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Flesh and Blood and the Sandman
 - P.S. Ehrlich

        The home screenings began a few months later: part of my mother’s film studies that ultimately led to her career as a movie critic. This was long before the days of videos and DVDs, so we got to see genuine 16mm movies on a Bell & Howell projector that often broke down midreel. My mother squeezed the most she could out of each rental, playing every feature multiple times, though the projector often balked at rewinding. She always watched the first show alone (at least until she had to call in my father to unjam or rethread or deglitch) but would permit others to join her during reruns. The Girl Next Door and I were welcome providing we kept quiet; which we always did, having found alternate ways to communicate with each other.
        None of the films were quite suitable for children, yet Rozay and I got to see nearly all of them: Wild Strawberries, Black Narcissus, Cocteau’s Orpheus, Hitchcock’s Spellbound—and The Innocents, from which we derived our everlasting catchphrase “IT WAS ONLY THE WIND, MY DEAR.” Plus new characters to cast ourselves as, especially when my half-sister Cassie escorted us places. Once we would have played Jane and Michael to her almighty Mary Poppins; now she was the hung-up Governess to our Flora and Miles. And the focal point of our scrutiny as we conducted a new experiment in what Rozay called “esping.” (I preferred the term “underhear,” but that got vetoed as verging on smutty.)   
        We’d established that neither of us could impinge uninvited on the other’s thoughts—or at least that I couldn’t on Rozay’s. (She said she couldn’t on mine.) But what about outsiders? Might we be able to give them any ideas, or possibly tap into theirs? Cassandra was a handy target, and we kept tabs on her stealthier activities—cigarettes, bad language, alcoholic beverages, college boys—taking refuge when necessary in our Innocents roles, staring at Cass with self-possessive otherworldly fleers on our faces.   
        As Miles told the Governess: we weren’t mind readers, but we did sense things.
        Accurately enough to keep Cassie in hot water for weeks at a time. Prompting her to denounce us as spies, weird little snitching finks, and “Wednesday and Pugsley.” Thanks to her history of outlandish fabrication, no one ever held us accountable. We were tempted to try a similar approach with neighborhood bully Jerome Gullip, but feared his mental vacuum might suck in our esping-selves and trap them inside his brain.
        Then one day the film du jour was Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
        What’s this one about?
        There’s supposed to be a robot in it.
        I thought you said it was a silent movie.
        Yeah. So? Robots don’t HAVE to talk.
        Silent movies are from the olden days. Robots are from the future.
        (This with the lofty-learnèd air Rozay felt entitled to, being eight months older than me.)
        It was a scratchy, faded print with a ridiculous nickelodeon score, but the film left an unforgettable impression on me. Especially Rotwang—a mad inventor indeed with rampant gray hair, smoldering eyes under beetling brows, and a black metallic hand.   
        I bet that’s what God looks like.
        Oh don’t be stupid.
        (Rozay, though a believer in rationalism, attended parochial school and so disparaged my remark from two standpoints.)   
        But here was Rotwang putting on an almighty light show, converting his robot into a beautiful girl’s lookalike: one who could wink and strut and do a belly dance. This, I felt, was eminently graspable divinity.   
        “You kids probably shouldn’t be seeing this,” my mother snickered.
        YOU shouldn’t, anyway, added the Girl Next Door.
        Though I was being given what would later be referred to as a secular humanist upbringing, I was convinced the meek would inherit the earth—plus the sidewalk and curbstone—having had my face crammed into them all by Jerome Gullip. Could a tentative “prayer” to Rotwang get something done (and soon) regarding Jerome?   
        Evidently yes, thanks to the Vespa scooter he stole the very next day and drove, along with most of himself, under the wheels of a UPS truck. Soon and gratifyingly gruesome.   
        At school we all had to donate to buy a wreath for Jerome’s funeral.
        Most gratifying dime I ever spent. And again nobody thought me at fault.
        However, my mother’s probably-shouldn’t-be-seeing-this conscience kept smiting her, till Rozay and I got banished midway through Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies. To discover how it turned out, we “borrowed” Cassie’s copy of the book and read it together. It did not escape us that Simon (with fits like Rozay’s) and Piggy (with asthma like mine) both got brutally killed before The End, while all the Jeromeish characters escaped.   
        “I guess some of us just have rotten luck is all,” I said.
        “All nothing,” said Rozay. “There ought to be more to The End than a lot of sobs and darkness.”   
        An alternative emerged with tickets to a road show of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Not only was it knee-deep in extrasensory perception and psychic phenomena, but also reincarnation—a feat not unique to Jerry Van Dyke’s automotive mother. I thought the plot kind of ran out of gas, with the heroine deciding maybe she had lived a previous life before running off to start yet another one. But Rozay thought this the only logical conclusion (and explained why, in numbing detail). She set out to master On a Clear Day’s entire score when she was presented with a Hammond organ on her tenth birthday. No “Chopsticks” or “Heart and Soul” for Rozay Franzia.   

