Send Him Home

June 30, 2018

 

    The sun had already begun sagging in earnest by the time Alan Bornstein blooped their last tennis ball, the newish one still shedding a bit of soft gray fuzz, over the chain link fence.   

    “Bye-bye,” he sang out, waving at the ball’s downward arc before it skidded off the hood of a parked station wagon, then vanished beneath the McDonald Avenue elevated train tracks. Whipping a crumpled white cotton handkerchief from his back pocket, he flourished it overhead in capitulation, and shrugged his shoulders at Lynn Blass, who stood poised at the net in her baggy blue and gray Lincoln High School gym uniform. “Me sorry. Me no good.”

    “No good?” She clapped her racket twice. “You’re a natural! You did terrific.”

    “Shucks.” Alan hung his head. “Couldn’t have did nothing, Ma’am, without your Daddy’s super-duper Pancho Gonzales cat gut racket.”

    Lynn jogged towards the sideline bench at mid court.  “That last shot though, what the heck?”

    “That? Trying to lob it over your head.”
     “Very tricky,” she said, pointing. “This isn’t really your first time ever, is it? Swear.”

    “Honest.” Alan’s palm pounded his thinning oatmeal colored cardigan sweater. “Took just ninety minutes to dispatch all three balls to oblivion.”

    Resting her foot on the bench, Lynn leaned forward and balanced the heavily taped racket she’d lent him on her thigh. Then she adjusted a rectangular wood press over its head, tightening the four metal screws.

    “Must’ve been a real yawn, for you. Hardly even worked up a sweat.” His eyes flew from her sneaker laces, how perfectly she’d tied them, to the immaculate pale pink bow rising like rabbit ears from her rust-colored hair. He held out a stick of Juicy Fruit gum.

    “A yawn? Right!” Lynn brushed his hand aside, then zipped a cloth dust cover over the racket. “You’ve got the backswing down, Mister, you’ve got some touch on your ground strokes. Really put me through my paces with all those long rallies.”

    “Yeah? Next you’ll try and get me on a bicycle.”

    “Say when. It’s fun to try new things.”

    “Never happen,” he said. “This boy don’t like to fall down and get boo-boos. Tricycle maybe.”

    She stuffed both rackets head first in a macramé bag with the rest of their gear, hoisted it over her shoulder and motioned for him to follow. They passed six or seven teenage boys huddled around a radio blaring Time Is On My Side in the adjacent park, two of whom sat arm wrestling at a concrete chess table, squinting and straining through wisps of cigarette smoke. He asked her if this section of Brooklyn always looked so deserted, he wondered out loud where they had hidden all the darn cars, he asked how often she ventured down here, and with whom she usually played. Slow down, she said, every chance I get, the whole family, my parents and brothers, color us complete fanatics, or with Susie Millman sometimes, she’s good, or Nedda, that artsy-fartsy a few houses down who attends Pratt Institute when she isn’t traipsing off to some beatnik happening in the Village. Or, once in a blue moon, her cousin Phyllis, the snob from Seagate, who’s graduating in January and heading right to Pharmacy College in Boston, but she has this totally annoying tendency to cheat on the line calls, anything close, so they just hit together, they never play sets. How’s about Stevie Lind, Alan asked her, Huh, snapping his gum, he carries himself like some big time tennis pro, and she made a face. She said, Gross, Steven is hardly intelligent enough to know which end of the racket to hold, and Alan said, Oh, so you expect me to believe you’re the one cute girl at Lincoln not gaga over his ice blue eyes, that the two of you didn’t go see Goldfinger together last month on Kings Highway, to which she said, Please! Give me a little more credit than that, whatever you heard, it was practically a dozen of us, en masse. Then she cocked her head, batted her eyes, and spoke in a honeyed little girl falsetto: Besides, he’s a pretty boy, and us cute girls like the wild rugged type. Alan roared and beat his chest Tarzan-style, whereupon he saw their bus, hollered, It’s coming, it’s coming! and they dashed off herky-jerky towards the corner.

    “Make sure you ask the driver to give you a transfer this time,” Lynn reminded him, as they ascended the steps.

    “Okay if we ride up front?” he asked. “I like seeing the full panorama.”

    “Sure. Be my guest.”

    “And you remember where we get off?”

    “Relax, little boy.” She slid in next to him and patted his head. “Leave the driving to us.”

    They coursed through an unfamiliar neighborhood of open air fruit stands and street vendors, laundromats, churches, people hanging their heads from windows, sitting on stoops, children bicycling against traffic. She rested her head on his shoulder, that was a first, neither spoke but Lynn did hum some melodic lines under her breath that Alan couldn’t place, classical he guessed, from like a 40s suspense thriller, the bus kept lurching to a stop, loading more passengers and by the time she took his hand to disembark people stood crowding the aisles.

    The B-68 took forever though. Darkness had fallen now, a small silent crowd grew behind them under the amber streetlight, and the moment Alan let her hand go and stepped out of line to search down Coney Island Avenue, Lynn called out, “No need to do that, silly. It won’t make the bus come one second faster.”

        “I’m kind of thirsty, are you?” he said, eyeing an older man on line in a crew cut with no visible neck and a basketball sized paunch whose blubbery lips kept trembling. The man was marching in place, hop-stepping, swinging a metal lunch pail and mumbling something inaudible. “Starving too. Good old Brighton, can’t wait to get back. Home sweet home.”

    “It’s all in your head,” she said. “Mind over matter.”

    He resumed his vigil, stepping back to the gutter, thinking what does it mean, her taking my hand,  maybe she does like me, or did I take hers and she let me, same difference, but what do we talk about now, what’s the right move, then he spied two boys loping across the avenue, elbowing each other. Both wore pompadours, sleeveless ribbed white undershirts, they were swinging their bare shoulders, bopping their heads forward, pushing and laughing loud enough to attract attention. Alan looked left into traffic. “Hey!” the short stocky red faced one shouted, stopping to punch his gangly friend’s arm. “Tennis anyone?” He puckered his lips like a whitefish, threw his head back and made a drawn out kissing noise. When Lynn folded her arms, he said, “Whatta you’se all looking at, whatsa problem?” Whereupon, the no-necked man bared his teeth, raised both fists to his chin, and bellowed, “Shudda HELL up! All a yuz! Little bastids, yuh!” People edged away, a woman wearing a mesh kerchief twisted her lips shuddering in disgust, while the man himself resumed mumbling, hup two three four, as though the outburst had never happened, stamping his feet somewhat faster now, and the taller boy dragged the one who had shouted by the arm, staggering away down the Avenue where, to Alan’s relief, they continued throwing elbows, hooting, and laughing boisterously.

    “Dopes,” Lynn said. Bristling, she adjusted her bag with the racket handles protruding higher on her shoulder. “Troublemakers.”

