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Amazon, it seems, has distorted the punctuation in all of the excerpts (and are currently trying to fix it), so you might see some weird symbols; just ignore it—they’re that way for all the entries. For those who don’t own a Kindle, I’ll put the full excerpt below and then you should still be able to review it. An earlier draft of The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady was shortlisted for 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom Award. Thanks for your help!
—Borneo Expat Writer
THE RESURRECTION OF JONATHAN BRADY
PART ONE: HEIGHTENED AWARENESS
True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we
understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.
Jonathan Brady’s body, his arms outstretched and his head facing toward heaven, is found lying in the center of Rainbow Bridge at Angel Park.
“I thought he was sleeping,” states a middle-aged woman named Mary who found him.
“He looked so peaceful.”
“You can imagine my shock,” says another Mary, a former Haloton State student who happened upon the scene. “I took Professor Brady’s Intro to Economics class when I was a freshman. He was a good teacher. He knew how to make the subject interesting. I nearly switched majors because of him, but in the end I stuck with accounting.”
Brady’s former colleagues at Haloton State are at a loss.
“When it came to economics, he really knew his stuff,” Harvey Kelter says.
Billy Smitt agrees. “It was never the same after he left. Never the same.”
“He just all of a sudden decided to quit—that caught me by surprise,” says Paul Ellers. “He was a real asset to the department. He would have made a fine department chairman.”
“If you ask me,” Mary Fisher says, a smug look on her overly made-up face, “I thought it was a bit queer of him not being married. Nor was he all that reliable—he was supposed to paint my house, but did he? No!”
“He just seemed down on his luck, that was all,” says Scott Thompsett, the owner of the house where Jonathan Brady lived in the third-floor apartment. “The boys loved him. He was like an uncle to them. They were always upstairs visiting him.”
Joey has tears in his eyes as he asks, “He’s not coming back, is he?”
“Told you that already,” Kevin says. “He’s gone to heaven.”
“He was our best customer, always in here buying roses,” says Millie Hoffman, while chewing bubble gum. “He knew more about roses than my mom did, and she owns the place. A bit of a fuddy-duddy. Still, I’m going to miss him. And this C.C.—she must be someone really special.” She blows a quick bubble and snaps it for emphasis. “Really special.”
A heavenly smile spreads across Jonathan Brady’s lips as if he’s been touched by an angel. He blinks at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He blinks again. The dream he just had was so real! He was on the stage with Cabrina Chaval—as her Prince Tamino—in The Magic Flute. He was so close to her, to Pamina, he could touch her. Even smell her. She smelled like roses. Roses! Cabrina Chaval looked amazing in her bright, colorful Pamina costume just like she did in her debut in Philadelphia. Her voice sounded richer than ever as if she were singing directly from heaven. From heaven.
Brady breathes in deeply and again smiles to himself. He hums Tamino’s aria “This Likeness is Enchantingly Lovely,” which he sang in the dream after viewing an enchantingly lovely portrait of Pamina. Oh, did he sing! He sang to save Pamina’s life! He was determined—absolutely determined—to rescue her . . . . To rescue his Cabrina Chaval!
Brady continues to hum as he fills the bathtub. Hums as he flosses and brushes his teeth. Hums as he shaves and bathes and dries himself. Hums as he puts on his white shirt, peridot cuff links, blue-striped tie, and dark blue, double-breasted suit. He inserts the monogrammed handkerchief with the initials JCB into the front pocket. He fusses in front of the mirror to get the handkerchief just right. It’s important that he looks good. He doesn’t want to let Paul Ellers down or have anyone, particularly Mary Fisher, make negative comments about the way he’s dressed. With Ellers’ three-year rotational-term as chairman ending soon, he wants to make a good impression, especially since he’s tipped to succeed Ellers. Finally, he’ll be Chairman of the Economics Department. Once he becomes Chairman there’ll be no stopping him. Why, he may finally buy that dream house. Maybe, even get married. Wouldn’t that be something! Perhaps start a family and have two fine boys like Kevin and Joey. Yes, that would be grand.
