People, I’m on the roof!

My mother’s friend Rose is sort of eccentric. Since her husband Branko died she hasn’t been able to sleep in the bedroom. And so she spends her nights in the living room on two seater sofa, for which she is much too tall, and which she regularly falls off of, especially when she is visited by Branko’s ghost.

Rose had grown up in a wealthy family, and although not particularly extravagant, appreciates the finer things in life. To that end she prays to Branko’s ghost to send her winning lottery numbers.

One night he appeared and gave her the numbers. She promptly rolled off the sofa and wrote them down. For two years she played those numbers and, finally exasperated, gave up only to find that they had won several millions for someone else a few days later.

Branko was a chemist and the epitome of a mad scientist down to the oversize sweater and the messy gray hair. He was so absent minded that once it took him fifteen minutes to remember he had left Rose at a gas station after he drove off while she was in the washroom.

Shortly after Branko had bypass surgery, Rose decided to fix something on the roof by herself. As she was about to climb down, the ladder fell to the ground. Through the skylight she could see Branko moving around below but was afraid of shocking him into a heart attack and so did nothing until she noticed some people walking in her direction.

People, I am on the roof!’ she shouted, only to see them quickly scurry to the other side of the street. English was her second language, and it never occurred to her to say that she was stuck on the roof.

All in all she spent two hours up there shouting, ‘I’m on the roof,’ like a madwoman at all by-passers who would avert their eyes and ignore her. Finally, her kind neighbors came home, and realizing she really was stranded on the roof, rescued her.

Branko, it seems, thought that she was out shopping. Where else could she have been, he wondered aloud.

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Time of the Gypsies

My father’s mother had six sons. The oldest, Mile, died as a teen-ager of tuberculosis exacerbated by malnutrition during the world wide depression of the nineteen-thirties.

Alex, a royalist, was tortured and killed by partisans after he laid down his weapons at the funeral of a communist kinsman, during the Second World War.

The third son, Micha, my grandmother’s favorite, a colonel in the Yugoslav army lost his nerve in the notorious Banyitsa prison after the Germans could no longer afford to keep prisoner of war camps open for our soldiers. He spent the rest of his life self-medicating with prodigious amounts of alcohol and work, hard enough to maintain two families apart from his legitimate one.

The fourth son, Zhika, was born with his eyes wide open and weighing twelve pounds. During the war Zhika was taken off the road to fight on the Royalist side and only deserted after he was forced to shoot a captured Partisan woman. She wanted him to do it. She knew what would happen to her if he didn’t. He was recaptured by the reds and put in Banjitsa where he was saved from execution by the communist general, Zhivanchevich, who recognized him as the brother of his son’s best friend.

That friend was my father, Boshko, the youngest. Between Zhika and Boshko was Sreten who was taken into forced labor in Germany at the age of thirteen and made his way to America after the war.

I loved my uncles very much. They were brilliant, hilarious, affectionate, and great cooks which probably contributed to their appeal. It was only later that I realized how spectacularly handsome they were. Looking back on photos that were taken of them as young men, I can say that they put the likes of Paul Newman and Errol Flynn to shame.

But this story is about Zhika. They called him the genius and although the war had interrupted his formal education he not only read every book my father brought home from school, but exhibited a singular facility for resolving difficult solutions, in an unusually ingenious manner.

When he returned from the war, his clothing in shreds and with no opportunity to buy others, he realized he was missing out on the great business opportunities going down on the gray and black markets. He brooded for two days before he hit on the solution and, seizing an army blanket, proceeded to cut and sew a suit on my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine. The trousers were a bit short, but he got his chance and many more. Years afterward he owned one of the most successful agricultural export companies in Belgrade.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

In Old Yugoslavia, the gypsies or Roma as they prefer to be called, followed traditional occupations such as horse trading, black smithing, fixing pots and sharpening knives and, of course, playing music. The women supplemented the family income by house-cleaning, fortune telling and begging. All in all, they got along and were free to pursue the life that they loved, that of the open road.

However, there was one tribe, the Chergashi, whom everybody feared. The reason for that was that they stole children for the express purpose of setting them to begging. The unfortunate children would be maimed or blinded to evoke public sympathy and often their tongues would be cut out so that they could never tell their true story.

But people were prudent and would keep their children indoors whenever the Chergashi would pass.

