One morning, my husband and I discover a tiny man trapped inside a fish oil pill. After carefully extracting him, we learn of the astonishing events that lead to his encapsulation, his experience of involuntary teleportation and time travel, and the dream that kept him alive. Together, we embark on a journey to return him to his rightful size and place in the world, but not before Nikita Khrushchev shows up in our apartment and Raoul Wallenberg returns from the past.
Nicky Chase: Man in a Fish Oil Pill is a light-hearted book about human transformation, justice and following your dream. It is also a metaphorical reworking of certain aspects of PTSD, although the reader need have no knowledge of trauma and the road that follows to enjoy the story.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
One bitter, cold winter night, I sat in bed rereading Jane Eyre while my husband slept beside me. By 2 a.m., it was frigid. I pulled my sweatshirt hood over my head and looked at my husband’s bare skull. It looked so vulnerable. I grabbed my red, turtle-fur knit cap and eased it over his head. I thought he looked like some left-wing, longshoreman…or Nikita Khrushchev. I asked myself, What would I do if my husband disappeared and Nikita Khrushchev was there in his place? And so the story began.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Many of the characters are real like my husband, my uncle, my cousin and me. Nikita Khrushchev and Raoul Wallenberg are people from history. As for Nicky Chase, when he showed up in the story, it was a complete surprise to me, and a wonderful one.
Jack and I didn’t hit the hay until quite late, but not before confirming that the airports at O’Hare and Midway had, indeed, closed down. I was thrilled. My darling had saved the day. But to Jack, it was just another day. He dropped off to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, as if he hadn’t just pulled Chicago through what could have been a catastrophe of horrific proportions.
I stayed up late reading as I always do. That night it was again Jane Eyre, one of my favorites.
My eyelids grew heavy ’round about three. By then it was pretty darn cold in the bedroom since Jack liked to sleep with the windows open. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and turned to see my darling lying there with his vulnerable scalp unprotected. I sure didn’t want him to catch pneumonia.
I went to the closet and found my red turtle fur hat and gently pulled it onto his head. I laughed to see the effect. He looked like a left-wing longshoreman. Then I turned out the lights.
As always, I had only closed my eyes for what seemed five minutes before I had to get up and pee. When you hit fifty, it feels like your bladder has shrunk to the size of your thumb. I returned to our bedroom, slipped my arms around my human furnace—and froze.
And not from the cold.
Jack was trim and muscular, but the man I was now holding in my arms was rotund.
What the heck?
I sat up. With the city lights filtering in through the windows, I examined the person lying beside me.
It wasn’t Jack at all.
It appeared to be…Nikita Khrushchev?
Former leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev?
It was too fantastic to be true.
I started freaking out.
But then I calmed down, because of course this was some wild dream. It had to be.
I shook my head, opened and shut my eyes several times, and looked again.
I got out of bed, walked around to Jack’s side, and turned on the night table lamp.
There was no getting around it.
Nikita Khrushchev was in our bed!
I don’t know how long I stood paralyzed before a flood of adrenalin shook me out of it.
I turned off the light and backed up against the wall, stunned and speechless and confused and more scared than I’d ever been in my life.
I could not believe what was happening.
Utterly flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to do. I certainly wasn’t going to scream. It would have woken him up. And what would he do then? What would he want? If he started talking, I would have no idea what he was saying. I didn’t know any Russian, except “Nyet.”
Maybe that’s all I’d need to know.
I shuddered at the thought.
Equally terrifying was the thought of what had happened to Jack.
Very quietly, I slipped out of the bedroom and searched every corner of our apartment, but he wasn’t there.
Though terrified, I didn’t dare leave until I found out what was going on.
I went to the computer in the living room and Googled Khrushchev to confirm he was dead.
But how was that possible when that sure as hell wasn’t a dead man lying in my bed at the moment?
If he were still alive—if somehow he had escaped death—that would make him one hundred and seventeen, and the guy in our bed just didn’t look that old. I wondered if he had been cryogenically frozen and some madman had reanimated him.
I shook my head. I shook my head repeatedly, over and over, left to right, right to left. I kept whispering, “Please God, let this be a dream.”
I went back to the bedroom and looked again.
