Brenda Kuchinsky

CHAPTER ONE

Sophia, an incessant muffled ringing and knocking burrowing into her consciousness, came to in the Vichyssoise. She raised her head, her mahogany red hair leaking floury potato and leek bits, her aquiline nose dripping, and her startling green eyes registering panic. She gasped raggedly for breath, like a diver surfacing after being submerged in the water too long, drinking in air in greedy gulps.
“After ten years,” she muttered, exasperated. “Seizure free for ten years and they’re back,” she continued mumbling to herself, rushing to answer the kitchen door so that the infernal racket would cease. “You saved my life,” she blurted out to the startled older man, petit and podgy with protuberant eyes, who stood at the door she flung open, nervously fingering a dog’s leash. “I was drowning in the soup. My seizures have returned to sabotage me after such a long time. You woke me up with your annoying persistence,” she babbled. “I’m sorry. Let me pull myself together. What a way to go. Worse than drowning in your own vomit,” Sophia declared, shaky and unsettled, her heart still pitter pattering peripatetically.
“Are you Peter Lorre? His son? A relative. You look just like him. The spitting image,” she said, having reeled onto another tack.
Her head swimming, she was still not fully present. For her, the air was still redolent with the aroma of garlicky charred toast as if her mother were toasting bread Polish shtetl style, holding the bread impaled upon a long fork over the open gas flames and then rubbing it with a clove of garlic before spreading it with butter.
“Who is Peter Lorre?” the bewildered stranger asked.
This remark snapped her back to the present.
“He was a wonderful character actor. Casablanca? The Maltese Falcon? He had an eccentric voice, mellifluous and abrasive at the same time. Like crunchy honey. You even have the same voice. Weird.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
At that moment she noticed that he was not addressing her soup bespeckled face but was talking to her breasts. Perhaps his height.
“Are you in the habit of answering the door naked?” he blurted out, continuing to stare helplessly at her generous breasts, relentlessly toned by countless hours of yoga, which seemed to be saluting him, nipples erect, impossibly firm and full for a fifty-eight-year-old, who hadn’t had surgery.
“Hang on,” she moaned, running for a robe. “Sorry,” she said, wrapping the terry robe more tightly as she returned.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” the puzzled Peter Lorre look alike replied.
“I came to your door because my darling Margarita, my min pin, got loose from her leash. I saw her scrabbling around your house and wanted to ask permission to search for her.
“Of course. Of course. Good luck. I would help if I weren’t so discombobulated.”
He appeared to be frozen to the spot.
Instead of shooing him off, she asked, “What’s a min pin?”
“A miniature pinscher,” he said, finally running off to search for his.
The jangling piano blues riff that was her husband, Bartholomew Royce’s signature tune, sounded on her cell phone, sitting next to the offending soup, as she was closing the door. Sophia dabbed at her face as she darted for the phone.
“I need you up here for critical advice darling,” Barth said in his rich baritone voice, deepened by years of smoking. “And you know how good you are at being critical.”
“It’s just like you Barth to call rather than walk down the stairs. Indolence, extreme indolence. I think laziness makes you creative. You are constantly thinking up new ways to do less. I’m renaming shortcuts, Barth cuts,” she ended on a note of combined petulance and pride.
“You’re not being fair. I’ve been working my ass off all morning, painting my latest masterpiece. Anyway, I need your approval.”
While she continued to pat her face, she happened to spot her robed body in the full-length mirror opposite her. Unhappy at what she saw, she couldn’t resist one last gibe before shutting down the cell.
“You can’t demand approval,” she jabbed.
“Just come up here and stop criticizing,” he said.
“Wait, wait. I just had a seizure and I’m drained. I came to in the Vichyssoise. Peter Lorre saved me.”
“Have you lost your mind? Are you hallucinating? Peter Lorre is dead,” Barth said.
“Not Peter Lorre. This man, who looked just like him, was hammering away at the kitchen door. I didn’t realize I was naked when I came to and answered the door. He probably saved my life.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Sophia.”
“I’m not. This man never heard of Peter Lorre or The Maltese Falcon.”
“Not everyone is a film buff like you. Wait. Why were you naked? He saw you naked?” he asked incredulously.