My grandmother, once a rich man’s daughter had sold her family farm and was living in the town of Arandjelovac [Archangel] where she ran a dress making concern and later an inn.

On the day in question, her husband was sleeping off a hangover, one of many, mostly continuous, acquired after the First World War. We didn’t know what post-traumatic stress disorder was then or how people coped by self-medicating but since a third of all of our men were killed in that terrible war, he must have had a profound longing to obliterate his pain.

Grandmother, like all of the townspeople, had heard by word of mouth that the Chergashi would be passing through that day. She locked her children inside the house and after giving them dire warnings went off to attend to business. When she returned the smaller children informed her that Zhika had slipped through an open window and run off. Just at that moment her cousin arrived for a visit on what must have been one of the first racing motorbikes in Yugoslavia and gave chase, catching up to the Chergashi many miles down the road. After the usual threats failed, bribes were exchanged, my uncle, hidden in the caravan, was returned home.

My grandmother, on the edge of reason, delighted to see that her son was still intact, proceeded to beat the tar out of him with a mixture of relief and exasperation. Afterward, looking for revenge, Zhika pulled down his short pants and sat in a cauldron of stew that she had left to cool, thus ruining the meal.

My mother never liked stories like that. She was the kind of person who brought stray animals and stray people home. She liked to give the gypsies as much business as she could. Radha the Gypsy was her cleaning woman and came by for fortune telling and Turkish coffee whenever she was in town.

One day as Radha was washing the windows, my mother slipped off her diamond ring while helping out and left it on the ledge. Interrupted by the telephone, she walked out of the room. I saw Radha snatch the ring up and tuck it into a leather pouch which hung under her many colored skirts. She gave me a sharp look, and I knew that she would probably turn me into a toad if I snitched, so I said nothing then nor when my father began raging that evening. My mother defended Radha as long as she could, and then she said, ‘She’s a poor gypsy woman, if she didn’t steal how else would she be able to feed her children?’

Married to Mickey

It’s not always easy being married to Mickey. He traces his complexes back to first grade when his mother dressed him in a full Donald Duck costume for Halloween, and the other kids called him names and threw rocks at him because of it. I just blame his mother.

Often my friends and neighbors will say to me, ‘I saw Mickey on the street, but he didn’t recognize me.’ The only thing I can say to them is, ‘ He doesn’t recognize me out of context either.’ Sometimes, I really wonder who else he thinks would call out,

‘ Honey, honey… HONEY!!!’ to him on the street, but I prefer not to go there.

Recently he had dinner with a neighbor I’ll call Igor. A few days later, he got on the elevator with an attractive woman and assuming she was Igor’s wife,  proceeded to talk about the boys’ night out. After a while, he noticed that the woman was looking at him as if he was crazy.

‘ Aren’t you Ludmilla?’ he asked.

‘ No,’ she replied, ‘ but I do speak Russian.’

The first time I noticed he wasn’t really aware of his surroundings was when we moved to the North Shore. I was still in an exploratory mode and would often ride my bike north for a couple of hours into Winnetka and Glencoe. One day I somehow got stuck on Old Green Bay Road and kept looping between Sheridan and Greenbay. I came home exhausted and irate five hours later.

‘ I’ve been lost in the Twilight Zone, ‘ I said stripping off my gear. Mickey, not looking up from his computer, said ‘ Oh, were you gone? I didn’t notice.’

However, he must have remembered that lesson –when wife goes missing, be concerned–and filed it away for future reference.

A couple of years ago, Mickey’s sister, Nely, decided to move, and I went to pack her since that happens to be one of my outstanding talents. Nely lives a couple of hours away, and in traffic it is a bit of a drive. I got there, was delayed by the fact that Nely had prepared about ten sheets of packing paper for about twenty ceramic pots that her daughter had made. ‘That’s enough for one pot. Now go to the store and buy more paper,’ I commanded.

Once that was taken care off, I spent the day finishing the job and came home at about eight-thirty in the evening.

Mickey, napping on the sofa with his favorite cat on top of him, opened his eyes, asked me how it went and fell back asleep after listening to my entire story about traffic, paper and pots. I took a long shower, washed my hair and went to bed. About midnight I heard my cell phone ringing and thinking it must be a life or death situation leapt out of bed and ran to my office to answer it. I was surprised to hear Mickey’s voice at the other end.

‘ Where are you?’ he asked with genuine concern.