    “Where’s the darn bus already?” Alan asked. Slinging his arm around her, he lifted the bag off and onto his own shoulder. “Hey, thanks for that lesson, Loon. So, you think I’ve got potential?”

    “Lots.” She beamed up at him, winked, then bit her lip. “Can’t believe it took me this long to get a racket in your hand. Wait, you and me, when did we first meet? How long ago?”

    “Ow,” Alan said, knifing his heart with an imaginary dagger, “I am so wounded. In Journalism class. Knock, knock.” His fist tapped the side of her head twice. “Anybody home?”

    “No, obviously,” she said, as their bus swung towards them, brakes squealing, “but we didn’t meet meet there. Class doesn’t count.”

    “You must mean at Ellen Tarlow’s birthday party then, that night at the Baths. You came with what’s his face, he started shooting hoops, showing off, Ellen practically threw herself at him and you eventually drifted over to where I was skulking in the shadows, devouring pretzels, and said, ‘Hey, you sit behind me in Mrs. J’s class, don’t you?’”

    “Oh, yeah,” she said, as they moved up, about to board. “It was that composition you wrote on Steeplechase Park that grabbed my attention. Must be a year ago, right?”

    “October the fourth. The night I put a spell on you. Thirteen months and three days.”

    It took a while but eventually they’d started passing notes back and forth, she’d stopped seeing “what’s his face” because, she said, all he wanted was to boss her around, they’d invented pet names (Shubert Allie, shortened to Shoob, and Loony Lynn-Sky, or sometimes Toon), and they’d both begun apprenticing for the school newspaper. Not writing, not yet. Gathering story ideas for the seniors, proofreading galleys, taking notes at school events, typing them up and submitting them for consideration.

    “So, you want to go for pizza?” he asked, rising to offer his seat to a gray haired woman whose curved wrinkly hands clutched a bag of groceries to her hip. “My treat, as payment for launching me headlong on this career as the new Rod Laver.”

    “Pizza? That won’t make this a date, will it?” Her eyes widened, she sunk her teeth into the back of her hand in mock horror. The lady, who had just sat down, adjusted her glasses trying to focus on Lynn. “I don’t want to besmirch your reputation.”

    “Your reputation,” the lady said to Lynn, indignant. “What kind of mishegoss is that? This is a nice refined boy, girlie. A mensch. Don’t let him get away.”

    At Vinnie’s on Brighton Beach Avenue, sitting side by side, they shared a laugh over it, Alan asked if maybe they could hit again sometimes, Lynn said positively, that the next time she would teach the nice refined mensch to hit a vicious topspin serve, then they discovered that they had the same absolute favorite teacher, a nearsighted young poet named Jerome Freedman who tended to sit cross legged atop his desk, and pose thought-provoking questions to the ceiling,  without expecting obvious or simplistic answers.

    “Coolest teacher ever,” Alan said. “I had The Freed fall semester sophomore year. Really makes you use your head. Could be the one person in all Lincoln who even semi gets me.”

    Lynn thrust out her lower lip.

    “Present company excepted. You call him Jerry though? You know him outside school?”

    “Believe it or not, Jerry Boy went all through from kindergarten with my oldest brother Andrew. When he saw my name on the attendance sheet he asked if the Big Jock and I might perchance be related.”

    “He did not!”

    “They weren’t exactly buddy buddy. I gather Andrew used to pick on him or something because of how chubby and unathletic he was. How he’d daydream in class. Andy can be kind of a brat that way. Merciless. He fit right in at Princeton.”

    Alan swayed sideways to sneak a whiff of her hair, flowery, lemon-scented, like laundry detergent, he thought. He snarled and shook his fist. “Well, I don’t care how big this Princeton Tiger jock brother of yours is, he better not pick on you. Or else. Ready for another slice?”

    “Just one for me, thanks,” she said, patting a paper napkin at the corner of her mouth.

    “Think I can’t afford it?” he asked her. “Or what?”

    “So, is this a date?”

    “No, Loony,” Alan said, tickling her ribs. “It’s a raisin.”

    “Okay,” she said, gasping, “stop! So, I guess between us Platonic pals then I can confide: I’ve begun a diet.”

    “You?”

    “With ma mere. It’s called The One Slice Diet. We made a pact. Self-control. Everything in moderation.”

    “Except moderation itself, right?”

    “Exactly,” Lynn said. “On that we go way overboard.”

    “Now, what in the world are you on a diet for?”

    “Isn’t it obvious?” She puffed her cheeks. “Andrew gets married next summer and we have to all look semi-presentable for the pictures.”

    “I may work slow, but I’ve had my eye on you for a while.” His fingertips grazed her hair. “And for you to look any better than this, it’s not humanly possible.”

    “Why, thank you, sir,” she said, eyes gleaming. “But, if that indeed is the case, pauvre Lynn is in dire straits.”

    “So, everyone’s a fitness nut, the whole Blass family? Your parents, they’re so trim, first thing in the morning I see them playing paddle ball, doing calisthenics. Like kids. I don’t get it.”

    “Well, it’s Daddy’s job. You know he’s a police officer. He has to keep in good enough shape to catch the bad guys, right?”

    “You trying to strike fear in my heart?” Alan gulped. “He really is? Un gendarme?”

    “Oui. And a night school professeur,” she said. “With a book coming out. What does your Dad do?”

    “Unemployed,” he said. “Hasn’t been feeling too well lately.” He patted his stomach. “After going bankrupt last summer.”

 

    A few weeks later, they returned to McDonald Avenue for a second lesson, Lynn tried teaching Alan the serve, but he had difficulty getting the toss right. This time though she rewarded him with a long hug, for not losing any balls, she murmured, and then, just before Thanksgiving, they both received handwritten invitations on English Department stationery, to join the Great Books Club where, along with eight other eleventh graders, they would gather in a circle in the dimly lit living room of Mr. Jerome Freedman’s basement apartment near Prospect Park, and struggle to make sense of Beckett and Dostoevsky and Aristotle and Ionesco and Yeats and Camus every other Tuesday night. It was on the subway returning from one of these august conclaves, as Alan called them, towards the end of January, that he and Lynn held hands a second time. Neither had spoken until the doors opened at Avenue H, Alan looked out the window, and then reached over and abruptly clapped his on top of hers.

    “Hmmm,” she said, circling his palm with her thumb. “I was beginning to think Shooby-Dooby was mad at wittle me.”

    “What? What made you think that?”

    She looked up shyly. “Well, I called twice, I spoke to your mother who, by the way, was super-gabby, we had a nice upbeat girl chat both times, she didn’t sound at all depressed, I told her it was kind of important, but you never called me.”

