Crystals

 

     In the exhilarating atmosphere of scholarly and cultural exchange following the fall of the Berlin Wall, John Dee had been among the first American academics invited to visit the newly opened parapsychology research labs of the former Soviet Bloc.  Discovering, in Prague, that a number of his counterparts were not only reviving but sharing their long held secret data, John had returned to New York eager to spread the news.  His first public lecture, a videotaped presentation, had opened the NYU psychology department’s fall semester colloquium series on an extremely hot day in early September in an overly air-conditioned seminar room packed with faculty, graduate students, and invited guests.  Having unsuccessfully advised her husband that it might be too early to disclose his findings, his wife Jane had reluctantly attended, expecting the worst as images of Czech peasants telekinetically moving objects around on kitchen tables appeared on the screen.  At one point, unable to continue watching the video any longer, she’d looked away just in time to see a smirking Bob Burghley pass a note to Francis Walsingham.  Jane had no doubt that the contents of that note were aimed at undermining John’s professional credibility.  Bob’s flunkey had confirmed her fears during the discussion period afterward, by firing the first hostile question and launching several others, inciting a barrage of snide comments and derisive laughter—the academic equivalent of a firing squad.  John had begun to embark on what promised to be a lengthy counterargument, when, to Jane’s relief, the Dean interrupted by announcing that they were out of time.  Apologizing for cutting him off, she’d approached the Dees as they were leaving with an invitation to join her for supper at the Soho Bar.

     Dean of Arts and Sciences for as long as anyone could remember, Elizabeth Tudor was a well-preserved spinster in her sixties with carrot-red hair, parchment-white skin, broad shoulders, a waspish waist, and oddly dainty feet for a woman of her stature.  It was said from the time she was a child that she had been born to rule her Fortune 500 Tudor family’s financial empire; but in her teens, after spending a summer as an urban volunteer in a Harlem school, Elizabeth had surprised the yearly gathering of her clan by announcing at a Thanksgiving dinner that she had no interest in either business or finance and would devote herself to education instead.  A liberal admired even by her conservative colleagues for her tolerance and open-mindedness in academic matters, the Dean had her limits nonetheless—and John Dee’s presentation that afternoon had clearly surpassed them.  It had only been for Jane’s sake (they were second cousins on Jane’s father’s side) that Elizabeth had tolerated what she called John’s “muddy mysticism” for as long as she did—but that video had proved to be the last straw.  It was therefore as much to show her disapproval of John’s latest foray into parapsychology as to save his job that Elizabeth had decided to put him out to pasture for a while—or in more professional terms—offer him a year’s sabbatical leave with pay.  If it were anyone else but John, she’d have declared his research off limits and retired him long ago.  The only thing preventing her was that he was married to Jane, whose dying mother had pleaded with her to look after her daughter.  That—and her own growing maternal attachment, as she’d mentored the intellectually precocious girl through high school and college, and, eventually, Harvard and a Ph.D. in psychology. 

     What thus began as a reluctantly dutiful relationship for both had, over the years, ripened into an equally shared mother-daughter intimacy.  No surprise, then, that, having boastfully introduced her “brilliant young protégé” to John Dee at the annual Staff Christmas Party (admittedly, she’d been tipsy at the time) Elizabeth continued to blame herself, long after the fact, for Jane’s reckless marriage to a man old enough to be her father.  That Jane’s own father had died barely five months before that fateful Christmas party introduction, leaving her entirely under Elizabeth’s protection, only compounded the responsibility (Elizabeth would never use the word “guilt”) that compelled her to risk her reputation by intervening on John’s behalf at all. 

