Hey readers, are you out there? Is this experiment working? I need to hear from you!
Serial books were hot in the 19th century but they died more than 100 years ago. When I started serializing Seeing Red last month, I wanted to see whether the serial novel could be revived on-line. I'm getting great reviews from readers who say that Seeing Red in print form is a page turner. But the question is whether it's a post-burner?
Are you reading this novel on-line? If so, and you want to keep seeing Seeing Red on the HuffPost, please take a minute and leave a comment!
What follows here, "Hello, Are You There?" is the last installment in Part One of the book!
"Hello: Are You There?"
Something like seaweed - green, slippery, and heavily seasoned in what looks like soy sauce - is served for lunch, side by side with a small mountain of brown rice. She takes a small bite.
Across the table, Jack smirks. Neither of them speaks, as conversation isn't permitted at meals. In the center of the long table, at regular intervals, sit small candles, flickering in the dim gray light. Chairs squeak. Silverware clinks against the plates.
She is dying to speak to her son. She has begun to make a plan. After the yoga class ended, she placed an urgent call to her travel agent.
"Book a ticket to Sevilla after all," she told the young man who originally handled - and then canceled - her reservation. "I will take the first flight available next week."
Jack is eating his seaweed with chopsticks now. One large piece of the frightful-looking green weed dangles below his chin.
Ronda grimaces and watches him place the seaweed into his mouth. He chews methodically.
Then he sips tea from the small ceramic cup before him. Smiling triumphantly, he lifts the cup up to her, as if he's making a toast. She shakes her head in disbelief. This is the kid who used to devour greasy hamburgers and fries. Who didn't eat lettuce or peas. Who spit lima beans whole from his mouth. Now, he's come home from Vassar addicted to tofu and rice. And a pale yellow grain from South America called quinoa. He eats grains for breakfast and for dinner, he extols the virtues of kale and collards and kohlrabi.
She folds her hands politely in her lap. Wonders how long she should sit here among these vegetarians, before she gets up from the table, goes in search of real food. She'll drive into Lenox, find a diner or a deli, buy herself a good turkey club.
At the other end of the long table, an older white-haired man rises, bows slightly, and leaves. Ronda takes this as her signal. Pushing her chair away, she stands, abandons her plate of seaweed and rice. Grinning at Jack, she makes an exit sign with her thumb. Mouths the words, "See you later."
Jack shrugs and nods and she tiptoes out of the silent dining room.
Climbing the stairs, it occurs to her that she doesn't have a clue what she'll do once she gets to Spain. All she has is the phone number and address that Jesús left her last May, the place he was supposed to stay while recording the CD. The phone number she tried two or three times in early July. Each time she called, the phone rang and rang and then it went dead.
Eventually, she stopped trying.
She pulls out her cell phone. It is only 6:30 in Sevilla. It can't hurt to try calling once more.
Italy. The first time she calls, she reaches a wrong number in Italy. She knows because there is someone babbling to somebody else in her grandmother's tongue. She hangs up and dials again. When the connection goes through the second time, there is the familiar ring she kept getting in July.
She sits in the grass outside the yoga studio, underneath a pine tree. The phone keeps ringing. Just as she's about to hang up, somebody answers.
She hears music, singing.
"Hola?" she calls into the phone. "Hola?
"Sí? Sí?" She hears a voice, but it is low and so far away. It's impossible to tell even if it belongs to a man or a woman.
"Habla inglés?" No answer. She calls louder. "Por favor. Habla usted inglés?"
"Sí, sí, hablo un poco." The voice belongs to a man, an older man.
Ronda sits up, her heart pounding, her face going hot and cold.
"Quiero hablar con Jesús Becerra. He...he....plays...toca guitar...guitarra."
"Ah sí, sí. Señor Becerra. Yo lo conozco. Pero, no esta aquí."
"O, sí. Donde está?"
"No se señora. No se. El se fue el mes pasado." And then, the speaker on the other end launches into a blur of words that leaves Ronda gasping.
"No entiendo," she screams finally. "No entiendo. En inglés, por favor. In English?"
"He...Jesús...he leaves. One month or more now at least. He is not here now."
"Sí, yes. I understand. Pero, where is he? Donde está aquí?"
"I do not know. He was sick, very sick, but then he got better, I think he...
"Sí, sí. El estuvo en un hospital por más o menos una semana, para una operación, yo creo que sí."
"An operation? He needed surgery?"
"Sí, sí, fue una emergencia, yo creo. No sé lo que era el problema."
"No sé. He leaves. He pays his bill. He says goodbye."
"Did he leave an address...a phone number?"
The phone connection crackles. Ronda looks up. Jack is standing over her.
"I'm on the phone with someone in Spain. Jesús was ill apparently. He had surgery."
Jack nods. "See? I told you."
She turns back to the phone.
"Hello? Are you there?"
"Yes, yes. I am here. I think he leaves a number somewhere. I am looking now... I am not sure..."
The connection is in and out.
"Hello? Are you there?"
"Yes, yes. Jesús Becerra. Here it is. Esta en Granada."
"Near there. The town is Lanjarón. Down in the south, below Granada."
"But...what is he doing there?"
"A reason. Did he give a reason for going?"
"Señora, please. Speak slow."
"Yes," Ronda shouts, her voice rising as her words slow to a crawl. "DO YOU KNOW WHY HE WENT THERE?"
"No, señora. I do not know. I have a phone number. That is all."
Ronda prepares to scribble the number on the back of a crumpled receipt.
He begins to read the numbers. "Nueve, cinco, ocho, zero, zero..." Thankfully, Ronda recalls numbers from high school Spanish.
"And the address, señor? Can you give me the address?"
"It says here, only Lanjarón."
"I see. Thank you. Thank you very much."
Ronda hangs up the phone. Looks up at Jack, who reaches down to help her up.
"So?" Jack says.
She shakes her head. "I have a phone number. He's in a small town near Granada. That's all I know." She sees Jesús in a hospital bed. His head bandaged.
But why? What happened?
"I need to go, right away," she says. "I'm going to see if I can fly standby."
"Good idea," Jack says. "You should go."
"Thank you sweetheart," she says, reaching up to hug him. She squeezes him as hard as she can. "Thank you for everything."
As she hurries back to her room to pack, she tries to recall Jesús ever complaining of any chronic ailment, an ulcer, a heart condition. Once, she remembers him having the flu. And another time, he had a bad stomachache after eating raw oysters.
But when he left the states in July, he was healthy, thoroughly fit.
Soon she has her suitcase packed, and she is back at Jack's door. She knocks.
"I'm heading out," she says when he opens the door.
As she turns to go, he calls out to her. "Mom?"
"Are you sure you won't stay for dinner? I mean, I hear they're feeding us miso and barley."
His eyes twinkle.
She stops. Smiles. "Oh shucks, I think I'll have to pass."
"You want a plate to go?"
She blows him a kiss. "Just so you know, Jack. I really do hate the food. But I love the yoga."
She shrugs. "You were so right about me coming here. I feel great." He waves and she turns and disappears down the grey hall.
Click here, to read previous installments of Seeing Red.