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The Northern Line
The Northern Line
The Northern Line
eBook224 Seiten3 Stunden

The Northern Line

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A young man returns to his hometown to mourn the reasons he left. An abused spouse copes with a lifetime of bullying in identifying with the lead character from an independent film. A political prisoner is snatched from a firing squad to find himself exiled in an obscure land. A family flees the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, using magic as a tool to s

HerausgeberAtmosphere Press
Erscheinungsdatum15. März 2021
The Northern Line
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Mike Lee

I am currently working on my fourth Science Fiction Novel, titled, Slingshot. This future S.F. classic is full of action, adventure, romance, supprises, aliens, plot twists, and has a fantastic surprise ending. Slingshot is about two stepbrothers, who start out hating one another, but in order to save the entire Earth, they must learn to work together as part of a team. Together, they travel to the far reaches of the known universe. The book has lots of action, romance, adventure, aliens, plot twists, and a dynamic ending.I have a Bachelors's Degree in English and a Master's Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation and have a wife and a lovely daughter.I live in Fairfield, Ohio, have a wonderful wife and daughter.

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    The Northern Line - Mike Lee


    On this morning I am dressed in a European gray suit and tie, sliding into a placidness that I associate with waiting in a bus station, except the bus station is actually a window in my bedroom. It sits facing the opposing shore of the island of Absinto. The island lies several kilometers from Faustino, the second port city of Antanzia and my new home. Absinto is so named because of the fields of Artemisia the Spanish discovered on the then-uninhabited island during their initial explorations of the River Plate region further south. Late in the sixteenth century, the English established a presence on the island, building a fort and small settlement, remaining until Antanzian independence.

    Though in the relative safety of exile, I still wake with a sense of unease, of being off-axis. There are dreams. A cellmate before my sudden release from prison told me that dreams are the means through which the brain processes the pain of an unpleasant situation. I’ve had them nightly for months. Usually, these dreams involve a fragment of my trial.

    The judge was cold, gray-haired, and short. She wore a pair of steel-framed glasses perched prominently on her pinched nose, peering out from under her sodden bangs. She ruled consistently against us, often shouting our attorneys down. Going into court, we knew our verdicts were preordained, but had planned to be defiant, our voices speaking as one against the regime. Instead, at sentencing we could barely stand at our communal defendant’s table. I was so exhausted a guard struck me from behind to force me to rise.

    This morning, I sit at the window to stare across the channel, scanning the ruins of the English fort. I plan on taking the ferry and exploring the island, intending to find a new apartment or cottage, although I like my apartment with its harbor and island view.

    I prefer to live on an island.


    The ferry leaves the jetty, passing over the isthmus toward the island, leaving Faustino port in its wake. The cream building blocks and low glass towers of the city bask under the noonday sun. It is December, summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and Christmas is a week away. Friends from the old country have planned a gathering at an Indian restaurant in the old quarter, next to the Buenos Aries-style coffeehouse where they spend their idle hours discussing politics that no longer apply to them.

    I adjust my narrow black tie. No ascot today. I am on business and while the locals appreciate the eccentrics, a conservative appearance facilitates getting a lease.

    The loneliness of my dress is bothersome. I have a history of never fitting in. I would like to fit in. I tire of looking through the glass inside as I have from out my apartment window.

    As the ferry draws closer to the island shore, I decide it best to attend the holiday gathering, though I had never been much into Christmas, as it were. Gifts had their place and time in my life. Then, things changed, I went to jail. I was let out, and put on a plane feeling gratitude at the notion I was not taken to a cellar and shot. That is a gift unto itself—life.

    I want to meet someone at Christmas. I have been alone for a long time.

    I remember, though. It was during the height of midsummer. Karen and I were with friends, and while walking with them, we trailed behind.

    On that afternoon, Karen wore a light blue, striped sleeveless dress and red espadrille wedges, the straps tied tight around her ankles. It was high summer, and she wore Ray-Ban Wayfarers. She kept them on for the entire lunch. It may have been the light or how she was feeling.

    I recall Karen’s bobbed dark brunette hair, and how she quivered while she spoke. I would glance at her legs shaking under the café table while she asked questions about my career, interjecting revelations about her life that were at once understated and intriguing.

    She made references to her past. Karen came from a wealthy family. Had connections, went to private school and a top university in the Midwest. It was her voice that enthralled me. So elegantly quiet, but Karen did not whisper. The tenor was measured and calm. It matched her bearing. I felt like I was in a veranda in a mansion, not a sidewalk café in Lower Manhattan.

    On the way to the café, she asked, Do I sound all right to you? I’m having trouble with my left ear. I feel like I’m talking too loud.

