Clarissa was all atwitter. With her long, loosely curled, blond hair, now graying at the temples, fluttering behind her long face with its peaked nose and blue-gray eyes, she slipped her long slender hands around the trolley as she adjusted its settings with her delicate fingers. Packing her bags for Balaton in Hungary, she knew she must have forgotten something, so she checked and rechecked all of her clothes in her modern luggage bag complete with the attached packaged trolley. She knew she needed to prepare for all seasons as the weather in Bangkok, Thailand; Vienna, Austria; Bucharest, Romania; and Budapest, Hungary, where she and Jack were stopping on their way to the lake country of Balaton in western Hungary, was likely to be extremely variable. It was indeed spring, but spring in Taipei, Taiwan, where she lived, was one of the three out of four warm seasons in the year, the winter lasting no longer than six weeks or so and almost never dipping into the single digits centigrade. But Jack, her devoted friend, Confessor, Jesuit Priest and fellow poet told her that the springs in Eastern Europe where they were going for the Poetry Conference and where she would be presenting her poems, receiving her published book of poetry, and meeting internationally famous poets from all over the world, could still be very cool by Taiwan standards.
Clarissa had lived in Taiwan now for over thirty years, and the cold, frost-bitten winters other native Indiana were no more than a half-forgotten memory. She was afraid she would never be able to tolerate such weather again and feared for her comfort in cold climates of Romania and Hungary. But with a cheerful mien, she carried on, determined to brave whatever weather she would meet.
She had come to Taiwan with Roger Carleton when he had been stationed here and posted to Vietnam so many years before, and when he had gone missing over Cambodia in ’72, she had stayed on, bolstered by the love, affection, and care of friends like Arthur Pennington, Roger’s air force mate and closest buddy, and Father Jack Mulroney, with whom she was now going to travel to Hungary to present the love poems she had written to her now ex-husband, Ahmed (An-men, Itsu) Wang (Matsui).
It had taken her almost fifteen years to get over the death of Roger, her high school sweetheart and college classmate at the University of Indiana, who had signed up for Vietnam, and whom she had married as soon as he had graduated and they were married. It had been so long now since he died—over thirty years. She wondered if she saw him reappear, on the street, or by the river on a bridge if she would even recognize him. His flaxen blond hair would have turned grey or white by now and his face would undoubtedly have shown the effects of time with wrinkles. But what were the chances of ever seeing him alive again—he was gone forever. Only maybe in the next world, in the better world promised by Father Jack would they now ever meet again.
In those days, during the Vietnam War, stationed in Taipei where Roger and Clarissa enjoyed the luxuries of overseas Americans, or ex-pats and with all the benefits of military privileges, Roger would fly to Saigon periodically where he would go on special bombing missions to Vietnam and Cambodia. At the time Roger was frying over Cambodia on his fateful mission, Clarissa was enjoying herself at the Officer’s Club on Central Mountain Road, drinking her usual afternoon gin and tonic with Arthur Pennington, Roger’s comrade in battle and her and Roger’s most faithful friend and Arthur’s now ex-wife, Irene. The next morning when Clarissa received the telegram, she remembered where she had been and what she had been doing at the very moment when Roger must have gone missing. presumably shot down over the green hills and rice paddies of the tiny, threatened South East Asian country.
For years, of course, Clarissa had hoped that Roger was MIA and was a POW in some south east Asian Communist prison, with the hope of coming back to her someday. Even after she received the telegram from the President, who expressed his condolences and congratulated her on Roger’s on his bravery and sacrifice, Clarissa did not give up hope.
Only the long, ensuing empty years of silence eventually gave credence to the President’s telegram.
In the meantime, Clarissa had the constant and loving company of Arthur, Arthur, who had tried to seduce her even when Roger was still alive, and who, on hearing of Roger’s loss, offered, to divorce Irene and marry her. When Clarissa turned down his offer, he divorced Irene anyhow, continuing to pledge his unheeded troth to Clarissa. Eventually, Arthur stopped trying to get Clarissa to many him, and while he never drifted away from her really, his pledges of ardent love turned into a faithful friendship and lasting companionship.