       The air conditioning at the Soho Bar had been broken on that hot September afternoon, and the restaurant was sweltering, although the owner had opened the door to the courtyard and switched on all the ceiling fans.  Suffering from one of her chronic toothaches, the short-fused Elizabeth had skipped the small talk and introduced her concerns over the first round of drinks.  John was about to protest, but she silenced him with a fanlike sweep of her multi-ringed fingers and, having quickly downed her first Bloody Mary, ordered another, “with more vodka, and spicier this time.”  Then leaning over and fixing on him her trademark “royal glare,” she said, “Let me put it to you straight, John; you’re treading a dangerous and lonely path with this unorthodox ‘psychical research’ of yours.  I have all I can do to keep the feuding factions in the psych department from killing each other without watching out for your head.  It’s no secret that the majority of your behaviorist colleagues are on a witch hunt, and that Burghley, leader of the pack, is out to get you, tenure or no.  I’m sure you’re aware that Burghley’s not only a powerful force at the university but in Washington, too; that he’s got his hands on all the major NIMH grants . . . constantly has some big politician on the line . . . keeps me on hold every time I call his office . . . and I’m the Dean, for Christ’s sake!”  John was again on the verge of protesting but pulled back when Elizabeth waved him off, this time more brusquely.  “I’d advise you to be more discreet about your announcements . . . gear your theoretical findings toward . . . um . . . the mainstream, or at least show that they can be proven empirically . . .” changing tack, she gently placed her hand on his.       

     Pulling his hand free, John, who had by then grown what his colleagues derisively called his long snowy “prophet’s beard,” scratched at it nervously.  “That’s teleology, Elizabeth; it’s the first thing you learn not to do as a scientist—or in any serious inquiry for that matter.”  Hoping for support, he’d looked to Jane, but, pretending not to notice, she’d summoned the waiter and begun ordering. 

      “Maybe what I need is to retire and work on my own outside the university,” John grumbled peevishly, though he was hurt less by Elizabeth’s assault than by Jane’s perceived abandonment.

     “Are you threatening me about retiring again?”  Elizabeth frowned.  “You’ve got at least ten years to go before you can begin to collect on your pension.”

     “I’m not threatening, just sick and tired of jockeying against my enemies for a nonexistent position.  There’s no safety in position, anyway.  There’s nothing in this world we can count on—empirical reality, least of all.”

     Grimacing, Elizabeth placed her hand against her cheek.  “These damned toothaches.  Even the vodka doesn’t help.”

     “You eat too much sugar,” John scolded patronizingly.

     “And you’ve grown puritanical since you turned guru.”

     “And you fancy yourself a progressive.”

     “I wouldn’t pass judgment if I were you, John.  Especially these days when people are calling you an occultist.  You know what used to happen to them,” she teased.

     “Are you going to have me burnt at the stake, Elizabeth?”

     Jane felt their banter had gone far enough; it was time for her to intercede.  “Since you guys were too busy arguing, I ordered three spinach and mushroom salads and some garlic bread, and here they come.  We’d better eat fast because there’s a line forming at the door and people are already eyeing our table.”

       Again grimacing, Elizabeth said, “Forgive me, I get crabby when my teeth ache.”

     “I know a good dentist.  He uses Biofeedback,” John offered good-naturedly.

     “No thanks, I’ll take Novocain.  My dentist is one of those Central Park South scoffers who don’t believe in alternative approaches . . . he comes from the sledgehammer school.  And I’m only too happy to let him numb me or knock me out—anything to avoid the pain.” 

      Leaving the touchy subject of John’s research aside for the moment, Elizabeth had launched a diversionary discussion of the latest cost-of-living adjustments and diminishing university pension benefits.  She’d waited until they’d left the Soho Bar and were feigning interest in an indecipherable piece of minimalist sculpture in the window of the art gallery next door to drop her bombshell.

     “It’s going to be harder for me now to protect you, John.  It’s still not public yet, but I think you ought to know that Burghley has made it to the top seat in Washington.  He’ll control all psychological research funds from now on, and that will leave you way down the pike.”