    She raised her hand to the side of her head, cupping her ear under her dark strands.

    I wanted to say, You sound like the love of my life. Instead, I assured her she sounded fine.

    When I’m feeling lonely, I think about that afternoon. A lot of the women in Antanzia look and dress like Karen. The southern sun is so bright they all have to wear shades.


    The bus is comfortable and the journey brief. After being let off at the Fort Elizabeth stop, I join the gathering crowd for a tour of the ruins. As the line snakes up the narrow stairs to the main gate, a growing sense of unease comes over me. I remember imprisonment, caged in a cellblock for two years. I was given forty-five minutes a day in the yard for the first six months, then six months later a full hour, as a reward for good behavior. I spent that time avoiding everyone, which was easy, because they were avoiding me too. The only acknowledgement my fellow prisoners and I shared were knowing glances as we passed.

    I spent the time reading every book by Hermann Hesse. My favorite was Klein and Wagner. How I wanted to drown in the Adriatic was my overriding thought.

    As I climb the worn stone steps toward the gate, I think of my release. It came without warning; it was early in the morning when I was awakened, with a package containing my suit thrown on the bunk. Told by the guards to immediately get dressed.

    While I did as ordered, my cellmate remained silent, pretending to sleep. I understood his fear. I was afraid too; my initial impression, which remained with me as I was led to an aging school bus with a dozen others, was we were to be shot. My fellow passengers believed the same. All were silent during this journey, except for some muttering prayers.

    As we drove down the highway, I remembered lines from the final poems of the Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti, executed during World War II: I whispered to myself: just lie quietly. Patience now flowers into death. I prepared myself to do both when the bus stopped at a crumbling abandoned gas station on the side of an equally decrepit two-lane blacktop.

    We were led out and told to line up in front of the wall. I saw there were no soldiers—only two guards and their captain, looking bored in their shabby uniforms. The captain carried a satchel slung over his shoulder. As he passed down the line, he called out our names from a list in his hand. When called, he reached into the bag and handed us an envelope, ordering us not to open them. I put mine into my jacket, thinking of Radnoti, whose final poems were discovered in his overcoat when his body was recovered from a mass grave.

    When the guard was finished, he told us to wait for another bus. They stayed with us, lazily pointing their guns to the ground until the transportation arrived. Once onboard the second bus, we began opening our envelopes. Inside were several hundred dollars, letters of transit, individualized plane tickets and a final sheet neatly folded and separate. It was a notice of expulsion, which stripped us of our citizenship, attached to an international refugee passport issued by the United Nations.

    We remained silent for a while, none of knowing what to say. Then we began to speak, and never ceased during the long drive to the airport.


    As I enter the gate of Fort Elizabeth, I reach into my pocket and stare at the photograph, taken when I entered prison. The visa was good for six months and guaranteed safe passage to any country that allowed my entry. Under Anatanzian law, I was given permanent residency, even if convicted of a felony.

    I pass through the gate and tour the grounds, the smell of lilacs from the perfume of the woman in front of me filling the air.

    I stay close to the woman as my group tours behind a young guide. The others in my group are a mix of Argentine, Uruguayan and Brazilian, but the guide addresses us in English. Since entering this country, I have taken Portuguese online classes, because I still struggle with the newspapers. My boss tests me at work. Fortunately, the tour group is fluent in English, especially the lilac lady, who I am attracted to. I am not ready to speak to her, unfortunately.

    After the tour, several of us enter a café situated in the main tower. I order a beer and sit near the window, watching the ocean below. I occasionally look over at a table where the woman in the lilac perfume sits. She is, perhaps, only slightly younger than me. Tan, with dark hair—almost raven—dark eyes, and wearing a blue floral sundress. She is talking to a man and a woman from the tour. I pick up enough from the conversation that they are her clients. She is a real estate attorney from São Paulo and she is here to finalize papers with this couple for second home on the island. I discover she travels a lot, though not to my country anymore. I like her laugh, and the way her long fingers hold her wine glass.

    I become overwhelmed by the sound of the breakers crashing over the rocks below. I cannot listen. I begin to feel claustrophobic and head out to the bus stand. The appointment with my potential landlord is at a duplex nearby and I do not want to be late.

    As I leave, I dare to look at her. Our eyes meet in acknowledgment. I will take that with me as I continue on my way.

    The duplex faces the small valley and village below, built in the style of an English country house with my section above the other. My finances were dramatically improved by a grant from the Refugee Bureau, and I have work copy editing for one of the English language online news services. I can afford to live here and work from home, taking the ferry when needed.