Unbeknownst to Clarissa, of course, Arthur, frustrated not only by Clarissa’s rejection, but also by a whole history of dysfunctional sexual relations with women of his own class, had turned to the abundant prostitutes of the town to satisfy his sexual cravings, and keeping his sexual life properly and totally separate from his social life, Arthur remained Clarissa’s most lasting and trusted friend—with the exception of Father Jack Mulroney with whom Clarissa was taking this momentous trip to eastern Europe.
Clarissa had met Father Jack when Roger was still alive, and Roger, Clarissa, and Father Jack would often spend long evenings in conversation, meditation, or prayer, as the spirit moved them, Roger and Clarissa being of devout Catholic backgrounds. When Roger went missing, Father Jack was there by Clarissa’s side to offer prayer- and a lifetime of solace and consolation.
It had been a difficult time for Clarissa, but Arthur and Jack had been there for her and she had decided to stay on in Taiwan. She had no close relatives still alive back in the States save for an elder married sister with whom she sporadically corresponded. She had Roger’s military pension which allowed her to live more than comfortably on the friendly island, and as long as the military were in Taiwan—which was until 1979—Clarissa had full access to military concessions and clubs.
As the years passed, Clarissa started having trouble with her back, so she went to the local hospital. Taipei City Hospital, for treatment where came under the care of one of the young, brilliant doctors at the hospital. That was Ahmed (An-men. Itsu) Wang (Matsui) and that changed her life forever. Her encounter with Ahmed transported her into a third dimensional world of sexual and spiritual ecstasy which made all the rest other past and present life seem trivial and almost meaningless. (Although Ahmed’s real name was An-men, meaning “Peace of the World”, since Clarissa could never pronounce it correctly, she changed it in her own mind to the more romantically sounding Arabic, “Ahmed”.) Although the memory of Roger was not lessened by her new-found love for Ahmed, she realized that the even the sexual love that she and Roger had had lacked the heightened dimensions that her still only Platonic love for Ahmed now gave her.
With his long lean frame, hawk-like features and jet black hair that stood in a cox-comb on his angular face, Ahmed did not look like an ordinary Chinese and indeed he was not. His father was a Japanese, the famous--or infamous--Hiro Matsui, commandant of the island during the Second World, who had taken a Taiwanese concubine, Clouds and Moon and who had bore him Ahmed, whom Hiro had named Itsu.
On the defeat of Japan, forbidden to commit seppuku along with the majority of the men under his command on Taiwan because of his value to the Zaibhatsu in rebuilding Japan to its former glory, Hiro returned to Japan, was tried for war crimes and pardoned by MacArthur. Hiro had vowed never to see Clouds and Moon again as she belonged to the land of the living, and in his mind, he festered somewhere between the land of the living and the land of the dead, the land of the dead being where he most properly belonged, he thought, out of the shame he endured for having lost the war.
However, as hard as he tried, Hiro was unable to renounce his son, Itsu (Ahmed), and Hiro had had him brought to Japan after he had been reinstated after the American evacuation of Japan, so that Itsu (Ahmed) could be educated in Japanese high schools and the University of Tokyo, where Itsu, much to his father’s distress, insisted on studying medicine. Upon graduation, Itsu had asked permission from his father to return to Taiwan to intern, permission reluctantly granted by Hiro. It was as a resident at Taipei City Hospital that Ahmed had first treated Clarissa.
Apparently, however, Ahmed did not easily recognize that he was as attracted to Clarissa as she was to him, and only when, Clarissa out of frustrated desperation, had an affair with a transient American CIA agent, Nathan Lovencraft, did Ahmed declare his love for Clarissa and ask her to marry him.
At first, the marriage had gone on for many months and Ahmed had still not consummated it, holding on to esoteric Buddhist beliefs that the carnal love between man and woman was impure (and a casual homosexual liason with his junior colleague at the hospital, Wei-Chun). Lovencraft came back to Taiwan and seduced Clarissa again, and having these sessions taped, as he had during Clarissa and Lovencraft’s first affair, Ahmed finally—out of desperation and in a peak of torrid jealousy—decided to consummate his marriage with Clarissa.
