And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. – KJV Genesis 17:15
Chapter 1: Pentaform
On Thursday morning, 8:04 a.m. EST, 3:04 p.m. IST, Sarah descended the cracked gray stairs outside of her sister’s tenement on 12th avenue and 96th street while ripping open her Visa statement envelope with her finger; stretched her stiff and lanky arms under her worn flannel nightgown in her bed on Long Island and rolled over onto her back; sniffed an oversweet black and white from the G&I Bakery at the corner of Jewel Ave and Main St in Queens; sprayed a fine mist against the palm of her scrubbed pink hand while standing and yawning on the bus crossing the George Washington Bridge from Teaneck into Manhattan; hopefully accessed the
Sarah was a sophomore studying Judaic Studies, Biology, Art, pre-Law, and Artificial Intelligence.
She sat up in bed and shoved her jaw to the right to get rid of a painful crick. Sarah, who was once, until her seventh year, Miriam Weis, was now nineteen, pale, and thin, although usually she was tan and thin. She owed her current pallor to a week of bed rest recovering from a debilitating flu. This was insufferable to her, as she loved the outdoors and fresh air. She rode horses at the Lakewood riding academy on Sundays, and her favorite riding route took her through Hempstead Lake State Park. Three years ago, the lake dried up. Even more than riding, she enjoyed nothing more than suffering over this each week as she rode through the park, her heart melodramatically mourning that the park was like a wounded and dying beast, poor thing. Sarah attended Queens College because her parents would not allow her to travel to Manhattan every day, nor live on her own in town; anyway, she did not want to live in a city where every moment of the day one was surrounded in all directions, including up and down, by an oppressive mesh of toxic metal, cigarettes, and rude, indifferent people.
Sarah thumbed up the access switch on her NetMind, defuzzing, and was one again.
“Hey,” Sarah said cheerily. She took the Visa statement out of the tattered envelope, and unfolded it. Sarah, originally Aviva Brown, had the kind of looks that would have been considered quaint, even before the word “quaint” was coming into style. Her hair was frizzled red, unmanageable, and consequently unmanaged. Covered in a Tartan cloth, the puffed wiry strands contrasted untastefully with a burnt orange pleated jumper over a clean white blouse. Sarah considered herself the focal point of Sarah, as she considered herself the focal point of each of her connections, from her old circle of friends in Woodmere to the staff at NYU Hillel, where she served as treasurer this year and social director the last, and still fancied herself de facto social director instead of the hopelessly boring Stephanie Stiller, who now filled the position.
“Hey.” Sarah added, a little less cheerfully, scanning the lines of text on the screen. The wi at the top of her screen blinked erratically as data fed to it from her NetMind. The dreamy look on her face receded into an alertness necessary to pull random keywords off of a rapidly scrolling page of details. She shifted her legs.
“Good morning.” Sarah put the black and white into a small, flat paper bag and considered the array of frosted cupcakes, each with a little plastic clown adorning its waves of colored sugar. Sarah - Sara Stern - was fashionably chubby, but not unkemptly so. She envied the desire of suburban Sarah for fresh air, as she considered such desire to be rightwardly directed, and she tended to this sensitivity by buying earth-toned fabrics from Abercrombie and Finch. Having assuaged her envy with the imitation of the outdoors, she felt no further desire to actually leave the comforts of the big city, which included the familiar game group, numerous kosher bakeries and pizza stores, and the smoky jazz clubs that surrounded the NYU grounds. Sarah was effusive about the “authentic jazz scene” at Dixie’s Hot Spot on West 22nd and 6th Ave, since the trumpet player was both black and puffy-cheeked, without considering that the audience was comprised solely of bored, distinctly white, and wholly jazzless NYU students looking for the same type of show of authenticity to impress their yuppie friends.
“Ugh. Um. Sorry.” Sarah drew a plain tan handkerchief from her suit pocket and wiped her hands, holding on to the bus with her posterior planted against the hard side of a full-backed bus seat. The passenger behind her gave a grunt. Sarah - Bonnie Goodstein - an NYU student in pre-law, gave the appearance of sincerely wanting to make up for lost time wasted as a child during childhood. Her dark suited outfit, pressed and starched, seemed to take great care in hiding her glowing rosy complexion and muscular form. Sarah thought herself plain, was happy about it, and disparaged the numerous boys who went out of their way to try to convince her otherwise. The peculiarity of her character left a trail of gossip and shaking heads, not the least because, for all her seriousness and determination to make up for wasted time, she was devoutly regular at the game group. She herself did not know if this was due to an indulgence of her passions, a necessary release from her burdened schedule, or something somehow intrinsically positive, but in what way, she couldn’t say.
“How are we feeling?” Sarah added, frowning at the bill.
“Oh god! Oh god, get me out of here!” Sarah wiped her forehead with her arm, which did nothing to dry her, as both face and arm were sheened with perspiration. In frustration, she picked up the edge of her blanket and buried her face in it.
“I am, baby. I’m one.” Sarah put her handkerchief back into her pocket and stifled another yawn.
“I know what I mean!” Sarah cried, helplessly.
