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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

A Fitting End
by D. W. Young ||
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After the incident with the deranged lepidopterist, Frederick Vance began to have trouble sleeping. At first he didn't see anything unusual in this; after all, he'd just been the victim of an outrageous armed robbery. Some unpleasant after-effects, he figured, were only to be expected. But worsening steadily with every futile, wakeful night, his insomnia persisted past all reasonable
bounds. Until the day he found himself one small step away from a complete breakdown and chance threw him a bone that he eagerly snatched up with a number of unexpected consequences.
     Frederick worked at Bendelson's Rare Books, a well-established and rather stuffy bookseller on Madison Avenue. Now the store's Senior Manager, he'd risen to his penultimate position over the course of seven years, having taken his very first job there right out of college. As Senior Manager, Frederick received a respectable salary and made all but the most consequential buying and selling decisions. Though he'd never intended to go into this line of work, he loved books and was exceptionally good at his job, especially when it came to spotting bargains. Many times he'd rooted out the one hidden gem at the auctioning of obscure estates of the sort most dealers never even thought of looking into.
     Over the years Frederick had often considered pursuing another career, and even sent out a few resumes here and there. Nothing ever came of it. In truth, his skills weren't very applicable outside his specialized field. About a year ago he gave up on the idea completely. This brought immediate relief to his anxieties about his identity.
     "Why shouldn't I be a bookseller anyway?" he asked himself. "It's a noble profession and better than being some boring businessman. I just need to be a more successful one than I am now."
     So these days Frederick aspired to owning his own store. "I'll avoid all of Bendelson's shortcomings," he imagined, "plus find greater wealth and happiness in being my own boss." Raising the necessary capital remained an obstacle, but one he had several ideas in mind for overcoming.
     Despite Bendelson's valuable inventory, it had never occurred to Frederick that someone (the occasional shoplifter aside) might try to rob the store. Things like that just didn't happen on their ritzy stretch of Madison Avenue, let alone to a bookstore that made formal appointments with half of its clientele.
     As Mr Bendelson himself often said, "We deal with true connoisseurs here, not speculators and fly-by-night bargain hunters."
     When you walked into Bendelson's you entered a quiet, grave and discerning establishment. Twenty feet away in reality, the city streets might as well have ceased to exist. Inside, a fresh but restrained floral scent emanated from two antique vases placed on either end of the front counter, full of bright, pastel flowers. Facing the street, two tall glass windows displayed various rare, impressive texts. Many of these books stood spread open to reveal their splendid illustrations; one was so massive one person could barely carry it. Carefully chosen, these rarities simultaneously attracted the attention of pedestrians and, by establishing the costliness of the store, drove them away. Further inside, antique wooden ladders ran on silent floor tracks beside dark, walnut bookshelves and tall, old-fashioned brass lamps accompanied carefully placed red leather armchairs.
     On the day of the incident, a slow Wednesday in August, Frederick sat at his desk idly surfing the Internet. Convincing his boss, the eponymous Mr. Bendelson, of the Web's great potential for rare book dealers very early in its development had been one of his greatest contributions to the store's consistent financial success. Thanks to these efforts, Bendelson's had reached many new customers worldwide long before most of its competitors even considered delving into cyberspace.
     As he browsed, Frederick paused to glance surreptitiously over at Pauline Price from the corner of his eye. Tending the store register, the lissom Pauline disinterestedly leafed through a voluminous fashion magazine. Frederick could hear the crisp snap of the pages turning. Without warning, she looked up, catching him staring. He hastily dropped his eyes down to his screen. This sort of unacknowledged, cat and mouse flirtation was as far as they ever went, but even so, being caught ogling embarrassed him. When he heard her flipping pages again, Frederick hazarded another peek. The lepidopterist walked in a moment later.
     "Hi, can I help you find anything in particular?" Pauline greeted.
     "Yes, thank you. I'm looking for an original 1850 edition of…"
     Her attention diverted, Frederick let his eyes roam across the young cashier. As always, her tan, smooth arms and the wonderful stretch of firm belly showing between her tight shirt and her skirt made him sigh with longing. Falling somewhere between raw desire and a more innocent, juvenile crush, Frederick's amorous feelings for Pauline remained unfulfilled, primarily due to his own pusillanimous inaction. No matter how many plans to ask her out he prepared, he always balked at the last minute. Over time, his initially quite ordinary nervousness had evolved into a galling, insurmountable obstacle. Calling her up and asking her out now terrified him. Worse, by making Pauline seem increasingly unobtainable, these aborted attempts only stoked his desire to greater intensity.
