A very strange man, said he was a psychic. I met him in the bus station while I was waiting to go to Raleigh. Uninvited, he told me about his plan to go to Coral Gables to live with a painter, and about his love for Rachmaninov, who the sight of a piano calling for help through the window of a soulless restaurant somehow brought to mind. That restaurant was near a train station which reminded him of the bus station we were in. "I knew it before 9/11 hit," he said, "I was just sitting in a chair, and suddenly I saw a city and all the buildings were on fire and falling down. I also had a dream, before Hurricane Karina, that the Titanic was coming in to dock in New Orleans. Well, the ship that sank was the city itself." He told me about premonitions of his mother’s death, his friend’s infidelity and the unsafe sex going on behind his back, and the war in Iraq, and said how when he looked at people he could read them like a book. Images came to him. "The edges around people waver like air in the desert and visions start to come into my mind, like brilliant stones in a wall. I keep on looking at their faces while these tiny images burst into being all around them, coming and going, flashing into being and fading just as quickly. It’s like fireworks of the Akashic records. I bet you think I’m crazy," he added.
"Oh no," I said, "I can tell the difference between interesting and crazy."
"You do believe in this kind of stuff, I can sense it, which is the only reason I am telling you," he added.
I nodded, in fact, I did believe in a spiritual universe. I also knew that nodding was a wonderful tool for surviving long cross-country travels, filled with unbearably lonely people.
"Take you, for instance," he said with tentative confidence. "You are an artist – you write – the written word is your form of painting, the pen is your brush – or is your prose more like a sketch? Charcoal? You are not a master of colors; raw dark forms on white, faces like Goya’s, a tormented face by the firing squad, the woman taking over the cannon to continue firing it after the men have all been killed. Am I not right? Are you a writer?"
In that sweeping net was a part of me, it was simplest just to answer "yes."
His eyes began to glow now, his spirit seemed to be growing in pride, hoisted up a flagpole at dawn. His face trembled slightly, like an old man’s hand, his quivering jaw seemed to disobey him, he was falling to pieces, losing control of something, but hiding it with the power he was extracting from me, gouging out of my silence.
"You are a brilliant man, but an underachiever," he said. "You have failed in relationships. You are too immersed in your creative world to love anything you have not invented. You have failed in the world, because like e e cummings said, there is some shit you will not eat. You have hopped from one island to another, one alternative after the other, reincarnations of Woodstock, Haight Ashbury and the Paris Commune, always one step ahead of an office job. You have been embraced in these refuges, and loved, but you are like a storm that cannot assume a quiet form for long, your lightning leaves a footprint, a trace of your dark side hanging out of your pants like tzitzit. You are detected, ashamed, sabotaged by your angelic image; outraged by such huge expectations which are like a straitjacket, you plunge into explosive acts of theatrical rebellion, that recuperate your freedom by dashing all of those expectations to pieces. People who loved you now fear you, a tribe is formed around the necessity of you leaving, you unify lies of paradise by becoming the Devil. Brilliantly, you shine, like Lucifer, you are the torch of terror that turns everyone else into brothers!"
I listened, stunned, not by the truth of what he was saying, for I was only tangentially present in his revelations, but by the fecundity, the intensity, and depth of his vision. It was like an intricate nightmare of Hieronymus Bosch or Albrecht Durer.
"You have the power to destabilize solid rock," he continued, "to blow sure things, to lose when the odds are 99 to 1 in your favor. Self-sabotage is your means of self-preservation: you defend perfection by jumping to your death off mountains that are not high enough!"
He looked at me now with wild eyes not fully his own, the hands of his soul on a throat that was not mine!
More quietly, but only for a moment, he said: "You are the Buddha. But you burn the lotus, you plunge unattainable desires into your heart just to spite yourself! ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!’ Even if he is inside! One day – one day you went mad. Though you wouldn’t harm a fly, you took a baseball bat in your hands, a Louisville Slugger. There was a dark alley. Some seedy soul. You thought of Raskolnikov. Caligula heard horses running in his head! Maybe they were beautiful – thunderous white horses like the Leipzig stallions! But he couldn’t sleep. Insomnia eroded the shores of Eden. You learn to hate visions that turn you into a piranha fish eating your own flesh. The bat could end it, cut the umbilical cord between God and you. A worthless crackhead whore! I don’t want my wings, anymore! They cut into me, like knives!"
I was tense now, like a man followed by a shadow as he walks home, that might be a mugger: this psychic novel was coming out like rain, like a monsoon of despair and torment, complexity too fragile to stay on course, breaking down into ordinary violence, not my story, but whose?
"The Ubermensch, sublime and mighty tower of human striving, degenerated into the Nazi Storm Trooper, Nietzsche’s clear air of the mountains became the poison smoke of Auschwitz. No more tricks for that bitch! Your heart was pounding, you were a writer, a genius, how could you bend your golden pages towards such a heavy sin? Was it because you needed to get away from paper, to taste the real world, in any shape or form? For all your hiding, you could only emerge like a thunderclap, like a bullet from a gun! For all your reason, you had no choice but to drive drunk! But now – now that you have lived – you can write! Now that you have killed, you can love! If only they don’t find you, those who do not understand such things, to steal the treasure you can bring back from her blood!"
I swallowed hard and assured myself that the station was filled with people. The clocks were coming closer to my bus, and we were going separate ways.
"It’s all right," he said, at last, his eyes slowly beginning to return from some distant place, tears drooling out of the mouth of some beast that was retreating to its lair. "I won’t tell anyone. I forgive you. Great souls swing high and low, in mighty arcs between Heaven and Hell. Their light heals the blind and the lame, their darkness makes the shark die of fear. Jericho falls by such a hand! From such a trumpet!"
His eyes were now once more his own. "I forgive you," he whispered, trembling. "You are beautiful, like paradise after a hurricane. The broken trees, the shattered limbs lying all around – the sun’s hands picking up the wreckage with what has lived. A fever has broken in nature – the patient will recover. You will not do it again," he assured me, forcing his hand into mine. "I forgive you."
Near us, we heard the walkie-talkie of a policeman talking to itself, somewhere in the city there was a domestic dispute. The cop wanted to be somewhere else than in a bus station filled with people trying not to fall asleep by their suitcases, and bums who knew he wouldn’t disturb them, as long as they could crawl back into shells of not being too far gone when he passed.
The psychic smiled faintly to me as the cop approached, keeping his back to him all the time. "Nice to meet you," he said, shaking my hand with his own sweating hand, hot as burning coals. "Have a safe trip! God bless!"
"Thanks," I said. "You, too."
"I forgive you," he whispered one last time before he vanished into a bathroom, just as the cop was passing by.
Short Fiction Contents
Creative Safehouse Contents