In spite of such consummation, Clarissa—frustrated with the gap in the heights of her Platonic love for Ahmed and the seemingly pedestrian nature of his sexual prowess—continued her affair with Lovencraft, ostensibly to teach Ahmed lessons of love-making, and Ahmed, having found this out through the malicious offices of clarissa’s disloyal maidservant, Meimei, asked clarissa for a divorce and left to take up a medical fellowship in Texas.
Distressed beyond words by Ahmed’s actions, Clarissa, with the assistance of Jack-who showed her pictures of the faithless Lovencraft in flagrante delicto with die prostitutes Rita Chu and Cherry Ma that Arthur had had taped to discourage Clarissa’s affair with Lovencraft--discontinued her affair with Lovencraft.
On the occasion of the wedding of Ahmed’s beloved younger sister Precious Flower’s marriage to Ahmed’s former homosexual lover, Wei-Chun, when Ahmed returned to Taiwan from Texas, Ahmed resumed his sexual relationship with Clarissa, determining to cancel his divorce and remarry her, and the pair was reunited in joy and ecstasy.
Despite the twists and turns of the torturous love affair between Clarissa and Ahmed, larger forces were at work that would disrupt the happy consummation of their love. A lobby group close to the new administration in Washington, the PHALAXX, had determined to forge the close alliance between Japan, Taiwan, and the United States into an axis to counter the weight of a rising, belligerent, and nationalist mainland China. A lobby group close to the old administration and friends with opponents of the new administration, CENTURION, was determined to foil PHALANX’S plans and implement the long longed-for reunification of mainland China and Taiwan.
While Lovencraft was an agent of CENTURION, Hiro was the main lynchpin in the Japan-Taiwan-U.S. axis that PHALANX was counting on. However, unwittingly, Ahmed’s old live-in, homosexual lover, close friend and soon to be brother-in-law, Wei-Chun was working for CENTURION, believing all the time that the chief control of CENTURION in Taiwan, a renegade Catholic Brother, Ludwig von Bessher, was working for the Taiwan Independence Movement, an instrumental group in PHALANX’S plans, not CENTURION’S plans.
As long as Ahmed was on Taiwan and in the clutches of Wei-Chun, even if only as a friend and no longer as a homosexual lover, Hiro was afraid of endangering hi- son by taking an active role in the new axis. Desperate attempts were made by PHALANX to ensure Hiro’s participation their axis. PHALANX attempted to remove Ahmed from Taiwan via a Medical fellowship in Texas, and to rosier love affairs with his beloved Clarissa by agents of PHALANX, etc., but all attempts had all failed. Finally, the point man of PHALANX in East Asia, one Earl Jenkins, a World War II veteran who had known Hiro in MacArthur’s time, persuaded Hiro to abscond Ahmed to Japan and force (by Confucian persuasion) him to marry a Japanese girl. The obedient Oriental son, Ahmed, heartbroken, complied, and Clarissa was left without a husband and a lover, her only mementos of her ardent and passionate love, the love poetry she had mitten to Ahmed over the several years that she had known him.
Father Jack, who was also a poet, albeit a religious one, having seen Clarissa’s poetry and having admired it greatly, showed it to a famous poetry publishing company, who offered to publish it. She was subsequently invited to an International Poetry Conference to be held this spring in Balaton, in the lake district of western Hungary.
After Ahmed left Clarissa to return to Japan, and Clarissa, in her despondency, renewed her love affair with Sam Angleton, one of PHALANX’S agents in Taiwan, put forth a proposal of marriage to her, but Clarissa decided she had had enough of shallow relationships and told Jack, she would, after all, accompany him to the poetry conference in Balaton. Alone now, with only a dedicated and celibate priest for a cosort, Clarissa, an accomplished poetess due to her lost love for Ahmed, was now preparing to leave Taiwan and depart for parts heretofore unknown to her.
