Wednesday, January 8, 2014

the torrents of loneliness

by harold p sternhagen

part one of two

illustrated by konrad kraus and danny delacroix

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

randolph j marwell prided himself on being the loneliest man in the world.

he realized it sounded a little silly to go around proclaiming himself as such.

so he never did.

except when he got really drunk.

which he had been doing lately with increasing frequency.

he decided to make a sincere effort to straighten himself out.

randolph began patronizing a somewhat seedy nightclub called the purple parrot.

he had fallen under the spell of the featured singer, "the one and only" miss tess torrentina, a young woman whose voice, while serviceable enough, and years, though still short of what a gentleman like randolph j marwell would think of calling advanced, indicated that she had climbed about as high on the slippery pole of show business as she was likely to.

her voice was pleasant enough after a few martinis.

and randolph found that the darkened nightclub, as opposed to a relatively bright neighborhood bar, provided fewer temptations to make embarrassing boasts and confessions to strangers. such as proclaiming himself the loneliest man in the world.

the prices at the purple parrot were a little higher than at the joe's bars and o'hara's grills of the city, thereby reducing his chances of getting completely sloppy drunk.

and the bartenders could actually make a half decent martini.

so although it might be an exaggeration to say that randolph had "fallen under the spell" of the curvaceous miss torrentina - he hardly gave her a thought outside the confines of the club - he found himself returning again and again, if not exactly as a moth to a flame, perhaps as a mouse to a particularly warm corner of a kitchen.

time was of little concern to randolph, as he had not worked a day in his life after leaving high school, during which time his grandfather had forced him to work after school hours at the family department store in indiana, to "test his mettle" - or was it to "get his feet wet"? - grandfather and his phrases were thankfully receding from memory.

on reaching the age of eighteen randolph had come into a small income bequeathed by his great-grandmother, and had unhesitatingly abandoned the drudgery of work for the tedium of indolence.

so, on one particularly dreary evening during the "holiday season" - with the streets outside coated with malevolent ice and slush - randolph found himself seated two stools away from a fellow who was glancing his way and otherwise exhibiting the signs of wishing to share a confidence.

this was a more common occurrence during the holiday season. randolph accepted this as he accepted most things in life.

he noticed something else about the man two stools away - that he looked somewhat like himself. not that randolph spent a lot of time looking at himself in mirrors - none at all, really. but the man looked uncannily like the photo on the passport he had obtained a couple of years ago to make his only trip outside the united states, to buenos aires. or had it been paris?

in any case, he had taken the lesson from the experience that a bar was a bar, so what was the point of travel? he could be the loneliest man in the world in one place as well as another.

on cue, the fellow turned to him. "you know, i bet i know what you are thinking."

randolph nodded politely. "you don't say."

"you are thinking that i look like you. not exactly, to be sure, but close enough."

"well, they say that everyone in the world has a double." the conversation was already boring randolph.

"oh, it has nothing to do with being a double," the man who looked like randolph replied.


"no." now, predictably, the fellow moved one stool over to sit right beside randolph. he tapped the side of his head. "it has to do with this."


"mind power."

what else? randolph had heard about mind power from other people before, most often from his grandfather. the only thing randolph knew about mind power was that his own mind didn't have any power.

"it's the power of my mind," the man went on, "that makes you think i look like you. don't you believe me?"

"of course, why would i not believe you." randolph took a sip of his martini. behind them the door of the club opened briefly, letting in a blast of cold air.

"my name is gordon rappaport, by the way. as good a name as any, eh?"

"i am sure it is. especially for someone with mind power." randolph glanced at the small dimly lit clock above the head of the bartender, who was leaning back with his arms folded and looked as if he might have fallen asleep.

tess torrentina was due on the small stage in three minutes. the three piece band that backed her had already set up. the piano player plunked a few notes.

if miss torrentina was on time - and she usually was - surely he could tolerate this gasbag for three minutes.

"i'll get right to the point," said gordon rappaport, "i'd like to offer you a job."

"a job?" despite not taking the fellow seriously, randolph was horrified. "i'm afraid you are talking to the wrong person altogether. you must be mistaking me for someone else."

"not at all. let me explain. you see, i am from aldebaran. do you know where that is?"

"uh - somewhere in south america?"

"no, it is in what you call the constellation of taurus. not aldebaran itself of course, but its planets."

"you mean from outer space?"


"i've never been interested in outer space." randolph turned back to his martini.

"but look here, we've gone to a great deal of trouble - well, not really, but what you would call a great deal of trouble - to find the right person, and you seem to be just the chap we are looking for."

"i don't think so." tess torrentina was due in two minutes.

"we can make it worth your while. money is not a problem, so long as ostentation is not a problem."


"we wouldn't want you calling attention to yourself. but we don't see that as a problem with you. that's one reason we are making the offer."

"um - what exactly do you think you know about me?"

"everything. it's not a problem with us."

"i see. and what exactly is this - 'offer'"?

"ten thousand a year. to put in a few hours every week - well, maybe more than a few on occasion."

ten thousand a year! suddenly the light dawned on randolph, and he laughed. "let me guess - i will have to put up a few thousand of my own to start - just as a gesture of good faith."

for the first time gordon rappaport looked a little bewildered. "no, what on earth are you talking about? nothing like that. we will just pay you the ten thousand."

"as a starting salary?"

"i don't think i know what you mean. isn't the ten thousand enough?"

a smattering of applause erupted in the shadows of the club. the bartender opened his eyes and straightened up.

tess torrentina had appeared on the small stage.

"excuse me," said randolph. "we can continue this discussion later."

"of course. i have all the time in the world." gordon rappaport gestured to the bartender.

tess torrentina began to sing.

"summertime - and the living is easy."


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