The House of Entheogens

house

She met him in October on the Georgetown campus. He was wearing a red a blue baseball cap. The wind blew it off and she picked it up. Returned it to him. They started talking about the weather, then science, and soon philosophy. Quickly, they became friends.

 

They spent several Sundays taking walks to the local farmer’s market to pick out apricots, then going to eat them on a blanket in the park. It was the most romantic thing she’d ever done. But they remained nothing more than friends, yet something more than casual acquaintances. After all, she had recently finished her journalism degree and worked at a restaurant part-time, and he was pursuing his Ph.D. at Georgetown. Both of them, divorced. Neither had time for dating – or at least – no desire in walking the path to another broken heart.

 

Once it got cold, he invited her to his house. When she walked in, she wondered why he had a rice cooker with aluminum foil on top. A device to make gold out of, he told her. He explained the whole process. His alchemy. She trusted him. He studied quantum mechanics after all.

 

The house was full of strange things. (No, not the kind of strange things mothers warn daughters about before they sneak away with a glass of wine and the latest E L James novel.) The kind of strange things that made her curious and ask a lot of questions.

 

In the kitchen he kept tiny bottles on the shelves, full of substances that looked like chemicals or powders. Others were full of herbs, leaves, and varieties of tea, with perhaps a few strains of medical marijuana in the mix.

 

“Entheogens,” he told her. “Meaning ‘generating the divine within.’ Or more simply put — plant medicines. They produce non-ordinary states of consciousness. People around the world use them for religious or spiritual reasons.”

 

“Oh, right,” she said. “I knew that….and what exactly do you do with them?

 

“Oh, sometimes people come to me and buy them. If enough people are interested, I’ll lead retreats where people could take the entheogens within a safe container, like a Santo Daime church, someone’s backyard in the woods, or a yoga studio.

 

There was nothing ordinary about him, she thought. And maybe that’s why she hung around.

 

 

“So….you’re dating a drug dealer?” Penelope gasped.

 

“Well, no, not exactly,” she said. “I don’t know if we’re actually ‘dating,’ we’re just friends. Anyway, he’s more of an um…urban shaman.”

 

“Is that what he calls himself, or did you just make that up right now?”

 

“I mean….I guess it’s the term he uses, but I still find it pretty fascinating.”

 

“Come on Nat,” Penelope reached out to touch her hand. “I’m worried about you.”

 

“He’s getting a Ph.D.! In quantum physics!”

 

“Hah….Denver worked as Noam Chomsky’s literary agent, and you saw how that turned out when I needed someone to drive me to Planned Parenthood last summer!”

 

“What, you prefer I date a nice normal guy? Like the guy at the coffee shop with muscular arms and the compass tattoo who talked to me about The Unbearable Lightness of Being and then asked for validation for the quality of his pictures on his Bumble profile?”

 

“No! No…that’s not what I’m saying. I just think you deserve someone who genuinely cares about you, Natalie. Drugs and things…whatever. I just don’t want to see you settling for someone who just who only cares about himself again.”

 

 

She enjoyed exploring his house. She experimented with the musical instruments he collected from his travels around the world, like the Aboriginal didgeridoo and Malian n’goni. She watered the twenty potted plants and herbs sitting by the window. She bought him a bamboo plant, a snake plant, and a bonsai tree, just to add something a little more ordinary to the most exotic mix.

 

The jars of entheogens were meticulously labeled with the common name and its psychoactive constituent:

 

Ayahuasca – Harmala alkaloids and DMT

Bolivian torch cactus – Mescaline

Fly agaric – Ibotenic acid and muscimol

Magic mushrooms – Psilocybin and psilocin

 

“When did you know you were….you know….a ‘shaman?’ ” she asked.

 

“Maybe as young as twelve,” he said, not noticing the glint of sarcasm in her voice. “I started out having out of body experiences. Lying in bed before I would fall asleep, it felt like my body was being submerged in water like I was about to cross over into spirit realm. Started perceiving what was going to happen in the future. Sometimes clairvoyant. I didn’t know what was happening to me. When one of my college professors gave me some of C. G. Jung’s literature on archetypes and the collective unconscious, some things started to make sense.”

 

He paused to take in the confused look on her face.

