First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
December 16, 2019, 4:52 P.M.
Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing when they have exhausted every other option.
Lee started the engine and headed the car toward home. The radio said it might snow again tonight. He pulled the car into the garage. While it was still early, it was pitch dark. Lee hated these winter evenings when the dark seemed to close in around him from all sides.
He climbed the stairs from the garage to the kitchen, slowly. The blender droned over the audiobook, an Agatha Christie mystery CD. He didn’t know which one. He should. He was sure he had heard all of them. Liz was busy at the sink. Lee kissed her on the neck. She turned with a start. “How many times do I have to tell you?” she said, with some irritation. “Don’t sneak up on me.”
Lee smiled and asked absentmindedly how her day had been, not waiting for her reply and began to thumb through the day’s mail.
“Well, I’ll tell you when you’re ready to listen,” Liz sounded even more irritated.
“Oh, sorry. Just a lot on my mind today. How was your day?” Lee asked again, but this time he looked at Liz and waited.
“It was good. Do you want to wait to light the candles? Sharon always enjoys that; Bill could care less.”
“Sure,” said Lee. He was trying to appear interested, but he wasn’t. He’d even forgotten they were having guests tonight. Sharon and Bill were old friends. Bill and Lee had worked together for years. They’d watched as the years of clinical work took its toll on both. In recent years he had become a fan of right-wing talk radio. He was a large man, but overweight.
He no longer exercised and he drank too much, especially in the last few years, and had high blood pressure to show for it.
Sharon had worked as a social worker in his office for over thirty years. The last years had taken their toll on both Bill and her. But she still tried to support him. The anger he felt for just about everyone and everything was just beneath the surface and would come out when he drank. “Okay,” Liz smiled. “Get out of here if you’re not going to talk or help me.”
“Hold on, I’ll make the salad,” said Lee.
“Good. Just park yourself over there out of my line of travel.”
Lee carried the makings for the salad to the other side of the kitchen. The next few minutes passed without comment from either. They both found the silence reassuring. Why, exactly? He didn’t know.
The meal they were preparing was a simple one: broiled salmon, asparagus, and new potatoes. A Robert Mondavi chardonnay for Bill, no hard liquor. They didn’t want a repeat of what had happened the last time. And blueberry pie from the Island Bakery. With packing there wasn’t much time to shop or prepare food. But Bill and Sharon would be fine with that. “I heard about the fire last night. Did you talk with anyone about it?” asked Liz.
“I had a ring-side seat for that.”
“Oh,” said Liz. “The fire had something to do with your client?”
“Some strange things happening around here lately.”
“Tell me about it.”
The doorbell interrupted their conversation.
“Well, tell me about it later.” Lee nodded.
It was 6:30. Right on time, as always.
Bill and Lee had been roommates in college. Bill had finished his Ph.D. early, interned in Florida. They had lost contact for a few years, but by some stroke of fate, they both ended up in Maine and resumed their friendship. Even with some of his crazy political views, Lee trusted him as a clinician. He had somehow managed to keep his focus and was respected by his colleagues for his diagnostic work. Lee would often tease him about his political comments and would ask him, on more than one occasion, if he had fallen down the basement steps, landed on his head and suffered a rightwing stroke or concussion.
Sharon and Liz had met through Lee and Bill, and when they did, they immediately became friends. They shared much in common. They had both been social workers and had an interest in art and sculpture.
But Lee and Bill had had a more difficult time of it in recent years. Old memories provide only so much glue to hold a relationship together. Bill, Lee thought, had become obsessed with money and his retirement. Lee knew it was wrong, but he teased him more about his right-wing point of view. He had a hard time stopping himself. So when the couples had dinner together, conversations at times were a bit of a challenge and tonight would most likely be no different.
Sharon and Liz lit the Sabbath candles and they sang the Jewish prayers.
“Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu Melech ha’olam. Asher kidshanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu le’hadlik ner shel Shabbath.”
Lee followed. “Holy one of blessing your presence fills creation commanding us to light the Sabbath lights.”
The evening began with lighter topics. The Patriots were still in the playoffs. Maybe the Super Bowl. The Congregational Church had finally gotten its heating system repaired. And there were a number of sightings last night of strange lights in the sky. This led, of course, to a discussion of the fire and of the melted car that was being talked about around town. Lee was quiet. Bill decided to change the subject.
“So, Lee, what do you think about Clayton?” asked Bill with a twinkle in his eye. “Where the hell did she come from?”
“I don’t know,” said Lee, trying to avoid the subject. “What do you think?”
Bill leaned back from the table. “I think she has no experience. She’s only been a senator for four years and she’s from LA. California is as much like the rest of this country as Mars.” Bill, unfortunately, was on his third glass of wine and was starting to sound like it.
“She wants to put more restrictions and regulations on IT development. She sounds anti-tech to me. That won’t get her very far. We can’t go back, can we?”
Lee turned to Liz to offer her more wine, which he knew she would refuse, and rolled his eyes. There was an awkward silence.