    “Wow,” he said. “Some things never change. She can be a little forgetful. When she misplaces her pills. Sorry, I didn’t get any message. What was it about?”  

    “So, you’re not mad then?”

    “Just a little pensive, or morose,” he said. “Good SAT words, right? Not sure about this Great Books Club. Thinking of quitting. If it wasn’t for you.”

    “What? It’s a real taste of college. Such an enriching experience.”
    “I guess.

    “You didn’t say a single word tonight.”

    “I don’t get poetry. Or literature. Or philosophy, okay? I’m just kind of an average Joe, not one of the brains, like you and the rest of this group. Honor students, intellectuals. We don’t have a single, you know, book in our apartment. I mean, like literature. My Dad says Ain’t. Slurps his soup, get the picture? I don’t even know why I’m in in this club. Except to hang out with you, baby face.”

    “You’re average?” Lynn said. “Are you batty? You are so smart. Oh, my God!”

    “Well, not Honor Society smart.”

    “Because you wouldn’t apply. Right?”

    “Well.”

    “Which I still fail to comprehend, the rationale, how being in Honor Society, which is so impressive on a college application, could possibly hurt anyone else.”

    “I don’t know, Lynn-Sky, ask my mother. High school may be my last stop anyway. I’m just___”

    “Stop it!”

    “Deep down, I guess, it just feels like, Hey, look at me! Egotistical. And, if by some miracle, I do get accepted to a college, I wouldn’t want it to be because of Honor Society.”

    Her eyes narrowed. “So, I was calling to inform you that Mrs. J’s asked us to be co-editors of the paper next year. You,” she said, poking his chest, “and me!”

    He nodded, the train rocketed past Neck Road towards Sheepshead Bay, then slowed, approaching the station.

    “Well?” she asked, as the doors flew open. “Mr. average Joe?”

    “It’s sinking in.” He looked from the empty platform, up to the Miss Subways poster where a wholesome Broadway show type in a pixie haircut named Beverly flirted down from the wall, her eyes vacant and glittery, two of her front teeth colored in by some delinquent, and then Alan leaned over to press his lips against Lynn’s cheek. “Wow. Guess you’re stuck with uncultured me all next year,” he said. “That’s what you get, trying to enrich the disadvantaged. Help them expand their horizons.”

 

    “Whether you realize it or not,” Mr. Freedman announced, to begin the next session of Great Books, pacing, waving his arms overhead, “you’re all in search of something. Who you are? Maybe. But if you aren’t on some quest of discovery, guaranteed, you’re not here.”

    He tamped cherry tobacco into his pipe, then lit it and continued circling the room.

    “Instead of discussing books with me, you realize you could be spending your spare time watching Patty Duke and her identical cousin, don’t you? Or in some other worthwhile pursuit. Bowling, for example. Stealing hubcaps. I’m not knocking it. But maybe, if we open our minds together here, these explorations of quote unquote literary masterworks will help you unlock what you’re searching for. In that strange non-book realm we refer to as ‘real life.’” He puffed again, scanned their eyes and when his gaze met Alan’s, the boy looked down to the hands he’d just folded in his lap.

    “Tonight we’ll put literature aside for a moment. Instead of flashing our usual analytical brilliance, let’s do some listening. Remember the blazing imagery of those Blake stanzas last session? They might put you in the right head space to reflect on what you’re about to hear. And, it’ll be a nice lead in to Sartre. Everybody ready?”

    The teacher lit sage-scented candles, about a dozen of them scattered throughout the room, he switched off the standing lamps, lifted his meowing cat Bella, cradled her in his arms, and shushing everyone (a boy named Kenny Galinsky had begun humming the Twilight Zone theme rather stridently), he put an album on the turntable. Settled deep into the couch, Alan felt emboldened enough through the flickering candle light and pipe smoke haze to grope for Lynn’s fingers, which she reflexively withdrew and then, realizing no one was positioned to see, slid back to her side. “All right, check this out, people,” Mr. Freedman said. “Or, should I say, listen closely.”

    The scratchy sound of a needle that’s been plunked down multiple times between the same two tracks, guitar chords strummed in somber four/four time. “Of war and peace,” the singer began and Alan bent forward straining to follow a rhythmic onslaught that emerged as if each word was charged with enough magnetic power to draw him further into a world distant from the one he thought he knew, primal, mysterious. His heel tapped the carpet, he and Lynn intertwined fingers, he closed his eyes, and tightened their grip, as the hypnotic voice transported him to an imaginary landscape full of wind and mist. Was this the past, the future, or, he wondered, could it somehow be both at the same time?

    Between verses he saw mostly everyone squirming. His eyelids fluttered, he grew light-headed, lost track for a moment and had to ask himself, Where am I? And, Wait, what are we doing here?

    And then Mr. Freedman lifted the needle. “So?” he said, smiling, arms crossed.

    Alan exhaled, a long audible breath. “That is crazy. What,” he asked, “is that?”

    “Ah, the silent wonder speaks at last,” the teacher said, blowing a thin stream of smoke upwards. “That, young fellow, is something known as a Bob Dylan.”

    “A Bob what?”

    “You know, the answer is blowing in the wind? So, did you all catch the Blake connection?” Silence. The room appeared to be holding its collective breath. “Who needs another listen?”

    Mr. Freedman’s question unleashed a chorus of groans, of No, please, I beg of you! Come on! A pale reed-like girl named Marilyn beseeched the teacher, pressing her palms together in supplication. “You have any Johnny Mathis?”

    Alan raised a finger. “I’ve got to hear that once more. At least, Mr. Freedman.”

    “Ah, but it appears you’re outvoted.”

    “Yeah? Since when does democracy rule? Put it on. Please?”

    The second playing occasioned a contagion of knowing eye rolls, palms pressed into ears and, at its conclusion, fresh squeals of protest, which Mr. Freedman quelled, saying, “Okay! Why did I play you this Gates of Eden?”

    “Because you like to torture us?" a bespectacled boy with the highest average in the junior class, named Wolf Levin said, furrowing his dense hairy eyebrows.

    “Not exactly,” the teacher said. “You, maybe.”

    “But, I’m on the right track?”

    “Come on, people, what’s the singer saying? What’s this composition addressing?”

    “It’s saying that basically everything’s meaningless,” a girl with a hint of an accent named Serena Greenblatt offered. “Isn’t it? That life amounts to one big zilch. It’s nihilistic.”

    “Oh? Is it?” the teacher asked.

    “Well, that’s how it comes across,” she said. “Plus, that voice makes you shiver.”

    Wolf snorted. “The words are early T.S. Eliot, like a sanitized knockoff of Preludes, re-packaged for the juvenile teen market. Personally, I think the song’s just a put on.”

