The Oracle

The Oracle


It was a dim October afternoon. Outside, the majestic color of autumn rainfall had descended. A storm blew heavily along the Eastern seaboard. Gusts of wind crashed angrily at her storefront window every few seconds sending a wave of shock down her spine, clattering against the backdrop of her baby’s weeping, clutching him to her chest.

She was waiting for one of her visitors, one of her newly acquired. She had been expecting him all day, and he hadn’t showed. She even slipped the CLOSED sign on the front door and covered the windows with the blinds. She left him a note, one he would understand.

A few days before, the first night they met, the world had seemed different to them both. He hadn’t yet heard her voice and nodded along as she confirmed to him things he already knew about himself but was surprised a stranger could so well know. And she hadn’t yet met his eyes, identical to her own.

She first noticed him walking by the front of her store with two of his friends, walking so unbalanced it was obvious they were drunk, each of them bumping into the other at various intervals. The nights were beginning to rise earlier, and it seemed that week had seen an overhaul in the busy streets of New York, the meek too tired from a summer of urgency to remain outside. They must have been going to the water, she thought as she watched them pass, cradling her baby in her arms, and later, seated before her in his drunken stare, he confirmed it, slurring over all of his words, over annunciating and compensating for his slurring, spitting when he wasn’t focusing, his face bleach red, his eyes glazed over, absent. He confirmed everything she said that night, but he was drunk, speaking over too heavy a tongue, he reeked, and if it weren’t for his puppy dog eyes that seemed to cry for innocence, she would not have told him to come again. But she did. She felt responsible for him. Him, who she didn’t know. Who she wasn’t supposed to know. She felt responsible and broke the code, and told him to come back without telling him why, and refusing to accept his money.

He had told her he would be leaving in the morning, boarding a bus West, he said, making it clear he didn’t know how far West he would go, just West, explaining that, in the business of what he was trying to do, hoping to do, to make sense of his provisions in life, the further West he would go the further the story could travel, and so on. East, he explained, cuts the story short.

She wasn’t sure how to handle him at first. Most of her clients were more desperate, looked the part more than he did. They came in winds, ten on one day and none on another. Like the city had a plan for them to be roused from their apathy. Most of them with serious problems. Eating disorders that took control of their life, one of them weighed over four hundred pounds and admitted to eating ten meals a day. How could she find the poor woman’s soul under so much meat! Another younger girl weighed on the cusp of eighty pounds and was chewing through her pencils, her teeth eroding and chipped. When she asked her where she might have developed her disorder, the girl told her she was trying to disappear, that she had been raped as a child and nobody believed her, and that she didn’t want to claim her body, wanting to let her spirit go. She must be dead by now, the oracle often thinks, she never came back.

The protocol is simple and most of the time she doesn’t have trouble following the rules. The protocol insists on the veneer of her being superior in spiritual connectivity to her visitors. This isn’t always the case, and when its clear from the start that the visitor has a formal connection to the divine, she forces her way into their thoughts, so as first to embed a complex of doubt, and following, when they no longer feel the source of their creation as they did before, she helps them to construct one again. This gives her, so the protocol says, the ultimate power over her visitors. She gives them what they need, without ever giving them more.

Over the years she started to lose control over her visitors. Sometimes, she gave up control. Not out of spite, but out of reason. Some of these people, she’ll tell you, don’t want to be helped. And the visitors who refuse help, who thrive on suffering, are cursed to remain in the dark, forbidden from the light.

Of course, she took pity from time to time on her visitors as well. For instance, the terminally ill. Cancer, AIDs, Ebola. Those with disfigurations, paralyzed from a motorcycle accident or losing their legs on a mine. Those whose faces were burned, attacked by boiling water, with gas. She helped these people, it was their right. They didn’t all ask to be opened to the man upstairs, to be receiving the gifts of a pious life. They asked for comfort. They asked to be given the strength to wake up in the morning, to open their eyes knowing the difficulties, the conflicts, the suffering they were going to face. They asked for humor, for love. They all asked for love. Anyone who asked for love, she believed, deserved to have it.

