Kugelmeth, a professor of humanities at the city university, is married for the second time, and like the first time, his current married life is not satisfactory. His wife, Daphne Krugmeth, is a clumsy person, and he has two dull sons from his ex-wife, Fro. He is already burnt out from having to pay alimony and child support for his sons.
"Did I know things were going to get this bad?" Krugmeth lamented to his psychoanalyst one day, "Daphne used to have hope. Who would have thought she would let herself go and swell up like a floating balloon? Besides, she used to have a bit of money, so that's not a good reason to marry her, but with a mind like mine to make a living, that can't hurt. Do you understand what I mean?"
Krugmeth's head is bald, his body is as sweaty as a bear, but he is still strong.
"I need to find another woman," he added, "I need to have an affair. I may not look like that, but I'm a man who needs romance. I need tenderness, I need flirtation. My youth is gone, so I want to fall in love in Venice before it becomes too late, I want to make playful remarks to each other in 'twenty-one' restaurants, I want to shyly stare at each other by candlelight over red wine. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Dr. Mandel shifted in his chair and said, "An affair doesn't solve anything, you're being unrealistic, your problems run much deeper."
"And this affair must be conducted discreetly." Krugmeth continued, "I can't afford another divorce, and Daphne will screw me over."
"But not with anyone at City College, because Daphne works there, too. None of the faculty in there are any more exciting than some of the students ......"
"Help me. I had a dream last night that I was bouncing across a meadow with a picnic basket that said 'choose' on it, and the next thing I knew there was a hole in the basket."
"Mr. Cugmeth, it would be the worst thing you could do if you put it into action. You must just get your feelings out here and we'll do the analysis together. You have been in therapy for so long that you should know that there is no such thing as an overnight cure. I am, after all, a psychoanalyst, not a magician."
"Then maybe I need a magician." Krugmeth said and got up from the chair, and thus terminated his psychotherapy.
After two more weeks, when Krugmeth and Daphne were bored like two old pieces of furniture in their apartment, the phone rang.
"I'll get it." Krugmeth said, "Hello?"
"Krugmax?" A voice said, "Krugmeth, it's Paski."
"Paski, or 'The Amazing Paski', ever heard of him?"
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I heard that you are looking for a magician around the city in order to bring something new into your life? Is that right?"
"Shh-" Krugmeth said quietly, "Don't hang up, Paski, where are you calling from?"
Early the next afternoon, Krugmeth arrived in front of a ramshackle apartment building in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. After climbing three flights of stairs, in a dimly lit hallway, he squinted to find the home he was looking for and rang the doorbell. I'm going to regret this, he thought to himself.
After a few seconds, he was greeted by a short, slim, pale man at the door.
"Are you the 'Great Paski'?"
"It's 'The Great Paski'. Would you like a cup of tea?"
"No. I want romance, I want music, I want love and beauty."
"But no tea, is it? How strange. That's fine, you sit down."
Paski went to the inner room, and Krugmeth heard the sound of moving boxes and furniture. When Paski came out, he had a large object pushed in front of him, with squeaky rollers underneath. He took down some large silk handkerchiefs that were placed on the top and blew away some dust. It was a poorly painted Chinese cabinet that didn't look like it was worth much money.
"Paski," Krugmeth asked, "what is this tricky contraption?"
"Pay attention," said Paski, "it's a great piece, developed for a show I booked last year for the Knights of Pythias, but then cancelled. Get in it."
"What, and then you can stick it full of swords or something?"
"Did you see the sword?"
Krugmeth made a face and grunted as he dug into the cupboard. Right in front of him, there was an unpainted piece of plywood with two ugly faux gems glued to it, impossible not to see. "It's a joke." He said.
"Pretty good joke then. Hey, here's the key, you're in the cupboard, I'll throw some random novel in there, close the cupboard door, and knock three times, and you'll find yourself in that book all of a sudden."
Krugmeth made a face in disbelief.
"What the jewel does," said Paski, "is that I reach out to God. It's not just a novel yet, a short story, a play, a poem, all of it. You can meet any woman created by the world's most brilliant writers, and see whoever you want. You can keep reading until you find the most desirable one. When you think it's about right you give a shout and I'll have you back in a blink of an eye."