    “Painful,” a birdlike screechy voiced soprano named Rachel said. “I mean, what he’s saying might theoretically have some substance, but it’s so, I don’t know. Discordant. You think he’s purposely trying to sound bad to make some point, Mr. Freedman? Or, is something wrong with him?” She tapped her temple.

    “Aw, man,” Kenny chimed in, holding a ballpoint pen to his lips, “like this cat thinks he’s so hip and cool, man. You dig? Like, wuz happenin’?” He breathed out slowly, as though exhaling smoke, then searched for even one other person to appreciate his wit.

    “Yeah? Okay. And you, Alan, you think it’s all a big laugh too, or did it resonate as powerfully the second time around?”  

    “More so. Unnerving,” he said. He saw Lynn’s eyes riveted, melting. “It sounds like a stern warning from some faraway place.”

    “The world beyond the cocoon of Brooklyn! After high school. It exists, people! Trust me. All of you will meet the great unknown head on before you turn around. And what, pray tell, is the sage warning us we must do to survive in this strange new world?”

     "Open our eyes?" Alan said, clasping one of his kneecaps. It seems to be saying nothing's how society tells us, all nice and orderly, like the pictures in Life Magazine, or on TV. Or even in school. That's like a bunch of myths. Sorry, except for your class, Mr. Freedman. It strikes me he's saying we can play by the rules, do our homework, and behave, but things won't turn out like on Leave It To Beaver. We're not in control of our fate, and the truth is all hidden. Inside, in dreams and stuff."

    “Oh, come off it,” Wolf said. “You’re just projecting.”

    "It's not literal,"Alan answered, it's more the atmosphere he creates."

    “Oh, the atmosphere.” Wolf laughed “Sure. Why doesn't he just say what he means?”

    “Nothing is how it looks on the surface,” the teacher repeated, opening his palm, “quoth young Alan Bornstein. The truth is hidden. That is a nice little, maybe not so little, insight to initiate our dissection of No Exit.”

    Alan looked to the ceiling, uneasy about everyone eyeing him, expecting more. He had nothing more, and then they heard a baby crying in another room. 

    “Aw,” Serena said to Mr. Freedman, “that awful racket woke up your daughter.”

    “What I want to know,” Wolf said, “is what great truths are supposedly all hidden away somewhere?”

    “Fair question,” Mr. Freedman said. “What’s hidden? And what’s not? In this Sartre drama.”

    There’s a baby crying, Alan thought, straining to follow the argument, his mind fogging over, each thought all mingled and twisted, like it’s over my head. The words barely registered, just like in school, and all he knew was a desperate burning to hear the song again. And again.

    “These characters seem lacking a center,” Wolf said. “A cohesive identity. They’re very superficial the way they relate to one another, in terms of pure self-interest. We learn about them, the external details of their lives, how they try to use each other, but they don’t seem real. More like cardboard puppets. Something essential is missing.”

    Like me? Alan wondered. Made out of cardboard? He stared at Wolf and, instead of expressing self-doubts, surprised himself by blurting, "Yeah? So what?" 

 

    On the subway, Lynn went on about how glad she was that he had spoken up, the last comment notwithstanding, how excited she’d been to hear him express himself finally and put his heart in the discussion.

    “Nothing’s changed,” he said, “I’m still the outcast in this group. You’re the only one who wants to hear anything I say. Guaranteed. You and The Freed.”

    “That is so not true, people respect you. So, tell me again, what is it about the song that moved you?”

   "Basic categories that in the past struck me as clear, like good and bad, real and unreal, and this song blurs the boundaries. It rattled me."

    “How so?”

    “I don't know. I can't figure it out." He covered his face. Nothing's soli all of a sudden, like everything's its opposite. But, hey, what do I know, maybe I'm just projecting." 

    She set her jaw. “Sometimes it bugs me how frustrating you can be, Alan. How guarded. You realize that?”

    “Sorry,” he said, unsure what he’d done wrong.

    A few blocks from her house he began feeling feverish, he stumbled and fell.

    “You okay?” she asked. “What’s the matter?”

    “Must be a little out of it,” he said, scrambling to his feet. “Clumsy.”

    When they approached the front door she just snapped, “Bye,” without turning to smile and touch his cheek, or wish him Sweet dreams, the way she’d been doing after every other walk home, or say Call me tomorrow, after supper at 7:30, okay?

    So, that’s it, he thought. I didn't think this could last. Whatever "this" was.

 

    The following morning Mrs. J circulated a message calling a meeting after 9th period Friday for the current editorial staff to greet next year’s group at the newspaper office. Alan had to traverse the immense block long building in which he and five thousand other students were educated daily, from the ground floor of its extreme opposite diagonal end near the athletic fields, navigating sluggish traffic in the serpentine marble hallways, and he didn’t arrive until after Mrs. J’s opening remarks. The third story office had the feel of a late rush hour subway car, with a few dozen people at close quarters in a space containing just two desks and four chairs. Lynn had camped in a corner, deep in conversation with Bernie Dorfman, the Editor-in-Chief, who slouched against a file cabinet, gazing into her eyes. After whispering an apology to Mrs. J, Alan shouldered through the sweaty room, said a few perfunctory hellos and congratulations, and then wedged himself besides Lynn and Bernie, whose noses were almost touching. She glanced up, smiled tightly and then resumed listening without saying hello.

    “Oh, wow,” Bernie said, gushing, offering his palm to her, “can’t believe I forgot to tell you! Slap me five, Blass. I got accepted to, are you ready, Columbia!

    Her jaw dropped, she hit his hand.

    “Right? So, never fear,” he said, laughing, “BD here will be in the big city next year, girl, a short subway ride away if you find yourself in need of guidance from a grizzled veteran.”

    “That is so great!” she said.

    Alan caught the eye of Marilyn, one of the Great Books Club members, who stood diagonally across the room, alone, clutching her hands at waist level, looking as lost and forlorn as he felt.

    “Hard to breathe in here,” he said, after making his way over, fanning himself with a notebook.

    She grinned. “You really liked that song. Didn’t you?”

    “Yeah. Can we forget about that though? Too confusing. So, you’re going to be one of the Feature Page editors, right?”

    She nodded vigorously. “Mmm-hmm.”

    “Heavy responsibility,” he said, and she laughed. “You like writing? A lot?”

    “I like hearing myself talk,” she said, her eyes dancing. “So, yeah, I guess.”

    During each lull in their halting conversation, Alan snuck a glance at Lynn, whose eyes remained glued to Bernie, until the moment Mrs. J pounded her desk, informed everyone that there would be several more informal get-togethers in the coming semester, and reminded them that their primary goal was a smooth transfer of responsibilities. “Ask questions, juniors. Do get to know the current incumbents. Heaven knows, these folks are the old experienced hands that will serve as your most valuable resources, not me.”