“I was naked because I was puttering around in the kitchen bathroom after taking a shower. I was so hot from all the preparation for dinner tonight. It popped into my head that the Vichyssoise might be bland and I rushed out to taste it when all hell broke loose in my brain. Shit. I have to cancel dinner. I’ll be up after I call Amanda, Jack, and Lili,” she said, feeling her bone weariness. She ended the call abruptly.
Even though she felt contacting her two friends and her daughter to cancel dinner on such short notice required her immediate attention, she stopped to sit down, remembering how she was shunned by friends and classmates when she was diagnosed with epilepsy at age sixteen. Sophia managed to find strength in her new-found isolation. It was both a blessing and a curse. She felt it gave her a sixth sense at times, yet it set her apart. That’s why I became a psychologist, she thought. It bestowed sensitivity on me.
Sophia called Amanda first, thinking she was the most insensitive psychologist she had ever worked with. Dr. Amanda Petersen, clinical psychologist, treating patients with herself always uppermost in her mind. She had been relieved when she ended that psychotherapy partnership. Amanda would give her a hard time about the cancellation. She was pretty insensitive as a friend too. She was hoping Amanda wouldn’t answer and it would go to message. She answered immediately. Now came the walking on egg shells. The Amanda dance.
“Amanda dear, it’s Sophia,” she said. “I have to cancel tonight’s dinner. I had a seizure and I’m not feeling up to socializing. I’m so sorry.”
“But Sophia I was counting on it. I haven’t been out in ages. I haven’t seen Lili in the longest time. I was planning on surprising you and bringing Keith. Both of them are at loose ends. I know Lili is much older, but they could be friends. I’m here in the wine shop choosing a fabulous bottle for tonight. Can’t you pull yourself together? You’re used to these seizures. You weren’t diagnosed yesterday,” she said, sighing to emphasize her distress. She hadn’t taken a breath as the words poured out of her like a rushing stream cascading from a waterfall.
“Amanda, I know how difficult it is to change plans at the last minute, but I just have to call it off.” She was beginning to scan the room as if she were looking for an escape route from Amanda’s telephonic presence. “Besides Amanda don’t forget that we’ll see each other on Sunday at Barth’s gala at the museum. Bring Keith. You know your son is always welcome. Lili has promised to be there. I know you’ll make a stunning presence in your new gown”.
That was all the sycophantic chatter she could muster. It worked like a charm. Amanda backed off and she could feel fresh air returning to her nostrils. They ended the call on good terms.
Next, she called Jack Ryan, the most sympathetic person of the three. She and Jack had the easiest, happiest, most satisfying friendship. He was thirteen years her junior. Yet they had a perfect friendship fit.
Jack responded right away. “Hi Sophia,” he said. “Is tonight off?” This made her think he was psychic too. Detectives did have finely honed intuition skills. Especially homicide detectives.
“Yes Jack.” He was the one person she wanted to see without reservation. Since his wife left him they had become even closer. “I had a seizure and I’m not up for entertaining.”
“Take care of yourself, Sophia. I’ll check in with you tomorrow,” he said, ending the call.
Now to tackle Lili, who, Sophia thought, would probably be relieved. Maybe she wouldn’t have shown up. Her daughter, her only child, was an independent woman and did not like anything that smacked of a contrived situation. Even though Keith was ten years Lili’s junior, Amanda was jockeying for some sort of friendship. He was a mamma’s boy.
“Lili darling,” Sophia said the second Lili answered, “tonight is off. I had a weird seizure this afternoon when I was trying out the dinner Vichyssoise for lunch and I’m just going to relax and make an appointment with Dr. Clyde on Monday.”
“Are you all right, Ma?” Lili sounded concerned. “That Dr. Clyde is such a quack. Why don’t you find another neurologist? He’s no Oliver Sacks. I’m so glad I don’t have to put up with Keith, that pretentious sack of bullshit who takes after his insufferable mother. Where do you find these people? You must search high and low to dig up the biggest egotists to satisfy the psychologist in you. Nice, considerate friends wouldn’t feed the shrink. What a relief,” she wound down.
“I’m fine now. Just spent,” Sophia interjected before Lili could wind herself up again. “I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch at Van Dyke’s? Barth is going to try to make it.”
“Good. I can go to the Miami Beach Cinematheque to see Blue is the Warmest Color. Then I’ll go to that grungy French place next door. I’m psyched, Ma. I love you. See you tomorrow at Van Dyke’s. All my love to Barth. Hope I see him too.

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