Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South, Second Edition

Cover of Fables of the New South

Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South (ISBN: 978-0-9848913-6-8) is now available in its second edition. Eight stories featuring people who have come to Atlanta, Georgia to reinvent themselves. Portions of these stories appeared on this blog between 2014-2017. Stories include:

  • Mockingbird
  • Journey From Night
  • A Debt to Pay
  • Dead Man’s Hat
  • Remains
  • Bare-Assed Messiah
  • Atomic Punk
  • Phoenix

Selected Reviews, Amazon and Goodreads

“Intriguing, whimsical realism featuring a compelling cast of characters, woven together into a constellation of complex connections…”

“Wonderfully brilliant stories…a rich fabric of Southern culture, with a large city vibe.”

“An author to be on the radar.”

“Lupo is a masterful story writer. “

“Well written and thoughtful.”

Available in print at online booksellers and Kindle from Amazon.

Dander and Leander

Dan Barton sits in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment in Boston, which is sparsely furnished with a second-hand couch, mismatched chairs, plywood and cinder block shelves, and cluttered with tennis shoes, articles of clothing, open and empty boxes of varying sizes, including a black and white cow print Gateway computer box. He’s been a guest of the residents, Dottie and Leah, sleeping on the couch for several months, since his last roommate moved back to Toronto suddenly, leaving him with a place he couldn’t afford on his own and unable to float the cost while he found someone new. In return for letting him crash there, he picks up the utilities. The trio met a little over a year ago at an improv club in Boston, near Wellesley’s campus, and sometimes, varying configurations of Leah, Dottie, and Dan perform together, though mainly Leah and Dan. He’s seated at the computer, near the center of the room, typing.

“Wow, it’s a speed demon,” he says in an elevated voice, as though speaking to someone in another room. “Whatever you did, Leah, it definitely helped.” Receiving no response, he goes on. “I am so stoked for the show tonight. There’s supposed to be a group from Second City performing.”

“Do you have the graduation guide in there?” Leah calls out.

“Why would I have it?” Dan says. “You forget, my application to Wellesley got lost in the mail.”

“Think it’s in Dottie’s room?” she says.

“That would be a safe bet. What do you need?” he says.

“Which way does the tassel go?” she says.

Dan thinks about it. “I think it goes to the left before the ceremony. That’s how we did it in high school.”

Leah enters wearing a cap and gown in Wellesley’s colors. She models it for Dan.

“What do you think?” she says.

“Look at you, Miss Wellesley graduate,” he says. “Did you hear from MIT?”

“I did,” she says. “You are looking at the latest candidate for an accelerated Ph.D.”

“At least you’re staying in the area, so we won’t have to break up the act,” Dan says.

“Oh yeah, the act,” Leah says. “Wouldn’t want to deprive the world of Dander and Leander.”

Dan shakes his head. “You’re a better improviser than you think.”

Leah puts her hands on her hips and tilts her head to the side. “Which explains why I’m always known as ‘that chick who does improv with Dan’. You’re the one who gets all the invitations to play with other groups.”

“I take you along,” he says.

“At least I get to see a lot of free improv by people who really know what they’re doing,” Leah says.

“Are your folks coming up for graduation?” Dan asks.

“The whole family,” Leah replies. “Mom’s supposed to call me tonight to finalize details.”

“As opposed to every other night when she just calls to chat,” he says with a chuckle.

“So, I’m close to my mother, big deal,” she says.

“No, I think it’s great. I wish I got along with my parents that well,” he says.

“It was really just me and Mom before Alyssa was born,” Leah says. “Well, Dad was there on weekends between tee times.”

“He’s some sort of high roller in Atlanta isn’t he?”

“Real estate,” she says. She looks up as though reading a billboard. “Paxton Walker, the man who gave Atlanta its urban sprawl.”

“Doesn’t that make you a Southern heiress?” Dan says.

Leah rolls her eyes. “Yeah, right.”

The phone rings and Leah answers.

“This is Leah. That you, Mom?” She seems surprised. “Dad? Why are you calling? Where’s Mom?” She puts her hand to her head. “Wait. What did you just say?”

Leah exits into her room. Dan looks after her. “Leah?”

Dottie enters and dumps her bag onto a chair. “Hey, Dan. What’s up?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t know. Leah just got a call from her father and went in her room.”

“From her father?” Dottie says, concerned. “Leah doesn’t get calls from her father.”

Just then, Leah returns, holding the phone, her face wet with tears. Dan rises and Dottie goes to Leah and puts her arm around her.

Dan touches Leah’s shoulder and says, “Leah? Is everything okay?”

Leah shakes her head. “No. Nothing’s okay. Nothing will ever be okay again.” She stares at Dottie. “Dottie?” Leah wraps her arms around Dottie and starts sobbing. Dottie comforts her. After a moment, Leah lifts her head. “That was my father. He said my mother—“ She breaks off. “My mom’s dead.”

“Oh my god,” Dan says.

“What happened?” Dottie says. “When Dan said you were talking to him, something didn’t feel right.”