    The bell rang, Mrs. J officially closed the meeting, Alan told Marilyn that it was good talking to her, that he looked forward to collaborating, and then he felt something poking his lower back.

    “Stick em up, you,” Lynn said.

    “You’re out of luck,” he told her, between clenched teeth. “Ain’t got change of a quarter.”

    “Get me out of here, will you,” she whispered, “quick!”

    He turned about face. “What’s the story?”

    She stroked her hair, then motioned with her head to the door. “Walk me home, please?”

    The crush of students had thinned, Lynn and Alan reached the grand staircase to the Ocean Parkway exit, she swiveled to make sure that no one was following, and said, “He is the world’s biggest dip. Oh, my God, he's so 'handsy' and 'touchy,' why didn’t you come over and rescue me?”

    “Girls,” Alan said. “I definitely do not get you. Looked like you were soaking it up.”

    “Well, I started off trying to be polite, but he had me trapped! In that damn corner.”

    As they walked briskly down Neptune Avenue she could not stop talking about what a conceited self-centered boor this Bernie was.

    “He had the nerve,” she said, “to tell me that the standards for journalistic excellence they’ve established this year would be impossible to maintain, and he specifically questioned some of the choices Mrs. J had made for the staff.”

    “Not you,” Alan said, “you mean me, right? The big nobody.”

    “Shut up,” Lynn said. “He kept calling me ‘Blass.’ Which is so presumptuous and condescending, I hate it.” When she estimated they were enough blocks away from school she took Alan’s arm and leaned into him. “I miss you,” she said, cooing, “you haven’t been calling the last few nights. By the way, Mom’s in the city till late. Opera. Want to come over, or do you have to be home right away for dinner? To light candles and stuff? I’ve got something for you.” She winked. “Something you’re going to love.”

    “You do? I was beginning to fear my spell had worn off.” She punched his arm. “Yeah, definitely, I’ll just call my mother and tell her I’ll be a little delayed. Start praying without me.”

    “I’m sure she’s used to it. You’re always delayed.”

    “Half the time she’s sick in bed anyway.”

    They walked together, pushing urgently into one another, zigzagging, her shoulder pressing into his chest, she started breathing heavily and he tightened his arm around her midsection, which made her gasp. They stopped before reaching the brightly lit Esso station at 6th Street, they touched foreheads, looked to the pavement, then rubbed noses and hugged each other’s shoulders until a sports car honked twice and sped off. After crossing the Avenue she paused to smile up at him and toss her hair. “You sure you want to come in?” she whispered in his ear, although there was no one nearby. “You don’t have to.”

    “Yeah,” he whispered back, “I can’t wait.”

    “Yeah?” she said, breathing in his ear. ”Good.”

    Before turning up her street, she stiffened, released her grip on his arm and straightened her ski jacket. “I’ll go first,” she said, covering her mouth, as if they were criminals synchronizing a burglary. “You count to thirty, then when you get there, knock twice.”

    “Aye-aye, Lefty,” he said, saluting.

    She marched off so quickly it caught him by surprise. His heart started pounding as he watched her backside swing, heard her boots clopping, he counted to thirty, started whistling Sweet Georgia Brown to slow his pace, and then, rounding the curve near her house, he saw Lynn with her arms folded.

    “You won’t believe,” she said, stamping her foot, pointing. “Dad’s Volvo. Guess who’s home?”

    “Dum-de-DUM-dum,” Alan sung. “The poe-lice.”

    “Daddy?” she called out, opening the door. “You decent? I’m with a friend.”

    “Nothing you don’t see all summer on the beach,” a man said, his voice booming above the triumphant strains of Tchaikovsky. “Just some old man's sexy legs. Come on in, babe, I’m in the living room.”

    Her father was in his shorts, reclining in a chair positioned right past the archway, directly off the hall that led to the rest of the house. Facing away from Lynn and Alan, with his feet resting on an ottoman, he held a hardcover book,Games People Play.

    “Sexy legs?” Lynn said. “Those hairy things?” She leaned to kiss him on the cheek, he tried to put her in a half-Nelson, she struggled free, saying, “Dad, behave!” and then, “This is my friend Alan I told you about. My co-editor next year.”

    “Alan!” Mr. Blass said, sitting up higher. “Turn the music down, Lynnie. Welcome to our humble abode. Pleasure to finally meet the person responsible for tying my phone up every night.”

    Alan had never seen anything remotely resembling their living room, except once in a Hitchcock movie whose name he forgot. It looked like a library, or a museum: wall to wall books, floor to ceiling, lined and haphazardly piled everywhere, potted plants jutting out over the rug, and ornately framed paintings with what looked like real signatures hanging on every wall space not covered with shelving.

    Alan threw both hands up. “I didn’t do it, Officer Blass. I swear.”

    Lynn’s father laughed so hard his belly shook. “I’ll be the judge of that. And, for future reference, it’s Harvey. We’re on a first name basis around here. Don’t know why Lynnie called me ‘Dad’ just before. Or rather, I do know: she’s the conventional one in the family. The straight arrow conformist.”

    Alan took in Harvey’s attire: leather sandals, argyle socks, Bermuda shorts and a grungy sweatshirt that read Support Your Civilian Review Board. When Harvey stretched out, crossing ankles, his veiny calf muscles bulged.

    “So, Lynn tells me she’s imparting some of her considerable tennis skills, and that you’re catching on extremely well.”

    "I don't know about that," Alan said. "She's a patient teacher. Must get that from you."

    “Dad,” she said, “I mean, Harvey, Alan and I are going into the den, okay?”

    “Son,” Harvey said, removing his bifocals, “one word of advice, if I may: don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Or else!” Then he laughed heartily enough again that his eyes squeezed almost shut, he had to hug himself and catch his breath. “And, come to think of it, don’t do anything I would do, either. But, just in case, the door stays open.”

    “He thinks he’s hysterical,” Lynn said, leading Alan to the back of the house.

     A dizzying collection of additional artwork hung on every wall: drawings, etchings, watercolors, oils, children’s crayon scribblings, abstract pieces and some that were representational. In the den, jammed with more stacks of books, she directed him to stand with his back to the door.

    “Good,” she said, kicking it closed behind them. “Now, shut your eyes.”

    “Loony,” he said, “if I may call you that here. Your Dad? Excuse me, Harvey?”

    “Shut up,” she said, “and do as I say. Who runs this outfit? Besides, he’s a real softie, his bark is way worse than his bite. What’d I say? Close your eyes. Stand up straight! And no peeking. Very good. All right, you ready? One-two-three: off with your clothes.”

    “What?”

    “Just kidding. Keep those eyes closed till I say, though. Okay: now!”

