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he cracking noise woke her with a jolting start. Straight lines appeared in
the walls and floor of her recently purchased apartment. Segments of reality
and dreams played freeze tag in her mind’s eye. Like some journey in black
and white, positive images of her childhood…..then after a while, she started
to dance like no one stood.
But then came the familiar, always-frightening voice from the next room,
“Marlene, on the wall you’ll find the list of things I need you to pick up at the store after
With a growl, Marlene came back to reality, reached for her bag and searched for
the bunch of keys with the small blue thing attached to it. She immediately rushed to her
computer looking for the answer in a secret thread of the Undertow as to which was the
right key to which door.
After a couple of minutes the neighborhood girls came into the room, laughing
and shouting, “What are you doing? Let’s go out and sing Chihuahua....”
“Ok but first can you help me with this chess
problem?” She asked them, “If the knight moves to defend
the pawn, wouldn’t the queen be left alone?”
How to make a move, when the chess board looked
like the recurrent thread of her life? How to choose when
she was simultaneously the queen and the soldier?
“I could ask my neighbor, Luka, maybe he is not a
chess-champion but the attempt is worth trying and it could
distract him from his troubles a little,” she told the girls.
But Luka was not in so Marlene decided to abandon
the game of chess, live with the problem, and went out with
the girls, taking with her the list on the wall only to realize
to her surprise that it was written in some kind of coded
While walking on the street, one of the girls told Marlene, “Hey, that guy looks like a gypsy! I’m sure he can
decipher the enigma of the coded language.” Marlene felt that this was a really absurd assumption but they were out
of options.
So the girls and Marlene approached the gypsy and asked him to take a look at the list, to see if he could
make any meaning out of it. The gypsy looked at the writing, and then with a puzzled look he stuttered with excite-
ment, “G…g…girls, this l…l….list is not wh…wh…what you th…th…think it is!” He said
that he could explain things better if they could go somewhere and have a cup of coffee
The first place they saw was Tom’s Diner on the corner
of the street. When they were all sitting inside, the gypsy,
seemingly speaking in tongues, said to everyone’s astonish-
ment, “In the eye of everything is its reverse.” Then, hold-
ing the list in his hands, he turned to Marlene, “This can
either be your cell or your wing, so I have to ask you -- is
solitude standing in as your guest or as your friend?”
Marlene couldn’t utter a word but the Gypsy knew
the answer and he told her, “This list holds the sum of your life, not its whole, just
like when you look at the stars and you can see but parts of the entire night vision.”
Before leaving the diner he finally said, “Be true to your song, let go when you must,
and remember the wonder of the wooden horse,” and Marlene puzzled how he
knew of this special toy from her childhood.

When the gypsy left, Marlene and the girls looked at each other, baffled and
even more curious about the list and they wondered who else could help them crack
the code and interpret it in plain, simple language but they were suddenly hungry
and looked again at the menu which said, “This is no fancy restaurant but we do
serve some pretty fancy poultry dishes - all our chicken brought in daily from the
Ironbound section in Newark.”
After their meal
(which turned out to be
surprisingly good as the
chicken was indeed fresh),
the group left Tom’s Diner
and as they walked along
the streets they saw a
poster of Odysseus and Calypso, advertising an exhibition
on Greek Mythology at the Met.
They decided to go to the exhibition, hoping to find
in the big space of the Met, among the Greek mythology

and its riddles, some help to their own riddle.

Unable to derive any insight or clue from even the
monolithic myriad of stimulants at the museum, Marlene
and her friend were ultimately unable to come to any
predictions of the meaning of the list or its contents
and, frustrated and in need of refreshment, left the muse-
um for the fresh, clean, invigorating air of Central Park.
While sensing the dramatic change of scenery and pace
of the
the institution green of the city, Marlene felt something changing
within her as well, but, not able to put a finger on it, she kept the
feeling to herself.
As they lay on the grass beside the lake some jog-
gers passed by and Marlene, feeling confused and incomplete, asked
herself “Why can’t I be like those whole girls, running so grace-
fully through life?” (Overhead the blossom billowed in the breeze.
It was the blossomiest blossom, with bloom to spare.) Right then
and there, Marlene felt like a rusted pipe against the grace, and she
longed for a lasting wave of song
to flow through her and fill every-
thing within her.
However as her thoughts
drifted away an idea crossed her
mind: What if the answer to the list
was in her book of dreams? Prac-
ticing her catty skills she climbed
up a concrete fence where, after
giving some thought to the matter,
finally concluded to give it a try as
it had a fifty-fifty chance.

