Manipulating Irony

By Nancy Collisson

Facing what they had foreseen would be an inevitable correction in the-market of mounting debt relative to savings that had been steadily increasing in the joint account they’d held at the downtown Independence branch of Bank Mutual for the past twenty-four years, Mark and Marilyn Blaine decided it was time to put to their economic advantage the synthesis of their uncanny observations of life’s funny little interplays as encapsulated in their favorite maxim: The only guarantee in life is irony.

Now that expenses related to the funding of the college educations of their daughters Midge and Lupie were soon to become extraordinarily troublesome, Mark, a tall, salt-and-pepper-haired high-school history teacher, and Marilyn, a trim, dishwater blonde who ran an on-call catering service, recognized that no amount of their work would allow them to afford the burdensome tuition at the University of Missouri.

So, in a display typical of their unanimity on most matters, they decided with thorough, shared confidence to meet their goal by manipulating irony – so to speak. In their case, because they needed a lot of money, they wouldbecome impoverished. Indeed, as irony would have it and as the world had repeatedly shown them, chances were quite high – as high as 77.4 percent, according to their own statistical analysis – that eventually the tables would turn and they would realize the outcome they sought.

In their united opinion, this seeming risk was wholly worth pursuingbecause, at the crux of nearly every amazing ironic event was a twist that led to situations in which opposites occurred – for example, when poor, ordinary slobs became incredibly wealthy or, on the contrary, in which those who had had it all, lost it all. Since presently they stood on stable financial ground, they knew that they had to act quickly.

Years of their research into the phenomenon showed them that mere recognition of the fact that twists happen could help everyone get much further ahead in this seemingly tricky life.

Marilyn was particularly fond of her ability to turn a phrase, so, in introducing the topic to students attending their lectures, she was fond of telling them that could get ahead of the irony curve if they’d just see its opposite coming early enough to bend the situation to their own advantage.

Mark explained it to them in a slightly loftier manner; he’d drop a few names. ‘While, in their works, literary icons such as William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Dave Barry capture the essence of this intriguing aspect of life, not one of them explains how to avoid it. We, on the other hand, do.’

As they saw it, only irony itself – not religion and not any aspect of science – answered the world’s most mysterious questions, which, they noticed, generally seemed to be related to health or circumstance.

What else, they would question, rhetorically, could explain the fact that someone like Sylvester Stallone, for example, who could afford to reside in the healthiest environment, who had access to the finest health care, and who had devoted his life to fitness, had an autistic child? What else, they shrugged, could explain why Hillary Swank, a high-school dropout who had grown up in a trailer park, have won an academy award by playing someone who had grown up in a trailer park and dropped out of high school? To top that off, she ate so much fish so she’d be lean for the part that she now suffered from some degree of mercury poisoning.

The list could go on and on. Why should Michael Jackson, with such broad appeal to generations of youth, be an alleged pedophile? Why on earth was string-theory expert Stephen Hawking, one of the most intelligent people in the world – whose ideas, therefore, made him arguably best able to be of service to every single person in the world – able to communicate only by blinking? And why in societies throughout the world and since time began were there always surprising, shocking, or twisted accounts of Henry Jekylls and Edward Hydes?

But it wasn’t only personal lives that were affected by the phenomenon. Irony held global implications, as well. This fact was never lost on Mark. As a history teacher, he was capable of drawing broad connections between information gleaned by poring through his Houghton-Mifflin tenth-grade history text and the Independence Daily, to note, for example, that the fecundity of the British male – progenitor of those who’d run a global empire – was decreasing. Genghis Khan, who’d supped from the bowl-shaped skulls of those whose heads he’d lobbed off, was regarded as a folk hero in Mongolia. And George Bush, who, about America’s initiation of the Iraq War said Mission Accomplished, well, Mark thought, the ironic repercussions of that were only just beginning to reverberate.

To Mark and Marilyn, dismissing these breathtaking accounts as bizarre quirks, mere coincidence, or, on the other hand, to passionately describe them as manifestations of God’s plan or karma – as many people tended to do – was just plain silly. Such scenarios were explained by the existence of irony itself, nothing more, nothing less. As evidence of this fact, all anyone had to do, they thought, was look for themselves at the winding patterns they evinced.

They found curiously ironic the human want for simple explanations to complex questions, when, where simple answers abounded, people seemed to happier concocting all manner of complicated theories, rituals, and religions to explain them. Knowing that they held information that had implications for changing the world by improving lives and making everyone free from these types of time-consuming restraints, made them feel like two kids with a secret. They were just waiting for the right time and the right people to explain that the continuously and contiguously twisting pattern suggested, for example, in the expression What goes around comes around was asfundamental to shaping the outcomes of lives asthe winding double helix of DNA was to forming them.

It was true. And, oddly enough, just as the world’s greatest geneticists were getting closer to cracking the code of the similarly patterned fundamental life structure, so the Blaines believed that they had a handle on the workings of irony. They were indeed, as they said, ahead of the curve.

But the Blaines had yet to come across anyone who was even ready to join them in an advanced level of discussion on the topic. The irontellectual gap, as they called it – usually while sharing a knowing wink – simply set them widely apart from everyone they knew. At times it bothered them to think that during their lifetimes they might be the only ones who could benefit from their knowledge. The fact was that, as far as they had researched, no one else had ever even discussed as mere theory what they already knew to be true.

That these two ordinary people had achieved such a high level of thoughtful observation, reflection, analysis, and synthesis didn’t surprise them though. They, more than others, were able to accept that such was the nature of irony.

Early in their relationship Mark happily noticed that Marilyn shared his penchant for its analysis. Unlike other girls, she never reacted to accounts of who’d-a-thunk-it type stories with breathless tut-tuts. On the contrary, like he, she enjoyed making sport of anticipating them.

After graduating from high school, which they attended together in the comfortable city of Independence, Missouri, where they continued to reside, they began to maintain a log that they’d most aptly entitled Tales of the Predictable.

The soft, worn black-and-white mottled cover of the old Mead notebook held one-hundred pages of their shared descriptions and predictions of mutually known classmates, acquaintances or relatives. Twenty-five years and sixty-three entries since starting it, they calculated that the results of their assessments of behaviour and the high likelihood of the turning-worm syndrome reflected – as mentioned – a 77.4-percent rate of accuracy. As Mark was fond of remarking to his students of their night-school classes on the subject, them weren’t bad odds.

The logbook included Marilyn’s notation that the beautiful but cruel Karen Kempinski, the incessant braggart and queen of insults since their days at elementary school, had given birth to a baby with Down’s Syndrome. Eerily, on page nineteen appeared Marilyn’s prediction that Karen would have a child that would be or become physically or mentally challenged.

