A Vision of Mandlebaum
    Jack Goodstein
Ehrlichman found it impossible to keep his eyes from between the ever so slightly parted thighs of the plump young lady seated across from him. Not that his interest was sexual, even though the young woman, Vivien, clearly thought that it was; Ehrlichman felt himself past the age when that sort of thing engaged his attention, and she was after all a strikingly plain young lady. No, it was not the thighs that attracted him, rather it was the absolute conviction that from under the cloth where the hem of the young lady's skirt stretched across the flesh of her lower thigh something, perhaps someone, was peeking out at him.

Ehrlichman stared and the young lady shifted, exposing another half inch. Pleased not a little at what she flattered herself was the older man's admiring glance, she turned on her tape recorder with a sexually charged finger.

"Shall we begin?" she asked.

Ehrlichman mumbled something non-committal, focused completely on what he now clearly perceived was the tip of a tiny head inching out from beneath the edge of the young lady's skirt.

"You first met Mandelbaum. . . .?"

My God, thought Ehrlichman as the name tolled him to consciousness, that head—-it was... He gasped incredulously. That head was–-it couldn't be, but it was, of this he was certain, this was a head with which he was familiar, this head, tiny though it might be, he knew quite well.

"Mandelbaum!" he screeched.

"Yes?" she asked oblivious to the amazement in his voice, "Mandelbaum?"

Never a man to believe in spirits or occult phenomena, Ehrlichman was a man who put his faith in the evidence of his own eyes: "Mandelbaum, it's you?" he demanded, "what are you doing there?"

Mandelbaum, as was his wont, said nothing. Celebrated his whole life for silence, renowned as the thespian who spoke without sound, was a miniature Mandelbaum, snuggled happily between warm thighs, was he now now, having departed to that place wherein no voice is necessary, going to start?

"I'm recording..." Vivien answered as if she hadn't heard the prefatory Mandelbaum. "The interview. Do you not want me to make a... I can take notes if you prefer."

"I am talking to..." Ehrlichman motioned to Mandelbaum who had now emerged from his sanctuary like a hand puppet, although what hand he might be attached to was not immediately evident. "How do you expect me to–"

Vivien, now certain of the appeal of youthful flesh to older men, attempted a blush and pushed her legs ever so slightly apart, just enough to whet the imagination. She found herself intrigued by what she speculated were Ehrlichman's attentions; he was, after all, a man of some significance. Had he only been the confidante of the great actor, a barnacle on the great man's keel, it would have been something, but he was so much more. Critic after critic had lauded him as the voice of Mandelbaum, the Boswell to Mandelbaum's Johnson, the Mandelbaum ‘maven.' He had his detractors. Hanger on, cynics had called him, sycophant. But what were they? Mere fruit flies on the apple of greatness. Her thighs pulsed with the heat of his gaze.

Mandelbaum grunted, perhaps in pleasure, perhaps in pain.

"It's good for you, you momser. You're six feet under and you come back like a shrunken head. This is your idea of a joke? You want I should die of a heart attack."

"Momma?" asked the young lady.

"Moms... Never mind, you know what I mean."

"If I knew..." Her thigh muscles tensed while a squashed Mandelbaum pushed for breathing room.

"Make yourself comfortable," Ehrlichman smirked.

"I'm fine," she giggled.

Mandelbaum squirmed. Vivien giggled harder.

"You're tickling her. Stay still, and tell me what are you doing here."

"The interview, I told you for the school paper–"

"You came to me from beyond," Ehrlichman interrupted impatiently.

"From the community college. I left after class."

Ehrlichman looked at the tiny replica of what had been a massive man. This is what happens to you when you die? You shrink like a woolen sweater in the dryer? He waited for a sign, a nod, a wink-–something to let him know he was in the ballpark. Mandelbaum boosted himself to perch carefully on her knee, which she obligingly scratched as though a mosquito had landed.

Ehrlichman looked down. Mandelbaum looked up: you're so smart, read my mind. How many years you spent telling the world what I was thinking, even after I was gone, words you put in my mouth. What's the matter, if I wanted to, I couldn't talk myself? Talk is inexpensive; everybody and his sister can talk. But to speak without talking, this takes an artist. You, I needed to translate for me?

"I only made clear for those who couldn't hear," Ehrlichman protested against the silent accuser.

"Oh yes," Vivien gushed, "but you shouldn't be so modest. It was so much more than that. It was as though you translated..."

Mandelbaum scowled: You see! Translated? You invented.

"Invented? No. A special rapport, we have, I feel what you want to say."

"You feel it, too," the young lady purred. "But you really shouldn't–-"

Rapport? I'll give you rapport. Mandelbaum shook his tiny fist; his face turned red with passion, his lip curled with loathing. Ehrlichman trembled, visibly shaken.

"Don't worry," Vivien soothed, fearful that her remark had been taken as rebuke. "I didn't mean–-"

"This is the way you talk to someone who is devoting to you his very life."

She melted down in her chair. Her skirt crept higher on her leg.

Devotes? Without me, you are what? There is no Mandelbaum, from a college they'll send a student to interview an Ehrlichman, a schlepper, his whole life, he did nothing? A leech on the tuchis of greatness. In his rage Mandelbaum teetered precariously on the curve of a quivering knee.

"You need some help, maybe?"

Mandelbaum dug his fingers into the interviewer's thigh, holding on for all he was worth.

Vivien moaned quietly; an ache of the flesh had sprung at the thought of a mature eye boring through her body and into her soul. A spasm of answering passion parted her legs even further. And as they parted Mandelbaum lost his grip and began sliding towards what would have been, for the infinitesimal being, a fall from a skyscraper.

Ehrlichman, forgiving and forgetting his friend's harsh words, his unaccountable anger, lunged forward to save him. Agility, never a strong point, deserted him and he sprawled out of control: his hands groping at the thighs of the young lady for support, his cheeks sliding between them, the tip of his nose burrowing into her crotch. Vivien's thighs tightened around Ehrlichman's head; Mandelbaum was gone.

Jack Goodstein has published fiction on line in Eclectica, Ken*again, Wild Violet as well as in print in The Maine Review, The Small Pond, and The Jewish Digest. Also a playwright his work has been staged by the Pulse Ensemble Theatre in Manhattan and the Gallery Players of Park Slope in Brooklyn. His one page play, "Last Night" is opening June 4th as part of Collaboraction's Sketchbook 2002 in Chicago.


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