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Emily Landsman and Douglas Poms

Landsman_Poms_RE

Emily Landsman
Created using Douglas Poms’s story (below) as inspiration

Parallel Lines
By Douglas Poms

It was a dark and stormy Monday night in December.  It was only 4:45 in the afternoon, but the sky was already black as midnight.  The pouring rain drowned out the sound of anything within his sight as Jeremy approached Alderman Library once again.  He tried to close his big bright orange “Go Hoos” golf umbrella when he reached the entrance, but he failed. The resistance of the forceful wind caused the umbrella to turn inside out, and Jeremy dropped it onto the library steps.

“Fuck.” Jeremy growled.  He was relieved that there was no one around to watch his fumbling.  He picked up the convex mega-parasol and awkwardly carried it into the small lobby that sat between the two grand entrances to the colonial red brick library.  With some trouble, he was able to close the umbrella.  He took off his Harry Potter-like spectacles that had branded him with the nickname Jerry Potter throughout college, and wiped off them.  He was soaking wet, but at least he could see again.

“I better not catch a cold,” he thought. “I have too much damn work to do before the holidays.”

Jeremy had entrenched himself in the bowels of Alderman Library almost every evening over the past year.  Jeremy was working on his dissertation.  Or at least he was supposed to be working on his dissertation.  Lately Jeremy had been sidetracked from his magnum opus by a personal mystery.

“Jerry!” He heard his dreaded nickname being called but did not recognize the voice.  Soon an unmistakable figure approached him.  Fred Graham was a fellow Phi Delta fraternity brother that he had pledged with seven years earlier.  Fred was one of Jeremy’s few college buddies who stayed in Charlottesville after graduation.  Fred was now in his final year at the Law School.  By coincidence, Fred was seeing Terry Mackerel, a good friend of Jeremy’s current squeeze, Stacey, from the Masters in English program, and periodically the four of them would double date.

Jeremy walked over to Fred who was standing by the soda machine. “What’s up dude?  What a shitty night.”

“Sure is.  It should be snowing, not raining.  It’s fucking December after all.  Got an Antitrust exam on Wednesday, and just started studying today.  Still writing your masterpiece?”

“Of course. What else?”

“How’s the fair Stacey? We all should do something after exams.  Something that involves getting wasted.”

“Sounds great.” Jeremy feigned enthusiasm.  He hated hanging with Fred when he was intoxicated.  Fred was an insufferable drunk.

“Terry and I saw that awful remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still the other night.  I needed to watch something totally mindless before exams.”

“I really hate remakes.  Tell me, when has a remake ever surpassed the original?”

“How about Casino Royale?”

Jeremy gave Fred a knowing look. “I should have guessed you’d bring 007 into this. Let’s save the battle of the Bonds discourse for our post-exam carousing.  Good luck with Antitrust.  I am headed to my personal hell now.” Jeremy pointed to the stairs that led to the Stacks and headed in that direction with a semi-circular hand wave farewell to his frat buddy.

The Stacks consisted of three floors below the ground level of the library that contained wall-to-wall shelves of musty old books, not the type you would see at Barnes and Noble but large monochrome volumes covering such esoteric topics as the biology of toucan lice or the history of necrophilia among reptiles.  At the end of every fifth row or so, there was a rectangular desk and two-armed chair that offered a few reclusive students complete solitude and isolation from the manicured university grounds surrounding the building.  There were no windows in the subterranean Stack levels.  The only light was provided by two long parallel fluorescent tubes, one of which was teetering on the brink of extinguishment.

As a doctoral candidate in microbiology, Jeremy had his own private carrel.  He could keep his books and papers there and trust that they would not be violated. (The University had a largely-adhered-to honor system). Not that any student would likely be tempted to take one of his many books on cellular malformation.

Jeremy sat down and picked up a small volume.  It was one of his rare books that did not deal with the science of microbiology.  Rather it was a biography of a youthful biologist that Jeremy had taken a sudden interest in.  More accurately, at the moment Jeremy was completely fixated with this particular scientist, Jordan Benson, one of the lesser known pioneers of cancer cell research.

“The guy led a life almost identical to mine,” Jeremy had tried to explain to Stacey the other night over Chinese take-out.  “I am from Palm Beach, Florida.  Jordan grew up in Fort Lauderdale.  Jordan was the son of a surgeon. I am the son of a radiologist. Jordan had older two sisters.  So do I.  I am getting my PhD at UVA in microbiology.  He also got his doctorate in biology from here seventy years ago.  Don’t you realize how few people from Florida come to UVA to begin with, little alone how few students pursue doctorates in microbiology here?  And on top of it all, we both chose to write about the unique attributes of cancer cells.”

Stacey had demurely shrugged off his empirical observations as merely a big coincidence. “That is odd babe, but synchronicity happens in nature all the time. I wouldn’t make such a big deal about it.”