Kathleen Anders, Mark’s childhood neighbor, sought unlimited freedom from the conservative town by bolting for sunny Los Angeles the very day she turned eighteen, so she could become part of its alluring wild life. But, whatever kicks she’d been getting from dabbling in all sorts of illicit activities there, stopped when she developed the immunological disorder of lupus. It was a condition, she’d recently confided to Mark and Marilyn, that she felt she probably never would have acquired had she spent her ‘post-graduate’ days more sedately. And sure enough, there it was on page twenty-four – Mark’s prediction that she would encounter a malady that would force her ‘in no uncertain terms’ to ‘settle down.’ Presently, as a primary consequence of the chronic illness, Kathleen couldn’t even expose her skin to sunlight.

As for their own private matters of irony, Mark and Marilyn found noteworthy the intriguingly entwined mutual revelation that the other had been unfaithful.

For Marilyn, this occurred the instant she withdrew from a zippered pouch of Mark’s bag of golf clubs an exceedingly petite-sized pink leather golf glove, clearly that of another woman. Her observation stung with classic ironic poignancy as she instantly recalled the image of one of her own ‘tiny items’ – as she later sensitively described it to Mark so that they could further place themselves above the ordinary concerns of the petty-minded by intellectualizing the nature of irony – hanging on the handle of a door in the home of a lover that she had once taken.

Fit, resilient, talented, intelligent, and calculating, Mark and Marilyn grew together in their marriage believing that they could face just about any challenge encountered with a serenity found in few because they similarly interpreted life itselfas a participator sport in which everybody plays, nobody ever really wins, but that nevertheless requires we all stay in the game. Accepting this sublime fact made it easier for them than most, for example, to tolerate those events not uncommon to many: affairs, occasional job losses or fallings out with friends or family members, car accidents, and so forth.

Ever attuned to life’s wacky ways made the reading of fiction or movie-going boring pastimes for them as most plots – generally excluding those masterfully crafted by Agatha Christie or Daphne du Maurier – were much too linear to sustain their attention.

For entertainment, therefore, they tended to prefer spontaneous challenges or thrills – the type they’d experienced by having gone white-water rafting in the Rockies, trekking in the Himalayas or hot-air ballooning over Tuscany.

Avid cultural enthusiasts, they generally saw to it that wherever they went on holiday they took time to hobnob with the natives. They enjoyed clinking glass bootfuls of Weiss beer with a pub owner of a corner tavern in Dusseldorf, sleeping on futons at the home of a family in Osaka, or sharing sweets with children in the streets of Lagos. These sorts of authentic experiences continually reaffirmed their belief that, despite the fact that everyone was living under very different circumstances, the same patterns of life forces emerged for everyone.

Differences in the degree to which people around the world might want to effect change on the forces of irony, once they learned how, would be matters of cultural choice and, of course, relativity. Mark and Marilyn didn’t fail to note that Nigerians could wear the brightest shades of clothing, but maintain the most drab homes; that Germans always wore smiles, even while eating sauerkraut; and that Japanese wore impossible wooden platform sandals, but the darned things certainly kept their feet dry at fish markets. From the looks of things, it would be difficult to ascertain the global demand for application of their construct – the knowledge they shared would not be grasped overnight.

So aware were they of the rare insight that gave them their exceptional ability to recognize, predict, and manage life’s forces to a positive end, they felt they had a responsibility to share it, like a gift, with others. So they initiated a free lecture series at the local library that ran each Saturday at ten a.m. Their course was entitled Manipulating Irony.

To new students who’d drop in, Marilyn would briefly recap the general point saying something like the following: ‘Since we can all count on bad things happening during good times and good things happening during bad, in order to beat the dickens out of this invisible force we must first recognize these patterns, accept the fact that they exist, and then proceed to use them in order to stay ahead in life!’ Though, with her enthusiastic introductions, most of their students – primarily twenty-somethings whose parents wanted them out of the house – became rapt with attention, once Mark led them into what he referred to as the deeper depths, they seemed to their instructors to behave more and more like jellyfish, lacking brains and content to merely drift idly along wherever life’s waters carried them.

‘Well, here we go again,’ he said, frowning as he steered the Volvo wagon into the library parking lot that Saturday morning. ‘You know, Marilyn,’ he began, in a mood of resignation, ‘from the beginning of time most people have just been lazy attribution-seekers. They want to have a label for what they can’t be bothered trying to understand. They don’t want to analyze phenomena. They find the challenge too mentally taxing. So, what do they do? Just to get rid of their pathetic pounding headaches brought on by the most miniscule amount of brain activity, they invent gods.’

‘Agreed,’ Marilyn affirmed. ‘That’s always been the easy way out for humankind, hasn’t it? Perhaps it is the most profound irony, that while the simplest answers to life’s most elusive questions exist to people, they instead create ornate, elaborate, mystical realms. Navigating this life isn’t so tricky! Answers can be found just by looking at the same old patterns that constantly appear. The sooner everyone accepts as their life’s mantra the Irony Is that’s printed on my T-shirts, the sooner they’ll be able to get the game pieces on their side of life’s playing board.’

Their shared believe gave the Blaines what they deemed a freedom to remain indifferent to the activities of religious groups or cults. Instead, they noted with a decisively unspoken measure of pride, they lived contentedly by adopting a modus operandi that they had told their daughters was enough – simply to be good and to do good. Once the girls reached an appropriate level of maturity, they would show them how to make an understanding of irony work for them. At twenty, Lupie was too distracted by her studies in engineering. At eighteen, Midge was too distracted by girls.

To elicit understanding during that Saturday’s lecture, Mark used a white board and various colored erasable markers to illustrate a clear-cut example.

‘A man takes his suit to a dry cleaner before a big meeting. The day of the meeting he goes to pick it up and finds that it’s been lost. Conversely, a man takes his suit to a dry cleaner before a big meeting. The day of the meeting he goes to pick it up and finds not only that it has been cleaned, but also that some incredibly considerate worker has sewn on to it a button in a place where a button had fallen off. Both situations,’ he said, ‘constitute examples of irony because they reflect that something remarkable has occurred when unexpected – in this case, on an important occasion, that of said meeting.’ About these types of situations, Mark explained how the clear and repetitive patterns of irony can be tapped into as a construct for life. ‘If the suits of our lives are taken to dry cleaners at a time neither near special occasions nor for any other reason than merely to be cleaned, then neither circumstance could be labeled ironic.’

