Excerpt for Dearest Memories by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Dearest Memories!

by Lindsay Alexander

Copyright 2017 by Smokey Mirror Press


Smashwords Edition

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“So Jason is coming to Africa,” she whispered dropping the letter in her lap to stare out over the vast savanna stretching endlessly before her. For a moment, she hoped it would be a different Jason, but dropped that idea at once. “No. It’s him all right,” she mumbled, “Penny wouldn’t have written if it weren’t him and there’s no point denying it!”

As she sat mouthing the fears of her soul, her thoughts slipped back to her first adolescent crush — the boy next door who had matured into her unrequited love — and the name that ceaselessly smoldered in the hidden corners of her psyche amidst a flurry of, what ifs. Jason Conner was coming to Africa! And the vast plain stretching before her seemed more a trap than a refuge as all her reasons for leaving the fashions of civilization welled within her in a fear that paralyzed her thinking.

No guest at Jennifer’s Lodge would note a change in her demeanor that day as she reclined in her lounge chair at the end of the veranda. And while no wall or step isolated her from her guests and she was always friendly to a fault, still, none would think of breaking into her reverie for there was an indefinable something about her that distanced her from mere mortals as from the furthest star. The veranda chair was her afternoon haunt and the reason many vacationed at her lodge — to savor the legendarily beautiful Jennifer profiled against the cloudless African sky.

While tall and commanding on her feet, laying back in her old wooden chair with one leg carelessly draped over the other, she blended perfectly into the exotic landscape as a sensuous ripple. Her habitual wear was a safari suit whose cut revealed nothing to the eye but all to the imagination — a suit whose khaki seem but an extension of her long tanned arms and legs — whose hair bleached by the sun to a pallet of tans and gold moved in silent sympathy with the gentle breezes of the plain. Only her water-blue eyes set her apart from the natural colors of the African landscape as she sat quietly sipping a drink, for her placid expression gave no hint that her mind was akimbo in thoughts of long ago and far away.

Her flawless lips did not tremble at some indiscernible fear. Her chiseled features did not quiver. Neither did her exquisite profile give any hint that she was pondering a man perfect in every detail but one — after leaving for college — he had forgotten her to marry someone else. Yes, she had shunted the memory of Jason to the furthest corners of her mind, but there he had lurked like a chained Prometheus ever threatening to break his bonds to once again spread fire in her breast; and at the thought of his name, he had.

“Will there be anything else Miss Jennifer?” asked the small man silently approaching her haunt.

“No, thank you Johnson,” she said in a voice as velvety as the endless grass before her. She turned to her major domo with a poise that drove the males of her congregation to lust, to find him peering at the letter on her lap. The letter he had picked up that morning on one of his infrequent trips to town. The letter from an old friend who had mentioned, almost as an aside, that their mutual acquaintance would be visiting the dark continent, although it didn’t mention when.

As Johnson left, Jennifer looked at the envelope’s cancellation. “It’s taken a long time to get here from America,” she thought looking up vacantly, “Where is he now? Oh, Jason!” her heart screamed passed her silent lips, “Where are you now!?”

She had kept track of him through friends’ letters while making sure he had learned as little of her as possible. Even her whereabouts. Especially of her whereabouts. That’s what bothered her. How had he found her? Had he been clocking her too? Was he still holding a torch? Or was it a mere coincidence?

She finished her drink and the empty glass barely made it to the table before it was refilled by the silent Johnson. She looked back at the letter. “Penny didn’t say he was coming here,” she thought, “she only said that he’s coming to Africa!” She shifted position in her chair and picked up the glass in one motion. “And Africa’s a big place — a continent — and unless he knows where I am and seeks me out, there’s no chance I’ll run into him.”

Far in the distance, Peter, the lame okapi she had nursed to health in his youth was gamboling with a female of his breed and Jennifer smiled as she thought of nature’s power over its creations. “Yes,” she thought, “the power of nature!” But the miles separating her from civilization seemed less safe without the added width of an ocean. “If he’s coming here,” she whispered softly, “it’ll be to see me! And what am I going to do about it? How many years has it been since I’ve seen him?” she wondered as her mind flitted back in time to a day long before. “He was leaving his folks place for college and I was watching through the blinds so he wouldn’t see me.” She smiled thinking of that day and the intervening years and she let her eyes drop to wander down her lithe figure in self evaluation. “Surprisingly little wear considering the time I’ve spend in the sun,” she thought, “I wondered if he’s held up as well?” But her brain would not focus. Each “what if” was interrupted by thoughts of his wife.

“Is he still married?” she questioned silently, “Divorced? Separated? A widower? Has she run off with the cook? Does he have any children?” She lusted after a dream that might no longer exist. And the physical man? If he showed up, he would have to prove himself anew. “How does one go about romancing a dream?” she wondered. “How do you rekindle a fire burnt to ashes?” she pondered as she slowly sipped her drink.

Getting things her way is a Jennifer specialty, and making a success of it. Even when she had used an inheritance to buy a vacation lodge at the ends of the earth, no friend doubted that she would make a go of it. She would risk big because it was in her nature to think big. Even her dreams were big, but her dreams were off limits to gambling. No, she would not risk her dreams. But suppose the Jason of old no longer existed? Suppose he had changed completely? For to put her chips on the line in that case would be a no-win situation. “I can only judge him by meeting him,” she said slowly, “and that I will not do until I’m sure he’s free.”

Slowly standing and looking one last time across the great rolling plain, she saw Peter in the distance nuzzling a mare. “Perhaps it’s an omen,” she thought as she walked across the veranda nodding recognition to guests on her way to the lodge where she headed for her study.