    He clapped a hand over his mouth and retreated a half step.

    “This,” she said, handing his present over, “is for when you turn sixteen, in April. But why wait?”

    “Oh, my word,” he said, eyes bugging out, dropping to his knees. “This album must’ve cost you a fortune. Thank you!” He hugged Lynn from where he squatted on the carpet, and had just finished planting a kiss on both of her bare doughy knee caps, with his face cradled now, pressing up into her crotch, in the moment before Harvey called out, “Baby doll, I forgot to tell you____,” just as he pushed open the door and saw his daughter swaying with her lips pressed together and her eyes closed.

 

    Alan had never had his ear pinched before, but in the event he rose quickly.

    “What kind of a filthy pervert?” Harvey yelled. “Don’t any waste time, do you?”

    “It’s not how it looks, Daddy,” Lynn screamed, beating her fists on his forearm, “stop that, what are you doing?”

    “I was just expressing my gratitude, Mr. Blass, I mean Harvey.”

    “I’ve got a good mind to beat you to a pulp,” he shouted, releasing Alan’s ear, lifting him by the back of his shirt collar and giving him the bum’s rush all the way through their house out the front door. “And don’t come near my daughter ever again. Crud!”

   

    “Ooh, it’s still all red,” Lynn said to him Monday afternoon in the halls after French class.

    “It’s okay,” Alan said, touching his ear, “really. "No big deal, I've got another."

    "Well, I just want you to know, I read Daddy the riot act and, once I explained the situation, he feels mortified at how wildly he over-reacted. I said, Is that what you do in the street, shoot first and ask questions later? He said to please convey his apologies. He’s kind of embarrassed. So, you want to come over?”

    “Are you kidding?"

    “Don’t be scared, he’s working today, on an overnight shift, or something. I need to give you the record.”

    That afternoon he quarantined himself in the living room and kept his distance even though there was no one around, just in case, he said. When Lynn mentioned that the album was in stereo, he said, Come again?, and it came out that the Bornsteins did not own a record player.

    “Don’t be embarrassed,” Lynn said, “we don’t have a TV.”

    “Ours is on literally all the time. My father’s an insomniac and he’ll lay there on the couch watching test patterns till the sun comes up.”

    “Harvey and Barbara are both adamant how having what they call an idiot box in the house would rot our minds. They’ve always insisted we do what they call constructive activities. So, come on,” she beckoned, “we’ll break in the Dylan in my room.”

    “Um, could we please listen in here?”

    “It’ll be fine. I told you he’s sorry. Oh, okay.”

    Lynn demonstrated how the stereo worked, she kissed Alan’s cheek and put the record on for him. When he opened his notebook and began scribbling lyrics, she disappeared to make a phone call. Once Alan had gotten it all down, after the seventh or eighth play, he sat in the chair her father had on Friday, leaned back, and began studying the album cover picture and trying to decipher the liner notes, both of which disoriented him even more than the song.

    Lynn reappeared, having changed from school clothes to shorts and an oversize fisherman’s sweater, its thick yarn so loose her skin glowed through underneath. Barefoot, with hair swept on top of her head, she leaned over the chair, her pouty lips positioned just inches from his. “Are you satiated yet? With Monsieur Dylan?”

    He raised both hands. “I don’t want us to get in trouble.”

    “All right.” She rolled her eyes. “Well, I’ve got tons of homework to do, so you’d better skoot. But, listen: Mrs. J loaned me the keys to the newspaper office. I told her I want to do some research in the archives tomorrow afternoon for a story idea I’m planning and she said she was taking the staff on an outing to Manhattan and that I could have access to the office and I wouldn’t be disturbed at all. So, you want to come meet me up there after 9th period? Yeah? Leave the record, it won’t do you any good at home.”

    Instead of reviewing conjugations for his French quiz, Alan typed the lyrics and then stayed up most of the night pouring over them, trying in vain to puzzle out each reference, picturing Lynn lifting that sweater overhead a hundred times. He bounced in his seat, daydreaming through classes, with silver studded phantoms, shoeless hunters, and other images from the song propelling his imagination. After bombing the quiz, he raced upstairs and pounded the newspaper office door.

    “The password,” he said, when Lynn ducked her head out, “is swordfish.”

    She was wearing a steel blue sweater and frilly white skirt whose hem did not quite cover her knees. Looking left and right, she winked and ushered him in. “This is amazing, take a gander at this,” she said, leading him behind some file cabinets along a wall  not visible from the door’s narrow grimy window. She handed him a yellowed clipping about Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Lincoln to address the graduating seniors on Brotherhood.

    “Fascinating,” he said, when they locked eyes. He folded her in his arms and pressed his lips to her Adam’s apple, burying his face in her neck, whereupon she threw her head back and moaned. They stood there pulling at one another, breathing in each other’s scents, slowly, silently for about ten minutes.

    “You,” he said, taking her cheeks in his hands, “are a dream.”

    “Really?” she said. “Don’t wake up.”

    They pulled two chairs together so they sat face to face, knees touching, wordlessly gazing, mirroring each other’s serene smiles, until somehow it turned into a staring contest, each shooting the other outlandish distorted looks before Alan laughed first and they leaned forward to embrace.

    “I win,” she said, patting her thighs twice. “So? What now?”

    “What now is, I’ve never been this ecstatic before. Ever. Over you.”

    “Aw,” she said, rubbing his cheek, “my Shooby-Dooby.”

    “Listen.” He took two typewritten sheets from his back pocket and held them to eye level.

    What he started reciting puzzled her until the words “gates of Eden.”

    “Something the matter?” he asked.

    “I’m really glad you like the present, but there’s a time and place. You’re getting a little single-track-minded about this, don’t you think? It’s a song. It’s not The Book of Revelation.”

    “Whatever that is,” he said. “Look, I’m just trying to find some way to figure out what’s going on. In life, in this society. This isn’t something I want to do, necessarily, it’s something I have to, you know? Like The Freed told me last week: I don’t have much choice.”

    “I know,” she said. “You’re just a little strange. Guess, that’s part of what makes you adorable.”

 

    “It’s not hot enough for you?” Alan’s mother Ettie asked her husband Nate that evening, standing over him after she had ladled chicken soup to the brim of his bowl.

    “See the steam? It’s hot.” He shrugged, blew on his spoon and took another sip. “Too hot.” Leaning both elbows on the kitchen table, he scratched his whitish brush-like mustache, and looked straight across to Alan. “Could use a little salt though.”

    “So? Put salt in. All you want. Salt’s not good for you.”

    “Yeah. And what’s with the bigshot?” Nate asked. “Since when is he too good for his mother’s chicken soup? The great elixir.”

    “Who said I’m too good?” Alan asked, passing the salt shaker. “I’m just not in the mood for it.”

