a pastiche in three acts by Carol Harper

In her essay, "Coming or Going, Which Is It?", Charper (the author's nom de plume), declared that others would follow anyone they could "in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity . . . It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history . . . It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible to live in without antidepressants."1

Charper says of One Thousand Hearts itself that "Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the story were suggested by daydreams, hallucinogenic pharmaceutical experiences, and just-plain-bad sit-comsósymbolism that even I don't understand. It is ridiculous, and a complete waste of time, for the reader to grope around in the dark looking for hidden meaning. Believe me, this is just what I do for recreation (recreation here truly just meaning fun, not some sort of rebirth or anything). If the reader hears any rumblings in there let him look to his own digestive tract and take the necessary corrective action.

When asked what possessed her to write a musical, when musicals are clearly not anywhere close to being considered high culture, Charper responded, ""Everyone likes to sing. Those who are lacking in rhythm become defensive at the prospect of finding their foot inadvertently tapping out a tune while they are all dressed up in their fancies and sitting in the theater. I say, "Let go and let God." If God didn't want us to dance, she wouldn't have given us feet."

About the notes, she later remarked, "I have sometimes thought of getting rid of these notes, but now they are stuck to my story like Brer Rabbit on the Tarbaby. They are almost as confusing as the story itself and sometimes I get a kick out of watching young students chase their tales."2
Charper did ask the reader for forgiveness in cases of run-on, wordy, awkward, overdone and/or corkscrew sentences, purely intended misspellings as above, and other stylistic indulgences, but that is about it.

For Rooney, Biscuit, and Butter
mis bambinos

The Great Unknown
The wooden name plaque, carved of cherry, sitting on her large, kidney-shaped orange desk and given to her by her proud parents on the eve of the first day of her first job out of law school, was last to be packed into the cardboard box marked “miscellaneous/ important.”

“Hope E. Turner,” it read. Daughter of Nat and Camille Turner, Hope was not only, in 1968, the first black woman to graduate from the law school at UCMD (University of California, Mojave Desert), and first in her class, no less, but a beauty of quiet dazzlement whose exotic mien made her heritage difficult to pinpoint. The product of Native American and African decent on her father’s side, and Jamaican on her mother’s, (with some Caucasian invading the family bloodline at some point), Hope possessed a glow that was both striking and disturbing.

Landing the position of Chief Counsel at Koncudyne Corporation before graduation was considered a plum by anyone’s standards, and the envy of her self-absorbed, jealous classmates. And though Hope had heard stories of Koncudyne’s heretofore all-male, all-white executive staff being an exclusive club of tight-assed, right-wing pigs, she knew the most brilliant minds in the country wound up at Koncudyne, and that The American People looked to this hotbed of scientific discovery to take the country into the space age and beyond. Besides that, Koncudyne’s mission statement embodied everything Hope was about:

“We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We're saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day
Just you and me.”3

Hope E. Turner had visions of a future so bright she had to squint. On her first day at Koncudyne she sat down in the big yellow vinyl chair that complimented her desk and squished her eyes together so tight her brow knit, and the whole of time—history, present, future and eternity—seemed all at once at her feet. She knew that Koncudyne scientists were working on engineering space stations, labor saving devices, polyester clothing to preserve wildlife and put an end to cotton picking forever, and, in a word, PLASTICS, facilitating world peace and saving the planet—not just the whales. She would never be the butt of slimy lawyer jokes. Saving Greenstamps had deep metaphoric meaning for Hope. And besides, sheíd furnished her entire apartment with them.

As Hope packed up her last belongings in the spacious, modern office, with avocado shag carpeting she had picked out herself, and not one, but three lava lamps strategically placed around the room to create the maximum effect of peace and thoughtful contemplation, she remembered her interview with the Koncudyne Executive Committee two years earlier.

Hope was dressed to the Ts as usual, and looking about as good as a woman could look in her Jackie K.-inspired powder-blue suit (a few years old, but style is timeless), setting off her red-brown skin and the almost radiational glow of her enticing green eyes. A touch of frosted pink to the lips and Hope was a knockout.

