by Kristen Kadner
When I was twelve, I competed on Old Red. Compton Hutter, my best friend, was on her Cleveland Bay, its mane plaited and her crop oiled. Old Red was hungry. I knew this since I forgot to feed him. When I tightened the saddle around his middle two plumes of dirt puffed off his belly. He had mud caked around his hooves and was beginning to chew old carrot off the bit. I led him out of the stable, hooked my foot in the stirrup and swung myself up. I patted Old Red on his neck and said a little prayer that we’d win. The event was dressage, the useless, fancy style of equestrian showing, horse ballet. I sucked the rest of the waffle out of my braces and wiped it on my sweats.
The judge, Ms. Alicia, had us trot to the starting block. We’d be scored on posting, figuring and finesse. Compton went first. She tucked her honeyed bob behind her ears and squeezed her horse’s middle. She posted perfectly, turning the steed at sharp angles then accelerating to a canter. She rounded the finish and trotted home. I clapped wanly as Ms. Alicia pumped her fists in the air.
Compton was a flawless 10 and should have been considering how much she practiced. Ms. Alicia pointed at me, “Pony up, Kadner!” I clicked the hat under my chin and waved at my mother who was resting against the fence reading a cookbook. I flicked my crop against Old Red. He dropped his head to graze at the dirt. I squeezed his middle and clicked twice with my mouth, the universal signal to move it. Ms Alicia cleared her throat. I took my crop and gave Old Red a terrific swat on his haunches. He bolted to the center of the ring and came to an abrupt halt. I tipped and began sliding down the side since I hadn’t tightened the saddle enough. I fell off Old Red, my foot stuck in the stirrup.
He nosed at my hat, which had a tuft of clover pressed to it. I stood up, tightened the saddle and scrambled back on. I was playing to win. I whacked him with the crop and he moped forward. We skipped the first and second turn. As we neared the stable I remembered the course plan and doubled back confusing dumb Old Red. He leaned away from me as I tugged him. I whacked him harder. He swung me face first into a fence post. My left front tooth broke off, dangling by the brace clasp. Old Red stopped to stare out at the pig trough on the other side of the ring. I slithered off of him and walked over to my Mom. “I want to go home.”
Mom and I sat for a second before driving to Dr. Goss. Mom tossed the cookbook in the back seat. “Maybe Field Hockey’s more your thing.”
“I hit the coach in her head with a ball.”
“You have to run too much.”
“You need exercise. I’m afraid you’re spending too much time in your room alone. Aren’t there any sports left?”
I pretended to think for a second. “Cheerleading?”
“Give it a try. I’m sure you’ll do great.”
We drove to the dentist and Mom thumped the steering wheel to Journey. The secretary ushered me to a chair and I stretched out, jerking myself through some cheer moves. Compton was trying out as well. I knew this because I had read her journal. Also, I could see her practicing all the time. Old Red was a null set but cheering cheered me up. The outfits were cute and boys loved cheerleaders. It would be me and Compton again, mano a mano.
I enlisted Mom for help with the moves. What did I know about cheering? “I’m not really up on the new dances, honey.”
“Just teach me what you know. I’ll work it out from there.”
Mom squatted and thrust before stopping to stir the spaghetti sauce and finally giving up when it turned five o’clock. I kept at it, long in to the night, watching myself in the reflection on the kitchen’s glass doors.
I pulled my lucky sweats out of the hamper and chipped the blood and waffles off with my fingernail. I climbed on the bus and sat next to Compton. “How’s your tooth?” I gave her a thumb’s up. “Are you trying out for cheerleading today? My Mom said if I got on the team I could get more riding lessons.”
“Compton, the point of becoming a cheerleader is to get off the horse.” She returned to her journal and I bobbed my chin in time. I was performing to “Wheel in the Sky,” the last song I’d heard before getting a snoot full of nitrous.
Compton did a blunt but adequate performance to the J Giles Band. I was called next. I wedged the leotard out of my bottom, clapped my hands and yelled “Ready? O-K!” I punched my arms in the air and Herkied.