But Jeremy refused to let this go.  He was reading anything he could find on Jordan Benson, which from what he could tell, was not a whole lot.  Jordan Benson was a figure significant enough to warrant only two biographies, only one of which resided in the Stacks.  Jeremy had put in a request to borrow the other book from MIT, but it likely would not arrive for another week or so.

Reading through the scientific memoir once again, Jeremy was impressed at the bountiful accomplishments of his existential doppelganger.  Jordan had been the first biologist to discover certain identifying marks of carcinomas.  He had written one of the most acclaimed treatises on cancer cellular biology. He had taught at MIT for four years until the war broke out and the funding for his research dried up.  The biography did not have much to say about his personal life. Only that he was born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, had come to UVA from the University of Florida and that when he had arrived, he was a recent widower who had declared a personal war on the subject of what was to become his life’s work.

Jeremy managed to put the memoir back on the shelf, and he picked up Jordan’s weighty treatise.  Jeremy could not get over the fact that more than a year before Jeremy had first become aware of the existence of this obscure biologist, Jeremy had agreed with his doctoral advisor to write his dissertation about precisely the same aspect of cancer cell malformation to which Jordan Benson had dedicated this whole volume.

_______________________________

By 10:00, the rain has relented and it was only raining mice.  Jeremy had little trouble opening his orange monstrosity this time and he briskly started walking up Rugby Road toward his apartment on Grady Avenue.  Stacey was cooking them a late dinner, probably her overly familiar spaghetti and garlic bread.  As he passed his old fraternity house, he fondly remembered the first time he had met Stacey during their senior year in college.  His house had secured a popular reggae band in Charlottesville, No Worries.  Stacey had been standing in front of their goofy looking drummer, her beautiful eye-grabbing tits swaying to the sublime sounds of Bob Marley. The thought of the former coed in what he came to know as her trademark tight pink cashmere sweater, suddenly aroused him.   He was looking forward to seeing her tonight, holding her, perhaps even make love with her. (It had been a whole week after all).

Stacey had been very supportive of him during the past few months that he was devoted to his dissertation.  He was planning to buy her something special for Christmas, like a nice piece of jewelry, though he was completely helpless when it came to gift shopping. Maybe he would enlist his sister, Grace, in that expedition.

Jeremy made it to his apartment by 10:15.  Hopefully, he would have time for a shower before they ate.  His pants were still a bit damp from the cold wet rain he had encountered on his way to Alderman.  He disappointedly noticed the absent aroma of Italian cuisine as he walked down the hallway.  When he opened the door, he found Stacey on the sofa prostrated in tears.  Through her sobbing, she failed to enunciate a single word, but from the desperate drop of her left hand to her beloved right breast, Jeremy knew exactly what she was trying to say, “I found a lump.”

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Emily Landsman_Poms_INSP

Emily Landsman
Inspiration piece provided to Douglas Poms

Romantic
By Douglas Poms

It’s a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life, the day you surprised me and took me to the lighthouse at Cavalcade.  The trip was to celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday (which was still two weeks away, but that made it that much more of a surprise).  I have to admit that some of the details of that glorious day have since faded, but I still carry so much of that day deep within my heart that the words spill out of me like water from a pitcher as I hurriedly attempt to record my beloved memories.

I had told you how much I wanted to go to see the lighthouse back when we had our first date at Scarlettos.  “What are some places you would like to travel to?” you had asked.

“Paris, Morocco, Venice and Cavalcade,” I had offered.

“The others I can see, of course, but why Cavalcade? I’m not sure I even know where that is and I’m an international journalist.” Your eyes widened with curiosity.

And that’s when I told you about the majestic beacon I had read about as a child and craved to visit ever since. I never mentioned it to you again after that evening. Yet four years later you still remembered and you brought me there.

Lucy had counted the days until the beginning summer vacation and her fourteenth birthday, both days fortuitously occurring on the same day in June this year.

“You promised me I could go anywhere I want after I graduated from middle school. I want to go to Cavalcade.  I want to see where my parents fell in love.”

Lucy was beaming with joy as she brought her small pink Hannah Montana suitcase out to the Suburban.  She finally would see her parents’ Camelot, the place Lucy had been told about for as long as she could remember.  No story was more thrilling for Lucy than the story of the day when her parents had visited Cavalcade together for the first time.

It was late autumn that day we arrived at Cavalcade and the leaves had already turned to copper.  We immediately headed down the gravel path to the lighthouse, a tall black vertical structure that had not performed its intended function as a beacon of light to approaching ships for over fifty years. Fortunately, before it had started to irrecoverably crumble into ruins, the edifice was successfully registered as a national historic landmark.  The National Park Service had the building restored and made sure it was kept freshly painted licorice black. Visitors were now allowed to climb its 214 winding steps from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM each day.