"Paski, are you coming down with something?"
"I'm being real with you." Paski said.
Krugmeth still had doubts. "Are you telling me that this broken box you made yourself can take me on a trip like you said?"
Krugmeth reached for his wallet. "I'll believe it when I see it." He said.
Paski slipped the bill into his pants pocket and turned toward the bookcase.
"Who do you want to see? Sister Carrie? Hester Prynne? Ophelia? Maybe someone from Saul Bellow's book? Hey, how about Tambor Derek? But she can be tough for a man your age."
"French, I'd like to have an affair with a French lover."
"How about Nana?"
"I don't want to have to spend money."
"What about Natasha from War and Peace?"
"I said I wanted the French one. I thought of it! How about Emma Bovary? Sounds most ideal."
"No problem, Cugmeth, just give a shout when you think it's about right." Paskey tossed in the paperback copy of Flaubert's novel.
"Are you sure this is safe?" Krugmeth asked as Paski closed the cupboard door.
"Safe, what else is safe in this shitty world?" Paski knocked three times on the cupboard and then jerked the door open.
Krugmeth was gone, and at the same time, he appeared in the Bovary's bedroom. In front of him was a beautiful woman, standing there alone with her back to him, folding a few bedding items. I can't believe it, Krugmeister thought to himself as he stared at the charming wife of Dr. Bovary, unbelievable, I'm here and that's her.
Emma turned around in surprise. "My God, you startled me." She said, "Who are you?" She was using the kind of standard English that comes translated from paperback books.
That's wonderful, he thought to himself, and then realized she was talking to him and said, "Excuse me, I'm Sidney Kugelmeth, City College, professor of humanities, CCNY, you know? In uptown Manhattan. I - oh, my God!"
Emma Bovary laughed frivolously as she said, "What would you like to drink? Either that or a glass of wine, please?"
She's so beautiful, thought Krugmeth, compared to the old bum I share my bed with! He felt a sudden urge to take this beauty into his arms and tell her that it was her kind of woman he had dreamed of all his life.
"Well, have some wine," he said in a hoarse voice, "white, no, red, no, white, have some white wine."
"Char is out today." Emma said, with a teasing hint in her voice.
After the wine, they went for a walk in the scenic French countryside. "I've always dreamed that a mysterious stranger would show up and save me from this monotonous, crude country life." Emma said and grabbed his hand. They both passed a small church. "I like what you're wearing," she whispered, "I've never seen it here before, and it's ...... very fashionable."
"It's called casual wear," he said in a romantic tone, "and it's cut-rate." Suddenly, he kissed her. For the next hour they lay together under a tree talking in low tones and holding meaningful conversations with their eyes. Then Cugmeth got up; he had just remembered to meet Daphne at the Bloomingdale's store. "I have to go now," he told her, "but don't worry, I'll be back."
"I hope you will." Emma said.
He hugged her warmly, and then the two walked back to the Bovary house. He took Emma's face in his hands, kissed her again, and then shouted, "All right, Paski! I have to be at the Bloomingdale's at 3:30."
There was just a thud and Krugmeister was back in Brooklyn.
"Well? Did I trick you?"
"Hey, Pasky, that grievance of mine and I agreed to meet on Lexington Avenue, and now it's late. When can I go there again? Is tomorrow okay?"
"I'd be happy to help you out, just bring twenty bucks. And don't tell anyone."
"Isn't it? I have to go and call Rupert Murdoch."
Cugmeth took a cab and sped off toward the city. He felt his heart blossom. I'm in love, he thought, and I've got a terrific secret. He didn't realize that just then, in many classrooms across the country, students were telling their teachers, "Who's that appearing on page one hundred? A bald Jewish pro-Mrs. Bovary?" A teacher in Senox Falls, South Dakota, sighed and thought, "My God, these kids, they're so weird, what's going on in their heads!
Daphne was in the bathroom department when Cugmeth arrived at the Bloomingdale's store out of breath. "Where have you been?" She asked impatiently, "It's half past four."
"Traffic on the road." Krugmeth said.