      By then too deeply enmeshed in his messianic convictions to be concerned about the news of Burghley’s appointment, John had initially remained unfazed.  If Elizabeth had told him he was being followed by a horned man with a pitchfork, it probably wouldn’t have registered, either.  After a moment’s reflection, he’d mumbled one or two peremptory remarks against “slanderous” charges that he’d fudged his research, surrendered his scientific objectivity, and could no longer be trusted to distinguish between intuition and delusional thinking.  Then citing Freud as his example and vowing to continue defying the hostile psychological establishment, he’d unexpectedly worked himself into a passion.  If the little Viennese doctor with the cigar had had the guts to make his way alone into the wilderness of the mind and stand up to his accusers by stripping the pants off dreams and waving the Oedipal banner in the face of Mrs. Grundy, why not John Dee?  Call him crazy, paranoid, his brain cells burnt out on too much acid, it didn’t matter.  His research had not only flexed his mental muscles but resulted in a few meaningful psychic experiences of his own.  And he wasn’t going to stop when he’d just begun to carve (at first unaware, and later with the controlled but tremulous excitement of an explorer on the threshold of a great new discovery) a path through the virgin psychological terrain of coincidences, synchronicities, telepathy, and so-called random chance events. 

     Though visibly shaken, Elizabeth had offered no response to John’s outburst at the time.  But she could have kicked herself for failing to rein him in when only two weeks after Bob Burghley’s sendoff party, John compounded his defiance by announcing at a parapsychology research conference his intention to revive the ancient art of crystal gazing as an inducement to clairvoyance.  Alluding to a recent, undocumented discovery linking the magnetic frequencies of energy healers’ hands and crystals, he’d brushed off any but the most sympathetic questions from his colleagues and left the conference immediately after delivering his paper. 

     Like all his other “breakthroughs,” John’s crystal-gazing venture had begun innocently enough.  Emerging from Bergdorf’s after unsuccessfully searching for Jane’s birthday gift, he’d almost run into an illegal street peddler’s table.  He’d been about to apologize and take a detour around the table when he noticed that the objects on sale were crystals.  Suddenly a whole array of glinting heart-shaped pendants, globes, and multi-faceted Coptic crosses beckoned him.  The straggly-haired peddler had been fretfully watching out for the police and was too distracted to argue when John bargained him down to twenty dollars for a magnificent globe of smoky polished quartz crystal.  The peddler had even included a gilt stand, in itself worth at least twenty dollars.  Their transaction completed, the man had stuffed his merchandise into an oversized sack, folded his table, and fled.  John was certain he’d been given a sign. 

     If he hadn’t produced the tissue-wrapped globe from his briefcase on arriving home, Jane would merely have laughed at his ingeniously concocted story.  But when he’d presented the crystal to her as a “sort of birthday gift,” she’d gotten angry.  Okay, John admitted, it wasn’t really her birthday gift.  He’d only been joking.  That made Jane even angrier.  A crystal ball, for god’s sake!  What was he going to do with a crystal ball?  To which, leaving her speechless, he’d cryptically responded, “It takes a pure heart to begin.”   

      Inured to John’s passing enthusiasms, Jane dropped the subject—until it flared up again when, less than a week after the conference, John was so deluged with requests for further information about crystal-gazing that he agreed to offer a trial seminar to a limited number of participants in their Long Island home—conveniently forgetting that it was the disapproving Elizabeth Tudor who had arranged for the Dees to stay at the Amagansett beach house in the first place.  A retired archeologist nephew of hers had bought it as an investment and as a favor had rented it to them at only twenty-five hundred dollars a month, a quarter of what he usually got for it.  Drawn immediately to its weathered ash-colored shingles, huge alabaster fireplaces, intricate winding staircases, hidden miniature doors, Alice in Wonderland mirrors, and faded antiques, Jane had fondly dubbed it “The Gray Elephant.”  A mansion that might have been haunted and whose ghosts had no choice but to share their haunts with an eccentric assortment of John’s “subjects,” the Amagansett house (Jane’s initial objections notwithstanding) became a refuge for spiritual seekers comprising a global network spanning from Nepal to Prague which, in addition to academic researchers studying psychic phenomena, included a Kabbalist numerologist, a Romanian husband and wife team of Egyptologists, a Coptic Hermeticist, two Greek mathematicians engaged in decoding the “universal hologram” by way of Pythagorean astrology, and four Indian physicists seeking god in parallel universes.  