You had ensured that we arrived with plenty enough time to climb to the top of the tower.  There was a group of university students leaving the lighthouse when we arrived, a glistening coat of perspiration covering their ruddy faces.

“Do you think you can handle all these stairs?” I asked you.

“I would not miss this for any amount of suffering.”

We ascended slowly in deference to your weakened condition.  It was forty minutes before we reached the top.  A single tear fell from your right eye when you beheld the magnificent picture that surrounded us.

We spent at least an hour staring out at the foamy sprawling ocean.  The cool air was refreshing after the onerous climb.  I was glad you insisted on me carrying a knapsack with a bottle of water and an apple for each of us.  The darkening clouds were accumulating in the west like streaks of soiled cotton, but patches of deep blue illuminated by the sun kept the afternoon sky bright and cheerful.

“The world looks so much better from up here.” You sighed. “I wish we never had to leave.”

I took your hand. “Baby, I know everything feels grim down there right now, but I assure you that you have many wonderful things ahead to look forward to, for both of us to look forward to.”

“Can we climb to the top?” Lucy asked her mother when they approached the tower but she failed to wait for an answer and immediately started climbing the dizzying stairwell, her mother scurrying behind. It took them 20 minutes to reach the top where Lucy first beheld the stupendous view of Cavalcade harbor. ”Wow.” She could not recall ever having beheld a view as awesome as this one.

“I made it up in half the time it took me the first time.” Her mother boasted to herself when she appeared.

“You both really liked it up here, didn’t you? I can see why.”

“Oh yes, sweetie.  We never felt so close to heaven as when we were up here.  Cavalcade became our special place after our first visit.”

Lucy gave her mother a warm hug. “This I the best trip I could ever ask for.”

After we had reluctantly climbed back down to earth again, we walked slowly down to the impressive fresh water lake that separated the lighthouse area from the parking lot beyond.  The sun rested low on the horizon like a sizzling orange ember, casting a gentle glow on the water.  When we reached the far end of the lake, you suggested that we sit for a while on the grassy bank. You put your arm around me and we quietly watched the sun disappear altogether, leaving the sky imbued with a warm golden hue.  Then we shared a kiss more tender than our first night of lovemaking. I knew in that magical moment that I was not going to let you go easily.  I was going to help you fight for our future.  I was intent we grow old together.

The top of the lighthouse loomed fully visible atop the copper trees, as if presenting itself as a witness to both our spoken and unspoken promises.

“I have something to ask you.” You broke the silence.

“Anything.”

“I want to do something for you.  I want to have your child.  I know there are risks to me and I don’t care.  I need to do this.  I need to express my deep love for you in this miraculous way.” You paused as if you expected me to protest.  But I had been rendered speechless (a rarity I’ll admit).

You continued:  “And listen to me carefully, if the worst does happen to me, I want to know that you’ll bring our child to Cavalcade one day and tell him or her everything you can remember of this amazing day.”  You had tears in your delicate doe-like eyes as you spoke that thwarted any attempt on my part to try and change your mind (I would save that futile disputation for another day).  I resignedly swore that I would do as you asked, my concession tempered in my mind with the sincere expectation that this would prove to be an unnecessary oath.

“Mom, look how the lake is shimmering with sunlight.” Lucy yelled back to her mother barely ten steps behind. It is such a nice day today. We should have brought our bathing suits with us. I can’t believe we forgot.”

Lucy twirled around in the summer wind, her eye catching a grey and white sea gull flying above her, cawing loudly as if it were trying to join Lucy’s joyous celebration.

Lucy lost sight of her mother for a moment but then found her again sitting on a bench at the edge of the lake looking as if she momentarily resided in a different dimension.  It dawned on Lucy that, as much as her mother loved Cavalcade, today’s visit was not for her so much a happy one as a melancholy one.

Lucy walked over to the bench and put her arms around her mother.  They sat in solemn silence, the wind lightly blowing their blonde hair over their shoulders in a manner that made it appear as if they were both sharing one long yellow fur shawl.   Lucy looked down at the arm of the bench to her left and noticed a small metal platelet screwed onto the wooden appendage. It simply read: ‘In Memory of Shannon Majors, War Correspondent.’

Years later, as I sit in this bombed out café in the center of war torn Baghdad reflecting on my happiest of days, I am missing you and our baby daughter something fierce. You were so right to bring her into this world. Lucy has been an amazing gift to us.  We just don’t know how things will turn out, do we?  I am glad you are the one that someday will take our little girl on her first visit to the lighthouse, just as you lovingly did for me.  Yet through these words of mine, the last ones that I may ever have the chance to send, I keep my promise to you to share with our precious Lucy my treasured memories of that most perfect day we shared in Cavalcade.

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