Leah puts her hand to her head. “He didn’t go into a lot of details. He came home and—“ She wanders aimlessly away from them. “I’ve got to get to Atlanta. Tonight.”

Dan looks at Dottie, who nods. He says, “What can we do to help?”

“I need to—“ Leah starts, then says, “What about graduation?”

Dottie takes her hands. “Don’t worry about that now. You need to get home to be with your family.”

Leah stares at her a moment and nods. “I’ll need a flight out.” She looks in the direction of her room. “I need to pack.”

Dan takes the phone from Leah and says to Dottie, “Okay, listen. You help get her stuff together.” He starts to dial. “My cousin works for American Airlines at Logan. I’ll call her and make the arrangements. If there’s a direct flight out tonight, she’ll get you on it.”

Leah nods.

Dottie puts her arm around Leah and guides her into her room. “Let’s get you home.”

House Band, Rebecca

Rebecca Asher turns off Piedmont Road into the parking lot for Ansley Mall, and parks behind the filling station that’s on the corner of Piedmont and Monroe Drive. She’s headed to a show at Smith’s Olde Bar, half a block away. Tonight, she has decided she won’t drink much, because she needs her wits about her. Tonight, she’ll be using some information she gained from an associate to approach a woman who’s intrigued her from the first time Rebecca laid eyes on her. Tonight, she’s planning to make her move. The words of a Patti Smith song she remembers from a record her mother used to play run through her head as she maneuvers her copper-colored Mini Cooper into a space and kills the engine. “I’m going to make contact tonight.”

The past six years haven’t been easy for Rebecca, starting with the death of her mother, Sharon, in June of 1997. At that time, her unmarried and childless aunt, Rachel, became the guardian of Rebecca and her brother, Steven, and instituted what Rebecca terms “her autocratic rule” over the siblings. Rebecca did her best to endure, sometimes shoplifting items from stores in downtown Decatur or Little Five Points, or occasionally directly challenging Rachel’s authority, like when she packed her car, an ancient Toyota her mother purchased for Rebecca to get her and Steven to school, and drove to Florida for Spring Break her senior year, over Rachel’s objections, but largely she tried to promote harmony in the household, mostly for her brother’s benefit, who seemed enamored with their aunt.

Rebecca headed off to college after that, having been accepted into Columbia University, where she planned to major in Journalism, and which she financed with a combination of limited scholarships and student loans. Once there, Rebecca started writing, for school publications, literary journals, extra-curricular student rags, and also took the opportunity to fully explore her attraction for other women. She found herself part of a clique of highly progressive lesbians, who staged shows, sponsored talks, and agitated for change, on campus and around town, where her writing skills served her well, making her an important voice in the movement. Through a friend, she even managed to get an occasional column in the Village Voice which she called “The Frantic Feminist” in which she touted feminist ideals and promoted women’s empowerment. For the first time in her life, she felt free, and unencumbered by the expectations of her friends and family back home, and came to believe she could truly make a difference.

It all came crashing down her junior year, starting with a surprise and very unwelcome visit by her father, Owen, a pilot, who ran out on the family when Rebecca was nine. Following Sharon’s death, Owen suffered an attack of conscience, and felt guilty about losing touch with Rebecca and Steven, and began calling and writing to them. All his attempts were intercepted by Rachel, who let him know his presence was not welcome. About a year and a half after she moved to New York, Rebecca began receiving cards and letters from Owen, who had somehow tracked her down there. Still, she had no desire to initiate contact with him, at least not on his terms, so she’d file away his missives after angrily reading them.

One evening, halfway through her junior year, she returned to her dorm, where she was startled by a familiar voice calling her name as she moved through the lobby. She turned to see a tall, middle-aged, well-tanned man with dark, curly hair approaching her. Though it had been years, she recognized him immediately.

“Owen the pilot,” she said aloud to herself, using her mother’s derogatory term for him. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Hello, Little One,” he said.

Rebecca shook her head furiously. “No. Don’t you call me that. Don’t you ever call me that again. You gave up your right to call me that.”

“Becky, I’m sorry,” he said.

“Sorry?” she said. “You abandoned your wife and children, left us to fend for ourselves while you’re off being a swinging single in San Francisco, and all you can manage is sorry?”

“I guess I deserve that,” Owen said.

“You guess?” Rebecca said.

“Becky, please, I just want to talk,” he said, “to make amends.”

“No. No. Unacceptable,” she said. “You think you can ditch out on your responsibilities then just waltz back in and resume playing Daddy?” She stormed away from him, then swung back around and screamed, “To hell with you, Owen. Just hop back in your damn plane and fly the hell out of here.”

The confrontation had drawn a small crowd. The dorm manager appeared and said, “Is everything okay?”

Rebecca hurried to him and said, “No.” She pointed to Owen. “This man’s harassing me. Call the cops.”

“Becky, you don’t have to do this,” Owen said. To the dorm manager, he said, “I’m her father.”

“Non-custodial,” Rebecca emphasized. “You can verify with the district attorney in DeKalb County, Georgia. There’s a restraining order against him, sworn out by Rachel Lawson, my aunt.”

