I think it was in the fall—a particularly warm one, do I remember rightly—when I began gathering my followers. And to hold a following, it is of very great use to once in a while recall or have a holistic understanding of how it happened, why it happened, and in some cases, when it happened. What should I gain from this approach, a look again at the terminus a quo, a trudge through the woods of the past, back to the slippery mud of X? Where it all began... or where it all ended up. Is there, dare I ask, a difference?
I see it to be a meditative exercise, much like the nemophilist does to go back and find that delightful rock that so very much caught their attention, it must bear a connection to something bigger, more, or most likely, something before. A "return to base," so to say, to recognize what worked then, that I may uphold and keep it. Or is it really a chance, the one last, to reflect, reproach myself, to make paradise after all?
Well, I don't believe so much in the last idea, for I wouldn't call a place with the people I've known—immortal forms of them, do I add—by the word. No, I think back now with the hope that I may be awkwardly reunited with some of my earlier concepts and regain what I once had, as I've struggled since late with a... peculiar problem. An excess of inspiration, as it were, which I believe is causing a psychological block.
I will explain this block, but first, let me do my exercise, look upon that fall it all began. The earthy smell. The leaves atop leaves, each placed and colored perfectly—amber, burgundy, cadmium—as if someone came by night to lay them there and even concerned themselves with painting each and every one in the utmost elaborate detail. Oh, the detail! I think of, too, the vibrant, heart-shaped petals in Jan's yard, with faces—they looked like faces—in the middle. Were they smiles or frowns? I could not always say. At times, I reprimanded myself to think I saw anything at all—anything but a core of darkness, completely indifferent, nonhuman.
I watched birds high on their flyways, escaping the harshness on the horizon. Yes, it was autumn indeed, and I had just begun the third day without eating, although I allowed myself to smoke a few cigarettes now and then. It's no good depriving yourself of everything. We all need an ole "thing to do," even for the moment. A way to fade out, until there is only silence.
So, I sat smoking, fancying the cigarette were a beignet, and I began thinking of the pansies—likely because I walked by Jan's that morning and stopped at them in her front yard. All of the tints, tones, shades. Everything grown fully by now, in the prime of their lives, I'd say. That's when she told me her husband had to go for testing. He was ill, and it was full-blown.
I listened to the fall in her voice, saw the sinking in her body, and my eyes went down to the flower bed again. The pansies seemed to lour at me. There could be no doubt in my mind for that moment that they had proper faces. I moved on to ask myself ridiculous questions. Is something bad forthcoming? Something wicked?
But of course.
I should like to explain before I go ahead that I don't mean wicked to imply anything supernatural. I doubt with unbelievable passion that there are any deities, gods, universal forces, or somethings like those at work, caballing against us—or, less probably, helping us—in this great, hilarious "battle" we so often name life. Right, I am a psychic in trade, but what should that mean?
Ah, there it is, something has just took my ear. Impertinence. Perhaps my attitude is the reason for my mental block. But wasn't it impertinence with which I began (you will see), even if it might have been a simpler, purer kind? Should I simply tell fictions to myself now, lie that I believe there are angels, devils, demons, ghosts, and what... when indeed I find the secret of life, the shadows unbeheld, unwitnessed, behind the curtain to be none of these? To be none at all, in fact. To be the curtain, like as not. That there is no secret. We simply choose not to tell ourselves the truth. Blind, deaf—or led by narrowest ears—we never do leave the womb, where we are harmless, unharmed, and life is but a benign possibility. Reality, a deadly dream.
Yes, there is life, and there is reality. The two are separate, at least by my lights, and ironically, "reality" is nothing real at all, and quite different from life. It is full of many things, many ways, this life. But not "reality."
Most people might call this a dark, "burned out" view and guess I took it up in adulthood, and while I can say certainly it's not, every year bears out more that there is a "false light," a constant misleading of ourselves, as though we were all of us actually unable to see, yet told to go, open the way. If this were the case, would you not immediately go someplace safe, where seemed the least noise?
In any event, I've always had this view, or else I've had it as far as I can remember. Maybe I was born with it, inherited from another season in my body's life—the ancient chemistry within me, taking me, wherever it wishes to go, I go. "I," nothing but a supernumerary property. A defect, I may say.
