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Past Perfectby Susan Isaacs
Oh God, I wish I had a weapon! Naturally, I don't. Of course, if life in any way resembled Spy Guys, the espionage TV show I write, I'd pull off the top of my pen and with one stab inflict a fatal wound, and save my life. Except no pen: just two pieces of chewed Dentyne Ice spearmint wrapped in a receipt for sunscreen and panty liners.
When I began making notes on what I naively thought of as Katie's Big Adventure, I hadn't a clue that my life would be on the line. How could I? This would be my story, and every ending I'd ever written had been upbeat. But in the past few weeks I've learned that "happily ever after" is simply proof of my lifelong preference for fantasy over reality.
Unfortunately, fantasy will not get me out of this mess. So what am I supposed to do now? First, calm down. Hard to do when I'm crouched behind a toolshed, up to my waist in insanely lush flora that's no doubt crawling with fauna.
It's so dark. No moon, no stars: the earth could be the only celestial object in a black universe. And it's hot. Even at this late hour, there is no relief from the heat. My shirt is sweat-drenched and so sucked against my skin it's a yellow-and-white-striped epidermis.
I cannot let myself dwell on the fact that my danger is doubled because I'm so out of my element. Me, Total Manhattan Sushi Woman, cowering behind a toolshed in fried pork rinds country with unspeakable creatures from the insect and worm worlds who think my sandaled feet are some new interstate.
Adam, my husband, would probably be able to identify the nocturnal bird in a nearby tree that refuses to shut up, the one whose hoarse squawks sound like "Shit! Shit! Shit!" Adam is a vet. A veterinary pathologist at the Bronx Zoo, to be precise. Were something that feels like a rat's tail to brush his toes in the dark, he wouldn't want to shriek in horror and vomit simultaneously, like I do. He'd just say, Hmm, a Norway rat. Adam is close to fearless.
I, of course, am not. If I concentrate on what's happening here in the blackness, the slide of something furry against my anklebone, the sponginess of the ground beneath the thin, soaked soles of my sandals, a sudden Bump! against my cheek, then something, whatever it is (bat? blood-swollen insect?) ricocheting off, I will literally go mad, and trust me, I know the difference between literally and figuratively. I'll howl like a lunatic until brought back to sanity by the terrible realization that I've given away my precise location to that nut job who is out there, maybe only a hundred feet away, stalking me.
Feh! Something just landed on the inner part of my thigh. As I brush it off, its gross little feet try to grip me.
Don't scream! Calm down. Taoist breathing method: Listen to your breathing. Easy. Don't force it. Just concentrate. Listen. All right: three reasonably calm breaths. What am I going to do? How am I going to survive? Will I ever see Adam again? And our son, Nicky?
What used to be my real life back in New York seems as far away as some Blondie concert I went to when I was fifteen. All right, what the hell was I originally thinking I had to do here behind the toolshed? Oh, try to remember what I wrote in the journal I began a day or two after that first disturbing phone call. Maybe something I'd unthinkingly jotted down could help me now, or could at least allow me to delude myself that this episode will be yet another of my...and they lived happily ever after.
Copyright © 2007 by Susan Isaacs
From Past Perfect
"You want to right a past wrong. Has it occurred to you that your going back to the past is a means of reconnecting with the Agency, of giving yourself an adventure? So your life can resemble one of your television shows?"
Not bad. I wished I had the rocking chair, because I could have gone back and forth on that one for a while. I wasn't my mother's daughter for nothing. I just sat quietly though. Finally I said, "It's a thoughtful question. I wish I could give you a definitive 'Absolutely not!' I don't know. I don't think I want actual adventure. If I did, I would have applied to the clandestine service when I applied to the CIA. But if I had, I'm sure I couldn't have passed the psychological tests, because I don't have what it takes. I don't get thrills from danger, I just get frightened. Look, Mr. Harlow, I've never even been on a roller coaster." I was about to say the only way I'd ever get on one would be at gunpoint, but I decided to skip it.
"Fair enough. And you can call me Jacques."
"So where did you get the name?"
"It was my father's." My buddy Jacques was not overly generous in the information department. "Are you called Katherine?"
"Katie. Kate if you're the monosyllabic type. I want to clear something up though. It's not as if I spent the last fifteen years rubbing my hands together and plotting how to get justice from the Agency." I made a big deal about swallowing because I wasn't sure of the wisdom of telling all, or even telling some, to Jacques. On the other hand, there was no other hand. He was my last and therefore best hope. "A few weeks ago," I began, "I got a call from someone I had known at the Agency. Lisa Golding."
I looked at him long enough until he said, "Never heard of her." He stood and walked around and leaned on the back of the chair which seemed, somehow, to know not to rock. "I'm assuming that's not the end of the story. Somehow this led you to want to speak to someone familiar with the situation in East Germany in '89."
"Yes." I considered getting up too, but the back of my chair was low enough that if I rested my arms on it, I'd look like Quasimodo. So sitting there, I told him how Lisa had offered to tell me why I was fired in exchange for my help, and then gave him a three-word character sketch-amusing, talented, untruthful-and a description of her job. Since I wasn't about to tell him of my notes down in the basement, in the Crypt, I said: "I spent days trying to remember what I'd worked on with her. The only thing I could come up with that might still have meaning was..." I stopped for a moment, then said, "I'd feel better if you swore to me you weren't recording this."
"Swear to you? It's a damn good thing you didn't apply to clandestine services. You take somebody at their word?"
"Didn't you ever decide to trust someone?" I asked him.
Copyright © 2007 by Susan Isaacs
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