“Sir, you’re going to need to leave,” the dorm manager said, assuming a protective posture between Rebecca and Owen. Over his shoulder he said to the desk attendant, “Call NYPD.”

Owen threw up his hands. “That won’t be necessary. I’m sorry I bothered you, Rebecca. I hope we can talk some other time.”

With that, he left. After assuring the dorm manager she was okay, and refusing the offer to speak with police, she headed up to her room, still shaking, where she polished off a bottle of wine she and her roommate stashed there. The following month and a half was a blur for her, as she sank into a deep depression and dealt with it using alcohol and marijuana. When she finally sobered up, she learned she had missed her finals and was on academic probation after failing all her classes. Feeling control of her life spiraling away from her, she packed her car, and headed for home.

Back in Atlanta, the situation didn’t improve. Using her experience with publications in New York, she was able to find work with Creative Loafing and several other outlets around town, but her drinking and recreational drug use increased. Her relationship with her aunt, strained before she left for school, now reached the breaking point, as she began staying out until all hours, wandering home intoxicated, angrily rebuffing attempts by Rachel to talk or insist she seek help. At last, Rachel changed all the locks on the doors, and Rebecca showed up one afternoon, drunk, to find all her belongings packed up on the porch. Since then, she’s drifted from friend’s couch to friend’s couch, sometimes sleeping in her car, remaining just coherent enough to hold down her job, reporting on cultural events around town, until several weeks ago, when she recognized the name of a favorite band appearing at Blind Willie’s, and attended the show, where she was once again confronted by someone with whom she’s become obsessed.

One of her favorite haunts is the club scene in Atlanta, and it’s here she first heard of a red hot female deejay who bills herself as CC Belmonte. Almost a mystical presence in the clubs, CC cuts a massive figure — some say she’s over seven feet tall — with long, dark hair and a total badass bitch attitude, who spins some of the tightest House mixes in all of North Georgia. Rebecca has acquired several of her compilations. Given her height, there’s a rumor rampant in the gay clubs that she’s actually a drag queen, but Rebecca has confirmed through reliable sources this isn’t the case, though information on her is fleeting, fueling the mystery.

Then came the show at Blind Willie’s, where Rebecca was catching up with the brother and sister duo, Echo, who she’s been following since she was in high school, and working the board for them was none other than CC Belmonte herself, who’s also an in-demand sound engineer. It took Rebecca a while to confirm it, since CC had ditched her club attire for jeans, a Steely Dan T-shirt, a backwards baseball cap, with her hair pulled back, and slip-on Vans, which de-emphasized her height, but once she purchased an Echo CD, and read the engineering credit, Rebecca knew for sure that this woman the band occasionally addressed as “Claire” was the deejay who has come to dominate Rebecca’s every waking thought. She couldn’t stick around after the show at Blind Willie’s, but enlisted the aid of an acquaintance with mad research skills, who she’s used for background on stories, to run down info on the elusive Ms. Belmonte. Armed with the results, Rebecca heads into Smith’s Olde Bar, ready for Round Two.

She camps out at the bar downstairs, where she can smoke, and watches the entrance to the upstairs music room. Echo has a new album and tonight is the official release event and Rebecca is covering it, and also looking forward to reviewing their new CD. While she’s waiting, Rebecca notices an older woman, wearing a faded polka dot dress, denim jacket, and a railroad cap peering into one of the windows. She looks, to Rebecca, like a refugee from Cabbagetown. She seems confused when she first comes in, then focuses on the bar and leans against it, near Rebecca.

“Where’s that band playing?” the woman says.

“Upstairs,” the bartender says and points to the entrance. “Doors open in about twenty minutes.”

“Listen, I ain’t here to see no show,” she replies. “I just need to give a message to one of them people with the band.”

The bartender shrugs. “I think they’re doing the sound check now. They might let you up. You can try.”

The woman nods and goes to the door. Finding it open, she heads up. Rebecca doesn’t see her come back before the light goes on, letting the crowd know doors are open. Once she gets to the music room, Rebecca sees the woman seated near the far end of the room, nursing a drink in a styrofoam cup.

Guess she changed her mind about the show, Rebecca thinks.

This will be the first time Rebecca has seen Echo live in several years. She’s kept up with them via their mailing list, and on the Internet, while away at college, and she has all but a couple of their CDs from the early-00s, but nothing quite matches her memory of hearing Charlotte sing in person. She takes a seat at the bar, and debates whether or not to get a drink. By the time the bartender arrives, she’s decided against it for now.

“Let me start with water,” she says. When it arrives, she leaves a dollar tip on the bar. She’ll definitely drink something later, especially just before she’s ready to approach Claire, but she decides to at least hear the first few songs with a completely clear head. She glances back toward the sound booth and sees Claire is ready. The lights dim, and in the darkness, Rebecca sees the band getting in place. The announcement for them comes over the loud speaker, and they start playing as the lights come back up.