‘ I’m in my office, ‘ I answered, perplexed.

He emerged from around the corner and seeing me in a pink polka-dot nightie that my mother had bought for me [ fit for a six year old, since she still imagines me to be that age] asked, ‘ Did you just walk in the door?’

Horrified but not yet knocked off my toes, I replied, ‘ Yes, I often drive across counties in my nightie.’

Recently he came home exasperated after running some errands. It seems his eyeglasses, which he needs for night driving had gone missing. He ransacked my car and his, every drawer and jacket pocket, both of our offices, when he started in on my dresser drawers.

‘Hold on a second,’ I said, ‘ when was the last time you remember having your glasses on?’

‘Halloween,’ he replied thinking for a minute.

‘Why don’t you check if you packed them away with your Ninja scorpion costume,’ I said. Hearing a triumphant shout, I knew that I had guessed right.

Of course that still doesn’t mean that Mickey thinks I know anything. Recently I went grocery shopping, noting we were out of kitty litter. I couldn’t find the right brand at the store and went to two others in search of it. At the last stop I gave up and bought what they had, not noticing it was the clumping kind, which Mickey hates. The next day, I scooped and was on my way to the trash can. Seeing me, Mickey insisted that I flush the litter instead.

‘I don’t think I should, it might clog the pipes,’ I said.

‘No it won’t,’ Mickey insisted. Yes, no, yes, no and so it went, until I finally capitulated. The end result was that Mickey spent the rest of the day and that evening unplugging the toilet, while I went out for Vietnamese food and cocktails with my kind and empathic friends.

‘Where is Mickey?’ they asked.

‘He’s hating me right now’ I replied telling them the story.

‘He loves you, Lily,’ they assured me,’ he just has Asperger’s Syndrome.’

Postscript: Mickey just read this and is still insisting I caused the damage because I put too much litter in at once!

Walking Across Bulgaria

My sister and I are looking at a family photograph. It’s Belgrade before the war. My mother, aunt, grandmother and great-aunt are fashionably dressed in their spring coats and hats, carrying handbags and wearing gloves. Everyone is happy except my mother who is crying. She is tiny, pretty, dark haired and about four years old.

Why were you crying?’ my sister asks with concern.

I wanted a doll and they didn’t have enough money to buy it for me,’ my mother says. You would never know it from they way they look. They are beyond chic. I happen to know that my grandmother sewed all their clothes.

You were materialistic even then,’ my sister says without missing beat.

My mother likes fine things, and she likes to live well. Usually the kind of life she likes to lead has been beyond her means. And often as she had been about to attain it, the rug has been swept out from under her feet.

Her Romanian father died shortly after she was born but not before leaving his lands to his own family and my grandmother destitute. Granny, as she is called now, was not only beautiful but clever and resourceful. Like many women at that time, she had her share of protectors, and when she got too old for those she married five more times. I don’t know who took that photograph, maybe it was the illegitimate son of the Hungarian count, who nevertheless became the sole heir of his father’s estate. Or perhaps it was the renowned journalist, more than twice her age, who wanted to marry her and send her children to Swiss schools where they would have escaped the war. He like so many others was arrested by the Nazis and was never heard from again.

In any case, these events happened after the war, after the hiding and fear was over. The Bulgarians who had fought on the losing side were suddenly converted to socialism and invited the children of their long suffering Serbian brethren to enjoy a holiday on the Black Sea.

My mother having heard about this adventure at school signed her sister and herself up right away. She would have never missed an opportunity to leave home, having unsuccessfully tried to  run away from seven times by the age of seven.

And so they departed, my mother, happy, my aunt, the good child, in tears.

They arrived not to a beautiful hotel as promised but to a sanitarium where tuberculosis patients were housed. The patients were a godsend, however, since the Bulgarians had made no provisions for the visiting children. My mother, ever resourceful, literally sang for her supper and the patients gave her their food which she shared with my aunt and some girlfriends who would otherwise have been forced to subsist on the onions growing in the garden.

But once the patients were moved, the girls fell on hard times. My mother and a few others decided to run away, while my aunt carefully composed a letter to Granny and decided to wait, a leap of faith considering that there was no regular postal service, and most of the roads were still out.

My mother set out with the others, who quickly returned. She survived by knocking on doors, saying she was hungry. People fed her freely and let her sleep in their barns. The weather was warm and it was no hardship she claims.