The next day, Krugmeth went to see Paski again and arrived in Wingtown through magic a few minutes later. Emma's excitement at seeing him was overwhelming. They both spent a few hours together, laughing and talking about their different experiences. Before Krugmeth left, they made love. "Oh my God, I'm making love to Madame Bovary!" Krugmeth whispered to himself, "That's me, failing English freshman year."
As month after month passed, Krugmeth went to see Paski many times, and the relationship with Emma Bovary developed into a gluey one. "You have to make sure I show up every time in the book before page one hundred and twenty," Krugmeth said to the magician one day, "I have to meet her before she hooks up with that Rodolphe character."
"Why?" Paski asked, "Can't you outsmart him?"
"Beating him to the punch is easy to say. He's a nobleman with an estate, and those guys have nothing better to do than flirt and ride. As far as I'm concerned, he's just one of those guys from Women's Wear Daily, with the Helmut Boulanger haircut. But to Emma, he was charming."
"And her husband didn't suspect a thing?"
"He wasn't capable of suspicion at all. He was a deadly dull little doctor, with a passion that had passed decades ago. By ten o'clock he was ready for bed, and she was just beginning to live out the flavor. Oh, well, I'll ...... see you later."
Cugmeth got into the cupboard once more and was immediately at the Bovary house in Wingtown. "How are you, little boy?" He said to Emma.
"Oh, Cugmeth," said Emma with a sigh, "I have put up with so much. Yesterday at dinner, that Mr. Lively fell asleep with his dessert. I was talking to him with great enthusiasm about Maxim's and the ballet in Paris, when suddenly I heard him snoring."
"It's all right, my dear, I'm here." Cugmeth said as he embraced her. He smelled Emma's French perfume and buried his nose in her hair. I've got it, he thought, I've suffered enough, I've spent enough money seeing psychoanalysts. I kept looking until I was exhausted. She was young and sexy, and here I was, a few pages after Leon, just before Rodolphe appeared. By appearing in the right chapters, I was really taking advantage of the situation.
Exactly right, Emma is as happy as Cugmeth. She's always craved excitement, and what he tells her about life on Broadway, driving fast cars, Hollywood and TV stars, etc., also makes the French beauty yearn for more.
"Tell me more about O. J. Simpson." She pleaded that evening as they strolled past the church presided over by Father Bunizian.
"What else can I say? He's amazing, setting all the records for running with the ball, and don't even mention that movement, no one else can touch him."
"And the Oscars?" Emma said with longing, "I'd die to get one."
"You have to get nominated first."
"I know, you explained it, but I believe I can act. Of course, I'd have to take a class or two, maybe with Strasberg. And then if I get the right agent-"
"Then we'll talk about it, later, and I'll talk to Paski."
That night, after returning safely to Paskey's apartment, Krugmeth suggested that he wanted Emma to come see the big city of New York.
"Let me think about it," Paski said, "maybe I can do it, stranger things have happened than that." Of course, neither of them could think of anything weirder than that.
"Hell, where have you been all day?" Daphne Cugmeth growled at her husband when she got home late that night, "Are you keeping a slut somewhere?"
"Yes, that's right, I am that kind of person." Krugmeth said listlessly, "I was with Leonardo Popkin and we discussed socialist agriculture in Poland. And you know Popkin, he's a geek in that respect."
"Then you've been out of sorts lately," said Daphne, "out of your mind. Don't forget my father's birthday, Saturday, remember?"
"Oh, sure, sure." Cugmeth said as he walked to the bathroom.
"My whole family will be there, and get to meet the twins, and Cousin Hymish. You should be more polite to Cousin Hemish - he likes you."
"That's right, the twins." Krugmeth said closing the bathroom door and shutting out his wife's voice as well. He leaned against the door and took a deep breath. In a few hours, he told himself, he would be in Wingtown again, to be with the one he loved. If all went well, this time he would bring Emma back.
At 3:15 p.m. the next day, Paski worked his magic again. Krugmax appeared in front of Emma, full of smiles and eagerness. They both spent a few hours with Binay, the tax collector of Yongzhen, and then got into the Bovary's carriage. They obeyed Paski's instructions, clung together and closed their eyes for a count of ten. When they opened their eyes again, the carriage was pulling up to the side entrance of the Plaza Hotel and stopped, where Cugmeth had optimistically booked a suite that day.
