Fantasy Fiction Speculative


              The Studebaker Commander

It is Veteran’s Day 2021. I’m driving out of Manhattan alone in the 1953 two-tone blue Studebaker Commander Regal Starliner Two Door coupe sedan our mother bought second-hand in the summer of 1955 when she drove my brother and I cross-country. I was 16. It was the last summer my mother would spend with her two teenage sons. We were on a tight budget. I remember the hotel on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, a motel with a swamp cooler in Nevada, another on West Figueroa in Los Angeles, and one in Jackson, Tennessee. I lost my concentration and drove off the road somewhere in Iowa. To overcome my shyness, I put my arm around a girl for the first time in my life on the deserted deck of the ferry crossing Lake Erie from Cleveland to Detroit. At Yellowstone, a pederast ingratiated himself with my mother at the hotel to get a ride from the hotel to watch the geyser erupt. His only purpose was to get into the back seat of our car with me in the dark. I instinctively fought him off. There is a café in a Wyoming town with an unpaved main street where a slim beauty in jeans is still standing at the jukebox.

As I drive under the East River going through the Midtown Tunnel heading eastward towards the Sunrise Highway, the road that runs along the Southern shore of Long Island to connect with the Montauk Highway to Montauk Point and beyond, “Happy Days are Here Again.” Billboards capture the moment's joy with “Our friends, Joe & Jill Biden & Kamala Harris” hailing the “New Prosperity” ushered in by the promise of rebuilding America and the pledge of millions of jobs. Some of The billboards proclaim, “We Will Do Our Part.” Another billboard bearing Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’ smiling face celebrates the Green New Deal. There is no foreshadowing of doom on the Sunrise highway – nothing like the future of contingency reawakened by the billboard that loomed over Nick Carraway on Long Island’s North Shore in the Valley of the Ashes in The Great Gatsby as giant eyes peered through yellow spectacles advertising the practice of optometrist Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.

I’m on my way to Rockville Center to prowl around a neighborhood looking for Bridget and Vera to let them know I’m still here. I’m going in the odd chance that after living their lives without me they wonder what became of me as if their wondering would recapture something of my youth.

Bridget and Vera were two young lady friends I met in college who lived next door to each other. Bridget had a mother named Anne. Vera was being raised by a single father I never met. Bridget’s house was a well-kept grey clapboard home. Next door was Vera’s house concealed behind dense overgrown bushes with a front lawn that needed mowing, Vera was a young lady with aquiline features and straight blond hair. I became infatuated with her much to Bridget’s disappointment when she turned up on campus one day in a bandaged head from an automobile accident instantly becoming the heroine of a Hemingway war story I imagined meeting in a field hospital somewhere in Italy or Spain. Once I found her lying on my bed in my room on campus just wanting to be held. When I reached Rockville Center, I made a left off Sunrise Highway onto a tree lined street looking for two houses side by side.  I turned on to another street still looking for the two houses side by side emerging out of the past with the expectation that the two girls would materialize. Suddenly a lady walking her dog waves at me. It is Anne, Bridget’s mother warning me of oncoming traffic ahead. Bridget’s mother Anne hasn’t changed a bit since I last saw her sixty years ago. She is trying to signal I was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Why wasn’t she the mother then who might have warned me then about what life had in store? Now I can see the headlights of oncoming traffic approaching with horns sounding. With no time to lose, I swerve into the driveway to get out of the way of oncoming traffic hoping to back out and join the flow of traffic in the right direction without my transgression being noticed.

On my right, a yard sign says, “Home of a loser and sucker.” I barreled into an immense mound of leaves covered with a tarp dispersing the leaves all over the driveway and the lawn behind the house.

A gentleman walking with a cane springs out of the back door of his house and limps down the back stairs putting on his COVID mask. I put on my N-95 covid mask, got out of the car, and waited for the recriminations.  

“What are you doing in my driveway?” he cried out. “Look at what you’ve done!” he exclaims.  

“I apologize. I’m not from around here. I was going the wrong way up your street. I needed to turn around. I’m very embarrassed.”

He shook his head. “Why didn’t you watch where you were going?” he asked, then taking notice of my advanced years, “Are you alright? Should I call an EMT?”  

“I’m fine. Do you have a rake handy?” I asked.

“Never mind.  You can’t rake up the leaves in my yard. Are you sure you are ok driving?”

“I insist.”

“Suit yourself,” he said. Shaking his head, he went into his garage and came out with a rake. I set to work to rake up the dead leaves into a new mound. The owner went back into his kitchen.

As I began raking up the leaves, a little boy in a New York Jets football pullover came out the door to keep me company while the lady of the house peered out through the kitchen window. I introduced myself to the boy.

“What’s your name?”

“Philip,” he said was his name..

“Hi Philip, you’re a Jets fan I see,” I asked.

He shook his head from side to side. “They win sometimes. They beat Cincinnati on Halloween,” he said.