 

“Don’t worry,” he laughed, almost reading her mind. “I’ve looked into mental health issues – I don’t have schizophrenia, not possible. Doesn’t run in my family line. I believe my ancestors carried this knowledge, and it’s coming through me in this generational incarnation of the bloodline. And of course, Western medicine doesn’t have a name for these types of things. Hence, a lot of people do end up getting a mental health diagnosis. What I experience is just that – what I experience. Weird things happen from time to time, but it doesn’t dominate my life. And I find the plants guide me to what I need to know.”

 

Remarkably, Trevor was the most normal person she had been with, even out of her male friends. When she was with him she felt safe and calm.

 

“And how did you find the plants?” she asked.

 

“Maybe you should be asking ‘how did the plants find me’?’”

 

“Oh my friend,” she smiled and laughed. “You are such a mystery. I could write a whole book on you.”

 

“Oh? What would it be – fantasy?”

 

She blushed. Fantasies. She had a few. There was clearly some sexual tension between them, of course. But the two hadn’t had sex, or made love, or even fucked, or whatever you want to call it, in the time they had now known each other.

 

“Are you winking at me?!” she jested, then coughed. “No, you know I write nonfiction. And hard journalism.”

 

There was an awkward silence between them. She pointed to the stack of books on his table.

 

“Speaking of nonfiction, tell me more about the intelligence of plants they talk about in your books. What does it mean exactly?”

 

“Let me think…Well, you can’t compare the intelligence of plants to that of humans, exactly. It’s not as if they have a rational, thinking mind, like a brain or a computer. Scientists who study plant intelligence see plants as highly sensitive organisms – rather than passive players in their environment. Plants monitor their internal and external worlds for informational and functional shifts – like changes in soil, water, light, etc. Just like our eyes have a sensory inflow from the spectrum of light to perceive colors, plants have gates of perception that allow sensory inflow from a spectrum of what is going on around them. Then, they integrate that information into their own state of being”

 

“Yes, now, go on.”

 

“When I take the plants, they can guide my body into that same level of perception. I can’t explain it well, poems seem to do the talking for me from there.” He pulled a book off of the table and turned to a bookmarked page:

 

It is actually a kind of dreaming

And not the kind of dreaming you are thinking about either

But a different kind of dreaming entirely

(It’s like the dreaming you do when you are reading this book)

The dreaming is the central core of what this book is about

It is the kind of dreaming that Goethe was engaged in

When he learned about plant metamorphosis

And Luther Burbank when he looked deep into the plant

And saw every environment its ancestors had ever lived in

And the same kind that Barbara McClintock did

When she watched individual chromosomes in corn shift their structure

It is the same state of mind that writers enter when they create words

It is also how Gaia dreams the world into being

And is the kind of dreaming you can do, too, if you wish,

If you decide to walk through the doors of perception

And find out what is on the other side

 

 

“It’s lovely. I love it. You know I love poetry. But let’s go back to what you mentioned earlier – how DID the plants find you?”

 

“Ah! Right. Five years ago, not long after I moved to the city for grad school and was living in a condo, and I had a dream that I was wandering around this big house with secret passageways behind bookshelves, hidden staircases, and a big front yard. I felt curious and elated like I did as a child discovering life’s mysteries for the first time. The next day got a lead from someone I had met randomly at a bookstore in Adams Morgan. The price was unbeatable for the city, almost like a gift from the gods.”

 

“Yeah, really, it’s impossible to find something these days,” she commented.

 

“And the next week, I bought this house. Everything you see here, the books, the jars, the labels – all already on the shelf from the previous owner. An Italian immigrant, I heard, who had passed and left nothing to his grandchildren who all live in various parts of the country and want nothing to do with his past. The plants were the passageways waiting for me to explore their world of insight. Their potential to heal us and bring us more into our true natures.”

 

She stared at him in silence.

“Trevor, I think you’re pretty cool, you know that?”

 

He laughed and went to go prepare her a coffee. “I guess you’re not so bad either.”

As much as Natalie enjoyed hanging out with Trevor, she simply couldn’t bring herself to opening up to him intimately. Perhaps is came from her unhealed past. Her first boyfriend told her about his trips on acid at 17 and became a heroin addict by the age of 22.  In her last serious relationship before her marriage, her boyfriend smoked a joint nearly every time they saw each other, which would make him fall asleep during sex. And then in her marriage — the most disastrous of them all – her husband was a physiatrist who eventually began abusing the opioids he gave to patients and had convinced her she was both anorexic and had bipolar disorder. Neither of which were true.