With ten hungry young executives and eight well-seasoned executive-coots seated in the conference room, it’s a wonder the 24-foot conference table didn't levitate with executive appreciation of Hope’s appearance at the door. All 18 men rose instinctively at the sight of Hope, but quickly regained their composure as she nodded for them to take their seats. Hope sat down at the head of the table and began speaking without invitation.

“Gentlemen, I’m no ordinary princess, I was born in the cold war,
And my team is the Rockets.
Go team, it's a dangerous time.”4

At this point, much to the astounded pleasure of the 18 attentive men, Hope hopped right up onto the long conference table in her brand new, with matching clutch, taupe pumps, and began singing slowly and soulfully, making eye contact with each of the eyes which at first were glued to her body, whose hips were beginning to make an almost imperceptible circular motion, and now to the mesmerizing James Brown contortions through which her face passed as she outlined her vision for the future:

“And I dream of the moon and building lunar clone colonies.
And I build my peace with strength, that’s the best weapon you’ve got.
Oh, I am the brainchild, I am the mortar,
With a plastic trophy and an eating disorder,
And vision as big as a great big wall,
And they tell me that I’ll move forward for the good of us all,
And for the good of nuclear families all.”5

“No, Hope. No!”

Hope nearly jumped out of her chair, as the present collided with her still idyllic remembrance of past glories at Koncudyne, with the appearance of Harvey Milquetost6, her friend and fellow attorney. As it turned out, Harvey was one of few whom Hope still trusted after the aborted legal battle with Koncudyne and her ensuing hospitalization. She had been out of the hospital only a week, and Harvey had been there, making dinner for her and watching over her, not asking too many questions because Hope made it clear she couldn’t talk. He’d driven her in today to clean out her desk. And though he hadn’t fought the fight with her, Hope understood Harvey was a lover, not a fighter, and it just wasn’t in his makeup to get his panties in a wad.

“Easy does it, Honey,” Harvey cooed. “Now you have just got to stay calm. There’s nothing more to do here, do you hear me? You’ve got to look forward to a new life and forget this whole ugly mess like it was just a big, bad nightmare. Have you taken your meds today? And pu-lease donít tell me Gloria has been in touch with you again! She needs to send back the tide and let you rest in peace. As if she hasn’t done enough harm already. I’ll slap her if she's got you going again. That big old dyke ought to know who’s meant to move and who’s meant to stay in one place and follow the handbook. And Hope, sweetheart, she pushed you right over the edge. Now it’s time to think of you, you, you!”

Hope had let her hair go natural after meeting Gloria Sternum, and though her afro caused quite a stir at Koncudyne, Gloria was surely an inspiration to Hope, though definitely living the fast life. Gloria would periodically beat on her chest—not in a Tarzan kind of way, though that would have been perfectly fitting—but as a reflex to the extreme heartburn she experienced, brought on by her penchant for pastrami subs with raw onion, purchased from Anita Tumms, (the tough but good natured vendor who always parked her pushcart on the street outside Gloria’s desolate storefront office in Watts), her disposal toward drinking7, and the extreme pressure she was under being founder and commander-in-chief of The Movement, which insiders called the H.M.E.R. Society. Gloria’s chest beating held great meaning for some H.M.E.R. members, who believed that the incredibly loud and ferocious noise emanating from Gloria’s mouth after one of these beatings was truly a roar of the Tiger, and not simply the result of the effect of raw onions on a peptic ulcer.

“Hope? Hope!”
Startled into as much consciousness as she could experience under the influence of 20 milligrams of Valium, Hope decided that Harvey Milquetost, as her dearest friend, whom she’d probably never see again, deserved at the very least an explanation of how all this got started; of her H.M.E.R. membership, her friendship with Gloria, her championing of the proletariat, and most of all, her new do, which, in Harvey’s opinion, although it was the new style, did not flatter the shape of her face.