Thus, Clarissa tried to arrange her clothes in stacks in the suitcase according to weather: linens for spring weather, cottons for summer and wools and worsted for wintry weathers. Shoes: casual, dressy, sports. Handbags: casual, dressy, backpack. Gloves: wintery, dressy. Shorts, slacks, trousers, scarfs, hats, wraps. In her canvas carry-on, which she would sling over her shoulder was her poetry collection, in loose-leaf, convenient for bed-time reading. In her carry-on, she slipped some of the pearl jewelry Ahmed had given her over the years, as well as some gold necklaces Roger had given her while he was still alive.
Ah-mu, Clarissa’s trusted maidservant, who was downstairs and fussing in the kitchen, called Clarissa:
“Missey Lissey, you finish yet? Mr. Arthur come here soon pick you up. If you not ready, you miss your plane...”
“I think I’m just about ready, Ah-mu,” Clarissa said as she rolled her large suitcase down the stairs on its trolley to the living room.
“Missey Lissey, you let me get suitcase! Why you carry yourself? You must call Ah-mu, Ah-mu come to help you.”
“It’s all right, Ah-mu. I got it. It’s very easy with the attached trolley. Besides I’ll be wheeling this thing all over Europe by myself for the next month. So I had better get into practice...”
“Missey Lissey no wheel suitcase herself. Missey Lissey have bad back, bad leg. Missey Lissey get Father Jack wheel for her...”
“No, that’s all right, Ah-mu. Father Jack has his own suitcase to carry. He can’t carry two. He’s not that strong. Besides, I can wheel this. It will be no strain on my back...”
“Missey Lissey must take care. Ah-mu no want Missey Lissey get sick in hospital in strange country. Strange country no good hospital likey Taiwan. Ah-mu no want never see Missey Lissey again,” Ah-mu lamented as she dabbed her eyes.
“Don’t worn’. Ah-mu, don’t worry. I’m coming back. I won’t be sick. I am only going to be a month, and I will be seeing beautiful and strange places. It will help me write more poetry...”
“Many beautiful places on Taiwan, Missey Lissey no see. Must go Hwa-Lien, Taitung, Kaohsuing, Kenting. Ah-mu’s grandson take Ah-mu there every Chinese New Year for holiday. Vely beautiful. Missey Lissey no need go foleign countries to see beautiful flowers and tlees. Foleign countlies no likey Chinese. Ah-mu not want go...”
“Don’t worry about me, Ah-mu. I’m not Chinese, so I don’t have to worry about foreign countries not liking me. Besides, I think that’s nonsense. Everybody likes Chinese. Chinese go everywhere in the world now to travel. It’s not like before. Your own daughter just came back from California, didn’t she?”
Ah-mu nodded grudgingly.
“And she liked it too, didn’t she? Nobody’s prejudiced against Chinese anymore. It’s not like before. Certainly, not in America...”
Ah-mu again nodded grudgingly. “But Missey Lissey vely happy Taiwan. I don’t know why Missey Lissey want go Eulope...Vely dangerous in Eulope. Especially you go Hungary. My grandson tell me Hungary have vampiles...”
Clarissa laughed and gave Ah-mu a big hug. She could see Ah-mu was crying.
“Don’t worry, Ah-mu, I’ll be back in a month, as good as new, better. I really need to get away after Ahmed and his fairer taking him away from me like that and all that’s been happening to me here, what with Sam and all. I need something to make me forget my terrible loss and all the goings on in Taipei...”
Just then, the phone rang. Clarissa answered it. It was Wei-Chun.
“Clarissa, I was hoping to reach you before you left.”
“Well, you almost didn’t make it, Wei-Chun. I’m leaving any minute now. I’m just waiting for Arthur to come and pick me up...”
“Well, take good care of yourself while you’re gone. Try not to carry anything to heavy or walk too long distances. You don’t want to undo all the good work we have done in physical therapy over the last months...″
“Yes. I’ll be careful. Also, could you do me a favor?”
“Could you look in on the house every once in a while. Ah-mu will be staying here during the week, just to look after things, so if you could stop by on the weekends.. .Just in case somebody tries to break in...You never know these days...”
“Of course I will do that. I will stop by every weekend. When are you returning?”
“In about a month, if everything goes as planned...”
“And how about the poetry?”