House Band, Jack Standridge

As far as endings go, Jack Standridge had one of the best. He simply went to sleep and didn’t wake up the next morning. A Marine, who served in Korea, he came home to Decatur, Georgia, where he found a job with his father’s insurance agency, eventually taking over the business when his father retired. Along the way, he married Nancy Belmonte, a lively woman he met at Georgia State, and together, they had three children, two sons, Rex and Lawrence, and a daughter, Claire, who they lost at age eight to a congenital heart defect. Just before the kids started school, he and Nancy bought a nice home in Avondale Estates, now devoid of all but the two of them, though the day before the house had been filled with family, Rex, his wife and four kids, stopping in on their way from Florida to Chattanooga.

Nancy, always an early riser, discovers when she comes to rouse him for breakfast, that Jack is cold, not breathing, but wearing his customary smile. She mostly remains calm, allowing herself only a few sniffles as she goes into another room to summon the authorities, then begin the process of alerting the family. Grief will come later, when it’s official, when all the details have been ironed out. Then she will mourn.

By eleven that morning, Lawrence has arrived from Ansley Park, where he lives with his partner Elijah Parker, who’s in Washington until the end of the week, and Claire Belmonte is there. Claire came to their home at age sixteen, after running away from a nightmare situation in Middle Georgia. The Standridges welcomed her into their home and family, and Claire remained with them for nearly four years, taking Nancy’s family name as her own, completing her high school equivalency, and starting junior college as a sound technician. Though she moved into Atlanta just prior to her twentieth birthday, she remains close with the family, stopping in at least once a month, and her relationship with the Standridges has been more like that of an adopted daughter. By the time Lawrence, then Claire arrive, the medical examiner has come and gone, verifying what Nancy already knew, that Jack passed, quietly, in his sleep the night before, and transporting him to the coroner.

There’s already a small crowd there, mainly close neighbors alerted by the police cars and coroner’s van that something wasn’t right, and universally complimentary of the man now gone. Nancy alerted Rex, but insisted he and his family continue their brief vacation, and come by on their way back, when arrangements will be more formalized. Having finished most of her self-appointed duties, Nancy now finds herself seated on the couch, surrounded by Claire, and Barbara Stewart, her next-door neighbor, who have taken over the roles of chief comforters, Barbara constantly assuring Nancy that “Jack’s in a better place”, and Claire inquiring frequently if Nancy needs anything. From here, Nancy entertains a continuous stream of well-wishers as word of Jack’s passing filters throughout the enormous community of those who knew him. She finally relaxes, and settles into the role of grieving spouse, knowing fully well that she will need to make many difficult decisions in the days to come. The most difficult arrives a few days following the funeral, in the person of an agent representing Walker Development, inquiring about Nancy’s plans for her property, and promising a competitive offer on the home.

Depending upon one’s point of view, Walker Development is either a dynamic force for revitalization around Atlanta, or an unfeeling corporate behemoth, mercilessly dotting the landscape with gaudy, overpriced McMansions that only the super-wealthy can afford. As young people from the suburbs of the Atlanta Metro area have moved back into town, fueling gentrification in formerly minority neighborhoods, Walker, among others, has been there, encouraging them to demolish the older structures in favor of new, more upscale dwellings, which the developers will, of course, design and build. The previous residents, many of whom have lived in the neighborhoods their entire lives, suddenly find the costs of taxes and utilities becoming unbearable, and always, the developers are there, offering low-income residents just slightly more than the “book value” of the property, to encourage them to move on quickly. Once they’re gone, the modest homes are replaced with vastly more elaborate structures, which sometimes sell for a thirty to fifty times the cost to the developer, and which increase the stress on the crumbling infrastructure the city or county maintains. Along the way, old neighborhood names, kept alive by the elderly black residents, who learned them from their parents and grandparents, get resurrected, as the Fourth Ward becomes The Old Fourth Ward, and the areas south of the tracks from Chandler Park and Lake Claire become Kirkwood and East Atlanta Village. Once-quiet little neighborhoods find themselves overrun with coffee shops and corner bars, and choked with increasing traffic, as non-residents flock there, sometimes from as far away as Bartow or Henry County, to sample the local ambience.

The representative from Walker is a first contact, a young woman, who’s very deferential and self-effacing, complementing the home, and expressing sincere condolences for Nancy’s loss. She doesn’t stay long, and leaves a few brochures for Nancy to look at “when the timing is right”. Nancy knows, however, that once she’s on their radar, the contacts will increase, and become more insistent, phone calls, mailings, and visits, not just from Walker, but from any number of developers or real estate agents. She doesn’t relish the thought of having her family’s memories demolished, but without Jack, staying no longer seems desirable for her.

The Handmaiden

Peace statue, Atlantic Station, Atlanta, GA.

Leah Walker steps up to the door of Rosalind Duchard’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts and rings the bell. She’s there to meet with Rosalind and her husband, Paul, about a request they made of her at a previous meeting. Leah is still undecided on what her answer will be, but Rosalind has promised to have a legal agreement drawn up to spell out everyone’s responsibilities and the legal consequences of everything.

