Imogen and ISIS: A Story of Terrorism and Manhattan Apartment Rents
By Jack Mauro
Genre: Fiction, Dark Comedy
Novella, 128 pages
A modern and dark comedy combining one woman's struggle to live in a city she cannot afford with a native New Yorker's rather different path. Imogen Curtis - 40, idealistic, and a fool for New York - is thrown in multiple directions as she negotiates with the madness that is securing a place to live in Manhattan. At the same time, Ahmad Bertesh's personal pain seizes upon the monstrous presence of ISIS as inspiration for avenging himself on a heartless city. Destinies finally collide in a remarkably non-violent way, with a cast of manic secondary characters, insight, and just enough satire to emphasize the crazy of these lives and the metropolis in 2014.
After years in the South and several works of fiction set in his beloved Knoxville, Tennessee, Jack Mauro has returned to New York City. He has as well published a guide to Internet dating (Simon & Schuster, 2007), done extensive work for singer/songwriter Carly Simon, and a wide array of national magazine reviews and commentary. Mauro also reviews theater for StageBuddy.com, when he is not prowling the streets of the town he knows so well and captures in Imogen and ISIS.
Eleven blocks north, the omnipresent stack of Daily Newses on the floor of Broadway Gifts and Goods featured the headline, Iraq and a Hard Place. A picture of President Obama was to the side. He was gesturing, possibly to signal a pathway in between. Before leaving work, Ahmad did something he never did. He took the paper home.
On that day and on that brief walk, Ahmad paused on 9th Avenue. He stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk. What occasioned this was only the absolute beauty of the day. A misery overtaking him, Ahmad was human and a young man, and thus still susceptible to the power of a lovely morning. Dry and cool breezes were blowing and did not stink of burnt pretzels or exhaust fumes. Flickering shadows of the leaves and branches of the sidewalk trees dappled, actually dappled, the avenue, rendering the diner and the mobile phone store and the Mexican restaurant quaint.
It was then that Mariah smacked into him. Petite and curvy and fiercely dark, Mariah Pena literally bounced off of Ahmad's slimness, ricocheted a few steps back with her black curls jiggling, and blinked a lot.
Ahmad said, “I am sorry, very sorry.” He did not move, his paper was clamped in one hand, and his expression betrayed not the least trace of embarrassment or contrition.
For her part Mariah put her hands on her hips – and now the sidewalk was doubly blocked – and gave to Ahmad the most fetching smile he had ever seen. It was a boomerang of a smile, a nearly perfect triangle of whiteness framed in glistening pink. Mariah had a little cleft chin and turned-up nose, and Ahmad took these additional features in while she expertly appraised him from his Nikes to the top of his shining black hair.
“That's OK. You want to go out with me sometime?”
Mariah's head was cocked and the little hands stayed on the hips. Ahmad's eyes went to fuchsia nail polish. The overtness, the electric blast, of the girl's invitation did not startle him at all, particularly given his recent history of unmeaningful contact with women. It should have, of course. There is something wrong when anyone acts in real life as they do online.
Within seconds appearances utterly defied reality. Mariah, bubbly and instantaneously smitten, had not one scintilla of interest in Ahmad beyond the allure of his lanky, smoldering physicality. No scintilla would be generated, for this was not Mariah's way or nature. Ahmad, scowl fixed under scary eyes, hate snaking around his spine and making a home there, left his body in a sense and took full romantic possession of the girl. Mariah knew what she was about, knowing nothing else in her life, and Ahmad was unaware of falling in this way.
“Yes. Who are you?”
He may be forgiven. The big fall in the other direction was recent and he was only just discovering this new self. Then, that fall altered the trajectory of the romantic, or what must be called romantic, descent. It kind of swallowed Mariah up, placing her in Ahmad's fevered mind as a princess and partner against the awfulness of the world.
Mariah, still smiling, dug into a little pink handbag and fished out a card and a pen. She said, Ma-ri-ah, very distinctly. She bit her lower lip while writing, and Ahmad retained his poker face and was certain that this was the girl for him. A plump and sexy warrior vixen. This relationship, forty seconds old, would have been perfect, as all relationships would be perfect, if no one said anything more or did anything else.