She finally arrived in Sofia, the capitol and, claiming she was a war orphan, was promptly taken in by the childless Mayor and Mayoress. She stayed with them for over a month in great comfort, receiving gifts; frilly pastel dresses that she had always coveted and more dolls than she had ever dreamed of having. The Mayor and Mayoress were drawing up adoption papers when Granny arrived in town manning a requisitioned motorbike with the children she had collected from the sanitarium trundled in the back and the sidecar.

Granny, a red headed spit-fire or ‘that cobra’ as she was often referred to by men who did not admire her, had begun her journey two months before by enlisting the help of the ‘comrades’ as she unceremoniously refers to them. The comrades had given her a ride in a military vehicle to the border, then she had ridden trains, walked and hitch- hiked to the Black Sea. I don’t know where the motorcycle came from or what she had to do to get it. In any case my mother was publicly exposed as a liar and had to give all of her dolls back, although she did get to keep the clothes.

Interview

About the time my first marriage was ending in the late 90’s, my widowed mother decided to sell her suburban house and buy a condominium in the city. She asked me to accompany her on her viewings, though I can’t say why since she never takes my advice. When she finally settled on a vintage property in Lakeview, her very tired Realtor said, ‘ You know that daughter of yours was born to sell real estate.’ Mother only shared that sentiment with me later.

In any case, I found myself having to earn a living for the first time in my adult life and wondered what I could possibly do since I had no skills and a degree in anthropology. I suppose I must have remembered that as a little girl growing up in Oak Park, I was so enthralled with Prairie School architecture that I would knock on peoples doors asking if they lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. This request would generally be met with disbelief, followed by laughter and an invitation inside [a good preparation for things to come in the business world.] I’m pretty sure that my parents would have beaten the crap out of me if they had known what I was up to, bothering decent people like that, but they never did find out.

And truthfully, I do have to admit that I was influenced by my own Realtor, an amazing woman whom I’ll call Sarah Royal Marshall. She was never a salesperson but always a patient caring friend who had her clients’ best interests at heart. If I had only known then that Realtors work on commission, I would have bought the most expensive property she showed me regardless of my personal taste.

In any case after completing real estate school, I somehow managed to convince another fabulous Realtor who was active in my building to get me an interview in one of the most prestigious Gold Coast brokerage firms.

I arrived for my interview at the appointed time and was met by the managing broker who took me to his office which faced a lovely hotel. I had never been on a genuine job interview before and suddenly realizing I would have to sell myself, proceeded to talk a blue streak.

Laughing, he said, ‘You know, you remind me of M. who came here with no skills, wearing head to toe Ferre and demanded a desk because she told all her friends she was starting on Monday and couldn’t bear the humiliation of not getting the job. She’s one of my top people now.’

‘Oh Ferre is my favorite designer!’ I said, thinking swell he’s gay,we’re going to get along. I was just going to describe some of my favorite acquisitions when he exclaimed, ‘There’s a naked lady in the window of the hotel, and there’s another naked lady with her. No, its a man. Oh, I have to see this. Excuse me for a second,’ and getting up, rushed to the floor to ceiling window.

What sort of place is this? I wondered, glancing over at the handsome couple who were putting on a show for all eyes.

Once they had drawn the curtains, he came back and said, ‘When can you start?’ In my best diva manner I replied, ‘I have two other interviews and have to make the best choice for myself. I’ll give you a call when I’ve made my decision.’ I mean really, what was I going to be, a sales lady at the cosmetic counter at Saks?

I did start the following week, and my colleagues often joked that I was trying to cut my first deal before I even had a desk. It didn’t work out, but around that time I must have realized that I had to procure my own clients. Somehow I thought that the firm would be assigning them. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

I soon realized that in that office, people did business on the strength of their social connections. I had about five good girlfriends raising children in the distant suburbs and was in the middle of a divorce, one in which I knew my husband’s friends would side with him.

What to do? I wondered.

Fortunately, I’ve generally been well liked even among the scary divas in that office, and I was taken up by older colleagues who taught me the art of cold calling. Naturally, this was prior to the no call era. I began with a list of Streeterville buildings. I dialed the phone, holding a script I had gotten off the Internet.

‘Mr Smith, this is Lily Temmer with so and so, and I was wondering if you were thinking about moving?’ I said.

