Previous: Episode 4
Sunday. Penny and the twins go to church, which gives me at least two hours to figure things out. I go to the furnace room for a pair of scissors and cut the bloody sleeves from yesterday’s shirt. I linger, waiting for Bergdorf.
I take a shower and shave. Brushing my teeth, I hover around the furnace room for news, but none comes.
Dressed, I take the bloody sleeves out back to the grill, douse them with lighter fluid and set then on fire. I check the furnace room. Then I take the ashes of my sleeves and rub them into the stump of a cottonwood by the back fence. I put the scissors back from where I got them. I’m still alone.
I don’t report my car stolen because I won’t get it back anyway. Besides, when they run the registration, a bunch of parking tickets will come up, and ultimately, I’m better off without additional problems.
But, I’m stranded without a car, exiled from the world. The unease makes me more jacked than Cruz’s medicine, with none of the benefits. A walk would do me some good. It’s also the only thing I can do. At least my nose isn’t bleeding, the silver watch returned to the valet box.
I don’t walk to get anywhere; I walk to focus, to regain balance. Once I start walking, I’m like space junk leaving Earth’s pull. I usually go without destination, but today I know precisely where I’m going.
I walk straight down the middle of the parkway for a few miles. Traffic unfolds ceaselessly on each street and both sides exhibit immaculate Queen Annes. The semiartificial wilderness in the middle is unthreatening. I actually feel concealed and protected. Supposedly, it’s a ley line. Often in the hour before dawn, foxes and coyotes roam the narrow parkway. I asked Cruz once if they are really foxes and coyotes, but he wouldn’t tell me.
A lot of people walk their dogs down the parkway. It could be that it’s Sunday, and that’s why I haven’t encountered any dog walkers, but waiting to cross a major intersection, I learn why the parkway is empty.
“Hi, Abe.” I’m startled. Bergdorf is possessing a wheelchair bound panhandler with a huge white beard and a foot and ankle that looks like your mind’s image of Elephantiasis. He pulls his greasy sunglasses up so I can see his capsule-shaped pupils. I’m so startled I almost leap off the curb, into an oncoming bus. Instead, I overcorrect and fall to the side of the wheelchair, next to a fat dog turd and a broken wine cooler bottle.
“We really need that amber, Abe. The contract is still under observance.”
I smile. It is utterly involuntary. The walk sign comes on.
I ask Bergdorf if he can help me, but he doesn’t answer. Then I ask if everything is all right. This time, he pulls the sunglasses down, but I look away from the expression and the eyes and stand up. So I ask instead, “What is she? Can you tell me that?”
“She is like you,” Bergdorf says. “But more.” There is some relief knowing that she is human and that it was not Rayne alone, but her talents that enraptured me.
“And…uh, her guy. What about him?”
“He is one of our associates. But not.” Corporate bureaucracy, I think.
“Well, thanks.” I’m relieved, of course. “I’ll get the amber.”
“Who? What the hell are you talking about?” Classic possession move, I’m told—Bergdorf’s sudden departure is as startling and disturbing as his arrival. I fish a twenty from wallet—it’s all I have—and hand it to the bum.
“Well, right on, man,” he says.
The meeting with Bergdorf does not conclude my walk, moreover, it energizes my stride, boosts me like a refugee high on chocolate bars dropped from a cargo plane. I’m so pumped I almost enter my destination without protecting myself, as if I were visiting a park instead of a cemetery. The only talisman I keep on me at all times is a sooty $100 poker chip from a Vegas casino that no longer exists. The black chip has impressed a ring on my wallet like a condom. It might be time for me to get a new wallet. I hold it in my left hand; something about the clay disk against my palm is comforting. I can go through the main entrance, but I don’t like to do it because it fogs my brain. The east gate isn’t far around the corner, past the mortuary parking lot. It’s been a long time since I walked here; since I’ve been here. “Baruch Ata Heshem,” I say out of habit, passing through the iron threshold.
I pay respect to my uncle Sy, place a rock I picked up in the parkway on his headstone. My father taught me this. There are a lot of things my father taught me, but probably more he didn’t. He never taught me how to fix a car, for instance, or basic plumbing. And these were things he knew how to do. He was resourceful, grew up in a time where you had to be. I won’t say I was a spoiled child—I wasn’t—but my dad made it so I didn’t have to worry about much. I can hardly hammer a nail straight. I can cook, at least. I know how to be kind and treat people with respect. Dealing with trauma, however, coping skills, these are the things I had to acquire from working with Bergdorf. My coping skills are, to say the least, unconventional.
In all but one detail, the cemetery is a park loaded with flowers and great trees, historical monuments, trails and paths; people have picnics here and watch movies on a big screen in the summer. I learned how to drive here. My dad joked if I ran somebody over they wouldn’t be any worse off.
My mother’s grave—Penny and my mother—is on the other side of the cemetery. To get there as the crow flies, I have to go through what Cruz calls Babyland, which is really the only truly depressing section of the place. I option for the road that swings south around the WWI memorial.
From the corner of my eye, I see the greasy black image of a pneuma akatharton trail my side like an abandoned puppy. Every cemetery is rampant with them, the things that cling, what Sy called dybbuk, what other people call by other names. After I tried to hang myself, the little fissure inside me widened, took shape, an anti-shape, the kind of gap that entices germs of the spirit, things like pneuma akatharton, to snuggle into. I hold the poker chip to block that space.
Bergdorf and his partners are not pneuma akatharton. Bergdorf is far older.
