Helen Steps Back in Order to Step Forward
Her tony Boston friends called it ‘ennui,’ but she referred to it in Kiswahili as ‘uchovu,’ a condition which had set in during the early spring of the first year of this new millennium and declared by her to be, “Absolutely awful,” an opinion shared by Svell who nodded vigorously in agreement, and, since she was the last holdout, Helen took this as a statement of unanimity. Now, everyone agreed, there was no longer any question, her life was in need of renewal.
I have to have relief, she thought, because Helen, unlike so many others in Northeastern America, could not sit still and mope. She had an active, almost driving personality which was coupled with that most valued and natural companion, a creative mind. Not unexpectedly then, she had been worn out, as she, like the gladiators of ancient times, had been thrown into a continuous round of engagements and tasked with demands seemingly of an emergency nature, the sheer weight of which had made her brain give way. On reflection she realized that many of these activities could have been spaced out, which is exactly how her present condition was described by Dr. Tuckin, one of those very same scientists who tell us that everyone has a limit, beyond which physically the body cannot respond with anything but indifference. He explained to her that she had reached that point where the flow of endorphins, which in her case was always minimal, had now entirely ceased. It was at this point that the body’s physiology fails, the long-distance runner collapses, the mountain climber falls and the marathon swimmer sinks. And so it was with Helen. Physically she had not collapsed, fallen or sank, but she had suffered an implosion of will, and for her that was the same as if she had tumbled, stumbled or drowned. Her condition was further manifested by the inability to pick herself up each morning to go along that fertile path she had trod these last ten years, and this was a disaster because there were so many activities awaiting her once eager hand. So much now depended on her alone.
Who would organize the weekly Brattle Street séances, without which a significant number of restless spirits would probably drift elsewhere. After all, there were many other attractive regions where they could go, why languish in the Boston area, especially during the winter months when warmer climes appealed even to ethereal bodies. I mean, it stands to reason that being a blithe spirit at twenty below can’t be easy. And who would promote the Theosophical research which had made this section of Brattle Street the center of the Universe, or at least the focus of that branch of the Transcendental movement started by Helen which involved the transmission of thought waves using computer software via ‘T-mail,’ a technical revolution unseen elsewhere in the world. And more importantly, who would carry forward the Kiswahili classes she had begun on her return from a two-week tour of Zanzibar, another area which showed so much promise. She felt she had almost begun to think in that language, described as the ‘Latin of the future,’ a sure sign, she was told by experts, that she was on her way toward mastery at least of what is known as ‘kitchen swahili,’ or more properly ‘swahili ya kitchini,’ that is, until uchovu had reared its ugly brow.
“It’s too unkind,” she said to Svell Börke, her Swedish masseuse, who during the course of the above had dutifully worked her way along Helen’s waist, a process that had taken some time. “Springtime in Boston is always so lovely. If I’m going to be this bored, I might as well commit suicide.”
“Ya, vee can do dat,” said Svell, as she now probed with highly educated, powerful fingers along Helen’s spine looking for muscles which she knew were there. Her fingers reached down through several layers of sub-cutaneous tissue, avoiding an occasional bony protuberance, until she was rewarded with a sigh from her client indicating she had hit bedrock. This search and discovery process took place every afternoon on a padded, heated table in the solarium of Helen’s Boston villa, and made Svell think of herself as a U-boat captain looking for hard bottom along a sea floor lying deep in organic silt and strewn with underwater boulders. An added mystery was the fact that the extra thirty-two pounds, which Helen carried, along with a small number of affectations, seemed to shift daily.
Svell was no stranger to suicide, a preoccupation among her countrymen, but she had yet to master the intricacies of idiomatic English. Thus, when she carried out the banter deemed necessary by her clients, it was assumed anything she said could mean anything and often did. Helen had therefore to look elsewhere for a meaningful analysis of her condition, and in this sort of exercise she was no slouch. Her brain raced forward in a rapid search through the ‘Encyclopedia of the Mind’ using a powerful mental exercise, a brainy technique that she had mastered under the tutelage of her late husband Phillip Westmoreland, or ‘Westy’ for short, who was also known at Harvard by the nickname, ‘Spooky,’ because of his great interest in the Tibetan way of life and death.
The results of her search displayed themselves on the inner expanse of her frontal lobe as she laid murmuring under the effect of Svell’s scented oils and the warm steamy towels, which draped her blue-eyed, fair-skinned, Ruebenesque figure. The first item to appear on Spooky’s screen was a quotation from Walter Winchell, who in an unguarded moment after WWII had said, “The day when it wasn’t fun, was the day you’d better get out,” and that seemed to apply quite appropriately to her present situation, especially when she considered another entry, one from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which cautioned her to move on because, “...The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop, The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”
As her mind sped along in this process of review, it suddenly stopped and clicked when it registered the solution to her predicament. It was clear; she said to herself, I need a break, a vacation. But not a vacation of the frivolous kind, the beaches of Acapulco or Cancun were rejected outright. In her case substance was essential, but not too much substance, as she recalled with chagrin her attempts to become intimate with culture and society in Venice, Heidelberg and Tanzania, all of which had terminated in defeat because of the failure of the locals to grasp the subtleties of her Italian, German and Swahili pronunciations. No, she thought, as she succumbed to her sub-conscious, which for some reason always seemed to have the final word, English in the broad sense must be my first criterion. And, in that light, it was pure luck that her eye fell upon the latest edition of the new Tina Brown magazine, Slur, a favorite of Svell’s, and a successor to Talk, which lay open not far from the pillow on which Helen’s soft blonde head rested.
“Newport Rolls on in the Buff!” the lead-in exclaimed, in an article splashed across a colorful double page showing scenes from Parade Day in Newport, that day when TV vans and thousands of foreign tourists line those old colonial streets to see the great coaches make their way through this beautiful seaside resort. There, in one of the hundreds of open antique vehicles, which participate in this Parade, she spotted Adele Bryce, who sat in an elaborate carriage with her uncle, Curley Buckfuller, his wife, Amy, and two royal visitors from Santa Barbara, Princess von Horné, and her mother, Lady Helen, formerly known by her stage name, Helen Bed.
Adele, born into one of the Gardiner families, had previously lived in Boston not far from Brattle Street, and it was obvious she had not changed one iota during the intervening fifteen years. She was easily distinguished from everyone else in the photograph in which she stood up and out, not because she was still beautiful, or fully clothed as Queen Victoria, but because all the other passengers in the coach were naked.
The headline and the photo told it all, ‘Mother of a Princess and Daughter Bare All to Make Parade Naked Success As Queen Victoria and Minions Stand By in Busbies, Only.’
“What next?” cried Helen, as the remembrance of vacations passed in Newport came vividly to mind. Brief though they were, they were both pleasant and productive, as witnessed the large number of sketches and shell and butterfly collections stored moldering in trunks in her attic. Following which reflection, her eye traveled to the pink marble that decorated the walls of her solarium. That reminded her of Rosemont and the lovely mansions along Ocean Walk, wherein with all probability awaited the Wine of Life, which had escaped her lips, ‘till now, and the Leaves of Life which had fluttered just beyond her outreached fingers, ‘till then, and she resolved thus to have her fill of one, and a large portion of the other—when suddenly she was returned to reality as Svell sent ten probing fingers into the deep portions of her northern latitudes, while Helen swooned; and Svell, looking appreciatively at the naked occupants in the magazine photo, and again broke her unwritten rule of ‘rub silent, rub deep’ as she said, philosophically, “Ya, vee can do dat.”