As many bush homes converted into tourists’ lodges, Jennifer’s had been expanded from time to time over the years to accommodate the additional visitors each new method of travel had made possible until, by the time she bought it and changed its name, its vast airy interior gave no hint of its primitive origins.

She strode her lodge’s grand foyer which funneled into a wide, two-story high corridor fitted with clerestory windows to allow the twice daily breezes from the plain to waft through the building while maintaining privacy between the opulent interior and rude out of doors. Reaching her study, she stood in its doorway to look around as though for the first time. “This has been my home for a long time,” she muttered as she surveyed the familiar objects that made it hers alone, “my refuge. There are no ghosts here.” She scanned the large room finished in wood tones giving it the warm feel of lived-in elegance. Viewing the huge windows framed by book cases to create a recessed window seat between them, she muttered, “How many times have I curled up there staring out over the plain thinking of him? Will I let him come here? Will I let he sit in these chairs? Will he sit in that window seat looking out that window only to leave again making his stay a defilement of my sacred place? Will we leave together? Or will we never meet?”

Slowly entering, she went to her desk. “If his spirit is anywhere,” she whispered about him were all written here — the replies telling me of him are all stored here — why have I kept track of him if not to meet him?” she asked seating herself at the desk and reaching for a pad.

The, “Dear Penny,” was easy. Fitting a comment into the note without seeming overly interested in Jason, was not. How had Penny come to learn of his trip? Jennifer didn’t know and her words rambled on for pages before she found the courage to make her move.

By the way, you mentioned Jason’s coming to Africa. I haven’t thought about him in ages! What’s he doing? Where exactly in Africa is he going to be? You know, before I meet him — if I ever meet him — I’d like to know more about him. Why don’t you fill me in on the details?”

Jennifer had known Penny Kuehl since high school where they had formed one of those relationships that allow people to separate for long stretches only to pickup when they meet as though they had never parted. Years had passed since they’d talked face to face and, with the limited information moving through the mail on paper, Jennifer wondered exactly how much Penny knew about the love of her fantasies. And, knowing the limitations of the written word, she wondered if her short note would bring the answers she wanted. Going back and rereading her last paragraph, she added:

You know how much Jason meant to me in school and, when you mentioned his name, it got all sorts of old memories cranked up. I’d really appreciate anything you can tell me about him.”

She reread the line, then added:

Africa’s a big place and I do have to decide whether I’ll be able to meet him if the opportunity arises.”

First loves can become obsessions to be fought for a lifetime and Jason was hers. Looking up at nothing in particular, her mind whirled: “Are my dreams and the man the same thing? Or are we two people sharing distorted memories of a time that never really existed for either of us?” Her memories were painfully real — but the reality itself? “I guess the question is: Would I rather have my dreams intact, or chance meeting him with the possibility of their being shattered?” she concluded.

Without conscious reason, she walked the few steps to the half bath off her study and closed the door to view herself in the full-length mirror attached to the door’s interior side. “Vanity oh vanity!” she said, a smile creeping across her lips. She moved through several poses assessing the image presenting itself to her. And although she never used makeup and her hair was never better coiffed than a simple comb could make it, still, the image before her exuded the essence of femininity.

“The tawny lioness with gunfighter blue eyes!” she purred as she snuck peeks of herself licking the back of her hand in imitation of a gesture she had seen the great cats perform many times. Her eyes examined every inch of her angular face with its sharply defined nose and chin; they examined the perfect tan covering a body that exuded a poise and dignity beyond her years. “Yeah,” she said aloud watching herself slip from one pose into another, “this is hot stuff!” And with that, her whole body slipped limply into a kittenish pose her guests would never see. “Jennifer the temptress!” she hissed watching herself in her new guise, “my secret weapon!”

She was still smiling contentedly when she returned to her letter:

OK Penny, let’s cut the crap. I’m rich, beautiful, happy, living with my dreams and I don’t want some clown stomping on my daffodils. I’m counting on you to be TOTALLY HONEST with me. Is Jason still married? YES or NO?! And is he the same Jason we all knew and loved in high school or has he wimped out? I love Jason — or perhaps more accurately the memory of Jason — and I have no intention of meeting him unless he’s still the man I remember and it has the possibility of going somewhere!”

“There!” she said not realizing she had mated the essence of her personality with paper, “I’ll put my dreams on the table! But only if he puts up everything he’s got! Then and only then will I let him stay in the game!”

The glorious vistas of the wild brought little joy during the seeming eternity she waited for a reply. No longer would the veranda’s view overwhelm her with its ever-changing animal adventures. Oh, the vista was the same, but her mind was occupied. She thought of her first kiss — and the possibility of its being repeated here. “God that was fun!” she said purred aloud, “and not all that long ago when you think about it!”

Her mind swam back to her high school days — a band bus trip — a time when a shy girl wound up sitting next to the class’ heartthrob in the back of the bus. “We all had a crush on him,” she remembered as she contemplated the luck that had thrown them together — of how their conversation had became increasingly less audible to the others nearby who were also fooling around — of how his hand had touched hers — of how the gentle stroking of her arm had moved her involuntarily toward him. She remembered the warm glow that had enveloped her as their bodies touched for the first time — just here and there at first — of how she found her head nestled on his broad chest as his lips gently toyed with her neck. She had known she was supposed to turn away. She had known that her acquiescence broke all the rules of propriety she’d been taught. Yet it had been her hand tugging him that had brought them face-to-face for the first time.