Those were the visitors she enjoyed helping, the patients she broke her back over, the ones she would give anything for. But the worst, the one she didn’t like to entertain, the ones she didn’t even bother to help, or if she had to, the ones who she manipulated toward their destruction, were the older men who had been lying all their lives, who had acted on their predatory instincts, finally, and couldn’t have enough, who lured children from schools, from their neighbor’s homes, from airports and shopping malls, into their dens to become subjects in an act of humiliation and degradation. the men who had children of their own and their friends had children as well, all of them meeting together for cookouts and carpooling to school, and the urge growing in the older man’s gut, until the day finally comes when the man give in to their transgressions and prey on the body of a poor little soul. A soul who has no will in the matter. She helped these men pass through the darkness. She helped them seek forgiveness for themselves, from themselves, and to seek forgiveness from their prey. But secretly she despised their presence and sought to punish them in some way, pushing them to the brink of sanity, leaving them stranded with one hand pleading to the great open door in the sky and the other gorged in the mouth of a subsurface cretin. She abused her power and treated them to a horrible kind of recovery, a horrible kind of mercy that begins with acceptance and defeat and ends with a bullet to the head. She never told these poor souls that suicide is a sin, that they would suffer damnation, cursing their already damaged souls. She accepted that she was leading them to the edge and watching them fall, if not pushing them herself, watching them drown with excitement, watching the great volcanic mire devour them into her ash. Most of her clients of such nature would eventually commit the rite.

But she wasn’t sure of this one. He told her he was a writer. She knew nothing of writers or writing, but it made it easier to navigate. She always thought writers to be obsessed hobbyists who tricked the world into a profession, if they were lucky enough to succeed. Her younger sister, on the other hand, knew almost everything about writers. But she hadn’t spoken to her sister in years, even after their reunion. For some reason, as he sat in her chair that first night, he reminded her of her sister. Beneath the drunkenness, beneath the veneer of loss, he reminded her of the way her sister used to stumble on her words, moving frenetically from idea to idea, like a mystical incarnation, catching the words as they drew by, chasing the words that lead to the next. He reminded her, because he was sitting with one leg over the other, and one of his palms dug beneath the upper leg, of the way her sister used to sit, crouching forward, begging with her open eyes for some sort of benediction. And maybe it wasn’t in the words, or the way he sat or the way he held her longer than most when they said goodbye, and she could actually wait long enough to loosen in his arms, to adjust to their respective forms, and to feel his heartbeat and to breathe, together, suddenly, breathing together in one long fight. Maybe it was the sight of him passing by the window, the sight of his eyes catching hers and the sound her child made in her arms as the moment stood still for muc longer, the look in his eyes when he refused to relieve them, when he passed and tilted his head and she tilted hers and he retained that position for just a moment longer, leaning backward with his head while his legs carried him forward, caught between his two ignorant friends. Maybe it was that look, that look that said, I remember something now, or, I have met you, that reminded her of the time, the last time she ever saw her sister, sitting in her chair as she did that night, that night when he passed and she hadn’t expected he would, how she sat there exactly like that the day her sister passed before her eyes, completely unaware of her surroundings, an opposite in every sense, and they caught each other’s eyes and though she knew it first it didn’t seem like it at the time, it seemed like her sister had been seeking her, because she didn’t seem at all surprised, she didn’t seem at all to be thinking, What the fuck, to be thinking, What the fuck, she just fell back into her groove, standing a little to the side of the window, staring in, before finally raising her right palm, peacefully, quietly, pulling from her elbow upward, the fingers tightly stacked so as to gift an open palm. It was the same look, and the same gesture that they had shared the last time she stood with them in their house, the whole family together for the last time, before she left their home to leave the tribe, to study literature and painting in an urban school, standing at the doorway with her elbow perched upward, her beautiful curls flowing down her back and riding across her chest, her little palm resting against the window, the invisible window that stood between them and that moment etched in time, the palm rinsed in the air by all her invisible sensations, her wanting to encroach on that moment and stab it in the gut, relieve it from its place and burn it in the mire she reserved for those decrepit souls.