 

Natalie was never sure why she attracted these types of men into her life. Aside from the usual alcohol and weed in college, she had never really taken drugs herself. Things had not been great, and her friends never knew what she saw in these men. All of them, to varying degrees, had expressed interest in social and political change, but never really seemed to put much action behind their words. Their drug use came first.

 

Trevor, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care about politics at all. When he wasn’t working with the entheogens, he put all of his energy into his studies. She knew there was something different about him. They kept their boundaries, and she let the man remain a mystery.

 

In February, Penelope and Natalie got their nails done for Valentine’s Day. She told Natalie she has a dream where she is pregnant. They stop by a drug store for the test and sure enough –

 

“I can’t believe it’s going to happen. I’m going to be a mom!”

 


TO BE CONTINUED

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Once Upon a Time in a New Mexican Hot Spring

The story began “Once upon a time in the New Mexican hot spring…” I doodled on the flight over. Creating the vision of what would be when I arrived.

I met my little not-related-by-blood-and-it’s-a-long-story cousin. She had loads of those mindfulness coloring books that are in vogue now. I tend to like my personal brand of coloring creation, so in the cupola of my aunt’s adobe home, we sat together and designed our original pictures in journals.

“Look,” she said, “It’s Mother Earth giving everyone in the world a big hug.”

It’s Christmastime, so I give her a gift – a journal from a Chinese stationary store. It says “Love – where there is great love, there are great miracles” and is covered in little cutout hearts. When I lived in rural China, my close friend and I developed a mild obsession with finding the best of the best in cheap Chinese stationery stores. The inspiration for “fly.the.dreams” came from one of these notebooks I bought over spring break, upon which I healed the wounds of a mental breakdown and the pages of my first story poured out.

A few days later, I go to visit my cousin’s family at the hot springs they own and operate. She had filled up the journal with notes — details about her family, her home at the Springs, her dreams about what she would be when she grew up, the boys in her class that she had a crush on. To think, I once did the same. To think, I still basically do.

I thought about the diary my mother gave me one Easter, etched in existence forever in my mind and in the form of a recorded home movie. I’m eight or nine, around the same age as my cousin. In this video, I can see where it all went downhill.

“Oh! A journal!” I exclaim as I pull out the Lisa Frank brand book with three bright yellow puppies sitting on a sandcastle.

It goes by the wayside, as my mother immediately digs into the plastic grass and takes out the plush head of a girl with two pigtails. It’s made for hanging clips and barrettes. “Do you like it?” obvious that no Easter bunny brought this for me and her desire for me to affirm that I’d actually use it. I shrugged it off “Oh, yeah, it’s cute,” I say to appease her. I knew myself, and that my mind was running away with thoughts of what I could fill the pages of the diary with. No one indulges me in my private world, and the diary remains with only a few pages filled.

Here in New Mexico around Christmastime, small, simple gifts are galore. I’ve already given the journal, and now I’m a cowgirl ready to take the mistakes of family karma by the reigns. I help my cousin set up some twinkling fairy around the desk in the room of their double-wide.

“Every writer needs her special space,” I tell her. “Let’s make yours beautiful.”

Hot springs might sound more glamorous then they really are. Don’t get me wrong, they are a lovely way to relax, heal and connect into the Earth. But remember, we are in rural New Mexico. There’s a show in recent memory about a cancerous science teacher with a meth lab inspired by this part of the world, perhaps you know it well.

Outside under the sunshine, we I take some photos of my cousin and her little brother with my father. The life they have here reminds me much of my childhood with my own in rural Pennsylvania – not a lot of kids our age around to play with, but a whole world of nature, animals and secret trails to run around between, becoming barefoot and bruised. I can see the playfulness my father had with my brother and I when we were kids come out when he is with the two kids – a side of him I rarely get to experience in his age of empty-nesting retirement.

My little not-really-blood-related cousins are both bi-racial, of Mexican-American descent. I find the nearby towns themselves to be very segregated, attracting the bougie Santa Fe art crowd mixed between impoverished Central American immigrants and white Americans alike.

At one point, she points to her melanin and says, “My brother is browner and more Mexican than I am. I’m the whiter one, see. ” and I can see the seeds of some implicit superiority already being implanted. Trying to take in this family karma again by the reigns I say to her, tenderly, “Neither one is better or worse than the other. Both are beautiful. Remember that.”

The story begins”Once upon a time in the New Mexican hot spring…” I doodled on the flight over. Creating the vision of what would be when I arrived.

