The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Sarah Sarai

      “I’m just the psychic." Ms. Marie shrugged as she peered at her cigarette ashes as if they were professional equipage.
      Ludlow brushed them off the table and into her palm. Her mother would have been appalled by the medium’s wanton disregard for waxed furniture.
      “Take it for what it’s worth, but they say you’re everything and everyone in your dreams. It’s a theory, although I’m sure you’ve—”
      “—Heard it.”
      A month ago, Ludlow woke with a mountain—thundering skies, moss turning into ice at the peak, a Sisyphean lug up, a nameless female saint dressed by Hindu devotees—wall-to-wall in her brain. The mountain was old although Ludlow doubted there were young mountains. Younger-er, maybe,than other mountains, she conceded, but young?
      “So maybe you could be the mountain.”
      “Why not, I was the walrus.”
      “Weren’t we all.”
      Ludlow'd consulted six psychics. Time, money stamina—the consultations sapped each. She’d listened over and over to her archive of paranormal excavation on cassettes and discovered nothing. “Here.” She counted out seven twenties, one more than agreed on. Ms. Marie swooped in on fee and tip with speed, precision and relief.
      “Mystery is life’s way of saying, ‘Beats me.’” As if a frowzy version of the Trapp Family were warming up on the room’s long sturdy couch, the psychic added, “Honey, you just gotta climb every mountain.”
      Ludlow’s dark eyes turned darker.
      Consulting a timepiece suspended from a heavy chain round her neck, Ms. Marie predicted, “I’m late!” and breezed out.
      “Without further ado.” Ludlow cranked open a window and considered the tacky reference to America’s favorite musical, which Herbert had suggested was a prequel to The Partridge Family.
      There was a rattle of keys, and then her husband was in the living room, sniffing, peering, raising a bushy eyebrow. “So the dame smokes.".
      “Her name is Ms. Marie.”
      “Didn’t know they made housecalls.” He set down his briefcase of leather.
      “Some do.” She wished she didn’t default to figurine-brittle when Herb joked about her mediums. “You’re early.”
      “Not to worry.” He rapped a substantial index finger on his temple. “This legal mind spins twenty-four hours a day.” Attempting to hide his concern about Ludlow—which in fact prompted his early exit from the office—he flopped onto the couch. It strained less when supporting an imaginary Trapp Family.
      “So you do bill clients for thinking.” Ludlow, like everyone who wasn't a lawyer, questioned legal accounting. She was an employment counselor in a state-funded agency,
      He never understood. Of course he billed clients for time he spent thinking about their cases, and it was justified as far as he was concerned, because it was his clients’ lack of thought that got them into fine pickles and the like.
      “So what did the conversant with another planet say?”
       “Nothing new.”
       “Strike out?” He pulled her onto the couch, second-skin close.
      “Strike out.” She took his hand and noted that even after years of marriage his cool grip felt reassuring. “Except as she was leaving she said I had to climb every mountain.”
      “Didn’t hurt Julie Andrews.” He kissed her cheek, his thin lips pecking her powered skin. As he had previously, Herbert avoided mentioning the fact that Ludlow’s father died two weeks before the dream. No psychology necessary.
      “And that I should be the mountain.”
“Rounded and fun to climb? Works for me, babe.” As he brushed a frizzy wisp of auburn hair behind her ear, he asked, “Do you mention the jewels to the psychics?” There were jewels inside the mountain.       “Yup. Three of them remembered stories from The Arabian Nights.”
      Eleven stories below, fire trucks raced down the street. “A literate group of psychics we have in Manhattan.”
      “Ms. Marie’s from Ft. Lee. Jersey.” She frowned. “Literate? All they had to do was see Ali Baba in a B movie or Aladdin.” She bit a cuticle. “Are there A movies?”
      “What it’s come down to is that everyone wants to interpret.”
      “No interpretations.”
      “Which got Susan Sontag where she is today—may she rest in peace.”
