“Study the past if you would divine the future.” Confucius
As a millenial, I do try to avoid bringing in the Mouse (whose creator shall not be named–but rhymes with Salt Lisney), but after reading Mark Cohen’s entry for his debut novel Listening to the Echo (which we will be seeing sooner than we think!), I reminded by the wise Rafiki who tells the future lion ki–uh, royalty, that, “I know the past can hurt, but you can either run from it, or learn from it!” Whatever lesson it has to offer, the past sometimes just doesn’t get past you. Please enjoy the first chapter of,
Listening to the Echo
by Mark P. Cohen
It’s standing room only when the steel door slides open. The bailiff directs a man draped in a blue custom Canali suit, shirt collar open, to enter. The door slams shut behind him, punctuating the moment. His wide-eyed, distant gaze suggests his thoughts are far removed from where he stands. The slim grin and relaxed shoulders dispel the notion that he has any concernfor his predicament. His tranquil appearance dumbfounds the throng of onlookers.
As if on cue, a sea of smelly punks part. He wades through to a space they vacate for him on a stainless-steel bench bolted into the red concrete floor and sits. He takes a deep breath, exhales, allowing a relieving wave to wash over him.
“Hey, Mr. Stern, you’re supposed to get me out of here today, not get yourself thrown in. Adam, man, what the fuck happened?”
The man now identified as Adam Stern doesn’t even offer a glance. Rather, he ponders the question posed as if it were a Zen Koan. It confounds him.
He recognizes that his name is Adam Stern, that Adam Stern is a lawyer, and that Adam Stern, the lawyer, represents this man who just called him out in distress. But what he cannot make sense of, what mystifies him, is his disconnection from that Adam Stern. Instead, he finds himself as someone different now. But who? What the fuck happened? Adam continues to ponder.
The holding cell door grinds open once again. Deputy Johnson, the courtroom bailiff, deposits a not-too-happy inmate who just finished his courtroom business. This inmate, the size of a linebacker, bulging biceps, marches straight up to Adam, towering over him.
“My lawyer says the judge went crazy ’cause of you. Now I gotta come back tomorrow. Man, I wanted to get my shit over with today. Why’d ya have to tell the judge to go fuck himself?”
Adam looks at this Goliath as if he were talking about someone else. Still, Goliath’s rant does jar Adam’s memory. Adam, indeed, remembers being in court just moments ago. In fact, that’s when Adam Stern, the lawyer, was held in contempt. But Adam no longer embodies that person. Then who am I? Adam fails to get a grip.
And that voice he had heard in court. Who the fuck was that?
Too many questions. Too much confusion. “There must be some way out of here… ”
Adam thinks, to the tune of “All the Long the Watchtower.” He laughs at the suggestion, looking around to see where the music is coming from, only to realize its resonance, like that voice is from within.
As Adam rides the rhythm, Bob Dylan escorts him back to that time in the Catskills. “All Along the Watchtower” was Adam’s signature song when he sat in with the Mill Basin Brothers, the resident rock band at the Echo Hotel, that summer. He grabs hold of the cell bench with both hands, bracing himself as he trips back.
Plain as day, the lush green lawn the size of a football field, and the horseshoe driveway that leads up to the Echo Hotel flash before Adam. He enters the orange and brown décored lobby where guests mill about. He listens to the Mill Basin Brothers rock out in the teen lounge.
He walks through the double doors leading to the dining room where he had once waited tables. He enters the kitchen, where savory fragrances of Friday night’s roast chicken greet him. He sees Chef Laszlo, the Mad Hungarian, clanging a frying pan with his metal soup ladle, shouting, “Fuck ‘em in the ass!” an expression of open defiance in the face of kitchen life’s oppressive demands. It all flashes before him like a slide show.
It was him! Adam suddenly realizes. That’s the voice Adam had heard in court a few moments ago, urging him on just before Judge Ashold tossed him in jail. Why Laszlo?
“Too much confusion?” Dylan rhetorically asks as the tune plays on in the background.
“Adam, the judge wants you,” Deputy Johnson calls out from the cell entrance. Adam stays put, holding on to this vision of the Echo.
“You know what to do. Go out there and apologize. Just give him a little something.” Like a dentist stabbing at a raw nerve with a metal probe followed by a blast of icy air, this last plea shoots pain up his spine, jolting him out of his Catskill vision. His eyes burn in the direction of Johnson, who freezes out of concern for the crazed look he sees.
All eyes now affix on Adam in anticipation of his reply.
Johnson got it right. Adam Stern, the lawyer, would apologize, “just give him a little something.” But somehow, that stand-in has been cut adrift, and “Just give him a little something” is not in Adam’s repertoire. This unmooring makes no sense. “I can’t get no relief,” Dylan whispers in Adam’s ear, laughing.
Adam crosses his arms over his chest as he tries to reconcile his confusion. He turns up the volume to “All Along the Watchtower.” Reliably, Dylan returns Adam to the Echo. Only, this time, it’s the sensations of the summer that rush over him. The radiance of the summer country sun heats his soul as the earthy-sweet, humid aroma of that Catskill Mountain air infuses his body. This potion of invincibility now powers his heart.
Adam’s face brightens as this surge of summer sensations tells him all he needs to know. With Dylan by his side pointing “some way out of here,” Adam turns to Johnson and speaks with calm, confident command as he issues the only appropriate response for his circumstance.
“Fuck ‘em in the ass, Johnson. Fuck ‘em in the ass!”
The jail tribe erupts with a rambunctious cheer that echoes into the courtroom. “I ain’t going nowhere.” Well, actually, Adam’s going back to the Echo. Johnson leaves. The cell door clangs shut, this time punctuating Adam’s defining moment.