“Oh, ‘Oriental Odyssey’—that’s what is called. I should receive the published book when I get to Balaton...”
“Well, bring me back a copy, as a matter of fact a couple of copies...I want to pass them around...”
“I will do that, but you should be able to get the book in the bookstores here eventually. The publisher says he has worldwide distribution. Anyhow, I will make sure some of the books get to Taiwan...”
Just then, the doorbell rang.
“Oh, Wei-Chun, I’m sorry. I have to go. My ride—Arthur is here—my plane leaves in two hours and I have to get there in plenty of time...”
“Where are you flying to again?”
“Bangkok, and then Vienna...I must go, sorry…”
“Don’t forget to do your exercises every night...”
“All right. Thanks. And by the way, how’s ‘Precious Flower’?”
“She’s expecting in six months. We’re so happy...′
“Yes, I’m sure you are. Give her my love...”
“Bye, bye, bon voyage... See you when you get back...”
“Right...and thanks, Wei-Chun...”
Clarissa hung up the phone and went to answer the door, but Ah-mu had gotten there first. Arthur was at the door, his broad Irish smile and graying blond hair combed back over his squarish head, greeting her.
“Well, Clarissa, you’re finally going on a trip. I thought nothing could ever get you off this island...”
“No, I didn’t think it could either. But I think it is about time that I did it. I need a break, a change, especially after all that awful business with Ahmed...”
“Best thing that ever happened to you, if you ask me... But what about Sam and you? I thought you two were a going concern again...”
“Well, I just don’t know, Arthur. It’s all too soon after my breakup with Ahmed. I know you never liked Ahmed, but you know how much he meant to me. He was like a precious jewel to me...”
“Bah, humbug! Anyhow, I am glad you are getting out of here now. Maybe you will meet some tall, dark, handsome Hungarian Prince when you go over there...”
Clarissa laughed. “I don’t think so, but I suppose while there’s life, there’s hope. Anyhow, that’s not why I am going to Balaton. It’s for my poetry. I will be giving a recitation, and getting a copy of my published book...”
“Yes, you told me. I think that’s very nice. Everyone should have a hobby, and if poetry is what tweaks you, all the better...Anyhow, I think we had better get going or you might miss your plane... Jack meeting you at the airport?”
“Yes, he said he’d be there at two. We fly off at four thirty and get into Bangkok at about eight...
“Okay. That sounds good,” Arthur said. Then, seeing Clarissa’s luggage, he exclaimed,
“Wow, that’s your bag! That’s kind of heavy for a little girl like you. You sure you will be able to lug that all around the world with you...?”
“Well, it’s got a trolley attached to it, so I can roll it, and I am sure I will be able to get porters wherever I go...”
“Well, you are going to Thailand, Austria, Romania and Hungary. You should be able to get some help of that kind in those countries. You have your money changed to Thai Bhat and Euros or did you plan to do it at the airport?”
“No, I changed a few thousand US$ into Euros. I think that should get me through. I understand cost of living in Thailand, Romania and Hungary is very low so I should be able to manage. Austria will be a bit more expensive, but still cheaper than Taiwan I think, and the Poetry Conference is paying for the hotel in Balaton. Also, I have two credit cards...”
“As long as you don’t get robbed you should be O.K., so hang on to your purse really tight, and by the way, do you have a money belt?”
“No, I don’t...”
“I brought you one. You put it on under your shirt around your waist. Keep your Euros and your credit cards in there...”
“O.K. and thanks Arthur. Also, could you look in on the house during the week while I’m gone. Ah-mu will be here most of the week and Wei-Chun said he will look in on the weekends, but you know how busy he is...”
“Of course, I will, Clarissa. Well, let’s get going. You are going to be late if we don’t start now. The traffic to the Chiang Kai Chek Airport is always very heavy this time of the day, and it is Friday to boot, so all the people will be going home from work, congesting the highways...”
“I’m ready,” Clarissa said as she gave the tearful Ah-mu one last hug and started to wheel her luggage out the door. Arthur, of course, as soon as he saw her struggling with the luggage usurped it from her and easily wheeled the large suitcase out of the door and over the stoop to his waiting BMW.
