Woman in Chains Ch. 04


Todd Wakeman was shook up, confused, and while he couldn't quite put a finger on what had just happened -- he wasn't ready to jump on the psychiatric bandwagon just yet.

To Wakeman the old Russian seemed troubled and distant; he felt that Podgolskiv was still sharply focused on what Tomlinson had said at the piano. To Wakeman very little of what was said in there had made sense, but he had seen a change come over Podgolskiv near the end. What she said had shook up the old man, had made all too much sense to him, and he couldn't shake the feeling that Podgolskiv had seen something upsetting in there. Though the old man still seemed very preoccupied, there was more to it than that. He had been startled, knocked off balance, and perhaps that was why Podgolskiv seemed reluctant to speak now. Even the way he walked now seemed stilted, unsteady...

"I think perhaps we should have some tea; then we can talk for a while," he said finally. "First, you see, there is a story I must tell you. We need talk no further about these matters until we do so."

"Good," Podgolskiv said with a wry smile, "then perhaps one of you would be so kind as to help me find my car."

It took a while to drive back into the city and find a parking space, but eventually the two medics and the old musician made it to a bar in the Village. The place was off an alley, down a half flight of disreputable stairs; the place was dark and smoky, a jazz quartet played quietly in a far corner. Conversation was muted, and most of the people seated were nursing a coffee or cognac.

"Oh, I don't know. I understand by 1950 this place had already had its fair share of the spotlight," Podgolskiv said with a smile as he shrugged. "But things thing's fall apart." He shook his head, tried to ward off the melancholy that had dogged him for years now. "Anyway, I have been coming here for years, and there is usually an interesting crowd hanging about."

The old man smiled knowingly. This hole-in-the-wall was off map, and deliberately so; it had been since prohibition. It was a hideaway, a forgotten corner for musicians to gather, to relax and talk, or to get lost in -- if only for an evening.

"So," Wakeman said when he could stand it no longer. "The Starlight Sonata. What is it?"

"What?" Somerfield said. "You mean it exists!"

"You've been working on a piece of music called The Starlight Sonata? Does she... is there anyway Tracy could have known that?"

"How long... what do you mean, we?"

"And gee," Wakeman moaned, "I guess, well, I suppose this brother, well, he just happens to be your twin?"

Wakeman stared at the old man; he was dimly aware that his left eye was twitching and he rubbed it. "Is he alive?"

"You think so? Where is he; where does he live?"

"Well, crapola," Somerfield deadpanned, "this just gets better and better."

Those who had known the girls when they were children would not have been so surprised. The link between the two girls had always been strong, but over the past few days, after Tracy's awakening, the torrent of newfound emotion had simply overwhelmed Becky. In their communion, when their eyes had joined, the process had begun.

And she had remained inside this nonsensical vortex ever since.

All a mother's sorrow over the loss of her children rained down on Becky.

In the first hours of this metamorphosis, Becky was riven by the inexplicable undertow of emotion that came to her; with each passing day she slipped deeper and deeper into the starscapes of her sister's dream. And yet she remained curiously apart from that other world in one crucial way: she remained consciously aware of her "true" physical surroundings. Now, each day she struggled to keep the two apart -- but she was slowly losing this struggle. She tried to function normally, to eat and bathe and care for herself, but with each passing day she found even these simple tasks harder and harder to accomplish.

What she saw left her breathless with unimaginable happiness.

"I remember most sitting by my mother's side when she cleaned dirt from potatoes; while she worked she told us about Israel, about how good it would be once we lived there. I can still see her, you know, cleaning the soil off with a brush, rinsing the potatoes, the numbers tattooed on the inside of her arm. I never knew what those numbers meant. Not for many years."

Podgolskiv looked down at his hands. "My parent's desire to leave Russia... well, the political powers, yes? They were less than helpful as it turned out. We were transported to Siberia; my father died of cholera our second summer there and after that my mother continued agitating, demanded we all be allowed to immigrate." His voice faltered, withered for a moment, then he summoned his courage and continued. "Well, she disappeared. We never saw her again, and the state took over. But put all that aside for a moment; there is one thing about all this I think important, that you must know, before I can continue.

"'Those are Arcturus and Spica,' he would tell us, and he told us we could always look up to them on our birthday and they would point the way to Israel. 'Never forget that,' he told us. And I don't think we ever did. At least not at first.

"She sounds psychotic to me," Judith Somerfield said as they stepped out on the front porch. She didn't know what else to think...

"I don't know. She seems focused, almost intact, at least when talk centers on music. Emotionally? I'm stumped there. More like a lesion, or a stroke, but there's nothing showing up. Nothing about this case is making a helluva lot of sense right now." He helped Podgolskiv down the steps; they began walking down the sidewalk. "What do you think of this stuff with the music, sir? What did she call it? The Starlight Sonata?"

