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Fiction by Gerald Perlman

Only Seconds

Prologue The Appointment in Samarra (as retold by W. Somerset Maugham [1933]) The speaker is Death There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there, Death will not find me.” The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?” “That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.” It was promising to be a miserable weekend. Tropical storm Angela was coming up the east coast and threatening to spoil Nancy and Gary’s weekend plans. During the summer months they tried to get out of town on Thursday afternoons before three to beat the rush hour traffic and have an extra day in the country. For almost twenty-eight years, they made this two and half hour trip from New York City to Carlton practically every weekend. It was a town of about 3000 people in rural Susquehanna County, approximately twenty-five miles north of Scranton, PA, the city made famous by the TV show “The Office.” Being there was their antidote to the madness of the city and the demands of their respective professions. Because Nancy had to work late that Thursday, they decided to leave Friday morning instead. Besides, heavy rain was predicted for all of Thursday. So, there was no need to rush up to the house, even though each, as always, felt a pressure to do as much planting, trans-planting, pruning and general neatening-up of their gardens as possible within the time available on any given weekend. The pattern was the same most weekends. They typically packed up everything the night before: laundry to do up in the country, work they might need to do over the weekend, out of season clothes, and other odds and ends that seemed always to go back and forth for no apparent reason. Just before leaving, the red thermal bag would be filled with four ice packs and whatever food was left over from the week that would be eaten over the weekend before it spoiled. Then Gary would get the car that was parked in a garage two
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