Given the conditions under which he labors, it is no wonder that the performance of Senor Hector Babineau, Manager of the Hillendale Hobby Club (HHC), tends toward the erratic. Not only is he slave to the whims of forty-some supervisors, but the salary attached to his position is pathetic. Ardent hobbyists all, the Club members also act as if their own amateurism should prompt our guest speakers to appear free of charge. Like most people who love money, they seem unable to understand why anyone else might want some. Even the rent we pay to the Congregational Church, where we hold our bi-monthly meetings, is a pittance.

As for me, I am so rich that I have long since overcome the prejudices of my class. The juggling chimp, the blind hypnotist, the born-again erstwhile serial murderer, the idiot savant who can multiply seven-digit numbers in his head –-they all have to eat. As Vice-President, I have proposed to the Board that, in order to beef up Senor Babineau’s salary, each member be assessed a hundred dollars, which is chump change to the residents of our exclusive enclave. But, no, penny wise … .


On at least one recent occasion, Babineau may have come a cropper –or, on second thought, he may have scored a coup.

“It is my pleasure to introduce to you this evening, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Hillendale Hobby Club, the eminent graphologist, Gospodin Imra Dikovitch. Mr. Dikovitch is President of … .”

As he rambled on in his high, whinnying voice, instead of listening to Senor Babineau, I scutinized him and the guest. Since they were standing side by side directly in front of us, and since, as usual, I was seated front-row center, I had an excellent vantage point. They were about the same age and height – fifty-ish and short. The portly Babineau wore his dyed and billiantined black hair shoulder length. That night, he was clad in a shiny teal suit with a fat pink tie, navy shirt, and mock-alligator loafers. Skinny Mr. Dikovitch was also a “dude,” but a dude of a different stripe, sporting a goatee and black polo shirt, black tuxedo top, tight black jeans, and tooled cordovan cowboy boots.

When he finally began to speak, it was in a muttered bass with faintly central or eastern European inflections. Unlike Babineau, Dikovitch cut directly to the chase. Meanwhile, the Manager tip-toed up the central aisle of the church to where an old-fashioned slide projector sat on a small wooden table.

“I am here tonight, good people, to present a graphological analysis of the writings of the esteemed Armenian novelist, Arakel Arslanian, who lived from 1861 to 1957. With the recent resurgence of Arslanian’s reputation in eastern Europe, and with the imminent publication in U.K. of his most popular novel, which will appear under the title, The Tigers of Yerevan, it seems more important than ever for readers to understand the great man’s psyche. In a way, to do so is a form of caveat lector. Why do I say this? Because, not to put too fine a point, Paron –Mister–Arslanian was homicidal maniac.” I could almost hear the members’ ears twitching. “First slide, please.”

The lights were lowered, and, turning in my seat, I could see Babineau’s round face, illuminated by the bulb on the projector. A few seconds later, a manuscript page in a language unfamiliar to me appeared on the fold-up screen beside the speaker. The first characters were these:

Ա  Ի  Լ           Խ          Ծ         Կ Հ       Ձ          Ղ          Ճ          Մ          Յ         Ն          Շ          Ո          Չ          Պ         Ջ          Ռ          Ս          Վ         Տ.

(Lest you think I am an idiot-savant, myself,  I should explain that I photographed the slide with my phone.)

Using a wooden pointer, Dikovitch began. “Take the fifth character, “Ա,” which is the equivalent in Hayeren, the Armenian language, of “e,” in the Latin alphabet.  You will note the violent sweep of the first, downward stroke. Is it any coincidence that this is the initial letter of “mayr,” the Hayeren word for “mother”? May I inform you that Arslanian’s mother was rumored for many years before her death of being a practitioner of human sacrifice, a witch?” He paused melodramatically.

“Next, let us consider a second word: սպանություն. This time all the letters, including the initial ones, are formed in a soft, looping handwriting which evokes the feeling of the calligraphy of classical Arabic love poetry. սպանություն is the Hayeren word for “murder.”

Dikovitch nattered on in this vein for another eight or ten minutes. Then, he abruptly stopped. “Lights!” he commanded. Turning the projector off, and the lights back on, Senor Babineau came trotting toward the front, clapping his hands loudly.

“Please, everyone,” he said, “put your hands together for our wonderful guest, Professor Imra Dikovitch.”

While the Manager heartily pumped the speaker’s hand, the audience applauded with an enthusiasm normally reserved for sympathetic politicians. Babineau called for comments and questions. Several hands shot up, and he pointed to a bejeweled, matronly woman in the second row, a few seats to my right. I recognized her from the country club, the HCC, where, on several occasions, I had seen her hitting golf balls into a practice net.