     Now Frederick's chances would soon be dashed. With summer nearing its end, Pauline was readying to return to college for her senior year. After that he would probably never see her again.
     "Why are you so scared to talk to her?" he wondered for the thousandth time. "The worst she can do is refuse you! Or accuse you of sexual harassment…"
     But seriously, he wasn't so much older than Pauline, although he'd never even heard of most of the music she listened to or visited the trendy clubs where she hung out. They were good at amusing one another, however, and had similar tastes in movies and books and he placed a great deal of faith in these things. The rest would either fall into place or not.
     Pauline wasn't beautiful, just distinctly attractive, with a cool, disaffected manner and dark, coy eyes. Her short, black hair inexplicably turned Frederick on and she had a loud, raucous laugh that symbolized her wonderful lack of self-consciousness. Frederick enjoyed talking to her, but more than anything he wanted to sleep with her. Sometimes, as he daydreamed about the act in vivid detail, the intensity of his desire reached a point where he got a hard-on at his desk and couldn't stand up for fear of the whole store catching sight of it.
     One such moment of furtive tumescence had nearly ended in disaster when, with Pauline and two of the store's best clients standing nearby, Mr. Bendelson had urgently called for his help preventing a large bookshelf from falling over. Only quick thinking saved Frederick: rising from his desk, he pretended to stumble and fell hard to the floor. The bookshelf came crashing down seconds later, nearly crushing Mr. Bendelson. Frederick remained curled up in false (and unflattering) agony, tightly clutching his knee until his incontinent member softened and he could safely stand. Even now the thought of the incident made him uncomfortable.
     "You'll have to talk to our Senior Manager Mr. Vance about that title," Pauline was telling the lepidopterist, the mention of Frederick's name catching his attention. "He's at the table in the back."
     "Ok, thank you very much young lady."
     With an odd, jerky gait and pursed, expectant lips that reminded Frederick of a runtish baboon at the zoo who expects you to throw him a peanut, the little man ambled towards the back. From the start there could be no doubt about his interests: in his right hand he wielded a large, diaphanous white butterfly net on a five-foot pole and from his distant, searching look, he appeared to be expecting a rare species like a Poweshiek Skipperling or Regal Fritilliary to cross his path at any minute.
     Catching Frederick's eye, Pauline shot him a commiserating smirk from across the store. He barely stifled a burst of laughter. The store boasted its share of eccentric customers, but this guy really took the cake. Spindly and white haired, the lepidopterist was outfitted as if in parody of his hobby. Two pale and pointy knees jutted awkwardly out from between his crisp British regimental khaki shorts and his knee-high tan socks. A matching, short-sleeve khaki shirt covered his torso and a plinth helmet with a leather chinstrap sat snugly atop his head, which he wore as haughtily as a crown.
     Coming up to Frederick, the lepidopterist presumptuously set his net atop the Senior Manager's desk without any courtesies exchanged, ruffling a stack of papers in process.
     Before Frederick could protest, the fellow demanded, in a grating, high-pitched voice, "I want to see your first edition of the Butterfly Hunter's Companion right away."
     Frederick grew acutely conscious of Pauline observing the exchange. He raised a skeptical eyebrow at the lepidopterist, a condescending gesture the pretentious store had inculcated in him over the course of his tenure there. He let a good ten seconds pass before he answered, one of his favourite techniques for making customers feel uncomfortable.
     "Yes, well, I'll have to ask the owner, Mr. Bendelson, to help you with that title. It's locked away in the vault. You do realize, I hope, that it's valued at over $50,000?"
     "Yes, of course I realize it!" snapped the lepidopterist. "What do I look like, a tourist?"
     "You said it not me. Please wait here while I see if the owner's available."
     Frederick didn't believe for a second that the old man was the least bit serious about acquiring the rare guide. Obviously he was a loon, but of course there were plenty of fabulously wealthy nuts in New York. Not this one, though. "He's just a gawker, a pretend buyer, the type that gets a vicarious thrill out of shopping for what we can never have," Frederick decided. Rising, he left the frowning lepidopterist standing by his desk and unhurriedly retrieved Mr. Bendelson from his private office in the store's locked back room.