“What was the score?”

“34 to 31.”

“Close game.”

“The Jets scored 14 pts in 51 seconds with a new quarterback.”

“What was his name?”

“Mike White. But then he got hurt and sick from COVID.”

“That’s too bad. Maybe he wasn’t vaccinated.”

“We’re all vaccinated in my house. Are you?”

“Absolutely. Does your father take you to the games?”

“My father says the New Jersey Meadowlands is too far. It takes at least an hour to get there and there is too much traffic. But he takes me to NY Met games in Flushing. That’s closer. We can get there in half an hour by car, sometimes we take the train and the subway. That’s only 45 minutes. My father doesn’t like to drive because of his bad leg. He was injured deactivating a landmine in Iraq.”

“I guess your dad is pretty mad at me.”

“I guess. But I’m not mad.”


“Raking leaves is one of my chores.”

“It’s my chore today.” 

After about 45 minutes of raking with Philip looking on from the back steps of the house when he was not engrossed in a game on his cellphone, I must have paused too often to catch my breath because of my double covid mask,. The owner came out the back door.

“Stop!” he gestured, “That’s enough,” he said. “You didn’t have to do this. My name is Gene.”

I introduced myself. “I should have done more,”

“You have done enough. My wife is afraid you’re going to have a stroke on our property.”

“I needed the exercise,” I said.

His wife joined us. “This is my wife, Gail,” Gene said. We shook hands.

“I thought I had two friends on this street when I was young,” I said, “but I’m probably imagining things.”

“Was this the house?” she asked.

“I don’t think this even the right street and they probably wouldn’t want to speak to me.”

“When did you last see them?” Gail asked.

“About sixty years ago,” I said.

“Was this your hometown?” Gail asked.

“No, I lived in Manhattan, but I went to college out here. I couldn’t help noticing your sign.”

“Gene put it up for Veterans Day,” Nancy said.

“You never know how people will react,” I asked.  

“This is a friendly neighborhood. But if anyone threatens me or my family, I’m a vet. I always have the nuclear option,” Gene said “But Gail will talk me out of it” he added with a smile, putting an arm around his wife who was shaking her head.

“My French grandfather died in World War I,” I said.

“You’re French?” Gail asked. “How did you happen to live in the United States?.”

“We were refugees resettled in the United States with the help of American friends of the family during World War II. My father was of Jewish descent. He did not expect to survive the racial laws in France during World War II.”

“War leaves scars on all of us,” Gail said as she moved to be closer to her husband and put her arm around him.

“It lasts generations,” I said.

“Would you like to come in and join us for a cup of coffee?” Gail asked.

“No thanks! I’m afraid I’ve overstayed my welcome. Sorry about the leaves. You have been truly kind.” I no sooner declined and said my goodbyes than I regretted my reticence.

“I’m driving east before dark to Paris to pay my respects to my grandfather on Armistice Day.”

“Drive safe,” Gene said. “Stop by again when you’re in the neighborhood,” he added. “We’ll have a pile of leaves ready for you.”

As I drive to Paris in my supersonic Studebaker no longer a slave to time, space, or calamity as I retraced my steps on my cosmic journey. Though I found myself going the wrong way down a one-way street looking for a past I couldn’t find, I had done my part in raking those leaves.

 Jean Leveque 1888-1918                

My maternal grandfather Jean Abel Alexis Lévèque was mobilized on August 2, 1914, one of 3 million 500,000 men called up. He joined the 74th infantry regiment made up of soldiers from Normandy and Paris as part of the Third Army Corps, Fifth Division, 9th Brigade, garrisoned in Rouen at the Caserne Pelissier. Jean was a journalist for the French newspaper Gil Blas, a well-known Paris weekly who chronicled goings on in Paris.

At least 20,000 men enlisted in his regiment. He was one of 3,500 who did not survive. He served as a sapper-telegraphist responsible for communications between his unit and other parts of the front. Despite efforts by fellow soldiers in his unit to keep him safe, he took risks for which he was decorated. What happened to those decorations? I suspect they were stolen but I can’t very well harbor a posthumous grudge against an unknown person. No one is holding any grudges against me for my misdemeanors, and I have no proof that they were stolen. Although I have my suspicions, they may have been lost.

His regiment’s journey followed the trajectory of the World War One front in France: From August 21 to 23, 1914, the battle of Charleroi, September 6 to 13, the first battle of la Marne, next, Courgivaux, Montmirail, Marchais, Reims, le Mont-Doyen. According to the brigade and division records, in December 1914, some members of my grandfather’s regiment participated in a Christmas truce initiated by German troops on December 25. Unarmed Germans emerged from their trenches some carrying little fir trees. Some French troops left their trenches and approached them. When the commanding officer learned what was going on, he considered it an unwelcome attempt at fraternization and ordered his men back into their trenches and to open fire.  