“That was fascinating, Professor,” she said with a smile. Her bracelets jangled, and Dikovitch made a courtly little bow. “But tell us, please, how your analysis might affect our reading of Mr. Arsenal’s …”

“ …‘Arslanian,’ “ Dikovitch corrected.

“ … of Mr. Arselan’s novel?”

“Excellent question!” exclaimed Babineau, peering at the guest with exaggerated interest. To me, the question was obvious. Dikovitch’s answer was not.

“Well, Madam,” he said, “assuming that you really intend to read The Tigers of Yerevan, I suggest that you approach this book with extreme caution. The main plot is a retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story, in this case depicting love between representatives of nationalities who are mortal enemies, an Armenian and an Azeri.  Well, it would be easy to infer that this story is a plea for peace and harmony. Doesn’t that sound nice? But such an inference would be a gross misreading. Properly understood, The Tigers of Yerevan subtly invites the reader to draw from the poisonous history of enmity which leads to the death of the lovers the lesson that both sides are completely justified in slaughtering each other and should continue to do so, full speed ahead! Tigers of Yerevan is by no means what you would call ‘progressive’ novel!”

After several less consequential questions, the evening ended with a second round of applause. Consulting his watch, Gospodin Dikovitch accepted an envelope from the Manager and departed. Babineau rushed over to the refreshment table and began to stuff his face. On important items, such as food and drink, the Club does not stint. I joined him at the table.

“Well, Peter,” he crowed. “So how was that one? Not bad, eh?”

“Very interesting.” I swallowed half of a delicious pig-in-a-basket and washed it down with a swig of white wine. “But how do we know whether to believe this ‘expert’? After all, he may have his own fish to fry.”

That brought Babineau up short. Raising his eyebrows, he swallowed what was in his mouth before replying. “He came with excellent references, including one from a personal friend of mine in Columbia University’s Department of Linguistics.”

“Well, ‘excellent references’ could be beside the point. They may suggest that he knows his stuff, but not that what he told us was true. I have a suggestion.”

“Shoot,” said Babineau, crunching a carrot.

“For one of our upcoming sessions, why not invite a medium? Perhaps, such a

person would be able to channel Arslanian’s spirit. Maybe, she –I assume– could even

ask him about his mother. At least, she could bring up the supposed subtext of The Tigers of Yerevan.” I confess that I was being half-facetious. My serious half really wanted to learn more. Both halves, as usual, wanted to be amused.

“Hmm,” said Babineau. “Interesting idea. Let me look into it, Peter, and get back to you.” Putting his smile in place, with quick little footsteps, he hurried off in the direction of the Helen whose question had launched these ships. I went home.


Two weeks later, the phone rang. It was about nine and, having finished supper, I was in my study reading C.V. Wedgwood’s excellent history of the Thirty Years’ War.

“Mr. Vice-President,” a familiar voice announced, “this is your servant, Babineau.” Sometimes, you could not tell whether the Manager was being unctuous or ironic. “I have found the very person you suggested.”

“Oh?” Not that I had forgotten, but I was still surprised.

“Yes, the medium! Even better, an Armenian medium. I found her in a storefront on East 56th Street, in Manhattan. I was on my way to meet some friends for dinner. Her name is Anoush Baklavarian. ‘Anoush’ means ‘sweet’ in Hayeren, by the way.”

“You don’t say. Have you signed her up?”

“Well, not yet. You see, her fee is a bit … steep. As per Ms. Sheridan’s instructions, I am currently engaged in delicate negotiations with Ms. Baklavarian.” Colleen Sheridan is President of the HHC.

“Look, just sign her up, I’ll pay the difference. I’m really interested in what she

might have to say.”

I could almost hear Senor Babineau bursting into a radiant smile. “Yes, certainly,” he said. “It will be a matter of one-hundred dollars above the usual fee.”

“You mean, twenty-five for the medium and seventy-five for you?” I was only half joking.

“Mr. Peter! Please! I am a man of probity. Do you think I would have taken the position of Manager of the HHC if I was a mercenary kind of person? If not for my day job, I would be starving.”

“Don’t make me cry, Senor Babineau! Anyway, sign her up!”


Two months later, and one minute late, the assembled members buzzed with anticipation. Any moment now, Senor Babineau would make his typically flamboyant entrance through the swinging double doors leading in from the church vestibule. I was in my usual place. Like most of the other members (except the infirm), I was standing and peering back toward the doors. What came through them was like a wedding procession –a very peculiar one.