     "You're not going to believe the freak I've got for you," he told his boss.
     "What does he want?"
     "The 1850 Butterfly Hunter's Companion no less."
     "Oh Jesus…Well, you never know. That would be a big, big sale," observed Mr. Bendelson.
     "I'll believe it when it see it. I'll send him back. Good luck…"
     Returning to his desk, Frederick motioned the lepidopterist on. As the latter turned to go, Frederick unleashed a loud, impolite sigh, glad to be done with the whole affair. The lepidopterist's back stiffened, but he said nothing.
     Frederick promptly forgot all about the diminutive fellow until five minutes later when he heard a loud gasp and looked up from his work to find him brandishing a large, antique Colt revolver in Mr. Bendelson's astonished face.
     "Hand over the Companion now!" the thief demanded.
     Mr. Bendelson flushed with outrage. "I will not. No, absolutely not. I doubt that's even a real gun. Please leave the store immediately before we have to call the police." Cracking a little, Mr. Bendelson's voice failed to make his threat particularly convincing.
     The muscles in the butterfly hunter's face tightened and his eyes began bulging maniacally. Observing the reaction, Frederick grew truly scared for the first time. With a pouting curl of his lips, the unlikely thief raised the gun and fired a thunderclap warning shot into the ceiling, causing several chunks of plaster to come tumbling down around him in a cloud of dust. Mr. Bendelson blanched and covered his ears with his hands. The three other customers stampeded out the front door in panic. Pauline stood staring in disbelief. Fearing that the lepidopterist might turn the pistol on him if he attempted to flee from so close by, Frederick ducked behind his desk, losing track of Pauline in the process.
     Knees on the ground, one arm clutching his chair, he cautiously peered around the corner. Mr. Bendelson was just passing the thick, yellowing disputed volume over to the expectant lepidopterist with shaking hands across the dark walnut counter between them.
     The other man made no move to accept his prize.
     "I want that wrapped."
     "You must be joking."
     "Does this look like a joke?" asked the lepidopterist, pointing his gun at Mr. Bendelson's head.
     Reluctantly, Mr. Bendelson obeyed the command. With his hands trembling even worse than before, he began wrapping, a demeaning task usually left to Pauline. Observing the scene, Frederick realized the thief, who was really just a frail old man, remained fixated on Mr. Bendelson. A bold idea occurred to him. He could make a lunge for the gun. If he moved decisively enough, he could leap across the gap between them without being noticed. Then he could easily tackle the old man and wrest the firearm from him. It wouldn't be hard at all-- and much better than passively waiting to be executed.
     "Come on, hurry up!" shouted the thief.
     Frederick wavered as the slim but terrifying possibility of failing and being shot eclipsed his ambitions; then the moment of opportunity passed. Mr. Bendelson grudgingly handed over the wrapped treasure. Casually placing it under his left arm as if he'd paid for it in full, the lepidopterist turned and began walking towards Frederick's desk. Drawing close, he gestured impatiently for Frederick to rise up from the floor, then aimed the pistol's barrel straight at his chest. Frederick could make out the tips of the loaded bullets in its cylinders. With relief he observed the gun wasn't cocked.
     Without taking his eyes off Frederick for a second, the lepidopterist leaned over and possessively snatched back his net. Now backing away, he kept his gun trained on Frederick, who anxiously held his breath. Maybe he wasn't going to be killed after all!
     Suddenly whirling about to leave, the lepidopterist bumped hard into a nearby bookshelf. Rocking wildly back and forth, it nearly fell over. The thief jumped back in surprise, glaring at the bookshelf. Chagrined at his inopportune clumsiness, he menacingly waved the pistol at Frederick and Mr. Bendelson and then hastily shuffled out of the store with the same jerky gait he'd entered it with. The chimes above the front door jingled merrily as it shut behind him.
     Mr. Bendelson spoke first. "I can't believe that just happened. I just can't believe it. I just can't believe it," he said in low, stupefied voice. Frederick locked the front door just in case and called 911.
     A few minutes later, the pulse of sirens presaged the arrival of the police, who could barely hide their amusement at the details of the crime.
     "A butterfly net? Are you sure that's what it was?" they asked doubtfully.
     Frederick could hear them cracking jokes in low tones and snickering to themselves as they examined the evidence. But nobody could deny the lepidopterist's gun had been loaded and fired. In the end, they assured Mr. Bendelson that the culprit ought to be easy to track down and promised to immediately apprise him of any developments in the case. They couldn't have been less prophetic.