     John Dee’s “Amagansett House Seminars,” as they came to be known, grew so popular that the crowd of eager would-be participants had to be placed on a six-month waiting list.  Earnest graduate students, invariably thin and blue-eyed, provided a stream of baby sitters with serious faces and exotic names like Serge and Angel, who were not only expert at feeding and diapering baby Arthur, but washed the floors, made the beds, and chopped huge piles of vegetables in the kitchen.  Sariya, a macrobiotic chef, prepared organic vegetarian meals.  At her orders, coffee disappeared from the cupboard and was replaced by lemongrass and chamomile tea, miso, and ginseng.  Fires were lit in fireplaces throughout the house against the chill night air wafting in through the open windows.  Fervent after-dinner discussions of “the coming ecological apocalypse” displaced TV baseball games.  Clearly, John’s youthful disciples were anticipating the emergence of a twenty-first century magus who would save the planet from extinction.  Suspecting that John might be preparing himself for the role, Jane at first avoided confronting him with her suspicions by jogging mindlessly for hours alone on the beach.  It worked for a while.  Until, overcome by fears of disaster striking in her absence, she found herself racing back home, her panic only allayed on sighting John, passionately lecturing his enthralled listeners, through the window.   

     Jane’s concerns were partly confirmed one night as she and John lay in bed together, discussing the day’s events, when he haltingly confessed to doubts about his latest enterprise and complained of spending too much time sifting through seminar participants for talented psychic subjects without any results.  Encouraged by Jane’s peck on the cheek, and shyly conceding that he himself wasn’t “clairvoyantly gifted,” John went on to admit that, while his earlier mind-altering experiments with LSD had momentarily, in fits and starts, offered glimpses, those were only glimpses, and temporary ones at that.  What he sought, he told her, was a palpable ongoing experience of an intuited parallel reality—simultaneously subtle and gross, analytically viable, yet at the same time numinous . . . Then, fearing he’d said too much, he let his voice trail off into a yawn.  Jane did not push him to continue.

     What John did not tell her was that his efforts had proven not only futile but expensive.  And that he’d begun to worry about money.  Though his sabbatical salary was enough to cover the rent, the minimal fee he charged for the seminars went to paying his research assistants and left nothing over for the mounting grocer’s bills or fuel for the car and the old Chevy pickup.  Nor did he wish to tap into Jane’s trust.  (The Fromonds were rich, but unlike Elizabeth Tudor’s side of the family, not super rich.)  Anyway, it would be unfair to ask her to pay the bills and play hostess to a collection of people he knew she didn’t like.  Though Jane hadn’t complained, her reluctantly compliant façade was starting to show cracks.  Admittedly, he’d spent too much money, probably gone a little overboard.  He might put a limit on the number of scholarships he was offering, but he still had to feed a house full of people; and the debts were continuing to mount. 

 


 

  John Dee and Elizabeth Tudor are meeting in front of the Guggenheim museum. 

     What John doesn’t know is that Elizabeth’s real motive for inviting him to join her at the museum has nothing to do with a new grant proposal but is only an excuse to get him into the city alone in order to assess his mood and find out for herself why Jane sounded so distraught the last time they talked on the phone.  

     Despite Jane’s forewarning, Elizabeth is not prepared for what she sees.  The man waiting for her near the ice cream truck at the curb bears hardly any resemblance to the one she saw only three months ago.  His baggy jeans and faded work shirt are at least two sizes too big; he’s lost so much weight.  Even his sandals look too big for his feet.  His hair is longer than ever, well past his shoulders and uncharacteristically disheveled; his snowy beard has turned yellow, his skin pasty, and his lively blue eyes have gone dull.       