“I understand you are meeting Father Jack at the Terminal...”
“Yes, I am. “We are leaving from Terminal 2, at least that is what the travel agent told me...”
“Are you sure it is Terminal 2?” Arthur asked as he ushered Clarissa into the front seat of his car.
“That’s what she said the last time I talked to her. I told Father Jack this morning and he said he would meet me at the airport and he said he would meet there at two...”
“Well, I hope he got it right. There are two Terminals at the Taipei Airport and Both serve international flights. Very confusing and Jack is getting a little old, you know. A little absent minded...”
“Oh, no, Jack could never forget the time he was departing. He knows I need him to accompany me to Hungary, and we have whole trip planned, a quick stop in Bangkok, a plane ride from Vienna to Bucharest, a bus ride from Bucharest to Budapest and from there a bus or train, or if necessary, a taxi, to Balaton...”
“Well, you two first have to get on the plane in Taipei and find your way to Bangkok. All trips to Vienna through Taipei have to first stop in Bangkok. Do you plan to stay overnight in Bangkok?” Arthur asked as he closed the doors of the car and started the engine.
“No, we have no plans to stop over in Bangkok. The flight is direct to Vienna, three hours to Bangkok and thirteen or fourteen hours from there to Vienna. But we really haven’t decided for sure yet. We will decide on the plane. We might decide to stop over for a look in the Thai Kingdom. That’s why I changed some money to Thai Bhat...”
“Sounds like a taxing trip to me,” Arthur said. “Are you sure you want to do this, Clarissa? Such a long trip can’t be good for your osteoporosis and other spinal ailments...”
“I just have to get out of Taipei for a while, Arthur. After my last loss of Ahmed, I just can’t bear to stay here any longer, and I don’t want to return to the States. I really love living in Taipei, but I do need to get away, a change of scenery, meet some new people...”
“You could always go back to the States for a short trip... Say, Hawaii or San Francisco... Why in heaven’s name do you want to go to such godforsaken places as Romania and Hungary?”
“It’s the Poetry Conference, Arthur. I have been invited to give a recitation of my poems and to receive a published copy of my collected poems. How can I refuse? This is a personal and professional accomplishment, finally something that I have managed to do on my own and which is enduring. How could I turn it down?”
“I don’t know, but I think a Poetry Conference—nice as it sounds—is a little esoteric, off-the-wall, if you like, for a lady of your stature, Clarissa...”
“Well, what would you have me do with my time? Crocheting? Knitting? Getting a job in a business? As a secretary? Go back to school and study management? I mean, what are the options for a Vietnam War widow, after all, well over forty, even fifty, for all that...?”
“Yes, well, you have a point, but your idea of going back to school and studying something practical like management is not a bad idea, you know... I might even be able to fit you in somewhere in the conglomerate, even if you didn’t go back to school...say, as a secretary...”
“Oh, Arthur, you can’t be serious... That would be so demeaning. Why should I go back to work and type for some broken down executive-present company excluded of course-when I can type my oral creative work, my poetry, and get it published to boot?” Clarissa answered, rather peeved as Arthur worked his way through the city streets of Northern Taipei, along the well-appointed boulevards with their stately palm trees, towards the freeway that led to the airport.
“Well, I suppose there is no use bickering about this now. You have decided to go and you don’t want to work in business. At least that is what you have made up your mind about. Not that you need a job, not with your generous Air Force Pension and the ample settlement that oaf Ahmed left you with, along with the house...”
“Well, that’s right, Arthur. There is no point in discussing this any further. My mind is made up. Without Ahmed in my life, I rail devote myself to writing poetry, mostly poetry about him...”
“What about Sam? Have you forgotten about him? Isn’t he a part of your life as well? Your future? You certainly have no future with Ahmed...”
“I’m still thinking about Sam, Arthur. I haven’t written him out of my life. I am very fond of him, but I don’t know if I can love him with the passion I had for Ahmed...”
“Ahmed, Ahmed, Ahmed... My dear Clarissa, the man is married and is soon to be a father—and for the second time—as I understand it. He lives in Tokyo now and he rail never come back to Taipei, never come back to you. You must face reality, and take the good things that are yearning to come your way, like Sam, instead of longing for what is eternally lost to you, like Ahmed...”