“He knew what to do after that!” she thought, blushing at how forward she had been. Neither had she stopped his inexperienced gropings that — despite their clumsiness — had brought forth other new feelings of flesh rippling pleasure.

“How about being my date at the prom?” he had asked, and the word ‘no’ had fled from her vocabulary.

“That’s when I fell in love,” she muttered picking up her glass.

The great plain before her was filled with distant gnu ambling toward the river just over the horizon to the north as she pondered a different time and place entirely. “I was 15,” she reflected sadly, “and have never really been happy since.” The beauty of the day flooded her mind with thoughts of other spring days. And nights. And the prom.

Oh how she had practiced dancing for that! She — Jennifer — the girl too tall and lean for popularity in that age group of young innocents was at the prom on the arm of ‘Mr. Popularity!’ How she’d enjoyed dancing with him to the envy of all! Yet, the dance had been but a prelude to resuming their explorations of the days before.

The walk home afterward had started uneventfully enough. Boring in fact — until they reached the park where Jason had tugged her ever so gently into a huge rhododendron bush where they just happened upon a park bench which had been ever so carefully hidden there. A bench that led to other adventures and pleasures reinforcing her resolve to be his.

Setting her glass on the table, she laughed aloud wondering once again how many boys it had taken to move the heavy old concrete forms that, being latticed with wood, turned into a bench. She also wondered how they’d gone about scheduling its use that night — and how instead of its turning out to be the end of the beginning of their relationship, it had turned out to be the beginning of its end.

The few remaining days of the school year had blended seamlessly into a summer that had seen them date, but it was only on that last day before he left for college that they could be said to have furthered their romantic adventures. It was the favorite day of her life. But with both having home bound mothers, they had had to borrow a friends place for their goodbyes, and it was there that she first managed to relax sufficiently to fully savor the joys of his hands — hands slowed by months of practice to a gentle touch. And it was on that day and that day only that the warm sensations coaxed from her breasts by his gentle caresses redoubled their efforts when he, for the first time, allowed his deft fingers to slide beneath her carefully chosen clothing to stroke her directly.

“Ooooh,” she moaned silently as thoughts of that moment flooded her mind with reminiscent sensations. Of how his warm palms had surrounded her breasts positioning his soft fingers to knead her nipples ever so gently in time with the tongue flitting through her hair about the nape of her neck! How the muscles of her stomach had rippled uncontrollably as his fingertips moved lightly in ever widening arcs to map the hitherto unexplored expanses of her flesh that day! “If ever nubile youth was hot to trot,” she whispered, “that was the day!” But neither in word nor deed had her desires been consummated. And that day had ended as her only memories of wanting and being wanted; of loving and desiring to be loved. For the next morning, he left for college and it was over. She didn’t know it then and, perhaps, neither did he, but it was over. Oh, his letters came often enough at first. But the time between them widened ever so slowly until eventually, they stopped.

“Perhaps,” she thought, “I’d be happier if I’d told him how I felt and been rejected. But to be shunted aside as if nothing happened?” Then dragging herself back to the reality of the moment she admitted aloud, “well, by today’s standards, nothing did happen — there simply wasn’t anything!”

As her eyes mindlessly danced about the savanna, so far from her childhood home, she remembered how she had chosen this place to get away from anything that might remind her of Jason. Yet, by following him vicariously through her friends’ letters, it was she herself who had kept the old wounds open. Then, as her self imposed isolation closed in on her, she realized that she alone was responsible for her being so far from civilization — and the delays distancing herself from the world would cause in finding him.


Jason’s memory too had been working in overdrive through the years. The new-found sophistication of college had collided with his ever increasing adolescent hormones until the old adage, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ had slipped into, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Still, the youthful bond to Jennifer had never quite surrendered its hold on him and, even as ever more acquaintances turned into conquests, he measured each against Jennifer whether he realized it or not — for always lurking in the back of his mind was the unasked question: “What might have been?”

He had married, and his wife had run off, although not with the cook. And now in the prime of his life, he found himself two men: The self-confident whirlwind faithfully executing his business and social obligations — and the man terrified of having to face himself alone. His home? A string of emotion draining hotel rooms. His love life? A heart for sale without the courage to place itself on life’s auction block. And as he oscillated between the elation of societal contact and the depression of isolation, the long suppressed memories ever so carefully secreted in the deep recesses of his mind began ever so casually moving to the fore. For ever ready to leap out and disturb his composure was the single word: Jennifer!

One evening as he sat at a typical hotel room desk going over his business’ paperwork, one memo in particular bothered him. Circling the date, he wrote in a bold hand across the page: “Why did this take so long to reach me?” But he was immediately taken aback by his act. “Why am I upset with that?” he wondered. “A lot of things take time to get to me!” He scanned it again but there seemed to be nothing unusual about it. “Oh well,” he said putting it aside and going on to the next item in the pile.

He had been reading steadily for perhaps an hour when he was suddenly stricken by an indefinable fear! A fear that drove him back in his chair trembling, unable to concentrate. “What’s wrong?” he asked looking down at his quaking body, “What’s happening?” he asked as he watched the hotel’s walls seem to close in on him! The sweat breaking out on his forehead ran into his eyes blurring his vision and, unable to concentrate amidst the confused signals emanating from his body, his fingers took on a life of their own to seemingly wonder the desk at random until they grasped the memo with the bold note scrawled across it. His hands shook as they raised the page unbidden to his face.