By the end of the first stanza I forgot the scripted moves. I jogged in place and the only thing I could remember was my mother doing the Hustle. I spun my arms around each other and tried to think of the next cheer stance. I couldn’t. The Hustle rolled straight into the Gator, where you lie on the floor and writhe, graceful and modern as the animal itself. When Mom had tried it, she needed me to help her get off the linoleum. The cheer coach turned off the music. “Are you masturbating?”
Compton coughed into her turtleneck and came over to retrieve me. She led me off the half-court and outside to the parking lot. Her mom was waiting in the station wagon. “How did you girls do?”
“I got a 10,” Compton said, “again.” I rolled my eyes. “And Kristen’s going to go blind.”
Kristen Kadner is an MFA student at California College of the Arts. She welcomes your comments on “Don’t Stop Believin’” at kekadner[at]covad.net.
photo by mnsc
by Isadora Bevins
Greta and Hanna
I stood outside Zabka, smoking a cigarette while Hanna grabbed some goodies for the park. When she came out, she held the bag open in front of me so I could stare at the pile of candy bars, chips, and soda. I dipped my hand into the bag and snatched some chocolate. I was starving.
We sat in our usual place at the park, near the thick rows of trees that border the flawless lawn. We just wanted to be left alone to do our thing, smoke, talk, and devour candy. Hanna took off her bright green faux fur coat and put it on the ground before sitting. She pulled out a soda and powered her laptop so she could play her mp3 player.
“Is something going on today? Why are people bringing ice chests? It’s not a holiday.” I started twirling my dreadlocks between my fingers, a tendency I had around crowds.
“Fuck if I know.” Hanna burped. “Hey, Zappo is throwing a party at his house. We should go.”
“Yeah, sure.” I mumbled. I got up and walked beyond the edge of the shadows. Dozens of families were settling down on the grass in the middle of the park, eating and drinking. Some of the little ones were running around, chasing each other, screaming and giggling.
“I think we should go,” I started.
“Fuck them. Just pretend they aren’t here.” Hanna looked up at me, crossing her arms over her chest. Her new ice blue contacts made her face look alien to me, even creepy. She looked better with her natural brown eyes.
“Zappo is such a perv. He’s always going after girls in uniforms, and he’s like thirty or something. It’s repulsive.” My attention kept drifting back towards the lawn with the steadily growing crowd. There must have been nearly fifty people now. The smell of barbequed meat wafted towards us. It reminded me of camping.
“Stupid. I’m not going because of Zappo. Alexei is going to be there.”
“But I thought he was with Anna.”
“So?” She lay down on the grass, splaying her violet dyed hair on the ground. She picked up a chocolate bar and broke it in half.
I studied my neon pink polished nails because I was no longer in the mood to talk. Suddenly the air around me seemed to vibrate. A large industrial vehicle drove onto the lawn. Four men got out and surveyed the park. One of the men, pointed towards an empty space in the middle of the crowd. The other men pulled something out of the vehicle. The thing was partly covered with a sheet, but I immediately recognized the ivory and black keys. More people started to watch now, putting down their plates of food, standing still in complete bafflement.
“Holy shit. They’ve brought a piano,” I said.
Hanna practically jumped up, and we watched the men lug this upright baby grand piano. I started clapping.
He gazed at the sky as though he were looking for him. The cigarette in his hand burned halfway before he realized he was still holding it.
“What are you thinking, Henryk?” Kasper inquired, rubbing his hands together because the air was cold.
Henryk didn’t answer immediately. He didn’t like to have conversations before he played. It wasn’t superstition or that he was nervous. He just liked to keep to himself. His mind traveled thousands of miles away from the piano, from Warsaw, and even himself. The beauty of imagination and creation, he thought, was the chance to escape one reality and enter another.
“How many people are here you think?” Henryk finally responded.
With his feet firmly planted in the grass, Kasper twisted his torso to survey the families eating and playing and the musicians and artists carrying their violins, cellos, guitars, and yes, even pianos.
