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Mar. 2nd, 2034




Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Missing Those Goldmines in Ancient Thrace

So, I spent all day long yesterday thinking bitter, demeaning thoughts about People Who Watch the Superbowl. Until, finally, I took myself in hand: It doesn’t hurt you; it gives them pleasure: What is your problem, girlfriend?

My problem is that I need a vacation.

The $$$ I’m giving to Max was my discretionary Fuck You! travel fund. And work is slow anyway in January/February since corporate clients are scurrying about balancing books and devising tax ploys to shelter as much ill-gained profit as possible.

Even when work is plentiful, it’s b-o-r-i-n-g but occupies just enough of my brain to exhaust my creative imagination.

I keep thinking that’s a discipline problem. Like I could force my creative imagination into gear if only I had sufficient willpower.

And maybe I could.

But willpower’s never been an area of strength for me. No, I’m strictly a Go with the Flow kinda gal. Not me, but the wind that blows through me, etcetera. That kind of garbage. If it's meant to materialize, it will. Magically.

Meanwhile I keep brooding about a life I’ve somehow missed.

What did I do in that life I missed? Well, let’s see… I published many, many novels. I married this absolutely terrific guy who had a mega-successful career but still managed to spend many hours each day absolutely doting on me. Our sex life? Oh, my God. One look at his magnificent transversus abdominis – still perfect and defined though he must be close to 90 now – is enough to catalyze spontaneous orgasm!

I traveled. God, did I travel! I know the lost Kingdom of Mustang like the back of my hand. I helped excavate the goldmines of ancient Thrace, what the peasants now call “Bulgaria.”

This parallel life keeps trying to get my attention. Yoo-hoo! The water’s great!

So, it’s awfully hard to focus on the here and now, the tasks at hand.

My life is actually very pleasant, and it’s not as if I have anything to complain about, really.

But, you know, I’m human. I’m hardwired to complain.

Of Taste Buds and Concrete Blocks

lorenzo


Lorenzo and Markie are the latest inhabitants of the downstairs room. They’re quite delightful. He is going to the Culinary Institute of America and she is – well. Supporting him.

Last night Lorenzo prepared homemade ravioli. Tricolor. It was quite yummy.

Over dinner, we discussed sensory apparatus. “For instance,” Lorenzo said, “I have a really keen sense of smell. Like the other day, I smelled something burning before the person who was cooking realized he was burning it. So, I ran over and said, ‘You better watch that,’ and the guy rolled his eyes and said, ‘Whatever, dude,’ and then poof! It burst into flames. My sense of smell.”

“Well, either that, or you’re psychic,” I said.

“No, really. Look!” he said. He stuck out his tongue. It was very oddly grooved. “My taste buds move around.”

My tongue looks like that, too,” Linda said, and she stuck out her tongue and bingo! Same grooves.

Now, Linda has an incredibly good palate. She can taste things that I can’t. One of those people who can eat something and then recite back a complete list of the ingredients that went into the recipe. She’s a real foodie, too. So’s Lorenzo. Given the tongue anomalies, that now makes perfect sense.

ravioli


I’m still in a dark mood. It upsets me that I can’t throw a mantle of protectiveness over the lives of the people I love to keep them from all harm. Almost enough to put me off love altogether.

Today, I’m off to Staatsburg to do taxes for the remnants of those ancient families, living in four cordoned-off rooms of those dilapidated, moldering Livingston mansions with which Staatsburg abounds. Very Thomas Hardy, no?

Who was I having this conversation with the other day?

We were talking about the Livingston mansions and the 17th century ruins that are everywhere around here if you know how to look for them, and she said – I remember, at least, that the person was a woman – “But, of course in Europe, these wouldn’t be very old things at all!”

And I said, “Well, Europe is newer than you think. A lot of the cities got bombed into the ground in the last World War. You see a lot of concrete block architecture in Europe, particularly in the South. It’s actually a lot more picturesque here.”

Haters Gotta Hate

So, I guess the scenario is that Climate Change moves the tropical boundaries north, mosquito-borne viruses cause all in utero human baby heads to shrink and – what? The human race is over?

