Excerpt from the novel
A Winter Garder
(Open Books, 2010)
by David A. Ross
© 2009 Moronic Ox Literary Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books
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Announcing the End of the World
“Stolaroff has five new canvases,” Scarlet Ponton told Doran. “And he’s collected two dozen others from his artist friends in the Ukraine.” Along with their friend Vasil Basso, they sat at the underground wine bar U kocoura (located in Mala Strana, or small town) after midnight. Nearby and settled upon a hilltop in all its luminary magnificence, Prague Castle prevailed over the venerable Czech capital. “Are you planning a trip to Kiev?” Doran asked. “I can’t go. My mother is arriving from Colombia the day after tomorrow,” Scarlet explained. “How is your money situation?” he asked her. “Renting shop space and buying computers has left me a little strapped,” she confessed. “But I can afford some of the paintings,” she said. “What about you?” “Right now I’m fairly flush,” he told her. “I can probably pay for twenty canvases, if you can cover the others.” “Yes, I think that’s workable,” she said. “I presume you want me to make the trip?” Scarlet smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it worth your time and effort.” Doran nodded and turned to Basso. “Want to take a little vacation, Vasil? I could stand some company.” “A trip to Kiev?” Basso shook his head skeptically. “No, thanks.” “Where’s your sense of adventure?” Doran baited. “Not in Kiev,” said Vasil drolly. “Besides, my band is booked through the end of the month.” “The Plastic People are playing at the Roxy in Prague Center tomorrow night,” Scarlet confirmed. “And Vasil assures me that it’s going to be a very curious show.” She raised her black eyebrows as she regarded the perspicuous musician. “Maybe you’d like to come with me, Doran?” “Sure, I’ll come.” “Good. The concert is at eleven-thirty. I’ll come by your apartment around ten. We can go for a drink before the show begins.” Doran turned to Vasil Basso. “For better or for worse, it looks like I have a date,” he said to the sallow-faced poet. Vasil smiled as he extinguished his cigarette. “You could do worse,” he concluded. Scarlet socked him playfully on the shoulder. “Notice I haven’t asked you out, darling.” “An unfortunate omission on your part, Scarlet,” he said. “Or perhaps the province of feminine insight,” she bantered. “My dear Scarlet, may you wonder for eternity.” “I’m far too young for you, Basso,” she retorted. Her penetrating gaze openly mocked Vasil’s insincere advance. The lights in the bar were turned low; nevertheless her full face glowed with confidence. Smiling wryly, Vasil regarded Doran. “Apparently Scarlet does not understand the many advantages of dating a mature man,” he conjectured. “Experience over beauty, I agree,” said Doran. “Give me a break!” she laughed. “Either one of you would take a younger lover in a heartbeat.” “May God spare me that,” wished Vasil. “And may He spare Doran as well!” “I don’t believe you,” Scarlet challenged. “Not for one minute!” “Of course a younger woman has certain charms,” Vasil allowed. “But there remains a question of depth.” “Are you saying that younger women are necessarily superficial?” she asked, incredulous. “Present company notwithstanding,” Doran conceded. “Yes, there are exceptions,” said Vasil. “Unless I’m uninformed, neither of you has had a recent invitation from Claudia Schiffer,” she taunted. “Nor from Madonna!” “Very busy women,” observed Vasil. “I heard that Schiffer’s with that oddball TV magician, Copperfield,” said Doran. “Not that she’d know either of you are alive,” said Scarlet. “A low blow,” said Vasil. “Tit for tat,” she said. “You’re one in a million, darling.” “This is too much!” she huffed. “Don’t take Basso too seriously,” Doran implored her. “You should talk, Seeger. You’re a co-conspirator!” “Hardly,” he said. “It’s getting late,” Scarlet concluded. “And I’m sufficiently drunk.” She pushed her chair away from the table. “And I suppose you’re late for a rendezvous with your younger lover?” teased Vasil. “Don’t go blind fantasizing about me, Basso,” she cautioned. “A