits for the oxygen to rebuild in his blood, then nods for Peter to continue.

Peter mentally rehearses and finally recites, “Fourth part: Man and woman. Only as the two together can you find peace. The object can save. You might see in sleep, might hear.”

Pappy rests his head back and gasps. After several tense minutes, he removes the mask. “Peter, forgive an old man if he repeats himself every time you visit. But I find that if I don’t keep repeating myself, at my age I will begin to forget. And as I do to you, my grandfather pounded into my head that we should never forget.

“And my grandfather made me promise to find the meaning of this object, as I have made you and your father promise. He said what has happened in our past will guide us to what will happen to us now.” He pauses to breathe. “And Peter, my boy, you have been faithful to this quest.

“When I was a boy, we had only books to help us solve the mystery of this object. But that little Austrian burned the ones my father and I needed to find to continue our research, our study. It was my Austria too, and yet he burns our books. How were we to find this object? What did we have to compromise for this quest? What line did my father cross to save us all?”

A very dark pause as the aged man runs his tongue along the inside of his mouth. “His death would be in vain if we could not make progress in finding the object. Our family name would be exonerated if you could find it, Peter.”

Pappy pauses again, in deep reflection, with a look of regret mired in pain. “After the war, I met your mother’s uncle, James, who was just like me. He suffered the dreams. The dreams that haunted both his parents’ lineage as they did mine. And we searched together. But postwar Europe was a mess, Peter.”

He stares out the hallway and spots Dr. Fontaine looking busy across the hallway with some charts. “And then your grandmother found me. She was a nurse. Part of an American relief program. She recognized the dreams. Her grandfather had them. And she knew what she needed to do to help me through the nights, through the next morning.”

Pappy pauses. “Were you able to make any progress in your search last week, my boy?”

Peter grimaces. “I thought I had a lead, like so many I’ve had over the years. The professor I studied under at Santa Cruz, she has so many useful resources and contacts. When you’re an editor, it’s amazing the doors that open to those who want your services. Her latest contact had traced a possible pre-Neolithic site that might tell of where the object may lie—Tell Abu Hureyra, fifty miles east of Aleppo. The Gollinger luck strikes again. The site is thirty feet under Lake Assad. As if I could assemble an underwater excavation team. Besides, given what’s happened today, with the Arabic Confederation staging an impending attack on Turkey from that area, I don’t think I’m going to get anyone over there to help with recovering this source.”

“Peter, keep trying. You are now our ancestors’ only hope. I wish I could fund you. I spent our entire family fortune chasing the object. But I have taken both families’ words and traditions and passed them to you. You have a more complete set than any of us ever had,” Pappy concludes, taking Peter’s hand again.

“I thought your father was going to solve the mystery. I was so proud of him when he was accepted into the archeology program at Cambridge. When he came back, I introduced him to your mother. I thought she knew what your father needed, just like your grandmother did.”

Pappy pauses, taking a break for oxygen. “But she couldn’t handle it anymore. Once you and your sister were in school, she told your father that he had a choice—her or the object. Your father stopped searching, stopped teaching you the traditions. It didn’t make his pains any better. It just got worse. I didn’t tell him he failed. I told him I failed him. And you.”

“And Ma blames you for his death,” Peter says with tears forming in each eye. “I loved Pa. I love Ma. I think I understand why it was so hard for her. Sarah said the same thing to me.”

Pappy peers down at his hands. “I’m so sorry. She was a lovely girl. I thought you two would…I thought she was so much like your grandmother. Even better, as she shared your passion for history and discovery.”

“Pappy. Sarah, Ciara, Tara—all of them keepers according to Ma’s definitions. All of them left me because of my pursuit of this object question. At this rate, you’ll never have great-grandchildren for me to pass these traditions down to. My sister’s like Ma. She doesn’t want to learn or pass along the traditions. Says it’s just a man thing.”

“My boy, we are close. Our dreams last night. Close. Close as they have ever been. It’s time for you to be introduced to something. Your granduncle James wanted to pass a written document on to you. Your mother never wanted him to give it to you for fear that you’d end up like your father. James and I agreed we would only show you when you found a good woman as your partner. I thought once you married Sarah…”

“Pappy, I’m trying my best to move on from Sarah. Evidently, I’m not the kind of man who could provide the protection, the security a woman like her desires.”

“That’s what your father said. That is, until your grandmother had the good sense to introduce him to James’s niece, your mother.” Pappy coughs. “My boy, it is no secret that I am slowly dying. We cannot wait until you find that woman you are to meet. The dream we had must be the signal. Please, in that drawer, you’ll find James’s document.”

Peter opens the drawer in the closet and finds a metal cylinder, like a mini thermos, with air lock seals. He opens it to find a small scroll. Animal skin parchment, with drawings looking like Hs. These progress to two abstract figures with their hands in front of them, forming an H. A tall male figure with a long face, long ears, and large dark eyes points to a long-tailed star. The other, a smaller female, points to an oblong shape under a series of dots. A third female figure has one hand pointing at the series of dots and the other at an angle of sixty degrees. Adjacent to the figures is an area with some sort of characters.

“What is this, Pappy? How old is it? What is this part, writing?”

