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Half Imagined Memoir

The baby was destined to be obsessed with beauty as well as the cold truths and realities that surrounded him despite the passions and prejudices of his superiors; he was to find his own passions among many aspects of life and to know wise men or people of renown later in life. From the time he was a small child he had known spirits as a secret not to be shared despite the fascinations of the mother assigned for this lifetime. She was always keen to know of anything that might have been learned from beyond the great unknown. She was obsessed with dreams of a second sight she would never know.

In the hills above the town, which sat near the ocean, and home to a large university, there were gardens where deer wandered freely. Among the gardens were many cats, skunks and possums along with all manner of other small furry creatures who lived within an independent system that was a near paradise for them.

The cats moved like shadows that wandered freely between the worlds and homes of the people and made note of goings on that others did not observe. It was in this world that the fox ruled his domain and though the other creatures gave him wide berth, he gave them no trouble for he had more important matters of concern and found his sustenance elsewhere.

The fox had sharp eyes and ears. He could see into souls and hear hearts cry from afar. He had made it his primary job to care for the boy he heard crying in the bushes.

The Siamese cats that lived next door to each other, three in a row, eventually would gather to trade stories about their respective domiciles and laconically recount the foibles and idiosyncrasies of those who lived there and fed them. Some of them were stealthy and managed to live and eat at more than one home at a time. They were the secret spies of this parallel world, they appeared innocently but no one really knew what they were about.

They would gather at the gold fish pond that was in one of the larger gardens and gaze at the lily pads and dragon flies that hovered there on a summer afternoon, there they would recount which lonely widow was drinking herself into a fog nightly and which professor known for brilliant rhetoric all but beat his children into submission, demanding perfect grades without cease.

Although the cats often appeared haughty, they usually had one particular custodian to whom they attended. Of course naturally, said custodian was frequently also the source of food and shelter and so the boy likewise had a Siamese cat his father had named Amiculus Populi, which in Latin meant “Little Friend of the People” and the family called him Amic for short but others thought this was pretentious and wondered why the cat wasn’t named something more ordinary like Kitty or Fluffy or Sweetie.

The child traveled with the mother and sister in the air and on the land, sea and on the land once more to find themselves in Egypt of the Pharaohs in our modern times not so long ago, cacophonous, odoriferous and exotic; and so unlike what he had known that he was distracted for a time.

He didn't know then how much he would miss his father, the best he could hope to have, sympathetic, whimsical, creative and original, curious and vulnerable, a man of talents, passions, and love but with as many honest wounds and fears as the boy reported on herein. It would be many years before he could see clearly how at times he had out of desperate necessity idealized the father, but they would always understand each other more clearly than anyone else.

The ship was Greek with a passenger list laden with Greek nationals, heading home for a visit from their new homes in The States. The ship was filled with smells of fuel oil and cooking from the kitchens, of disinfectant from the closets where the staff kept mops and everywhere of the clean smell of the ocean. The passengers were laden with the luxuries of the west, clock radios, percolators and sanitary napkins.

The boy, his mother and sister had been at sea several days adjusting to the second class cabin lower in the ship. The dining room had two bottles of wine on each table, one white and the red was called Retsina. They ate avgolomeno, a lemmon chicken soup which the boy thought odd because it was unlike the Campbells canned soup he had at home but later he would love this and much more. At night, after the crew had cleaned up there would be parties, boisterous and musical with bouzoukis and dancing and singing and more wine. They sat on the sidelines and watched in delight, the spectacle of culture being displayed so unselfconsciously. Like so much on this adventure it would imprint in his mind for the rest of his life.

For some unknown reason the ships bursar needed to see the mother's travel documents a few days out at sea. She presented what she had, passports, and vaccination records and as chance would have it she carried an impressive letter of introduction from the governor of the fabled State of California.

She had come by this in a curious manner, through a friend, a psychic, who was friends with the governor’s wife. It also turned out that the sisters of the Mayor of San Francisco were also on board and magically the little family unit was relocated to a first class cabin with a private shower. Now they could look out the port hole while showering and look at the ocean instead of the dull green water from the cabin below where they’d bathed in shared facilities. And of course now they ate in the first class dining room and could attend the first class party, but there was a surprise. The parties were hideously dull, men in tuxedos and gowned women sipping champagne and no visible sign of life or culture. They returned to the parties on the lower deck after that.