As he noticed that some of his students were stretching, yawning, and even placing their heads on their desktops, Mark, though intensely annoyed,  continued. He felt the need to discuss the value of education, such that he was providing them. ‘It is often the case with learning,’ he said, ‘to find that one has to take a few steps backward in order to move forward. Of course,’ he joked, barely containing his laughter, ‘some students end up having to go so far back that they wind up in front! Hahaha!’

Even those with their heads down raised them and stared at him, stone-faced.

Iggy Reilly, who hadn’t yet missed a lecture – nor the opportunity to attempt to shred their arguments or just stir things up, as they’d frequently noticed, raised his hand.

‘Iggy!’ Mark snapped.

‘Well, but heck. Ya gotta admit that it’s pretty cool to have good stuff happen, like gettin’ a button sewn on when ya don’t ask for it.’

‘Duh!’ Britina Martin jumped in. ‘The dry cleaner right up the road next to the Ace Hardware – I can’t think of its name but you know the one I’m talking about, the one with that has a bowl of suckers on the counter for kids, that’s why I always go there, because my son always wants a green sucker, I guess those are lime flavored. I don’t know cuz like I would never take one since they’re for kids. Anyway … Oh yeah, Adlemar’s, that’s it. That’s the name of it. Do you know it?’

‘Britina?’ Marilyn asked.

‘Oh! Yeah, right! Anyway, they sew buttons on for ya there, at Adelmar’s if one’s missing. They just like find a match and do it, without even asking. It’s really cool. I think it’s like a policy or something? Anyway, everyone should go to that one. But maybe it costs extra? I don’t know.’

‘Thank you, Britina.’ Mark said, ‘And your point?’

‘Well, yeah. The point is like maybe if you don’t go to a dry cleaners that gives away suckers, you won’t get your buttons sewn on?’

‘No! I get it,’ chirped Iggy, ‘If you don’t have a kid, your buttons will stay on!’

The class burst into uproarious laughter and Mark started clapping his hands together to regain their attention. ‘Now, yes, of course,’ he said, ‘we can all find such mental scenarios quite humorous, indeed, can’t we? But when faced with episodes of turmoil that life sets upon us, well then it’s too late, isn’t it? People, you need to understand that you have it within your ability to full and well control the forces that are upon you. The sooner you focus on what we’re trying to achieve here, the less perplexing your lives will be!’

Mid-level students were encouraged to keep journals of their observations and to create visual representations of their conclusions. Each week, they would hang their illustrations on the wall or interpretive mobiles from the ceiling and read their entries to the rest of the group.

Today, Martha Lobeen shared what Mark and Marilyn regarded, for the most part, as a typical entry for that level – she posed questions.

‘Why does it always rain after people wash their cars? Why did my neighbour – who couldn’t get pregnant forever – finally conceive just after she adopted? And ‘Why did the heel of my shoe break off in the rain gutter when I was running to catch the bus so I could get to work on time?’

‘Simple!’ Mark said. ‘As for your first question, obviously people need to make a regular practice of washing their cars.’ As for the second – we only deal with people once they’re present, so matters regarding unborn children are not discussed. As for the third! Now this! This question poses precisely the type of activity we’re talking about. Indeed, all you needed to do, Ms. Lobeen, to grasp its deeper implications for how you might choose to live your life, was to apply the Law of Inversion. In this case, when in a hurry, you must slow down! Had you walked to that bus, certainly you would not have caught your heel.’

‘Well, I guess. But then probably I wouldn’t have caught my bus, either.’

Everyone laughed.

‘Well, then,’ he replied with authority, ‘let the incident stand as a sign that you need to invest in a car.’

‘Martha? Have you got your visual representation?’ Marilyn asked.

‘Oh! I’m sorry,’ she bit her lip, ‘I didn’t remember to make one!’

‘Well, perhaps someone can help. Can anyone describe what sort of visual representation would cleverly capture the ironic events that Martha mentioned?’

Iggy raised his hand.

‘Yes, Iggy?’

‘Do you mind if I draw it on the on the board?’

‘Fine. Go ahead.’

On the left side of the whiteboard Iggy used a blue marker to draw a large spiral round and round. To its right he drew what looked like a horizontal cylinder. To the right of that he quickly sketched three simple flowers.

‘Okay, that’s about it.’

‘All right, Iggy. Would you kindly do your classmates the favor of explaining your interpretation then,’ Mark asked.

‘Well,’ he said, clearing his throat. He reached for a yardstick that had been lying in the marker tray. Affecting Mark’s formal manner he used the yardstick as a pointer.

‘Now then, when it rains on your clean car, and when you experience difficulty conceiving a child, and when you break your shoe, you feel like you’re going down, down, down the you-know-what,’ he pointed to and tapped three times on the spiral. ‘But, when all the sort of crap that happens goes through the filtration plant of life,’ he slid the pointer along the cylinder, ‘it all comes out as manure that – as horrible disgusting a thought as that can be – actually makes everything nice, like helping the flowers grow. ‘Such is the true nature of irony.’ So, that’s what you can say about those problems. The car will be fine, the lady ends up with two babies, and you get to work on time.

‘Iggy,’ Mark interjected, ‘I am afraid that you are repeatedly missing the point and so until you get it, I am going to ask that if you continue attending these classes you kindly refrain from oral participation. Your commentary is entirely too self-serving.’

Britina raised her hand.

‘Britina?

‘Oh, well, since Mr. Blaine mentioned it, I just thought I would say that the Tastee Freeze, just up the road there, well they set up a totally self-serve ice cream machine and it’s really cool. They don’t care how much you take, you know, it’s like this new pay something but take-all-you-want type deals, but you hardly take as much as you think you would, you know? Because you just really feel fuller than you’d think after not so much.’

Bill Middelarde raised his hand and asked in his slow, halting speech, if he could read a collection of quotes about irony from all over the world that he’d found on the Internet. Marilyn took a deep breath, glanced at Mark, and requested that he choose only a few of his favorites.

‘Bolivians say He who sees a cockroach as far away as Macchu Pichu fails to notice the very ass on his nose. What do you think about that Mrs. Blaine? Oh! Oh! Wait a minute, listen to this one. What do you think about what the Moroccans say? They say: Do not be impressed by a man for the whiteness of his turban because soap can be got on credit. Oh, yeah! And this one, which the French people say: He who is closest to the priest is nearest the collection plate.’

‘Unfortunately,’ Marilyn said, pinching the bridge of her nose, ‘I’m quite sorry to say that I suddenly feel a terrible headache coming on Bill, so we will have to address your points next week.’

Although the classes were free of charge, at the end of each one, Marilyn tried to earn a little extra cash by giving students the opportunity to purchase the Irony Is T-shirts, pins, and car bumper magnets she designed.