‘Yes, Lily. I’m thinking about moving my bowels right now,’ was the answer at the other end.

‘Well, sir, I’ll let you get to it,’ I replied.

‘Call for sale by owners,’ my mentors said. ‘Make friends with them. They usually capitulate within a month of trying to sell their properties on their own.’

I made another list and the first call went well. The gentleman and I hit it off, but he sold his own place within the week. My second call was less successful. I could tell I was losing him and ventured, ‘You must have a very impressive kitchen. I see in your description that you have 42 cabinets.’

I truly didn’t realize I had said anything wrong until I saw my colleagues collapsing in fits of hysterical laughter.

’42 inch cabinets,’ the bemused potential client explained adding,’ Lily, you’re a nice girl. Call back when you have a little more experience.’

I did get more experience, though with my next two successive clients, I was shaking so badly that the listing brokers had to fill out the contracts for me. Somehow I has assumed I would go to Realtor prison if I didn’t do things perfectly.

Around that time I had a referral from my banker. The client was a lovely woman who was looking for a house in the Taylor Street area. I did know the area somewhat but was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of having to navigate, drive, park, open lock boxes and talk at the same time. Somehow the idea popped into my head that I should ask my husband, Mickey, then still my boyfriend, to act as my driver. That was when he was still crazy about me, and he readily consented. We picked the client up in my giant Mercedes, and he was perfectly discrete and professional the entire time. He even drove less aggressively than he usually does!

At one point, I got out to check on an address, and the client making polite conversation asked, ‘ Are you the son of the founder of the firm?’

‘No ma’am,’ Mickey replied with a straight face, ‘I’m only the company chauffeur.’

By the end of the year, I was doing high end deals and had acquired the loyalty of someone I thought I would have a life-long business relationship with. Unfortunately he ended up in Federal prison after being on America’s Most Wanted List for nearly a decade. But that is the beginning of another story.

Mating Season in Santa Fe

In the 1990s I had a very good friend who lived in Santa Fe. We had known each other since girlhood but had only become close after her divorce in’ 92 , and long telephone conversations about the meaning of life, spirituality vs materialism, the new age, quantum everything in the energetic universe and other such topics that were floating around at the time.

In any case she had been inviting me to visit for some years, and finally I decided to go in late summer of 96. She wanted me to stay at her house, but owing to my aversion to shared baths I opted for a hotel. I wanted to stay in town, but she convinced me that I would be happier at a ranch down the road from her place. I told her that I hadn’t driven since I had moved to the city years before. She said that she would do all the driving, and we’d spend the entire week tooling around enjoying town and the surrounding countryside.

I consented and prepaid the fee at the ranch. However, I must have had a presentiment of things to come when she invited another group of girlfriends to stay the week prior to my visit. I then fell back on my closest companion, my beloved and eccentric sister, Layla, who jumped at the chance to visit the land of her dreams.

I felt entirely justified when my friend announced the evening before my arrival that she was fed up with house guests and had to take care of herself. She added that she wouldn’t be picking us up at the airport as previously agreed. If I hadn’t already paid up, I would have canceled my trip. As it was, I sighed and said, ‘ Fine.’

I should mention at this point that my sister is a bit of a worry-wort and likes to be prepared for all contingencies. When Ebola broke out in Africa, she arrived at my doorstep, ashen and announced, ‘There’s a new disease out there now, and it’s going to make AIDS look like a picnic.’

When she realized we would be more or less on our own, she said, ‘ Lil, I looked up Santa Fe, and one of the largest federal penitentiaries in the country is right outside of town. If we rent a car, promise me we won’t pick up any hitchhikers.’ That was an easy promise to make.

In any case we arrived, found the bus to Santa Fe, met my girlfriend who was big enough to drive us out to the ranch, which turned out be about thirty miles west of town, contrary to what she had told me before. I had had the impression that we could walk to town. She then left us to go out on a date. Since Layla and I had nothing else to do, we spent our first evening making friends with the animal residents on the ranch: dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, goats and peacocks, while coyotes howled in the background.

The next day we got a driving lesson from the girlfriend’s cousin and a ride into town where we rented a car. From that point on we had a grand time which was only marred by the fact that we thought it would be wise to be home before dark. I suppose we could have stayed out later, but New Mexico has the highest rate of highway casualties in the US due to drunken driving. Since I hadn’t driven for years, and since the roads were not lit the way they are in the city of Chicago, I was afraid to risk it. Mostly I was afraid my mother would blame me if anything happened, which must be the reason that to this day, I still insist on holding my sisters hand when we cross the street.