* * *

Weeks and then months passed without any results and M. Bendelson took to disparaging the cops as "those bums in blue". Nobody fitting the lepidopterist's description surfaced, nor did the police bring in any suspects for questioning. Their half-hearted inquiries at local universities and butterfly watching clubs fared no better. More importantly, the thief never did anything compromising, such as try to sell the Butterfly Hunter's Companion on the open market. Eventually the case was closed. Mr. Bendelson abandoned all hope of retrieving the rare book and claimed his insurance money. He also installed a top of the line security system in the store.
     "This will never happen again if I have anything to say about it," he boasted, as much to quell his own unspoken fears as to reassure the staff.
     Shortly thereafter Pauline returned to school, kissing Frederick goodbye on the cheek a touch longer than formality required. She left her number with the store in case they ever needed extra help during the holidays. Aware, as Pauline no doubt was too, that he could retrieve the number from the store computer whenever he liked, Frederick agonized over calling her but never did.
     His persistent insomnia set in the very night of the robbery, when he got two hours sleep at best. From there on out it only grew worse. Soon, dazed with lack of sleep, even Pauline faded from his thoughts. Getting through each day without physically collapsing became a constant struggle and Frederick's interminable, restless nights were only worse; he would have gladly welcomed the most horrifying nightmares if only for the sleep they would have entailed.
     Unappeasable regret lay at the heart of Frederick's worsening malaise, but understanding the cause of his troubles didn't help him cure them. In fact, it only made them worse. Here, acute self-awareness (a trait he'd always valued) functioned like a curse. It prevented him from turning his attention elsewhere, from distracting himself from his dilemma, from achieving the impossible act of forgetfulness that would have stifled his overly active consciousness and at last allowed the sealed doors to sleep's increasingly elusive domain to open for him.
     Frederick's poisonous regret may have been initiated by the circumstances of the robbery, but its implications were much broader in scope. Simply put, he no longer believed he possessed the ability to act decisively. Unable to accept this irredeemable diminishment of his character, which he equated to being as good as dead, he raged against it nightly. Suddenly he felt frighteningly unsure of himself. In a wicked domino effect, his inability to thwart the robbery at the store, his defining moment of inaction, prompted Frederick to cast into doubt all his most essential and long-standing assumptions about himself. With the shattering of his personal mythos, he lost his faith in his ability to assert his will on people and events to achieve his own ends. He lost his drive. Once a star athlete and top student, Frederick suddenly found himself to be a disgusting failure, a chubby clerk with an overabundance of unfulfilled ambitions resembling those of all the lazy, average people he'd always disdained. He couldn't even muster the courage to ask out a college girl! He was pathetic.
     Still, if Frederick's failure to daringly (or foolhardily) intercede in the events at the store became a springboard to a much more implacable self-doubt, it was precisely his inability to resolve the physical manifestations--his sleeplessness--of that inner turmoil that exemplified the cruelly circular nature of his predicament. As his days turned more intolerable--even simple conversation strained him and he began to mumble aimlessly when he talked and suffered from an unstinting disinterest in virtually everything--Frederick sought relief in a variety of extreme remedies.
     Sometimes, if he got drunk enough, he could catch a few hours of sleep, but he invariably awoke so wrecked the following morning that it was a poor trade off. He also attempted exercising to the point of exhaustion. Though this worked initially, after a while his stamina increased to a point where it foiled his best efforts. Sleeping pills made him sick to his stomach (which kept him awake in turn) and he didn't have a lover to distract him from his woes by sending him off to sleep with a nice, therapeutic dose of sex. He even tried hypnosis, to no avail. Finally he gave up on finding an external cure and tried to manage his new, cursed routine as best he could. All day long he couldn't stop thinking about the need to stay awake despite his fatigue, while all night long he could think only about how desperately he needed to sleep.
     As a result of his insomnia and the stress and hebetude it resulted in, Frederick's performance at work declined steadily, until it grew so poor he could barely complete the most basic tasks. After several embarrassing reprimands from Mr. Bendelson (plus a concerned, awkward "sit-down" at which the boss indirectly inquired whether he was a drug addict) Frederick couldn't ignore the tenuous state of his job. Nor did he blame anyone but himself: he felt he deserved to be fired.