Yet when she told the girls about her
idea, they looked at her skeptically and reminded
her how much she had complained lately about
being tired of sleeping. “But hey,” Marlene said,
“I do not only dream while sleeping! My dreams
are my personal pilgrimage!”
“In fact,” she continued, “in my dreams of
night I keep dreaming about men in war, I don’t
really know why that is - I can sort of feel the limbs
they’ve lost, you know? So it’s not surprising I don’t
like sleeping!”
The girls looked at her in silence, worried,
until one of them decided to forget about Marlene’s nightmares and said “Ok then, why not go for it? Isn’t there this
secret place you always go to, some room off the street?”
Marlene grinned at them sheepishly like a chimp, “Hmm….actually, that’s a private bar called Fat Man and
Dancing Girl, where they serve this really killing cocktail called 99.9 Degrees Fahrenheit!”
At this moment, one of the girls said: “Oh yes, I remember now! I once took
this cocktail in Liverpool, it’s a specialty composed of gin, vodka, dark rum, Irish
whiskey, Tequila, oyster juice, lime juice, tomato juice, Tabasco sauce and whipped
cream. Take a single sip and you’ll suddenly hear like your blood makes noise!”
Deciding they all needed a fix, the girls went with Marlene to the club but Mar-
lene hesitated as she knocked upon the club’s door, having a distinct feeling that it
might be bad wisdom to enter. Nevertheless she entered, showed her membership
at the entrance, and nearly fainted when she saw the guy with the fedora across the
room as it was the love of her life - someone she had known as a child and whom
she thought had died after the rock in *his pocket turned out to be a bomb that
had exploded.
She approached his table and heard him saying to a starlet beauty seated next
to him, “Now if you were in my movie…..” but he stopped as he saw Marlene
and exclaimed with a mixture of disbelief and delight, “Oh my God! It’s you!”
Marlene looked at him as if he
were a ghost and just stood there,
stunned, unable to say anything - all she could hear in that moment
was her blood sing* an old melody from the past. The man sprang
from his seat, rushed to Marlene and as he reached out to her, he said
with great emotion, “When heroes go down, we usually don’t come
back but I was lucky.”
“I know you feel the disappointment that I didn’t contact
you,” he went on, “but if I did, your life would have been in danger
yet now is not the time to equivocate the past but to celebrate this
moment with the Song of Sand.”
Frank cued the house band and when the melodious, haunt-
ing music started, Marlene found herself dancing with him to their
song, just as in the past, and she started weeping with a mixture of
emotions – from the pain and sorrow of the past to the joy and relief
of the present – and when the music ended, she felt she needed a
Tequila (99.9F would have just been too much!) and with a throbbing heart while holding his hand, she walked slowly
to the counter, as girls go.
Even after the Tequila, Marlene still couldn’t quite believe he was there - after all she had been at his grave too
often and the tombstone was still vivid in her memory. She also remembered seeing that thin man at the graveyard

who had given her the shivers - there had been something spooky about him. She had longed so badly to be in the
honeymoon suite with Frank back then - but all she could feel was the look of that strange man who seemed to
follow her to the graveyard every time. The presence of this man, though, had another effect on Marlene, since it
made her feel, with her whole heart, that Frank’s and hers was all but a casual match.
At the same time, the image of that man left her no rest with his headshots constantly recurring in her mind
and the initial confusion became a sentimental journey recalling memories, images of places and faces, a phantasma-
gorical crowd of people she once knew....and in this struggling and yearning mood
she huddled to Frank saying, “Hold me tight.” The hug turned out to be her wish
comfort.” What you need now is a caramel!” exclaimed Frank. And then he con-
tinued in a more serious tone, “We need to let go of the past, make peace with it,
since it was no cheap thrill for you and me.”
Looking intently into Marlene’s eyes, Frank said, in a leap of faith, “Maybe
this is our second chance, a new beginning, another birth-day, with our love at last
having the possibility of being made real.”
“Oh, darling, kiss me”, she whispered. The stockings fell down.....
The following hour was a
kind of magic as time seemed to
stop and from the window they
admired the enchanting shades
of a generous sunset. “Do you
know, Frank, I’m getting hun-
gry,” she told him “I would like
to eat my favorite plum.”
However, this romantic
atmosphere was cut by a pat on Marlene’s shoulder. “Marlene,” said
Lolita, one of the neighborhood girls, “I don’t want to interrupt
but we are a little bored in this bar, so we’re leaving. Are you coming
with us?” Marlene’s answer to this question was going to change her
destiny forever.
While pondering her answer, Marlene reached for the list in
her pocket, looked at it as she remembered the gypsy’s words, and
then said, “No, I’m not coming with you, because I can see it now -
this is a map of the world before Columbus, and I’m finally ready
to embrace my brave new world.”
Yes, finally her brave new world. But the happiness which she
was floating upon suddenly got a little cracked from a thin sense of
superstition, “Will I end up being a penitent to pay for my joy?” she
pondered. Fortunately this short insecurity slipped quickly from her mind.
Marlene’s friends, Lolita and Priscilla, witnessing her resolve, understood that this was a journey Marlene had
to undertake by herself, and, before leaving, lovingly wished her all the best. “You
are both so lovely and understanding, thanks so much.” After they exchanged
goodbyes, she began to resolve the next matter, “Do I take Frank with me? What
a question, of course he comes to share my happiness! I don’t want my journey to
be a widow’s walk!”
While these thoughts were running in her mind, she remembered that
she was actually hungry and was going to eat her favorite plum before Lolita
approached her. The plum was delicious but it was also really juicy so her hands
became all sticky and wet so she went to the ladies room and washed her hands
with soap and water. While doing this cleaning, being a girl of thoroughness, she
wished last year’s troubles could fade away for good. Especially during that year,

