Chapter FourNight Roams the Fields
I confess, I believe in ghosts. Whatever a person’s creed, wheresoever one places one’s faith, in river spirits, the Great Mother, a desert bush, crucified shepherds, or a bald and paunchy wise man sitting serenely under a Bo tree, an afterlife is humanly impossible to disbelieve. Even avowed atheists, I suspect, know, intuitively, implicitly, that there is something more. Whether or not there is Bog with a capital B, the possibility that human existence, with its stomach-sucking abyss of laughter and tears, tea leaves and tree bark, fleeting smiles and fleecy clouds, ineffable bliss and inconsolable despair, ends, once and for all, merely as a consequence of the sudden cessation of a small series of mechanical events (beating heart, expanding lungs) is purely and simply unthinkable--in the literal sense of that term.
As a late friend of mine liked to say when confronted by a particularly short-sighted variety of seize-the-day hedonist: Life is not a dress rehearsal, true; but neither is it the final act.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a confession to make: since beginning this book, I have been haunted. By this I do not mean obsessed by my subject, nor beguiled by a dim whiff of literary fame, nor even the victim of an idée fixe. I mean haunted, from the Old Zemblan heimte: to bring home, pull, fetch, claim. Someone or something has been haunting me: dogging my mental steps, hiding my pencils and note cards, tapping a disembodied fingernail against my cabin’s windowpanes, whispering seductive doom between gusts of March wind and endeavoring in every conceivable way to coax me through the looking glass.
I think I know who it is.
A colleague to whom I had unbosomed myself the morning after a particularly bad night mentioned, later in the conversation and quite offhandedly, that he had a friend (let’s call her LN) in Omaha who had recently consulted a psychic with the aim of contacting her spouse, who had died unexpectedly a few years prior. The psychic in question, a bony Asian lady with the odd name of Madame Fat, claimed to be a “channeler”, i.e. a medium skilled in acting as a conduit for disembodied spirits, including, of course, the dead, whom she referred to, in an amazingly opaque display of euphemism, as the others. My colleague’s friend, a professor of French lit and until then a hardened skeptic in all matters paranormal, was severely shaken by the encounter and reported the creepy results of the consultation with Madame Fat to her friend: after sipping from a cup of tea that smelled of rose petals and sitting motionless, eyes closed, for several minutes in the striped twilight of her small parlor darkened by drawn bamboo blinds, Madame Fat hopped suddenly off her chair as if kicked by an invisible foot, sat immediately back down, and opened her eyes wide. Her small, painted mouth opened wide too, but no sound came out. Then, after another moment of strained immobility, in a voice which LN described as unmistakably that of her husband, though filtered through female vocal chords, the following statement was uttered:
“Your red silk scarf is behind the couch.”
L., overcome with emotion and simultaneously bewildered by the matter-of-fact message, could only stare and swallow hard. When she was able to speak, she asked:
Again the same voice, the same nonchalant, if slightly wistful, tone:
“Your red silk scarf is behind the couch.”
Here my colleague looked at his watch and, seeing that he was late for a meeting or class, or pretending to be late for a meeting or class, rushed the rest of the story. It seems that the night before his friend’s husband had been killed while riding his bike to work, she and he had returned home late from a some social function or other and, somewhat tipsy and aroused by their mutual fruitless flirting at the party, had made love “right there in the living room, on the couch I mean.” The following morning L. had been awakened by the sound of the telephone ringing: a call from the campus police, informing her of her husband’s accident. In the ensuing flurry of panic and pain, the mad dash to the hospital wearing a raincoat over disheveled pajamas, the stunned realization of death, the funeral and its concomitant and oddly intrusive social obligations, the great bleak expanse of heartbreak and loss, somehow during these black months, her red silk scarf, the one she had worn to the party and which her husband had, with mock impetuosity, torn from around her neck just before the two of them collapsed half-undressed onto the couch, had disappeared. She had not given the scarf any thought until several months later, when she realized it was lost and, almost simultaneously, that she had been wearing it on her husband’s last night alive. Since then she had come to associate the scarf with her husband, and the loss of it with the loss of the man she loved. She subconsciously assigned a mystical significance to its disappearance.
Anyway, upon returning home from Madame Fat’s, she had immediately looked behind the couch and discovered the scarf, dusty but otherwise unchanged. “Now what do you make of that? Pretty weird if you ask me.” And with that, unmindful of my questions, my colleague hurried away to his hypothetical engagement.
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