Or perhaps I made it as a child, though I cannot say that precludes inheriting it as a possibility. Maybe what was to be, according to my DNA, simply came forth in my childhood. One rare moment of moments, distracted from the distractions, perhaps I made it out, the truth of this all, and became satisfied, feeling a calm in my stomach, that it was over before it began, with not much left to do.
I knew Jan as a child, actually, and I could tell she had that type of connection to me now that one has with those they knew young—a feeling that I could keep her alive. That, if I looked long enough in her direction, time would bring to a stop, and there would never be the hill, her death. What a poor, pitiful, pinching world that would be!
Jan was always a fretful sort... overwrought, anxious about every one little thing. I can't imagine what it's like to be so very unsettled, and settling nothing ever—in an endless dilemma, Jan was. Not capable of deciding what bird to cook or whether to take a bath. Simple things!
She finished summarizing the conversation with the doctor—needless to say, I didn't hear more than a word or two—and slumped against her porch railing, suggesting she was finished, exhausted. This took back my attention.
"What do I do?" she asked. "Everyone's saying to pray, saying a miracle will happen, but I don't know. Part of me wants to believe them, but something's telling me..."
I smelled the dying leaves. I looked at the pansies, sullen in their beds, where they'd fall one day, not to stand back up if this winter was hard or long enough. I noticed all of the infinite details, all so pointless.
Enough of them, then. I stood up straight and looked her directly in the eye. I decided to speak as plainly as possible, to translate the truth, the "something's telling me." Her vexed question—the only one she ever asked, albeit in many different forms—"is something bad going to happen?" The answer was, is, yes.
"He's going to die, Jan. I think you know he's going to die."
Now, why would I put my thoughts in that way to someone in Jan's position? Was she not in plenty of agony? I agree she was, so I cannot say to you why. I cannot say, but that I sensed it was... I believe it was... the answer she was looking for.
It didn't interest me at all what she said next. Jan was always a venerative type, obsequious, so I felt sure she wouldn't defend herself. I'll say that, though I found there no necessity for her to "defend" anything. As far as I was concerned, I did her a favor, and now I would have my social death, a death I'd met hundreds of ways, many of times. It was nothing to me, nor was it really a "loss" of any kind. I preferred to be alone.
Despite all of that, I must say it was an incredible relief—and yet a more incredible surprise—that she didn't come back with any insults nor show any rage or ill humor toward me. I realize what I have just said, obsequious, but I'm sure you know that someone in her kind of pain or grief can do unexpected things.
The moment brought back somehow a few years ago. I was married to a man. It was an incredible relief, and a more incredible surprise, the whole thing, because I told him long and often that I could not stand him, and yet the man loved me. Me, a nugget of fool's gold, clobbing, balling, slabbing him away as best I could. When he asked me to marry him, I told him he was the stupidest, most outrageous human being I ever saw. Yet, there must have been something about the way I said it that intimated my agreement, for he took those cruel, insensitive comments to mean, "yes, yes, I think I would."
I could not tell whether the memory was happy or sad. I did prefer it to be neither. Neutral. But there was something, a language in the memory, talking, raving. I ignored it and focused back on Jan, who was looking at me with eyes wide as the whole world.
"How do you know?" she asked. Now, the usual Jan was returned, although I sensed it would only be for a moment. That she had to have one last time with doubt, after which a sore but patient acceptance would take its place.
I didn't care to explain everything I've just told you and the more I haven't told you. There was no real way to tell her that I knew or rather how I knew—for may I say, it turned out I was right. What a worthy pain that is, to be right! So, I lied to spare her the details, to spare her the truth, pitiful, plain. To spare her the pain of knowing the truth, of knowing she already knew it, of realizing it's ready at hand to twist her proverbial arm like the ruthless playground boy, who forces you to see the lowest, saddest, the forbidden...
Rather than reveal to her all of this, I uttered the first crude thing that took my mind. Yes, I had to respond quickly as all possible, for the scene had grown hideously awkward by then. So awkward that even the bugs had fled, and there were still many going around at the time, mind you, with the unusually warm fall we were having.
"I have a feeling about these things," I said.
She continued staring at me, but her eyes had dried slightly and taken on another nature. Not awe anymore. Curiosity.
It turns out Jan had been to see mediums and clairvoyants many a time before and even tracked her astrological chart quite cautiously. Oh, Jan!