"I love it so much! It's exactly like I imagined!" Emma said whirling happily around the bedroom, examining the city from the window. "That's the FAO Schwartz toy store, and that's Central Park. Where's the Shirley Gallery? Oh, there - I see it, it's divine."
There were several boxes of Huston and Saint Laurent clothing on the bed, and Emma opened one of them, picking up a pair of black velvet pants and comparing them to her perfectly defined body.
"These homely pants were designed by Ralph Lauren." Cugmeth said, "You look radiant. Come here, my dear, for a kiss."
"I've never looked this happy!" Emma stood in front of the mirror and squealed, "Let's go up the street, I want to see Dragons I and the Guggenheim Museum, and that Jack Nicholson you're hanging on to, is there a movie he's in playing?"
"I can't figure it out," said a Stanford professor, "first a character named Krugmeister pops up, and now she's missing from the book. Well, I guess the thing about a masterpiece is that you can read it a thousand times and still manage to read something new every time."
The lovers had a most enjoyable weekend. Cugmeth told Daphne he was going to Boston for a seminar and would not be back until Monday. He and Emma enjoyed every moment, watching movies together, eating in Chinatown, playing for two hours at a disco, and watching TV shows in bed. On Sunday, they slept in until noon and then went to SoHo in Manhattan to stare at the celebrities going in and out of Elaine's. On Sunday night, they tasted caviar and drank champagne in a hotel suite and talked until dawn. By morning, they took a taxi to Paski's apartment. In the cab, Cugmeth thought to himself, this is hectic enough, but it's worth it. I can't bring her here too often, but once in a while it's a desirable spice to life in Youngtown.
At Paski's house, Emma dug into the cupboard and stacked the boxes with the new clothes neatly around her. She kissed Krugmeth affectionately. "Next time go to my house." She said with a wink. Paski banged on the cupboard three times, but didn't move.
"Hmm." Paski scratched his head. He knocked a few more times, and the magic still didn't work. "Something must be wrong somewhere." He grunted.
"Paski, you're kidding!" Cugmeth shouted, "How could it not work?"
"Easy, easy. Emma, are you still in there?"
Paski knocked a few more times - a little heavier this time.
"I'm still here, Paski."
"I know, honey, you sit tight."
"Paski, we have to send her back." Cugmeth said quietly, "I'm a married man and I have to go to class in three hours. I don't think about anything other than a discreet affair."
"I don't understand," Paski muttered, "this little trick is working."
But he was at a loss. "I need a little time," he said to Krugmeth, "to take it apart and see. I'll call you later."
Krugmeth shoved Emma into a cab and took her back to the Plaza Hotel, barely making it to class himself. He'd been on the phone all day, calling Paski and his lover. The magician told him it might take a few more days to find out what the root of the problem was.
"How did the seminar go?" Daphne asked him that night.
"Good, good." He said trying to light a cigarette, but instead he lit the end with the filter.
"What's wrong? You're nervous as a cat."
"Me? Ha, that's funny, I'm as calm as a summer night. I'm going out for a walk." He slipped out of the house, hailed a cab, and hurried to the Plaza Hotel.
"This is so bad," Emma said, "Char will miss me."
"Bear with me." Cugmeth said. He was pale and sweaty. He kissed her again, then rushed out to take the elevator downstairs. In the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, he wailed to Paski on the coin phone, just in time to get home before midnight.
"According to Popkin, the price of barley in Krakow has never been as stable as it is now since 1971." He said to Daphne. He squeezed a little smile on his face as he got under the covers.
The whole week passed like that.
On Friday night, Krugmeth told Daphne he was going to another seminar, this time in Syrogus. He hurried to the Plaza Hotel again, but the second weekend was nothing like the first. "Send me back to the novel, or marry me." Emma told Cugmeth, "Besides, I want to get a job or go to school, I'm sick of watching TV every day."
"Good, then we'll have money to spend." Krugmeth said, "You spend twice as much as you weigh on meal delivery services."
"I met an Off-Broadway producer in Central Park yesterday who said I might fit in a play he's producing."
"Where's the clown?" Cugmeth asked.