Brady grabs a bowl of Corn Flakes and adds some banana slices. While eating, he flips through yesterday’s Haloton Herald. He chances upon an interview he somehow overlooked of Cabrina Chaval. “How about that!” he says, astonished by the coincidence.
Or is it a coincidence?
He pores over the interview, pausing to reflect on what Cabrina Chaval has to say, searching each word for hidden meanings. Weeks ago, he read in a magazine that she was planning to have an operation on her eyes.
“Oh, good,” he says, relieved to learn that the operation was a success.
“My eyes are very important,” Cabrina Chaval is quoted as saying. “I use my eyes to make contact with my audience, with my admirers.”
He grabs a pen and a steel ruler from his desk and underlines the quote. So this is how she makes contact—with her eyes. That’s how she made contact with him during her debut in Philadelphia. She picked him right out of the audience. He was sixteen at the time, too young to understand the full implications of that look. The way she poured out her heart, her soul to him. It was just when he—no, he doesn’t want to think about that. He was so ashamed. And Mother knew. She knew exactly what happened since she was sitting right beside him . . . . He closes his eyes into tight little fists. He opens them and blinks rapidly, hoping to blink away those thoughts. They’re distracting him from the article about Cabrina Chaval.
Responding to a question about staying in contact with her fans, Cabrina Chaval replies, “Oh, I do. I promise to always keep in contact with them . . . . Nor do I mind meeting them in public as long as they are courteous and respectful.”
“And she keeps her promises!” Brady says out loud. Didn’t she contact him in his dream? Now she’s telling him they can meet in public as long as he’s courteous and respectful. This time, it’ll be different . . . . This time, he’ll be ready to accept her outpouring of love.
“My one regret,” she adds near the end of the interview, “is giving up learning how to play the flute. The flute was a birthday present from my mother.”
Oh, that’s right! Her birthday was just last week, on May 1st. He reads the line again about her wanting to play the flute, letting each word sink into his consciousness.
If only I knew, I’d gladly have taught you myself!
If only he had the talent to teach her . . . . It’s been so long since he last played, he’s not sure he even remembers how. If only he was good enough to teach someone as special as Cabrina Chaval.
After finishing breakfast, he clips the article using an Exacto knife and the steel ruler, not clumsy scissors, and carries it to the desk. Inside the bottom drawer are newspaper and magazine articles about Cabrina Chaval and programs from a dozen of her operas from The Magic Flute to her final season with La Traviata and Carmen, both of which he saw twice. He picks up the program for The Magic Flute, and while glancing through it his gaze falls on the opening paragraph of the introduction to the opera:
The Magic Flute, an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart (Die Zauberflote), was written in 1791, the last
year of Mozart’s life. According to Brewer, The
Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, the “flute” was bestowed
by the powers of darkness, and had the power of
inspiring love. Unless purified, the love was only lust,
but, being purified by the Powers of Light, it subserved
the holiest purposes. Tamino and Pamina are guided
by it through all worldly dangers to the knowledge of
The flute . . . had the power of inspiring love.
Feeling as if the Power of Light has been switched on inside him, Brady suddenly heads for the dresser. He squats down to pull out the bottom drawer and shifts aside some mementos from his childhood, including the hunting knife that he bought at the Haloton Street Fair and the antique silver mirror, embossed with roses, that belonged to his mother. He removes a narrow black case and carries it to the desk. Before opening it, he takes a moment to pause out of respect for his mother. It was she who bought him the flute after he had kept his promise to break up with Melissa Henderson the day after he and his mother had seen Cabrina Chaval’s debut in The Magic Flute.
Although upset by what had happened that evening, still he was glad that he accompanied his mother and filled in for his father who was ill at the time . . . . In his mind’s eye, he tries to picture how Melissa Henderson looked back then. She was tall and lanky, with freckles and stringy auburn hair . . . but what else? Something seems to be missing. What was the color of her eyes? Brown or green? Was her smile straight or crooked? If only he hadn’t torn up all of her photos. He even cut them out of the high school yearbook! He was that furious with her . . . . Again, he thinks of his Pamina—Cabrina Chaval. Still smiling, he opens his eyes and gazes reverently at the silver flute.
