I just finished writing chapter 9a in the saga of Panooksa. I never thought I’d write something that would strike a chord with so many people. People can’t seem to get enough of Panooksa. They want to know what’s going to happen next. Its one thing to have an idea, but it’s an entirely different matter when you want to put on paper, or onto a computer screen. But sometimes what you want to say doesn’t translate very well. That’s where Meg Sorick comes in. She takes the story and smooth’s it out, making it flow far more evenly than I ever could. She takes what I’ve written and performs a form of literary surgery on it. Then she breaks out her literary rolling pin – smoothing out all the uneven spots. She revises the story so you see something much more palatable. So I thank you Meg. And so does everyone who reads a single chapter.
Idea by Tom Austin Edited by Meg Sorick Improved by Meg Sorick, Author
Chapter 5 in the story of Panooksa
Milly and Brad took the elevator to the parking garage. It would be the first time Milly saw Brad’s car in daylight. It was a 1967 red Mustang that Brad had lovingly restored himself over the last five years. Everything was exactly right —the knobs and dials, the steering wheel and gear shift. Even the bucket seats, which must have been replaced, looked just like the originals. Milly was not normally a car person, but she knew what she liked, and she positively loved the Mustang.
However, getting into a bucket seat at six months pregnant, even a faux pregnancy, was a challenge. Brad moved the seat back as far as it would go to accommodate Milly and the pillow at her belly. She gingerly lowered herself into the seat, so as not to dislodge the ‘baby’. Getting back out of the low slung sports car would prove to be more of a problem.
After Milly was settled, buckled in, and the door closed, Brad got in beside her and turned the key in the ignition. As he revved the engine a few times, she felt the vibration rumble beneath her, sending a slight shiver of delight up her spine. Brad glanced over with a delightedly wicked grin. With a final press of the accelerator, he popped the clutch, sending the car rocketing up the garage ramp.
Milly laughed out loud. “Wow! My old Honda Civic never did that!” she said.
They were at the address in a jiffy. Driving into this area of town was like stepping back in time fifty years. The first thing they noticed were the street lamps, their posts free of advertisements. Next, they saw old yellowed posters announcing the next fight, who was fighting whom and when and where.
“I’ve never heard of The Palace, have you?” Brad asked, naming the venue for the upcoming match.
“No, never,” she said.
Brad pulled the car to the curb and cut the engine. “Well, this the right address,” he said. “14 Rillington Place.”
Milly looked at the neibourhood and held her tongue, not wishing to color Brad’s decision, but her silence spoke volumes.
“I’m supposed to meet the super in apartment 1K.” Brad said, getting out. Completely forgetting about Milly’s ’condition’, he started walking towards the building. She had opened the car door but that’s as far as she got.
“Hey, I’m trapped,” she called out.
He ignored her. It was as if he hadn’t heard her at all. Without so much as a pause, he carried on walking to the building.
“Hey Doc. Pregnant lady needs a little help here,” Milly called out again. “BRAD!”
Something in her voice snapped Brad out of his trance. He ran back to the car, and started apologizing immediately. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s like my brain was in another zone.”
“I’m stuck in the stupid seatbelt. If I’m not careful, I’ll push the pillow out of position,” she whispered. “Besides, we have to keep up appearances, here.”
He helped with the seat belt. Then, holding both her hands, he pulled her from the bucket seat into which she had sunken. As soon as Milly was on her feet, Brad let go of her hands. He then turned and resumed his march toward the rather shabby looking building with Milly trailing behind. She hurried to catch up and hooked her arm in his, slowing him down long enough for a stern but polite talking to.
“Look, I’m doing this all for you,” she said. “And for heaven’s sake hold my hand. We’re supposed to be married, you know. That’s what couples do, Brad. From the way you’re behaving, I’d swear you still think girls have cooties, or whatever they call it now.”
“Sorry,” he said and took her hand as they reached the stairs. Once inside, they looked over the tenant directory in the lobby. It was mysteriously blank. The tile floor was made up of tiny ceramic octagons, with more than a few pieces missing. Some of the mail boxes were stuffed, while others looked like they hadn’t had mail in years. The main hallway on the first floor was so narrow, the two had to walk single file.