Each new experience at the library reminded them that the wider world wasn’t ready to process their construct for living.

‘This lonely state of brilliance is a little bit scary,’ Marilyn joked in the car on their way back home, ‘I hope it doesn’t get me burned at the stake!’

‘Fear not, darling,’ Mark comforted, taking her hand and kissing it. ‘Everyone wants answers. Everyone wants to know how to get through life in a gentle, rhythmic, flowing way – like those smooth filaments of DNA that you and I see manifested in the working of everyday life. Sometime far into the future, perhaps, we’ll be able to help them, but not until they’re ready. So many people are still evolving. They’re collectively young. Unfortunately this means that they will just have to continue experiencing nothing but painful jerks and starts. As for us, we will let our lives serve as an example of what can be achieved. Until we do, we can only pity the world’s loss.’

‘If only they’d just get it!’ she said.

‘People don’t have the depth to notice things like, oh, like the fact that progress is borne of disobedience, which therefore makes disobedience a virtue. It makes them too tired’ he mockingly whined, ‘to muck around in their cabbage heads the possibility that people who seem to be failures are actually becoming successful.’

Once they returned to their home, and sat down at the kitchen table for a lunch of roast turkey breast on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato and a sneaky dollop of mustard mayonnaise, they took up more pressing, personal concerns regarding the funding of the children’s educations.

Seated upon their comfortable teak and white corduroy padded chairs carefully going through bills neatly stacked atop the country blue countertops of their smart Poggenpohl kitchen, they were about to draft their strategy when momentarily distracted by a rare sighting. There, just outside their large bay window darted a pretty little indigo bunting.

Against the backdrop of the faintly graying sky that signified an impending storm, the tiny bright blue beauty flitted randomly about and around the gently blowing strands of delicate green boughs of the weeping willow set picturesquely beside a dark pond accented by clusters of purple Japanese iris.

‘It all looks sosmall,’ Marilyn mused.

‘Never mind darling,’ Mark said, tenderly kissing the top of her white forehead, ‘You shall have so much more.’

Back to the business at hand, the two set about the needful, carefully calculating amounts that they would need to cover their children’s college expenses to an extent that would allow them to forego taking out tiresome federal or state student loans, thereby avoiding debt.

Thankfully, because they had already saved a not insubstantial amount and because the children were attending the local branch of the state university system and had always been willing to hold down decent part-time jobs, extraordinary amounts were not required. Mark and Marilyn felt that they could solidly cover the costs of tuition, books, housing, and transportation with an additional eighty-thousand dollars.

As this amount was needed fairly quickly, however, methods of acquiring it, that seemed the most obviously effective to them, would have to be applied at once.

Mark and Marilyn amusingly and colorfully dubbed their strategy the Bougainvillea Plan.

Like native American Indians and those of animist cultures throughout the world who apply metaphors gleaned from nature to help them understand and solve very human problems, so Mark and Marilyn applied their interpretation of the spectacular growth pattern of the bougainvillea as the best model for what they intended to accomplish – total financialproliferation.

They were first struck by the very nature of this incongruity a few years earlier while, on the return leg of their trip to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where they walked for kilometers admiring among the finest cultural artifacts in the world, when they enjoyed a nice, warm two-day stopover in the emirate of Dubai.

During the Big Bus tour that wended through traffic along the Beach Road on their way to the Burj or under the Shindagha Tunnel that popped them out at the Gold Souk, Mark and Marilyn had been struck by the stunning bounty of hot pink, peach, and magenta bougainvillea that intertwined among and draped over countless villa walls or that wrapped around and up old wooden street signs.

In their casual research about this remarkable species of flora – speaking casually with a few British ex-patriate residents whom they’d chanced to meet and share a mince pie and Kilkenny’s with at the popular Fibber McGee pub – they happened to mention their pleasant observation. Through one of their listeners, an avid gardener, they came to learn the secret to encouraging its proliferation. In order, she said, for the papery flowers to burst forth with optimum color and growth, its caretakers needed to withhold water to the plant to the point of causing severe stress to its shallow root system. Providing mere sips of water, she said, caused the bougainvillea to don its prettiest dress.

Interestingly, Dubai itself could be symbolized by the bougainvillea, they thought, considering its rapid economic growth evidenced in a world-renown overnight construction boom in the form of stupendously amazing projects given fabulous, powerful names like the Palm Islands or The World. The world’s tallest building was coming up and it seemed that Dubailand would be bigger and better than anything Disney had conceived. Such spectacular developments were turning the former fishing and pearl-diving village into one of the most astonishing and attractive places in the world.

Looking back on that singular memory, they agreed that such pure and simple realities in nature were easy to assimilate, and the image gave them all the metaphorical assurance they needed to implement their theory: If, like the bougainvillea, they positioned themselves in a situation that left them nearly void of opportunity, that forced them to struggle along with mere drops of emotional, nutritive, and financial sustenance, then their creative juices would be stimulated to flow to the extent that their talents would emerge and blossom as magnificently as the brightest magenta bougainvillea – or shiniest skyscraper towering along Dubai’s main thoroughfare, Sheikh Zayed Road.

By the time they’d finished their Pepperidge Farm Milanos and cinnamon hazelnut coffee, they clutched one another’s hands and made a vow. They would move to the place that, for them, most encapsulated irony, Dubai.

While running a few grand yard sales they managed to sell their vast collection of Dansk furniture. On Ebay they auctioned items like Mark’s impressive collection of seventy-four hand-painted wooden duck decoys and Marilyn’s nearly two-hundred beloved cookie jars. As they parted with their favorite things, each frequently paused to reflect upon their previous success, thereby bolstering their individual confidence in taking on their impending challenge.

Following college and marriage, they briefly resided in Kenya where they aided a small fishing village by teaching English, sharing novel fishing and farming techniques, and helping to develop a neighborhood grocery cooperative. There each also met the challenge of mastering Swahili within only two years.

It was only in the past few years, while Lupie and Midge had been attending high school, that Marilyn, who previously had prepared a dish no more elaborate than chicken pie, spent newly available time in the kitchen to teach herself to create enticing and attractive delights including steamed ostrich meat and asparagus sushi with wasabi, pear crepes in red wine sauce, or delectable sesame-oiled garlic and minced shrimp dim sum dumplings to the impressive extent that she built a loyal following of community tasters and then established her own now-thriving catering business.

As for Mark, his thorough passion for in-depth research into the Industrial Revolution, in particular, led him to become so highly regarded a national resource on the topic that he was occasionally called upon by professors to speak to their students on esoteric aspects of the topic – explaining, for example, why China had failed to produce an identical event.