The old man stopped; he turned and looked up at the sky, at the stars, and a tired smile creased his face. He seemed to give voice to a silent prayer, then he turned toward the physician.

"Well, God knows I love a mystery," Somerfield said.

"Wow!" Somerfield said when she sat down. "This is like the fifties. Way cool."

"I'll bet," Wakeman said. "I've been in the city for ten years and I love jazz, and I've never heard of this place."

"It's a special place," he said, "and if you act like physicians I may get in trouble for bringing you here." He looked at them with a full measure of seriousness, and when he saw that they believed him he smiled, laughed at their easy innocence. Irony, he thought, was so often lost on youth. They ordered drinks, Irish coffee anyway, and sat quietly while each gathered thoughts about them like an old sweater on a cold night. Everything the scientists had taken in at Tomlinson's house now seemed hard to digest, made no sense. And why was music so central to this mystery?


"Oh, very much so. At least in part."

"It hardly seems possible. We haven't worked on it in years."

"We? Ah. In this case I mean my brother and I."

"Of course."

"Oh yes. At least I think so."

"On his boat still, if I'm not mistaken."

"You think so?" Podgolskiv said, his voice full of bitterness. "Then you need to listen now. Listen while I tell you a story. Then you tell me if things are better. I will be interested to know what you think. Yes... very interested. Because I have to tell you, I think I am growing a little afraid."

As Tracy Tomlinson retreated further and further from her feelings, as she in effect grew further removed from the recent past, another disturbing yet equally curious metamorphosis was occurring not far away. With each passing day, Becky Parker, Tracy's twin sister, seemed to accrue emotions that were not her own. She was, in fact, drowning in a huge reservoir of despair that had flooded uncontrollably into her life. She had no idea why these emotions had found her, but she certainly knew what they were, and they left her weak and frightened.

Something happened in those first moments -- when the sisters first saw one another -- something powerful and unsettling and emotionally wrenching for both of the girls. As Tracy withdrew from her emotions in those first startled moments, as she withdrew from the power of the vision that had sustained her for months, Becky had been forced into the vortex of her sister's experience, into the very center of Tracy's denial. She found herself surrounded by her sister's emotions -- and yet, they weren't her sister's emotions at all.

All the pain Tracy might have felt about the loss of her husband was absorbed by her sister.

All the confusion that one might feel upon waking from an extended sleep came to Becky as if the void was now a waking dream, and as she wandered through this bewildering landscape each day the power of the dream swept aside other thoughts and carried her along in the currents of her sister's recent experience. She grew a little quieter each day, more passive -- at least outwardly -- as the force of her sister's passage overwhelmed her.

Earlier that evening, when Podgolskiv and Wakeman and Somerfield had come to her sister's house, while Tracy and Podgolskiv sat at the piano and played the Rachmaninoff Concerto, far away, on the far side of the city, Becky walked into her apartment's bathroom and looked into the mirror.

She reached out, placed her hand on the mirror...

"I first had the dream," Podgolskiv began, "when I was seven. We still lived in Russia, the Soviet Union as it was then, on a small collective in what is today Lithuania. A farm -- we were farmers, of a kind, though my parents had once lived in St Petersburg. We lived, my parents and my brothers and sisters and I, in a two room house, and my father told us we were lucky, even prosperous, to live as we lived. We were Jews, you see. Neither the Germans nor the Russians treated the Jews with great care as you know, but my parents survived, they always survived. I was born a few years after the war, a few days after Israel was reborn, and I mention this only in passing because it was my parent's greatest hope as we grew up that we be allowed to immigrate to Israel.

The old Russian sipped from his mug, his eyes as clear as the memories that now held Wakeman and Somerfield so completely. The room seemed very still; to Wakeman it felt like distant spirits had come to join in this telling of the old man's tale. He was struck by the disconcerting idea that Podgolskiv had been summoned to tell this tale and that somehow Tracy and her story of puppets and chains was bound up in this account as well. Wakeman looked at Podgolskiv, at the skin on the man's hands, wondered just what misery those hands had known.

"When we were very small our father would take us out into the fields at night and show us the stars. He had been a teacher at one time, but his views were suspect. Anyway, he became a farmer but he always loved the stars. He would take all of us out on clear nights and show us the constellations, but always on our birthday he would take just my brother and I out. He would find two stars in the sky, and like they were old friends he would point them out to us.

"Our Guardians of the State discovered hidden talents in both my brother and myself. We learned to play the piano, to write music, to perform -- and we were like puppets on a string, he and I. But it was a very short string. Perhaps leash would be a better word.