“There must be at least two hundred now. I see five pianos already. When are you going to start playing?”
Henryk nodded silently, and moved towards the stool, always keeping one hand touching the piano. When he sat down he rested his fingers on the keys. The smooth black and white surfaces felt cold. For a moment, he closed his eyes, allowing himself to separate Henryk the music student from Henryk the pianist. When he opened his eyes, his slight frame seemed to expand and bloom as his arms floated over the keys. His fingers danced to the rhapsody inside his mind. The park, the crowd, and even his brother Kasper seemed to evaporate. He was alone with the music.
A small girl in crisp blond braids ran up to the piano player. She kept her distance, but her eyes widened and her lips parted. A woman gathered the girl in her arms and balanced her on her hip so they could both watch.
“What’s wrong with his eyes?” The girl asked.
“He’s blind. But look—look how beautifully he plays Chopin.”
The Jaworski Family
“Come here, Hans,” Mrs. Jaworski said, smoothing the picnic blanket to set up lunch for her two children and husband.
The small child, who could not have been more than five years old ran even farther from his parents, chasing the other children. Mrs. Jaworski sighed, rubbing her temples with her fingers to ease the headache. Her husband, Gabriel, rubbed her back affectionately, laughing at his wild son. The other child was too young to even walk, and he sat on the grass, stretching his chubby limbs outward.
“Relax, Halina. Everyone is just having a good time. Look at that white piano. Isn’t it beautiful?”
She nodded, gazing at the sea of pianos. There were twenty sporadically positioned throughout the park. She closed her eyes to listen to the waves of music emanating from them. She opened her eyes and turned her head to look at the bronze statue of Chopin, his face gazing at the all the people who had gathered to honor his legacy.
“It’s amazing how many people love Chopin,” Halina said.
“In a way, it’s like Chopin is still alive. His compositions are his children.”
Gabriel got up and ran towards his son. His movements were graceful, practically matching the rhythm of the music, Halina thought. His strides were long and his arms moved swiftly at his sides propelling him forward. Though Gabriel had retired from the ballet company years ago, his body was still strong and lean. He threw his son in the air, high above his head just as the music hit a crescendo.
When Halina had first met Gabriel, he was performing on the stage to a composition by Chopin. He seemed to fly across the floor. His slender legs were exposed, the over-developed muscles thinly covered in pale flesh.
Halina stood up suddenly. The wind picked up, pressing the thin material of her skirt against her legs, outlining them completely, and blowing her blond locks in all directions. The dozens of pianists hovered over their pianos, scattered throughout the field, their bodies harnessed by the momentum of their playing. Each was in their own space in the music, oblivious to everything around them. She hardly listened to classical music these days, but every time she heard Chopin, emotions stirred within her. She believed it was passion, love. A smile erupted on her lips as Gabriel and Hans ran back to her.
From far away, a teenager’s thin frame pressed against the ground. Justina turned her head to one side, spreading her arms out, so that she looked like the letter “T.” The cool blades of grass tickled her chin, but she resisted the temptation to move.
“Justina? What are you doing?” One of the girls in the group asked.
“The vibrations. I think I can feel them, ever so slightly.”
There was a pause in the music. Justina sat up. Her white cotton dress was dotted with grass stains. A man began talking, his voice booming from the microphone. Justina stretched her frame to see, but the rows of people blocked her view of the speaker. She noticed people turning towards the statue.
“The occupying Germans destroyed the original statue in 1940. They wanted to weaken our resolve, our morale. They wanted to decimate everything that made us proud of Poland. But no matter what they burned or destroyed, they couldn’t reach what was inside our hearts. The flower may die but the shadow still remains. Today we celebrate our love for Chopin and his music.”
Applause and cheering erupted all around Justina. The momentum of music started to build again, reaching a crescendo as the cheering subsided. She stood up, looked all around her. Pianos, dozens of them in all colors and sizes, covered the grounds. The majestic instruments reminded her of ships at sea. Everyone was playing together harmoniously. Justina had never thought much about Chopin or his music. She had never played an instrument in her life. Yet, now she was sure that she loved Chopin.