If I play, will you come to me—straight as an arrow?
Charmed by the thought, Brady lifts the flute from the case and weighs it in his hands as if balancing the past and the mistakes he made with the promise of a better, brighter future. He takes a few moments to clean the flute with the cleaning rod and a lint-free cloth. If he had more time, he would clean it properly, but that would entail disassembling it. No doubt some wires will need to be replaced. Anxious to give it a try, he plays some weak, out of tune notes. He attempts to play a minor part from The Magic Flute, surprised that he remembers it. His embouchure, he knows, is quite poor. Mr. Swimble would have rapped his knuckles with his baton for playing so awkwardly. Swimble’s aim was deadly, too, targeting specific knuckles if need be. Brady concentrates as he plays as if truly inspired by the Power of Light—if not the Power of Love.
Noticing the time, he places the flute back inside its case and returns it to the dresser. He abruptly changes his mind and takes the flute back to the desk and sets it on top beside the program to The Magic Flute. Maybe he can start to play again. Why not? If Cabrina Chaval truly wants to pick up the flute again, maybe he can offer to teach her. Now wouldn’t that be something! Him teaching the flute to Cabrina Chaval! He blushes at the thought . . . . Again, he contemplates the dream he had—the most wonderful dream in the world. Truly, a delight! And the article, so insightful! Imagine, after twenty-two years, Cabrina Chaval is contacting him again. This time, he vows to be ready.
Cabrina Chaval is sending me messages. She says she’ll be contacting me soon—in person. But there’s a problem. Viewing hours for Marie Ellers—Paul Ellers’ wife—will be held at Bellsky Funeral Home. I have not been back there since that day…
Before leaving the third-floor apartment above the Thompsett house, Brady, thinking he may have forgotten something, pauses at the door. Not knowing what it is, he lets his gaze roam around the apartment as if searching for a clue to his past. His gaze lingers on the collection of cassettes, an eclectic mix of pop, country rock, and classics that he’s had since he was a student; many he hasn’t listened to in years. Then he sees it, Die Zauberflote—
Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
From the opening of Papageno’s aria “The Birdcatcher Am I Indeed” he’s lulled back to his dream, thus putting him in the perfect mood for what has been, thus far, the most perfect morning of his life. All thanks to Cabrina Chaval.
Upon arriving extra early at Bellsky Funeral Home, he has no difficulty finding a parking spot for the station wagon. He still remembers how difficult it was for his father to reverse out of the parking lot once during visiting hours for his mother. Oh, the vocabulary he used that day. When he died a dozen years later, “death by misadventure” according to the coroner due to the alcohol and sleeping pills that he took, Brady had him taken to Faust & Beckett on the other side of Haloton, which he’s sure his father appreciated.
The piped-in organ music, the dark paneled walls, and the burgundy carpet make Bellsky gloomier than he remembered. Brady passes through several dimly-lit rooms, each with a blind corner. Anxious not to forget what he memorized on the way over, he hurries to the next room where he finds Marie Ellers stretched out in a casket, surrounded by several people he doesn’t know. Relieved at not having to see her body right away, he pauses to get his bearings.
Paul Ellers is standing off to one side, looking like he always does, as if he’s holding in his breath. In his mid-forties, Ellers has dark brooding eyebrows, a sturdy chin, and a swimmer’s wide shoulders and narrow hips. Despite arriving at Haloton State the same year, he and Ellers aren’t as close as they should be. Brady blames himself for not taking the initiative early in his career. Of course, once he replaces Ellers as Chairman that will change. He’ll personally see to it.
Brady makes eye contact with Ellers and nods respectfully. Before anyone else can approach him, Brady saunters over and offers his hand.
“Paul, to be cut down in one’s prime . . . . In Hamlet, William Shakespeare said, ‘All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.’”
During his high school production of Hamlet, Melissa Henderson, who played his mother The Queen of Denmark, said that very line to him countless times. She then said it again at his mother’s funeral two weeks before the actual performance.
“Thank you, Jonathan,” Ellers replies, forcing a polite smile.