     They kiss lightly on both cheeks.

     “How are things?”

     “Oh, the same as usual.”

    Eleven-thirty in the morning and it’s already so hot and humid that the sidewalks are steaming—shaping up for a typically smoggy mid-summer day in New York.   

     John steers Elizabeth through the Guggenheim’s revolving doors. 

     “Shall we have some lunch and look at the exhibits afterward?” Elizabeth nods toward the guard leaning idly against the wall at the entrance to the café.    

     “The exhibits . . . John repeats distractedly.  If you like; but I definitely need some coffee first.”  Shoulders stooped, he shuffles alongside her like an old man.

     Elizabeth hoped for a more enthusiastic response, but settles for his lukewarm assent.  

     In the café, a smiling young Japanese woman in a brown kimono and exotic earrings greets them and leads them to a table, then hands them menus before departing.  When the waiter arrives, Elizabeth orders a vegetable salad and iced tea.  John wants nothing but coffee, black.  He sniffles.  Mindful of his vulnerability, Elizabeth abandons her usual frontal assault for a gentler, more motherly approach. 

     “Is that a cold or an allergy?” she reaches into her purse and holds out a tissue.

     John takes the tissue from her and absent-mindedly stuffs it into his pocket.  “Neither.  I seemed to have picked up the habit of sniffling, or maybe it’s an allergy, from breathing too much country air,” he says, looking around.  “I’m actually glad to be here in New York today.  After a while you begin to miss the stink and the noise; you wonder at night why you can’t stand the silence and what happened to all the people.”

     “Spoken like a true cosmopolitan.”

     The waiter arrives with the food, and an extra fork and a small plate, which he places in front of John.  “Just in case you want to share,” he offers solicitously.

     Elizabeth plucks a sprig of broccoli from her salad bowl and presses it toward John’s plate.  “Come on, you’ve got to have something.  Why not order one of these?  Coffee isn’t enough to go on.  Did you eat breakfast?”

     “No.  I don’t like eating when I’m traveling.  Sitting in the jitney in the forty minute traffic jam on the Long Island Expressway was enough to turn my stomach.  Anyway, I don’t have much of an appetite lately.”

     “I can see.  You’re as thin as . . . you look like Ichabod Crane, you know.”

     Avoiding her gaze, John sips his coffee.

     “Have you been in touch with Jane?  She’s funneling all phone calls while I’m at work.  I’m sorry for being so anti-social.  I know we’d promised to have you out for a weekend, but there’s been some tension with my latest subject, a brilliant psychic named Edward Kelley . . .”

     “No need to apologize,” Elizabeth butters a slice of black bread and hands it on to him.  John accepts the bread and takes a bite before setting it down on his plate. 

     He motions to the waiter for a coffee refill.

     “Yes, Jane and I have been in touch.  She’s worried about you.  How badly is the work going?”

     The café is starting to fill.  A family of red-faced German tourists is seated at the table next to them; ordering beer all around, they immediately begin writing post cards.  John shifts uneasily in his chair. 

     Seeing his discomfort, Elizabeth quickly finishes her salad and asks for the check.  After paying the cashier, she briskly maneuvers him into the lobby, and up the ramp toward the galleries.  John keeps falling back, coming up alongside her only when she stops in front of De Kooning’s “Woman III”.

     “This is the most exhausting museum,” Elizabeth says, taking his arm. 

     They stand behind an elderly couple staring nearsightedly at the painting before moving on.  When the couple is out of earshot, John says softly, “I know you to be my friend . . . and in Jane’s case, not just a friend but family.  And you know how grateful I am for your support.  I’m aware that it’s been tough for you standing up for me . . . my research.  Politically, it must have been an ordeal.  But I’ve got to be frank with you, Elizabeth.  I’ve had it.  I’m really ready to quit the department, not just threatening this time.” 