Thus, confidently and smartly approaching the task of moving with the intent they had in mind, as a preliminary protective measure they squarely laid out all conceivable potential pitfalls.

These included discussions about twists of irony that could occur, such as the horrific possibility that the very objective of their cause – that of providing for their children’s futures – could be turned against them in the dreadfully (and yawningly) predictable form of the very deaths of the children – a scenario that would naturally result in a windfall from insurance policies a la The Monkey’s Paw.

Mark and Marilyn never took lightly the expression, ‘Be careful what you wish.’ Their attempt at Toying with the Fates would be pure. Based on their track record, they believed that simply by verbalizing possibilities that specific bad things could happen would dramatically lessen the likelihood that they would.

As a casual but prudent gesture of philosophical reassurance, Mark and Marilyn met and consulted with a professor of Chinese philosophy Dr. Zhou Zhang, whom Mark had met at the university.

Dr. Zhang fully heard out their theory that rather than being victimized by irony they would attempt to use it to personal advantage.

‘If what goes up must come down,’ Marilyn said,

‘Then we will go down, so that we may come up,’ said Mark, grinning.

‘It is true,’ commented the professor, ‘that every positive factor involves a negative, and vice versa and, as I weigh the wisdom of your attempt to affect rather than be affected by life’s unknowable forces, naturally the words of Tao Te Ching, come to mind. He once said that when beauty is abstracted, then ugliness has been implied, and when good is abstracted, then evil has been implied. Certainly these are not words to take lightly.’

After pause for reflection, Marilyn commented. ‘Excuse me for interrupting, Professor, and, pardon my ignorance on this score, but, could you please clarify what you mean, in sharing that particular line?’

‘In essence, all that I have said, and that I suggest you keep in mind during your journey is that good and evil necessarily exist in this world.’

Satisfied with yet another simple explanation of the workings of the world, they thanked Professor Zhang and embarked on the final stages of their Unique Transition by tending to more practical matters.

Their climb toward the upper branches of the tree of financial proliferation meant to them that they would have to thoroughly destroy the trunk of the foundation that they had already built.

This dissolution ultimately included liquidation of all of their material goods and attachments to Independence: the house, the car, their insurance policies, and their Roth IRAs. They washed out Mark’s pension fund, flushed their savings, dipped into their children’s savings bonds, exhausted their credit card limits, and intentionally began drowning in debt.

Meanwhile, Lupie and Midge temporarily moved into tiny apartments with acquaintances and acquired jobs.

Lupie took up a convenient part-time position as a dispatcher for a trucking company. Midge managed two jobs, one as a parking-lot attendant at the local airport and the other as quality-control operator in the bottling section of a salad dressing manufacturer where it became her duty to ensure that bottles of Parmesan Peppercorn remained upright as they whirred endlessly along congested conveyor belts.

Like many of their friends and relatives, a real-estate agent whom they had previously met in Dubai, Mr. Vijay Malhotra, shared with them his cautionary tale of what they respectfully regarded as nothing new in the matter of moving, when they called upon him one day to discuss their plan.

Like all the others, only with the benefit of personal experience, Mr. Malhotra explained that a great deal of money – a minimum of perhaps sixty-thousand dollars the first year – would be required to set up an apartment and business in Dubai, especially if they were not going to be associated with a large multi-national corporation.

A further singular difference in his advice was noted by them in the sage aphorism he said was often shared by older and wiser Indian businessmen to those just starting out, and that he assured would be important to keep in mind during their venture.

‘Remember,’ he counseled, ‘the new businessman eats broken rice for two years.’

Fond of such quaint visual imagery and simple cultural lore, Mark and Marilyn carried the emboldening tenet with them as they settled into their narrow twenty-third floor efficiency apartment. From the vantage point of their narrow window, they were able to overlook an endless sandlot where towers were encouraged to grow taller by thousands of metal cranes that, like giant watering cans, stood heavily everywhere upon the massive, dusty construction site that was Dubai.

Within a few days of their move they were approved to receive and paid a handsome sum for a government trade license authorizing them to run a ‘consultancy’ – a generic business title they opted for that would enable them legally to dabble in a variety of projects. In Dubai, an inability to prove legal authorization to perform specific tasks could land them in jail.

As it was illegal in Dubai to run an office from one’s home, they sought a site for an office in one of several of Dubai’s eponymous developments: ‘Knowledge Village’ for a village of knowledge, ‘Internet City’ for a city of Internets, and so on. Such inorganic developments led resident expatriates to dub the emirate Nation Lite.

Finding rents cheaper outside of these areas, they finally settled for a small office in an old section of Dubai. There, by law, they were required to pay a large, randomly calculated fee to a local ‘sponsor.’

As Dubai-based banks would, under no circumstances, loan money to foreign owners of small businesses, a healthy cash flow, in the early stages of their effort, was not going to exist for Mark and Marilyn.

Deciding that business commutes could be done effectively and efficiently by bus or foot, they decided against the purchase of a car. After all, so far, Dubai, end-to-end didn’t feel much larger than Independence. However, it had much more traffic and accidents, giving them sound justification to eliminate this superfluity.

So, clinging to the hardy vine of their fragile dream and nurturing it as intelligently and gingerly as possible to bring forth its rich reward was now their only option.

But first, to reward themselves for their mutual commitment and thrift they splurged on what they knew would be their final wonderful outing for what might be a long, long time.

‘We’ve done it,’ Mark toasted Marilyn by raising to her his crystal glass of champagne while standing beside their linen-covered table at the plush Al Muntaha restaurant located at the top of the world’s tallest, most expensive, and only seven-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab.

‘We’ve taken the plunge, are completely broke, and are ready to reap our reward.’

Upon gently clinking together their elegant crystal stemware, they smiled boldly as they gazed from the surrounding picture window at the huge and resplendent orange and pink-hued fireball of the sun as it sank rapidly behind the placid teal waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Lacking in neither energy nor imagination, the very next day they attempted to gain their business footing by spotting opportunities to which they wholeheartedly could apply their talents.

Her penchant for gardening led Marilyn to the observation that the huge, local expatriate-oriented plant supply center, Zam Zam Garden, lacked the number of customers it otherwise might have, due to what she determined was weak marketing.

Having set up an appointment with Zam Zam’s marketing director, Miss Rym Al Bukaidi, Marilyn introduced herself as a gifted writer who had vast experience in publishing stylish and effective catalogues.

The fact was that the few brochures she had created for her catering company – that were filled with photos of high resolution she had downloaded from various Web sites – turned out to be so attractive that a few other local small business owners, to whom she had distributed them to elicit catering work, ended up asking her to produce similar brochures for them that they could use to solicit customers.