That happened fast.

Good thing we’re grooming all those AIs to carry on human civilization, particularly those functions that pertain to the workforce.

I suppose in the ISIS rape camps, the human baby heads don’t shrink ‘cause, you know, mosquitoes don’t like deserts.

###

Meanwhile, thanks to the Iowa caucus, we now know who white people think should be the next President of the United States.

So-o-o irrelevant.

I am seething with resentment this morning over being force-fed this ridiculous stuff that passes as “news.”

Who fucking cares if Ted Cruz won the Republican contest in Iowa?

I suspect Hillary Clinton’s pitbull reaction – “I won!” – when the Democratic party itself refuses to certify a winner will come back to bite her in the ass, although it’s not necessarily a bad trait in an American POTUS.

Hillary Clinton might beat Donald Trump, but she won’t beat Marco Rubio. Bernie Sanders won’t beat Rubio either.

###

I am also hating on Mrs. George Clooney’s look:

30CBB58F00000578-3427580-image-a-82_1454386513625


She’s not an unattractive woman, and it’s not an unattractive dress (although, up close, all that red trim is what looks like vinyl appliqué) but somehow this combination is just hideous, and they should really fire that stylist for letting her out of the mansion in those shoes.

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So You Wanna Be a LAWYER!

In exciting meine DNA über alles news, Max has now gotten into five law schools and has cracked U.S. News & World Report's much-vaunted Top Ten.

He is going to be able to put me into a very expensive Home For Embarrassing Mothers.

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End of the Year Meme

1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?

Attended the Coney Island Mermaid parade.

Began collecting my various retirement trust funds. Should keep the pusskers in Friskies and me in goofy socks for the next 25 years or so – God willin’ and inflation don’t rise. (It will, of course.)

Visited an uncle I never knew I had. Tremendously nice guy. But there came that moment when I told him the story of Ted’s life and Ted’s kids, and he literally flinched because his father had been a very good father to him, but, of course, his father’s mistreatment of Ted turned Ted into a sociopath, ruined eight lives, you might say. It was a lot for a tremendously nice guy to take in.

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 2014's Resolutions:

Never make New Years’ resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Nope.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes. Lucius in March; Rik – in October some time?

Neither death was unexpected. Both men had been in ill health for quite some time.

I was out of touch with both when they died. That didn’t matter. Long ago, they’d both been elected to permanent seats on the Advisory Board deep in my corpus callosum.

Initially, Lucius was one of my instructors at Clarion West. A very, very brilliant writer who never lived up to his promise: in part, because he never had the patience to tackle long-form fiction; in part, because there was such a huge disconnect between his writerly persona and his everyday life personality. If you met him, you might think he was one of the Duck Dynasty. His best known works are probably Life During Wartime and the Dragon Griaule cycle.

His best piece of writerly advice to me? “You always wanna bring it full circle, repeat the shit you say in the first paragraphs in the last paragraphs, you know? I don’t know why, but that always knocks ‘em dead.”

Sometime in the ‘90s, when Lucius was having serious IRS troubles, I invited him to move in with my family. This turned into a year and a half residency – rather longer than I had anticipated. Hijinks ensued. I should write about them some day.

We fell out during a 2007 trip to Europe. Lucius apparently had been nurturing a crush on me for many years; I won’t pretend I didn’t know about the crush and didn’t play to it on occasion when my ego needed bolstering. But I had no intention of sleeping with him, and he got really pissed at me as a result.

He was tremendously supportive of me as a writer, was constantly exhorting me to abandon my marriage and children and just do it. “You must be cruel-l-l-l,” he’d cackle, trilling his R’s.

He also shared my obsession with reality TV, so we spent many hours in deep telephonic communion together, annotating Survivor cycles – me from my bed in Monterey, him from his desk in Washington. Sadly, future generations of anthropologists will not have access to our hilarious discourse unless they learn to decode electrical signals that even now are wafting their way to Alpha Centauri.