I met my little not-related-by-blood-and-it’s-a-long-story cousin. She had loads of those mindfulness coloring books that are in vogue now. I tend to like my personal brand of coloring creation, so in the cupola of my aunt’s adobe home, we sat together and designed our original pictures in journals.

“Look,” she said, “It’s Mother Earth giving everyone in the world a big hug.”

It’s Christmastime, so I give her a gift – a journal from a Chinese stationary store. It says “Love – where there is great love, there are great miracles” and is covered in little cutout hearts. When I lived in rural China, my close friend and I developed a mild obsession with finding the best of the best in cheap Chinese stationery stores. The inspiration for “fly.the.dreams” came from one of these notebooks I bought over spring break, upon which I healed the wounds of a mental breakdown and the pages of my first story poured out.

A few days later, I go to visit my cousin’s family at the hot springs they own and operate. She had filled up the journal with notes — details about her family, her home at the Springs, her dreams about what she would be when she grew up, the boys in her class that she had a crush on. To think, I once did the same. To think, I still basically do.

I thought about the diary my mother gave me one Easter, etched in existence forever in my mind and in the form of a recorded home movie. I’m eight or nine, around the same age as my cousin. In this video, I can see where it all went downhill.

“Oh! A journal!” I exclaim as I pull out the Lisa Frank brand book with three bright yellow puppies sitting on a sandcastle.

It goes by the wayside, as my mother immediately digs into the plastic grass and takes out the plush head of a girl with two pigtails. It’s made for hanging clips and barrettes. “Do you like it?” obvious that no Easter bunny brought this for me and her desire for me to affirm that I’d actually use it. I shrugged it off “Oh, yeah, it’s cute,” I say to appease her. I knew myself, and that my mind was running away with thoughts of what I could fill the pages of the diary with. No one indulges me in my private world, and the diary remains with only a few pages filled.

Here in New Mexico around Christmastime, small, simple gifts are galore. I’ve already given the journal, and now I’m a cowgirl ready to take the mistakes of family karma by the reigns. I help my cousin set up some twinkling fairy around the desk in the room of their double-wide.

“Every writer needs her special space,” I tell her. “Let’s make yours beautiful.”

Hot springs might sound more glamorous then they really are. Don’t get me wrong, they are a lovely way to relax, heal and connect into the Earth. But remember, we are in rural New Mexico. There’s a show in recent memory about a cancerous science teacher with a meth lab inspired by this part of the world, perhaps you know it well.

Outside under the sunshine, we I take some photos of my cousin and her little brother with my father. The life they have here reminds me much of my childhood with my own in rural Pennsylvania – not a lot of kids our age around to play with, but a whole world of nature, animals, and secret trails to run around between, becoming barefoot and bruised. I can see the playfulness my father had with my brother and I when we were kids come out when he is with the two kids – a side of him I rarely get to experience in his age of empty-nesting retirement.

My little not-really-blood-related cousins are both bi-racial, of Mexican-American descent. I find the nearby towns themselves to be very segregated, attracting the bougie Santa Fe art crowd mixed between impoverished Central American immigrants and white Americans alike.

At one point, she points to her melanin and says, “My brother is browner and more Mexican than I am. I’m the whiter one, see. ” and I can see the seeds of some implicit superiority already being implanted. Trying to take in this family karma again by the reigns I say to her, tenderly, “Neither one is better or worse than the other. Both are beautiful. Remember that.”

New York 1/Tel Aviv 0

I feel in love with this collection of short stories I picked up at a Little Free Library.
This one stood out to me. Reminds me much of the same sentiment Maxine Hong Kingston explains in her explanation of “ghosts,” time and America.
“And somehow, in spite of the half-baked walking among us, in spite of mad, ersatz Time Counters who walk the streets of our cities mumbling numbers, convinced that time has not resume, in spite of the various inedible, temporally corrupted fruits and vegetables that the earth, after its long stagnation, produces for at least a year — people forget. People forget because they choose to do so, and they choose to forget because remembering allows for the possibility of recurrence. People forget, and make cardamom tea, and fall in love, and buy ties. On Valentine’s Day, they pay for overpriced dinners. Salmon in their mouth, they talk about their planned vacation for the summer. At weddings, they try to guess who the next person to get married will be, and they smile at the thought of the entire family together in one place again, the joy it will bring. Every moment, they wait for the next. Every day, they think about the future. They forget.
I can say this: I never forgot. I found it curious that people around me did. I remember, and I knew that time would stop again, only to resume again, only to stop again. It seemed obvious, like gravity, or death.”
Live in the present ya’ll.