low blow,” said Vasil. “Tit for tat,” she said Doran stood up as well, though it was apparent that Vasil intended to remain at the wine bar a while longer. “I’ll walk with you,” Doran offered her. “No need to go out of your way,” she said dismissively. “You know I don’t mind,” he said. With lips full and red, Scarlet smiled. “Gracias, amigo,” she said. She draped her red cape over her shoulders and took his arm. Together they headed for the door. As they walked across Old Town Square and past the astronomical clock tower, Scarlet talked about the purchase she had recently made of twelve computers, her intention being to open an internet café in central Prague. They also discussed the progress of their business dealing in Russian art. “Scarlet, I have no doubt that someday you’ll be a rich woman,” said Doran. “I seem to have a knack for recognizing opportunities that other people miss,” she said. “But I don’t do it for the money,” she laughed. “I think I just like hatching schemes.” “Importing paintings from the Ukraine was an inspired idea, Scarlet. And it’s proven to be a real gold mine,” he said. “But I don’t know how much longer we can continue,” she speculated. “Either the supply will dwindle, or the market will dry up.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “What good thing lasts forever?” “I guess you have a point,” he allowed. “Don’t worry, Seeger,” she said. “You’re a terrific partner. You’re honest. And you’re not afraid to take risks. Whatever I decide to try, you can consider yourself included.” “Seeing that I have no work visa, I appreciate the offer,” said Doran. “I know that sometimes I give you a hard time,” she said, “but I really like you, Seeger.” Having left Scarlet at the entrance to her apartment, Doran made his way through the city center toward his home. So many nights he’d walked the empty streets of Prague after midnight, after drinking and socializing at the wine bars with expatriate friends and Czechs alike, and the city had never failed to charm him. With its spires and quaint streets, its bridges and antique street lamps, old Prague tantalized his sense of fantasy and gently nourished a once demoralized spirit. Which was not to say that he was free from the pain of his particular disenchantment, or the resulting cynicism. Such feelings had originated at least in part from a growing realization that he’d been co-opted by his own government, having been employed to design guidance systems for so-called smart weapons in return for substantial redress. Neither he nor his co-workers had been told the specific applications of the systems they were designing, and apparently no one thought to question authority—an absence of insight or courage that ultimately had had devastating consequences the night the bombs fell on Iraq. Throughout the televised air raid on Baghdad, Doran had purged into the toilet, though he’d not been able to rid himself of remorse. Indeed, the deaths of two hundred fifty thousand Iraqis weighed heavily on his conscience—not to mention the resultant deaths of half a million children under the age of five who might have lived full and productive lives had it not been for subsequent sanctions on food and medicine imposed after a wholly conditional armistice. And though he knew that it was pointless to personally shoulder blame, or to try to understand all the particulars of the politics at play, he could not help harboring resentment at having been used as a pawn by more powerful players in such ruthless international intrigues. While Doran had never really intended an extended stay in Europe, neither did he want to return to his former profession or way of life in the States. Certainly, importing art from Eastern Europe did not fully satisfy his creative tendencies; but it did provide him a living in black money, which was necessary since he did not have legal standing outside his own country. And it was fair to say that he felt far less co-opted in the Czech Republic (or anywhere else in Europe for that matter) than he had in the U.S.A. Just where he was headed, now almost ten years after the fact, remained to him a mystery. Indeed, a rather curious position