Rik was Annie’s husband, and the only person in the House of Usher who actually saw what my childhood was doing to me and tried to make amends. They divorced, but Rik was very conscientious about maintaining the relationship.

Rik is the reason I went to college. If it had been up to my blood relatives, I would have dropped out of high school, and that would have been that. I would have spent some years living in a trailer park. Maybe my scientific aptitude would have found some expression in efforts at methamphetamine production, though not at the Walter White level. I’m pretty sure I’d be dead now.

Of course, I had a crush on Rik – he was extraordinarily beautiful in his younger days with eyes the exact color of the ocean on a day when the marine layer hangs at a thousand feet reach. He may have harbored some incestuous fantasies of his own. When he was a young assistant professor, he serially dated a number of my female friends.

His most important piece of advice to me? “In every situation, you have three options. You can say yes, you can say no, or you can simply walk away.”

I got married for the first time in the backyard of Rik’s Spruce Street house. On Rik’s advice, Bill and I eschewed lawyers for our divorce, and I didn’t ask for child support. Instead, I told Bill to fly Max down to Tustin once a month so that they could continue to maintain a real father/son relationship and to cover Max’s college costs. Since Max ended up getting a free ride at Deep Springs and a lot of financial support from Stanford, I’d say Bill ended up getting the best of that particular deal.

Rik’s father Jacinto was a high-ranking scientific muckety muck during World War II, so in some essential sense, Rik was living in the long shadow of his father – a fact that I didn’t realize until I was middle-aged. Jay was demented when I knew him – Alzheimer’s or some such. Jay had been such a bastard when his faculties were intact that his various caretakers – Rik and his wife Hazel – delighted in being caustic toward him (though they never actually mistreated him.)

The dementia turned out to be hereditary. Rik was finally officially diagnosed with it a couple of years ago.

We fell out over a number of different things. At a certain point, Rik became tired of functioning in loco parentis -- the age difference between us wasn’t actually all that great. He disapproved of a number of decisions I made (starting with hooking up with Ben), and, of course, he was right: They were horrifyingly bad decisions. At one time, we’d been quite intimate, but we gradually drifted apart.

Rik was finally diagnosed after he began behaving inappropriately in various public and private places. I loaned Max out to Alicia and Janet (Rik’s second wife) to help corral Rik upon occasion.

The final fissure came about as a result of my mother’s will. She’d made Rik her executor. In 2012, eleven years after her death, Robin turned 18 and it came time to distribute her bequest to him. Robin needed this as part of his college money. Robin was being his usual un-diligent self in following up on this, so I wrote to Alicia’s husband – who was managing the account – to try and expedite the process. Rik wrote me a scathing letter back, accusing me of trying to steal Robin’s college money. I was justifiably outraged.

I didn’t give a fuck when Rik died. Truth be told? I still don’t give a fuck. Burn in hell, Rik! I think to myself. However… The more enlightened part of me realizes that (a) I owe a great deal to Rik and (b) that awful letter was probably written by Rik’s dementia. So I’m going to go to Rik’s memorial service in California this coming May.


5. What countries did you visit?

None.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

A completed manuscript. Or two.

7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

November 27. Thanksgiving Day! Which I spent with my two boys in New Mexico.



8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Shedding the angst. I’m quite content with my little life these days.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Well, the Vista residency crashed and burned. Entirely not my fault.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

That thing that happened with my wrist a week or so back. My wrist is back to normal now. I still don’t know how that happened, though, and I’m curious abut it.

My ongoing autoimmune disease, which makes me feel like a leper in the warmer months.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The car.


12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Max. As always.

Linda.

BB (who is just the world’s most terrific friend.)

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Nobody’s, really.

14. Where did most of your money go?

In addition to the usual upkeep and maintenance expenses incurred by housing, food, phone, and transportation? Robin, I’d have to say. And I was happy to be in a financial situation where I could give him that support.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Nothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?