An Invasive Species

Those who thought “I don’t see this world way others see it,” are the ones who pushed on evolution. Looking at an ant colony, I see them moving around methodically. They don’t allow the others to die off because they need each other like a small organism that has different parts that move and swell and fade. So when did the first ant decide to pick up a leaf? Or when did the first one grow wings? Why did that ant who grew wings survive? How did it decide it was time to fly away? What was that “stuff” inside that pushed it to grow faster?

 

She picked up her leather bound journal. She walked. Trying to understand. She spent most of her days doing nothing more than that. Wondering why God has brought her here to this lonely place with Nelson. He spent many days, drawing the beaks of birds and napping along the coastline.

 

And what did she do? Most days she found the heat unbearable. She learned to cook a few dishes from the locals and sat and read the three books she had brought with her. She had read them enough times that she could close her eyes and recite them from memory, line by line.

 

In the evenings, they would sit and watch the sunset together, and she would nuzzle her head into the crook of his arm as he stroked her hair and told her about everything he had seen that day. He would talk into the waves about his research, and she would listen and slightly nod, offering an occasional question of which he would always try to answer. He would lean over and kiss the middle of her forehead, and with her eyes closed, she could see a bright white light flash from the point just below her hairline. She would begin to recite to him lines from the latest book she had been reading and use dramatic voices, feeling the rise and fall of his chest when he laughed. When the stars came out, they would build fires from palm leaves and driftwood and nearly fall asleep. The beach became a haven for scorpions and other creatures at night, so they would always retreat to their small cabin to make love, but usually, they would just fall asleep. She would always ask him “What dreams do you think you’ll have?” and then they would play a little game. She would try to think of an object before they fell asleep and see if the other could secretly send the image along while they slept and then check back on their accuracy in the morning. Him, lying on his back and her, curled up like a newborn at his side. They would usually wake up and report that they had had strange dreams, but could never completely communicate what exactly had happened to the other.

 

Every morning, they rose with the sun, and she would prepare him a cup of coffee in a small tin mug with a red flower on it before he left for the day. He would review his notes, and she would finish making breakfast before he left for the day. Nearly six months of this simple life and she had recorded almost every day in a small pocket calendar she left at her bedside. When she wrote, she imagined addressing writing a note to her mother, asking questions like Are the kittens growing? Has my sister purchased a crib for the baby? The thought of going back to her former world seemed so far into a place unknown; she hardly remembered their old address or the names of her neighbors. Everything there seemed very mundane, and she hardly cared to wonder anymore.

 

—-

 

She could not communicate orally to the locals in the village, but that had not stopped her from attempting to socialize. After all, she needed social interaction outside from Nelson. On market day she would see her two close friends. The first, an old man who sat on the side of a linen shop and hummed tunes into an old flute. He had given her one, and they would play together on occasion. At first, he was not the best teacher. He would simply take the flute and rapidly flow into an old folk song he had memorized by heart, nodding to her and expecting her to repeat in turn. But after listening many times, she became fairly nimble with the instrument and came up with some tunes of her own. Before market days, he would always bring her a freshly picked bag of mangos from his orchard, yet she never knew how to express gratitude to the old man that provided for her, unconditionally.

 

Her second friend was a school-aged boy with a lazy eye who spent his afternoons out of school by the yogurt cart in town with his grandfather. He spent his days drawing pictures of animals on the back of his school primers. One day, she came to buy a cold yogurt and sat with the boy, giving him one of Nelson notebooks he had brought along. She would draw a picture of something and say the word in her native tongue, and he would write the word in his language in return.  She had learned quite a lot from him that way, and soon she found herself sitting with him after he had left school, doing homework from the same third-grade textbook he used for class and learning as much as she could. Occasionally, he would give her small gifts – a shiny pebble he had found on the shore or a piece of hard candy, and she would return the favor with a coin or a postcard from home. But her favorite gift of all appeared when she sat next to him, and he handed her a plate of fruit on which he had carved a pineapple into the shape of a small bird sitting on a branch.