“May 24th” he said, rising to his feet on unsteady legs! Staggering haltingly toward an overstuffed chair, his mind swam in a sea of vertigo! Whirling eddies of memory came and went as swells of dizziness spun him backward in time until his reeling brain settled on another May 24th — a May 24th of ever so many years before — the May 24th of a prom! As he fell into the chair, only one word was bursting through the barriers of his brain to pound relentlessly against his conscious mind: “Jennifer!” he said explosively as though pleading with the deity, “Jennifer!”

Days passed before his anxiety-attack calmed sufficiently to allow his rattled brain to make it past her name. And when he finally did pull himself together, it was with an obsession to find her. It had been years since they had written to each other and, not sure of her whereabouts, he decided to begin his search by heading back to his native town where those childhood memories had been spawned

The approving nod of the passing brunette brought no wink in response as he left his hotel to enter a cab. None of the usual glances of approval from passing women were noted as he strode through the airport toward his flight. Even the overly solicitous stewardess on the plane-ride segment of his journey went unnoticed. Even the train wheels making their repetitious clickity clack with each break in the rails on the final leg of his journey spoke only of his obsession. “JENNifer!” they intoned, “JENNifer! JENNifer! JENNifer!”

Although he called ahead to tell his parents he would be visiting, he took an earlier train at the last moment, hence, no car was at the station to meet him and he hailed a cab for the final miles of his journey. And as it moved through the business district of his native town, he noted how little it had changed in the decade since he had last seen it. Each memory -refreshing view conjured up images of Jennifer and of the time he had spent strolling these streets with her. The original narrow roadways had never been widened and the turn of the century facades he’d thought so quaint as a teenager had not only been maintained, they had been mandated for new construction continuing the pseudo antique nature of the place. But the town was small and the cab soon made the familiar turn onto Maple Street where the homestead of his youth came into view — as did the house next door where Jennifer had lived — and he felt himself flush with both happiness and fear as joy and desperation blended to bring but one word to his mind as he went through the motions that would place him beside the happy parents waving from the porch: Jennifer! his very soul intoned.

After the usual time killing pleasantries that delayed his beginning his quest, Jason used that first evening’s dinner to press his parents for local gossip. But they hadn’t kept track of Jennifer or her family for, while the families had always been cordial toward each other, they had never been overly so. And when Jennifer’s grandparents had died leaving them all quite well off, her folks had moved to a better area and no effort had been made to keep track of them. Jennifer’s friend Penny, on the other hand, was not only still in town — her high school reputation as a busybody had improved with age. If anyone might know of Jennifer’s whereabouts, they agreed, it would be the Penny Overton of old who was now Mrs. John Kuehl, the owner / manager of one of the town’s better restaurants. And the next day, Jason just happened into Chez Kuehl for dinner.

Penny had been the short chubby member of the high school’s girls’ clique and time had changed her little. She was perhaps a bit heavier; her face a touch more rounded, but her voice was just as cheerful and her words just as tart. She had married more out of hope than desire and her minimal ardor had cooled rather quickly, but being of the type that would rather bear those ills they have than fly to others that might be worse, she had stayed in her ho-hum relationship. She too had lusted after Jason in the old days and was more than willing to sit with him for hours talking about old times.

The food that first night was as excellent as the conversation was bland, for while Jason found it impossible to mention Jennifer’s name, Penny found it just as difficult to remove her eyes from his craggy face — the face that had evolved from boyish good looks into a mature masculinity exuding wealth and power — and she too began wondering what might have been.

Dinner at Chez Kuehl became a daily event with perhaps a week passing before Jason conjured up the courage to utter Jennifer’s name, and in the instant, the warm feelings welling in Penny’s breast cooled. She and Jennifer had befriended each other in high school more out of social necessity than anything else. Jennifer had been too tall and gangly to be popular while Penny had been too short and plump, and together they had fought off the mob cruelties of an adolescent world. But that was long ago and to have her name evoked at that moment reminded Penny of those old cruelties like a knife twisting in her bowels.

“Is there any chance you’ve got her address?” Jason was saying as she snapped out of her revere to rejoin the conversation.

Penny’s first thought was to give it to him and be done with it, but that quickly slunk back to an excuse. “I have it,” she said turning her face to the table, “but ah — Well,” she went on looking up at him, “when Jennifer moved, she asked her friends not to give out her address and ah — I don’t think I should break that confidence without asking her first. You do understand don’t you?” she asked as though looking for understanding. Jason was less than happy with this but nodded his acceptance.

“I’ll write and tell her you’ve been here and ask if she has any objection to …” but Jason’s mind was far away.

“Even if she were at the ends of the earth, I’d go to see her,” he broke in across her train of thought triggering an awkward pause.

“Well, that’s where she is!” Penny thought with a smile.

“… but if you could find out anything, I’ll be coming back from time to time and …”

“He’ll be back!” she told herself with a start, “And that’s good enough for now!”

The evening ended with a gentle hug and kiss “for old times sake” and two people parting with very different agendas. Penny would use Jennifer’s address to keep Jason on her string, and Jason would use Penny as his link to finding Jennifer.

After Jason left to walk the few blocks to his parents’ home, Penny remained at the table to ponder the evening.

“Suppose Jennifer wants to see him?” she muttered, “would he actually go to Africa?” She had tried to milk their conversation for personal tidbits without success. Was Jason still married? She didn’t know. What did he do for a living? She didn’t know that either. Her letter to Jennifer would have to be more than circumspect, for she wanted just enough information in Jennifer’s reply to keep Jason coming back, but not so much that she could ever be accused of deviousness by withholding information for her own ends.

Her first letter had mentioned that Jason was — well — she couldn’t come out and say he would go to the ends of the earth to see her. That would be too obvious. So she had written that Jason would be visiting Africa. That way, Penny believed, she could appear honest no matter what happened.