All the way to visit my mom, the gross ropy spirits come and go. Once, Bergdorf suggested I try to capture one. I asked him if that was a task, if it was something they needed, but he didn’t answer. I used to only do specifically what Bergdorf asked, anything extra was beyond my scope of interest or need. The encounter with Rayne, more so, the added complexity of the task because of her has me realizing I need to be more of a self-starter, more detail oriented. At the moment, I can’t even look at one directly; I’m getting a slight headache straining my eyes to focus on one. Another day. Maybe soon.
My mom was Hawaiian: not indigenously, but born and raised there. Her skin was perpetually golden brown, as if she were a battery for the sun, but she was of Scotch Irish decent. She was fluent in grade school Japanese and knew all the Polynesian dances. She promised Penny and me she would take us there, but work demanded too much from her. When she talked about Hawaii, it sounded like Heaven—the way I always hoped Heaven would be. Somehow, she could forgive my dad for taking her away from that, she loved him that much.
But she would never forgive him for choosing loyalty to his brother over her. After Sy died, no matter how close of friends they became again, she would never forgive him. She could trust him, though. He treated Penny as if she were his blood, and he was the only dad she knew. Her father had a brain aneurysm the day after she was born. I don’t even remember the guy’s name, and I was ten when he died.
My mom’s headstone has palm trees and a sunset; Penny drafted it. I confess, the images are a little campy and out of place, but all Mom’s friends and clients think it’s beautiful and perfect.
“Hi, Mom,” I murmur. From my business with Bergdorf, I know it’s frivolous talking indirectly to the dead, but I think it would be disrespectful if I said nothing. The peonies which Penny and the twins planted last year are looking good. I think recommending peonies over the geraniums which die every year was the last time Penny took my advice on anything. Still, they clash with the granite palm trees.
On occasion, Bergdorf will mention the benefits package he and his associates offer. Enrollment in the package is purely voluntary. The specific benefits are vague, so vague they would lack fine print, if they weren’t verbal anyway. I know the types of benefits Bergdorf is plying me with. I didn’t need to consult with anyone—Cruz, I mean—to know I’m better off deferring my enrollment. I can see though that Rayne has significant benefits over me. She’s like me, but more. And Dupree is like Bergdorf, but not. I’d like to talk to Cruz, confide my situation to him. That is if he lets me in the botánica, if he doesn’t curse me, or just plain cause me bodily harm. Or worse off, his grandmother is there.
I kneel to dead-head the peonies. The smaller brown balls are easy to snap off with one hand, crumble with the force, but a bigger one, I have to pinch the stem with two fingers and the thumb of my left hand. Although the bloom is dead, the stem is green and thick, and when I break it off, the chip slips from my palm.
I’m quick to pick it up, but pneuma akatharton are light fast. One bolts from a marble bench diagonally to my right, coils around my shoulders and tries to bleed into my chest. A sliver gets in before the talisman cuts it off. I hear a sound similar to a spoon splitting pudding skin and the oily thing dashes away as fast as it attacked. I can feel the piece of the spirit manifest in what I suspect are alveoli in my right lung. I know this because Holly and Ivy have been studying the respiratory system.
The sensation in my chest is indescribable and almost nonexistent, but it’s there. It’s not cold, doesn’t sting or feel like pressure; it’s merely a feeling. It doesn’t belong though, I know that, and regardless of the benign way it feels right now, it’s still a splinter, a tick’s head.
I call Cruz, but he doesn’t answer. I don’t think I should put undue stress on my heart and lungs until I get this thing fixed, so all I can really do is call Penny.
She answers like she doesn’t know it’s me. I ask, “Are you home?”
“No. Why, where are you?” She’s instantly aggravated.
“I’m at the cemetery. Just walking around.”
“Are you okay, Abe?” Now there is a dash of concern in her voice.
“No, I’m fine. Yeah. I walked here and I got a blister already. I thought if you guys were still out, you could get me.”
“Shoot, Abe, we just sat down at the VI. But we’ll get you.” She’s still irritated, so that makes me feel less guilty. She hangs up without saying goodbye. I almost leave without saying goodbye to our mom.
I clinch my fist tight around the chip and jam it in my pocket. As I walk back to the cemetery’s main gate, my arm is so stiff it looks like a prosthetic. The pneuma akatharton are more daring, the piece of their kin sending some signal, radiating some indication of the pollution left inside me.
I get in the car and Penny says nothing. From behind, either Holly or Ivy declare now we can all go to IHOP. Then Penny says, “I imagine your uncle can’t go to IHOP.” I can’t, but I will. I owe it to them.
“Oh, I’m going,” I say. I imagine the sound of both girls smiling. I also imagine that somewhere inside Penny, she’s smiling too.
At home after brunch, I call Cruz again and he still doesn’t answer. I suppose I need to give him time to decide if I’m too much of a risk to associate with. As I head to the stairs, Penny says to the twins, “Don’t forget to ask you uncle for help with your math homework.” They give her a funny look when she turns her back.
I tell them to get me when they’re ready and I go lock myself in my room.
I read about exorcism in one of my books, then skim similar sections in two others. Unfortunately, these books get mostly everything wrong. Next, I play around on the internet. I search “spirit infection”, “spirit infestation”, “spirit parasite”. Of course I search “pneuma akatharton”, but all I find is what I already know. I am smarter than this, I’ve been doing this for a few years; it’s time I start acting professional. I flip the equation and search “summon spirit” and “bind spirit”, and over the course of the afternoon, I piece together something that might work. All the materials I need, however, are not on hand.
Procuring a car, as taxing and painful as it is, is a necessity. It doesn’t have to be so bad, if I’m willing to do what I need to do. I could buy a car, I have the cash for a solid down payment, but it’s Sunday and the car lots are closed. I say to myself, as Bergdorf would say, “I need an automobile.” I hope it’s me saying this and not the thing in my lung.
Next: Episode 6