“Some days I wish we could,” Lee muttered under his breath, and then he spoke up. “We certainly don’t know how to control the technology we have. Look at how many people are controlled by their technology. Slaves to the Internet. Look at our children, constantly on the gadgets they own. Some days it seems like no one talks to anyone directly. Making eye contact and saying the words has become a thing of the past. Our kids, if they can’t text someone, they don’t know how to talk to them.” Lee’s face was getting redder as he talked. Bill had stepped on a nerve.
Liz joined in the conversation to calm things down, Lee thought. But Lee was wrong. The Singularity was an issue for her.
“So, Bill,” asked Liz, “what are human beings, the creators of computers, going to do when the computers become smarter than them and begin designing the machines that will replace them? Will we still be in control? I don’t think so. This is something that needs to be dealt with, like global warming, while there is still time.”
Lee jumped back in to the conversation. He thought he would try to end it on a positive note.
“Bill, I think she’s a new voice. She’s talking about hope. I think we all need that right now. The politics of fear that have controlled this country for the last twenty years have never gotten us anyplace. Maybe she is a bit anti-tech. But don’t we need to be having that debate?” He shrugged. “Although I’m sure that could affect the bottom line for the IT companies, God forbid.”
Bill had fallen silent, reeling from the double-teaming that both Lee and Liz had been giving him. Sharon had not said anything. But Bill was back on his feet and ready to fight. He knew just what to say.
“And she’s a woman. And we all know what happened to the last one of those who ran for president.”
And that was it. Lee inhaled deeply for he knew Liz couldn’t pass on that one.
“What does her being a woman have to do with anything?” snapped Liz.
“I just don’t like it,” said Bill. “I’m not sure what she would do if we were attacked again. I would just feel more comfortable with a man being at the controls. Even Sharon agrees with me on this one.” Bill looked at Sharon.
Oh, God, thought Lee, not tonight.
“Do you?” asked Liz, glaring at Sharon.
Sharon looked down at her plate. “Well . . . well, ah, I don’t know,” Sharon said in a whisper. She looked at Bill. “I mean,” she said, with no conviction, “what would a woman — what would she do if there was a major war?”
Liz turned again to Bill and rolled her eyes. “Well, maybe she would be less likely to drag us into a major war.”
“Now, that’s what I mean.” Bill saw an opening. “Under-reaction could get us all killed.”
“Overreaction has got a lot of young men and women killed over the last few years,” Liz snapped.
And so it went until Lee suggested he make coffee and they served the dessert. The break allowed things to calm down a bit, and Lee took Bill aside. “I need a little case consultation, my friend.”
“Okay,” Bill said, a bit surprised, but making an effort to look and sound professional. The wine was starting to wear off a bit.
“Dreams,” said Lee, “the same ones night after night.”
“Not unusual,” said Bill.
“There’s something different about these.” Lee gave a brief review of the dreams Frank had reported. They make no sense to him. He says they don’t relate to him or to any of the issues I’ve worked with him on.” Bill nodded.
“Strong affect associated with the dreams?”
“No, so far he seems relatively disinterested in them. Sort of like infomercials on a radio or television monitor.” Lee shrugged. “He shows about that much interest in them.”
“Resistant to talk about them?”
“No, no,” said Lee.
“Do they have anything whatsoever to do with what’s going on today in this guy’s life?” asked Bill.
“I don’t think so. At least I haven’t been able to make any connections, and he hasn’t,” said Lee. “The dreams remind me of the ones that Dr. — I can’t remember his name — wrote about, you know, that kooky guy who wrote a book about alien abductions? Remember, I think it was in the late eighties. He sent copies to most of the psychologists in New England. Whatever happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” said Bill, sounding less interested.
“Damn wine,” said Bill, starting to rub his neck. “Stiffens up every time I drink.”
Lee smiled. He had thought about telling Bill about the dream that he had had about The Carol Deering. But he didn’t. He would deal with that when he got back before he saw Frank again, if he saw Frank again. He realized Bill had drunk too much to provide much more in the way of useful assistance.
Sharon interrupted their conversation. Looking at her watch, “It’s time to go, honey. We should give Liz the rest of the night to pack.” She knew Liz too well.
They said their goodbyes and wished Lee and Liz good travel and a great, albeit short, vacation.
After the two left, Lee cleaned up and put the dishes away. Liz went upstairs, indeed, to continue packing. In the past, a conversation like this would have Lee on edge, but this one didn’t. Lee understood his friend’s extreme conservatism, especially in the past few years, as having its roots in his past, having much to do with his efforts to make a place for himself in a world that often viewed him and his “race” with contempt. Liz and Bill were both Jews and first generation Americans who had taken very different paths in dealing with the anti-Semitism that they had faced throughout their lives.
Tonight, Lee went to bed before Liz. Lee’s mind drifted back to his client who apparently was okay, but who had not reappeared, and his visit from Jennings. Were they connected? Lee just knew it, even though Jennings had been quick to deny it.
Lee had never trusted Jennings. He had learned not to. Jennings had lied to him before, all in the service of our country he was sure. What was really going on? Did Jennings know more about all of this than he was saying? He must! And that guy, Andy, CIA, and an important package to be picked up and delivered. Lee kept rolling all of this over in his brain until he finally fell asleep.