The Most Excellent Immigrant

A novel-in-stories (upcoming, still shopping for a publisher).

by Mark Budman

There is a secret that we immigrants never share with the natives: a good immigrant adapts to the new country while the most excellent immigrant makes the new country better.

This novel is introducing the reader to an unusual set of immigrants in America. All the protagonists are “the most excellent” representatives of their communities, and all of them dream, some even in their sleep.

A mismatched pair of Russian immigrants, a con woman named Penelopa and an aging klutz, Piotr, are searching for seven pearls that used to belong to Piotr’s aunt. She stuffed them in one of seven pillows and they are now dispersed throughout the United States. The pair is convinced that these pearls are the main ingredient of the serum of eternal youth. Penelopa and Piotr eventually find them in possession of another Russian immigrant, the interpreter of dreams and maladies. This quest is intersecting and organically linked with the stories of other immigrants, both human and non-human.

A Titan, an immigrant from Ancient Greece, now a salaryman, is humiliated by his boss in front of his love interest. A man is parting with his cat, but they are reunited after death. A mail-order bride replays the story of Cinderella again and again.

Some stories from the novel have appeared in such magazines as Virginia Quarterly, Witness, The London Magazine (UK), American Scholar and Failbetter.

The opening.

The certified interpreter of dreams and maladies was driving away from Boston, while his otherworldly mentor Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt and the owner of the coat of many colors, rode shotgun. Joseph didn’t wear his seat belt, but no cop could see him, of course.

Neither said a word. They talked only while the interpreter slept, and he found sleeping while driving dangerous.

The interpreter didn’t tell anyone about Joseph, even his wife, his best friend, lest he be accused of harboring imaginary friends at his age, or worse.

Why the interpreter stopped by an antique store on Route 9 West, he couldn’t even guess. He was on his way to his daughter’s house, to help babysit her twins. The interpreter had just paid over two thousand bucks for removing two broken through-the-wall air conditioners, and wasn’t in the mood for spending more. He was never interested in antiques. What’s the point in buying a previously owned thing and paying more than the new one costs?

In the corner of the room, there was an emperor-sized four poster bed, piled high with quilts and pillows of all colors of the rainbow. They all looked appealing, but one of them, square, pitch-black, with flaming-red needlepoint depicting the Russian Imperial two-headed eagle, spoke to his heart. It looked dreamy as all the pillows should, but most don’t. He didn’t need them. Neither his daughter nor his wife needed them. As for the twins, their interests were unpredictable at two-and-a-half.

He wouldn’t sleep on it, he decided, but use it as an objet d’art. In the room inaccessible to his twin granddaughters, of course, or they would take it apart before he blinked.

The pillow was only $49.99 plus tax. A bargain in the world of antiques. He paid cash.

“Why do we need it?” his wife asked when he returned to his daughter’s house. She seemed never to leave it.

“Why do we need anything besides the basics?”

“Don’t you philosophize with me.” She looked tired. Too many hours, days and nights without sleep, watching the twins.

“I’m not philosophizing. I’m trying to answer your question. It’s not the question of needs but wants.”

“Why would you want something that has no value?”

“It does have value. $49.99 plus tax. A bargain in the world of antiques.”

She closed her eyes. “OK. It’s your money.”

“It’s our money.”

The interpreter took a pic of the pillow and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. He realized that bragging about his purchases was childish, but he couldn’t help it.  The pic was badly lit and ill-composed, but he got two “likes” on each platform.

He decided that the shooting angle was wrong. Rearranging the pillow, he found a lump inside. He palpated it carefully. It felt like a box. He took out a pocket knife, cut the stitches, and pulled out a small wooden jewelry box. It was locked, but he picked the lock by googling how to do it, and then using two paper clips. It was a simple lock anyway.

Inside the box, he found seven of the largest pearls he had ever seen. Deep yellowish-orange pearls, reflecting his open-mouthed face.  He took out a ruler and measured them. 13 millimeters each. Probably would cost a fortune if they were natural. But who would hide faux jewelry in a pillow? From the kids? From the spouse? From their dream mentor?

$49.99 plus tax, huh. A bargain in the world of antiques.

To be continued.