And then, just like that, both times, her sister disappeared, washed from the aesthetics of her eyes.

In her evolution into a modern transformer of energy, she always recognized in her own struggle to attain ultimate perfection over her craft a pressing desire to reunite. It was uncommon for families to let go of their own, to embrace the curiosity of a wayward calf. ever since that day, she felt like a limb had been loosened from her body, stolen in front of her eyes, and the attempts she made to dismember the memory like the limb itself were no use in the end. Her family performed a sacred duty, and it was written in their destinies, so she was told, to perform it as well. The women in the family were tuned in to a sacred source, an energy basin that had long entrenched in the tribe.

The relationship with the source began with their great ancestors in the mountains known as Jabal el Druze, in the south of modern Syria. The inhabitants, who remain today, settled there as a haven for all mystical nations, for all Gnostics fleeing persecution in Europe and Asia Minor. The people, staunch ascetics, were smart to enlist the favor of the ruling monarch. Rulers come and go, revolutions topple regimes and instill yet another tyranny, empires that collapse bridge the era of another, and the ascetics have witnessed this for centuries, wars dismembering entire nations. While the Abrahamic schools destroyed one another, and secular armies pillaged like mad driven carnivores, the Druze protected their modest stretch of land, from the mountains of Syria and Lebanon and into Palestine, always obedient to the victor of another war. This small providence is where the sisters are from.

And yet, though she has performed her duties devotedly, she had never managed to embed herself in the popular will of the people. She could not understand a world of theological texts and doctrines. But nonetheless, the world is exciting to a young student of theology.

As a young girl, she would watch her mother and her sisters conduct ceremonies in secret. When she was old enough to join, she no longer had to hide to witness the miracle of transformation the women endure. None of the original myths that are known to scholars are reproduced. Most of the work is quite simple, from an exterior perspective, but the transformation occurs within. The women are drawn into a whirlwind, where they hear the testimonies of several thousand voices, speaking in relative frequencies. The women follow the lead, silently, diligently, of a voice they can trust, a voice that answers a question of theirs in return for a favor of their own. But the exuberant fantasies of contemporary horror stories is entirely absent. None of the furniture in the room is dislodged form its place. None of the women’s hands are endowed with special powers. The only real change occurs within the women’s heart, where they feel a deep and all encompassing possession of another soul, a process that embodies the heart of the bearer, her heart, and for a few moments in time she becomes the voice.

And all day, thinking of the images impressed in her mind, that of her sister’s little palm, that of the writer’s open eyes, his penetrating eyes, all the while questioning, debating, prodding whether the two could in some way be aligned, whether there was in fact some meticulous investigation she had to carry out, on her part, whether this could be the one visitor whose story would become her own, whose providence was in fact her lesson, whose presence was in fact her celestial gift. What would she tell the writer? What would she tell him when, appearing finally after a long day’s wait, probably a day he spent thinking and debating and prodding himself, wondering whether he had the nerve to show, whether he had the nerve to sit in her chair and listen to her gifts, what would she honestly tell him, if he ever showed? That she couldn’t help him? That she needed to use him for her own gesticulation? Could she tell him of the hours she’s spent imagining her reunion with her sister? That, when they first met, and he touched her palm while entering the door, all she could feel in that moment, all she could think about in that insignificant moment was a moment that had consumed the totality of her imagination, a moment she imagined the two sisters reunited, and after a restless opening conversation where they feel lightyears apart, at some point, at some gifted point, one of the sisters, probably herself, would reach over the counter and hold the other’s hand, ever so slightly, the way its done when you’ve been in contact over many years, the other person in the middle of speech, and without thinking, a sweet and tender palm falls onto the hand, almost robotically albeit for the wave of breathing energy that passes through the hold, resting there long enough for both sisters to notice, and for none of them to take notice, to take notice publically, for fear, she often imagined, for fear of turning their back on the moment, for fear of letting it pass, for fear of letting go and never doing it again, of feeling that one of them had acted out of line, that one of them, as in all relationships, especially those in need of repair, that one of the two fickle souls standing before each other needs the other more than the other needs them, that one of them is indebted to the other, that one of them will always feel obliged to give more than they can take, because the other demands so much from them, the other demands so, so much.