They passed an apartment unit where the door was wide open. Within, they could see an old man stirring a pot which simmered on a hot plate. Brad touched Milly’s shoulder and gestured for her to come closer.
Pointing toward the old man, Brad said in a hushed voice, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I think we’ve seen him before.”
Milly nodded. “Yes, definitely familiar,” she said distractedly. The odor coming from the bubbling pot was overwhelming.
The old man surprised them both by speaking. “I may be an old man, but my hearing is still pretty good. Come in, Mildred, come in Bradley.”
They exchanged a look, but without saying a word, they entered the apartment and sat on an old couch.
“You must excuse the furnishings of this humble old man, but it’s been some time since I’ve entertained anyone,” he said.
Brad said, “You called me Bradley. Nobody calls me Bradley. To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never met. How did you know my name?”
The old man chuckled. “Very direct. I think you would have made a fine lawyer. You thought about it for a few years, but decided against it. A pity, truly a pity.” He turned to Milly. “And you, my dear Mildred, your parents would be proud you chose medicine as your vocation.”
“My parents…?” Milly began.
He turned his attention back to Brad. “But Bradley, I must ask you not to rent here. Take it from an old man, you would not like it here.”
Brad and Milly were baffled. “How do you know us?” asked Milly.
“We have met before. I wasn’t quite myself. We shall meet again. But not here. She already knows the answer, and you, my dear Bradley, will soon figure it out. But you won’t find your answers here…” he added with a twinkle in his eyes.
Brad and Milly immediately found themselves out in the corridor, staring at a wall where a few seconds ago, a doorway had been. Brad ran his hands all over the wall trying to find the doorway. Nothing. There was absolutely no sign of a door. Now, more than a little upset, he raced up the hall to find the superintendent’s apartment. As soon as he came to 1K, he started knocking frantically on the door.
“All right, I’m comin’!” a voice shouted from inside.
The super answered the door wearing brown trousers and an undershirt and chomping on an unlit cigar. He planted his feet, crossed his arms and glowered at them. “Alright. This better be important. I’m missing the fights. The Masked Marauder is on this week.”
“What can you tell me about the old man in the apartment at the end of the hall?” Brad asked.
“There ain’t no apartment at the end of the hall, and there sure ain’t no old man. I’m the only one in this stinkin’ buildin’.”
“But… I… we… just talked to him,” Brad insisted.
“Oh yeah? Next time you see him, tell he owes me some rent. Now get lost!” he bellowed, slamming the door in Brad’s face.
Brad turned to Milly. His eyes were wild and he had begun to sweat profusely. “I’m not crazy, Milly!”
“I know. I know,” she said calmly.
“You saw him, right? And… and… heard him too?” he asked, in a near panic.
She took his face between her and hands and steadied him. “I did see him, and I heard him too.”
He blew out a ragged breath as she gently caressed his face and hair. She said, “Come on. Lets just go home.”
She got Brad turned around, and slowly led him down the hall and out of the building. When they got to the red Mustang, she simply said, “Keys, please.”
Further musings of Meg can be seen at https://megsorick.com
Check out all four of her books at The Bucks County Novels series
Idea by Tom Austin Edited by Meg Sorick Improved by Meg Sorick, Author Part four in the story of Panooksa
After unlocking the three locks on his apartment door, Brad strode through, nearly tripping himself on the small mountain of mail on the floor. As was his habit, he gathered up the lot of it, and after glancing at each piece put them piles according to priority.
“And what do we have today? Let’s see,” he said, sorting through the envelopes and flyers. “The cable bill, the water bill …” These he stacked on the left. The junk mail he set off to one side. “And what’s this? A letter from the charming folks who own the building?” More than a little curious, he opened this envelope first. He never had one before, and was decidedly intrigued. In his haste, he tore the paper with his thumb, giving himself a paper cut. His thumb now left a great big crimson dot on the pristine white paper.
With a sigh, he sat in his favorite chair. He had it since his first years of college. It definitely looked worn. And the fact that the springs were bent to his frame meant only he could sit in it comfortably.