Cairo was a wonder, but he'd later learn of a report of his time spent in ancient London, the source was full of shadows, so often he could not discern hope from wish or intuition from fear, dread and confusion over what was prudent and who or what he should trust.

The woman he knew as mother swept them through the streets and market places, making notes, taking photographs, concerned much with the lives she'd lived before and lost within the passion to know again, the truth about which queen she might have been, in which dynasty she might have reigned and who her lovers might have been. They saw tombs and monuments, the awesome face and pendulous mouth of Akenaton hovering in the air, carved in stone, perched, a fragment from another time and world, a memory in a museum.

They wandered in a trance in the cave of of The Serapeum with rows of the colossal sarcophagi of Apis The Sacred Bulls. They made their way to Upper Egypt to the Temple of Karnak and the tomb of Tutankhamen. She’d heard a rumor that a passage way may exist between the great pyramid at Giza and the Sphinx, having been told by one of her guides in this lifetime that his father had reported to him such things about ages past in Egypt and Atlantis and it was written in the Akashic Records, privileged information only accessed by those possessed of the sight.

They stayed in the pensione of an Italian family from Alexandria who took kindly to them and made them as though one of their own. They sat at a long table covered with white cloths seated with other guests, served by dark skinned men wearing white galabyas wearing a red fez on their heads. The mother, always at the tables head.

The sister and he faced each other and he looked with longing curiosity at an elderly English gentleman named Archibald Cameron Creswell who was a relic of the time when England had influenced Egypt, an authority on Islamic architecture and though the boy knew nothing of that he was fascinated with his Englishness, formality and an imagined kindliness.

The man gave him a partial box of chocolates as a gift and allowed his photograph to be taken by the mother of the boy. Later he would think to himself that if he could make a movie of this time the actor Sir John Gielgud should play the professor, he would be just right. For a time he obsessed on England, of which he knew little other than that was the source of his ancestry.

In the dusty streets meat hung from hooks in front of butchers shops, painted purple with potassium permanganate to ward off flies, they wandered in villages through the Nile delta, rode camels and horses in the desert near the pyramids sometimes at night. They ate baklava, Turkish Delight. Tahini, halava and ayeesh baladi, the bread he thought the best in the world. In the dusty city were beggars with missing limbs, children selling chewing gum and badgering the white skinned tourists for baksheesh.

They saw barefoot children and adults alike with diseased eyes wearing rags and an ancient water moving machine, called Archimedes Screw. Sometimes the mother would take the boy for a haircut in a shop with a continuous sheet of water running over the front window to keep it cool inside. Later they would go to the English language bookstore and he and the sister would pick out something by some British author to share. The sister would finish whatever it was in a day and he would take a week to read it through, but then they’d have something to talk about together.

This mother was taking notes, an assignment from the ambassador from Egypt to their country on another continent on a coast in a distant time zone. She made friends with a woman who he later wondered, if for all he knew, was a secret operative for the government, an American woman, raised in India with an English accent and stationed by the Navy to the Embassy in Garden City, near where they stayed in Cairo. How could he know then what vile fury she would inspire in him a decade or more later?

They had not been in Cairo long when it occurred to the boy that there would be no Thanksgiving Day celebrated and no Christmas or carols as he knew the holiday, only the celebration of the Coptic people celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas, a day he called Epiphany. He remembered 'On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me…' He didn’t really mind. It was just different.

Another, a professor they met there, who later came to their town to teach at the University, brought with him what his mother called a catamite, but to the boy he looked for all the world like a youngish man with green eye shadow. Another woman, an American ex-patriot, paralyzed on one side played the piano with one hand and was carried in a sedan chair by servants to sit in the shade of trees by her villa near the pyramids at Giza, and she too sought authority from the lands beyond the twilight. The expatriots they met at the pensione were a changing display of various academics, business men, and a wealthy widow from Boston.

A man with very dark skin befriended them at the pensione and was in the United Nations military force, they were attending to some disturbance in Gaza at the time. He was from India and he adored the family of three that he saw. He was desperate to lavish affection on the children and they were not so sureif they wanted it. The mother pitied him because he’d shown her a photograph of himself with his family when he was growing up and he was the only one with skin that was so dark. This kind of information always confused the boy as it seemed so unrelated to the world he experienced.