     Dropping his arm, Elizabeth turns her attention to the De Kooning portrait—a fractured woman in greens and yellows—and cocks her head. 

     Raising his voice slightly, John continues, “It’s as if all those years of reading and writing and attending conferences have turned to mist.  I simply don’t care about the field anymore.  I’ve lost all my ambition.  Professionally, I feel like I’m going through what religious people call the dark night of the soul.”

     Elizabeth chuckles. 

     “No, don’t laugh,” he admonishes.  “This is serious, more serious than you can imagine . . .”

     “So you’re saying you’re ready to give up your career, everything you’ve worked for all these years, sacrifice everything.  This Edward Kelley of yours must be quite something,” Elizabeth says, arching her eyebrows.

     “He’s not intellectually dazzling, if that’s what you mean.  Rather banal, in fact, and certainly not very trustworthy.  Jane will have nothing to do with him.  She hates his sly, insinuating ways.  I’m aware of them, mind you.  Don’t think I’ve bought into him entirely.  He’s lied, and I’ve caught him at it.” 

     Elizabeth walks into the next gallery and sits down on a leather-covered bench in front of a Seurat.  Reflected in the glass of the painting she sees herself in her white dress and black floppy sun hat and John standing off to her left.  Sliding to the right, she taps the bench, indicating he join her, but John remains standing.  Elizabeth notices that a run in the stocking of her right leg has spread from just below her knee all the way to where her big toe sticks out of her sandal.      

     “The problem is that Kelley’s begun harping on the subject of money, complaining bitterly of his ‘measly’ salary.  He believes his enormous gifts are going to waste, says he could easily sell his services elsewhere for triple what I’m paying.  He’s even had a few raging fits about it, claims I’m exploiting him because he’s here on a visitor’s visa, which is his way of trying to get me to sponsor him for a green card—which I have no intention of doing . . . certainly not since I caught him snorting coke in the basement one night.  Oh, I know it sounds hypocritical coming from me—the ‘once and future King of LSD’ and all that rubbish . . . And maybe I’m sometimes too ‘puritanical,’ as you call it.  You’ve often accused me of having a ‘too holy purpose,’ of going beyond psychology into territory reserved for religion.  But this isn’t about religion, it’s about . . .”

     “ . . . Survival,” Elizabeth finishes for him.  She is not sure how much more she wants to hear.  She’s afraid for John, and even more, for his wife and son.   

      “Yes,” John nods, “and the catastrophic shape of things to come.”

     Unable to hide her concern, Elizabeth asks, “Don’t you see what this obsession of yours has done to you . . . to your family?”

     “Look, I didn’t come here to argue with you, Elizabeth.  I’m desperate,” John pleads.  “I’m in serious debt and the bank turned me down for a loan.  Will you lend me five thousand dollars so I can pay the bills and go on until the end of the summer?  Give me until September, after Labor Day.  If, by then, the experiment proves a failure, I’ll abandon it and return to a more ‘acceptable’ line of research.”

     “Is your psychic . . . Kelley . . . threatening to leave you?”

     “Yes, unless I can come up with more money.”

     At the risk of baiting him, Elizabeth says, “I should think that, from your lofty perch, money is just another worldly illusion.”

     “I know you think I’ve rejected the world, but I haven’t.  I love the world . . . and . . .” John makes a sweeping gesture with his hands.

     Now that she’s gotten him to talk, Elizabeth isn’t sure how much more of John’s disjointed rambling she can bear to listen to.  It’s therefore as much to stretch her legs (both having fallen asleep) as to cut him off that she stands up, indicating she’s ready to leave. 

