RETURN FROM WONDERLAND
by Steven Steinbock
Monday night and Tuesday morning, my two sons and I sat aboard a 757 that flew toward the sunrise. We all managed to get some sleep, but it was pretty spotty. Now weâ€™re all unpacked and laundered, but still getting adjusted to the time-zone. (Itâ€™s after noon, and Nate is still asleep).
The trip was a great one; my longest sojourn in the Pacific Northwest since moving away from that region twenty-five years ago. I got to spend a lot of time with my sisters and their families, watched the bonds deepen between my kids and my nieces and nephews, connected with old friends, and did some sightseeing. I took the boys to the musical of â€œYoung Frankensteinâ€ and purely by accident, ran into Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner at the stage door. Do I have regrets from the trip? Only that I didnâ€™t do enough. I never made it to Uwajimaya (a huge modern Japanese shopping center), never took the boys to see the bronze Jimi Hendrix statue on Capitol Hill, and most regrettably, was not able to see all the friends and relatives I wanted to see. But thereâ€™s always next summer.
A few weeks back I reprinted an email exchange between two of my old high school friends who were trying to arrange a get-together. Kevin had asked if our old campfire spot a mile down the railroad tracks off Coal Creek Parkway was still available. Mike responded, â€œDude, itâ€™s condos!â€ We didnâ€™t attempt to build a campfire amidst the condos, but we did take a trip out to Alki Beach where we dined, walked, and reminisced.
So many stories, so little time
Deborah wrote yesterday about what sheâ€™d been reading, and her list included a volume of Asimovâ€™s â€œBlack Widowersâ€ stories. (Thereâ€™s that serendipity again, because on Monday, JLW discussed his love affair with Asimovâ€™s short science fiction stories). I led me to pull my copy of Return of the Black Widowers from my shelf. Thatâ€™s another collection I want to read, along with the recent MWA anthology Death Do Us Part and the two latest issues of Ellery Queenâ€™s Mystery Magazine.
A Story and a Mystery
Thereâ€™s a story I love, a very short short, which is attributed to W. Somerset Maugham. Itâ€™s called â€œAppointment in Samara.â€ John Oâ€™Hara quoted the story in his novel of the same name. If you havenâ€™t read the story, read and enjoy. If you are already familiar with the story and know anything of its provenance, please let me know. Iâ€™ve searched every collection I can find of Maughamâ€™s stories, and this tale never appears. According to a citation in Oâ€™Haraâ€™s book, the story comes from Maughamâ€™s play, “Sheppey”.
The text of the story is as follows:
There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
Now if youâ€™ll all excuse me until next week, Iâ€™ve got an appointment in South Portland.