Marlene felt like a machine ballerina, doing pirouettes at everybody’s
beck and call but her own, and now she realized that had to change. She
also remembered that, during that time, she often called on St. Clare
for protection and guidance, and for a moment she was overwhelmed
by a feeling of deep gratitude. Thinking about the events of the day, she
recalled how in the park she wished to be wrapped in a wave of song,
and how that was so true now, and so new, as she sensed being lifted
by a song in red and
A gentle rap
on the door broke her
reverie, and Frank’s
voice could be heard on the other side, “Marlene, sweetheart, are you
still in there? It makes me wonder why you always take forever at
the ladies!” Marlene dried her hands, stepped out of the restroom and
found Frank waiting by the door, “Oh come on,” she playfully chided
him, “you were ‘Mr. Solitiare’ for just a couple of minutes and besides,
whatever happened to that budding actress you were sitting with?”
“Turns out she hates Westerns so she declined the lead role
and simply told me, ‘I’ll never be your Maggie May’ which is just as
well,” and here his voice dropped to a whisper, “because posing as a
film maker was all part of my undercover espionage assignment.”
“While I was pretending to be the director who makes Westerns, I thought that if I were a weapon, I’d be a
word, because words can be like bullets in all these duels they stage,” Frank said with a chuckle.
“Well if you ever shoot me with your bullets,” she answered back, “I will avoid them by jumping right and left
of center.”
“Don’t be afraid,” he reassured her, “I was only joking. By the way, how’s our good friend, Rosemary?”
“She couldn’t be better and has just released a wonderful new book and it has a cover of a harbor that aston-
ished me for its calm.”
Frank, at these words, spontaneously started singing the Harbour Song and Marlene, struck by the music and
memories, felt a pleasant joy. When he finished the song, he said to Marlene, “You’ve been a woman on the tier for
so long, somehow always waiting for me, but now I’ll see you through this turning point in our lives.”
Feeling no doubt about Frank’s commitment to her, she replied, “A big part of your past is wrapped in mys-
tery, but I take you as you are now, and I ask the same of you, even though you and I know there are some loose
ends we need to weave through before starting anew.”
“Yes,” replied Frank, “first we better figure out the mystery of this curious message on this paper you passed
me and you know, on Ludlow Street right here in the city of New York is a woman who can help us do just that so
come on, let’s go.”

As they left the club, Frank asked Marlene, “How on earth did you get hold of this paper in the first place?”
“Actually I thought it was a list of things my dad wanted me to get.…” Marlene started but Frank interrupted
her, “And how is that eccentric psychologist inventor father of yours who can never be unbound from his work?”
“He couldn’t be better and in fact he’s just invented a machine that can read and interpret dreams so he’s
analyzing a pornographer’s dream these days and trying to help the guy understand his deeper unconscious long-
“Wow! Well Zephyr and I always got along and I’ve always been impressed by
his cool inventions and new theories on psychology.”
As they took a taxi to Ludlow Street, Frank was secretive about the woman
they were meeting, but when she opened the door of her apartment, Marlene watched
him greet an eccentric-dressing, middle-aged lady with enthusiasm, which obviously
meant that Frank and Ava knew each other well.
Frank introduced Marlene to Ava who turned out to be his great aunt and then
to Marlene’s surprise, he took a small bundle from his trench coat pocket, gave it to
Ava and said, “Knowing you are such an avid fan of Edith Wharton, I got these rare
Edith Wharton’s figurines at an antique dealer for you.”
Aunt Ava (or The Silver Lady as Frank fondly called her) seemed speechless
with joy, then with an effort, she said gratefully to Frank, “I’m really bound to you.”
She brought Frank and Marlene into her living room and as they sat, Frank showed
her Marlene’s mysterious paper at which she exclaimed, “Why, this is in Sanskrit! It’s a
poem called Anniversary – and what a beautiful poignant poem it is!”
The hours flew as they dwelt on the haunting poem (and Marlene vaguely
recalled an Indian guru visiting her father last month which explained the likely mix up with his shopping list – duh!)
and soon it was time to say goodbye. “Remember me,” said Ava and as they left her house, they felt as if they had
passed an angel’s doorway.
For some moments they stood under a street lamp, with the glowing stars and crescent moon above them
as if the heavens were beaming with them then Frank took Marlene gently into his arms and asked her the obvious

This quilted narrative is dedicated to Suzanne Vega on the occasion of her 49th birthday (July 11, 2008).
It is based on the song titles from her solo albums and is written by members of the Undertow, her community of fans from around
the world who communicate on her official website
Contributors (by usernames): anku, aryamps, bobking, bodhibird, chris, fátima, gianni, jose-carlos, miki, miloluvr, moni, paulo, ra,
son-of-albert, troubadesse, wendy-o, zeynep, zzzoltan.