     Once outside, they stand in front of the museum watching a pair of uniformed nannies push their prams into Central Park.  John has resumed his rambling, though his words are drowned out by the blaring horn of a taxi attempting to pass a bus.  Taking advantage of the interruption, Elizabeth suggests a walk in the park, and John follows her across the street.  They reach the sailing pond and sit down on an empty bench in the shade.  Saying she’s in the mood for a lemon ice, Elizabeth gets up and immediately heads for the concession stand and returns with two cups of sherbet, one of which she hands to John before joining him on the bench.  The run in her stocking has grown and her big toe is now fully exposed but she no longer cares and kicks off her sandals.  Tears run down her cheeks as the first bite of cold lemon ice hits her palate.  But John isn’t paying attention to her and doesn’t notice.  He’s staring ahead, frantically dashing off his sherbet and compulsively talking between gulps.

     “It’s astounding.  I hadn’t meant to tell anyone, but I feel compelled somehow to reveal it all to you, Elizabeth . . . as if, in some incomprehensible way, you’re involved along with the rest of us, living out the consequences of something we set into motion long ago.”

     “Like shared karma?” Elizabeth says, wiping the tears from her cheeks with the back of one hand.

     “Yes.  Please understand; Kelley admits he’s only a catalyst for events that must inevitably come to pass.  He says he’s continuing another life in this one I’m amazed at his ability to describe even the smallest details of what he refers to as his ‘past life.’  Though I myself have always been neutral on the subject of reincarnation, Kelley makes it plausible.”

     “Well, nobody’s ever come back with a floor plan,” Elizabeth licks her spoon and tosses it, along with her napkin and cup, into the litter basket alongside the bench.  A pair of squirrels, one with a mutant blonde tail, races up the side of the basket in search of the prize.  Blonde tail, larger and quicker, plunges head first into the basket and after emerging with the cup, rushes past its competitor, scrambles up a tree and disappears into the foliage.

      “Oh, John, what am I going to do with you?” Elizabeth groans.

     Just then an unleashed Pekinese runs up to her and starts nuzzling against her toes.  Leaning over, she examines the dog’s tags and scans the footpath for its owner.  Recalling her beloved collie Walter (killed by a car while off the leash), and the old guilty ache that still torments her at the sight of an unleashed dog, she is overwhelmed by a sudden rush of free-floating resentment, which, before she realizes it, has spread beyond miscreant dog owners to encompass John for abandoning his wife and child; then to her own father, for doing the same—with one major difference: unlike poor, befuddled John Dee, Henry Tudor had calculated his abandonment every step of the way, first by imprisoning his wife in their Marblehead mansion until, driven mad, she’d drowned herself quietly in the pool on a cricket-heavy night in September—leaving fifteen-year-old Elizabeth to find the body and grimly inform the local police.  It was while removing the rings from her mother’s bloated fingers that she’d vowed never to entrust herself to any man for as long as she lived.

      Elizabeth is jarred out of her reverie when the dog’s owner—a striking young woman in white shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and high-heeled mules—approaches the bench, sweeps the Pekinese up in her arms, and angrily struts off.

     John is still too immersed in recounting his financial woes to notice the little drama that has just taken place with the dog.

    “Honestly, John!”  Elizabeth launches a coughing fit.  Then gathering herself together, she suggests they leave. 

     John gets up and walks alongside her around the pond, where a child in a sun suit has just launched an expensive motorized boat, its loud, irritating drone punctuating their conversation. 

     “Are you sure you want such an unstable person as Mr. Kelley in your house?”  Elizabeth shouts over the noise.

     “We’re dealing with an entirely new parapsychological phenomenon here . . .”

     “Not we, John, you . . . you’re the one bounding along in the realm of the psychological unknown, all by yourself.”  The irritating motorboat drone ends suddenly.

     “Will you or won’t you lend me five thousand dollars?” John pleads.

     Knowing all along it would come to this, Elizabeth responds quickly.  “Of course, did you ever doubt it for a minute?  I’ll transfer the funds to your bank in Amagansett when I get home.”