Hope got up slowly but steadily from her yellow chair, looked at Harvey beseechingly and said,

“Harvey, once upon a time there was a nuclear family,
And we lived in a family time, we’d unite in a family way.
And off the ancient mountain, they were splitting every nucleus
But they said ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ they said, ‘Just don't try this at home.’
And they were the mystery that made the world run
And we had the power, cause they were the sun
And we called them our heroes, and the future had come
They said look at the light we’re giving you,
And the darkness that we’re saving you from, and

Soon they were bringing it into our showrooms,
And they’d unveil it, with its title,
‘Bring your family, bring your family, it’s the Great Unknown.
You can look, but you can’t fathom, it’s the Great Unknown.’

“And they think I think I am important
I know I never was, I wasn’t.
No I never, and how could I be? It’s the Great Unknown.
Now we’ve built it, now it’s ticking, It’s the Great Unknown.

“And I am your children, and I am millions
And I wanted to sell out, I wanted to try,
But you know that the sky got too low, and the ocean got too high,
And I had to take God into my own hands

Am I too late, is it over,
Have I sacrificed my family to the Great Unknown?
There’s a war between my conscience and the Great Unknown.

“So I walked out into the gamma fields, out in Mercury, Nevada
Where I stood in circle, and that circle started to pray.
And now the wind at the nuclear test site floats the data at the radiation
From the underground testing, cross the line, you’ll get arrested.

And we came from all over in a silent appeal
As the drill comes down like a presidential seal
And we stand for the living and we stand for the dead
And we look out to see your enemies,

and we see that you’re looking all at us instead, and

“You think I am being disruptive,
But no I’m running home, I'm running
Cause I’m trying to put the atom back together. It’s the Great Unknown
I’m just trying to put the atom back together, it’s the Great Unknown.”8

“No, Hope! No! I had no idea you’d been to Nevada. Did you hit the slots? What was it you found out, honey, that made you go after Koncudyne like the fool your mama never raised? What in the world could have been so bad? This is a plastics company, for Chrisakes Hope, not some kind of nuclear test site.”

But that was something that Hope could never reveal to anyone. After doing due diligence on a top-secret project Koncudyne had been working on for well over a year, Hope found the connection that Harvey, in his precious naivete, could never imagine. In horror, Hope dashed immediately down the hall and brought her findings to the attention of Senior Vice President and head of the legal department, her boss, Dante Trustim III, Esq. Dante was a man of few words and, to Hope’s keen instincts, questionable ethics, with a twitch in one of his eyelids that almost looked like a slimy wink, and seemed to Hope to be activated when he was thinking fast and skating on thin ice. After blowing her off twice Hope finally became furious and approached him for a third and fateful time.
“I know about the widget,” said Hope, “and I’m going to the press. I’m also going to sue Koncudyne for . . . for . . . false advertising! Yes! That’s it! ‘We Are The World’ my ass! ‘We are the warhead!’ That’s more like it! And I won’t stop until I see you and everyone involved in this project behind bars. I’ll get H.M.E.R. behind me . . . I’ll, I’ll, I’ll . . .”

“Miss Turner,” Dante interupted, brows raised condescendingly and an insidious smile curling his lips.

“That’s Ms.,” returned Hope.

“MIIIZZZ Turner, you have quite an imagination! I don’t think youíll want to go through all that. Why don’t you take a night and, let’s say, sleep on it. Go on home. Have a drink, put your feet up. You’ve been looking tired lately and perhaps a bit confused. I feel confident you’ll be thinking much more clearly in the morning.

Surely this was a nightmare. But this slimeball was a fortress. Hope wheeled around on one heel and retreated to her office. She was shaking. Maybe she was just stressed. No, this was the real thing, and she had to do something. She grabbed the huge file marked New Utilities for Konkudyne Energy Systems and quickly stuffed it in her briefcase. As she passed the fountain outside Koncudyne’s beautifully landscaped grounds, she knew things would never be the same.

