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
The Marble Arch
December 20, 2019, 7:30 A.M.
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.
~ Emily Dickinson
Their wake-up call came at 7:30 A.M. Liz groaned and rolled over. Lee sat up on the edge of the bed for a minute but then rejoined her. At eight o’clock, Lee got to his feet and headed to the bathroom. Another sunny day. Lee felt hopeful. Sunlight and warm water.
God, we are the children of Mother Nature, he thought to himself as he turned off the shower.
Liz was now up and feeling equally optimistic about the day. “Perhaps this little favor for Jennings we are doing is a good thing,” she said to Lee as she took possession of the bathroom.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt to look at it that way,” said Lee, “We Americans are used to exporting hope, not fear,” shouted Lee through the door.
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Room service,” said the voice.
“Breakfast is served,” shouted Lee. He didn’t wait for Liz. He had a quick cup of coffee, some OJ and a scone. And the scones weren’t as bad as he had remembered them from the day before.
Lee was ready to go. Liz was emerging from the bathroom. She looked at Lee and his suitcase, the “thing.”
“You’re not taking that with you,” said Liz.
Lee grimaced. “Well, yes,” he said.
“I think we should switch bags. Mine is much smaller. It will be easier for you.” Liz started for the closet to get her bag. Lee looked unconvinced.
He didn’t move.
“It will only take a minute,” said Liz. “Relax. Relax.”
Rather than complaining, Lee realized Liz was right, as she often was. He told her that her suggestion was a good one and helped her repack his bag. Lee gave himself extra points on the change scale.
Lee tucked the “package” in a leather pocket in his briefcase. He assumed it would go through customs and security. It looked like an ordinary CD, which were getting more rare all the time. Maybe it was an ordinary CD with some sort of secret information coded behind the music or on the CD instead of the music? What did he know.
Lee hugged his wife and kissed her forehead. “No,” she said. “A real kiss.”
Lee stepped back. He looked at her. He took her in his arms and kissed her like it might be their last. He tried to reassure her that all would be well by mumbling something to that effect and they both pretended it would be. He caught a taxi in front of the hotel. The taxi driver, like most British drivers, engaged him in conversation.
“Your first time with the Eurostar?”
“Yes. I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Sir, I believe you will be impressed with the terminal. Much like Grand Central Station in New York.” St. Paneras International was an old train station that had been restored to its earlier glory.
“Yes, I’ve heard. The longest champagne bar in Europe.” The craving was still there.
“Yes, sir. The longest in the U.K. and in Europe,” the driver corrected. Lee had read the AAA guide and knew other bits of trivia, which the driver also knew.
“It’s been in a number of films,” Lee offered, enjoying the distraction of the conversation.
“Yes, sir. It was a stand-in for King’s Crossing Platform 9-3/4 in Harry Potter.”
The station indeed was a beautiful one. Check-in was easy. Lee went through security without delay. He checked for the CD when he retrieved his briefcase. The package had made it too. It was still there.
The train was on time. Lee’s seat was in Car 5, a standard-class car. He never saw the point in spending additional money on business class. It was next to a bar car, not that he was planning on having a drink. Ah, the “good ole days,” he mumbled under his breath, “the days when a Jack Daniel’s Manhattan could quickly dull any feeling with which I might be having difficulty.”
The trip to Paris would take approximately two-and-a-half hours. They would be under the Channel for only twenty minutes. The train was amazingly quiet and not crowded.
The purpose of the trip to Paris was a World Health Organization conference on “Optimism.” Medicine had taken all these years to figure out that “our explanatory style” has a direct impact on our health. That how we look at the world can make us sick or help us get well, that our perception of things is the key.
But Lee’s mind wasn’t on the details of the conference. He was having his own internal debate about optimism and pessimism. On the side of pessimism were his friends, Bill and Rick, and his old boss, Dennis. And on the side of optimism were his mother and his Aunt Rose.
When Lee had been released from detention in Boston, he had committed himself to the practice of gratitude, but that had been a hard promise to keep. With Vietnam, Grenada, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan in his lifetime, it seemed America was interminably at war. And the effects seemed pervasive. We had filled our television and video games with violence. Our economy seemed to demand that wars continue. It was hard for Lee to remember his mother’s words. “Son, just always remember, good or bad, this too will pass.” She had been born before World War I and had lived through the Depression, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and the war in Iraq. But blame was an easy thing. An incompetent Federal Administration, baby-boomers who had sold out, young people who seemed more interested in texting and smartphones than the world in which they lived. But then he would remember his aunt. “Lee, you’ve got to focus on what you have and not what you don’t have.” God knows, she had learned that lesson well, having lived through the death of two husbands and then dying herself just short of her sixtieth birthday. His friends and old boss, even with advanced degrees in psychiatry and psychology, were no match for two women who understood life by living it to the fullest.
Two hours passed quickly. Lee almost missed the Channel crossing. It seemed very much like all of the other tunnels he had been through on a train, just longer. Lee found himself thinking more about his mother and her stories. One of the most romantic and certainly one filled with hope for the future was the story of Aunt Ollie and Uncle Clyde’s marriage. They had grown up in Lee’s hometown. They had been engaged when young, but for some reason — Lee didn’t know what the reason was and neither did his mother — the engagement ended. Clyde moved away to Chicago and made a life for himself there. Ollie stayed in Lee’s hometown and married. But her husband died in the 1930s. She remained a widow for the next twenty-five years.