“You’re more than welcome,” Brady says, glad that Ellers is taking his wife’s death so well. He’s also glad to see others trickling in. Even though the timing is bad for everyone with final exams only four days away, more and more people drop by to pay their respects. Most are paying them to a woman they hardly know, for Marie Ellers rarely set foot on campus. Most of the credit for the turnout has to go to Ellers’ secretary, Mary Fisher, who’s now standing sentinel at the entrance, casting a troll-like gaze on all those who arrive. Short and dumpy, she barely comes up to most people’s armpits. Even though everyone at the department knows that she personally despised Marie Ellers, she made it her special mission to cajole, shame, and arm-twist every member into taking the time to drop by for viewing hours.
Catching his gaze, Mary Fisher puckers her lips like a tuna and mouths, “Thanks for coming.” She glances at the time.
So does Brady.
Since Paul Ellers’ relatives live mostly in Oregon, only a few can make the journey; whereas Marie’s relatives all hail from nearby Philadelphia and they arrive en masse. They head straight for Marie’s casket as if only they have any real claim to her body and drive everyone else away. Once their command is firmly established, they abandon their station and then march toward Paul Ellers as if to demand an explanation.
“If there’s anything—anything you need,” Brady says to Ellers, as he sidesteps the mob, “you know where to find me.”
Since the casket is no longer being monopolized by others, Brady wanders over for a quick peek. The polished shine on the outside of the casket reflects his clean-shaven face. A face that hasn’t changed all that much since high school. He has more lines now, more creases, and his eyes are somewhat puffy, yet the baby face and the weak chin remain. He inherited his looks from his mother; though as a woman, she appeared dignified, even elegant, especially with her hair done nicely. His own hair is cut short, maybe too short, and his ears stick out—something he used to be teased about at school. Compared to Ellers, who still swims laps twice a week and works out regularly in the gym, Brady may appear weak. But during the summer when he paints houses, his physical strength often surprises him, particularly when moving a fully-extended ladder from one side of the house to the other.
Brady peeks into the casket and instead of finding Marie Ellers’s body, he finds the body of his mother. Taken aback, he rubs his eyes and blinks. He rubs them again, but there she is looking up at him. He breathes in her favorite fragrance—roses. Dumbstruck by what he’s seeing and smelling, he stares at her in disbelief as if she had died, not twenty-two years ago, but today. He takes a closer look at her and she blinks. Blinks. She blinks again as if she has something important to say to him and the only way she can communicate is with her eyes. Her eyes. He tries to concentrate on what her eyes are saying. But he can’t—he can’t concentrate. Someone nearby is crying, and it’s distracting him. He turns to see who it is.
Standing only a few feet away from him is his father, whom he hasn’t seen since his funeral. Next to him is the sixteen-year-old Brady, who’s still trying to make sense of the car accident that took away their mother less than a month after attending Cabrina Chaval’s debut. Still angry at her for making him break up with Melissa Henderson, Brady had stayed home that night to go over his lines for Hamlet. He had insisted, though, that after his mother visited a friend at the hospital, that she buy take-away food from Chan’s Chinese Restaurant on the way home. The car, driven by his father, skidded on a patch of ice and slammed into the Chestnut Street Bridge. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, his mother died from internal bleeding.
Other than a gash on his forehead, his father had not been seriously injured. Still wearing the bandage, his father glances at Brady’s younger self, as if he knows whose fault the accident really was. Brady wonders, did his father know, truly know, what happened that night during The Magic Flute? Did he know about his magic flute? He shudders at the thought as he watches the two of them, unaware of his presence.
Brady mirrors the boy as he turns and looks at Melissa Henderson who just arrived at his mother’s funeral. Just as he remembered that morning, she’s tall and lanky, with freckles and stringy auburn hair down to her shoulders. And wearing braces! How could he have forgotten those braces! Melissa came with the rest of the cast and crew from Hamlet, including Priscilla Todd and Jerry Smathers, a senior and an all-state swimmer, who played Melissa’s husband, Claudius, the King of Denmark. Brady’s younger self curls his lips. So does Brady. Both of them watch Smathers as he eyes Melissa as if he’s undressing her. During rehearsals, Smathers flirted with her constantly, telling her that since they’re already married in the play, they should be a couple. God, how he hated Jerry Smathers! No wonder he and Ellers never got along. Ellers and Smathers are both swimmers.
