by Donald Zagardo
Ramona was my re-awakening, a summer rain to my old thirsty fields; young, intelligent and perfect. I was instantly transformed. I had worked for years at my university, recognized as an alternative thinker, a rebel, an existentialist, a man consumed with a deep worry that tactless global-thought and merciless industrial development were precipitously destroying mankind. “The world is changing,” I said often, perhaps too often, “losing its common sense, giving its mortal soul away to industry and careless government.”
After a series of provocative debates at which time my arrogance and temper got the best of me, I was not unexpectedly dismissed from my academic post. “You are all out of your freaking minds,” I repeated at the debate more than a few times to fellow academics and industrial-political pundits who find despotism romantic, covert surveillance acceptable, even humorous, and deliberate misguidance of the population the norm. “Knights of Tyranny,” I christened them with my skinny, pointed fingers.
“Industrial Cannibalism is Deadly. Silence is the enemy.” Those were my departing words that afternoon. I was shrieking them as security personal escorted me from the studio.
While leaving the broadcast space, angry but satisfied, I was surrounded by the hissing sound of a heedless, headless audience. “Socialist, Communist, Deviant, Traitor, etc.,” two hundred fools jeered as I was thrown to the glistening summer street. Doors closed behind me, a crowd formed beside me, dogs barked, a light August breeze blew, then I was suddenly applauded by a group of friendly former students and dozens of unfamiliar disciples. The debates made me superficially famous, but even that kind of fame, bounded by a malevolent oligarchical society — a society in which minds are controlled, individually consumed and nations bought and sold — can be extremely dangerous.
My unorthodox calling and significant contributions to a rebellious counter-culture were not understood or taken very well by the general public. In fact, once folks got wind of the online hullabaloo, I was rejected, ridiculed then finally condemned. Barely seven days after that prodigious dispute, Dr. Arthur Jones was banished from the airwaves forever, dismissed from his long-held university position and driven into early retirement, exiled from his city of light to a safe zone, more rural than suburb, off the beaten path, innocuous, permanent, forgotten. I will always remember the look on gentle Mary Ann's face as she waved goodbye to me from her lonely Philosophy Department desk. Mary Ann had always been a wonderful assistant, friendly and proficient.
The zone itself is not a place of absolute banishment, but far enough away from cosmopolitan debate and academic competition to seem so. “Home Sweet Home” today is pleasant enough; a good-sized old country house with a group of free-thinking friends living nearby who frequently visit.
My new country town is old, but not sad. It smells like an ancient church might in the morning when the rising sun warms its trees and shines through its windows. Birds sing, cats meow and dogs bark, but there are no children playing in its parks or playgrounds. Main Street is the center of all with an ancient firehouse, a tiny library and post office, a sweet shop and hardware store, each frequented by town folks and conversations that are both idyllic and meaningless.
And then my introduction to the delightful Ramona Hancock by Fred Petersmith, Ph.D. at a party just within my former city's borders. The party was not small; mid-sized I suppose, with thirty or forty guests at the home of Elizabeth and Jonathan Briyer, dear friends from the Mathematics and Sociology departments respectively, colleagues until quite recently.
Petersmith was a long-term, semi-trustworthy associate. That evening, he introduced to me his former graduate assistant, lovely Ramona, then a researcher for the university's Physics department. Ramona stood five feet, five inches tall with short dark hair, a youthful curvy figure and clear, stunning brown eyes. She appeared to be approximately twenty-five years of age at the time, less than half my years. I did not ask her precise age and she did not volunteer that information. Geometrically perfect, irresistible to say the least. I adored every inch of Ramona.
Love, love, love
Our mutual fondness began with her perfect smile, which lit the room. Our first few words were casual, our conversation filled with pleasantries. “Hello there, Dr. Jones,” she said to me. “I've heard so much about you from Dr. Petersmith and the newspapers, of course.” Her eyes captivated me. I imagined for a misty moment Ramona as a child with wet plump lips and sad brown eyes. I heard her childish laughter in my near-dreaming mind, then a sudden cool breeze of awareness brought me back to the here and now. Beautiful Ramona was standing in front of me, bright and sweet. We made plans to meet again.