for one nearly fifty years of age. And there also remained for him the nagging issue of atonement and recompense for deeds done (whether intentional or not) that were counter-productive to peace and the greater humanitarian cause—at least that was his particular notion of balance and justice. Certainly his time as an expatriate had offered him a measure of self-forgiveness, yet a lifetime deserved a more noble defining deed, did it not? As he turned the cobbled corner onto Navratilova Street, Doran walked with head lowered in thought, so at first he did not notice the shadowy figure huddled in the doorway of his apartment building. Though as he moved closer the silhouette of a young woman became obvious. He knew the occupants of his building by sight, and even in dim light it was clear to him that the loiterer was distinctly out of place. He was not alarmed by her presence, only curious, and possibly concerned for her welfare. He called out a greeting and asked if she was looking for someone particular. “Doran, is that you?” she inquired. He squinted his eyes, trying to see more clearly in the weak light. “Gisela Van Zyl!” he said as a smile spread over his expression. Wrapped in a jacket far too light for the chilly weather, Gisela rose from her crouched position in the doorway. “I’ve been waiting here for you since eight o’clock,” she said. “Why didn’t you telephone me?” Doran asked as they kissed cheek to cheek. “You never sent me your number. All I had was your address.” “I had no idea you’d come so soon,” he said. “I hope it’s not a problem,” she ventured. “No. No problem at all. In fact, I’m delighted you’re here!” “Well good!” she said as a shiver moved over her body. “You look frozen stiff,” Doran observed. “Come inside.” Gisela nodded enthusiastically as she picked up her bag. “I thought that maybe I had the wrong address,” she said. “If you’d only written to tell me when to expect you,” said Doran as he turned the key in the lock. “You know how it is,” she said shyly. “I mean, I wasn’t exactly sure when I’d arrive. I stopped in Barcelona. Also in Nice. It’s a long way here from Lagos.” “And from Corfu!” “Yeah, no kidding.” “But now you’re here.” “And come what may!” she said. “So you’re not planning to go back to Portugal?” “Never would be too soon,” she said decisively. “Prague is fantastic,” he informed her. “Everybody’s here. And I mean everybody!” As Doran turned on a light inside his flat, Gisela laid down her bag and looked round the parlor. “Nice apartment,” she complemented. “It’s really big!” “I was fortunate to find this apartment,” he told her. “Vacancies are rare in the center of the city.” “My apartment in Lagos was half the size of this place,” she measured. “And of course after Alexi moved in with all his crap, I was relegated to a corner.” “Alexi is Vladimir Stolaroff’s son?” “Right!” “And also your most recent antagonist…” Gisela laughed ironically. “I lost all control of the situation,” she explained, “and it simply became unbearable.” “Sorry to hear it,” Doran consoled. “Strangely enough,” she analyzed, “I don’t feel any remorse at leaving him.” “None?” “No,” she shrugged. “Well, I guess that’s good,” Doran judged. “I mean, you’d think that after living with a guy for over a year… But he was such a bastard, Doran. He doesn’t deserve a single tear. And apparently I’m not inclined to shed one!” “Always the sentimental one—that’s how I remember you, Gisela.” “All sarcasm aside, Doran, he was very cruel to me.” “Not physically, I hope.” “It was coming to that, I have no doubt.” “Then you were right to leave.” “I know I was.” “And it looks like you’re traveling light,” he observed. “I had to get out as fast as I could,” she said somberly. “So, why didn’t you go home to Holland?” Doran asked. “To your sister.” “Alarice wanted me to come. But Rotterdam is not right for me—never has been.” Doran nodded, for he understood convictions of this kind—convictions as inevitable as they were vague. “So, take your time,” he advised. “Even as your next step is right in front of you, it’s not always obvious. I know this from experience, Gisela.” “I’m not even sure why I came to Prague,” she said. “But