Melissa approaches his younger self and takes a hold of his hand. She gazes deeply into the boy’s eyes. Her eyes, Brady notes, are brown. Yes, of course, brown! He vaguely remembers her coming up to him at the funeral, yet he doesn’t remember that look—the longing in her eyes as if she’s still in love with him. Nor does he recall her holding his hand like that, so tenderly, and stroking it with her left hand . . . in front of Smathers.
Melissa repeats her line from Hamlet, “All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.” Her sad, sensuous smile has a softness to it like a pillow puffed up ready for use. In a word, kissable.
Suddenly he remembers all the kisses that she once promised him . . . . The boy struggles to hold back his tears. So does Brady, watching them. Watching him, his own self, with Melissa Henderson!
Even after they broke up, he knew they would get back together. Didn’t she promise him he could kiss her anytime he wanted? He knew all he had to do was to sit down and talk to her, and explain what happened. Explain how his mother made him break up with her because she was . . . because she was . . . what? Jealous? Jealous that he had a girlfriend? Jealous of all the time they were spending together because of the play? Jealous because Melissa was his mother in the play?
Melissa suddenly looks up at Brady. She jerks back her head, startled—it’s as though she can see Brady standing there in the future. She hesitates but then she smiles at him . . . . Surprised that she can see him, Brady looks away, embarrassed. So does the boy, equally embarrassed. Or perhaps he’s ashamed for having broken up with her the way that he did, so abruptly, so perfunctory, too, like he was merely following orders. Unlike Brady’s father, the boy is not crying. It’ll be two weeks before he sheds any real tears. Not until after the cast party for Hamlet, which he should never had gone to in the first place. He didn’t want to go, but Melissa Henderson talked him into it. He only went because he had wanted to talk to her about his mother, about her making him break up with her, which he never fully explained. He saw the cast party as an opportunity to set things right. But everything went wrong! Jerry Smathers—he ruined everything!
Brady tugs on the left shirt cuff that peeks out from the jacket sleeve. Also the right cuff as he gazes back into the casket at his mother’s eyes. Again she blinks at him. He’s unable to tell what she’s trying to say. He longs to touch her well-manicured fingers, to hold them one last time . . . . Everything that her hands touched in life seemed to come alive, whether making handicrafts, baking pies, or cultivating roses. Her results won numerous prizes at the Haloton Street Fair. She even taught herself to play the piano. He used to hum along with her as she played. That night, on the way home from The Magic Flute they also hummed together, but it felt different then. It was the last time they had hummed together.
Compared to his mother’s achievements, Brady often sees himself a disappointment. He hasn’t lived up to her expectations . . . . What he lacks mostly is confidence. He wishes he had someone pushing him the way Melissa Henderson used to push him back in school. If it hadn’t been for her, he would never have tried out for Hamlet. If only he hadn’t broken up with her. If only Mother hadn’t made him. If only she had given him a choice! But now Melissa is gone. So is his mother.
His mother’s image gradually fades away in the coffin.
“Please don’t go,” he whispers. His father and his younger self also fade away. So does Melissa Henderson, along with Jerry Smathers and the rest of the cast from Hamlet.
Brady looks around the room to see if anyone else had noticed them. They all seem preoccupied with their thoughts or busy staring at their shoes . . . . Brady sighs as he takes in the length of Marie Ellers’ body, from her short black hair and mousey face down to her black high heels. The shoes seem awfully tight and look uncomfortable with those pointy toes. Had she been punishing her feet her entire life? Or was Paul Ellers punishing them for her, as if her feet were somehow responsible for their unhappy marriage?