I tried to maintain cordial relations with my girlfriend who insisted that Layla and I see Taos, an easy drive from where we were staying. And so it was until we had to cross a small mountain. ‘You’re doing really well, Lil,’ my sister encouraged me, while holding on to the dashboard for dear life as I navigated the bends. Anyway when we got there, the pueblo was closed for the corn ceremony, and needless to say after lunch we had to start on the journey home so that the dark wouldn’t catch us.

I don’t remember if it was that evening or another but we both finally had enough and in a foul mood retired to our casita which was located at the very edge of the property abutting the Rio Grande. That evening sentiments spilled over, and we got into a huge fight as only siblings can. As our tempers flared, and the argument escalated, our voices became higher and screechier. We might have gone on for some time, but we were alerted to danger when we heard a loud thumping on our roof. Thump, thump, thump, clearly the sound of a grown man jumping up and down.

‘Lil, its the escaped convicts!’ my very tall sister squealed, rushing to my side.

The thumping went on, accompanied by shrieks. Exchanging perplexed looks, I said,  I’ll handle this.You stay here.’

I inched my way to the door, closely followed by my sister who was not going to let me die alone. We cautiously opened the door and peered out into the darkness. A thump and a shriek resounded as a huge peacock jumped on to the roof to join three others.

To this day Layla and I don’t know if they had come to defend their territory, or attracted by our shrill voices, thought they had found their ideal mates.

Jaguar

My first husband, Leo, was rich. Actually he sold his saxophone after medical school to buy passage on a ship sailing to the States. He was handsome, worldly, and intelligent, but eventually success went to his head.

At one point we were traveling a lot, and of course, always first class. After a time in fashionable resorts I thought it might be a good idea to interject a bit of culture into our travels, and that is how we ended up at the great Mayan city of Palenque.

At that time Palenque was still surrounded by unspoiled jungle, and perhaps it still is. There was a small town a few miles from the site where the local people lived. We stayed at a hotel on a hill where the air circulated more freely than in the lowlands.

We arrived accompanied by our driver in the afternoon, and were profusely greeted by the kind staff who had prepared our room. By now, Leo was accustomed to staying in penthouses and presidential suites, and was having none of the ordinary room above the restaurant in the main house. And so the bellhop picked up our luggage, and led us to the annex far from any disruptive noises. I should mention that a low fence ran along the edge of the property, and just beyond that was the forest. Leo wanted to stay on the top floor which was closed due to lack of tourism, but eventually settled for two rooms at the farthest end of the building— one for each of us so that we would not have to share a bath.

When there is no moon or electricity to light the surroundings, night is profoundly dark, and can be disorienting to city people unused to wilderness. It is almost impossible to tell where sounds are coming from, and how far away they are.

After dinner, Leo invited me to his room to read aloud from a guidebook about the site. Shortly into my reading, the great silence outdoors, during day a din of animal noise, was interrupted by the lowing of a cow.

‘Funny, I thought the village was some distance away,’ I said, ‘ But it sounds as if  the cow is right on the other side of the fence!’ The cow lowed again and again until it was bellowing. And then we heard it, the unmistakable roar of a jungle cat. You have probably heard this in zoo or in the movies, but when you experience it in real life, it can cause quite a shock.

The cow was clearly bait for the cat. The cat roared again and again. We then heard some excited talk, and a few rifle shots followed by utter silence. Naturally, we mourned the cat like true city folk.

By then I had finished reading, and was ready to return to my room. Leo in jest said he would make sure the coast was clear. Opening the door, he rapped on the metal frame and called, ‘Here kitty, kitty.’

When that animal roared out of the darkness, Leo leapt several feet backwards, and slammed the door. I had never known a human being could jump like that. We had no idea where the cat was, but it seemed as if it was staking out the grounds directly in front the annex. We spent the night cowering at the back end of the room since the large picture window had a mosquito screen over it but no pane.

The next morning when we went to breakfast, I asked the waiter what had happened to the cat. Suddenly the entire staff of the hotel materialized, and insisted that there had never been and never would be a jaguar anywhere in the vicinity. But that evening, lamps were lit around the entire perimeter of the property.