your hospitality means a lot to me, Doran. I don’t know how to thank you.” He waved off her gratitude. “My home is your home. I’ll give you a key.” She smiled. “You’re too much.” “You still look chilled. How about some coffee?” he suggested. “Yes, thank you.” “My business partner is Colombian,” he told her as he put the pot to boil. “She imports the finest beans,” he bragged. Over coffee at the kitchen table, Doran considered the appearance of the younger Van Zyl sister. As a teenager Gisela was tall and angular; but as a young woman her body had filled out nicely, looking now much as Alarice had looked ten years ago. And her hair, once dyed rebellious black and cropped short, had grown in full and returned to its natural, soft brown color. The craze of silver jewelry she’d worn as a girl had been replaced in maturity with a tasteful gold bracelet and matching earrings. Her clothes were stylish and sexy, and her make-up, also once exaggerated, was now flattering in its simplicity. Of course there were obvious differences between the Van Zyl sisters: where Alarice’s eyes were warm and sentimental, Gisela’s wide violet gaze conveyed a venturous nature; and where Alarice’s body language expressed a relaxed confidence, Gisela’s posture hinted at some irreconcilable peril. Though this concealed desperation—whatever it was—did not diminish her appeal, nor did it make her unapproachable. In fact, Doran had always found Gisela’s implicitness rather compelling. Studying her long, steady fingers as they traced counter-clockwise rings around the rim of her coffee cup, or watching the tip of her tongue move slowly over her full, parted lips, Doran was unexpectedly prompted by an all but forgotten fascination. And though the light that shone from the overhead fixture in Doran’s kitchen was mostly inadequate, Gisela tended to see her host in very different terms. Over time, she had developed the capacity of seeing both objects and people—especially people—in their own particular radiance. Emanating from Doran Seeger’s profile, she perceived a vibrant ring of neon blue light, receding progressively into shades of violet, and then disappearing altogether. Her own aura burned red as the rising sun and advanced in prismatic increments into the yellow gradient of the color spectrum. Alarice’s predominant color was rose; Alexi’s aura glowed sickly green. Gisela had become well accustomed to seeing the world in such affected terms, though she attached no specific interpretation to her perceptions. To each individual’s blush, her reaction tended to be emotional, not rational. She remembered perceiving the aura of Spiro Thromos, her summertime lover on Corfu, as being white-hot and fading to watery blue; and she’d understood instinctively the steady retrogression of his practiced bravado into fundamental insecurity. Her mother’s brilliant white light had conveyed to Gisela a keen and precise intelligence, while her father’s deep umber emanation had somehow foreshadowed his grim fate. Now, as she absorbed herself in Doran’s cerulean light, she was most careful to refrain from quantifying the expression, for she was deliberately inclined to allow circumstances to define themselves naturally. “Would you like to see the rest of the apartment?” Doran asked as they finished drinking coffee. “Sure,” said Gisela. Doran led his guest through the parlor as he explained, “I’m afraid there’s only one bedroom, but as you can see there is a loft. Normally, I sleep down. If you’re not opposed to sharing a room, you can have the loft.” “Any place is fine with me,” Gisela allowed. “If you’d rather have your privacy, Doran, I can bunk on the sofa.” “I’m sure that the loft will be more comfortable,” he said. “But the choice is yours.” “Then I’ll sleep in the loft,” she decided. “I have extra sheets and blankets,” he offered. “You’re the perfect host, aren’t you?” He smiled at her. “You’re a special guest, Gisela. How many pillows do you prefer?” he asked. “Two?” she ventured a little hesitantly. “Two it is!” he confirmed. Together, they moved toward the bathroom. “The hot water is fickle,” he explained. “Especially in the morning. High demand, I suppose.” “I