Hope was not a drinking woman, though a glass of white wine with dinner certainly took the edge off an intense, fourteen-hour day fighting Koncudyne’s increasing legal battles. But today she stopped off at the liquor store and bought a fifth of Tanqueray, a very small bottle of vermouth, and a bottle of the most beautiful green olives—her favorite in a martini. She got home about 5:30 and immediately stirred herself a dry one. She looked in the junk drawer for a pizza coupon ordered pizza—onions, hot peppers and sausage, and sat down to try and relax. Hope couldn’t remember ever being home from work at 5:30 and didn’t know what to do with herself, especially in light of what was dawning on her about the widget, and she didn’t want to believe. She munched on a piece of divinity fudge left over from Christmas and flipped on the TV, hoping for a comedy or something light to make her relax—maybe this would take her mind off things for a little while. Then she would start the business of deciding what to do.

Hope sat back down and took a long sip of her icy martini as the set warmed up. But her head jerked up as she heard screaming and sirens on the set and saw one angry Gloria Sternum being handcuffed by five equally angry policemen. Gloria was still yelling and kicking as they hauled her into the paddy wagon, “ . . . and these corporations are supplying parts to build these nuclear test sites right in our neighborhoods, and the government isn’t going to do anything to stop them—it has to be us, The People.” And with that they slammed the door to the already packed van shut.

“Yes, I know they are,” thought Hope, “and I’ve been helping them.” At that moment her reverence for Gloria and her pride in being involved in H.M.E.R. soared to new heights. She could feel herself tingling inside and had a warm feeling between her legs, which she attributed to her deep faith in The Movement, but might have been caused by the martini. She poured herself another and said allowed, “I wanna be a woman like you, I wanna be a woman like me.”9 Hope could feel her anger bubbling up inside her. She jumped up onto the couch, beat on her chest and yelled, “Hear ME Roar!!!”10
At that moment she was interrupted by some muffled sounds outside. She got down off the couch. A light tap at the door startled her.

“Pizza, lady,” a deep voice announced.
Hope had been so engrossed in emotion she had forgotten about the pizza. “Just a sec.,” she sung out as she fumbled through her purse for her billfold. She was hungry and was looking forward to diving deep down into a hot juicy pizza all by herself.

Hope opened the door and the first thing she saw was the gold front tooth of one of the three men who were suddenly in her apartment. This one had both her hands held behind her back with just one of his large, hairy fists, while the other hand covered her mouth and part of her nose so she could barely breathe. She knew she should have taken that karate class Gloria recommended, but now it was too . . .
“Hope! You are a very lovely senorita, now aren’t you? Now we just came to have a little chat with you and to ask you a very few questions. I am Sr. Plasti Sergion, but you may call me Serge if you like.” Hope took as deep a breath as she could and began recording in her mind’s eye everything she could see. She knew Dante was at the bottom of this‚the connection was all too easy to make. The three thugs were wearing identical silk bowling jackets. Emblazoned on the back, in fiery red letters in tacky script with flames around the edges was what Hope figured must have been the name of their gang, “El Clan Destindo.”( Hope could see that one of her tormentors was opening her pizza—that must have been the pizza boy’s grunts she heard outside. Her instincts told her to keep cool, but her anger, when the angle was just right, inspired her to take a large and solid bite out of Serge’s fat palm.
“Dog-pig!” Hope hissed, a fine mist of Serge’s blood spraying from her lips.

“EEEOWWW!!!” squealed Serge as he lost Hope and moved across the room holding his bleeding hand between his thighs. “You fucking little whore!” he screamed. Hope made for the door, but it was clear she was overpowered by the evil sickness that had invaded her apartment. One of the other goons grabbed her with one hand, a piece of pizza in the other, and with oil running down his chin flipped Hope around and held her from the back as Serge composed himself and came toward her. He stood with his nose an inch from hers, and with breath that smelled like a pulp plant just stood there staring at her for what seemed like an eternity. “Do you want to know how I got my name, mi hermosita?”

