RERUNS REZOOMED: a serial novelby Jonathan Baumbach
Jack remains a bedridden captive in an undisclosed location and even when the “real” Molly appears, she cannot help him reconnect the past to this seemingly terminal present.
They come during the night, two men in stocking feet, and lift me out of bed while I am still, for all they know, asleep, and carry me between them down a narrow hallway that seems to go on forever. We are serenaded by night cries from unseen quarters as we shuffle along to a door which leads to another and through the second door into the moonless night.
I am dropped off onto the back seat of an official-looking van which stays in place only long enough for the door that admitted me to be slammed shut.
I pretend to be asleep, though I’m not at all sure it’s the most useful way to go on this occasion. This is the first time I’ve been outside the prison /hospital complex since they brought me here blindfolded however long ago it was.
A heated discussion goes on in the front seat between a man and a woman—the man driving—in a language that is not one of mine.
My guess is that one—the man?—is arguing for a quick and painless slaughter while the other supports a more subtle and dire retribution.
After a while—my guess is that more than two hours have passed—I am pulled out of the car from behind and dumped like a bag of trash in the wet spiky grass of an overgrown field.
“You are a lucky soldier,” the woman calls to me in heavily accented English moments before the unmarked van races off, spraying exhaust and dirt in its wake.
I collect myself as if I were several different random parts barely held together with tape.
My first thought: I am out of prison... The exhilaration of being my own man once again lasts a few ragged minutes. No doubt, they’ve left me here to die.
“Are you alive?” someone wants to know.
When I open my eyes again there is a small person—perhaps a child—standing over me, poking me with a long stick.
“If you are, I am,” I say. “Are you alive?”
He takes a step back, offering in the process a barely perceptible nod.
“I need to get some food,” I say. “Can you get me some food?”
He takes another tentative step backwards, testing his options, looks as if he’s about to run away. Then slowly, backing up, as if I might not notice if he were quiet about it, he edges away.
I do what I can to keep up, move after him, not without great difficulty, I move after him on all fours. He can lose me if he wants to—we both know that—but he turns back from time to time to keep me in sight. Or so I interpret his gesture until at some point he flat out vanishes.
I keep going in my sub-human way, hoping to pick up his trail, but then the indistinct path I seem to be following splits off into two opposing indistinct paths.
Anyway, too weak to go much further, I lie down at the cross roads and listen to myself breathe as if it were the latest news.
And then when I open my eyes again, the small person—the child—the boy—is standing over me again with a larger person—a woman of a certain age—at his side. The woman is holding a yellowish apple in her hand, which she offers to me.
I hold out my hand half-heartedly and the apple, unclaimed on either side, drops to the ground between us. The boy retrieves it and holds it close to my face (for inspection?), an inch or so from my mouth.
There seems nothing else to do but take a bite out of the apple.
The boy claps his hands, jumps up and down, and I have to pull my head out of the way to avoid an approving pat.
“All right, if that will make you happy” the woman says, not without some reluctance, “we’ll take him home with us.”
They help me to my feet, and I am upright for a few seconds before collapsing to the ground. So I follow them on all fours to a cabin in the woods where the boy and his mother live.
The cabin seems to have about six small rooms and once inside I am able to stand again by leaning against a wall.
After they feed me—a slightly rancid chicken thigh reheated for the occasion with a side of unrecognizable greens—I am treated to a series of questions, not unlike those from my former interrogators.
“Do you know where you were 10 years and 11 months ago?” the woman asks me. She is sitting in a kitchen chair facing me while I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, holding on to the wall with the other. The boy sits on the floor at her feet, watching me.
“That’s not an easy question,” I say. “If you could show me a newspaper for that day, it might make it easier.”
“It’s an important question to Bobby,” the woman says. The boy nods. “If you remember, you remember. If you don’t, you don’t.”
I say I will try to come up with something, but at the moment I can barely remember yesterday. I was lying on a bed of weeds and thorns in a dark wood when the boy—Bobby—showed up and asked me if I was alive.
Working backward. Two days ago I was in protective custody at some nameless prison hospital.
Seven months ago, perhaps eight, Molly was kidnapped or perhaps consented to her kidnapping by a posse of rogue government agents and was, reportedly, taken to an island off the coast of Maine.
Thirteen months ago I was a guest scholar at the Villa Mondare, in northern Italy, working away at a novel that may possibly include some or all of the material under the microscope here.
At some indeterminate period in the past—four years back or five— Molly announced she was leaving me and was out the door before I could bring myself to ask for an explanation.
And several years before that, the exact number difficult to determine, we had what was referred to at the time as a shot gun wedding, the wounds of which still hurt when it rains.
That’s as far back as I remember, I tell the woman, Wilhemina, and she says she’ll give me a week to sort it out.
The next morning—I spend the night on a hammock on the screened-in back porch—the boy wakes me by poking me in the shoulder with a broken pool cue. When I open my eyes, trying to come to terms with where I am, he says, “Good morning, poppa.”
Mina calls to Bobby from the nearest room, which may or may not be the kitchen... “Tell your father,” she says, “that breakfast is ready.”
Is there something I’ve missed?
END PART TWO
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Brooklyn native Jonathan Baumbach is the author of 3 collections of short stories and 11 novels including Reruns, B, Seperate Hours, Babble, Chez Charlotte & Emily and On the Way to My Father's Funeral. His stories have been anthologized in O.Henry Prize Stories, Great Pool Stories, Best American Stories, Full Court, All Our Secrets are the Same, Best of TriQuarterly among other.