The glorious mountains looming ever so majestically in the distance gave the veranda of Jennifer’s one of the finer views in Africa. They also prevented radio communication hence, there were no telephones at the lodge and only infrequently did Jennifer or one of her staff fly or drive the 112 miles to town to mail a letter or pick up a reply. Nevertheless, when Jason next appeared at Chez Kuehl, Penny had had her answer for weeks — weeks she had used to invent dreams of her own; and their conversation that night became an unabashed one-sided dance of love, for while Jason hoped it would further his pursuit of Jennifer, Penny hoped just as fervently it would further desires of her own.

What did Penny want of Jason? She wasn’t sure. An affair? To be talked into an affair? Openly facing one’s longings is always dangerous, but not so dangerous perhaps, as toying with dreams of love, for until openly reciprocated, love is an entity so fragile as to be shatterable beyond hopes of redemption by a single word. Penny hadn’t been honest with herself because she could not be, so she had resolved to gain by stealth that which she feared to take by storm — and geography was on her side.

“So,” Jason began filling a void in the conversation, “did you get through to Jennifer?”

“Yes,” Penny replied, “but I’m not sure I know what her answer means.”

She shuffled her feet in annoyance. “Why didn’t I spend some time thinking this through?” she asked herself, but only her conscious goals were undecided. The dress she had purchased for the evening had obviously been chosen by another part of her brain entirely — a part knowing exactly what she wanted. Never before had she worn such a risqué neckline. Never before had she added a cushion to her chair. Never before had her best assets been so publicly exposed as when from the added height of the cushion, she leaned forward to speak confidentially. And catching him peek into her cleavage as she glanced aside made her smile as she contemplated how wonderfully her subconscious was working. Only then did she realize that she’d been practicing leaning over the table while looking aside. Now she knew why. She might not have been able to verbalize her desires, but the deep crannies of her mind knew. And they had packaged her large, firm, well rounded assets into the best display case possible while just as carefully concealing the price tag on those assets.

Leaning into the dim candlelight for best effect she said, “Jennifer was asking about you. What you’re doing; how you are; that sort of thing.” It delighted her that she could pick his brain to her own advantage while blaming it all on Jennifer!

“Where is she?” he asked bluntly.

“No foreplay here!” she thought leaning back to re-analyze her approach.

“Sorry,” she said playing with a wine glass, “maybe I didn’t ask her in the right way but ah — she answered — but she didn’t mention you so — I guess I’m still bound by that old promise.” She looked up for Jason’s response, but he was looking away.

“Well,” Jason went on, he too trying to gain information without revealing much, “what exactly did she say?”

Perplexed, Penny asked herself, “How do I get her off his mind?” She took his hand and there was no rejection. Looking at their joined fingers, she went on, “just girl stuff mostly. She asked if you were still married, how you were doing. Stuff like that.”

“Nothing more specific?” he asked withdrawing his hand.

“I’m sorry I didn’t bring her letter along,” she said a bit confused, “would you like to come over for a nightcap and I’ll find it for you?”

Aghast at her forwardness, she shuddered at his response, but he seemed to be dreamily thinking.

“Sure,” he said, “where do you live?”

The drive was short and her husband away, but the letter! What exactly did it say? She couldn’t remember. Did she dare show it to him?

“Ah! The address!” she thought, “I can use that as an excuse to keep it from him!”

With each tending their own thoughts, the silence made the short drive seem interminable.

“She’s in Africa!” Penny finally blurted out.

“Feed him just enough information,” she thought, “keep the letter hidden — and he’ll come back.”

“Africa! What the hell’s she doing in Africa?”

“Trying to get away from some old memories I think,” she began as the germ of an idea began sprouting within her, “and my guess is that that’s why she’s so secretive about her whereabouts.”

“Old memories huh?” he asked quizzically, “What old memories? Was she married or something?”

“No,” Penny replied cautiously trying to stay one step ahead of him, ” nothing like that. She never married or anything like that. Just — old memories.”

Penny’s mind whirled in a blur of failed schemes. No subject seemed able to take his mind off Jennifer, and Penny was mulling over something else entirely when she heard herself blurting out, “Maybe she’s been thinking of you! We all loved you, you know! You could have had any one of us!”

“Good God!” she thought, “did I say that?”

“Even you?” he laughed.

“Even me!” she said nervously for her mouth and brain seemed disconnected and she was no longer sure what she might hear come tumbling from her lips.

“What am I doing?!” she asked herself as a hint of panic swept across her.

“Will you go to bed with me?” he asked softly.

“YES!” her lips exploded — and with the word came instant calm. She was surprised at the bluntness of his question — surprised at the speed of her response — surprised at how calming the truth could be once it had been exposed. And if any further word was spoken during the remainder of that ride, neither would remember it.

The dress of little substance paid for itself many times that night as the bluntness of his question was replaced by a slow practiced lovemaking she had more fantasized of than experienced.

He had assumed they would be alone. He had assumed they would have the night. And he had assumed she had never truly been made love to; and as the gentle movements of his powerful hands brought her slowly along an ever driving crescendo of desire and fulfillment, she realized how clever his question had been. Of how in a handful of words, he had swept away barriers she had set up over a lifetime to prevent her own happiness.

“Why have I been fighting all these years?” she wondered amidst the wave after wave of new-found pleasures surging through, across and around her body, and in that ecstasy, the unattainable ideal of her youth become the obsession of her middle years. From that moment, her mind inextricably coupled the words love and Jason.