Fiona Apple’s Container:

I was screaming into the canyon
At the moment of my death
The echo I created
Outlasted my last breath
My voice it made an avalanche
And buried a man I never knew
And when he died his widowed bride
Met your daddy and they made you

I have only one thing to do and that’s
To be the wave that I am and then
Sink back into the ocean
Sink back into the ocean
Sink back into the ocean

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier.

ii. thinner or fatter?

Fatter!

iii. richer or poorer?

Richer!

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Serious writing. Exercising.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Wasting time.

20. How will you be spending New Years?

Still trying to drum up plans for New Years Eve. New Years Day, I’m going to an open house.

22. Did you fall in love in 2010?

I don’t think I’m capable of falling in love anymore. It takes a certain willing suspension of disbelief, you know?

23. What was your favorite TV program?

I really, really liked Black Mirror. Foyle’s War – which takes on such a nice LeCarre spin after V-Day. Oh, and of course, the ever kinky-and-yet-corny Criminal Minds.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Nope.

25. What was the best book you read?

Well, I’d have to say the book I enjoyed the most – but I wouldn’t describe it necessarily as a good book – was Nancy Horan’s Under the Wide and Starry Sky.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Fiona Apple.

27. What did you want and get?

A car.

28. What did you want and not get?

A surprisingly fulfilling year, so I’d have to answer N/A.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

John Michael McDonagh's Calvary.

Distant runners up: Birdman, What Maisie Knew.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 62. Can’t remember what I did.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

My year was pretty satisfying. Discovering some relative I never knew I had had died and left me a huge portfolio of high-performing tech stocks might have made it more satisfying. I’m not sure.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

Bag Lady. Let’s face it. Despite having worked in the fashion industry, fashion has always been a foreign concept to me. I'm happiest in uniforms.

33. What kept you sane?

Having an independent income.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Hmmmm… Maybe Bruce Willis? But only Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys and The Sixth Sense.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

Student loans.

36. Who did you miss?

Susan. Marybeth. Abe. Oddly enough, Lucius.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

Linda.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.

Money isn’t important. Unless you don’t have any.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

See Fiona Apple above.

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12 Monkeys



My own all-time favorite Christmas movie is 12 Monkeys, a dystopian fantasy about the end of civilization as we know it and an attempt to rectify the mistakes that led up to that end. Bruce Willis plays a convict given the chance to redeem himself by traveling into the past to investigate the origins of a plague that’s wiped out most of mankind, forcing the few survivors to huddle underground.

Never been a big Terry Gilliam fan. Brazil? Clunky. The Fisher King? Maudlin. The Monty Python ouevre? Spotty.

Problem with most of Gilliam’s work for me is that you’re always being fed two separate streams of information, the visual and the narrative, and Gilliam often seems to be struggling to find synergy or syncretism between the two. In 12 Monkeys, though, possibly because Gilliam is working from someone else’s script or possibly because one of the film's underlying themes is the unreliability of all remembered information, this approach works. Even the irrelevant becomes relevant.

The movie never changes, Cole tells Kathryn. It can’t change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you’re different. You see different things.

The film’s climactic scene takes place during the Philadelphia Christmas shopping rush in 1996. The holiday might seem incidental to the perceptual puzzle, except that nothing is incidental in this movie. The viewer has to pay close attention at all times, which is almost impossible to do in a single viewing. 12 Monkeys has to be seen at least twice to appreciate the world-building that went into it. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, and it still amazes me.

One of the key strengths of 12 Monkeys is Bruce Willis’s performance. He plays Cole, the convict, as a simple, poignant Everyman, shyness and brutality in conflict, and it’s the acting highlight of his career. He is just superb. Madeleine Stowe is also excellent in the role of a kidnap victim called upon to be terrified but also magnetized in some essential way that disputes the core tenets of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Without these two performances, 12 Monkeys would be a less entertaining, standard issue Luc Besson movie about the colorful -- or colorless – future.