“Out of there? Get me over there. I wish I was ‘there’ at all.” Sarah, born Dina Wachtsman, had been saying this like a catchphrase for over six years. Since there was nothing to do about this, nothing was said in response. Sarah had a face that alternated between dreaming and miserable, an alternation that happened a few times each day, which even she admitted was not really fair. She rubbed her nose. Sarah had what she considered a frustratingly upturned “Christian” nose that she inherited from her mother, a convert to Judaism before she was born. Her father, a tall, distinctively Jewish looking endocrinology specialist, now doing residence at Hadassah Ein-Kerem in Jerusalem, had plucked her family up by its roots and transplanted it to Israel six years ago, notwithstanding pleas and tears on her and her brother’s parts. Arguments about the long-term effects of separating her from Sarah fell on deaf ears. ‘You don’t live with them, anyway’, her father had told her. ‘You will be separated by a bit more geography and time zones, that’s all. You will still be Sarah.’ Her parents were happy with the move - murderous attacks, strikes, culture clash, rudeness, and financial shortages notwithstanding. She spent as little time as possible working on her AI studies, and the rest of the time browsing the web for used science fiction and fantasy books, folk music CDs, and games that she could convince her parents to pay for and ship to her aunt and uncle who would bring them to her on their twice yearly visit.
Walking south on 12th Ave, Sarah ticked lines off the Visa bill with her finger, automatically avoiding obstacles in her path with wi-sight. “This is really high. I forgot about the Gap. What did I buy at the Gap?”
Looking through the link, Sarah unfocussed from the trade feed, smiled weakly, and answered, “The jumper I’m wearing right now, sweetie.”
“Don’t go down at 92nd. Take the 1 to Times Square. I’ll join up on the A.” Sarah held on to the gray plastic strap overhead. Between the hard edges of the strap, the sharp contours pressing against her backside, and her tight shoes, she was wishing she could have remained in bed just a little longer. Or get a car. Or join a carpool. Mmm, sleeping in a car, while someone else drives. She closed her eyes and pretended she was sleeping in the back seat of Mr. Handel’s Lexus.
“OK.” Sarah crumbled the envelope and tossed it into the nearest green wicker garbage can. She broke stride, closed her eyes, and began crossing 12th Ave, folding the statement into her jumper pocket.
“What time tonight?” Sarah asked. Cupcake icing looked like molded plastic.
“Usual. No. Five thirty. I want dinner first.”
“Hungry already?” Reaching the other side, she opened her eyes and began walking east on 96th.
“I’m bringing Mitchell.”
“Oh, ho! When was this? Was I sleeping?” Sarah reached for the tall glass of water on the bedside table. The dirty tissues had mysteriously disappeared. The water was cold. Half of a Snickers bar lay neatly wrapped in a clean tissue. Sarah's one indecorous indulgence was a morning ritual of eating half a bar of Snickers, which she self-righteously renounced each day with importance and finality.
“No, I haven’t asked him, yet, but I will, today.”
“I think it’s a good idea. He seems nice, and he knows.” Sarah stifled a yawn of her own.
“Yes, he knows. Who doesn't?” She shifted while she pretended to sleep, eliciting another grunt from behind her.
“Why not ask him now?”
“No, I’ll wait. Do it in person.”
“Touch.” Sarah fuzzed.
Sarah said in a needless conspiratorial whisper, “I’m sick. I should have visited instead of watching Shrek for the third time.”
“I was tired.” Sarah gave up on the cupcakes and got into line to pay for her black and white. She always took the first brunt of criticism as if it was directed at her, alone. In this case, she was also physically closest to sick Sarah, and imagined herself responsible for the dereliction of an unnecessary duty.
“Easy, sister.” Spoken to either, or both.
“But look at me. I know what a week in the house does to me.”
“Meeting in the are double-u wouldn’t have gotten me out of bed any faster.” Sarah protested weakly.
“Anyway I’m with me all day.” Nearing 11th, her favorite florist bloomed among the side-street grime and main-street coffee shops like the very flowers that tumbled out of its doorway. The entrance to the subway was on the corner.
Sarah was heartened by the support, although still gnawed by a guilty conscience.
“I forget what it means to be physically with me. Physically. I’m going to fuzz in the subway,” she warned, as she thumbed her other BGG feeds.
“Be back on the other side. Touch.”
“Get a bag of twists for tonight.”
“OK. Excuse me. Excuse me. Hello. Waiting, here. I’m waiting.” The bakery manager barely glanced at her, and continued with the large lady in front of her, who couldn’t decide between with or without caraway seeds in her rye. She was fidgeting with her NetMind. Probably asking her husband, thought Sarah.
“Civics this morning, English this afternoon.” Sarah said, still pretending to sleep. I’m going to wake up in the mountains, she lazily thought, nothing but snow all around, an aged log cabin, and miles of evergreens receding down the hill to a clear, silver-blue lake.
“Art History and studio.” Waiting on a line.
“AI comp.” Thumbing through geeklists.
“Liar. I’m shopping for games.”
“I’m looking at my Geeklist. 158 views, one comment. Jeez, look at this.”
Sarah defuzzed. “Hey, I’m back … wait. Oh c’mon.” she exclaimed, crawling back into bed.
“Uch. Send a comment to Aldie. Harassment.”
“Aldie can delete comments. That’s bigotry.”
“Anti-Semitic crap,” she added, for good measure.
“Hi. Good morning. Yes, black and white and a … one of those bags of twists, please. Thank you.”
“Here we go. Aldie, grnumdeisop added a comment to my Geeklist …”
“Mmmmm… Yummy.” Biting into the black and white, Sarah exited the bakery and walked the few feet between its doors and the Q10 bus stop.
“Wake up sleepyhead, Civics in forty-five.”
“Yeah, yeah. Five thirty.”
“I have another twenty minutes to sleep. Leave me alone.”
“I’m browsing. Touch.”
“And send. Let’s hope he responds.”
“Don’t get that. It’s too expensive. eBay it.”
“I’ll add it to my wishlist. I’m gonna browse, ok?”
“OK. Guess I will, too.”