        My half-sister left town the night of her high school graduation. After the ceremony she shed cap and gown and, pinning honest-to-God flowers in her hair, stated that she was taking off with some friends for San Francisco. Mom blew her stack, and they began a battle royal that made their earlier epics seem like pipsqueaks. Mrs. Franzia hustled Rozay and me away to the Castle Tea Room where we were all supposed to adjourn. Some of my aunts showed up too, bringing Gramps Rhine (who said we could all use a stiff belt) but not my parents and certainly not Cassandra. When I got home, Dad was sitting alone reading Rutherford’s Radioactive Substances.   
        “Try to be quiet when you go upstairs,” he told me. “Your mother’s… resting.”   
        Cassie did go to California, and there went through most of what the later Sixties had to offer. Though I can’t say I ever particularly missed her (other than noticing she was gone) it soon became apparent that her absence caused things to go out of whack between my mother and father, and between them and me. Even between myself and Rozay, now that we were ungovernessed. That damned Hammond demanded more and more of her attention—that is, when she wasn’t spending more and more time out at her father’s house in the country—that is, a place I was never invited to visit and a part of her life I knew nothing about—
        The inevitable began to happen at the end of that summer, when Rozay jumped at the chance to accompany her dad on a business trip to Genoa. Her Greco-Romanness was manifesting itself: at just-turned-eleven she’d started sprouting breasts and hips, plus an arrivederci derrière that all the neighborhood ladies merrily predicted would get pinched left and right. A prospect Rozay dismissed airily when I went over to wish her buono viaggio. She promised me lots of postcards and opportunities to test intercontinental esping.   
        How can I try when I won’t know where you are?
        Well, I know where YOU are; so there you go.
        Hugging me goodbye, which was not a habit of ours. With me uneasily (not yet acutely) conscious of her sproutings, and how warm she felt, and how clean she smelled.   
        I received no postcards. Nor any messages after an initial Testing 1-2-3, we are at the airport. Nor did she return on time, which freaked her mother transatlantically. Mrs. Franzia had opposed this excursion from its first proposal, though she herself—as confided to my mother when they didn’t think I could hear—only opted out of going too because “that son-of-a-bitch Dick” (Mr. Franzia) expected her to pay her own passage.   
        Finally Rozay came back, three days into the new school year. Ciao and cheek-kisses and deep olivaceous tan and shades never taken off. With souvenir-gifties for all of us (I got a lira) and so many layers of Audrey Hepburn sophistication I would’ve been sick to my stomach, had I not sensed something else.   
        Are you okay?
        Of course.
        C’mon, something’s the matter.
        You wouldn’t understand.
        Sure I would. Now what is it?
        “Only the wind, my dear.”
        Flesh and blood and the sandman, whistling down the wind.
        I might not have understood, but I could sure as hell be jealous of any supplanters. No doubt by now that she’d have her pick of them, though if I knew Rozay she’d probably go for some fitful mystic like Simon in Lord of the Flies.   
        Nor was I far wrong: she chose Robert F. Kennedy.
        With a sudden constant “Bobby why” and “Bobby wherefore” and “Bobby inasmuch-as-which.” While it was a pleasure to see Rozay so eager, so energized, it really stuck in my craw. Not least her taking for granted that I was foursquare behind her on this, however much I might dislike her candidate. Who always struck me (and my craw) as a cold-eyed, frosty-blooded bastard: the type of sandman who’d put you out by funneling grit under your eyelids.   
      I strove to keep these opinions hidden, lest I lose Rozay for good—a threat that grew as time went by, since she would realize not only that I wasn’t wild about “Bobby,” but had been throwing sand in her eyes (as it were) her week after week. So I grinned and bore it, esping Sure is! and Sure does! to all her crusading gush.  
        Then the frosty bastard had the gall to open his campaign right there in River City, on the KU campus. You’d have thought the Beatles were parading down Jayhawk Boulevard after winning the Final Four. I found myself trapped on the Field House bleachers by 20,000 demented groupies, with Rozay squealing at my side. It took all my strength to avoid having an asthma attack—and risk being branded (maybe on the cover of Time magazine!) as the Kid Who Swooned In Public At Kennedy Charisma. I finally succumbed when the rally was safely over, and Rozay had to help me home. Solicitous with half her mind, supportive with one of her arms, and full of Bobby-babble every step of the way.   
        Then he had to go and get shot, for crying out loud.
        When I heard the news I didn’t think about him or Ethel or their dozens of children or the future of America, but only how Rozay would react. There’d been no fits for years—none, at least, that I was aware of—thanks perhaps to better medication, or her oncoming pubescence, or our telepathic outlet. Now fearing the worst, I extrasensored a variety of solicitous/supportive messages next door, then went over to check on her in person.   
        To have Rozay, with eyes dry as sand, tell me aloud that esping was childish, and she would not be doing it
anymore.  • 

[Sadly, The Sidewalk's End is now gone from the Web.  Above is a replica of their November 2005 publication.]

Copyright © 2005-2008
by P. S. Ehrlich; All Rights Reserved.