And yet, what had she ever demanded? What had she ever asked for herself but to be the quiet daughter, the obedient daughter, the daughter that is never reckless and always responsible, the daughter whose help can be sought at any given time, who is woken at four in the morning without even the slightest aura of annoyance, only to deliver her mother a glass of water, only to administer a diabetic shot to her dying aunt? What had she demanded other than to be recognized for her diligence, her sacrifice, her full fledged devotion to the family cause, devotion that would expire her heart and her age younger than most, that would witness the great slacking tide of her skin losing its softness, its tenderness, her face growing callous, her hands chipped at the nails, worn at the edges and losing every touch of health? What had she gotten for what had been given?

Once, not long after her sister drifted further and further away, her mother found her reading poems in the attic of her grandmother’s home. She had stolen a few books, books she knew nothing about, from her sister before the little one got away, and pretending to be ill, citing a case of the flu, she ascended the tiny stairs and emerged into the dustbowl attic, where she pulled from her long black overcoat a book of passages by names she had never heard, poems that were only read, she thought, by those who don’t have responsibility, by those who remain outside of the family cause. How could she have time for poetry, when her mother was courting up to ten visitors a day, up to ten visitors all claiming a little portion, a tiny portion but significant enough, of her soul, each time they visit, tearing away at her heart like the teeth of a lioness chewing away at the remaining food, after its been devoured by the king, the patriarchal monster that ruled over their home. She didn’t want to think of the monster, and that afternoon she retired to the attic and read, and it was the first time in her life, reading without the presence of her mother, her aunt, her grandmother, the neighbors, the visitors, the patriarchal monster, all peering over her shoulder judging, investigating, lampooning her every move.

But she didn’t understand the poems. She didn’t even know, afterward, if they had been poems at all. A series of essays, loosely constructed, which she understood to be fact, but in truth they were entirely fictional, and she didn’t quite know where the story began, if poetry ever had a story, she had only ever read a few of their theological texts, that’s all. In prayer, she could usurp the paradigm of creativity and become its humble bearer. In her sessions, with her visitors, she became the poem, she became the part. But when reading, she often felt let down by the words, like they promised, in the first few lines, something significant to be told, something extraordinary, a secret that the two, the writer and the reader, might share together, never to be told but at her grave, peering over her dead body standing alongside the writer, lamenting the absence of all her friends at the only ceremony to be held in her name. But after reading into the work, the feeling of significance would pass, the secret would expire into a petty series of accusations and dissertation, the aura of a journey shared together rapidly disappearing. She didn’t understand the poetry she read that day, but she also felt, after consulting herself in prayer and in union with the unconscious whole, meditating on her experience for several weeks before forming a conclusion, that she didn’t want to understand the poems, that the poems were only written by and for those types of men and women who coerce their families and spend their fortunes, and for families without fortune, for a family like hers, they would only use up what resources they had to investigate the aesthetics of wonder, happily pushing their family to the grave.

The hours would continue to pass. Hours that felt like she were slipping deeper and deeper into her own whirling cord, her own Dervish like dance, turning inside her blood. Where was this writer? People who make promises, she thought, people who make commitments and can’t even excuse themselves. It’s a pity, she thought, it’s a pity and its sad because she liked his eyes, she remembers, she liked the innocence that sprang from his eyes.