No, Hope didn’t want to know, but she was sure he was going to tell her. She stood there waiting, trying not to shake, and though she had never seen one in person, she knew what it was when she heard the distinctive switch sound coming from Serge’s right hand. The knife blade was indeed shiny and sharp. She could see that because Serge slowly pulled it downward right in front of her eye, and landed the tip of it on her beautiful cheek. But Hope still had the fight in her, and if she got out of this alive, she would go through with her plan to expose Koncudyne.

Serge could see this, and immediately upped the stakes. “You are beautiful like your mamasita, Hope. And your papa is quite a man, too.” Hope’s heart froze up and the fire was extinguished. Fear crossed her eyes and Serge knew he had made his mark without drawing blood—not Hope’s at least. “Do you love your mama and papa?” Serge said, smiling again. He withdrew the blade and Hope nodded yes. “I think you are in the wrong line of work, nina. Don’t you?” Hope nodded yes again. “I think a little vacation and then a move, maybe, might be good for your nerves. I hear the paperwork is all ready for you. And then, your beautiful mama and papa will still be there for you to visit, si'?”

Serge and the boys then smashed a few lamps and overturned Hope’s antique china cabinet for punctuation, smeared the rest of the pizza down the front of her blouse and slipped out the door, leaving Hope so stunned she couldn’t even cry.

The Blessings11
“Hope? Honey what did they do to you at that place? Are you in there?” Harvey Milquetost was beside himself, but had seen Hope slip into these silent spaces often since her return from the hospital. He knew that all he could do was wait as Hope became lost again in what memories she had left.
Hope had awakened the morning after El Clan Destindoís visit in silence and paralysis. As she drove in to Koncudyne to resign, she had no illusion of speed or freedom, even amongst all these commuters feeding into what seemed to Hopelike a mainline thoroughfare in a colony of ants bringing nourishment to their queen which was Koncudyne, only Koncudyne was of course a king, protecting it and all its evil from pain, or whatever passes for pain with a huge corporation. But Koncudyne's safety would be assured, not threatened, by her departure.12

When Hope entered the great doors of Koncudyne, she was silently whisked into a conference room by one of Dante’s underlings, Askisser Yessmon. Wordlessly he shoved the resignation papers in front of Hope, along with a gag agreement, and Hope signed them quickly without reading a word. As she got up to leave, the underling placed his hand on the doorknob. “Mr. Trustim has arranged for you to take a little vacation to give you a chance to rest after your ordeal.” He pulled out of the stack one of the sheets Hope had signed. She skimmed it and realized she had committed herself for one month to a psychiatric facility—Dreamquest Pergatorium. She stammered something almost inaudible, but before she could formulate a single word, Hope found herself in the back of a long, black limousine. As he closed the door, Askisser said simply, “Your bag is in the trunk. You won't need much.”

No indeed, Hope didn’t need much at Dreamquest. She was given several white gowns that looked like everyone else’s white gown. In her suitcase there were a few of her belongings. No razor, nothing sharp, that was for sure. There must have been a thousand people in the hospital. For a while Hope could not respond to whatever it was they were trying to teach her at Dreamquest. But after shock therapy, Hope began to see how self-centered she must have been. Group therapy helped her gain a concern and for and commitment to others, which apparently she had been lacking before. They convinced her that the anarchy of her life was a result of her failure to live up to her responsibilities or her outright abuse of those responsibilities. Her daily medication allowed her to remain calm and she guessed she must be a lot happier than she had been before.

Harvey took Hope to her apartment with the few boxes of personal things she had pulled out of her desk. Everything else had been removed, of course. Her briefcase containing the N.U.K.E.S. file she had brought home that day from the office had been removed from her apartment, as well as any trace of Dante’s thugs. Harvey gave her a great big hug as tears dripped down his cheeks. Hope still couldn’t feel much of anything but tried to hug him back.