While admiring the brochure samples, Rym told Marilyn that she had been planning to produce a catalogue for the store for some time, and so was delighted with the thought of getting a bit of marketing support. She asked Marilyn what she had in mind.

‘Absolutely something earthy and familiar, that feels substantive to hold, that uses a soft, recycled paper and that attracts families and emits a wholesome appeal – much like the Ikea catalogue. Do you know it?’ she asked.

Certain that she had struck a responsive chord with her potential client, Marilyn sat back, smiled lightly, and awaited her step toward the next text-book level required in ‘clinching the deal.’

‘Yes, I do know it, but I had been thinking of shinier paper, and with all the images of plants and flowers printed in a glossy UV spot,’ Rym responded.

‘Oh, yes, UV spots showcasing flowers in a catalogue would be beautiful, but, you know, it is rather rare to find catalogues featuring interior images done in UV.’

If this deal went through, Marilyn thought, she stood to retain more profit if Rym went for the least expensive paper and no-nonsense print process. She’d be able to get a high quote from a printer and then reap a nice profit. Pumping up the look and feel of the Ikea catalogue seemed like the way to go, and Miss Rym was suddenly making that easy.

‘Well, the Ikea catalogue is popular,’ said Rym, in a mood of pensive deliberation.

‘You know, I read somewhere,’ Marilyn leapt in coaxingly, ‘that more Ikea catalogues are published in the world each year than the Bible – or the Holy Qu’ran! The publications number something like more than a hundred million! Every household in America has one delivered free, each year – they are that great!’

Looking deeply down at Marilyn from her black shela-ensconced pale face and heavily kohl-rimmed eyes, Rym lifted her chin slightly, raised a painted brow, and snapped, ‘I take offense at your remark.’

‘Excuse me?’ asked Marilyn.

‘Khalass!’ snapped Rym, putting up her hand in a gesture that conveyed ‘Enough!’

‘I can assure you I meant no offense at all,’ Marilyn meekly explained. ‘I was merely mentioning some fact that I had read that I thought you might find interesting. It was really nothing more than that, just light drivel, really.’

‘Certainly you do not believe everything that you read?

‘No, no! Not at all! I just …’

‘Because I find what you have said to be extremely offensive!’

Considering what she faced outside the walls of the building: a hot, blowing desert wind, a long bus ride back to the apartment and nothing more than a dry cheese sandwich to eat once she got there, Marilyn decided to hold on tightly and take just one more step, however fateful.

‘Well, Miss Rym,’ she said, smiling and laughing gently, ‘I think that on one count we both strongly agree: in matters of business, certain topics should always be kept completely out of the boardroom.’

‘Miss Marilyn! Our religion is our way of life, it is not separate from what we do or how we think about things, and whether we are talking about business matters, the soap we use, or what to do when our babies cry, we always consider the wisdom of our precious text and the words of our Prophet (Peace be upon Him). I can only hope that in your future discussions, for as long as you are living in this part of the world, at least, you will remember this as helpful advice. Now, truly, thank you for your visit, but actually I am extremely busy now, so good day to you.’

Dejected, Marilyn rose and left.

Not barren of his own creative options, Mark decided to introduce his concept for a pasta product to Mr. Abdul Aziz Obaid, owner and CEO of Gulfa Wheat, a local mill and manufacturing house of flour-based products, including dry, packaged pastas.

Following the formal Al salaam a’alaykum greetings, Mark initiated discussion in the CEO’s stylish offices.

‘Mr. Abdul Aziz,’ he said, ‘due to my extensive knowledge in the history of product innovation and development, my concept for a new pasta product is absolutely brilliant and has the potential of being hugely, even globally successful.’

Self-assured and on track, determined to strategically dangle the tempting jazara of his idea before this owner and then secure a fat retainer fee prior to actually sharing his idea, Mark was suddenly interrupted.

‘Raj! Chai!’ the diminutive, kandoura-clad chairman called out, to no one in sight, from his large black leather chair behind his large gleaming brown Italian styled desk. ‘Excuse me, Mr. Mark, you were saying?’

‘Certainly, Mr. Abdul Aziz,’ Mark continued, referring to his host in the culturally preferred first-name manner, ‘you have witnessed, just, as one example, the remarkable success of the product Mecca Cola throughout the entire GCC and even the world!’

‘Yes, yes, of course, of course,’ nodded Mr. Abdul Aziz, smiling in agreement. ‘This product is no doubt successful for two reasons. For one thing, many throughout this region, in particular, are tired or envious of American product domination in so many market sectors. For another thing, many here like to see these types of home-grown products on store shelves.’

‘Absolutely,’ responded Mark. ‘And you can do something similar – only this time without offending the Western community that places, shall we say, an almost undue reverence on the originality of the original Coca Cola concept and product!’

‘And just what is it that you have in mind, Mr. Mark?’

‘Well, of course, for me to share that with you, well,’ he chuckled, ‘as a businessman, you can understand that I would have to be paid some amount for my patented and copyrighted idea.’

Patented and copyrighted. I see.’

Acknowledging approval to re-enter by his boss’s nod, Raj, the elderly tea boy set two floral-print coasters on Mr. Abdul Aziz’s desk in front of each gentleman. Atop those, he placed tiny glass saucers that cradled the sweating glasses of copper-colored Sulaiman tea.

‘Yes, I have an idea that I am marketing to this entire GCC community of pasta manufacturers. This idea is so unique that I’ve had it protected through a formal, legal procedure that allows me to share the concept while fully knowing that no one can ever dare use it unless I grant the person or company my authority to do so.’

Although Mark actually had not yet officially patented his product nor copyrighted its name, he knew that he could do so at a later date, once he felt that discussions would result in the coveted, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is level of negotiation.

‘I see, Mr. Mark. This is very interesting. Of course, the person who has an original idea that is marketable and that brings great success should be duly rewarded,’ said the CEO. ‘Just as no one should take an object that does not belong to him, no one should ever take an idea. What is it they call this?’

‘Intellectual theft!’ said Mark.

‘Yes, that’s it – intellectual theft.’

‘That’s right,’ said Mark, sipping his tea, ‘so, that said, I would very much like to share my idea with you, but, of course, even at this stage, this concept comes with a price tag.’

‘Hmm, well, I thank you very much, for wishing to share this important concept of yours with me. I am honoured. But, if you don’t mind, I would like to go over with you, right now, what we have just discussed.’

‘Certainly,’ said Mark, in courteous deference to the elderly gentleman. ‘Take your time!’