      “Which got Susan Sontag where she was in 1966.” Ludlow wrote a glowing book report on Against Interpretation in high school.
      “Didn’t you tell me she wanted to be thought of as a novelist?”
      She brushed Herbert’s bald pate; he let out a tiny moan of pleasure and would have pursued more of same but for the image that came to mind. “Sontag's hair, that white streak stunning and skunky. What do you think it meant?”
      “Hey, we're against interpretation."
      When the building phone rang, the two assumed nearly identical expressions of surprise, the difference being that Herbert was left-handed and so for him it was left hand on left cheek. The buzzer was impatient. Herbert strode to the intercom, snarling, “I’ll litigate this poor slob to his last dollar.”
      “She says she left an earring,” their doorman apologized as a warbly voice with push wafts above his.
      “I lost something, please...”
      “It’s Ms. Marie!”
      “Tell her to come on up." He turned to Ludlow. "You mean I get to meet a psychic? My God, how do I look?” She didn't mention the splotch of egg yolk on his right lapel.
      Soon Ms. Marie was on her knees, searching. “It’s gold,” she whined.
      “Matches your other earring,” he offered.
      “You found it?” Excited, started to get up and banged her head on the table. “Wait, wait.” Her voice lifted then fell. “Oh. Is this left from New Year’s?”
      Herbert spied a glint more robust than the metallic square of New Years' confetti, and gallantly pointed. “There.” Ms. Marie groped the shag then held up a tiny 24-caret ankh as if it were the enemy’s severed head.
      “I hate losing earrings." She was indifferent to the audible crack from her knees as he helped her up. "And these are borrowed.”
      Ludlow paled, Herbert noticed. “That’s it, then.” He ushered Ms. Marie out and led Ludlow back to the couch. “Are you okay?”
      “I saw it.”
      A slight line of sweat beaded his upper lip.
      “What an idiot I am. The jewelry box.”
      Is this how runners feel while tensed for the starting shot? he wondered, feeling more anxious than could possibly be healthy.
      “It was leather that was molded to sort of square and had a velvet interior, fake but smooth. Oh, Herb, my father called it treasure mountain, which I know is incredibly hokey, but so what.”
      "Treasure mountain. And there were jewels—"
      “—there were jewels in the mountain. It was plain as the nose on my face.”
      He considered telling her it would be plainer, as in more obvious, if she wore a nose ring, but contented himself with stroking his transfigured wife's arm. “So there is a mountain, after all.”
      “There was a mountain." She adjusted on the couch for eye contact. “After my mother passed, we divvied up the jewelry and sold the box at a yard sale in Yonkers of all places, well not of all places, we lived there on Bronx River Road. That was years ago." She was back in the old house with its creaky stairway. “You know what my father said after she died?”
      He felt his heartbeat accelerate and grabbed her hand. “Am I hurting you?”
      “Why would he say that?”
      Herb blinked. “No, I meant, my big paw.” He switched on the lamp. “I didn’t know if I was hurting you just now, or helping.” Her hand in his felt disembodied, and he was thought of Peter Lorre in The Beast With Five Fingers. What a good movie that was, hokey but spooky, and Lorre, my god. They didn't make them like that. Not actors, not films. Not these days. All the money the studios spent, fortunes, really and they couldn't get close, not by a mile, to Peter Lorre, where was he born, Rumania, no, Austria-Hungary, the country had a new name, but Herb couldn't for the life of him remember what it was. Maybe he’d research Lorre in some paperbacks about old Hollywood, and order a few movies from Netflix. Something had been missing from his life for years, Herbert realized, and he hadn’t even known. It was Peter Lorre. Peter Lorre'd been missing from his life.
      “Pop said, ‘I miss her.’”
      “Her?” Herbert wondered if he was dreaming and how he could return to his life to explain that Lorre wasn't a her. “Him, dear, you miss him.”