As the morning sun crept up her bed to illuminate the body she hated for its bulk, new tactile sensations began sweeping away the fog of sleep and she opened her eyes to find Jason nestled behind her with his chin resting lightly on the top of her head. The arm resting beneath her neck ended in a hand gently caressing her breast, while other fingers could be felt gently moving up her thigh. Her last conscious memories of the night before had been of his nuzzling her neck through her hair; the first of the morning were of his tender advances. “So this is love,” she thought savoring this warm revere before turning toward him.

He silently laid his head between her breasts and teased her with light tussles of his hair in the soft expanse of her cleavage. He looked up and their eyes met. They were still locked in that passionate gaze when he slowly slipped away to stand. “Morning!” he said softly, playfully, “is this branch of your culinary establishment noted for its coffee?!”

Their gentle caresses continued in the shower where Penny’s mind abdicated thinking to savor the pleasures of his touch. Their eyes met constantly as they dried each other off and he continued to watch her intently as she began dressing while seated on the edge of her bed. He seemed totally absorbed in studying the auburn hair flowing over her shoulders when, without warning, he shattered her dream.

“Oh!” he said simply, “And the letter!” It jolted her back to reality.

“How could he even think of her letter at a time like this?!” she wondered as she desperately attempted to maintain her composure. It seemed treasonous that a man still radiant from their ever so recent excursions into bliss could be thinking of someone else. Yet, as their eyes smiled at each other — she accepted the tenuousness of her hold on him — and she reached into a night table for the offending article and handed it to him.

She let him read undisturbed for a time before speaking. “Jennifer seems to want some sort of commitment before she’ll even talk to you,” she began hopefully as she knelt beside him and laid her head against his leg to stroke his inner thigh.

“So it seems,” he said ignoring her exploring hands.

“Wouldn’t it be like proposing to someone you hadn’t seen in years as a preliminary to meeting them again?” she offered hoping to twist Jennifer’s words to her own advantage.

“It would seem that way,” he said noncommittally, “but then, who knows what I’ve been thinking all these years!”

“You mean,” she said spinning away, “you’d consider traveling half way around the world to — “

“Oh no!” he broke in laughing, “nothing like that! What I mean is ah — this is the sort of thing you’ve got to think about!”

He was rereading the letter when Penny rose to rub her cheek across his broad chest — there seemed to be no increase in his heart rate — no change in his warmth to her — she took his hand and his grip seemed as gentle as before — she hugged him and he returned her caress just as deliciously, although with one hand still clutching the letter. “No hint it’s changed him,” she thought, although it was painfully obvious they had precious little relationship to change.

As she watched him dress, she wondered if she had made a fool of herself for a single night’s pleasure. A night’s pleasure that might leave her with unfulfillable dreams much like his. With a last check of his tie in the mirror, he turned with a big smile, took her in his arms and kissed her passionately as she wondered what her next move might be.

“I really shouldn’t have shown you this,” she said retrieving the letter from the dresser where he had left it, “and I should write her back. What do you think I should say?”

“Use your best judgment,” he said with a hint that all was not lost, “and let me know what she says when I get back. I think I’ll be visiting the folks a lot more in the future,” he said with a wink.

He had said, “let me know!” and “I’ll be coming back!” Hope was smiling on her and she was basking in its glow.

“Yeah!” she replied all a-twinkle, “the folks are getting older and we should be spending more time with them!”

“Especially on days when your husband’s away!” he laughed.

“John?” she said batting her eyes, “He won’t be back “til Friday!”

Three days of bliss followed. Three days where Jennifer’s name never came up. Three days of love making John Kuehl could never match if he lived to be a thousand.

Dear Jennifer,” her letter began and that was easy — discussing Jason was not. “Like yourself, I hadn’t seen Jason in years. Then he came home to visit his parents and dropped in for dinner one night. We started talking and your name came up.”

She read it several times before sitting down to reflect on what it was that she wanted, and as she thought of her desires, it all came together. She wanted Jason — and at long last she was willing to admit it.

Dear Jennifer,” she began anew,

Like yourself, I hadn’t seen Jason in years. Then he came home to visit his parents and dropped in for dinner one night. We started talking and he casually mentioned that he was taking a trip to Africa and I mentioned you were living there and he asked me to remember him to you when I wrote. “With regard to personal stuff, like is he still married etc., it just never came up.”

“That’s it,” she said aloud. “I’ve answered her questions without telling her a damned thing!” Years of friendship were about to dissolve in a sea of half-truths and innuendo she hoped Jennifer would never suspect — and Penny would not quite fully admit even to herself. She went back to her letter:

I can’t be more specific since we didn’t talk very long and he didn’t mention where in Africa he was going or anything like that. He didn’t ask for your address either so, I guess the rest you can figure out for yourself.”

She ended it with the usual formalities and mailed it with a flourish as she again considered Jennifer safely ensconced far, far away. But Jason had made it a point to remember the return address on Jennifer’s stationary.

Spring became summer, then fall became winter, and with the passing of time, Jason made fewer and fewer trips to visit his parents — and Penny. The early phone calls rambling on about nothing in particular before getting to the point — when John Kuehl would be away — became ever more contrived. And when they stopped, Penny tried to revive the relationship by calling him, but soon his business travels caused her to lose track of him.


With Penny’s second letter fanning the embers of dreams hot in her breast, Jennifer mingled less and less with her guests as she took to daydreaming alone on her veranda. It seemed absurd to her that an adult could be so obsessed. “How long has it been?” she questioned, “How many beaus have come and gone? Why him? Why some kid from so long ago?”