The longer they stayed in Egypt, the less the child cared if they ever left again for he was insulated and distracted from the pain left behind. His world was here now and he'd all but forgotten his grandmother or his cat and the unusual house in the town that he called home. But eventually they must leave and even though the mother had traded her funds on the black market to make them last they still must leave. He and the sister cried on the slow train to Alexandria and he only cared that he might see his father again. One more ship was not a novelty anymore and there would still be another yet.

After the first ship a train from Naples took them to Rome where they drifted through the Vatican and among the fountains and ruins for days and took another train to Florence where the mother wanted to stay in a special pensione she had read about in a book called A Room With a View. There they wandered among the palaces and tombs of the Medici and in the galleries filled with famous art. They crossed the Ponte Vecchio, the medieval bridge filled with shops crossing the Arno River and of course gazed at the David of Michelangelo in a dim room by himself. And then another train to London with a visit to Madame Tussaud's wax museum and finally after days the last ship, the famous luxury liner The Queen Mary, but in third class a bargain with swimming pools on the choppy seas of the north Atlantic in April. Later he thought it eerie that it had been the same route, company and time of year the Titanic had gone down.

He didn't know how he remembered, but he did, that he had waded in a tide pool near rocky beaches and taken a few small steps and fell face first into the cold sea water and cried his heart out with shock and fear. He did not have far to fall for he was not yet three but the father swept him up into his arms and took his wet shirt off and gave him his own striped blue and white tee shirt to wear and he was happy and smiled again. This was the time for him to bask in the sacred zone of paternal affection and patience that would carry him far into times of unexpected trials.

Not long after this time they were living in a small apartment near the university on whose lawns and glades he played like they were his own. The sister wore glasses, long braids with ribbons and braces on her teeth, voraciously consuming one book after another and his head was filled with story book dreams and music.

He loved to play with his blocks and wooden train set and wind up the Victrola phonograph the father gave to him to play one little Golden record after the next, prancing alone in his shared bedroom while his sister was at school, his head filled with Skip to My Lu, Lavender Blue, and Old Mac Donald, Three Blind Mice and The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

How was he to know then that the ominous mountain made of candy was but a lure for little boys like him to be taken by vagrant men to the hobo camps and there to be their slaves for begging, cooking and whatever those men desired? It was a little later that he learned The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night and where he went and why.

This was then an almost bucolic time for them in the town called Berkeley and nestled between the waters of San Francisco Bay and the hills that rose behind the town had then an unimaginable future of upheaval and change, but then didn’t everyone? It was the collective dream of the fifties, nearly as sublime as it was hideous and hilarious. The street was lined with Sycamore trees with big leaves and at times he dreamed he was so small he could float on one in the rainwater that ran in the gutter between the sidewalk and the street and have adventures by himself. Somewhere in a book someone had read something like that to him.

There were so many worlds then, so many faces hovered in the child's field of view and yet he did not know what they represented then and the man in the moon rose over the hills above the Radiation Laboratory, its lights on all night up on the hill where they were inventing bigger bombs. His mother had him sing 'I see the moon and the moon sees me, the moon sees the one I long to see...' and say his prayers 'Our father who art in heaven', but the only father that mattered to him was the one that sat him on his lap and let him watch while he drew pictures in a book of blank pages. At night his father was away teaching art.

Sometimes when alone the boy would explore the neighborhood and play in the creek that ran out of the hills and below the streets before disappearing into a concrete tunnel beneath an apartment building. As he did at other times in the park and with friends he would make little dams and route the water into pools of his creation. The summer he was four (or was it five?) he ventured into the tunnel alone to see where it would lead.

There seemed to be sufficient light as periodically he would pass by the bottom of a grating covered drain from a street corner which gave enough illumination for him to see by. The tunnel ran on and on gently downhill and presently he realized he was beneath a manhole cover in the middle of an intersection with many cars passing over head.

He climbed up the ladder to see what he could and peeking through the ventilation holes in the metal plate could see that he was in fact in the middle of the down town business district. He found it thrilling to have discovered this space entirely on his own and he kept the secret as his own. Quickly he returned to the place he had entered and resumed playing on the lawn in front of the apartment building.