Tonight, Babineau wore a special outfit that I had not seen before. It combined a baggy white suit with a rakish Panama hat. At his side waddled a fat old woman wearing a special outfit of her own. The main garment was a voluminous black, white, red and yellow gown with something like pleats in the front. From beneath her buff-colored shawl peeped a pair of silver earrings, set with what looked to be ping-pong ball sized pearls.  Although she leaned on a silver-tipped wooden cane, Babineau was

supporting the woman, presumably Ms. Anoush Baklavarian, by the elbow. There was a gasp from the membership when we realized she was blind.

One of the round white plastic card tables normally stored in the basement had been set up in front, surrounded by eight folding chairs. Babineau led Ms. Baklavarian around the table, and, tapping with her cane, she subsided into the chair directly facing the audience –us. After an anomalously succinct introduction, the Manager asked for six volunteers. He then sat down on the chair to the medium’s right.

About twenty members, myself included, rushed to the front. We soon sorted ourselves out, however: six of us took the remaining chairs at the table. The sorting principle appeared to be a combination of age and wealth. At least, none of the six was under sixty or a non-multi-millionaire. As soon as we were seated, Babineau clapped his hands, and someone in back dimmed the lights. Without further ceremony, in a resonant, heavily accented contralto, Mme. Baklavarian launched the proceedings. (I cannot keep referring to this guest as “Ms.” Politically correct though the appellation may be, in this case, it is just too incongruous.)

“Mr. Babinetti has already explained why you invited me to come here this evening.” Although he flinched, Babineau did not correct her. I thought the mistake might have been intentional, some kind of joke. “Everyone at the table will please join hands.” The medium closed her eyes and grasped Babineau’s hand and that of the woman to her left, the bejeweled matron. I could sense among the six of us a certain reluctance to take our neighbors’ hands, a reluctance which, I confess, I shared. After all, ours is the land of power handshakes and air kisses. But Mme. Baklavarian brooked

no hesitation.

“Please, everyone,” she ordered, “do as you are told! If you are unwilling to accept my authority, what you have asked me to do will be impossible, and I will leave immediately.” Although it did not matter to me, I was sure she would not forego the fee. But it didn’t come to that. We quickly, if squeamishly, joined hands.

“Are we ready, then?” she asked.

“Ready,” Babineau replied.

Without further ado, Mme. Baklavarian launched into what I recognized from countless books and movies as a garden-variety séance. I will spare the reader the hackneyed details: the mumbled entreaties, disclaimers when nothing happened, and renewed entreaties. Finally, there was a rattling of the table, as either Mme. Baklavarian set off a chain reaction by violently shaking her neighbors’ hands –or the invisible ghost of the writer, Arakel Arslanian, rumbled into our midst. Aside from this rattling, there was not the slightest sound from either the occupants of the table or the other spectators.

Mme. Baklavarian began the séance proper by addressing a few reassuring-sounding words to our guest. Although she spoke (presumably) in Hayeren, she provided us with a running translation. “I have apologized to Paron –to Mister– Arslanian for disturbing his rest this evening, and asked him whether he might be willing to answer a few questions.”

Having said that much, and with our hands still shaking, she cocked her ear toward something just above -as it happened- my right shoulder. I felt a sort of shudder

behind me (or was it my own shudder), and, after a few seconds, she translated the spectre’s putative response.

“He says he is not certain he will be able to oblige us. He feels hostility at the table, and wonders whether we can suspend our disbelief.” She cocked her ear again, spoke into the air, waited, then translated. The shuddering continued. “In fact, if not for my own kind entreaties, he says, he would already have fled back to his own realm.” Again, the ear was cocked; again, she translated. “Only because he has something very important to impart has he given us this second chance.” Starting on her left, the medium appeared slowly to scan the table with her sightless eyes. Stopping when she reached the bejeweled matron, she asked, “Well?”

The matron, who looked as if she were trying to keep under control an excitement  that could almost have been sexual, whispered her reply. “I am ready to believe our visitor.”

Mme. Baklavarian’s blind gaze continued slowly around the table. I confess to a certain frisson of my own, but, by the time she reached my place, which was the last one before Babineau’s, and stopped again, I had composed myself. Without waiting for her to ask, I said, in what I hoped was a calm voice, “I am also ready, Madame. I apologize to our esteemed guest.”

Once again, she addressed the ghost, this time at some length. Then, she said to us, “I have made your apologies, and I have reiterated exactly what we hope he will tell us.”