     “I knew I could count on you, my mainstay.” John gives her a playful punch on the arm. 

     Elizabeth asks, “And Jane?  What does she think of all this?”

     “A jaundiced eye and some very strong opinions at first.  But lately she’s been uncharacteristically quiet.”

     “Quiet?  That’s not good—not Jane.”

     “Arthur is keeping her busy overtime.  He’s been walking like a little motorized man, and falling a lot, too, having a whole series of accidents that she somehow connects with Kelley . . . you know how mothers are when it comes to their kids; even the most rational women— ” recalling Elizabeth’s self-imposed childlessness, John pauses.

     “Nothing serious, I hope.”  To spare him further embarrassment, Elizabeth feigns renewed interest in the run in her stocking.  She is out of patience and no longer wishes to continue humoring him.  “Listen to me, John.  After today, I can’t help you.  There’ll be no more loans.  As far as grants, go . . . well, I’ll be available—but up only up to a point.  Even I have my limits.” 

         John turns to her, and with the desperately earnest look on his face Elizabeth has come to dread, says, “Kelley predicted that you wouldn’t turn me down.” 

     “So everything’s predetermined.  Life is an oversized Ouija board and we’re just little moving pieces, our fates determined by a throw of the dice.”

     “No, partly open to choice and determined by our own actions.”

     Elizabeth is drooping.  Being in John’s presence for four hours has taken its toll on her.  She needs a nap, is already projecting herself into her sunny bedroom, relaxing in the knowledge that she has no allegiances, not even to a dog, nothing but her stubborn, lingering sense of loyalty to her beloved Jane bogging her down in the swamp of kinship. 

     It’s three-thirty when they leave Central Park and return to Fifth Avenue through the Seventy-Second Street gate, avoiding a mound of horse droppings and a peddler pushing a Souvlaki cart at the exit.  Two old men in Panama hats sit dozing in their wheelchairs on the other side of the entrance, their caregivers gossiping softly in Spanish on the bench behind them.

      “I can catch the four o’clock jitney.  Where are you going?”  Fearing Elizabeth might change her mind about lending him the five thousand dollars he needs to keep the Kelley experiments going, John prolongs their parting.

     “I’ll take the bus downtown; I’m going home to have a rest.  I have some stuff to do at the office later.”

     Together they walk toward the bus stop and reach it just as a bus lumbers up.  It’s the wrong number.  Beckoning John closer, Elizabeth shouts above the roaring engine.  “I must chide you for overspending.  You can’t let yourself get into debt, especially now that Jane isn’t working and you have a child to support.” 

     Seeing that neither of them is getting on, the bus driver rudely slams the doors, grinds the gears, and pulls away from the curb. 

     John’s left eyelid is twitching again, the way it did this morning during his argument with Jane about borrowing money from Elizabeth.  He places his palm over his twitching eyelid, hoping to still it.

      “You understand, don’t you?  It’s not good if it gets around—not only for you, but for me as well.  I can’t play favorites without repercussions . . .” Elizabeth points a forefinger bearing a heart-shaped violet amethyst ring into the space between them and adds softly, “I’m doing this for Jane’s sake as much as for yours.”

     John impulsively kisses her finger, and she springs back, laughing.  “Hey, we’re out in public!  I won’t have that sort of thing!”

     Positively buoyant now, John grins from ear to ear.

     “I’d advise you to enjoy your summer more, get out into nature.  Stop working so hard.  Pay more attention to Arthur and Jane.”  Elizabeth looks down at the big toe now protruding nakedly from the tear in her stocking.  “You must know that I never approved of your marriage . . . I felt you were too old for her.   Jane is so innocent . . . so naive despite her brilliance . . .” The arrival of the bus—right number this time—cuts her off.  “Take care, or you’ll lose her!” she calls out to him as she boards.  But John has disappeared into a whirlwind of exhaust fumes and litter and doesn’t hear her. 

 

 

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