She told me later that the people she went to see never really gave her anything conclusive to deal with and would not answer her questions with yeses or nos, which is why she stopped going.
Or perhaps they told her the truth, which I can never help but to anagrammatize in my mind—hurt, ruth—and she didn't like it. There's no way of knowing for sure. But this time she heard the truth, and she did like it—or maybe "like" is not the exact word—for as awfully she must have felt to hear what I had said, she was ready to hear it, maybe needed to hear it, had made a space in her mind for it, if you understand. For the grief of not knowing is perhaps the worst sort, and she'd had as much as she could take.
"Are you..." psychic was the word she left out, as if speaking it would make it untrue or undone, and she would all the way back down again, this time to a hole so nastily deep and inescapable... such is losing all hope.
I asked myself, why did she make the assumption I was psychic? I regarded my appearance, behavior, my speech, what she'd seen of my family as a child, what she perhaps thought of my mother or grandmother, as there always seems to be one endowing ancestor in these situations.
Did any of it ever say before that I had the faculty to perceive the future, which she so easily supposed? I ended up with this: it was her will it was true. Or rather, her expectation, her wish, her dream having dreams. Whatever it was, it wasn't me.
Of course, I wanted to say to her, no, I'm not... I'm merely a good Samaritan, a friendly neighbor, a figment of your imagination.
And yet I had a feeling... I knew... this would demoralize her and send her back to the depths where she was but moments ago, collapsed against her porch, her own heart slumped in her body, sitting heavily on her breath...
"You musn't say a thing, Jan. Not to a soul."
Her eyes went an inch wider. At this point, I was utterly exhausted, wondering how I was to avoid any more of this horrid conversation, which I just made a great deal worse. I looked at the pansies. Why did I look at the pansies? I wanted them to tell me something, I suppose or provide me with what to say.
Instead, she nearly forced me into her house. Fortunately, her husband wasn't there, although I began to wonder where he was, as I imagined she should, his being sick and on the threshold of death. We talked and talked, and the vaguer I kept my responses, for I had not an idea what I should say, and I didn't wish to make things more awkward for myself, the more serious she became.
Jan was my first follower, and her enthusiasm and irrational belief in my "abilities," as she calls them, boded well. She passed the word about me to her quiet coterie of believers, and many other women and men came forward with questions. I answered them using the same science of thought I told you of before, the very things they wanted to be spared of, the very things they knew, all behind a curtain, exposing only the shadows.
I simply told them what they unconsciously understood about situations in their lives, and yet my telling them it was a "feeling" and not something more conceivable gave them great release. For people wish to believe, and in that word is the very word lie, rather than know. It's difficult to explain, especially because I am quite the opposite kind of person, and here is my issue, and why I returned to this first experience with Jan.
I woke up one other morning not long past, and I believed in my "abilities," where I never had before, having seen things behind my eyes, closed, that I wished or thought not to see. Before I had simply told people what I knew they needed to hear, what I could see they wished to hear, the lie about the truth, the lie that the truth did not exist, at least not for them to know it. The lie that there is something greater, more knowing, something to save us, capture the poison monster, never let us see it or touch it.
I cannot explain the phenomenon that took place, nor can I tell you exactly what it feels like to see than to know what will happen. As I said, I woke up one morning, and it was all different. I suppose you must just... believe me...
I have visions at night now, somewhere in my dreams or in a waking trance-like state... and the next day I go to tell my followers what I saw. And the issue with it is, I have begun to lose them. I have begun to lose them, haven't I? How? If now I can see, how can it be that their faith in me is gone? Are my powers not real? Am I... I gag with the word... insane?
I can hardly believe the things that come from my mouth now, and yet what comes before my eyes, I must believe, for who couldn't! Is it my faith in myself is gone? Do I not know any longer what will happen in the real world? Have I trained them to see the truth...the secret!...whereas now I only see in clouds and mists and hazes and veils?
I think of the man I married... I never call him my husband... and what he said to me one day when my fascination wore off, when he saw the truth in me, when he saw what I was, my hatred, my emptiness, the gutting work of this world. It happened just as quickly as I gained my powers but in reverse.
I had what I did not know I had, what I could not see I wanted, for a very long time, years and years. How they escape!
And thus and so, I was set right one daylight, enlightened of my darkness, shown my own lies, the truth, that they were lies, shadows, shadows, movement behind the curtain, opening my eyes, he was gone.