Sucking his thumb like a six foot tall infant, he read the letter. It was a form letter. He disliked form letters, as he found them cold and impersonal. As he scanned the words on the page, he grew increasingly alarmed. “No. No, no, no, no…. Please don’t say it!”
According to the letter, the apartment building had been sold, and all apartment units were being converted to condominiums. Current residents would be allowed to bid for the condo should they wish to. Since Brad didn’t have the money to purchase the condo, he would have no choice but to move out. Cursing under his breath, he muttered, “Now what?”
He stood and began to pace. “Just once, just once, you’d think I’d get a bloody break. But nooooo! I bet the person in charge of this ‘refurbishment’ is having a good laugh right about now. Well, at least they can’t stop me from having a beer!”
Brad stalked to the kitchen, yanked open the fridge door only to discover he had forgotten to restock his favorite brand of beer. He slammed the fridge door shut, stringing together a few choice expletives as he did. He walked back to his favorite chair, plopped himself in it, and looked sadly around the apartment. “I’m going to miss this place”.
The next day, he called Milly to see how she was. When she asked how he was in return, she got a most unexpected response.
Not quite sure she heard correctly, she asked, “You mind repeating that? This time with clarity!”
Brad told her about the letter explaining the conversion to condos. “And to top it off, those kind hearted souls are only giving me thirty days to either buy in or find some new digs and get out.”
Milly could hear not just the sarcasm in his voice, but also the desperation, and instantly offered her apartment. “You know you could stay at my place till you found a new apartment.”
“Thanks, Milly, I appreciate it but I really can’t.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“I’m the kind of person who hates change in their personal space. When I put a book in the middle of the table, I expect to find it in the middle of the table.”
“Okayyyy,” she said, not quite following him.
“How to explain….” he began. “Do you remember that TV show, ‘The Odd Couple’?”
“Oscar and Felix —the two roommates. Felix was obsessive compulsive about order, a real neat freak. He just went crazy if something wasn’t in its proper spot, or if the coffee grinder was used to chop walnuts.”
There was silence at the other end of the line, then Milly asked, “Are you saying you’re like Felix?”
Brad answered quickly, “Not to that degree! But… I have been known to put my compact disc collection in chronological order and alphabetize my record albums.”
She chuckled. “Oh, Brad, everybody does that! The only difference is the level or the degree.” She was quiet for a beat. “But it does sound like you need your own space. For now, at least….”
They talked for a few more minutes, then Brad said he had better get busy with the apartment hunting.
He checked out a couple of possibilities. Armed with a tape measure —Brad measured everything— he made his way to the first building on his list. Upon arrival, he found a large crack in an exterior wall which could mean serious problems with the foundation, or that the building was not settling evenly. Either way, it spelled big trouble for the apartment owner which could translate into big headaches for the renters. This was such a huge red flag, he decided not to look at the apartment.
The next apartment had no air conditioning. The old window casing had bowed so that it was nearly impossible to move, and the scarcity of wall sockets throughout the apartment, was a clear indication the place was poorly wired, and a potential fire-trap. To make things worse, the apartment looked like it hadn’t been painted in decades. Check another one off the list.
Dejected, he called Milly with a progress report.
“Are you going to see anything tomorrow?” she asked.
“I have a couple of prospects,” Brad said. “But the ads don’t sound too hopeful.”
“Would you mind terribly if I tagged along?” Milly asked. “I’d like to see what you’re seeing.”
Brad was surprised, and pleased she asked. He was just about to ask her to join him. They made arrangements for her to come to his place about an hour before the first appointment.
The next day, Milly arrived about a half an hour early. Brad was startled by a ferocious pounding on the door. When he opened it, Milly was in the hall, with a look of determination on her face, carrying a small pillow. He raised an eyebrow as she charged past him.
“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked.
“First door on your left,” he told her.
When she returned after a few minutes, Brad’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull. Milly had been transformed. She stood before him looking about six months pregnant. If he didn’t know better and hadn’t just seen her moments ago, even he would have been thoroughly convinced. “What the …?”