    “All of a sudden,” Nate told his wife, “with the young generation, everyone has to be in the mood for everything. There’s a special mood for this, and a mood for that. Now I guess there’s a mood for chicken soup.”

    “No?” she said, nodding. “Each generation has their own way.”

    Nate frowned. “Was I ever in the mood to get held up five times? To have them burn my store down? Were you in the mood to, oh, forget it. There’s things you do because you’re supposed to. Very simple. Has nothing to do with no mood.”

    Ettie screamed, and it was with such suddenness and in so shrill a tone that the sound she made, somewhere between an Oh! and an Ow!, startled all three of them. She leaned both hands on the sill of the open window. “Let him alone, Nate! Shut your mouth for once, will you! Our generation was so wonderful, what we did? What horrible things.” She hung her head and walked muttering from the room.

    “She’s in one of those phases of the moon, see?” Nate explained, touching the side of his head. “It’ll soon blow over. Hopefully.”

    “I know, Dad.” He closed his eyes and pressed his palms together. “Hopefully. Listen though, I’ve got something to tell you. Some good news actually.”

    “Good news?” Nate jerked his thumb to the door. “Go get your mother, maybe it’ll snap her out of it.”

    “Really?”

    “Sure, it’s worth a try. Anything is.”

     Ettie sat in her darkened bedroom staring out a window to the courtyard four stories below.

    “It’s like a curse,” she said, her voice flat. “All of a sudden, something comes over me, I don’t feel well. I’ll be okay though. I’m fine. I just need to rest. To regain my strength.”

    “I know, Mom, it’ll pass soon, you’ll feel better. Listen though, I have some good news I want to tell you and Dad. Come back to the kitchen, come on. Or should I bring him here?”

    “Good news?” She shook her hand in front of her stomach, made a sour face. “Tell him. For me, no news is good news.”

    “Yeah, okay, Mom, I get it. Anything I can bring you? Water? Cup of tea?”

    She didn’t answer. She may have moved her head slightly, but the room was too dark to tell. She started rocking in the chair and just kept looking out the window.

 

    A few weeks later, the day the skies over Ettie Bornstein cleared, and the family sat eating dinner. She turned to her son Alan, in the middle of a long story Nate had been telling with gusto about his late Uncle Simcha, and how luck had smiled on him throughout his life in the millinery business, and when Nate paused to take a bite of a drumstick, she took the opportunity to say, “Alan, darling, you had some news? Haven’t you kept us in suspense long enough?”

    Nate looked at her and swallowed. “News? What could it be?”

    “One of three things, dear,” she said. “But this time we’re not guessing. I don’t want to jinx anything.”

    Nate gasped, crossed fingers on both hands and held them up to his chest.

    The boy cleared his throat. “So, at Lincoln, the teacher picked me, well along with my friend Lynn , the one I told you about, out of everyone, to be editor of the school newspaper next year.”

    His parents looked at one another and nodded.   

    “What friend Lynn?” Nate finally said, scratching his cheek.

    “Oh, Natie, you don’t listen? He has a little friend now. A chickadee. I talked to her on the phone once, remember? Twice. Very bubbly, very well spoken. American.”

    “Lynn what?” Nate asked.

    Alan rose from the table.

    “Sit down,” his father said, pointing. “Sit!”

    “Lynn. Michelle. Blass,” Alan said.

    “Blass?” Nate put his fingers to his lips. “They shortened it?”

    “I didn’t ask.” Alan groaned. “Jeez, I’m sorry. I thought it was good news.”

    “No, no, no, no,” Ettie said, shaking her finger, “don’t misinterpret. Your father and I are very proud of all your little accomplishments. I’m sure I speak for him too. But we’re also concerned with your well-being. And your future. Not to mention, the family’s. So, of course, we see things a little different than you do.”

    Nate frowned and nodded.

    Alan folded his hands. “What?” he mumbled.

    “For a boy like you,” Ettie said, lifting his chin, patting his cheek, “to write for a newspaper? I don’t know how easy a time you’ll have.”

    “My sentiments exactly,” Nate said. “That’s all. And, personally, I don’t appreciate being left in the dark.”

    “Did you both hear what I said?” Alan asked. “Editor of the high school newspaper.”

    “Oh, we heard,” Ettie said, laughing. “Loud and clear, darling. But did you hear what we said? And, what we’ve been saying? About our overall situation.”

    “Who’ll hire you?” Nate asked. “The New York Times? Good luck!” He turned to his wife. “The boy should stop with the pipe dreams and open his eyes. Learn a sensible trade, some skill that, no matter what, they can’t take away from him. Start making a contribution.”

    “I’m sorry I brought it up,” Alan said. “How about those Yankees?”

    “Sugar plums,” Nate said, fuming, staring at Ettie. “Somebody’s filled his head with them.”

    “Don’t look at me,” she said, “if that’s what you’re driving at.”

    “No? Who was it, this Blass?”

    Ettie picked her hand up and pointed all five fingers eye level, staring at her husband. Then she turned to Alan. “All right, let’s forget all this nonsense. Go be the editor, good luck to you, but at least let’s start thinking more realistic. About today, and about the future.”

    “So, just hypothetically,” Alan said, “what would the big problem be if I ever did decide to end up in journalism? Later on. Years from now.”

    Nate and Ettie stared at one another, then they covered their mouths and began to giggle. They tried to stop but neither could. After a minute, Nate raised his hand, shook it, and told his wife, “It’s okay, I’ll do the explaining.” He turned to Alan. “Say they don’t like what you write? Follow me? With your wise mouth. You could be fired any time. Or worse.”

    “Dad!”

    “No, listen, your father happens to be right. But it goes beyond even that. Something’s in print, it could come back to haunt you later. Understand? They have a record of it.”

    “Look, go ahead, have fun, you and Blass, all we’re saying, for your own benefit, is that editing the newspaper is foolishness, it’s a dead end. Soon you’ll be sixteen and it’s never too early to stop dreaming and start facing facts.”

 

    Alan began spending almost every afternoon with Lynn, exploring the neighborhood, planning projects for the newspaper. Twice a week they played tennis, but most of their get-togethers just took place in her living room. They would always start with Alan reclining, feet on the ottoman, eyes closed, Lynn putting Gates of Eden on the stereo, and him mouthing the words.

 

    “There’s something not right, Barbara,” Harvey Blass told his wife. “I don’t like the way she looks at him, the way they conspire together, nothing. This private language they share. Who’s this ‘Little Abbe’ they keep talking about?”

    “Oh, their pet name for the issue of the newspaper they’re collaborating on, laying out, for the May issue. They’ve had a few months to work on it.”

    “What? Well, they better not think about  applying to the same colleges, that’s all I have to say. She’s sixteen. You better have a talk with her.”