     During the ensuing weeks, he drifted
desultorily about the store in a zombie-like state, with his head bowed low and his body swaying almost drunkenly, as if he might slip away into sleep at any moment, despite his inertia or his uprightness, while his eyes, permanently bloodshot and glazed over, appeared continually out of focus. Often he neglected to shave in the morning and his clothes turned rumpled and dirty. His previously trim hair grew long and unruly and, even though it was the middle of the afternoon, stuck out all over like he'd just risen from bed.
     Over time the other employees grew accustomed to Frederick's peculiarities. The customers were another matter. Sensing his almost schizoid fragility, they looked askance at him and avoided him whenever possible, a counterproductive situation Mr. Bendelson couldn't help but notice. Frederick's few friends were just as unsympathetic and they gradually stopped associating with him, finding his behaviour annoying at first and then intolerable in its prolongation. As matters worsened, Frederick began to believe that his lot would never improve, that he was caught in a hopelessly downward spiral, an inescapable vortex comparable to the gravitational pull of a black hole. So when his redemption came, it surprised him as much as anybody.

* * *

"I'm off to lunch Benjamin."
     Shouting into the back room, Frederick wasn't sure if Mr. Bendelson was even in there but he didn't care. The gesture was half-hearted at best. They were on poor terms and Frederick expected each day to be his last. Sensing that the finality of bottoming out might be a relief, he now almost welcomed the prospect.
     The chimes over the front door tinkled glassily as he left the store. Elaine, the new, permanent cashier (a punctilious grey-haired ex-librarian without a sense of humour who greatly reminded him of his draconian fourth grade teacher Mrs. Broome) frowned disapprovingly as he passed, no doubt expecting him to be taking one of his now customary ninety-minute lunches. Frederick ignored her.
     Outside, the discordant noise and crush of the street greeted him full blast, as if a mute button had just been turned off. Absently remembering his purpose in leaving the store, Frederick swivelled abruptly to the left, forcing a nanny pushing a baby carriage to veer sharply out of his way. Two of the stroller's wheels lifted off the ground like a stunt car's. The nanny began stridently berating him. He barely registered her words. One thought consumed him: sleep. Nothing else mattered.
     For many days now he'd been debating whether or not to try taking a nap during lunch. Manic with fatigue, he was nearly ready to do it; he only feared being so exhausted he might pull a Rip Van Winkle and sleep for days! Or at least through lunch…     
     Walking down the street (plodding is more like it) engrossed in these considerations, Frederick didn't watch where he was going and roughly bumped into several other pedestrians.
     "Watch it asshole," reproached a bespectacled, balding man in a pinstriped Saville Row suit. A stout woman in a wide straw sun hat nervously clutched her purse as she careened off Frederick, as if the contact were the prelude to a pickpocketing.
     Head bowed, eyes to the ground, like a religious penitent, Frederick just kept moving. He no longer possessed the energy to respond to most external stimuli. For that matter, he couldn't even take pleasure in the resplendent afternoon sunshine--it was the first really hot day of spring but his somnambulist's inwardly bent mind barely registered the fact. Everyone else welcomed the warmth, and summer dresses and stylish shades were in abundance. Along Park Avenue a few banks of yellow tulips were in bloom and the air's balmy freshness unequivocally signalled the change in seasons.
     After trudging to a deli on Lexington Avenue, where he bought a tuna salad sandwich and a soda, Frederick headed back across Madison towards Central Park. He had to wander around for a few minutes before he found a quiet, unpopulated bench in the shade--a perfect spot for both eating his lunch and taking a nap. It was the standard park model, with dark green wooden slats--three on the back and six on the bottom--and looping black iron armrests spaced every four feet. Intentionally preventing a person from being able to lie down, these armrests were an effective form of détente against the homeless.
     "And poor insomniacs like me," grumbled Frederick.
     An empty soda can and a spattering of pigeon droppings lay at one end of the bench, which Frederick avoided. Glancing down at its thin legs, which were bolted into the pathway's concrete, he noticed the manufacturer's name embossed along the side of one of them in large letters: Robert Sullivan and Son's. A few nosy pigeons sauntered up to his feet as he unwrapped his food and he distastefully shooed them away. They took off with a loud flapping of wings, squawking disappointedly and kicking up a cloud of dust.
     "Dirty fucking birds," Frederick muttered to nobody in particular. Biting into his sandwich, he chewed it mechanically, like a prisoner eating hard bread.