can adapt,” she offered. “And the heat is rather sporadic,” he told her. “This is a good night.” “So I guess I should wear my flannels,” Gisela proposed. “Flannels?” “You know, pajamas!” “You have flannel pajamas?” Doran queried. “Just kidding, Doran.” “You must be exhausted after traveling all day,” he speculated. “I’m tired, but I’m excited to be here,” she said. “Well, I guess I’ll just get the bedding now,” Doran said, and he went into the parlor. Gisela trailed behind. From a bureau drawer, Doran collected sheets and pillowcases. Then he moved to a closet for a blanket. “This should do it,” he estimated. “You’ll be quite comfortable, I think.” “It’s very late, isn’t it?” Gisela said. “About half past two, I believe,” said Doran. “I hope you don’t have to get up early tomorrow morning,” she said with concern. “Not really. My only job is importing art from the former Soviet Union. I’m leaving on a buying trip in a few days, but until then, I’m yours. What would you like to do tomorrow?” he asked. “I’m sure I’ll sleep until noon. But then I’d love to see the city,” she answered. “Of course,” said Doran as he went to make her bed. “I’d love to show you the sights.” Gisela smiled contentedly as she watched him climb the ladder leading to the loft. She watched as he smoothed sheets, spread her blanket, and encased her two pillows. “You’re really too much, Doran,” she reiterated as she began to unpack her bag. “I’m just happy that you wrote to me. And I’m equally happy that you decided to come to Prague.” “Yes, I’m beginning to think that it was a fortunate decision,” Gisela confirmed. When each was finally ready for bed, and the lights were turned out and silence prevailed, Gisela lay fully awake in the strange bed, considering her fate. The reunion with Doran had been pleasant though a bit awkward, she thought. And she found it curious that at no time during their conversation had he asked about Alarice. She’d always presumed that they had been deeply in love. Though neither had been inclined to extend the relationship over the ensuing ten years. That in itself she found curious. But of course each affair of the heart had its particular dynamics. And she was certainly no expert at maintaining a relationship. For years she had implored her sister to find someone—anyone! Even so, Alarice had chosen to molder in Rotterdam doing business, going to movies, reading books, and sleeping alone. Likewise, Doran had kept his distance once they left Corfu, and Gisela could only speculate that there was more to their particular story than she knew. Why else would two lovers purposely separate themselves from one another? She could not help seeing their circumstance as tragic, but in the end she concluded that it was none of her business. Nevertheless, she was grateful for Doran’s unconditional hospitality. And she was strangely interested in getting to know her sister’s former lover—this time as an adult herself. Next morning, they ate breakfast at a café on Wenceslas Square before Doran conducted Gisela on a walking tour of central Prague. From Old Town Square, with its Romanesque, baroque, and gothic architecture, they moved down the fashionable Pariska Boulevard toward the old Jewish Quarter. They visited the fabled Jewish cemetery, and then wandered through the Mala Strana to see the green-domed Church of Saint Nicholas. Smiling, Doran told her, “Old Saint Nick is the protector of wayfarers. He’s the only saint to which I have a connection.” “Ah,” she said. “Then maybe he’ll watch out for me, too.” By early afternoon, the buskers had gathered on Karlovy Vary. A city landmark since its construction in the thirteenth century, the bridge served not only as an overpass for people moving from one bank of the Vltava to the other, it was also Prague’s principal venue for street performers. They paused to watch gypsy musicians, ethnic dancers, and mimes. “Long ago, this bridge was the scene of Knight’s tournaments,” Doran relayed. “Can you imagine it?”
“To me, all that stuff seems untouchable,” Gisela said as she leaned against a buttress. She lit a cigarette and looked whimsically upriver. “What about the statues?” she asked.