One summer day in 1956, Clyde returned. His life in Chicago had been a good one. He had married and had a son. But his wife had died and he had decided to return to his hometown to find Ollie and did.
She had not heard from him in ten years and was reluctant to “court.” After all, they were both in their late sixties. Ollie knew that people in this small southern town would think they were ridiculous. People would talk. But Clyde was persuasive. He soon proposed and they were married.
Lee didn’t remember much of this. He was just a child, ten or eleven. He did remember the wedding because he was the ring-bearer. They were married at Lee’s home and his parents served as witnesses.
What Lee did remember were the years that followed. The two clearly enjoyed each other. Ollie, who had been ill, Lee’s father called her a hypochondriac, suddenly returned to good health, and Clyde seemed to find new energy and a new purpose in life. Ollie died in 1968 and Clyde followed her within a year.
Lee wondered why they had suddenly come to mind. Thinking about his mother and the love Ollie and Clyde had shared was certainly a nice diversion from the present. Lee wasn’t sure at all what awaited him in Paris. He thought about the near miss at the airport and the man in the trench coat, who followed Liz and him through the park and onto the tube. And the truck that almost demolished them and their taxi.
The train arrived at the Paris Nord Station on time. Again, customs was quick and easy, which usually worried Lee. What if the bad guys got through as easily as he did? But he wouldn’t think about that today. He was in Paris. He had only been in the city a couple of times, but he loved it. Even though he spoke very little French, he was comfortable there. The pace, the feel of the city, it was different from New York or London. Slower, more sane.
The cab ride to the Ambassador was short. The old hotel was in the center of the Opera District, a few minutes from the Opera, Garnier, and the Moulin Rouge. Built in the 1920s, it retained its art deco theme. Lee didn’t especially like the couches or the chairs in the lobby or find them comfortable. But the choice of color and their arrangement worked. It wouldn’t have worked, Lee thought, if an American had designed it. The hotel would have looked like a Disney-style brothel, but the French made it work. And the Lindbergh Bar, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman — a couple whose timing when combined with World War II just didn’t work — Claude Rains and the Foreign Legion. Lee smiled from the memory of the 1940s classic film, Casablanca. He found welcome distraction in that fantasy. He always did.
Lee thought again of the trip to Paris for Dru’s sixteenth birthday years before. It was a short trip, only a week. They didn’t stay longer, although they wanted to. Paris was expensive, especially with the dollar having hit a new low and having stayed there.
The desk clerk, Lee believed, was at the hotel when they had been there before. Lee’s French was terrible, but the clerk appreciated his efforts. Yes, he had worked at the hotel for over ten years. And, yes, he thought he might remember Lee and his family. At least that’s what he had said. Lee’s hook usually did make an impression.
Lee settled into his room, unpacked, and then called Liz, who was having a great time with Val. She had stayed within the budget they had set for the trip. “Well, almost,” she admitted. There was just one thing. A handbag she knew “Dru would love.” She knew Lee wouldn’t object if it was for Dru.
“And?” asked Liz.
“No, so far I’ve heard nothing from the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. But I’ll keep you posted.”
It was 4:30 P.M. in Paris. Lee searched the hotel room for a note. No note. No phone calls or messages. He waited. He watched some television. He checked his Gmail. He flipped through the channels. He decided he would stay in and have dinner at the hotel restaurant. He took a nap. Showered just to wake up. He was still dealing with jet lag.
The meal at the hotel was uneventful. He ordered a veal dish he couldn’t pronounce, but he tried and the waiter smiled. He thought about a walk after dinner. Maybe down to Galleries Lafayette. He checked his watch. It was after six. It would be closed. The French believed evenings were not for shopping, but for other things. He finally ended up in the bar. “A tonic and lime, sil vous plait.” He was sure the bartender took offense. He waited. Sipped his drink. But there was no message written on a cocktail napkin. He went back to the room. No messages. No notes. No calls. No emails. No one appeared interested in telling him what he was to do with the Greatest Hits of Rock ‘n Roll.
More television. A look at the workshop agenda for tomorrow. A chair propped against the door and lights out. Maybe a note would be in the granola in the morning. He would have to remember to look before he poured the milk.
Before Lee drifted off to sleep, he thought of Jean. The sadness came up as it always did. Jean was a woman he had been . . .yes, in love with for most of his life. They had met in graduate school. After she had completed her doctorate, she had moved to Europe. Lee still had his internship to do.
They had seen each other a number of times. They had talked about marriage. But their timing never worked, just like Bogie and Bergman, and long distance relationships were hard to maintain. They had both married. They had lost touch. Just Christmas cards. In 2012, her husband had died. She returned to the States for a visit, just in time to become embroiled in the mess that Lee had been involved in in Boston. She tried to help. Since Boston, they had written only a few times. Jennings had discouraged Gmail or phone calls. But Lee’s paranoia was the main reason. He was sure their conversations with each other were being monitored, and maybe they were. So even the letters said little. But he still thought of her. He closed the drapes. The City of Lights disappeared. He slept. He was exhausted. He dreamed, but had no memory of the dream when he awoke the next morning at seven.