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Doubly Clear
by Linder Lerner

I am seated next to him in a room with several other people; I am also on the other side of the room. "What time is it," a man asks. He looks down at his watch and at the same watch facing him by the door.

"They both say 11:00," he answers."What did you get me into?" he asks me. "I see two of everything."

"I just wanted you to see more clearly."

"Those watches..."

"They're not melting, are they?" I ask, trying to lighten things up.

"What?" He looks at both of us bewildered.

"Did you ever see Dali's painting, Persistence of Memory,"I ask him." Stop with the art and Jokes, it's not funny," he says.

" It's all art,"I tell him," as soon as someone's catches. it"

"I didn't try to catch anything. If I did it wouldn't be in Dali's world but in Wyeth's. I like clarity," He says. "The world looks softer, better my way," he says; people seem kinder, less angry. Time isn't rushing by as fast."

The double images slowly start to move together, to coalesce. Everything now is very bright, painfully clear." I don't like it," he says." Nothing looks better." The doctor comes out and tells him that that he'll be fine in the morning. He wants to set up a date for doing the other eye.

"No" he says.

"You have to" I tell him. How else will you know which eye is seeing the world right."

He looks in the mirror, placing a hand over one eye; he stares at the other people who are looking at him, suspiciously. They all look much older than they did before. Then he fixes his gaze on me and shakes his head. He places his hand over the other eye, looks around the room, at his own image, and nods. Better. Much better.

"I want to go back to where I was before."

"You can't," I tell him." There's no going back."

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Jude, Hey
by George Held

I was nervous, so I knew she still meant something to me three years after we'd last seen each other. She'd phoned out of the blue and in her recognizable lyrical but scratchy voice said she thought we should meet to catch up.

"I hear you're married now," I said.

"Yes, how about you?"

"Nope, still single."

"Still playing hard to get?"

I'd ignored that zinger. It was still a matter of dispute whether she or I had let things fall apart between us. I was commitment-phobic, I admit, but she had claimed to want to live free, like Holly Golightly, so we went deep into each other without fear of marital demands being made.

Her name was Judith, but she was known as Jude even before the Beatles' "Hey Jude" became a hit that year. She hated it when anyone called out "Hey Jude!" to her, so we jokingly agreed on "Jude, hey" as the preferred mode of address. And she could take a sad song and make it much, much better, especially in bed.

Then one hot June afternoon when she'd dropped in for a matinee, we got naked post haste and as we lay caressing and looking at each other, she said, "You know, Honey, my twenty-third birthday is coming up, on July 4th, and I think we should celebrate in a special way."

"Sounds good. What would you suggest?"

"I suggest," she said in her playfully endearing way, "we get married."

I then said either, "Wow" or "Whoa," depending on whom you believe, and tried to be sensitive to her suggestion, but my failure to say, "Yeah, that sounds very cool. I'm in," drove a nail into the coffin of our love.

We tried a few times to work it out, but her claim that I didn't love her as much as she loved me now seems sounder than my view that she had betrayed our deep but carefree relationship. I now know that sex is too volatile for a couple to be "care free" about, especially for a woman, who can get pregnant, with no assurance that her man will stand by her.

Soon we'd broken up, and in a few months she was living with a young grave digger. He was physically fit from wielding a shovel at work, and he was home-schooled. His Emersonian mother had encouraged him to trust in himself and to learn from experience and from the great books they'd read together. One of these was Jude the Obscure, whose earthiness and skepticism he found alluring. For him, digging graves was pastoral, a job that included heavy labor but also tending landscape. When he met Jude, her name seemed an omen and her sexual expertise met his deepest desires, and he fell irrevocably in love with her, or as irrevocably as nineteen permits. He thought of her as Jude the Palpable.

Now, probably for some whimsical reason, she wanted to meet me for lunch so we could catch up with each other. I picked my next day off from the library and we agreed on an old haunt of ours. I got there early, because it was a short walk from my apartment, and she was late, because the train from the suburbs was delayed by signal problems.

                                                               

Jude, Hey...cont.



I was enjoying the summer girls in their mini-skirts and halters as they sauntered down the sidewalk just outside the café window where I was sitting, and the next thing I knew, Jude was sitting opposite me saying, "I can see you haven't changed."

"Jude, hey! How did you sneak up on me so quietly?"

"I just slithered along the wall like a gecko and dropped back into your consciousness."

As she spoke, I noticed how weathered and creased her face looked. As usual, she had no makeup on, and that didn't become her as it used to. She was wearing a reddish brown, loose-fitting dress that clashed with her red hair and covered her distended belly.

"Are you expecting?"

"Yes, in a couple months. We hope it's a girl."

"Good luck. How are things going otherwise?"

"Good. Paul gets up early and leaves for the graveyard before I wake up, but he comes home for lunch and we're also together for supper and the evening."

"Actually, that's how this happened," and she framed her swollen belly with her hands.

Of course I thought this baby might be mine if I'd been ready to settle down three years ago, but at thirty-two I still felt unready. Now, who knows? But I avoided bringing up the past, which was irretrievable in any case. Jude was guarded too. How, I wondered, did her happiness with Paul connect to her current plainness?

When we were together in the past, the words "take a plain song and make it better" echoed daily in my mind, for I felt Jude did in fact make my life better. She inspired me to write some of my best poetry and that led to the publication of a small book of poems, and that enhanced my resume and led to my job at the university library. But after the chill between us set in, I heard the words "make it better" as ironical and jeering. Now, I suppose, Jude was making it better for Saul of Tarsus, as I thought of her husband, Paul, though becoming a father in his early twenties would, I thought, test his finances as well as his pastoral view of life.

Still, as we talked, barely picking over our food, I got used to her plainness and felt her voice vibrate in my heart. Though I distrusted, even resisted, the feeling called nostalgia, I couldn't stop it from falling into my consciousness, like a gecko from the ceiling, and slowly permeating my mood.

"What's wrong, Honey?" and her fingers grazed my cheek.

"Oh, nothing. I must be getting drowsy after lunch."

"You mean the lunch you aren't eating?"

"Yeah, like you."

"But I have to watch my weight, what with Guinevere growing in here."

"Guinevere? . . . You know you just called me 'Honey'?"

"Yes, and I can see it still matters. So I'm going to leave now to catch the next train to Calverton. Thanks for lunch," and she had slid out of her chair, hitched her bag strap over her shoulder, and headed out the door before I could squeeze out of my dry throat and pinched lips, "Jude, Hey. . . ."

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