    I can smell the Artemisia bushes outside, a bitter and strong scent, but also note the roses from the garden my potential neighbors have planted below. The house is large, a living room with a slate floor and stucco walls painted white. The kitchen is modern, all glass and steel. There’s a separate room for a study.

    The landlord is Gonzalo Howard, a well-known Antanzian journalist, and we spend most of our time discussing writers we like. I sign the papers and place a deposit, celebrating the transaction with Argentine merlot. He clearly expected a deal.

    I mention the Artemisia and roses, opining on the balance of the strong and the soft. He agrees, adding that as a refugee he assumes I know its appeal. I pause, then raise another toast. Afterward, I take the bus to the ferry. Tomorrow is Sunday.


    After landfall, I walk into the café to see if my friends are there. I intend to tell them I’m moving after the New Year, and ask if anyone can help, but nobody is here yet. It’s still the afternoon. Many of my friends work late. I rise to go to the bookshelf to find a book to pass the time.

    I choose a translation of Julien Gracq’s A Dark Stranger and begin to read with an American coffee and shot of Strega. On the wall above me the pennants of futbol teams from four South American nations, some going back to the 1960s, are tacked neatly to the dark wood in consecutive rows. Across from me is a Mucha print I like: the season of summer. I feel less alone and more in my place, now.

    While I’m reading the second chapter, lilacs suddenly permeate the air, the scent cutting through the strong coffees and stale cigarettes. I look up from my novel to see the raven-haired Brazilian attorney standing in the middle of the café. She sees me, pauses, her head tilting toward me, expressing recognition. We stare, sharing this moment in which we both wonder what to do next.



    When Jennifer bent to her left to catch the falling leaf, her wool navy plaid skirt touched the ground, black Madden flats sliding on the wet sidewalk blanketed with autumn’s glory. The first freeze of the season had yet to arrive, expected by nightfall, so newly purchased tights were stuffed in her bag, ready to slide on before leaving work. Jennifer snapped the leaf between thumb and forefinger, and slid on her feet. The flats were somewhat new, the gold heels untarnished, but they were beginning to wear at the edges. Jennifer had had the skirt for decades, and pulled it out of a plastic bag last Saturday and took it to the dry cleaners.

    She had worn it when she was younger, different time and all that, and put it away after college. Wrapped in plastic, zipped up with other clothes she had decided to retain or forgot to bring to Goodwill. It seemed serendipitous when she pulled down the bag and went through them, finding the skirt between Pavement and Helmet T-shirts.

    As she rubbed her fingers over the dark fabric, Jennifer felt comforting warmth. There were happy memories associated with this skirt; again, different times, and mistakes yet unmade. Not necessarily an innocent time, but, for Jennifer, those days were in an age of hopefulness. When you were young, yes, this was generally so for those who came to the world in a bubble, and remained so. Good times all until 9/11, it seemed, and with that the threads began to unravel.

    When Jennifer spread out the skirt on her bed, she remembered those times. Days of living in bubbles on isolated archipelagoes, a double layer of protective denial, and false triumphalism regarding the outside world. She knew better, of course, she was not stupid, but she followed along with the flow, wanting to believe reality was otherwise.

    On one Tuesday, now long ago, she looked to the sky and saw that otherwise had come to her in a billowing cloud of flame. She ran, escaped. Those behind her did not, those smoking bodies on the sidewalk and on the pavement of Vesey Street. Jennifer turned to see them as metal clanged and crashed around her. Yes, this real world had finally invited itself in and the bubble burst, forever. Papers fluttered. Instinctively, Jennifer grabbed one and ran with it in her hand. When she finally looked at the paper upon reaching the corner by St. Peter’s Church, she saw it was a mechanical for a wedding invitation. Jennifer folded the paper into her purse, before turning to watch the fire in the upper floors of the North Tower with the gathering crowd of onlookers. She had made it halfway up the block toward Broadway when the second plane sliced through the South Tower. More than a decade later, Jennifer still could not recall the sound, other than when the first plane struck, it sounded like a truck running over heavy metal plates. Then she looked up.


    The anguish of living: Jennifer remembered the words while reading a Wikipedia entry on an obscure Columbian magic realist author who committed suicide at 26. Reading Wikipedia entries while sleepless at night was among a myriad of hobbies she practiced as she came upon this autumn November afternoon. The wind swirled around her as she held the fallen oak leaf to her breast, clutching the shoulder strap of her bag tightly as she walked, head down, toward the corner across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    After 9/11, art became her refuge, and over the years Jennifer spent a lot of time in museums, mainly at the Met, but also at MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Jewish Museum, Brooklyn and,

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