Throughout 12 Monkeys, Cole faces the paradox of his own death – a philosophical conundrum apparently inspired by a short French film called La Jetée. His death is revealed to him in a series of memories, which he thinks are a bizarre, reoccurring dream. He sees his older self die as a 10-year-old boy in an airport, watching the police gun down a crazy psychotic – who, unbeknownst, is the older version of himself, a philosophical DO-loop, an existential perpetual motion machine from which there can never be any escape. He doesn’t recognize his older self, he can’t recognize his older self, but the Madeleine Stowe character, who knows about the dream, recognizes him and there passes between them a moment that’s so complex and passionate and moving that it makes me shiver every time I see the movie.

I watched 12 Monkeys again last night. I’m still in hyperspace. Just very teary and – here comes my buzz word again – porous.

I’m writing a time travel story, so possibly this material is even more poignant for me than usual. Dunno. Sometimes I just feel like life is so fragile, and the most beautiful flowers grow in junkyards where no one ever thinks to look.



In other news, life continues to be good. On Sunday, I met up with A to see the Matisse cutouts at MOMA – they were interesting, but did make me ponder the whole function of art as a non-fungible commodity. I could make these cutouts! In fact, I have made these cutouts. I couldn’t, on the other hand, make One: Number 31, 1950, which actually has an extraordinary amount of composition behind its chaos.

Then I sat through the last two classes of tax training. Studying federal and New York State tax codes is a lot like studying Torah or the Qur’an. Or possibly the Upanishads. Just a huge amount of arcane information that makes no logical sense whatsoever but illuminates the bizarreness of the culture that cobbled them together. The codes dealing with the implementation of Obamacare are particularly arcane, and I predict a lot of crash-and-burn around the Affordable Care Act come next April 15th.

LJ Idol: Week 30: Critical Hit

Fifty thousand people sat in the vast arcade of the great glass tower at the top of the world, watching Muldaur protect Asterask from the invading legions of the Mialtrice.

Muldaur chewed gum and listened to hip-hop while his fingers moved over the console keyboard. They moved quickly – a speed freak’s rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a charmingly archaic piece that no one outside the Institute for Antiquarian Music had listened to for half a century.

Like corn on the cob
Don’t slob on the job


What’s corn on the cob? Muldaur wondered, but the thought cost him. Instantly the giant relief map of Asterask projected on the uber-dome flickered and shifted. A cascade of sparkling red points dominated the dark continent on the left side of the map.

Fuck! thought Muldaur.

A collective gasp emerged from 50,000 throats.

Crunch time, Muldaur told himself. He pulled off his ear buds. His left hand clicked the mouse furiously, dispatching Raffers to guerilla up on the Mialtrice invasion to the west, strengthening the infrastructure of mining and manufacturing operations to the east, moving workers away from the green agricultural lands of the south. The Mialtrice were not collectivists; the notion of suicide attackers who might sacrifice their own lives for the communal good was alien to them. Correctly timed, this could be the pull-ahead.

In the end, the strategy worked. Precisely two hours and fourteen minutes into the game, Muldaur succeeded in surrounding the Mialtrice Dominatrix. She quietly imploded, and the red dots on the giant map pulsated and swirled, flashing out one by one.

Applause from 50,000 spectators sounds something like the waves of a Category 5 hurricane breaking against a beach.

The first video jockey to corner Muldaur backstage was a cisgender female with yellow hair and large, pillowy breasts. She positioned herself so the front of her breasts in their thin ruby-colored chamois covering brushed lightly against the back of Muldaur’s neck.

“You did it!” she declared hoarsely.

“I guess,” said Muldaur mildly.

“But – I mean – no one has everHow do you feel?

“Okay,” said Muldaur. “I guess. Hey. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure!”

“I mean, it’s a little embarrassing, but –“

“Anything!”

“Do you know what a corn cob is?”

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LJ Idol: Week 29: The Gauntlet

The Fox Sisters were real, and their story deserves a far longer telling than I am giving it here. In fact, their story would make a kind of great Michael Faber/John Fowles-style Victorian homage novel. But I always try to keep my entries under 1,500 words, because I know how many wonderful LJ Idol entries there are to read.

The Fox Sisters were historical personages, as I say, but I've made most of these details up.