Her guests began thinking of her as eccentric, but this in no way reduced their number or their effusiveness praise for the efficiency with which she ran her operation. They merely added her distant figure to the panorama as they relaxed or took their meals on the sloping deck.

“So he’s coming to Africa,” she thought, “and he’s not coming to see me.” She checked the position of the sun. “About quarter to 10,” she mumbled looking up to catch the eye of a waiter who immediately approached.

“Pack me some lunch please,” she said, “I’m going to town.” The waiter left confused for Jennifer only took lunch when she was driving, but nothing was needed from town that wouldn’t fit in her airplane.

“Why’s she driving?” he wondered, for in any small group, such as the lodge’s staff, gossip is the principle way to kill time and her trip would occupy their thoughts for the rest of the day.

It would take hours to traverse the long dirt road to the nearest town. And even though she was just wasting time, her harrowing trip would seem worse than usual as each familiar passing landmark would only reminded her of the town and its telephone.

“There’s only one way to find out,” she said pulling up before the tiny post office.

Lallos is your typical African crossroads village. The streets are unpaved, the buildings crude, the facilities minimal and the amenities nonexistent. There was gasoline of course, food, a ‘hotel’ if you can call it that, and a telephone link to the outside world, but that’s all.

Going directly to the post office, she strode to the desk at the rear of the building sporting the nameplate: Postmaster John Sowalle. There was no other title on it as he had too many to list: tax collector, telephone operator, owner of the spirits concession, etc. And as he appeared, she thought of the time she had given him a comic name plate captioned “Mayor, Justice of the Peace, Keys Made, Lawns Mowed,” and she chuckled wondering what he might have done with it.

“John, I want to place a call to the states after …” and she looked at the large clock on the wall. It had taken nearly five hours to make the trip.

“Time difference is six hours,” she mumbled.

“Anytime John, just get me the first open line you can.”

“Good afternoon to you too Miss Jennifer!” he chortled.

“Oh, I’m sorry John! I didn’t mean to be impolite but — I’ve got something on my mind.”

“No problem I hope Miss Jennifer?” asked the ancient one hoping some pearl would drop from her lips that he could spread to fuel his title as master of the local gossip pool.

“No John, nothing like that. Just feel like calling home, that’s all.”

“Okay,” he said a bit disappointed, “but there’s a big backlog on the line into Mombasa. Probably take ah — two — three hours.” His smile was as bright as ever and she smiled back.

“Okay! I’ll slip over to the hotel and shoot the breeze. Any mail?”

“No Miss Jennifer, nothing has come in for a week.”

She left the little building and drove to the end of the block where she had her jeep and the jerry cans heaped in its back seat topped off with whatever they were selling as gasoline that day. Then, walking the few feet to the hotel, she stepped through the door of its never-closing bar, and stopped to scan the room for familiar faces, but only the bartender was present.

“Funny,” she thought wondering where the usual crowd might be, “back in the states your neighbors live 100 feet apart and don’t know what’s going on three houses down. Here, everybody knows everybody’s business over a million square miles of bush.” She was right of course. Gossip was not only the towns major export, it moved with the speed of light as the postmaster had called ahead to announce her presence; and even as she stepped across the bar’s threshold she found the bartender dropping ice cubes into her drink and sliding it down to her usual seat at the end of the bar. Both drink and barkeep arrived before her together.

“Everything alright Jennifer?” the barkeep asked, “Hear you’re calling home.”

“Everything’s fine John,” she replied reflecting on how every male in the village seemed to be an air-head named ‘John,’ presumably after a missionary who had served there years before. A man who, according to local tradition, had been even dumber than the village’s current residents.

“That’s what happens when the smart ones leave,” she told herself for the umpty umpth time.

After slowly downing her drink, she sauntered down the block to the general store.

“This is no place to kill time,” she thought as she looked over the slim pickings the store called an inventory. Looking over some wicker baskets in the window, she noticed the usual ‘Jennifer watchers’ beginning to congregate outside. “Underground communications network’s the only thing that works around here,” she mumbled, “where Jennifer appears, so they appear also!”

She usually found their adulation amusing, but that day, they annoyed her and rather than taking her usual slow stroll of the village, she left the store and headed directly to the shade of the hotel’s bar and, as she walked through the door, the scraping sound of glass sliding on wood was being overridden by a telephone’s ringing and, as she reached her seat, the bartender waved the phone at her gesturing that the call was for her.

“Hello,” she said while nodding toward John in acknowledgement of her drink.

“John here, bad news Miss Jennifer, they say the lines will be tied up for at least 12 hours. Shall I keep your request in?”

“No John, I’ll ah — yes — I’ll stay at the hotel. Just get me the first line you can put through until midnight tonight or after 2 p.m. tomorrow okay?”

“That should be no problem Miss Jennifer, anything else I can do for you?”

“No thanks John, that’ll do for now. I’ll just wait here for your call.”

“Goddamn it!” she roared aloud banging down the phone, “Why didn’t I take the plane? Because I didn’t want to sit around doing nothing that’s why! Now I’m stuck in this dump with nothing to wear! Nothing to read! Yuck!”

A second drink was followed by a third and the third by a fourth. And by the time the phone rang again, she was feeling little pain. “It’s for you Miss Jennifer,” the barkeep called.

“Yes, what is it!” she snapped grabbing the phone from his hand.

“Miss Jennifer? Surprise! I’ve got a line for you! Should I transfer it to the hotel? Or would you like to make your call from here?”

“Hold it right there John! I’ll be right over!”

The combined influence of heat and alcohol made the few steps between the hotel and post office seem endless, but soon an operator was given a number, an interminable wait was suffered, then Penny Kuehl’s voice was heard on the line.