Clarissa, peeved at Arthur’s brashness, sat silently in the car and didn’t answer him. She knew Arthur was only trying to protect her and take care of her, but she realized that, at the end of the day, compared to Ahmed, Arthur was a lout, insensitive and rough. He could never understand the delicacy of the sentiments which were the substance of a man like Ahmed or the delicacy of the sentiments he had aroused in her and which was the substance of the poetic art his love had bequeathed her. It was thus not that she wasn’t very fond of Sam and hadn’t enjoyed their passionate love-making, but Clarissa felt that the feelings that Sam aroused in her were of a carnal nature rather than the ethereal feelings that Ahmed aroused in her. The same had been true of her benighted relationship with Nathan Lovencraft. True, he had taught her all the mechanisms of sexual satisfaction and she had been prepared to pass these mechanisms on to Ahmed when the chance arose, which it did, however briefly before his father had stolen him away from her like the evil king in the castle— but it was not sexual mechanisms that determined her love for Ahmed, nor was it these same sexual mechanisms that could have helped her overcome her distaste and distain for Lovencraft once she had been fully privy to his gross infidelity with the prostitute Rita Chu and his treachery. No, she would have to admit, in spite of it all, that Ahmed’s first injunction to her, that their love was pure, a pure karmic union, was valid. She had dismissed this injunction as idiosyncratic Buddhism on his part when he first proclaimed it and had chased after what seemed to be the greener fields of Nathan Lovencraft’s standard, meat and potatoes love-making. Clarissa had lived to rue that rash dismissal.
Arthur, noting that Clarissa was not answering him, realized that perhaps he had spoken out of turn. He had long ago learned that he could not dictate the course of Clarissa’s feelings and that there were things about her relationship with Ahmed that simply eluded him. At any rate, he thought, thank God it is over and over it was, finally and irrevocably, with Ahmed back in Tokyo at his father’s side and with a new Japanese bride and a second child on the way. The most productive path for Arthur to take with his future dealings with Clarissa was to encourage her to look beyond the--sic—mistakes of the past and try to find a new life for herself, hopefully with a good red-blooded, available, American man, like Sam Angleton, for example. Arthur knew that Clarissa had slept with Angleton, twice at least, because Angleton had told him along with Billy Bob and Claridge about it. And he had said that the experience had been perfectly satisfactory for both parties and that he expected the relationship to continue, to flower and blossom, perhaps, hopefully, into a full marital commitment, upon Clarissa’s return from her ill-advised trip to Hungary.
Unknown of course to Arthur, and of course unknown to Clarissa, Clarissa’s tryst with Angleton had been taped and videoed by Billy Bob, who had witnessed it along with Tom Claridge and had sent it back to PHALANX in Washington for further evaluation and vetting. The all-around consensus from the “Sex Board” had been that Clarissa and Sam Angleton were a sexually well-matched couple, and with their other hosts of compatibilities, both intellectual and emotional, the relationship bore great hopes and expectations for an eventual marital bonding.
“Sam is really going to miss you when you’re gone, Clarissa,” Arthur said, hoping to turn the conversation to a more amenable and productive track.
“Yes, I am sure he will, and I will miss him too,” said Clarissa with complete honesty. “But I am glad I am going away. My trip abroad will give me a chance to clear the air, perhaps clear some of the cobwebs out of my mind. Then perhaps I will be better equipped to judge the merits of my relationship with Sam more accurately.” Clarissa said, not yielding an inch.
Rather than continuing to argue with Clarissa on topic upon which they had, apparently, not even a little consensus, Arthur changed the subject altogether, “Are you sure Jack knows what Terminal to come to. Clarissa?”
“I already told you. I told him Terminal 2.”
“But he does tend to get a little foggy minded. Did you call him before you left the house just to remind him?”
“No, I was in such a hurry, I forgot. But I am sure he will be there. He knows I would be scared out of my mind to go to Western Hungary all by myself, to a town that I had never heard of before. Have you heard of Balaton yourself, Arthur?”