“There are seventy of them,” he told her. “The most famous is of Jan Nepomuk—the one with the halo of stars above his head.” “And what’s that about?” “It seems that Jan Nepomuk was a priest during the time of King Wenceslas. Apparently, the queen chose him as her confessor, and admitted a series of affairs. But when the priest would not compromise his commitment of confidentiality, King Wenceslas had him drowned in the Vltava. The story claims that a golden circle of light appeared immediately afterward in the water, confirming Jan Nepomuk’s martyrdom. Hence, the gold-starred halo over his statue!” “Perhaps it’s because I’m not Catholic,” said Gisela, “but Sainthood always seemed such a futile reward.” “No doubt, most of them never had the best of it in this life,” Doran acknowledged. “And this is all very beautiful,” Gisela sighed. “The river, the bridge, the spires…” “More than a hundred of them,” Doran informed. And he could see that Gisela’s concentration was divided, and a hint of melancholy defined her expression. “Lay your hand upon the crucifix at the base of Father Jan’s likeness,” Doran suggested. “It is said that your fondest wish will come true.” Gisela examined the crucifix but she did not touch it. “Maybe I’ll have to come back another time,” she said. “When I have a specific wish in mind.” “Well, I’m sure the statue is not going anywhere,” Doran said. “No, I suppose not.” “Are you hungry?” he asked. Gisela shrugged. “I guess so,” she said. “Let’s get a sandwich or something,” he suggested. “I know a place close by.” At a small café just off Wenceslas Square, they lunched on ham salad sandwiches and pilsner beer. Sensing Gisela’s unease, he found this reunion awkward at times; yet he was willing to afford her whatever time she needed to feel whole again. Personal reconstruction, he understood, was a highly personal matter, each individual rebounding in his own way. Gisela, too, was aware of her particular discomfiture, and as much as she might have wanted this to be a happy and carefree time—a new beginning for herself, as well as a renaissance of her friendship with Doran Seeger—she was neither able to hide her sadness, nor able to affect her mood. “I have plans to see a concert this evening,” he mentioned. “Perhaps you’d like to come along?” “What sort of concert?” she asked. “My friend Vasil Basso has a band called Plastic People of the Universe. They’re quite original.” “How so?” Gisela asked. “Their shows tend to move outward from the music, encompassing burlesque and dance and mime. And whatever else they dream up to make a statement. They’re very popular here in Prague.” “Sounds interesting.” “My friend Scarlet is picking me up around ten o’clock,” he informed. “I wouldn’t want to impose on your date,” Gisela recoiled. “It’s nothing like that,” he assured her. “Are you sure?” “Of course I’m sure. Scarlet is my business partner and my friend. Nothing more. Why not come, Gisela?” “Okay,” she said, and smiled for the first time since they’d sat down to lunch. As previously arranged, Scarlet called for Doran at ten o’clock. Doran introduced Gisela to his business partner, and each in turn marveled at the unlikely coincidence of Gisela’s affiliation to the Stolaroffs, and to Doran. “I know it’s an ever smaller world,” commented Scarlet, “still the infinite network of connections never ceases to amaze me. It’s such a dramatic game we play; there must certainly be some higher intelligence maneuvering the pieces.” Gisela’s eyes widened at the presumptuousness of Scarlet’s bold analysis, but she refrained from comment. To Gisela’s eye, Scarlet swam in a pulsating aura of fiery red. Surely the god Aries ruled her disposition. And though she herself radiated a ruby red energy, Gisela knew immediately that their spiritual temperaments were decidedly different. Scarlet ruled whichever domain she entered—not through a commanding or aggressive force, but rather by an intrinsic cogency. Gisela’s power was far subtler, for in maturity she had tried to cultivate (contrary to her natural tendency) the art of self-restraint.
At a bar adjoining the Roxy Theatre, they had drinks; and over vodka martinis it was suggested by Scarlet that Gisela accompany Doran on his upcoming trip to Kiev. Sighing in skepticism, Gisela balked. Though she might have enjoyed traveling to Kiev, the very idea of meeting Alexi’s father under present circumstances seemed to her quite inappropriate.