    “They’re kids, Harvey. It’s cute. Remember when you were sixteen?”

    “All too well, and that’s what bothers me. There’s something going on. Call it puppy love, I don’t care, it’s not healthy. Not for our Lynn. These two are inseparable. He follows her around like a little lamb. And, when they’re not together? They’re on the phone. She should be getting to know a lot of different boys, ones with more to offer. Athletic, positive. Not going steady. With a troubled kid like this whose got problems. I can’t talk to her about it, you have to. You she’ll listen to.” 

 

    Alan reverted to silent observation at Great Books Club meetings until one evening when the effusive praise he heaped on The Adventures of Augie March and its energetic narrative style poured out of him, giving Lynn momentary hope that a new enthusiasm might break what she considered his unhealthy fixation on Dylan. Although it did not win universal approval, Mr. Freedman had also been particularly animated in praising the book. Contention had surfaced after Serena said, “Augie seems so reckless and irresponsible,” and then Carol asked why Serena had to always be so judgmental. Soon everyone leapt into the fray, contention crystallizing around whether Augie was a true hero, with Kenny shouting in defense of his character, Wolf saying “That’s absurd!” and laughing derisively a number of times, and everyone talking at once, until Mr. Freedman had to urge that they all “consider the context,” and remind them that one could like a character without endorsing all his moral choices, or even liking the book itself, and that conversely one could appreciate a book without finding the main character heroic. “Let’s not confuse things,” he said, “that aren’t necessarily related.”

    The session ended on a sour note, not least because Rachel insisted on reading a too-long passage aloud in support of Serena’s main point, that ended up striking no one, Serena included, as in any way relevant.

    Then, to cap it off, in a misplaced attempt at ironic self-deprecation, Alan said, “Quite clearly, what Rachel means is that ‘there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden.’”

    Lynn elbowed him, a bit hard he thought.

    “Listen,” Wolf said to Lynn, as they exited the building, “my car’s in the shop. I’ll take the subway back with you, if that’s okay.”

    “Fiery discussion,” Lynn said, positioned between the boys as they approached the station.

    “As ever,” Wolf said, “Mademoiselle Blass, the voice of rationality and understatement.”   

    On the train, Lynn praised Mr. Freedman’s attempts to guide them to see the larger issues. The way, she imagined, college professors teach.

    “Dear, dear Jerome F,” Wolf said. “He’s one enthusiastic pedagogue, I’ll give the old boy that. He tries.”

    Alan broke his silence. “What’s that mean?”  

    “Well,” Wolf said, “he could offer more in the way of his own exegesis about the text, but instead he just repeats, or reformulates, the pedestrian points that we all make.”

    Lynn nudged Alan, but he just folded his arms and closed his eyes.

    “I think he wants us to discover things for ourselves,” Lynn said. “You don’t find his critical introductions to each book interesting and helpful?”

    “Critical? He’s just rehashing essays he’s read. Look, you don’t think it’s an indictment of Freedman’s intellect that he teaches high school? I mean, that his entire record collection is this folk fluff, these Dylan records? Nothing harmonically complex or challenging?”

    “That is ridiculous,” Alan said.

    “So, you’re not a fan?” Lynn asked.

    “God, no!” Wolf laughed. “I got off the Bobby D train after Hard Rain, that was his masterpiece. Everything since is a bunch of pretentious navel-gazing. A cult, I’m afraid. But, I’m not big on pop music anyway.”

    “What do you like?” Lynn asked.

    He broke out in a big smile. “Puccini.” He folded his hands behind his head, slumped in his seat and hummed some notes. “Tosca!”

    “Me too!” Lynn said. When she glanced at Alan, his teeth were gritted.

 

    Two nights later Alan and Lynn had to complete the trial layout they would submit to the outgoing editors for the final issue of the paper before summer vacation when the baton would be officially passed. Their Little Abbe. They had spread out at Lynn’s kitchen table, with two ceramic coffee mugs, galleys, a pair of scissors and tube of glue, but they couldn’t agree on how all the pieces of the puzzle should fit together.

    “All right,” Harvey told them at 10:15, “pack it in.”

    “We’ve got a little more to do,” Lynn said, without looking up. “Deadline is tomorrow morning, 3rd period.”

    “Well,” her mother Barbara said, “you need your sleep, dear. And I’m sure Alan should be getting along.”

    “We’ll finish before eleven, I promise.”

    Within minutes the phone rang. Barbara looked at Harvey. “Andrew?” she asked, then hurried from the kitchen to answer it, her husband following.

    “Hello?”

    “Can I speak with Mrs. Blass?” It was a woman’s voice.

    “Yes, speaking.” She paused. “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”

    “Mrs. Blass? Hello? It’s Mrs. Bornstein.”

    “Who?”

    “Alan Bornstein. His mother?”

    “Oh, sorry, I didn’t know his last name. Hello there.”

    “Yeah? And you, by any chance, are Mrs. Blass?”
    “Sorry, it’s a bad connection. Static.”

    “A bad connection is right. I looked up your phone number though. In the book.”

    “Yes, Alan and Lynn have been hard at work for hours.” She rolled her eyes at Harvey. “This is their first big assignment, very exciting. So you want to speak to him?”

    “I know all about it,” she said. “A big assignment. My Alan tells me everything. Don’t worry.”

    “Oh, good. So, you want me to get him? Or, what can I do for you?”

    “This is Mrs. Bornstein,” she repeated. “Alan’s mother! What is this? On a school night, yet? What you can do for me? Send him home. It’s too late for a son to be out. Please. I have no idea what goes on by your house, sweetie, what restrictions you lay down, but personally I’m worried to death. Thank you. Mrs. Blass.” She hung up.

    “What was that?” Harvey asked.

    Barbara walked back to the kitchen without answering. “That was your mother, Alan, you have to go home. Now.”

    “Mom,” Lynn said, not looking up, “I told you, we’re right in the middle ____”

    “Lynn! I said: now!”

    “That’s okay,” Alan said, rising. “I understand.”

 

THE END

AN Block teaches at Boston University and is Contributing Editor at the Improper Bostonian. He has an MA in History and is a Master of Wine. His most recent stories have appeared in Buffalo Almanack (recipient of its Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence), Umbrella Factory Magazine (a Pushcart Prize nominee), The Maine Review, Constellations, Contrary, Per Contra, Litbreak, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Torrid Literature, The Hungry Chimera, Menda City Review, Amarillo Bay, Literally Stories, Drunk Monkeys, New Pop Lit, Lowestoft Chronicle, The Citron, DenimSkin, Burningwood Literary Journal, Crack The Spine, The Bicycle Review, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, Flash Frontier, Blue Bonnet Review,The Binnacle and several others.

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