“Never. But then I don’t hang out with the poetry literati like you and Jack, Clarissa. I’m sure it’s famous to people already in the know. Jack wouldn’t steer you wrong on that one...”
“Well, I’m sure you’re right, Arthur. As a matter of fact I can call Jack on my cell phone. If he hasn’t left the Church dormitory yet, I might be able to reach him...”
Clarissa reached into her leather handbag and pulled out her cell phone and dialed Jack’s land phone number. But there was no answer.
“There’s no answer, Arthur. He must have left already...I’m afraid I won’t be able to reach him in that case as Jack doesn’t have a cell phone...”
“Well, who’s taking him to the airport?”
“A parishioner. I didn’t get his name...”
“Well, I guess that settles that...,” Arthur said grimly.
The traffic suddenly stopped on the freeway and
Arthur threw on his brakes. There was a terrible screech. As far ahead as could be seen, cars were piled up at a full stop, going nowhere. Arthur cursed, opened the door by the driver’s seat and leaned out. Finally, seeing other drivers getting out of their cars. Arthur got out of his car and walked up to the driver of the next car who was pacing on the highway, his wife and four children anxiously fussing in the back of the car. Arthur came back to the car, opened the door, sat down and closed the door again.
“Apparently there’s been an accident up ahead. A car has stalled. I don’t know how long it will take to get the police to come and tow the car away,” Arthur said glumly.
But Clarissa was busy on the phone. She had just called the travel agent to check the Terminal again.
“But you told me Terminal 2,” Clarissa said anxiously.
“Now you tell me its Terminal i...What am I supposed to do? I am stalled in traffic and Father Mulroney is headed for Terminal 2...”
“It takes about half an hour to travel from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1,” the travel agent said apologetically.
“Father Mulroney could miss the flight...”
“We will leave a message at the check-in. If Father Mulroney flight, we will book him on the same flight tomorrow. You go on this flight if you can make it, and if Father Mulroney doesn’t get to Terminal 1 in time to make the flight, we will see to it that he meets you in Bangkok tomorrow...”
“But that’s terrible. Where am I going to stay in Bangkok oversight?” Clarissa spoke slinky.
“The Orient Pacific Airlines has an airline hotel in Bangkok. It is called the Lon Phot. Our customer agents will get you a taxi to the hotel. The hotel will be gratis. The airline will pay for it. After all, it was all our mistake. I am very sorry. Miss Carleton...,” the voice at the other end of the phone said.
Clarissa got off the phone and looked stone cold at Arthur.
“It looks like Jack will miss the flight to Bangkok after all. They will put him on a flight to Bangkok at the same time tomorrow. It looks like I am going to be staying over in Bangkok after all tonight, alone.”
“Have you ever been to Bangkok, Clarissa?”
“No, never, not in all the years I’ve lived in Taiwan, I’ve never been to Thailand, although I know it is a favorite tourist spot for the ex-pats. Have you been before?” Clarissa asked.
“Yes, many times.” Arthur said dourly. “Look, are you sure you want to go. You could wait until tomorrow too and go with Jack tomorrow on the airplane...”
“No, we can’t turn back now. Jack still might be able to make the flight this afternoon. I won’t know until the plane is fully boarded... I think I had better go. I “will meet him in Bangkok tomorrow. Besides, it will be an adventure for me. I have never seen Bangkok. I can do a night tour this evening, hit the pubs, and do a day tour tomorrow before Jack arrives...”
“I don’t think you will like the pubs in Bangkok, my dear. They are pubs for ‘men only.’”
“Don’t be silly, Arthur, I am not a child, I am a big girl. I know how to get around in pubs, don’t you remember, it is all thanks to you... You were the one who taught me how to go pubbing in Taipei, remember?” Clarissa said innocently.
“All right, Clarissa. Have it your way. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, and for God’s sake, be careful...Lock up all your valuables in the hotel safe...”
“I will, Arthur...”
“I don’t know, maybe the Good Lord will be with the good priest this afternoon and he will make the flight after all.”
“I hope so,” said Clarissa, only half-meaning it.