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The Way It Really Happened

They used straps instead of nails. Louise could no longer think of herself as Violet when her hands vanished down a small hole where a leather thong attached them to a cement peg. No matter how the hands struggled, the thongs refused to stretch enough to set them free. Encounters with the peg caused abrasions and nerve damage.

The men in white jackets referred to the ambulatory women as nurses, whatever they really were. These women wiggled up and down the corridors whispering to each other. Recent absurdities among the their cases were so amusing they had to chatter about them. Some cases, they giggled to each other, would not "last the night." Their corpses would lie unmoved until the strong young men on the morning shift hauled them away.

Becoming Violet again in a short break, she heard the barely concealed pleasure in the voice saying, "Louise will die by morning." Why did any voice wish Louise dead? Maybe that was the "care" part of intensive care. Death might improve on this horror. Could Violet die at will? She doubted it. Most of her will had slipped away like a naughty child. She had to get out of this prison before she could start making choices. The morphine the nurses kept giving her did not addle her brain as much as they imagined.

She consulted whatever maps she had tucked in her purse before Ben dragged her to this hospital, but the way to the Big Rock Candy Mountain, not to mention Xanadu, might prove a longer trip than she could manage on her own. And where was her friend Kubla when she needed him most? She lay quietly trying to dream lucid dreams of Kubla Kahn.

He was the one who had decreed that stately pleasure dome, where all the cops had wooden legs, the bulldogs all had rubber teeth, and the hens laid soft-boiled eggs. For they on honeydew had fed, but someone cried, "Beware! Beware!" when they hanged the Turk, who invented work, down by the sunless sea. She worried about going to Kublaís place and putting herself under his protection. He sounded good in their e-mail correspondence, but he might turn out to be an axe murderer. Every day the papers told of such tragedies.

Violet did not yet know it, but all that holy and enchanted stuff had made Kubla shaky by the time she set out for his pleasure dome. Kubla, for his part, intended to leave his pleasure dome at once. He crumpled when people jumped out of hidden closets yelling boooooooo. He felt gratitude towards whoever had filled the place with golden girls of infinite styles and shapes, but these girls did not have much by way of conversation. They read only fashion magazines. Not one of them even had heard of the Times Literary Supplement, and Kubla, after awhile, grew depressed and bored with the whole setup. All he had going for him was his e-mail friendship with Violet, and sometimes days went by before she answered one of his plaintive letters. If he could meet her, take her in his arms, his life would improve radically, or so he believed. She read the New York Review of Books as well as the Times Literary Supplement. Her husband Ben read only the sports pages, and Kubla felt sure she wanted to communicate on a higher level.

Trained for nothing else, the seductive charmers made a life out of seducing Kubla, but a flock of ill-informed, if willing, golden girls count as nothing while a prince is seeking a challenging intellectual experience. The court philosopher, Pangloss, in previous bouts of Kublaís dissatisfaction, had urged him to dissect a squid. Kubla had tried, but he never could catch a squid, dutiful as he was.

One cold night, when stars sprinkled light on the unyielding snow, Kubla said to himself "je míen fiche," and although his French was indifferent he truly did not much care what happened next. If ever the sunless sea lay behind him with its assorted comforts, and threats, if ever he could enter the world just beyond his reach, this was the ideal moment. Pangloss was in one of his rare sleeps, and the girls always slept like rocks.

Je míen fiche, Kubla said to himself over and over as he crept out of the ice palace by a back door. He knew a prince of his stature should not have to creep around like some pickpocket, but all he wanted was to become a bum. He was not quite sure what qualities he needed, but he knew that on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, unlike the arrangements in his pleasure dome, the jails were made of tin, not ice, and he could walk right out again, as soon as he walked in.

The bitterly cold air outside the palace gates distressed Kubla not at all. His heart was warm, and he was able to follow a careful map Violet had drawn of the area, with the help of ancient maps she had found in the New York Public Library. The map she e-mailed to Kubla purported to show all the caverns measureless to man, and in a far corner it showed where the shadow of the pleasure-dome fell on caves of ice. No map took her further than that.

A thought began to arise in Kublaís mind, as he studied the map Violet had sent. He could not believe that in your normal pleasure-dome, you heard ancestral voices prophesying war and other nasty events. In the normal pleasure dome, you never changed your socks and the little streams of alcohol came trickling down the rocks. He never had understood why he was stuck in this ice palace with the Big Rock Candy Mountain there for his taking. He was a good-natured young man who always tried to lend a helping hand. Why did the gods, or whoever, pick on him?

The very Violet with whom he had exchanged such intimate e-mails on the site suddenly grabbed him by the shoulders. She told him her real name was Louise, and surely Kubla could tell she was having a rough time, a worse time than even he was having. She said, "You should stop feeling sorry for yourself. Think of the hunger in places like India."