In 1915, his regiment fought at Neuville-Saint Vaast and on June 9 fought in the Artois offensive. They were at Bois de la Folie on September 25. In 1916, they were at the Battle of the Somme and at Verdun in February. In 1917, they took part in the Aisne Offensive at the Chemin des Dames where there was mutiny in the ranks. In 1918, the regiment was at the Second Battle of the Marne. Four months before the signing of the Armistice, on July 23, 1918, at the age of thirty, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.                                   

My widowed grandmother had to wait three years before my grandfather’s remains were identified and restored to his loved ones and she was able to bury him in the family vault in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

The family mausoleum at Montparnasse cemetery

My grandfather was waiting for me sitting on the steps of the mausoleum when I arrived as if no time had elapsed since he died in 1918.

“I came to pay my respects,” I said..

He was dressed in the old uniform I had seen him wearing in the old photographs taken when he was on leave during World War I.

I asked him if he knew the thousands of letters he had written during his four years at the front had been collected by my mother (his daughter) and were now archived in a World War I Memorial in France.

“Strange, your mother never told me,” he said.

I asked him if he knew about her career in the French Diplomatic Service and her decorations.

“We don’t talk much on our underground plane of consciousness,” he said. “I think your mother and uncle avoid me. They were disappointed by my death when they were only five and six years old,” he said. “But I wasn’t alone. Millions of children of that generation had to grow up without their fathers. By the way, I want to thank you and your cousin Anne Marie for restoring the family vault.”

“We are your grandchildren raised to do fulfill our duty. It was in such bad shape the administrators of the cemetery were threatening to tear it down,” I said, adding, “One day I made a scene at the office when I discovered some homeless person had broken in and spent the night there.”

I changed the subject to his writing life. 

“I’ve read all of your articles. I particularly remember one dated May 25, 1913, in which you chronicled two demonstrations the same day entitled “Morning – A white cortege” and Afternoon – A red cortege.” I said.

“I remember that day,” he replied. “A display of the two faces of France. The men and women who paraded that day didn’t know what awaited them the following year in 1914.”

“The outbreak of the war,” I interjected.

“The socialists fought to prevent war and the Catholics thought they were defending the soil of France as if they were following in the footsteps of Joan of Arc’s martyrdom but even the socialists took the patriotic road of martyrdom in the trenches. Like me. We had the new subway, so I was able to cover both events. In the morning, the Monarchists were parading from one church to another before statues of Joan of Arc. The monarchist delegations consisted of elegantly dressed women and men in uniform from the elite schools wearing light blue scarves and exhibiting white carnations, lilacs, and roses. Cries of “Vive Jeanne d'Arc” and “Vive la France” echoed across the square. In the afternoon, thousands of Socialists emerged from the “Métropolitain” on the Boulevard Ménilmontant and gathered at the entrance of the Père Lachaise cemetery for the annual march known as “la Montée au Mur.” Escorted by parade marshals and with a wild rose (eglantine) pinned to their lapels” they entered the Père Lachaise cemetery singing the International and proceeded to the wall known as the Mur des Fédérés where on May 28, 1871, one-hundred and forty-seven combatants of the French Commune were shot and thrown into an open trench.


“I admire how you were able to distill an account of the two demonstrations in about seven paragraphs,” I said. “My mother lamented the fact that your career as a writer was cut short. Your writer friends mourned your death. Your name is inscribed on a list of writers who died in World War I on the wall of the Pantheon.”

He responded as if he was reading my mind on my writerly failures.

“I know,” he said. “But misfortune is no excuse. Though misery loves company, one can find no greater companion than French poet and novelist Villiers de l’Isle Adam. He was never defeated. The French Catholic mystic novelist Léon Bloy, a friend and admirer recalls that l’Isle Adam was so poor that he had to finish writing one of his science fiction novels on the bare floor of his garret after the bailiff repossessed his furniture. He was determined to finish what he started.”

“Inspiring words,” I said.

“How long are you staying?” he asked.

“I have to drive back to New York tonight,” I said.

“It must be a long ride,” Jean said.

“It is only 5675 km. I fly the same route as the old Air France Concorde at 60,000 feet in the aerodynamically efficient Studebaker. I will be in New York in less than three hours. I can put the car on autopilot. Time and space are suspended during my flight. With the time difference, I will be in New York at the same time I leave Paris.”

. “You know where to find me,” he said as we embraced.  

March 01, 2024 15:58

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Maple Ip
06:28 Mar 10, 2024

Wow, truly a walk through time! Sometimes we overlook the connections between historical events and personal histories - this is a great reminder that we're all part of the world, stitched in one thread at a time.


Antoine Polgar
18:09 Mar 10, 2024

Hi Maple, Thank you. You captured the essence of the story - but the Reedsy platform couldn't handle the old grainy black and white photographs. - much to my dismay,


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