---

Hydesville isn’t there anymore. And even at its most prosperous, two hundred years ago, Hydesville was little more than a handful of farms, whose farmers barely eked out a subsistence coaxing wheat from its thin glacial soil.

The wheat was sent for milling to the city of Rochester, 20 miles away. A prominent Rochester mill owner named Joseph Mack had a nephew named Joseph Smith who claimed to have unearthed a collection of curiously engraven golden plates that had been buried for millennia beneath a stunted maple grove just a few miles away from Hydesville. Several years after this story begins, an eccentric inventor named George Eastman was born, who named the company he was to found – Kodak – after a word revealed to him by a spirit through the medium of a Ouija board.

George Eastman and Joseph Mack have nothing to do with the events of this story. But they set a tone. In 19th century America, before the Civil War, when western New York was still a frontier of sorts, things were… different. Some might describe them as more porous.

###

The winters are long and harsh in western New York. Snowfalls of six feet, eight feet, ten feet, are not uncommon. When snow fell, the Fox Family of Hydesville huddled by their kitchen fire for warmth, and read from their Bible or told each other stories for amusement.

In late March, 1848, the family’s two youngest daughters, Katy, aged 12, and Maggie, aged 15, began hearing sounds on snowy nights that echoed through the empty rooms of the family’s farmhouse. Furniture moved, the girls claimed. A wooden table slid from its accustomed resting place beneath the window. Iron-framed beds shuddered and rose from the floor.

These sounds and attendant phenomena terrified Margaret, the girls’ mother, which caused the two girls to erupt into peals of laughter. Margaret was an indulgent mother by the standards of her time. She seldom disciplined her daughters.

“Spirits, reveal thineselves!” Maggie might demand within her mother’s earshot and a cascade of loud popping noises would erupt as if in response.

“Dear God! The house is haunted by the spirit of restless ghosts!” cried Margaret. Her people had come to this area from Pennsylvania shortly before she was born; she had been raised a Quaker. Quakers are the most superstitious of all Reformist sects. Margaret spat on her hands before she baked bread to ensure its rising and knocked on the wooden table when death was mentioned to ensure that it would not take her or any that she loved.

“Be quiet, woman,” said her husband, John. “It is a loose board or a shutter rattling in the wind. I shall secure it once the weather is clement.”

Katy giggled and the barrage of knocking resumed once more.

“Where is it?” screamed Margaret. “What if it is a suffering spirit giving vent to its distress!” She rose to her feet, lit a candle, and began searching the house. The girls followed, laughing.

The knocks continued.

“Mr. Split-foot, do as I do!” Katy commanded and began snapping her fingers. The knocks synchronized themselves with the snaps.

“Mr. Split-foot, follow my command!” cried Maggie and began clapping. The knocks picked up that rhythm as well.

“It is a spirit!” Margaret Fox declared.

Katy and Maggie exchanged glances.

“No, Mother, no,” said Katy gently. “It is only a prank we are playing for tomorrow is April Fool’s Day.”

“Hush!” Maggie commanded her sister.

“How many children have I born?” Margaret Fox asked the darkness and knocks echoed back loudly seven times.

“How many yet live?” Six, answered the knocks.

“Are you the spirit of one who was injured in life?” asked Margaret Fox. “Answer two knocks for yes, one knock for no.”

Two loud knocks.

Margaret Fox fainted dead away.

“You are wicked girls and I will be glad when you are married and away!” cried John Fox. “Do you see what you have done to your mother with your wicked games?”

We have done nothing!” said Maggie saucily. “It is the spirits that invest this house.”

Katy said nothing. But she was nervous. It was true that she and Maggie had perfected a system for making knocking sounds that involved the manipulation of the inner bones of their feet and ankles. But sometimes, when she was alone and not making the sounds, she heard the knocks. She knew things about people she had no reason to know, and the shimmering visions she sometimes amused herself by inducing through pressing her fists hard against her closed eyes had begun to appear when her eyes were open. She saw a cat infused with an unearthly glow. She saw a long-stemmed flower infused with light. She saw a gauntlet on a bleeding stump of a hand struggling to pull the rest of its corpus out of the darkness.