Other than those shoes, he’s impressed by how calm Marie Ellers appears; it’s as if she’s lying down on a couch having merely dozed off. In fact, he can’t remember the last time he saw her awake. Six years ago, while visiting Ellers’ house to pass him some urgent paperwork that he needed for a conference, he found Marie stretched out on the couch with her hands folded across her chest like an Egyptian mummy. She’s in the same position now as if she’s been transported directly from the couch to the coffin.
As he continues to gaze at Marie Ellers’ body, he starts to feel odd—though not in the odd way he was expecting. Instead of feeling depressed, he feels alive. No, it’s more than that. Rejuvenated. Perhaps, even uplifted. Is his being at Bellsky part of a grand scheme? He thinks of his mother and seeing her again after all these years. His father, too, and his younger self. And Melissa Henderson! Then coming across that interview with Cabrina Chaval. About her eyes. And having that marvelous dream where he’s on stage with her in The Magic Flute.
Conscious of several students hovering nearby, Brady makes way for them so they can rush back to their books and continue their cramming for their final exams. If only he could rush off, too. He still has thirty term papers to grade, reports to fill out, and he wants a final look at the exam questions to make sure everything is in order. If only Mary Fisher wasn’t trolling the entrance.
“So glad you could make it, Jonathan,” Mary Fisher says, sneaking up on him, no doubt having read his thoughts.
“I was one of the first here from our department,” he says, and glances at the time. From past experience he knows that anyone who doesn’t stay for at least one hour at any department-related function, no matter how tedious or dubious, will get a tongue-lashing, and Mary Fisher’s tongue can cut as deep as a cat-o’-nine-tails.
“So I noticed.” She pauses as if to make a notation on some duty roster stored inside her brain.
“I didn’t see you when I came in,” Brady adds, wanting to impress upon her that he was there even before she was.
“I was in the ladies.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” he says, well aware of her bowel problems. “Trying your luck?”
“Constipation,” Mary Fisher says, furrowing her eyebrows at him, “is not a subject to be discussed.”
He coughs and glances at the casket hoping to change the subject to something more pleasant—like Marie Ellers’ death. What he does remember about Marie Ellers was her awful temper and her constant flitting about as if a wasp were about to sting her. The smallest thing seemed to set her off. Once, while waiting for Ellers to get off the phone, she picked up a swimming trophy and threw it at Ellers, just missing his head. Had Mary Fisher been working that day, Marie Ellers might never have left the office alive. Fiercely protective of her boss, Mary would lace into anyone who even looks sideways at Ellers, let alone cross-eyed.
Brady clears his voice. “To be cut down in one’s prime—”
“Marie Ellers was hardly in her prime.”
“As William Shakespeare said in Hamlet—”
“I hate it when people quote Shakespeare! He’s been dead forever!”
Brady looks at her aghast as if wishing that she and not Shakespeare were dead, or even Marie Ellers, for that matter.
“Now I don’t want to sound like a gossip,” Mary Fisher says, making furtive glances to see if anyone’s listening, “but I couldn’t help overhearing a relative of Marie’s saying it was the best thing that could’ve happened to Chairman Ellers. Imagine being married to a woman who was afraid to leave the house? Finally, he can have a real wife.” She bats her caked-with-mascara eyelashes as if it’s simply a matter of changing the spelling of her name from Mary to Marie in order to replace her as Ellers’ wife. Twice divorced, with no prospects in sight, Mary Fisher is as homely and dull as Paul Ellers is handsome and athletic; and with a personality as constipated as her bowels. Yet compared to Marie Ellers, Brady has to admit, at least she has a personality.
“You are coming this evening and tomorrow, am I correct?”
“I’m coming to the funeral on Saturday.”
“Friday is also viewing hours.”
“I’ll have to see,” he says, digging for a good excuse.
“Need I remind you, Chairman Ellers’ term is coming to an end. Ultimately he’ll have a lot of influence over who’ll replace him.” Mary Fisher narrows her eyebrows to a fine point. “This is his hour of need, and he needs us, all of us for support.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“I know I can count on you. You are a good man, Jonathan Brady. A good man, despite what others say.”
*Here are six lessons I learned from joining Amazon competition.
**Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is back for 2014
***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and to the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Trois autres Malaisie. Thanks!