She’s met at the door by Paul, a man in his fifties, somewhat overweight, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, and a madras shirt.

“Leah,” Paul says, with little enthusiasm. “You’re early. Rosalind isn’t back yet.” He makes no effort to invite her in.

“Can I come in anyway?” Leah says.

Paul considers it. “Oh. Yeah. Sure.”

He steps aside to allow her entry.

In the year since becoming Rosalind’s lab assistant, Leah has come to regard her as a mentor and friend, and Rosalind has successfully wrested from Leah’s aunt, Margaret, the title of “second most important” woman in Leah’s life. Around MIT, faculty, staff, and students recognize that talking to Leah is almost the same as having Rosalind’s ear, and some faculty members prefer Leah’s accessibility to wading through the sea of interpersonal issues they have to navigate to work with Rosalind. Leah and Rosalind spend most of the day together, and many evenings, depending on the time of year, or the grants Rosalind is managing. Their close working arrangement often draws the ire of Rosalind’s husband.

Leah has only had a few interactions with Paul Duchard, but they’ve been icy and uncomfortable. He always greets her with a stern look, and an over abundance of sighs and eye rolls. She’s found his reactions rarely change, regardless of how polite or friendly she tries to be around him. On the occasions they’ve been alone when she’s visiting, any interest she shows in getting to know him is met with monosyllabic responses, and it isn’t out of the ordinary for Paul to excuse himself whenever Leah and Rosalind are talking, even when they’re chatting and not discussing academic matters. Leah suspects Paul may have Asperger Syndrome, but whenever she’s broached the topic with Rosalind, she always dismisses Leah’s suspicions, telling Leah she just needs to get to know Paul better.

Paul leads Leah to the living room, where she sits on the couch. He takes a seat in an overstuffed chair that has a guitar leaning against it.

“You play guitar?” Leah asks.

“Yeah, picked it up when I was in high school,” he says. “Some of my colleagues in the Math department have a jazz band. We play at clubs around town.”

“Really? I never knew that,” Leah says.

“Well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Leah,” Paul says. He folds his hands in front of him and glances at the clock. “Rosie should be here anytime now.”

They sit in awkward silence for several minutes.

“Can I ask you something, Paul?” she says. “I mean, since we have a little time.”

“What is it?” Paul asks.

“What exactly have I done to piss you off?” Leah says.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Paul says without facing her.

“Like hell you don’t,” she says. “Almost from the moment I met you, all I’ve gotten is attitude. You’re short with me. You give me a hard time every time I call here for Rosie. I’d just like to know what’s behind it.”

Paul sighs. “There’s no big mystery, Leah. I don’t like you. No reason. You just rub me the wrong way.”

“Perfect,” she says. “Another one of those guys, eh?”

“Those guys?” Paul says. “What does that mean?”

“I’ve been dealing with guys like you my entire life,” Leah says. “You’ve got some kind of bug up your ass about strong women, or women in science, or whatever.”

“My feelings toward you have nothing to do with your being a woman in science,” Paul says. “Do you honestly think I could have married Rosalind Worthy if I’d had any reservations about that? If not for other factors, I’d probably be your champion.”

“What other factors might those be?” Leah says.

Paul stares at her, considering something. Finally, he says, “Your father is Paxton Walker isn’t he — the Walker behind Walker Development?”

“Yes, he is,” Leah says.

“I wasn’t sure at first,” Paul continues, “but after Rosie gave me a few more facts, I pretty well confirmed it.”

Leah shakes a finger at him. “You’re from Atlanta. Rosie never mentioned that.”

“She knows I went to Tech,” Paul says. “But she doesn’t know much about my early history. I’ve been a little mysterious about that, and she hasn’t really pressed me on it. It’s mutual. There’s quite a bit I don’t know about her past either.”

“Okay, spill it,” Leah says. “What’s your beef with my father?”

“You’re no doubt familiar with Dunkirk Estates?” Paul says.

“It was my father’s first major development deal. It made him a millionaire,” Leah says. “You lived in Dunkirk Estates?”

“No,” Paul replies. “My family and I lived in The Commons, which is what we called the neighborhood your father demolished in order to build Dunkirk Estates.”

“Wow, small world,” Leah says, mostly to herself.

“Yeah, too small, apparently,” he says. “We were sent packing, along with a community of over fifty families after Walker Development greased the palms of county commissioners to have them claim eminent domain on our homes.”

“So, call a lawyer,” she says. “If you had a valid claim to the property, you could have fought the county’s decision.”

“We couldn’t afford that,” he says. “Besides, the bulldozers were out there the following morning. We barely had time to finish packing.”

“What does any of this have to do with me?” Leah says. “I’m not my father. I was a child when he built that development.”

“No. But you benefited from it just the same, didn’t you?”

“For your information, my father and I had a parting of the ways before I started MIT,” Leah says. “He’s not paying for any of this.”