She said, “I know it’s a bit of a cheat, but I look at it this way… Landlords are never going to tell you the complete truth, but having a pregnant wife beside you might make them a little more honest. If they withhold something that could affect an unborn child or a newborn, it could be really bad news for them.”
Brad laughed and shook his head in amazement. “You are devious!”
“Come on dear, we’ll be late,” she ordered. “And stop staring at me,” she added with a smile.
Further musings of Meg Sorick can be found at https://megsorick.com/
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She up and left. She left the hospital, but didn’t take her car home. The staff in the parking garage below the hospital knew Mildred’s car on sight. It was a bright yellow Honda Civic. It was nicknamed “The Yellow Peril”. It was not given this particular nickname because its oriental heritage, or the car itself. Dr. Mildred Shine, graduate of Yale Medical School, who graduated twelfth in her class out a total three hundred and thirty-five people, was simply one the worst drivers in the world. Once Mildred got in the car it was not uncommon to see other people in the garage dive for cover, or hug the walls. During the last strike the personnel who manned the parking garage asked for danger pay due to Mildred’s habit of leaving the car in gear. She had the car for two years, and went through twenty-seven bumpers. Her favorite garage named her customer of the month eleven times, but she never figured out why. Normally she was smart as a whip, but in some cases, such as driving, certain principles went right over her head.
After “Panooksa” passed away, or whatever he did, Mildred vanished. She didn’t go back to her apartment, or care for her cat Quincy. Mail for her slowly piled up inside the apartment door. Dishes went unwashed. Rent went unpaid. Eventually most of her belongings were given to stores that sold second hand goods to those down on their luck. Then Quincy vanished. I always thought the superintendent of her building had “adopted” Quincy, but no such luck. I went to Mildred’s apartment hoping she might re-surface, and to feed Quincy. The super asked me if I had seen her, and told me her “dumb lookin’ cat is gone too”. Slowly all trace of her was gone. She didn’t have any bothers or sisters, so I was listed as an emergency contact.
After a few months had passed the Police gave up looking for her. They had no significant leads. But I kept up my own little search. She wasn’t an employee of the hospital anymore, so I was free to look for her.
There was a sleepy part of town that had some of the most delicious Chinese food. The didn’t charge an arm and a leg for something some restaurant in the city would. In was like going back in time. The price for gas was what it was fifty years ago. I thought those folks were going to lose their shirts, but somehow they managed to keep on going. There was something about Mildred too. She belonged, but at the same time was so out of place. When she got her tablet she didn’t have a clue what to do with it. An orderly in the IT department took pity on her, and gave her lessons. I think he was hoping for something else, but all he got was very polite “Thank You”.
The other day when I was in that really good Chinese restaurant a cat greeted me at the door as I entered. And I swear the fur-ball looked just like Quincy. It even had a tartan colored collar on. After I sat down at a table the marmalade colored critter jumped right into my lap !. When I left it followed me out. Then it quickened its pace, and walked in front of me. I couldn’t help but think that it was leading me somewhere. When we rounded a corner I swear the street lamps were just like they were when I was a kid. And a street cleaner rolled slowly down the street with water gushing out from its sides. We walked toward an old tenement. There was someone sitting on the stoop. Quincy or whatever its name was ran towards the person on the stoop. “Enjoy your Chinese food Doctor ?” the person said. The voice sounded familiar. Then they stood up, and looked at me. It was Mildred !. Every time I asked a question she answered with a question, which drives me up the wall. It was like talking to a walking, talking, fortune cookie. Only I think this particular fortune cookie was a little cracked. Then she did something I’ll never forget. She took me by the hand, brushed my hair with her hand, and lead me to a ramshackle apartment that had definitely seen better days. She showed me a still from an old black and white movie. I looked at the grainy still with amazement for “Panooksa” was in the photo. Somehow he had become unstuck in time, and had journeyed to my present, and his future.
When Mildred watched the DVD of the movie she must have recognized one of the actors as being the man in the hospital. Not all of had him made the journey which accounted for the inability of any medical tests to be done. The discovery so unhinged Mildred she forgot who she was. Dr. Mildred Shine had at last been found. But she wasn’t the same person. Nor was I.