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—-

 

Aside from her two local friends, she had befriended another foreigner on the island. She remembered the shock she felt the day at the marketplace when they locked eyes and looked as if the other had seen a ghost. He was an American who had spent two tours fighting in the Persian Gulf War and had come to the island as a way to recover from all of the tragedy he had experienced, and in time married a local from the island. She felt overjoyed and immediately ran back to the house to tell Nelson who she had met. The American came by the next day. It was the first day she had seen her husband take his nose out of his notes and pick up a beer. The three of them talked until the moon rose over the shore. Her heart rejoiced in the male companionship her husband had found. After all, a husband and wife could only keep each other company for so long before they felt as if they were talking into a mirror.

 

The American told the couple his stories. After two tours in the Persian Gulf, he came back to states to find himself homeless, drinking soup from a tin can he had pulled out of a dumpster until one day a woman from a Catholic charity mission cleaned him up and gave him a place to rest. He did not want to stay in the church for long, for fear of becoming converted, so he found work in a packaging plant and moved into a basement apartment of his own. One night, while walking home after a long night with his drinking buddies, a group of three teenage boys mugged him and broke his right leg, and he found himself out of work again and living off of his unemployment checks. He carted himself to the library on the weekends to an art therapy group reading Paradise Lost and making painted collages.

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“Me miserable! Which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;

And in the lowest deep a lower deep,

Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide,

To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”

 

He decided once he became physically healed he would heal his mind and spirit through travel. He had seen so many men die in the Army that he began to question the purpose of life itself. He wanted to see what was out there beyond the crumbling streets of America and war-torn villages of the Middle East. So after saving up enough for a one-way ticket, he sent himself to Africa, then hitchhiking his way through Asia, and eventually flying to Central America before settling here on the island where he married and built a small home on the side of a mountain. Both she had Nelson were so captivated by his stories that they would invite him to the cabin after his weekly trips to the market for produce. They always promised to go up and see his home, but terrible weather or illness always seemed to prevent them from taking that journey.

 

One week, while Nelson’s was consumed in his research, she spent some time along with the foreigner. It was then that she began to notice things about him that didn’t seem quite right. He said and did things he had not in the presence of her husband, such as commenting on how overly lavish her clothing was for the island or occasionally brushing his hand along her waistline when he passed her while preparing dinner in the kitchen. One evening while the two were smoking cigarettes on the porch, he pulled out his small sketchpad from his back pocket. “Want to see a picture I drew of my wife?” he asked. He flipped through pages to reveal a picture of a woman with full, round breasts. “Aren’t her eyes so beautiful?” he said as he paused his index finger on the corner of the page.

 

He began to talk about his wife and his plans to take her back to America with him and show her a civilized life. He expected she would cook and clean for him while he took a job at a financial institution, and put his degree in business to use. He hoped they would try to have children, but had come to suspect that his wife had been drinking some strange type of mountain herb that prevented her from “producing” the heir he desired. She did not understand, for when he drank with Nelson the American could always talk about how he could live forever on this idyllic island of bliss with his wife, and never return to home. When she asked why he never brought his wife along for a visit, he said the journey down the mountain would be too much of a strain on her and hinder her ability to carry his future children.

 

When Nelson had left for a two-week-long excursion at sea to study the mating patterns of turtles, a terrible storm came to the island. In fear and loneliness of her husband’s return, she invited the American to stay with her for company and protection. He slept on a cot on the floor in the common room and occasionally on the hammock outside when the poor weather subsided. At night, she would sit and with him and chat while sewing and repairing holes Nelson’s torn trousers, sometimes tuning into the news on her AM radio or putting on a record to keep her mind off her longing for her husband’s return. She had stopped drinking and hardly ate more than a few pieces of fruit during the day, yet the knot in her stomach remained. During their evenings together, the American had taken up the habit of drinking vodka straight out of the bottle, chasing it with a beer. One night, the power went out, and she huddled next to him on the porch of their cabin, watching the rain pour mercilessly.

 

She took his hand in hers. “Tell me that we’ll be okay,” she said.

 

“Will it be okay?” Tears welled up in his eyes as he told her what he had seen in the military. The hundreds of men coming across his operating table, with missing limbs, open wounds, fractured skulls that revealed the bloody bits of ruptured brains.

 

“My body, when it dies, it just is gone, nothing else,” he said. His tiny pupils looked at hers as if he was looking into nothingness. “And that terrifies me, death. I don’t know what comes after.”

 

“There is another side,” she replied. “You know that of course.  All of the near death experiences that you hear of, the white light that people see. The way they feel they are floating out of their body, going into heaven’s gate.”