Hope had decided to take her savings and the few belongings she had left and leave town. Leave the state. Leave this part of the country that could fall off tomorrow in an earthquake. She packed up her Malibu, and all she could fit was a prayer.13 She didn't know where she was going but she did know she wanted out of Southern California, and headed East beginning a kind of drifter’s life, going from town to town, accumulating nothing, working for a while as a checkout girl here, a waitress there, and staying in cheap motels and hostels along the way. Her memory, much of which had been lost due to the shock therapy, slowly began to return in fits and spurts, though it was as if she had never been to law school—that entire body of knowledge seemed lost to her now, and all that she considered to be her self was gone somewhere—left behind.

Gradual return of memory led to depression and depression led to alcohol and other mood-altering substances. Anything to be somewhere besides in her own skin. The years droned on like this as Hope’s youth was wasted in this living hell she seemed to be condemned to. Hope missed the disco era entirely except what she could hear from the kitchen of a discotheque where she washed dishes for several months. She decided that was ok with her—the sound gave her the Hebee-Geebies, and right now she was mostly interested in just stayin’ alive.14

The ‘70s gave way to the ‘80s, and Hope was stuck in the same place. Her beauty had faded quickly as she lost faith. Her skin developed a dull grayness where once the color had been deep and rich. Her teeth were bad and her hair had grown long and dreadful looking. Things finally came to a head one bright morning in September of 1985. Hope was sleeping peacefully in the Malibu, which she now fondly referred to as The Palace, when she was startled awake by the sound of an engine and a crane. She jerked up, hitting her head on the rear-view mirror and catching her earring on the piney Christmas tree air freshener hanging from it, to see a sleazy looking man staring at her through the windshield. She unrolled the window slightly, and immediately the man’s large face was squeezing through the crack, “Buenos dias, senorita! Mi llamo Carloss Gonzwheeles. So nice to see you. Well, well, well! You are some chica rapida. You sure have been hard to find! I’ve been looking for you for 15 years! Did you know, chica, that you are behind on your payments?” Carloss let out a bellow of a laugh and was gone.

As she watched The Palace trail off behind the tow truck, Hope thought she heard Carloss shout, “Gracias, Senorita Hope. See you at the movies!”15

Hope knew she was some place in Western New York, but she had no idea where. She just started walking. With blisters on her feet and a coat of dirt and sweat everywhere else, Hope finally came upon a crumbling mill town that looked like it was a booming mill town in its day.16 She had lost everything now and was almost delirious with hunger. She came upon a street sign and figured she must be seeing things. The sign read, “Hope, Faith, Charity Lane,” and had three arrows pointing up the hill. She saw some people standing in the street at the top of the hill in front of a storefront. A sign swung on three rusty nails and read, “Mortal City Soup. All You Can Eat.” A soup kitchen! Is this where Hope was to end up? But she knew she needed food badly. She stood in line for what seemed like an eternity, until finally it was her turn at the window. The soup smelled intoxicating, and she began to feel as if she had entered another world.

“You need food. Here’s a big bowl,” a soft voice said. Hope looked up gratefully, and to her astonishment and elation saw Gloria Sternum staring down at her with kind eyes. Hope felt her knees buckle under her, and vivid colors, then darkness, was all she could see.

Hope awakened to the sight of Gloria kicking the radiator in a tiny rundown apartment. “Hope, you’re awake! I’ve got soup for you. You must eat now. Look at you. Where have you been all these years? You look like a dog, Hope!”

Hope gave Gloria a quick recount of the last 15 years between sips of hot chicken soup. “And you, Gloria? The last time I saw you was on TV, when you were arrested for protesting the nuclear test sites.”

“Yes, Hope, I finally spent one too many nights in the slammer. They drained it out of me slowly but surely. I finally decided I had to get out of LA and go grass roots. I”ve been living in Mortal City for the last ten years, running the soup kitchen and taking in strays . . . like you.”

“But what does it mean? What good does feeding a few hungry people do when the world is burning? I”ve seen so much horror in the last 15 years. I’m lost. I’m lost and I don’t think I’m coming back. I don’t think there’s anywhere to come back to.”

“Hope, you don't know this yet, and you probably won’t know it for a while. But those were the Blessings. Ten years ago I had the blessings—when nobody’s there, nobody’s home, yeah, the Blessings, at the moment I was most alone and aimless as a fulltime fool, the joke was on me, I got all those birds flying off of that tree, and that’s a Blessing.17

“What?” said Hope.