     Finishing his meal, he leaned back with a long, ponderous stretch. After sliding down in the bench a bit, he let his back-tilted head come to rest on its top, and closed his eyes for a minute. A gusty spring breeze played across his cheek and he could hear the distant sounds of car horns, sirens, rumbling subway trains and jets flying overhead. A soporific dreaminess settled over him. But just as Frederick drifted off into forbidden, sweet sleep, a last, reluctant bastion of his consciousness cried out and he jolted forward in alarm.
     As his vision returned to focus, the bright afternoon sun hurting his eyes, Frederick found himself squinting at the last person on earth he'd ever expected to see again: the deranged lepidopterist. Butterfly net in hand, but now puffed up by the wind like a windsock on a runway, plinth helmet still worn proudly, the thief was crossing an open stretch of park lawn some thirty feet from Frederick's bench. From his cautious, alert manner and roving gaze, he appeared to be hunting butterflies.
     After an astonished pause, Frederick's long pent-up desire for action brusquely commandeered his drowsy thoughts. Adrenaline surging, he hesitated for only a second. Springing up from the bench, he took off running after the little fellow at full speed. This time around he refused to fail.
     Muscles tensed, Frederick covered the ground between them in no time; he didn't even pause to consider the possibility that the other man might be armed. His target finally took notice of him just as he launched into a flying tackle.
     The lepidopterist's features froze and his eyes widened with disbelief.
     "Impossible!" he managed to cry with a vituperative hiss before Frederick struck him full in the chest and they both went wildly crashing to the ground in a tangle of arms, legs and the butterfly net.

* * *

"Officer! Officer! Please Help. This man's a thief!" Frederick hollered as he dragged his spindly old captive (who was still determinedly clutching his net) up to a squad car parked on Fifth Avenue.
     "Hey, don't listen to this maniac," countered the lepidopterist. "He just assaulted me in the park. Get him off me now!"     
     The policemen exchanged confused glances.
     "Look, he was carrying this."
     Frederick realized too late that pulling out the pistol he'd taken from the lepidopterist--to offer to the cops--was a stupid move. Leaping out of the cruiser with their pistols drawn, the policemen yanked the gun away from him, slammed him against the cruiser door and cuffed him.
     The cunning lepidopterist used the opportunity to try to sneak away.
     "Hey, he's escaping!" Frederick gasped through his pain.
     Luckily, the cops heard him. One of them dashed off to retrieve the fleeing man, who was easy to spot with his butterfly net bobbing up and down above the heads of the other pedestrians. Both men were taken to the station for questioning, the lepidopterist in a separate cruiser. Frederick sat silently in the back seat listening to the exchanges on the police scanner. A detective allowed him to call the store when they arrived. Hurrying over to the precinct, Mr. Bendelson fully corroborated Frederick's accusations. This satisfied the police and Frederick walked. The lepidopterist remained in custody.
     The case went swiftly to trial. Wearing his usual outfit (much to the amusement of the jury), the lepidopterist took the stand to explain his actions.
     "Butterflies," he testified, "are actually creatures from another planet. A hyper-advanced alien species accidentally left them behind some thirty-thousand years ago. It happened while they were carefully seeding man's genes on earth so they could eventually breed us as slaves."
     Laughter erupted from everyone present. Even the lepidopterist's lawyer cracked a smile.
     "You've heard of Atlantis?" petulantly countered the accused. "Well that's where this same alien species used to live! It sank the day they returned to space!"
     "And how exactly does The Butterfly Hunter's Companion figure in to all this?" asked the prosecution during their cross-examination.
     "Oh, that… Well, it's an essential component in my anti-Darwinist research. I hope to substantiate the still murky details of this antediluvian moment of conception with it."
     Whatever slim hopes the lepidopterist may have had disintegrated soon thereafter with the revelation that he was wealthy enough to have purchased The Butterfly Hunter's Companion twenty times over. The cops recovered the volume from his palatial but filthy Fifth Avenue penthouse and plenty of photos of its interior were provided as evidence by the prosecution. Even the varied, devious tactics of the lepidopterist's eminent lawyer couldn't save him from a succinct, guilty verdict. Predictably, the judge sentenced him to a low security mental institution. Most legal experts accounted the insanity verdict a victory. Frederick suspected the remorseless thief was falsifying his testimony but lacked any means of proving it.