“Hey! Come on.” Someone tapped her on the shoulder. A group of boys and girls were running through the crowd.
She ran after them, jumping over picnic baskets, twisting her body to squeeze through clusters of people. Her lungs burned in the cold night air, but she kept moving, not knowing where or why. The music from the pianos blended together in one harmonious force. Justina could feel the sound enveloping her, wave by wave. She ran faster, pumping her arms by her side, moving at the speed of sound.
Isadora Bevins is an MFA student at California College of the Arts. She welcomes your comments on “The Weight of Sound” at bisadora[at]yahoo.com.
photo by mlabowicz
by Matthew Gordan
“Everything was perfect. We met at the Providence Café. I was twenty-four, she was twenty-two. I was a mechanic, she a receptionist. Three years later we married. The sex. Oh boy, the sex! I’m telling you, she couldn’t get enough.”
Every time the man opened his mouth to speak the odor of salami leaked out. The heavy, salty scent seemed like a fog moving through the air, settling in the nostrils of Machine. Not that Machine minded too much. Money was always tight and if he closed his eyes at just the right moment, it almost seemed as if he was the one eating a salami sandwich. He preferred pastrami, even corned beef, but salami was okay, too.
“Then bullshit happened,” the man continued. “You see, her parents owned a chicken farm. The only problem was, they had no chickens! They kept dying and dying and none were being brought in. We thought we might have to have them move in with us! We weren’t making shit, but that’s how bad things were. Then, sweet Jesus, a lightning bolt of bullshit. Just around that time Georgia was beginning the construction of their super highways. Asphalt cement is what they needed. You know what goes into asphalt cement, um, Machine?”
“Five percent asphalt cement and Ninety-five percent aggregates— stone, sand, and gravel.” Machine sat with his arms laid in front of him on the empty place setting, hands interlocked.
“Goddamn, you really are a machine.” The man sniffed twice and cleared his throat. He pushed his dirty plate with a used napkin on it to the side before leaning back. He began talking with one hand clenched and the other waving a single finger in the air.
“Anyway, their fucking useless, barren farm had one thing going for it: an abundance of gravel. We’re talking Grade A gravel. And so the state of Georgia bought their dirt for $25 million.” The man clapped his hands as if he just made a joke.
“All of a sudden they’re all too good for me. Calling my family white trash, no longer drinking Pepsi but Coke, buying clothes at the mall, growing moustaches just because they were rich and they could—And I’m only talking about the women!”
A waitress emerged from the door leading inside to the café.
“You guys doing okay out here?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m fine darling,” the man said. “Machine? Something to drink?”
Machine nodded his head to the waitress. “No, en serio, estoy bien. Pero, por favor, no más carnes ahumadas por el hombre.” She laughed before disappearing inside.
“What was that, Spanish? You ask her on a date?”
“You’re something else, Machine.” The man stopped to take a gulp of his Pellegrino. The gap in the one-sided conversation gave Machine a chance to speak.
“Have you thought about how you’d like me to kill her?”
The man nearly choked on his drink. He removed the glass from his lips, eyes closed. He breathed deeply before exhaling. A slow riptide of salami washed across the patio table.
Machine immediately thought about the Manhattan—pastrami, corned beef, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye—he’d order after collecting his fee.
“No, I haven’t,” the man replied softly. His eyes opened, focusing briefly on Machine, before traveling to the green tinted bottle. “I suppose I’ve fantasized about it.”
Machine sat still, studying the man. The man was the first to break the silence.
“Have you ever hated someone so much that you wanted to kill them?”
“Of course,” replied Machine.
“You sound like you’ve disliked quite a few people.”
“It’s how you survive the army.”
“And now what?”
“And now you kill people not because you hate them, but for a living?”
“I do many things,” Machine said, stroking his chin stubble. “And yes, one of them is killing.”
“Of course, you’re a machine.”