One Thousand Hearts
Gloria helped Hope get back on her feet. After a few weeks Hope got a job at Free Law, a law office offering pro bono services to those in need. She got an apartment in a building near Gloria’s. But she continued to search for an answer, for some meaning in her life. Sometimes she thought she was going deaf, the city seemed so silent.

One cold icy night Hope sat alone brooding.
Except for the pelting ice everything felt silent—silent and hollow.
She never should have rented this apartment in the Mortal City.
The cold came through every crack she put her hand up to.
The radiator was broken, so she had to use electric heat.
And tonight was the first date with the brother of the guy she worked next to.
His name was Larry.
He lived a couple streets away. He listened, he had things to say.
She asked him up for dinner sometime. Sometime was tonight.

The radio gave updates on the ice storm while she made the dinner.
They said, from all the talk, you shouldn’t drive or even walk.
“And this just in—we’re asking everyone to turn off their power.
“They need it at the hospital.”

She ran around pulling plugs, then she called him up.
Maybe now they shouldn’t meet. He said that he would brave the streets.
Hope met him at the door with a blanket and a candle, saying,
“I heard it on the radio, I had to turn my power off.”

Larry said, “You’re not the only one, the streets were dark tonight.
It was like another century, with dim lamps and candles
lighting up the icy trees and the clouds and a covered moon.”

Hope said, “What kind of people make a city where you can’t see the sky
and you can’t feel the ground?
I tell you something, I have this feeling that this city’s dying.”
“It’s not dying. It’s the people who are dying," Larry said.
“Yes, yes I think the people are dying and nobody cares.

We had all this technology—our dreams were bold and vague.
And then one city got bad planners. One city got the plague.”

“Why did you move here?”

And Hope couldn’t tell him the story, she just couldn’t.
She said, “For the job. For the job, and I’ve been so lonely here, so lonely.
There’s no one I can talk to, you know I don’t even know your brother.”

Larry smiled and said, “Sometimes at night I walk out by the river.
The city’s one big town, the water turns it upside down.
People found this city because they love other people.
They want their secretaries, they want their power lunches.
And think about tonight, I heard the same newscast you did.
I unplugged everything. I looked out the window and I think the city heard.
I watched as one by one the lights went off
so they could give their power to the hospital.”

They ate in silence while she thought this over.
They sat together in a dark room in the Mortal City,
shifting in their blankets so they wouldn't get spaghetti on them.

Then came the awkward moment after dinner, what to do.
The ice was still falling. The streets were still dangerous.
The cabs were not running and this neighborhood was not the greatest.
They both looked at the space where a couch would’ve been.
She felt her stomach sink. She felt like she could hardly think.

Hope said, “I never should have rented this apartment in the Mortal City.
The cold comes through every crack I put my hand up to.
The radiator doesnt work. I have to use electric heat.”
That settled it, they would both sleep in her bed. It was a matter of survival.
She brought out teeshirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, socks, hats.
If there was ever any thought of what would happen in that bed tonight,
there was no question now—they could barely move.
They were wrapped up like ornaments waiting for another season.

They lay in bed. They listened to the pelting ice.
Larry said, “My brother’s not a bad guy. He’s just quiet. I wish you liked this city.”
Hope said, “Maybe I do. I think I have a special kind of hearing tonight.
I hear the neighbors upstairs. I hear my heart beating.
I hear one thousand hearts beating at the hospital.
And one thousand hearts by their bedsides waiting,
saying, ‘That’s my love in the white gown.’
We are not lost in the Mortal City. We are not lost in the Mortal City.”18