"He wasn't a clown, he had a keen sense, a good heart, and was inviting. Name's Jeff, forget the last name. He's about to win the Toni Award."
Later that afternoon, Krugmeth went drunkenly to Paski's house.
"Take it easy," Paskey said, "or you'll get a coronary."
"Don't rush, and you told me not to rush. I've got a fictional character hiding in my hotel room, and, well, I think my wife is hiring a private detective to follow me."
"Okay, okay, I know there's trouble." Paskey got under the cupboard and began smashing at who knows what with a large wrench.
"I'm like a wild animal," Krugmeth added, "sneaking around the city. Emma and I look at each other very badly, not to mention that the hotel costs are as scary as the defense budget."
"What can I do? It's the world of magic," said Paski, "subtle as hell."
"Subtle my ass, I'm pouring champagne and all that good stuff into the mouth of subtle little rat, and she's got clothes to buy, and she's been accepted into community theater, and suddenly she needs to take professional photography pictures. And what about Paski, Professor Favish Kopkainde, the one who teaches comparative literature, who has always been jealous of me, recognizes the character who occasionally appears in Flaubert's novels as me, and threatens to go and tell Daphne about it. I imagine to the point of unmanageability and alimony payments, and jail time. Because I was fornicating with Madame Bovary, my wife would make a callow out of me."
"What do you want me to say? I'm fixing it now, day and night. As for your personal anxiety, I can't help you with that. I'm a magician, not a psychoanalyst."
By Sunday afternoon, Emma had locked herself in the bathroom, deaf to Krugmeth's plea. Kugelmeth looked out the window at the Waldman rink and thought about suicide. Too bad this floor isn't high, he thought to himself, or I'd be doing that right now. Maybe, I'd run off to Europe and start my life over ...... Maybe I could sell the story to the International Herald Tribune, like those young girls often do.
The phone rang, and Krugmeth mechanically brought the receiver to his ear.
"Lead her on," said Paski, "I think I've got it worked out."
Krugmeth's heart went wild with joy. "You mean it?" He said, "You fixed it?"
"The problem was with the transmission, I can't say exactly."
"Paski, you're a genius. We'll be at your place in a minute, it won't take a minute."
The lovers rushed to the magician's apartment again, and Emma Bovary once again dug into the cupboard with her boxes of costumes. This time, they didn't kiss goodbye. Paski closed the cupboard door, took a deep breath, and knocked three times on the cupboard, only to hear a reassuring thud. Paski looked inside and the cupboard was empty, and Madame Bovary was back in the novel. Krugmeister let out a long breath of relief and grabbed the magician's hand for a sharp grip.
"It's over," he said, "I've learned my lesson and I'll never cheat on my wife again, I swear." He grabbed Paski's hand again for a sharp shake, making a mental note to give him a necktie.
Three more weeks passed, and at the end of a very pleasant spring evening, Paski heard someone ring the doorbell and went to open it. It was Cugmeth, and there was a shy look on his face.
"Say, Cugmeth," said the magician, "where do you want to go this time?"
"Just this once," Krugmax, "the weather is so nice, my youth is gone. Hey, did you ever see 'Portnoy's Complaint' and remember that 'monkey' in it?"
"The price is now twenty-five, because the cost of living is rising, but given the trouble I've caused you, for the first time I'm giving you a free ride."
"You're a good man." Cugmeth said. He dug into the cupboard as he combed through the few remaining strands of hair. "Is this stuff working okay?"
"I hope so, but I haven't tried it much since that last unpleasant incident."
"Sex and romance," Cugmeth said from inside the cupboard, "that's why we go after pretty faces, for both of those things."
Paskey threw in a copy of Portnoy's Complaint, then banged on the cabinet three times. But this time instead of a bang, there was a dull explosion, followed by a crackling sound and then sparks. Paski jumped back a step, and due to a heart attack, he immediately fell to the ground and died. The cupboard burst into flames, and by the end, the whole building was burned down.
Krugmeth was oblivious to the catastrophe, and he himself was in trouble. Instead of going at once into "Portnoy's Complaint," he enters an old textbook called "Spanish Remedies. He was running for his life in a desolate and rocky area, and "tener" (meaning "to have") - a huge and hairy irregular verb --was flinging its long, thin legs after him.