The man poured another glass of Pellegrino. He took a few sips, turned his head to the sidewalk, and gazed at the foot traffic. Machine never took his eyes off the man.
“I remember the precise moment I began hating her. It was the weirdest sensation. I could feel my love, my hope, colliding with this poison. My veins were on fire.”
“Thanksgiving dinner,” the man said, eyes traveling back to the sidewalk. “She had my parents sit with the help.”
“What did you do?”
“What do you think?” the man said sharply, returning Machine’s gaze. “The same thing I’ve been doing for the last 30 years.”
He reached for the glass and finished it, leaving it angled to the heavens for an extra second. He tilted his head to the side and softly burped into his fist. Machine was grateful.
“We sometimes went on walks,” the man said calmly. “We’d hold hands and make our way to a pond near our house. The ducks loved us, yes, sir. And let me tell you Machine, she was a great gift giver.”
“Is that so?”
“And I don’t mean on birthdays or Valentine’s Day. I mean she would surprise me any given day with an Almond Joy or Frankie Valli record. One time, after a particularly bad day at the shop, she surprised me with a Rawlings mitt. She said, ‘It’s not for you, it’s for the son we’re gonna have one day.’ She was sweeter than apple pie.” The man sat still, looking at the Pellegrino.
“You got family?” he asked.
Machine was silent.
“That has nothing do to with why we’re here.”
“Family has everything to do with why we’re here.”
Machine reached into his inside blazer pocket and pulled out a pad and pen.
“Write down her address. I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Are you alone in this world?”
Machine sighed, allowing the pad and pen to rest on the empty space between them. Personal conversation was strictly forbidden, especially with prospective clients. He looked at the man sitting across the table, eyes wide with curiosity. He scratched his stubble.
“I have two brothers.”
“Yahtzee!” the man said, happy to break through Machine’s armor. “And what do they do?”
Machine cracked a smile and turned his eyes to the street.
“One is a robot researcher at Stanford and the other is a brain surgeon in Chicago.”
“Jesus Christ, you are a fucking machine!”
“Maybe I am,” Machine said, smiling directly at the man.
“I always wanted a brother.” The bounce in the man’s voice disappeared.
“I was an only child.” He emptied the remaining Pellegrino in his glass. The waitress appeared again in the doorway.
“You gentlemen need anything?”
“I don’t think so,” the man said. “Machine?”
“No thank you, Senorita.” The waitress took a step towards the table.
“¿Cómo está su respiración?” she asked.
Machine chuckled. “Es cada vez mejor.”
The waitress winked and returned inside.
“Dinner plans?” asked the man with a nod.
Machine smirked. The conversation was starting to veer and he needed to reel it back in.
“How much money do you stand to get from this?”
“I don’t care about the money! I don’t even know how much she has after all those investments. I had the love of my life. Now, I don’t have her or the life I was supposed to have.”
“So this is all out of spite?”
“Spite, contempt, bad mood, whatever you wanna call it. Let me tell you something, Mr. Machine,” the man said slapping the table. “Life is war. Love is war. Point is, you may know what cement is made of or how many miles it is from here to the moon, but I bet you don’t know love. You ain’t never seen love get ambushed by greed. I was gonna have a good life.”
“You don’t know me,” Machine said, staring straight into the man’s eyes.
“You’re right, but I know you have two brothers and I know if you once felt love like I did you wouldn’t be asking about money.”
Machine glanced at the café door, hoping to catch a glimpse of the waitress. The man turned to the steady stream of foot traffic on his side. He handled his glass and took a sip.
“She left me,” he said staring out into the street.
Machine turned back to the table.
“She left me. That’s why I want you to do whatever it is you do.”
“So you want this done before the divorce is final?”
“No, she left me over 30 years ago.” The man finished his drink and returned Machine’s gaze.
“We were married, all right. But once she got the money, all she saw in me was a greasy mechanic. She cut me a check because the lawyers told her to and then she moved out. I left the money in the bank account. Never touched it. There was never a Thanksgiving dinner. Only hate. She was my best friend.