And Hope fell asleep. She dreamed that she and a group of friends started a city, which, in all its essential elements, worked harmoniously. The city was a connecting point, connecting them to themselves, to each other, and to the earth and the heavens. They designed the city by going out and putting a stake in the ground, just like the beginning of the universe. Then they built the stake into a man. There was nothing there, then there was a singularity in space. And from that point they surveyed every street. Every time they walked down a street, the wooden man was at the end of the street. So to find out where you were, you had to find out where the wooden man was, like a giant night-light out there. Then Hope and her friends set fire to the man. And the ritual made them one.19

Hope woke up and felt a new peace about her. She felt a warmth in her chest, as if the ice storm had melted. She saw Larry sleeping beside her and shook him gently, and he looked straight into her eyes as if he had been dreaming the same dream. “Larry,” said Hope. “I’m going back to Nevada this summer—back to the desert. There’s something I’ve got to do there.”20

Larry smiled broadly, as bright sunshine crossed the bed piled high with blankets. “I’m coming with you, Hope.”

The Notes
1. Harold Blum all over
2. T.S. Elliot, The Wasteland
3. “We Are The World,” (1984, lyrics by Lionel Richie, music by Michael Jackson, produced by Quincy Jones, performed after the 1984 Grammy Awards ceremony by anyone in the place who could carry a tune, including Dan Akroyd, who before, after, and should have always stuck to the blues.
4. “The Great Unknown,” lyrics and music by Dar Williams, from Dar Williams’ The Honesty Room (1994 Burning Field Music (ASCAP, administered by Bug Music).
5. Ibid.
6. “It was 18 years ago that San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were fatally gunned down by Dan White, the ex-policeman who only days before had announced his resignation from the board of supervisors. Infuriated by the rising tide of gay activism that was taking hold in his beloved city under Milk’s advocacy—the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco history—White felt it necessary to take the law into his own hands.” Review by Philip Collins of Stewart Wallace’s and Michael Korie’s opera Harvey Milk,© 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc., from the November 21-27, 1996 issue of Metro. It is clear that Mr. Milquetost would never have the balls Milk did.
7. “Four Mirrors”, lyrics and music by Loudon Wainwright III., from Loudon Wainwright III’s Little Ship, 1997 Snowden Music, Inc., “ . . .with a penchant for white wine, a disposal toward drinking,” though it is clear white wine was sody pop compared to the sauce Gloria consumed on a daily basis.
8. Op Cit., “The Great Unknown”
9. “Georgia O,” lyrics and music by Nerissa Nields, from The Nields’ Play, 1998 Zoe Records.
10. Helen’s Reddy
11. “The Blessings”, lyrics and music by Dar Williams, from Dar Williams’ Mortal City, 1996 Razor & Tie Entertainment, L.L.C. “And the blessings were like poets that we never find time to know, But when time stopped I found the place where the poets go.”
12. Lifted freely from Thomas Phynchons The Crying of Lot 49.
13. Southern California Wants to be Western New York, lyrics and music by Dar Williams, from Dar Williams’ Mortal City, 1996 Razor & Tie Entertainment, L.L.C. Ok, ok . . . so it’s a Miata in the song—they didn’t have Miatas in the ‘60s.
14. The Bee Gees were a super disco group in the ‘70s, most famous for Saturday Night Fever, the movie starring John Travolta, and most recently celebrating, in 1998, the world premier of the musical stage version at London’s Palladium Theatre. And then there was Abba . . .
15. Repo Man, ©1983, released by Universal Studios. This was a long haul for Repo Man, but diligence pays off, and Carloss caught her before Hope dashed.
16. Op cit., “Southern California Wants to be Western New York Southern California, land of Hopes, and Dreams, and Mickey Mouse.
17. Op cit., “The Blessings.” One must go through the fires to get to the ice cream.
18. “Mortal City,” lyrics and music by Dar Williams, from Dar Williams’ Mortal City, 1996 Razor & Tie Entertainment, L.L.C. Lifted unabashedly and with Dar’s subsequent knowledge and blessings, with minor changes made for sense.
19. Burning Man can be found in Black Rock Desert, Nevada every summer, or on the web now and any time, at www.burningman.com.
20. Beauty Hope E. Turner traveling from luner clone colonies to the Mortal City searching for . . .