“What difference does it make if you’re being financed directly from him or through your trust fund?” Paul says. “You’ve still gotten all your advantages from his blood money. It’s what got you here.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” she says, “the mastery of coursework and long hours of studying were hardly a factor. Do you even know what my GPA was at Wellesley? That’s not a walk in the park, you know. Plus, I was jointly enrolled here for my last two years.”

“I’m not discounting your intelligence or drive,” he says, “but you’ve had opportunities handed to you most people cannot imagine.”

“You don’t seem to be doing so bad, yourself, Paul,” Leah says. “Whatever your upbringing, you seem to have overcome it.”

“Was there ever any question where you’d go to school?” Paul says. “Any doubt you’d be able to finance it?”

Leah looks away. “No. Not really.”

“Well in my case, there was quite a bit,” he says. “My family couldn’t afford to send me to school. My mother and father both worked outside the home just to scrape together enough to keep a roof over our heads. I’ve had to work my ass off most of my life for opportunities you routinely take for granted. You’re right. I’m doing very well now, and I earned every damn penny of it.”

“What’s that they say about the sins of the father?” Leah says.

“Look, I don’t hold you personally accountable for the things your father did,” Paul says.

“Could have fooled me,” she replies.

“You need to understand,” he goes on, “there were lives connected to every dollar your father made and you benefited directly from all of it.”

Leah stares at him a long moment, then shakes her head and chuckles. “Kind of ironic, isn’t it, the role I may end up playing for you and Rosie.”

“That’s Rosie’s idea, not mine,” Paul says. “I told her I couldn’t care less if our children were Jewish. I haven’t set foot inside Temple since the day I watched them bulldoze the only home I’d ever known.”

“Then why me?” Leah says. “There are at least five Jews on her Wall of Stars. Esther Gershon outshines me in pretty much all her academic accomplishments. She’s not married yet.”

“Rosie insisted,” he says. “She has this criteria in her head; math and science; Jewish; you don’t want children of your own. You seem to meet all her requirements. She calls you her star student, or something like that.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Leah says.

“How should I know?” Paul says. “Rosie says all sorts of crazy stuff. I tried to tell her the edict to marry proper Jewish women was from Ezra, post-exile. It’s not even mentioned in Genesis, but she’s obsessed.”

“Yeah, I wondered about that,” Leah says. “I seem to recall Leviticus has provisions for men carrying on their family line — surprise, surprise — but I don’t recall it being very explicit about women. Well, there’s Ruth.”

“Also Second Temple period,” Paul says.

“Yeah. Whatever,” Leah says, waving her hand dismissively. “Look, I’m not terribly enamored with the idea of future offspring sharing your DNA either, though, granted, they’ll definitely kick ass academically. This isn’t about us, though. It’s about Rosie.”

“Agreed,” Paul says.

“It’s not like we’ll be otherwise bound to one another,” Leah says. “If Rosie comes through with the agreement I requested, I’m prepared to wash my hands of the whole affair once the donation is done.”

“I could get behind that,” Paul says. “Plus, I have to agree. Given your academic credentials, any offspring should definitely have a strong math and science foundation. You’re a scientist; your father was an engineer. What did his father do?”

“He was a grocer,” Leah says. “Walker Groceries in Georgia and the Carolinas.”

“Multi-generational privilege, what do you know?” Paul says. “A typical southern tale.”

He picks up his guitar and starts improvising a Jazz riff. “Are you musical?”

Leah shakes her head, with a chuckle. “In high school, I tried trumpet, violin, and saxophone, and was pretty horrible on each one. If I get enough wine in me, I can usually do a mean Blues harmonica, but I doubt Dylan or the Stones will be calling anytime soon. As far as singing, I can usually hold my own in a chorus, as long as there are enough other voices to drown me out.”

“Yeah, I don’t have much of a voice either,” he says. He improvises several more bars on the guitar.

“You’re pretty good at that,” she says. A thought comes to her. “Say, maybe you can explain something to me. What is Rosie’s deal with May 23rd?”

“What do you mean?” Paul asks.

“When I asked her to be my thesis advisor, she didn’t want to take me on without knowing me better,” she replies. “So, I suggested she could hire me as her lab assistant.”

“Right.”

“She was showing me some stuff afterward,” she says, “how she does her grading, what not. The subject of my birthday came up — it was a couple of days away — and when Rosie learned I was born May 23, 1969, she sort of freaked out. Well, as much as Rosie freaks out.”

“What did she do?” Paul says.

“She walked away from me, thinking,” Leah says. “Then she stared at me a long time and confirmed I was born May 23, 1969. After that, she said, ‘Isn’t that something?’ Then she told me she’d reconsidered and agreed to be my advisor after all.”

“That’s odd,” he says. “But, like I say, I don’t know much about Rosie’s past. She’s never mentioned anything about that date. Her birthday is in March, and we were married in June.”

The front door opens and closes.

“Guess that’s Rosie,” Leah says. “Looks like there’s no turning back now.”

“It’s looking that way,” he says.

They face the door, to await Rosalind’s entrance.