 

“Once, in Tibet, I witnessed a Sky Burial on the side of a mountain,” he began to speak as if he hadn’t even heard her comment. “I stood 500 meters away while I watched two men take their dead brother and lay him out for a pack of hungry vultures to pick apart. The flesh disappeared in a matter of minutes. All that was a stack of bones. The monk came with a knife and hacked away at the skeleton, then ground the bones into a paste with a motor. I watched the whole thing until nothing remained of the dead man’s body. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. But I wondered, had they felt invaded by my voyeurism?  How would I feel, if these men had come to America, and stood on the sidelines while they watched a priest lower my brother’s coffin into the ground? Maybe they wouldn’t care.  According to the Buddhists, death isn’t the end, and we are all reborn. Maybe we are all just a part of the circle of things, and it’s true that a man’s flesh is no more valuable than a vulture’s. He goes to the sky through the belly of the bird until it then too dies, decays, and becomes a part of the endless circle of things once again.”

 

“Hmmm,” she whispered, “perhaps that’s how we go.”

 

He took another swig from the bottle.

 

“When I go, I want to have a party, go out with a bang! You know? Prop me up in bed, give my friends a round of champagne and let them drip morphine into my blood until I take my final breath.”

 

He pulled out a book of philosophy by Alan Watts from his pocket. She had no idea where the book came from, but she looked at it hungrily, wanting it to satisfy the thirst for knowledge three books she had already eaten could not give her.

 

“There is a beautiful quote in here that says: ‘I pray that death will not come and find me still unannihilated.’ In other words, man dies happy if there is no one to die, which means the ego has disappeared before death caught up with him. But you see, the knowledge of death helps the ego to disappear because it tells you that you can’t hang on. So what we need is to go out with a bang instead of a whimper.”

 

She let out a faint weep. The American leaned over on her shoulder, twisting a lock of her hair with his index finger. “Does your husband ever tell you how beautiful your eyes are?” he whispered.

 

She gently pulled herself away from his soft grasp and swiftly returned into the darkness of the cabin. She curled her knees into her chest under and dragged the thin layer of sheets up and over her ears. She knew in that instant that she did not want to see the American anymore

—–

 

The American returned to his home on the mountain the following day without a word. Nelson returned from his journey seven days after that. The two of them sat in their usual spot on the shoreline, and he habitually leaned in to kiss her forehead, but this time she could feel the quiver on his lips. Something was not quite right.

 

“We found a lot about the turtle’s mating habits and even more about their evolution,” he said. “The world needs to know this. It’s time I go back to publish our findings. Can you stay here? And maintain our cabin? As we promised, you know that.”

 

She nodded. “Of course my love.”

 

“I will be back in three months, once the committee has approved my second grant.”

 

She could feel the skin of her breastbone tighten, and she began to curl her knees into her chest. “Yes, of course, my love.” Looking up into his brown eyes, she twisted a lock of his wavy hair, hair that now nearly reached down to his shoulders.

 

“I may get a haircut while I’m back to,” he laughed, brushing her hand aside. “Will you be okay? Three months alone is a longtime alone for you. Perhaps the American and his wife can come down to keep company.”

 

“No, no, I don’t think he wants to see me anymore” she replied wanting desperately to tell her husband of their earlier encounter, but she held it in, wondering if such a wife even existed.

 

“I’ll continue my flute lessons, and I’ve found some new reading material,” she said, forcing a smile. “Just promise me to bring back some books?”

 

“Of course, my love. I’d bring back the entire bookstore for you.”

 

The next morning she stood at the shoreline, watching his boat sail away. On the ship, there was life and noise; she saw him searching for her; sorrowfully he gazed at the pearly foam as if he knew she had thrown herself into the waves.  She gracefully walked away, and her feet left fresh indentations in the sand, the only mark of life aside from a pack of vultures gnawing on a decaying fish by the jetty. She took a seat on the log by the anthill.

She closed her eyes and pulled out a pocket Bible and opened to a page at random “For when the ear heard, it called me blessed. And when the eye saw, it gave witness of me.”

 

She lifted her head to the sun, and felt the, for the first time, her eyes filling up with tears.

 

She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in her hands: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood.

 

Her legs gave way, her limp body becoming one with the sand. She allowed her flesh to be coated by the music of the waves, dissolving into the water from which she had come from and to where her immortal soul would one day return.

 

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