ghost of Mark Twain settled into the chair beside me.
"Son, you put a cover like that on your next book ...
and I will knock you so hard into next week that it will take a team of surgeons to extract Thursday from your posterior."
He winked, "Of course I will have to read the book through. Twice."
His eyebrows rose up and down devilishly. "Just out of scientific curiosity and all, don't you know?"
He chewed on his cigar. "I'm depressed."
"So naturally you thought of me," I sighed.
"Of course!" he cackled. "Old Tom got me depressed."
"Why Tom Paine, son! He died in New York city on this day in 1809. As reviled in America for his anti-Christian views as he was in England for his anti-monarchism, Paine had no tombstone to engrave. "
Mark threw his cigar down. "Christians! Why I think we might have crucified the only one!"
"For 2000 years there have always been Pharisees, sir."
He smiled crooked, "That's why I like you, son. You're a heathen and don't know it."
"I'm Lakota. It comes with the territory. But why are you mad at Chrisitans this time?"
Mark sighed, "With no church willing to accept his body, he was buried on his New Rochelle farm (the farm a gift for his services to the War of Indpendence.)"
Mark hung his head.
"But then that blamed English agrarian radical William Cobbett had Paine’s remains transported back to England in 1819,
intending to give him a proper hero’s burial, but the disinterred bones were still unburied at the time of Cobbett’s death twenty years later, and then were lost."
I said, "So that's why Mr. Paine is depressed?"
Mark looked up sharply. "Of course not, son! You living sure have odd thoughts about we dead care about."
Mark sighed, "He's depressed about Elmore Leonard."
"Ah, you lost me, sir."
"Not that hard to do," he laughed. "Old Elmore's become an author that everyone praises but nobody reads. Like Old Tom."
The light faded in his eyes. "Like me."
"I read you, sir."
"Well, you ain't normal."
"I'm an author. Goes with the territory."
He cackled, the light back in his eyes. "You're mean. I like that."
I took down his INNOCENTS ABROAD from the shelf to my left. "Today also marks the day you took off on this European/Mid-East tour."
"So?" Mark asked glumly.
"So as long as there is appreciation for great literature, this passage alone will earn you still being read."
I flipped to the pages when he, become the little boy from Hannibal again, looks up into the fabled face of the Sphinx and read:
"After years of waiting, it was before me at last. The great face was so sad, so earnest, so longing, so patient….
It was gazing out over the ocean of Time —
over lines of century-waves which, further and further receding, closed nearer and nearer together, and blended at last into one unbroken tide,
away toward the horizon of remote antiquity.
It was thinking of the wars of departed ages; of the empires it had seen created and destroyed;
of the nations whose birth it had witnessed, whose progress it had watched, whose annihilation it had noted;
of the joy and sorrow, the life and death, the grandeur and decay, of five thousand slow revolving years….
And there is that in the overshadowing majesty of this eternal figure of stone, with its accusing memory of the deeds of all ages,
which reveals to one something of what he shall feel when he shall stand at last in the awful presence of God."
Mark Twain put his ghostly hand on my shoulder. "This is why I call you friend."
"I thought it was because I always keep on hand a box of your favorite cigars."
He winked, "That, too."
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