Relaxed, Mark settled back in what he felt was a surprisingly well-padded and comfortable leather chair. He noted the extraordinary chill of the air conditioning, and considered the tons of money made by interior designers who were able to get all these former Bedouin tent-dwellers to eat from their hands.

‘First you entered my office,’ Mr. Abdul Aziz, said, interrupting Mark’s thoughts, ‘and began our discussion by mentioning what I believe you referred to as the grand success of Mecca Cola, correct?’

‘Yes, yes, that’s right, I did,’ said Mark, crossing his hands over his knees and leaning forward.

‘You then mentioned that you had something ‘similar’ in mind for my pasta product line that unlike the popular beverage – would not be found offensive by Westerners who respect the originality and, I presume, success in basic capitalistic principles that are a part of the history of the very special Coca Cola product.’

‘Mr. Abdul Aziz, yes, you have it, exactly, and I must say I am pleased and impressed.’

‘I see,’ he paused, maintaining a perpetually stern, weather-beaten countenance and what Mark put together and interpreted as a somewhat haughty demeanor.

Mark remained silent as he let Mr. Abdul Aziz – whom he assessed had probably walked out of the desert with a camel only less than thirty years ago – take all the time in the world to come around to his way of thinking and just toss him a big pile of money for an idea that no one else could possibly come up with.

Meccaroni,’ said Mr. Abdul Aziz, quietly.

‘What?’ said Mark, stupefied.

Mecca-roni’ Mr. Abdul Aziz repeated, careful to separate the two words. ‘It is a brilliant idea,’ announced the chairman, ‘that I just came up with.

‘Yes, yes, just imagine,’ he added, ‘Gulfa Flour could manufacture a die lot of little geometric shapes commonly seen in Arabic designs – eight-pointed stars of two overlapping squares, concentric circles and so on – for a new type of pasta. If it would not offend certain people, this concept has the potential to be very popular – especially during the holy holiday of Ramadan and, likely, yes, absolutely, everyone would want it then.’

Mark sat up sharply in his chair. ‘Mr. Abdul Aziz,’ he choked. ‘I’m sorry, Sir, but, with all due respect for your integrity and the integrity of your company, I must ask if you or any of your staff has had access to my, my notes while I was here.’ Clutching his folder, he turned his head around quickly toward the ceiling to look for cameras, but found none.

‘Mr. Mark,’ responded Mr. Abdul Aziz gently, ‘while you reside in this part of the world, you would be wise to remember that many lessons can be learned in the desert. ‘As a child,’ he leaned forward to speak softly, punctuating his words by tapping the white domed tip of his Mont Blanc pen against the glossy surface of his dark clear desk, ‘I once made a little toy cart from an empty, rickety wooden crate that had held Egyptian oranges. My father bartered for them while on one of our long nomadic journeys. For my little cart I fashioned four wheels from the sharp ends of two tin cans and made axels for them out of thin shards of camel bones. One becomes extremely imaginative when one has nothing.’

He glared at Mark intensively with dark eyes accented by heavy black brows framed by a crisp, white ghutra. Arising lightly from his heavy chair the diminutive chairman smiled, signaling the end of their meeting. ‘Thank you very much for your visit with me this afternoon,’ he said. ‘I wish you all the success and blessings of Allah. And I hope that you come back again, anytime.’

Drained of all color and emotion after losing what he believed was literally a million-dollar idea, Mark exited the office.

Along his solemn walk back home to their efficiency, Mark stared down at his dust-covered wingtips. He occasionally looked up through the harshly blowing desert sand at the dust-covered glass-paneled skyscrapers until he found the one where he and Marilyn would share their equally disappointing news.

‘I guess you could say I got rymmed,’ Marilyn said without smiling or laughing.

‘Now look, sweetheart, we knew this wouldn’t be easy,’ Mark said as they sat side by side on the rented bed – actually nothing more than a mattress atop a bedspring, the only piece of furniture in the room. And we knew that we would encounter unimaginable disappointments, but this is all part of the game! We just need to recognize these as mere challenges! They come our way to encourage us to continue to throw care to the wind and keep moving.

‘The fact is,’ he added, ‘that we need to keep our minds open to new possibilities! We need to get back out there immediately and make our opportunities! We owe it to ourselves and to the world! We have a social responsibility – remember?’

Having explored and observed activities at nearly every corner of the emirate, after a few weeks, the two accepted that they had been most intrigued by a section heavily populated by jewelry stores, commonly referred to as the Gold Souk. They felt they could really do something with that place.

Defined by a T-shaped strip of approximately three-hundred modest jewelry shops all of similar appearance, stock, and staffing, the Gold Souk was drawing millions of tourists from throughout the world, each year.

Recognizing the immense potential in income by tapping into that financial reservoir, Mark and Marilyn decided to tackle the design of a Monopoly-style board game that they would base on this zone.

As part of the game, cards representing ‘pitfalls’ that could occur as the owner of a jewelry store would be drawn up by Marilyn in red ink. ‘Rewards’ of jewelry business ownership would be written by Mark, in blue.

Failed to sell jewelry on consignment. Give five jewelry tokens to player of your choice, Marilyn wrote on a small piece of paper. Gold price shoots up fifteen dollars per ounce. Go directly to Madas Gems, wrote Mark, on his.

Delighted with their concept and energized by visions of stacks of boxes of it selling wildly to tourists and local residents, alike, they worked giddily and feverishly on the project until, by four a.m. the next morning, the bed was covered with drafts of what they agreed were fifty, fairly perfect playing cards.

After resting a few hours, they re-assessed their project while nibbling on dates and pita bread and made several drafts of their playing-board ‘map’ of the souk.

By evening they had agreed upon a final dummy design that they were quite satisfied would be attractive and marketable with only minimally more tweaking.

After three days and several bowls of steamed chickpeas later, they had played the game more than one hundred times and, despite the game’s discrete minor flaws, they were ready to take their project to a graphics designer for finalization prior to printing, packaging, marketing, and distribution.

With time of the essence and funds in increasingly lower supply, they approached the youthful, nervously energetic manager – of indeterminate ethnic origin – of one of the local graphics design and printing houses in town that they frequently passed.

Together they hoped to convince him that they had a wonderful concept that would lead to development of a product that he could print exclusively. This opportunity undoubtedly would lead to a healthy and steady source of income for his company.

‘I trust that you realize,’ the young man scolded them from behind his office desk, ‘that without the permission of the government to refer specifically to the Gold Souk or to use the names of any of these businesses is absolutely illegal.