Events of 1985, Leah

Computer keyboard

Leah Walker, age sixteen, descends into the basement of her family’s home in Buckhead, in Atlanta, a box of Lucky Charms in her hand, and sits at one of the computers she’s set up. Since it’s Saturday, Leah is wearing her typical household attire, cargo shorts, an oversized rugby shirt with the sleeves pulled up, and white Reeboks. The computers were purchased by her father, Paxton, with the idea they’d be used to connect him to his office, or allow him to work from home, but so far, Leah has been the only one to figure out how to use them, so they’ve more or less become hers to do with as she pleases. Her father still gives her assignments, such as connecting to his office network to post messages, or download files, but these don’t take up a lot of time, so she’s free to pursue her own interests.

Lately, her interests have included connecting to computer bulletin boards on the West Coast. A few months earlier, Leah saw a report on a network news magazine show about teen hackers in California who compromise the phone companies and invade computer networks. Two years earlier, she’d been enthralled by the film War Games, and ever since her father brought home the first computer, a Commodore 64, she’s been trying to tap into groups who could teach her how to pull off some of these tricks.

She switches on the stereo, and the room is filled with the Thompson Twins, from rotation at WRAS 88.5, Georgia State University’s radio station. She sits at the Amiga 1000, which her father recently purchased, and waits for it to power up. On another table is a Macintosh, Leah’s personal favorite for schoolwork, and on a portable stand nearby sits the Commodore 64, which is used mainly for gaming since the Amiga came along, with its new operating system, Windows 1.0, that Leah has been learning on her own, though she’s been badgering her parents to let her take a course at the Learning Annex on the Windows system.

“Hold me now, hold me in your loving arms,” Leah sings along with the radio. She opens the cereal and takes out a handful, which she pops into her mouth, then clicks on the modem software and selects a number from the list. The modem makes its usual wavering and staticky noises as it connects her to a box just outside Los Angeles, which, she’s recently learned, is a meeting point for several hacker groups. She logs in with her handle, JoeMamba, then begins exploring what’s new since her last visit. So far, she’s mainly lurked, following various threads without contributing more than a few questions. Not wanting anyone to suspect she’s a high school kid from Georgia, she’s set up her profile as Lee Johannes, a male college student from somewhere in the Midwest. As she explores the message board, she keeps notes on a yellow pad by the computer.

After about twenty-five or thirty minutes, Leah disconnects, and slides the yellow pad over, so she can see it. For the past several days, there’s been a discussion about a “backdoor” someone left on a server in Texas, and Leah’s anxious to see if she can get in using it. She keys in the modem number and waits for it to connect. Once she gets the prompt, she uses the credentials mentioned on the board, and this allows her access. From there, she has no idea what she’s supposed to do. It’s a Unix machine, and Leah has had even less experience with this type of system, than with Windows. She starts trying out some of the commands she has learned to see what they do.

Her sister, Alyssa, a tiny, blonde girl, four-years-old, appears at the door, standing on her tiptoes, which she’s in the habit of doing when she’s not wearing shoes. She has on a long, My Little Pony nightgown.

“Leah,” she says. “Can I play the bear game on the computer?”

“Sure, Princess,” Leah says. She pats her left knee. “Want to see what I’m doing?”

Alyssa hurries over and climbs onto Leah’s knee. “What is it?”

Leah leans toward one of Alyssa’s ears and says in a low voice, “It’s called hacking, so don’t tell Mom and Dad.”

“Okay,” Alyssa says.

Leah holds the cereal box for Alyssa, and she takes out a handful, which she eats one piece at a time, while she watches what Leah’s doing.

“This is a computer in Texas I’m not supposed to be logging into,” Leah says.

“Why are you doing it?” Alyssa asks.

“I think the main reason is because I can,” Leah says, “but beyond that I’m not real sure.”

“I want to play the bear game,” Alyssa says, sliding off Leah’s lap.

“All right,” Leah says, “it’s still there from last time, but use the headphones, okay?”

“I will,” Alyssa says.

“Remember how to turn it on?” Leah asks.

“Yep,” Alyssa says. She sits at the console, and starts the computer. She loads a program with cartoon bears in it, then puts on some headphones. As she plays, she occasionally hums along with the music in the game.

From the top of the stairs, her mother, Melinda, announces, “Leah, Gita’s here.”

Leah rolls to the door in the swivel chair and yells back, “Tell her I went to the North Pole.”

“She’s standing right here,” Melinda yells back.

“Oh. Don’t tell her that, then,” Leah says. “Are her legs working?”

There’s a pause, followed by Melinda saying, “They appear to be.”

“Well use them, Gita,” Leah calls back. She rolls back to the computer. A minute or so later, Gita, an Indian girl with short, black hair, and wearing sandals, cut-off jeans, and a bulky Frankie Say Relax T-shirt, enters. She stops, regards Leah with frustration, and says, “Why are you screwing around on the computer? We’re supposed to be going to the park.” She glances at Alyssa and says, “Hey, Aly.”

“She can’t hear you,” Leah says without removing her eyes from the screen. “Headphones.” Leah looks at the clock. “It’s ten forty-two. The park will still be there.”