“So why now? Why do you want to do this?”
“I just found out she was pregnant when she kicked me to the curb.” The man took a quick swig of his drink. “I was so excited I was trembling when I called my son. Felt like how I always imagined waiting in the delivery room would feel like. But he said he didn’t want anything to do with a man who walks out on a wife and baby. I mentioned the Rawlings glove. He laughed at me, just like his mother did. ‘Why,’ he said, ‘would I want to help some miserable asshole make peace with himself before he dies?’”
Silence enveloped them. The wind picked up again and Machine felt it across the back of his neck. Machine returned the pad and pen to his inside breast pocket. The man reached for the Pellegrino, shaking it to make sure there was nothing left. It was empty.
Matt Gordan is an MFA student at California College of the Arts. He welcomes your comments on “Machine” at matthewgordan[at]gmail.com.
photo by Morrissey
by David Mitchell
Editor’s note: the following is the first in a series of planned installments from David Mitchell’s Fulfillment.
I’ll call her the Oracle. She was about twenty years my senior, and quite beautiful, with a tall and slender build and a goofy smile. She somehow understood me better than most people I’d known, though I must also confess I knew next to nothing about her. She didn’t know too many facts about me, but she knew the most important things, the things that I wished everyone else knew. She was a master at listening and understanding what was being said rather than merely how, and as she was a Reiki master as well, she had the most wonderful touch of anyone I knew. She needed only to lay her hands on you and direct the flow of energy. Her touch was warm and tingling, and, supposedly, it stimulated the natural healing process.
The first time I underwent a Reiki from her, I barely said anything to her before or during the procedure. When we spoke afterward, she was making accurate observations about my character, and not with the vague fishing statements of a cold reader. This was the sort of recognition that felt natural and comforting. It was as if she’d seen a piece of my soul, and knew she had seen something good.
My mother once asked her if she had any sort of psychic ability, but the Oracle was reluctant to steer the conversation in that direction. In fact, she might resist me calling her an Oracle here at all. Maybe she was just unusually perceptive, but nevertheless, her intuition served her well. I can’t tell you much about Reiki, and I’m rather skeptical about psychics and most of the New Age Movement. I don’t believe in astrology even in the slightest. But I believed in this woman, and I believed that she knew what she was doing.
The Oracle was a very kind and spiritual woman, as she often made references to what she referred to as Spirit, which I can only surmise is God, since she seemed to use those terms interchangeably. I noticed in her room at the spa that there was a small statue of Buddha with a Christian rosary draped around him. Perhaps she was eclectic in her beliefs, but I never asked. In fact, she always made me forget to ask any questions I had about her at all, for whatever hour we would book, she treated me as if I was the most important thing in her world.
One August Saturday of 2007, some five years after I first met her, I went to a spa to undergo my second Reiki treatment from the Oracle. I’d seen her only once since then.
“Hello David,” she said with hearty grin as I entered her room, “Don’t you have a girlfriend? Didn’t I treat her last time?”
“Uh . . . yeah.”
I figured she might have some especially good insight about my ex, considering that my mother had convinced her some five months ago to seek a Reiki as well. But the focus of this session was about getting me on the path toward healing and recovery, which was something I desperately need. I’d been vacillating between feeling perfectly fine, utterly depressed, and hating my ex. When the Oracle asked me if there was anything specific I wanted to work on, I began to speak of my recent break-up without going into the specifics and that it was still bothering me.
“I know I shouldn’t be thinking about her at all,” I said.
“How long ago did it happen?” the Oracle asked.
Then she laughed.
“That’s totally normal after a break-up. Believe me, I’ve been through heartbreak. You might be troubled by this for six months or more. I wish I could give you some sort of magic pill that would make the pain go away. You need to give yourself time to heal, and you need to accept what it is you’re feeling. Allow yourself to have bad days as well as good.”
The lights were dimmed, and I was lying back on a massage table when I began to tell her a little about how I was feeling. A healing crystal was placed on my chest. Two more crystals were places in my hands, to direct the flow of energy. She laughed again when the crystal was placed on my chest and I looked at it, because, to her, it reflected my curious nature and tendency to think too much.