‘Such things are never allowed to go forward in this country! Just think about it!’ He suddenly spoke, gesturing with his hands as if describing something dangerous to small children, ‘Why do you think that you have not already seen something similar? Do you think that people other than you are not also so clever?’ He slammed his hands down onto his desk, and slid them over to their folder which he opened.

Maintaining a dramatic, supercilious air while looking carefully over every detail of their handiwork but failing to share even a bit of verbal appreciation for or acknowledgement of their effort, the manager suddenly threw up his hands. ‘I’m sorry, but this is completely useless.’

Confused, miffed, and hungry, Mark and Marilyn packed up their penalties and rewards, playing cards, and game board into a thin faded blue folder, and left.

After a few lean months, Mark and Marilyn found themselves walking together along an old section of town on Baniyas Road, not far from the winding Dubai Creek that leads into the Gulf. Marilyn gazed vacantly at the captivating vista of bobbing abras and heavy dhows that floated before the pretty, elaborately pointed minarets scattered across the muted peach-colored, ancient skyline until she noticed with annoyance that the skin of her arms was smarting.

Rolling back the long loose black sleeves of her blouse, she saw that her forearms were covered with red, swollen blotches.

‘Mark, look!’ she said. ‘What on earth is this?’

‘My goodness,’ he said, concerned, ‘I don’t know what it is but seeing it now reminds me that just this morning I saw the same sort of thing spreading across my chest and neck as I looked in the mirror while shaving. We’d been so rushed to leave that I’d forgotten to mention it.’

‘Let’s pop in at that store, just there,’ she pointed, ‘shall we? The sign says it has a pharmacy inside. You never know, this may be some funny stuff that’s endemic to the area that we haven’t got any immunity to. We have a bit of money left; we might need to pick up some odd Arabian tincture or something.’

Agreeing, Mark quickly led her by the hand to the shop where, upon opening the door they were greeted by a great, old-fashioned clang of bells. They were pleased to find standing behind the counter an Iranian pharmacist whose posted license stated that he had been practicing in Dubai for the past twelve years.

Within seconds of taking a look at their rashes he allayed their concerns.

‘Your symptoms are simply an unusually severe form of a stress-related rash, further aggravated by the excessively dry conditions that we have been experiencing,’ he said. ‘This is not so uncommon among some people, especially those who are new to the desert environment – you understand – the arid and intense heat. The sand storms that we have been experiencing lately irritate the skin and make the rash a little brighter on the two of you than I can recall ever having seen it. But, not to worry! It is likely the case that once you are free of your troublesome stress the rash will go away, just as these sand storms will pass.

‘Pardon me,’ said Mark, rubbing his throat, ‘but, may I ask just what is it that makes you so certain this rash is indeed stress-related?’

‘Oh, certainly, Sir,’ the pharmacist responded, stepping from behind the counter to straighten items on a shelf. ‘Having worked in this region as long as I have, and having talked with hundreds of customers who have willingly and openly shared their most personal travails,’ he added, re-shuffling boxes. ‘I have come to be able to put two and two together. I can recognize all sorts of illnesses even better than most physicians,’ he exclaimed.

‘And, predictably enough,’ he added, ‘as the lure of this place grows and more and more people arrive, believing that they might easily pursue their various dreams, I happen to see more and more of the ugly reality!’ He laughed openly, stepping aside from a stack of ‘Gold Souk’ games he’d just arranged, as Mark and Marilyn turned to leave.

Shukran!’ they called out.

Husband and wife linked arms and stepped softly from the thickly sand-covered step of a convenient side exit of the shop that would set them closer to their bus stop.

Winding their way together along the narrow dusty pathway, they stepped carefully atop fallen and withered palm fronds and amid swirling funnel clouds of what looked like hundreds of bits of faded pink and orange tissue paper.

The charming sight reminded Marilyn of the fun she and Mark often had raking oak and maple leaves with Lupie and Midge on windy fall days back home.

‘I hope the girls are okay.’

They tilted their heads in unison toward the sky and saw above their heads an arbor of gnarled vines of deep magenta and light pink bougainvillea with green leaves cascading wildly over an old, spindly wooden overhead trellis.

‘Excuse me,’ Marilyn called out, as she looked to an elderly Indian gardener ahead of them who was gently clutching a few fronds that he was using to sweep the path.

‘Tell me!’ he said, waggling his head.

‘Do you happen to know? Well, excuse me but, I’m just curious,’ she started, ‘Do these flowers bloom here all year long?’

‘These, Madam?’ he attempted to confirm, gesturing upward.

‘Oh yes, those,’ she affirmed.

‘These are not flowers, Madam, he said, picking up from the sand one of the fallen red bits. They certainly are not.’

‘What do you mean?’ she asked. ‘What are they, then?’

‘These are bracts, Madam. B-R-A-C-T-S.’

‘Bracts?’ she repeated. ‘But, their bright color. They must be blooms or blossoms of flowers.’

‘The bougainvillea never blooms, as we think of flowers blooming,’ he responded methodically and in a distinctive rapid manner of speech.

‘The bright color that we see and that, I must say, we all enjoy very much as a symbol of God’s divine plan for our suffering and His grace, is actually a physical manifestation of pain suffered by the plant as it struggles to obtain water.

‘You could say,’ he added, as Mark and Marilyn stared at a sprig of the plant that they closely examined, ‘that the red that you see is similar to the redness we witness when we have a fever, a sore or blood when we are wounded – or even perhaps as a bad feeling when we have a headache that comes about when we have anger or hold bad thoughts.

As they continued studying the plant, he continued.

‘Actually, the richness of life lies in the fact that we realize that even in sadness there is beauty, isn’t it?’ He grinned, waggling his head again.

Smiling politely but silent in their state of flux, they stepped past him to continue to the bus. Mark turned to thank him, he later thought, for no particular reason.

‘It is certainly the case that it is I who owe you a debt!’ the gardener called out in unheard response, as he knelt to gather more palms.

Crossing the street, they found themselves approaching the churning white waters along the shoreline. Mark gently placed his hand on Marilyn’s shoulder, encouraging her to stop.

Standing firmly with his back toward the water his gray eyes stared stonily at her face while she gazed beyond him at the blindingly bright blue barren sky that aligned endlessly with the enormous purple sea.

The sharp desert wind savagely tossed and tangled her hair round the dry skin of her flushed, creased cheeks. Her pale green eyes became tinged with red. The parched pink of her lips became momentarily highlighted by the moisture of his kiss.

‘My dear, dear, Marilyn,’ he said, clutching her hands in his own. ‘You have never looked more beautiful.’

The End

‘Manipulating Irony’ appears in ‘Expiration Date & Other Stories‘ available at Smashwords.com.

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