Gitanjali Ramachandra or Gita, as she prefers to be known, is the daughter of the chief financial officer at Bickering Plummet, and has lived in Atlanta since her parents immigrated there when Gita was three-years-old. She and Leah met at school, and their families have gotten to know one another since Paxton’s firm won the bid to design an annex to Bickering’s corporate headquarters scheduled to be completed around the time she and Leah graduate in 1987. She jostles Alyssa’s hair, which prompts Alyssa to look up and say, “Hey, Gita!”

“Want some cereal?” Leah says, offering the box to Gita.

“Lucky Charms?” Gita says, with a sour look.

“Hey, they’re magically delicious,” Leah says, withdrawing her offer. “Never mind, then.” She eats another handful.

Gita plops down in an overstuffed chair nearby and sighs.

“Is that the Amiga?” Gita says.

“Yeah. My father likes to be on the cutting edge of the computing revolution,” Leah says. “The only problem is he has no idea how any of this works. That’s where I come in.”

“That’s convenient,” her friend says.

“It’s practically the only time Dad talks to me, when he needs something done on the computer,” Leah says. “Have you ever heard of the Arpanet?”

Gita shakes her head. “What is it?”

“Near as I can figure, it’s this gigantic network that connects the military with colleges and government agencies,” Leah says.

“Why would they need to be connected like that?” Gita says.

“I don’t know,” Leah says. “I guess schools that do research need to connect with the places that fund them. I read someplace the Arpanet was built to withstand a nuclear war.”

“That’s helpful to know,” Gita replies with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Twenty minutes later, Gita has shifted in the chair, so her feet, sans footwear, are over the back, and her head is hanging back over the seat. “How long are you going to be screwing around on that computer?”

“Sorry,” Leah says. “Once I get going, it gets addictive.” She disconnects from what she’s doing and shuts down the Amiga. She rises. “What’s the plan, Piedmont Park?”

Gita maneuvers in the chair so her feet are on the ground, then slips on her sandals, and stands. “That’s what I thought.”

“Anyone meeting us?” Leah says.

“I said something about it to Stewart,” Gita says.

“Stewart, the ass wipe who calls you Rama-lama-ding-dong?” Leah says. “Honestly, Gita, what do you see in that guy?”

“He’s cute,” Gita says. “Besides, he said he’d stop calling me that.”

“When’s he going to start? Monday?” Leah says.

Gita rolls her eyes.

“Why are you even looking at Stewart, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be getting married?” Leah asks her.

“Not before I’m twenty,” Gita says.

“I cannot believe there’s a guy sitting over in India waiting for you to come over and marry him,” Leah says.

“No. Raja’s in Canton,” Gita says. “His family moved here five years ago.”

“Still, what do you know about this guy?” Leah says.

“Our families go way back,” she says. “They matched us up when we were six months old.”

“Well, good luck with that,” Leah says. “I’m never getting married.”

“What about Mitchell?” Gita says. “You’ve been seeing him for a while.”

“He’s okay, but creepy,” she says. “Always pestering me to come over to his house. Says he wants to show me something.”

“Like what?” Gita says.

“Oh, take a good guess.” Leah takes the cereal and goes over to Alyssa, who’s engrossed in her game. She pulls one of the headphones away from Alyssa’s ear, and sets the cereal beside the keyboard.

“You’re on your own, Princess,” Leah says, then bends down and kisses Alyssa on the forehead.

Alyssa laughs. “Okay. Bye, Leah. Bye, Gita.”

“Did you drive?” Leah asks as they head into the hallway toward the stairs.

“I just live across the street,” Gita says.

“Perfect!” Leah says. “Maybe we can get the Mercedes, then.”

They go upstairs into the kitchen, where Melinda is sitting at the counter reading the Constitution. A cigarette is burning in an ashtray nearby.

“Is Dad using the Mercedes today?” Leah says. She goes to the counter and takes a draw from the cigarette. Melinda takes it from her, and gives her an aggravated look, then puts it back in the ashtray.

“What’s wrong with Margaret’s car?” Melinda says.

“The Karmann Ghia doesn’t have a phone,” Leah says.

Leah learned how to drive in her aunt Margaret’s Karmann Ghia, and she’s been letting Leah drive it ever since Margaret purchased a sedan. One of the stipulations of Leah using it is that she service it herself, since Margaret doesn’t trust mechanics in the area, and Leah has become adept at most repairs.

“I think he’s golfing at noon,” Melinda says, “but I’m not sure if he’s driving or riding.”

“Let’s just take the convertible,” Gita says.

“Oh, all right,” Leah says. “But if we get stuck someplace and can’t call for help, don’t blame me.”

“What’s Alyssa doing?” Melinda asks.

“Playing that bear game for the five thousandth time,” Leah says.

“I’ll check on her in a minute,” Melinda says. “What are you girls doing today?”

“Piedmont Park,” Leah says. She kisses Melinda on the cheek. “Love you, Mom.”

“Have fun,” Melinda says.

Leah and Gita head out to the garage.