The first time she and I were together alone, we sat upon the front steps of the old house. Our dialogue was friendly-affectionate in the early autumn perfection. She had reasonable knowledge of my work and crusade and recent quandaries, of course. I treasured our time together, every single moment; her lovely face, perfect charm, and electric youth. But then it came to me like a tiny light through a darkened window. Wasn't she just too perfect?
All that had come to pass, had come so quickly, too stealthily to be coincidence or even fate. I dared to dream that she was not what I so profoundly yearned for her to be. I genuinely feared that my Ramona was someone or something else entirely.
We saw each other on weekends, despite my dark suspicion. I was alive with love for the first time in decades and willing to overlook my dread for now. Five weekends later, she moved her two mid-size suitcases and herself into what was now our home. It seemed impossible to me at first, but Ramona had secured permission from the university to live with the exiled Dr. Arthur Jones. She had a kind of assiduous charm, impossible to refute. Her being my companion, beside me every day was my greatest contentment.
My joy in life
Over the course of the next few weeks our passion grew, and my suspicions lessened. Ramona and I made love to near-exhaustion every evening. Her sweet voice comforted me. Her tender ways kept me alive. She was a strong lover, although my limited experience with women hardly made me an expert.
She romanced me in French saying, “Tu es ma joie de vivre, you are my joy in life.” I responded singing, “Tes yeux, j'en reve jour et nuit, I dream of your eyes both day and night,” which was unquestionably true.
We breakfasted and laughed the early day away before I began my labor of writing and study. Ramona visited the university's Physics Department three times a week, for only three or four hours per visit. When at home she read scientific and philosophical journals, taking notes and asking questions.
On a cold and glorious night after cohabiting for one month, we celebrated the happy occasion by dancing and kissing to the sounds generated by an old brown and tan record player discovered in my country office. The music was pleasant, from the 1960s and 70s, fifty or sixty years old; the music my mother used to play for me when I was a child.
Ramona was not a perfect dancer, nor was I. We laughed at our inelegance, but the sound of her laughter on that lovely evening was a bit too precise. It was devoid of inhibition, foolishness or simple joy. I thought to myself, It is a sound effect being produced by my beautiful Ramona, but I refused to act out of love or terror.
Ramona had the fragrance of rose-powder that was evenly dusted over her perfect body. She took long morning showers, washing her hair with imported perfumed soaps. She said that they made her feel French. Her beautiful, strong hands were adequately warm, but her smooth flesh glowed slightly in the incandescent evening light of our living room, like a bouquet of white paper flowers might. Or was that my imagination? When we drank cocktails or wine, she never became intoxicated, even to the slightest degree. I knew the awful truth by then. I was nearly sure but could do nothing. Her exquisite eyes kept me hypnotized.
My valued confidants Jonathan and his supplicating wife Elizabeth, when informed of my concerns, assured me that I was simply suffering from paranoia, mistrust brought about by the stresses of exile and late middle age and that Ramona was a lucky find for any man, a gift from the heavens so to speak. They insisted that I should be accepting and grateful.
I argued that my suspicions were rational and that my many opponents, whose speculations in political constructivism, clandestine surveillance technology and absolute industrial power were enormous. And that their collective fear of my words and proposals being turned toward violent, or non-violent revolution was significant. All individual thinking is seen as dangerous in a society such as ours, my rebellious alternatives, even more so.
They laughed in a friendly, compassionate, condescending manner. “Poor Arthur, you are a brilliant paranoid, a fool,” insisted Elizabeth. “You are simply madly in love with your Ramona. That's all there is to it.”
I tried to believe my friends. I tried and failed but kept control of my fear and played along for a few more months, each day struggling to prove or disprove my frightening hypotheses: My Ramona an artificial woman, a spy or killing machine made of synthetic flesh and bone, immeasurable strength, cameras for eyes, artificial DNA, a software heart and soul. No, no, no, please God, no!
Eventually the madness faded, replaced by an uneasy stillness. I even considered discussing my once-upon-a-time fears with Ramona but decided to wait for a moment of greater clarity. One day after an hour-long discussion comparing the culture and failures of Academia to antiquity and the fall of the Roman Empire, I sadly returned to my original thesis. I was convinced but could not act, once again out of love and fear. But the fluidity of Ramona's movements seemed even more calculated to me now and, when she changed from her gentle French back to English, I could almost hear a click. Love and dread are arduous bedfellows.
Copyright © 2018 by Donald Zagardo