There he was: Khrushchev in the flesh. And snoring quite loudly too!
I sat in the red-cushioned rocking chair that faced the bed, my back to the windows. From that vantage point, I could comfortably observe him and watch for any sudden moves.
I considered my options.
If I called the police, they’d think I was a screwball. Anyone would think I was a screwball or drunk or hallucinating. How I wished I was one of those instead of perfectly sober and sane.
I tried to anticipate what might happen.
What would I do if he came at me? We didn’t have a gun. Even if we did, I couldn’t imagine Khrushchev wanting to hurt me. What would be the point? It didn’t make sense. But neither did this absolutely ridiculous real-life nightmare.
Would he even know where he was? I’m sure in the nether world he came from he couldn’t have heard of us. Jack and I weren’t famous or political. We had no ancestors from Russia, no totalitarian connections whatsoever.
Given that Nikita had somehow become aware of us and possibly wanted to be a part of our lives, why would he transport himself, remove Jack, and then curl up to sleep beside me without formal introductions? That certainly put him in a vulnerable position.
And what could be his reason? Was it that he wished to become a part of our enchanted world? Or had he been transported unawares? If so, why and by whom? And why and where had they taken my Jack?
Even though I didn’t think Khrushchev would harm me, I felt unsafe without some kind of weapon. I needed something, anything that could give me a little time and space to think and act if he woke up.
I remembered the scene Hitchcock’s Rear Window where Jimmy Stewart slows Raymond Burr’s assault with the flashing of camera light bulbs. Slowly, carefully, gently, I eased off the chair and retrieved my camera from the dresser drawer before easing back into position.
I kept wondering where Jack could be. I was absolutely terrified by these bizarre circumstances. I didn’t know what I’d do if something happened to him. When I thought about the possibilities he might be in danger or I might never see him again, I thought I might just unravel, unravel for all time right then and there.
Suddenly, in my mind’s ear I could hear Jack whisper, “Think, Darling. Stay calm and think. You can do it! You can do it!”
I steadied myself, and breathed deeply.
Some might say Khrushchev was a ghost, but I tell you this: I have had two or three experiences with ghosts or spirits and he was, without a doubt, manifesting like none I’d ever known. The spirits I’d come across tended toward the lightweight and ephemeral. Or at least they gave the impression of insubstantiality, although admittedly I’d never inadvertently cozied up to one in bed. Khrushchev was solid, three-dimensional, and taking up space under my quilt. What kind of creature was this?
I really knew next to nothing about him. I had only a mental image of his visit to the U.S. in the sixties. I seem to remember his wife wearing a babushka and feeling badly that she couldn’t help but be unfavorably compared with Jackie Kennedy.
What if this was a reincarnation thing? Could I have been Khrushchev’s wife in a previous life? Had I once exchanged marital vows with him? Vows before God it was my duty to obey?
I shuddered again.
No, that couldn’t be. That was insane.
I was no more than seven when Khrushchev and JFK were in the news. I’d have had to have been in two places at once—both a small child playing with my cousin Johnny on the side of the house every day, and also an adult acting as wife to Khrushchev. I couldn’t be in two places at once.
Unless I was a saint like Padre Pio.
Could I be a saint? Was Mrs. Khrushchev a saint?
I didn’t think so. I would have had to have been two different people simultaneously, not one person in two places. Maybe there was some New Age paradigm that fit this—like a split soul or something.
Oh, it was hard to think clearly. I was completely discombobulated. If only Jack were there. He’d know what to do. He always knew what to do.
And so there I sat on the rocker until dawn, watching Khrushchev like a hawk, clutching the camera to my chest, trying not to panic, and trying not to have to pee since the sound of the toilet flushing on the other side of the bedroom wall was super loud and I didn’t want to chance waking him.
One thing I knew for sure. Jack would find his way back home to me.
Or die trying.
I have lived in or around Chicago all of my life. I majored in English Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago. After years of working (and starving) in bookstores, I couldn’t take the poverty anymore and developed a career marketing design firms. My husband and I are retired now and live in downtown Chicago. I write about our mind-boggling adventures in books, including a previous memoir entitled My Husband’s Toes, a stunning portrait of toes come alive.
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