“So you’ve never met Vladimir,” said Scarlet. “No,” she confirmed. “He’s a teddy bear,” Doran evaluated. “Hardly like his son,” said Gisela sarcastically. “Has Vladimir ever seen a photograph of you?” Scarlet inquired. “Not to my knowledge,” said Gisela. “Then why not go incognito?” she proposed. “What do you mean?” asked Gisela. “Well, if Doran were simply to introduce you as somebody else, then Vladimir would be none the wiser, right?” Gisela cleared her throat. She glanced at Doran and smiled her understated smile. “I’m not usually inclined to such deceptions,” she said to Scarlet. “But aren’t you curious, Gisela? Ah, to be a proverbial fly on the wall!” Gisela considered Scarlet’s query, as well as the proposed intrigue. “Of course I’m curious.” “Then why not go along with Doran? I know he’d welcome your company,” said Scarlet. “No doubt about that,” confirmed Doran. With a quizzical look on her face, Gisela turned to Doran. “Is Kiev so distasteful?” she asked. “It’s not that,” he said. “But I’ve made the trip a number of times.” In fact, Doran liked Scarlet’s plan, and he hoped Gisela could be persuaded to come to the Ukraine with him. “Kiev is a very interesting city,” he appraised, “so why not see a few of the sights. And once I take possession of the paintings, we’ll go directly to Cologne, where a pre-arranged buyer is waiting to purchase them from me.” “I think you should go, Gisela,” determined Scarlet. “After all, Doran is willing to pay your ticket and hotel.” Scarlet nudged her business partner’s shoulder to prompt him, and Doran quickly agreed that he would cover Gisela’s expenses. “I’ll think about it,” said Gisela as she finished her martini. “She’ll end up going with you,” Scarlet concluded to Doran. “I hope so,” he said. Gisela regarded each of them with eyebrows raised. The Plastic People always attracted a distinctive crowd if not a distinguished one, and tonight the Roxy was packed with the band’s loyal followers, as well as many uninitiated curiosity seekers. In truth, their shows had become notorious throughout Prague for their ribald poignancy, and tonight’s presentation promised to be no less penetrating. As the house lights were turned down, and the stage was illuminated in three thousand watts of shocking white light, each spectator held his breath in anticipation of the performance. Emanating from the massive array of loud speakers, a bone-jarring hum amplified the crowd’s collective tension by degrees. And just as the subsonic vibration reached what seemed to be a critical resonance, Vasil Basso himself appeared at center stage wearing a blood red suit. His face was painted a ghastly shade of white, his hair was blackened and slicked back, and his features were hideously distorted by make-up. Boldly, the vampire proclaimed: “I have come tonight to announce to you the End of the World!” Indeed, out of humanity’s crisis rose a sonorous chord, a haunting harmony, a combination of musical tones at once compatible and mismatched, a permutation that was familiar yet irreconcilable: the questionable chord resonated pure religion. From a once dark society came an even darker vision. Here in Prague, Armageddon was hardly an impending allegory; the creative voice of the Czech people had been strangled for so long that finally it called out, red-faced and resolute, Insanity No More! So, who better to see a cause equally insidious? “The World Bank has burdened the poor with unsupportable debt!” went Basso’s litany. “And as the Global Masters feed like carp on squandered spiritual capital, the dissidents gather again outside fortified walls! Here in Prague! In Den Haag! In Genoa! In Berlin! In Seattle! “The Goblins of Globalization think we doth protest too loudly, but once all the small fish have been consumed, the barracudas will have no choice but to cannibalize each other. So again we rattle our keys!” “What diatribe!” Doran remarked to Scarlet. “Not my angle,” she conceded. “But maybe dissent is a hard habit to break.” “Christ, I’m just trying to survive emotionally,” said Gisela. The chaotic music gathered momentum, as the Plastic People mimed the interplay of the moneychangers. And gathered in groups around rustic tables, spellbound spectators drank vodka and smoked and waited for a cue that remained safely in the future. Because for most the message was provisional: by day the rats ran dutifully upon their wheels; at night, numbed by exhaustion or boredom or terror, they drank or drugged or fucked to forget their pain. The god of materialism determined the course of their lives; and it was no doubt a demanding god, if indeed a nebulous one. Yet, life was a day-by-day affair, and the fascia of normalcy prevailed. And the anarchistic model lacked the definition necessary for wide embrace. So the Plastic People of the Universe went about their business of incitement, subliminally scratching a persistent itch, and courting a critical mass. “Basso may look like a crazed demon,” said Doran to Gisela, “but he’s really a tender soul.” Gisela shrugged and rolled her eyes. “It’s all so desperate,” she said. “Yes, I think that’s the intended message.” “I can’t live that way,” she said. “With an arrhythmic heartbeat?” “Right! I’d burn out in no time.” “But doesn’t one burn out anyway?