     Mr. Bendelson celebrated the conviction with a magnanimous raise for Frederick and the hackneyed observation that the culprit "got what was coming to him."
     "I got pretty lucky catching him too," said Frederick.
     "Yes, it almost makes you want to believe in fate. What an old creep!"     
     "You can say that again."
      Several other boons accompanied Frederick's exploits. During the trial his name had often appeared in the city papers and on the day of its completion he received a congratulatory call from Pauline.
     "I can't believe you caught that guy! You're amazing," she gushed, her distant voice bringing back all his desire for her in one febrile rush.
     "Well, he's hardly what you would call a bad ass."
     "True, but he was carrying a loaded gun," Pauline countered. "Size is pretty irrelevant when you're talking about bullets."
     "Yeah, true, I guess I can't argue with that."
     Emboldened by his new hero status and still riding a bit of an adrenaline high from the day before, Frederick saw his chance and seized it.
     "Hey listen Pauline," he said, trying to sound as casual as possible despite racing nerves. "I'm sorry to have to break off this conversation, but I have to run to a meeting with my lawyer. I'd love to see you to talk about old times, though. Any interest in getting together for dinner one night this week?"
     Pauline agreed readily and Frederick exulted. They met that same night. Frederick recounted the incident in the park in great detail over sushi. This marked the beginning of a lifelong habit of embellishing a tale he would retell constantly. Years later he would no longer be able to say with any certainty where his most current account differed from the details of the original event.
     Dinner with Pauline was a success. "I even had a bit of a secret crush on you back when we worked at the store together," she admitted. Frederick slept with her after their next date two nights later (a movie). The ruttish details of this long hoped for event were rather disappointing (the climax wasn't particularly climactic). Nevertheless, Frederick felt wonderfully liberated and he enjoyed Pauline's company too much to give up. Fortunately, their intimacy grew more successful as they kept at it. In the end, after several years together, they married. This tangential benefit of the lepidopterist's capture only heightened the importance of the event for Frederick.
     Back at Bendelson's, things returned to normal. Frederick regained his competence and his boss' favour. More importantly, he started sleeping again. Caught up in the hullabaloo surrounding his citizen's arrest and his renewed acquaintance with Pauline, he didn't even appreciate his victory over his insomnia until he awoke one morning several days after the trial to the startlingly satisfying sensation of being well rested.
     Soon there could be no doubt about the cure. Every night for a week straight he fell asleep without effort or worry. This trend kept up too, even when Frederick warily tested it. Acutely focusing on the process of falling asleep--when the lights are off and your eyes are closed but your thoughts are still active--he attempted to re-enact the particulars of his old plight. It didn't work: he simply couldn't maintain that level of obsessive self-consciousness. Too many more exciting thoughts and plans crowded his mind, and besides, his regret was now placated. Even better, with Pauline in his bed, libido took precedence over reflection. Over time, as the novelty of his cure wore off, sleep became a presumption he never questioned. And when the excruciating discomfort of his days as an insomniac grew dim enough in his recollection (occurring in inverse proportion to the degree of hyperbole in his account of the lepidopterist's incarceration), he ceased to fear a return of the old self-inflicted malady altogether.
     "You saved me from becoming a zombie," he boasted to Pauline, aware that the statement was a half-truth at best but finding it more palatable than its alternative: blind luck.
     In many ways, she was now a replacement ideal for the belief in an unassailable identity he'd lost. The consistency of his happiness with Pauline served as a new and essential source of emotional security. And perhaps, because he expected so much less from Pauline than he once had from himself, presumed fallibility where before he hadn't, she was also a more reliable one.
     But if from then on Frederick slept reasonably well, neither was he very interested in being bold. After so thoroughly deeming himself a failure, after finding myriad, disproportionately harsh implications in one instance of inaction, and after punishing himself for months as a result, he feared, in a deep, unspoken fashion, ever facing such a trial again. Conversely, feeling as if he'd incontrovertibly proven his merit, to the world and to himself, as well as survived the worst of ordeals, the obligation to perform bold actions, be they grandiose or trivial, no longer haunted him. Life, or at least its illusion, was now steady and safe and he preferred to keep it that way. Made happily complacent by the success of his unpremeditated revenge on that radiant, vernal day in the park, Frederick found a ready excuse to at last accept the very same change of persona that had once so galled him. He was cured all too well.

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