“Peter, what you’re holding is faith. My faith. Now our faith. When James showed me this parchment, my faith was renewed. It’s a dialect of Akkadian cuneiform, Peter. Right after the war, carbon dating was just being introduced to the archeological community. Through my war buddies, we got a sample of this tested.” Pappy pauses to catch his breath. “It’s four thousand years old, Peter. Four thousand.”

Stunned, Peter sits on the side of the bed. He stares at the parchment and his mind races with the possibilities. He takes several snapshots with his MoxWrap and turns towards Pappy, asking, “Do you believe in God?”

Looking down with a dour expression, Pappy responds, “Peter, my boy, with what I saw—with all that happened—there could not be a God.” He pauses and sighs. “At least, not one who loves us.”

“Hence why Ma wanted to distance herself from you,” Peter laments. “She so wanted me to believe, to have faith. To have faith in her God. But your faith, this animal skin in my hands, is my faith too. These are aliens, Pappy. These are aliens who met the Akkadians in 2000 BCE.”

Pappy holds his hand out so that Peter can hand him the parchment. He turns it upside down and sideways and says, “It could be aliens. It could be God’s angels. It could be Akkadian Halloween.” He gives the parchment back to Peter.

“Your father was working on translating the cuneiform. It’s an old form and a rare dialect from the northernmost reaches of the empire. He became lost in dozens of interpretations when your mother forced him to stop. It’s now up to you, Peter. In this digital age, in a world that is interconnected, maybe it’s you who will find the answer.”

“Mr. Gollinger, how are we doing today?” Dr. Fontaine greets Pappy. “Did Peter tell you? He’s offering to work with me on a new book on religion and the psychobiology of the soul. With what you’ve passed along to him, his talents will be especially invaluable to me,” she says as she winks at Peter.

Pappy glances at Peter and gives a thumbs-up. “Go for it, my boy. She’s a keeper, this doctor.”

And the nonagenarian Gollinger takes the doctor’s hand so he can rub her palm. “And, Doctor, if you could do me a favor and take my grandson home with you tonight. He’s behind on his ancient obligation to make more Gollingers who can continue our search for our precious object.”

The beet-faced Peter just wants to crawl under a bed somewhere and hide. But the good doctor turns and takes his hand into hers and says, “I have to say, with your grandson’s killer dimples, his eyes that emote adorable innocence, he is cute. But if I married him, I would lose my best editor.” She winks at Peter and says, “We couldn’t do that, now could we?”

She then spies the parchment in between hers and Peter’s hands and says, “May I?”

She gently examines the antique animal skin, carefully scanning both sides, then looks at Peter and says, “I have to wonder if this is related to your grandfather’s dreams. I would love to learn more, Peter. But I have to get back to Mrs. Fitzgerald and adjust her medications again.” She leaves, writing notes down on her clipboard.

“Pappy, exactly what did you tell her about Grandma? From Beverly’s, I mean Dr. Fontaine’s recounting, she thinks sex is the treatment protocol for your condition,” Peter jests.

“Peter, my boy, I’ve surmised that you’ve already found out that sex helps. It calms your nerves so you can grapple with what the dreams, and your inability to remember the dreams, do to you.”

Shaking his head, Peter exclaims, “Ma says you told her she had to have sex with Pa every night, in the middle of the night. She thought you were just passing along ancient male power plays over women, so she resisted your ideas.”

Pappy shakes his head too. “Peter, do not mistake my words. I should have said passionate bonding, not necessarily sexual bonding or, more crudely, physical penetration.” Pappy pauses for oxygen. “The touch of passion creates bonds between you and your mate. Bonds that create dialogue. Bonds that will help the two of you decode the dreams. You need to talk about what you’re coping with in order to make any progress in understanding what is happening.”

Pappy stops to catch his breath, and then he says in a fatherly way, “I think you need—the tradition requires that you are paired with a woman. A good woman to find the answer. The answer to our traditions. The answer to that scroll.”

A frown passes over Peter’s face as he ponders his failings with Sarah. “How do I know what makes a woman ‘good’ according to your definitions?”

His grandfather closes his eyes, and a warm uplift of his mouth arises. “You will know, my boy. You will know first from her touch, her smell, her voice and the sounds of her heart. And only then can you know her with your eyes.”

Closing his eyes too, Peter tries to remember Sarah’s touch, her smell, but he can only remember the shame, the failure of discovering her in their bed with that alpha male muscleman. Everything he is not. And that deep pain wells up, and water seeps from the corners of his closed eyes.

“Peter, my boy. Are you all right? Did you have one of those damn flashbacks?” asks Pappy.

“I’m sorry, Pappy. I just had one of those moments. I’m okay.”

Pappy stares somberly down at his hands. “I’ve had those moments for near eight decades now. Seventy-five years, only to have failed my father. Peter, please don’t let me fail you as well. Please.”

Scrolling his MoxMail to find that message, the message, Peter says, “Pappy, I have the solution. I’ll apply for the junior editor position with MoxMedia in their Middle East correspondence unit. I’ve been sitting on this invitation to apply for a couple of days, hemming and hawing about whether I have what it takes. I won’t fail you, Pappy. I’ll make sure I have what it takes.”

 

 

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