Katy kept these visions secret from Maggie. It was Maggie who had started the game with their mother. But one day, she stood in the kitchen when the gloved hand on the bleeding stump appeared. Its fingers curved; it was beckoning her closer to the hearth’s flames. Katy knelt close to the hearth, straining to reach the gauntleted hand, and an ember flew out from the flame, ignited her gown. She made to cry out, but quicker than her voice could carry, a hand of flesh and blood spilled a vessel of water upon her burning dress.

It was Maggie’s hand. Maggie looked pale.

“I know why you moved to the fire, little sister,” Maggie said. “I saw it.”

“You see these things, too?”

Maggie shook her head. “I see them, but only when I am near you. I cannot make them come of my own accord. They are not visitations that come to me. But I will say that they do if you like. So that we can share all things as sisters.”

###

In 1892, a woman stood in a squalid flat in London’s East End. Katy Fox she had once been; Katy Jenkin, she was now. Her husband, Henry Jenkin, had been a barrister, but his family, who dismissed Spiritualism as a fraud, had not supported his marriage. When he died, they’d cast Katy out and her two young sons with her.

Katy and her sister Maggie had long put Hydesville behind them, had gone on to become the two most celebrated mediums of their day in a time when mediums were greatly venerated, when the whispers of the dead offered a kind of supernatural equivalent to the knowledge navigation that talking smartphone apps provide today. Audiences had flocked to see them in massive numbers, paying handsomely for the privilege. An older sister, Lea, had acted as the Fox girls’ manager, had stolen all their money. The Fox Sisters had fallen out of favor on the séance circuit, and Maggie had returned to the United States. Katy had nothing now, save a jar of gin, resting on a table near the fire.

The visions, the phenomena, had ceased for a time after early adolescence, but in the past few years, they had returned again. Katy could not control them. She learned to recognize the flower – it was a rose. She had never seen a rose at the time the fiery object first resolved from swirling nothingness 40 years ago. The cat was clearly a demon. It arched its back at her and hissed, and sometimes it entangled itself around her legs, causing her to stumble and fall and injure herself. Her body was covered with dark bruises as though someone had beaten her.

But the gin helped. When she’d drunk enough of it, the visions did not plague her quite as incessantly. Vision, reality – everything she saw, infused with weightlessness, with the same eerie light.

When the table began moving, Katie was not surprised, but she moved quickly to rescue her gin. And here it was, the gloved hand, the gauntleted fist with its bleeding fist beckoning her ever closer to the flames. There was nothing to keep her now from accepting its invitation this time, and when her son lurched back the following morning – for he had inherited Katy’s proclivities for mediumship and drink – he found his mother dead.

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The day Lucy’s mother waltzed out of her life, she took Lucy to the Palisades Fun-Plex.

“But what about school?” Lucy asked.

“You can miss one day of school,” Lucy’s mother said.

“But I don’t want to miss one day of school,” Lucy said.

“Get over yourself!” her mother snapped.

The Palisades Fun-Plex did not look good in the weak winter sunlight. The paint on the ticket booths was cracked and peeling. Crusts of dirty snow covered the sides of the walkways like the hides of long-extinct dinosaurs. Only a few of the rides were open, and they were not rides that Lucy liked.

“Come on, Lucy, it’s a rollercoaster,” said Lucy’s mother.

“No!” Lucy said, so Lucy’s mother went on the rollercoaster alone – one of only three passengers – holding her arms high over her head, screaming on the hairpin turns. There was a small hut beneath the highest twist of track equipped with an automated camera that the rollercoaster guy operated remotely. This camera caught her at a particularly unflattering angle with her mouth wide open and her eyes squinted shut, but she bought the photo anyway and presented it to Lucy with a flourish.

“We’re having fun, aren’t we?” asked Lucy’s mother.

“I guess,” Lucy said.