By now, the shaking at the table had subsided. The medium cocked her ear toward

the empty space above us, and, for several minutes, she appeared to listen intently. Then, she spoke briefly, apparently asking another question, and listened to Arslanian’s long reply. Finally, she brought her blind gaze back down to our level.

“He has now responded. He begs us to release him from the ordeal which his return to the realm of the living has inflicted upon him. But, since what he has told me is so important, he suggests that, if there are further questions, we should give him a few years to recover, after which we can try to summon his spirit again.”

That, somehow, seemed funny, maybe because it occurred to me that, in a few years, several of the older members, myself included, might have joined the great Armenian novelist on the other side, which would obviate the need for a second seance. I was not alone: there were titters from the audience. Once again, our hands began to tremble, this time even more violently. Mme. Baklavarian shook her head in obvious disgust, dropped her neighbors’ hands, and muttered what I can only assume was a Hayeren imprecation.

“That did it!” she announced. “Paron Arslanian has departed in a –how do you call it? –huff.”

“But what did he say before he left?” two of us simultaneously asked. The assembled membership murmured its assent.

“Yes, of course, I will tell you this,” she replied. “And I think you will be impressed.” There was absolute silence; the medium had us eating from her hand. “As requested, I asked Paron Arslanian to speak about his work, specifically his masterpiece, The Tigers of Yerevan. Although I am unable to quote his exact reply, I

will give you the jest of it.” No one so much as coughed.

“He did not deny that the underlying message of his novel is that the Armenians and Azeris are both culpable for the Nagorno-Karabach wars. He believes, without regret, that the conflict will end only when the two sides have destroyed one another. He went on to generalize from this war, to speak of the Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, Irish and English, and so forth. His message was the same for each conflict: a curse on both sides, a wish to see them obliterated from the earth in an orgy of mutual destruction.”

For several seconds, the room was silent. Then came what was, perhaps, the biggest surprise of all. “But Paron Arslanian ended his diatribe with a –how do you say—a beatnik-ific, no beautif…”

“ ’Beatific,’ “ I prompted.

“Thank you. I cannot remember all of his examples, but he be-a-ti-fi-cal-ly imagined the earth without any human beings. Do you remember the Bible passage where the Lord…” (she hastily crossed herself) “… throws back the curtain and reveals the glory of creation to his faithful servant, Job? Well, it was like that.

Paron Arslanian described many creatures: a rhinoceros peering nearsightedly through the tall grass of a savannah, a crane standing like a sentinel on one thin leg in a lovely marsh, swallows darting across the sky at dusk, elephants on the bank of a river splashing each other playfully … and many other such pictures. He was in the midst of describing a giraffe bending gracefully toward the tender leaves of a small tree when he became exhausted. Then, you laughed and drove him away.”

With her blind eyes, Mme. Baklavarian looked out at the crowd reproachfully. Without another word, leaning heavily on her cane, she rose. Senor Babineau scrambled to his feet. Again, he took her by the elbow, and, to somewhat ambivalent applause, the tandem toddled back toward the double doors. We all remained silent; the only sound was the tapping of the seer’s cane. The expression on most of our faces is perhaps best expressed by that famous phrase from Keats: “a look of wild surmise.”

After a few moments, President Sheridan stood up and, muttering a few words about “our most interesting guest,” she announced the date of the next meeting, “speaker TBA,” and sent us all on our way. Exiting the church as quickly as the slow crush permitted, I saw no sign of Senor Babineau or Mme. Baklavarian. I assumed he was guiding her to the train station, which is about a hundred yards from the church. It was a pleasant evening, cool for mid-summer, so I strolled back toward my house, which is in the opposite direction from the station, and less than a mile from the church.


Two months have passed. Apocalyptic though the diatribe of the ghost of Arakel Arslanian may have been, it was, in a sense, even-handed. The Armenian certainly seemed free of any obvious political bias, unless you could call him a rhinoceros-ophile, or something. Of course, we have only the word of the medium, Mme. Baklavarian, for all of this. But I must say that I, usually skeptical to the bone, did sense a certain … force around the table that evening.



Ron Singer’s work has appeared in Borderlands: The Texas Poetry Review; The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; diagram; Ellipsis; Gander Press Review; The Georgia Review; Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review; Poets & Writers; SN (Starry Night) Review; The Wall Street Journal; Waterways: Poetry in the Mainstream; Willow Review and Windsor Review. He is currently working on a book entitled Uhuru Revisted, a book of interviews with pro-democracy activists.