“Jennifer? You’re calling from Africa! What a surprise!”

“Yup, and wondering why your goddamned letter was so vague!” she said slightly slurring her words and suppressing a burp.

“I love you too Jennifer, but — what’s happening? Why are you calling out of the blue? Anything wrong?”

“I’m fine and where the hell’s Jason?”

“Holy Hannah!” thought Penny, “she’s got the hots — she’s drunk and what the hell do I do now?”

“Ah — I haven’t seen him for some time and ah — well, when he came back to visit his parents he stops in at the restaurant and ah — well, the first time he came in we talked for a while and he mentioned he was going to Africa ah — I don’t remember if he said when he was leaving or where he was going or anything like that. It was just sort of conversation. You know! And the next time he came in I didn’t want to seem nosy or anything so ah — hey Jen — I didn’t know he was that important to you! I’m sorry. If he comes in again I’ll try to pick his brain and get back to you alright?”

“Penny,” Jennifer intoned with the edge of command only alcohol can focus perfectly, “are you sleeping with Jason?”

Penny’s ‘no’ was too slow in coming; and in that pregnant pause, Jennifer’s intuition leapt to the conclusion that her friend had become a competitor for Jason’s affections — and competition far too close to the prize for comfort. Oh, the conversation continued. Even through the fog of heat and cheap gin Jennifer knew it would be foolhardy to break her only link to Jason’s whereabouts no matter how tenuous that link might be. But while neither even hinted at the possibility, it was mutually understood that once Jennifer had found Jason, the friendship was ended. Thus the conversation rambled on to its inevitable conclusion with all the unnatural civility of a kiss of death.

Of all the deadly sins, none is more easily sown than jealousy. It is also the fastest to grow and the hardest to kill, and Jennifer was down with a full-blown case. She wouldn’t remember how the conversation ended; or of her staring into space for a time before heading for her jeep without a word. But the locals would, and rumors flew in abundance, although there seemed to be some disagreement on exactly what Jennifer’s problem might be. Long after her jeep’s dust had settled in the darkening African night, their tongues wagged on all knowingly.

Few things are darker than a tropical road on a moonless night, yet rarely before had that road been traversed more quickly. In four hours flat she stormed into her lodge to angrily stride the hall leading to her study where she poured herself into the chair behind her desk in a fury. “Think, goddamn it, think!” she roared at herself.

She’d kept track of Jason with a method as simple as it had been direct. During the rainy seasons when few visited the lodge, she had spent her time writing chatty notes to hometown friends ending each with the request: “Tell me what’s going on with the old mob. Have you heard anything about anybody?” And replies failing to mention Jason had received more blunt requests for information about him, and in that way, she had followed his whereabouts for years. Until the very moment she wanted to contact him in fact.

“Tomorrow,” she said rising and walking the few steps to her bedroom, “tomorrow, I’ll call them all!” Then, throwing herself fully clothed on her bed, she fell asleep exhausted.

No one disturbed the mistress of the manor unbidden, and the sun was well over the yardarm before Jennifer’s eyes opened to greet the new day. The sound of her shower signaled servants to prepare her breakfast and, late though the hour might be, it was always the same. Toast, coffee, some juice and one egg scrambled. It was nourishing, could be consumed quickly and fit in perfectly with her concept of efficient living. Even as the tray was placed at her table on the veranda, she was thinking ahead to the day’s work.

Her old Cessna 172 had far more hours on it than most would consider prudent without an engine overhaul, but Jennifer didn’t mind. It was her faithful horse that never let her down and when she fired it up and took off early that afternoon, it was with a skill that showed her total mastery of the machine. This time she was starting late and had no desire to wait for the time differences our world insists upon. And as soon as her plane was above the mountains that made communication so difficult from her lodge, she radioed ahead to the post office at Lallos for a long-distance line and even as she glided in for a perfect landing on the small dirt strip behind the town’s hotel the bush dwellers used as an airport, she saw the green flag flying from the post office indicating her line was waiting. Grabbing her little notebook, she strode past John with a wave and grabbed the phone for what would be a session costing the better part of a month’s profits.

She started by calling directory assistance in each of the areas Jason had been known to live, but none could they find a Jason Conner listed. Next, she went through her address book of old friends, but none knew of his whereabouts, so she asked each to try and find him for her, but the gesture seemed as futile as it turned out to be. He had slipped through her web.

Hanging up for the last time, she looked blankly at the wall. “I came here to get away from him,” she said slowly, “and now my refuge is keeping me from him.”

Her demeanor was relaxed as she flew home, for she resigned herself to the one thing she hated — waiting for others to act, for she no plan of her own to execute.

Her dinner went untouched that night; the vista of the savanna went unappreciated; and the wild antelope tending their young went unnoticed as vacant eyes scanned a seemingly empty horizon. She was thinking of years before and miles away. She was thinking of a bus trip.

Thursday came and went without incident as did most of Friday. Then, as the kitchen closed and the latest batch of tourists collected their bags and headed for the airstrip and the charter plane that would be arriving to take them back to Nairobi, Johnson approached with the week’s books. It was a formality repeated untold times and she scanned the pages of names and numbers indifferently. There were the guests, the charges, the credit card numbers being billed — she handed it back with a nod. Then she stopped cold. “Johnson!” she said with a start, “let me see that again!”

Re-scanning the guest list, her eye caught a name added after the regular tour guests: Jason Conner! He had arrived at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and left early the following morning! Her eyes skipped across the page for his room — #23! They’d not only shared the same building, they’d slept only feet apart!

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