“Ugh . . . right now I’m feeling sort of like Paul in Last Tango in Paris. Have you ever seen that movie?” I said.
“Is that the one with Nicholas Cage?”
“No. It’s with Marlon Brando. Anyway, it’s about this guy who’s suffering really badly after his wife’s suicide, and he tries drown his grief by engaging in anonymous, brutal sex with this 20-something girl.”
The Oracle smiled and shook her head.
“I wouldn’t think so. The movie is notorious for being kinky, but I just thought it was sad. Anyway, there’s this scene where he’s yelling at his wife’s corpse. If I remember the line correctly it was, ‘I could live for 200 years and not understand your true nature. I may comprehend the universe, but I’ll never know the truth about you. Ever.’ That’s what I was feeling.”
“Well, the ‘truth’ about this break-up, whatever it means, isn’t even out yet. Not to you or her. It may not be for years. And I don’t intend to give you any false hopes about getting back together, but it’s a break between two people, a change, and not necessarily the end of their relationship. God puts people into our lives for different reasons. She may have been in your life to help you love yourself more.”
That was certainly an interesting thought. Then I briefly and feebly expressed some concern that my ex was the only woman I’d ever known who didn’t think I was some sort of disgusting creep, and that I was 25 and far too inexperienced in relationships for someone my age, but the Oracle only chuckled at this. She was light, shining the darkness of my fears away. In her presence my pessimism was silly, and she was the only person I knew who made me feel that way.
“What Spirit is telling me is that you should get all of your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, or else they’ll stay there floating around and never come out.”
“Heh. Did I tell you I’m a writer?”
“Oh, really? Well that’s perfect then. Whatever the case, you need to get it all out. One other thing you need to practice is letting go, and accepting God’s plan. When we start, you can be thinking, but try to focus on sinking into the table. You might hear Spirit telling you something.”
The Reiki would simply involve me closing my eyes and letting the Oracle work her
‘magic’ while relaxing music played in the background. She adjusted me every so often, and her touch was precise and relaxing. The last time I’d done it, I felt strange sensations when she touched my head, as if it was moving back and forth (I thought she was moving my head at first, but she told me this was energy), and as if the plane of the bed I was resting on was tilting forward and downward.
When the Reiki began, I tried not to think of anything. I began to itch once or twice, but ignored it and focused elsewhere. I did not feel the moving sensations I’d felt last time, but after some time, I heard a bell ring, and my eyes opened. The Oracle was seated at the chair behind me, smiling.
“I don’t know if I fell asleep or not,” I said.
“I don’t know either. But it doesn’t matter, because we did a lot of good work! We cleared up a lot of buildup in your chest. Anyway, what I’ve been shown and told is that you’re beating yourself up a lot, which is the same as playing victim. Spirit tells me that you’ll be fine, though, and the path toward your recovery is in both reading and writing. Now, I’m going to write a few things down for you, and I have a special quote for you: ‘Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.’ I don’t know if you read much, but there’s a special book out there that you should pick up if you get the chance. It’s called The Secret.”
“What genre is it? Fiction, non-fiction?”
“It’s spiritual. It’s about the law of attraction. Don’t worry about finding it; just walk into any Borders or Barnes & Noble or whatever and ask for it. They’ll have it in the best sellers.”
When the Oracle was finished writing, she handed me a piece of paper:
The next day I drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble, which was an activity I normally enjoyed anyway, but this time it felt odd to be perusing through the books on relationships. They took up more than one bookshelf. Rules of the Game, Love in 90 Days, If I’m So Wonderful,Why Am I Still Single?, Love Smart, Mars and Venus ad nauseum, The Man Plan, Why Hasn’t He Called?, Love Will Find You: 9 Magnets to Bring You and Your Soul Mate Together, Soul Mates, Dating For Dummies. Most of them were written for women, whether their authors were women or not. I discovered that condescension comes in all sorts of flavors; from coddling, to hip, to academic. Nearly every book explaining the behavior of men and women dealt in stereotypes, even if it claimed not to. This pool of knowledge suggested that only women had insecurities, were ever hurt in relationships, or had any concern about finding lasting relationships. I felt I was an anthropologist studying an alien culture, and if I really wanted to be honest with myself, it’s because I was. These books were written for men who were not me, and for women who would never consider me boyfriend material. The conclusion was inescapable: Love is conditional, so meet these conditions. You cannot be loved for who you are, because by yourself you are of no value to the world.