They were eating cotton candy. Lucy didn’t like cotton candy, but since she disliked it less than she disliked rollercoasters, it seemed like an easy concession to make, one that didn’t require too much dissembling beyond ignoring a certain queasiness at the confection’s fluorescent pink and blue coloring and the way it shrank into a hard, too-sweet pebble in her mouth when it came into contact with her spit.

“I want you to be having fun,” her mother said. “Thing is, baby, I’m making a memory for you. Now. This. A beautiful memory because I’m going away. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It’s just something your mama has to do – “

Lucy had been hearing about the things her mama had to do since she’d been able to process human speech. They never involved Lucy.

She began to weep now, and her mother began to cry with her, but Lucy sensed there was a difference between the two types of tears: When you cry, you’re enjoying it; when you weep, you’re not.

The next morning, her mother was gone. Lucy’s father, and his mother and father closed ranks behind her. Lucy went on to have a normal childhood. More or less.

###

At sixteen, Lucy woke up one morning and discovered she was beautiful. This was like waking up one morning and finding out she could start fires with a simple snap of her fingers or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Beauty was a superpower, but it very little to do with her.

Getting drunk helped Lucy control the superpower. Or at least it helped her see herself from the outside in so that she could understand the effect her beauty had on other people, why it made them stammer, why it made them give her things that she did not want and had no use for.

“Do we have any pictures of my mother?” she asked her grandmother one day.

At first, she’d gotten the occasional phone call from her mother, usually late at night. Cards on her birthday. Once there’d been talk of a visit, but her mother had settled in California, which was very far away. Lucy knew it was highly unlikely that her mother lived in an amusement park, but that’s where Lucy’s imagination had planted her. In a hut, underneath some rollercoaster tracks where she subsisted on blue cotton candy and the watery dregs of discarded Big Gulp cups.

“That woman!” said Lucy’s grandmother, and she shook her head.

So Lucy went into her room, rummaged on the farthest shelf of her closet where she found it. The photograph of her mother taken that day at the Palisades Fun-Plex. Not a good photo. They had the same yellow hair, though. And there was something reminiscent in the jut of her cheekbones, in the heart-shaped contour of her face. Maybe they looked alike.

Lucy walked back into the living room where her father and her grandparents were watching television and announced, “I’m going out.”

“Lucy, it’s a school night,” said her father.

“I don’t like school,” Lucy said. “I can miss a day –“

“Lucy –“

“It’s just something I gotta do,” said Lucy.

Hardy picked her up in his beat-up Ford in front of the aquifer down the street. They went back to his parents’ house and had sex, which Lucy did not enjoy. Then they cracked open the quart bottle of Smirnoff, which Lucy did enjoy.

“I don’t see why you can’t drink beer like everyone else,” said Hardy.

“Beer is fattening,” Lucy said. “Anyway, I’m special.”

Hardy snorted. “Everyone’s special, baby. No two snowflakes are ever the same.”

“Not like me,” said Lucy. “I’m the specialist of all the special snowflakes. And tonight I want to go somewhere special –“

“Huh?”

“The Palisades Fun-Plex!”

“That place? It’s a dump. I don’t think it’s even open anymore –“

“Take me there or I’ll break up with you,” Lucy said. She cupped her naked breasts and jiggled them. “Last time you ever see these baby sisters if I don’t get my rollercoaster ride.”

They climbed back into Hardy’s car and sped toward the amusement park, the night a blur of trailing lights in the rearview mirror.

“Yellow light!” laughed Lucy. “You know what that means. Step on the gas!”

Unfortunately, the motorist navigating a left-hand turn stepped on the gas at exactly the same moment, and the two cars collided.

Lucy woke up on the grass. Blue and red lights were flashing everywhere. People were yelling. Someone had draped a coat over her to keep her warm; someone else was saying, “That girl’s face. That girl’s poor, poor face.”

Lucy struggled to sit up straight, but she couldn’t move her hips or legs. “What happened to my face?” she demanded. Her mouth was filled with blood; it was hard to speak.

“Don’t try to talk,” said someone.

“Am I going to look different now? Am I going to look different?” Lucy asked. But nobody could understand her, and she began to cry.

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