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t know.” “Bullshit!” Scarlet proclaimed. “Even if they have a point, it’s too late. The wheel has already turned. It’s an old story, and a repetitive one. Basso is eating himself alive. Better to run with the big dogs,” said Scarlet the entrepreneur. “Or simply withdraw from all of it,” suggested Gisela. “I’ve been looking for that island for years,” said Doran. “It doesn’t exist,” said Scarlet. “Maybe it does,” said Gisela hopefully. “No, there is no panacea,” Scarlet reiterated. “Whether we like it or not, it’s a dog-eat-dog world!” “Well, Scarlet, you can perceive it that way if you like, but I believe there are still places where people are unaffected by all the bullshit,” she maintained. “And maybe it’s better to understand that the rat race is all-inclusive,” said Scarlet. “Such ominous issues!” Gisela charged. “My own needs are simple ones, and too much consternation just gives me a headache.” “And perhaps there is a balance to be struck,” Doran refereed. “Always the fulcrum, aren’t you, Seeger?” said Scarlet. “Am I?” “You play both roles equally well.” “That’s just survival,” he said. “And maybe it’s the reason you can’t find your island,” she surmised. But Doran knew that it was not that simple. For he’d played the game, and he’d withdrawn from it, too. Each stance exacted a price. What he searched for (if indeed it were to be found at all) existed on a plane far less tangible. Loss of commitment had become his fate, not necessarily by choice. But the object of one’s commitment remained all-important: this he understood by default. As did Vasil Basso and his Plastic People… The music rumbled through the halls of the Roxy for the better part of two hours, each musical number augmented by costume changes and diabolical theatrics and revival meeting rhetoric, and finally, after two o’clock in the morning, the show came to a close. Muscles taught and teeth bared, the crowd filed out in charged-up amazement, and Scarlet remarked: “So they’ve done it again!” referring of course to the dynamic performance given by Basso & Company. It was very late, and they were tired. All three walked, with feet shuffling, to Scarlet’s apartment. Bidding her companions good night, Scarlet again advised Gisela to consider accompanying Doran on his trip to Kiev.
“I’ll think about it,” Gisela promised.
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Motivated to expatriate by guilt and remorse after helping to design guidance systems for the U.S. Military, Doran Seeger has lived the past decade in Europe.
Living in Prague and working as an underground art dealer, a chance encounter with the sister of a former girl friend persuades him to return to Greece, where a society that embraces real civility, not to mention a few idiosyncrasies, tenderly draws him out of reticence and cynicism.
At the suggestion of his longtime friend Modestos Thromos, Doran plants a winter garden; and as he patiently tills the Grecian soil, he regains his integrity, his sense of joy, and his humanity.
Poignant, earthy, rich in humor, honest...
A Winter Garden
is a seasonal harvest.
About the Author:
David A. Ross was born January 6, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to his career as a novelist (Good Morning Corfu, 2009; Open Books; How High The Wall, 2008; Open Books; Sacrifice and the Sweet Life, 2003, Escape Media; A Winter Garden, 2003, Escape Media; Stones, 2001, Escape Media; Xenos, 1998, Escape Media; Calico Pennants; 1997, Escape Media), he is a former columnist and contributing editor for Southwest Art Magazine (1984-1985). His first novel, Calico Pennants, was a finalist in the 1997 National Writer's Association Novel Competition. David A. Ross lives on the Island of Corfu, Greece, where he is the editor of Corfu Magazine and Moronic Ox Literary & Cultural Journal.
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