All the despair I felt in the years before I met my ex began to creep up on me. I missed her less and less as the weeks went by, but I certainly missed the relief I felt when I was with her—relief that I would no longer worry about being alone, flounder desperately while trying to establish a meaningful connection with anyone, or try to learn the arbitrary and ridiculous rules of the dating game, pretending to be extroverted, confident, and humorous. Finding love was one of my strongest desires, but I also had a profound feeling that it was the ultimate fool’s errand, where my decisions had no bearing whatsoever on my success. In the exceedingly rare occasions in which women were actually interested in me, it was never on account of anything I deliberately said or did to attract them, and any conscious attempt always ended in failure.
I loved individuals, but I hated groups of people. Attending any social gathering for purposes of meeting someone new was an empty and depressing experience. If I spent too much time with any group of people, even people I liked, I began to suffocate. The real me hated bars and parties. God knew I had no talent for small talk. Talk to me for any length of time, and I’d shamelessly cut open my own sternum with a scalpel, spread apart the rib cage, sever the largest arteries between my lungs, grasp my heart, and extend it outward to whomever would listen with as much sincerity as if I were offering the Body of Christ.
Ah, but what did the people say? Wendy didn’t bother inviting me to her wedding, though she invited nearly everyone else from the anime club. I was told it because she thought I was creepy. Marina didn’t really care for me, either, saying I was creepy, and that I was always staring at her breasts. The latter was news to me. Colleen absolutely detested my presence in the lounge on campus, not that she owned it, because I was creepy. Rick said I was the perfect tenant, because I never made any noise or messes. I also rarely spoke to him about anything. I saw it as respecting his privacies. Rick just thought it was creepy. Aaron’s mother said I struck her as a rather creepy fellow, I think, when Aaron tried to tell her about a movie I recommended. Mary told the rest of the Produce department that I was creepy, and that I looked like the sort of person who’d show up to work with a shotgun, whatever those people look like. My cousin Veronica said I was creepy, too. Something about the way I hugged her, I was told. Candy, a friend of my ex, said I was creepy. And what did those two disgusting harpies, Crystal and Candy, have to say about my memoir Half-Born? Only one word: Creepy.
Creepy? Well fuck the world, then!
I’d been misunderstood for most of my life. I’d been savaged by the outside world since I was very young, and all throughout middle and high school. I cried whenever I was teased. I learned to live inside my head and learned to create worlds of my own. I grew up slowly, never dated, and had almost no social life. I remember looking on with vague envy at the boys who had girlfriends in high school, but that was a world I had no hope of understanding. Through most of college, I still waited quietly for my life to begin. No one ever told me the most important moment of your life is now, at least not in a way I would have understood. Give me enough time, I thought, and I will eventually step out as a late bloomer, and try to find some niche that has use for me, if such a place exists, and do what I can to help make the world a better place with the rest of you. Just don’t call me creepy.
But there couldn’t be any more of that, now. Change the way I look at things, the Oracle said. Only then would things change. I finally picked up a copy of The Secret before leaving Barnes & Noble, and a few other titles that sounded promising at the time, like 10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To and The Way of the Superior Man. I hoped that was a good start. I also wondered how I was going to go about purging myself through writing. I knew it was needed, but I had only memories to brood on; no new experiences, no revelation, no closure.
David Mitchell is an MFA student at California College of the Arts. He welcomes your comments on “The Oracle” at barlowe2003[at]yahoo.com.
photo by metropilot