Kubla had dreamed about Violet, of course, as he had dreamed about all women, but because the pair had never before encountered each other in the flesh. He asked gently if she would permit him to go on calling her Violet because that name was etched in his heart, and he did not want to change.

She said, "Call me whatever you like, as long as you donít call me late for dinner," she said with a grim laugh.

Kubla tried to laugh with her, but he was unfamiliar with old jokes or jokes of any kind. No one did much laughing in the ice palace.

"Never mind, Iíll explain everything when we find a way out of this frozen tundra. I canít breathe around here. She pulled a small leather object out of her pocket, lifted a flap it had, inserted a forefinger, and took a reading. "Pretty low blood," she told Kubla. "If those guys in white knew how much my blood oxygen had fallen, theyíd throw a bronchial net over me that no one could break,"

"Is that right?" said Kubla, who had no idea that blood had any oxygen at all.

A regiment of people dressed in white ran toward them, and the wind brought an echo of their demand that she return to them.

"Canít you stop them? Canít we get out of this cold? I need a warm place. I also need a beer, " she said.

"Jump up and down for a minute. Thatís what they always told me to do. It wonít take me long to bring around my car," Kubla said. He promptly dug out the garage just beyond the palace gates, and inside he found his newly washed and powerful Porche. At the flick of a button Kublaís car wore snow shoes over its tires.. The same button pulled in the snow shoes when no longer needed. Like the cigarette lighter most cars have. "Weep, James Bond," Kubla always said when his red Porsche slid gracefully over the snow.

Violet still was applauding the carís powers when they arrived at The Clubhouse, a bar overlooking the yacht club and much patronized by Kubla, The owner, knowing Kublaís generosity, always saved the most comfortable booth for him and whatever golden girl he had brought with him. The denizens of the bar gazed on the golden girls with awed appreciation, but Violet surprised and disappointed them.

She no longer took the trouble to appear before the world as a beauty, but her dusky hair, impenetrable black eyes, and slender graceful form, attracted the attention of as many men as she was willing to take the time to enjoy. She must have been at least twenty years older than Kubla, and his thatch of golden hair, his large blue eyes confirmed her first impression in the snow. He was young and sweet. She noticed the deference given to Kubla, and knew she could talk to him without interruption, even though she had not dressed for a fancy place like this.

Kubla had brought her to The Club from force of habit. The golden girls demanded such privacy when they had a story to tell, and Violet thanked Kubla for his consideration. She said she wanted the world to know the way things really happened but no one would believe her, or even listen closely. Kubla asked her what she thought of A.N. Wilsonís new book on Victorian society.

Her face grew blank, like one of the golden girls when he slid into a literary subject. "Oh well, maybe weíll talk literature later," he told himself. He had had a lot of experience listening to golden girls, and he relaxed as this unusual woman grabbed one of his manicured hands and started her story. It had nothing to do with A.N. Wilson.

Violet must have been at least twenty years older than he was. He did not know how to talk to middle aged women, he realized while listening carefully. Violet did not mention a single book or even a review, as she did in her e-mail. Her large eyes filled with tears, and she told Kubla, "Iím sorry I disappoint you, but youíll have to take me as I am or leave me with a pitcher of beer. I was only seventeen when I married that mean spirited dork, and now that Iíve left him, Iím headed for the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Iíd like to see anyone try to stop me, Ben probably wonít even know Iíve gone. Not during the Super Bowl playoffs.

Kubla and Violet sat together in a secluded booth, and Kubla suddenly grabbed her hands across the table.

"Do you know how to get to the Big Rock Candy Mountain?" he asked timidly. He had spent a lot of gold on charlatans who had made such claims.

"Itís a place where a bum can stay for many a day, and he wonít need any money," .Violet said.

"But youíre not a bum," Kubla said.

"Sure I am. Ben raped me at the prom, and our folks made us get married."

"Whatís a prom?"

"Youíd call it a ball, I guess. The important thing is this: now that Iíve left Ben, I have no good way to make a living. I can get a job at Wal-Mart or join the bums. Iíd rather join the bums. Just follow me to the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings. And you will be where you want to be," she assured him.

A gang of men and women in white jumped out from under their comfortable booth, threw a net mask over Violetís face, and an enormous woman said, "Breathe normally, Louise. Just breathe normally. Not too fast. Just normal."

"Kubla, Kubla help me. Help me."

"Iím right here with you," said Kubla with his most charming smile. He had paid for all of their beers without complaint. What else could he do? The golden girls seemed happy when he smiled that smile, as did Violet earlier. She must realize he had no idea how to deal with these ferocious people in white coats.

He did his best, punching a few white coats. He trained in the royal gym every day, but Pangloss often had told him his best might never suit the conditions . He began to wish he were back with Pangloss and the golden girls. He knew how to deal with them.

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