      “Of course I miss him!” Ludlow felt a headache brewing like coffee with two many scoops. “He’s my father, but my father didn’t say on the day of his death, ‘I miss him.’ Where are you?”
      Maybe Ludlow’s father also missed Peter Lorre, Herbert speculated. It could be. Herbert liked Ludlow’s father, loved him in the way you love people who are familiar and not lethal, with the affection of proximity and companionship. Herbert remembered Mr. Ludlow settling onto the plastic-entombed couch in the family room in Yonkers on a Saturday evening, a bottle of beer and a plate of pork and beans on the TV tray, watching Peter Lorre movies. Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Mr. Moto.
      “He could have meant he missed Peter Lorre.”
      Not permanently, but for a few gripping seconds, Ludlow stopped breathing. “Missed Peter Lorre?”
      “Peter Lorre as a possibility,” Herbert knew it wasn't simply religion and football requiring Hail Marys. “In the sense that ‘her’ could have been anyone, Jean Harlow, or Ingrid Bergman or Bette Davis.” He picked up steam, like a kid getting into a lie. “Maybe it wasn’t your mother he was referring to, although I could see how you’d think he was thinking of his wife. Maybe he was preparing to meet her in the next world. In fact, I suggest, all of life is a preparation for death and that’s not just me, no, Socrates made that very point.”
      The phone rang once. She reached for it and heard a dial tone. Weird. “Does that qualify as a legal citation?”
      “Socrates, well, it would be impressive, I suppose.” The heater rumbled on. Didn't it know he was sweating?
      “Could you get a ticket for citing Socrates?”
      “If Socrates is cited, he’s the one who gets the ticket.”
      “And you’d defend him.”
      “In an Athens minute.” Defending Socrates would be as useful as offering to help Magic Johnson score points, but consider the publicity. “Pro bono.”
      Ludlow pondered her father, her mother, bonding and connection, and the inviolable, silent, invisible, sacred threads stitched on to the intergenerational quilt of life. Herbert was back on Peter Lorre’s sinister and oddly vulnerable laugh.
      He almost chuckled, then caught himself, remembering what it was like to lose a parent. Crushing, sure, but with an odd family-of-woman-of-man sense of connection: Everyone on the planet has lost, or will lose, a parent. Everyone on the planet has felt or might dread that singular pang, one way or another. “Ludlow?”
      “I’m here.”
      “There are jewels in the mountain? Mountains are jewels? I agree, it's a corny image.”
      Her cheek were ruby red.
      “I didn’t mean that.” He slapped his forehead.
      She smiled. “Those who forget the past…”
      “Are condemned to repeat it, yes, but my firm could plea bargain and get them off with three month’s parole.”
      “That long.”
      “It’s a scary world.”
       Ludlow doubted that the world was any newer now than it was half an hour ago, a month ago when her father died—or even ten years ago when her mother died. "How do they do it?"
      She grabbed a day-old Newsday. "They, people in Pakistan, in the Congo, Palestinians, New Orleans, Detroit, the Bronx, for crissakes. How do they do it?"
      Herb tried to remember what it was Susan Sontag wrote about pain, thinking that all writers write about pain or maybe to forget, or to earn money, a commodity which must have pleased Peter Lorre who could have had some eccentric tastes. Mourning has come or will come to everyone; and as it came—flattered or transmuted—to Electra, it came to Ludlow, made especially human by its presence.
      "How, Herb?"
      "I don't know," he said. "I don't have a clue."

Sarah Sarai's short stories are in Storyglossia, Stone's Throw Review, Fairy Tale Review, South Dakota Review, Tampa Review, Weber Studies, VerbSap, ragazine and others. Her poetry is in Boston Review, Threepenny Review, POOL, Parthenon West, Eleven Eleven, and *The Future Is Happy* (her collection, published by BlazeVOX [books]). She blogs now and then at She is a New Yorkaleno (L.A./N.Y.C.)..

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