Friday, July 20, 2007

Less Than Swimming News

I knew exactly where we were going long before we reached the bridge, casting its lanterned-glow over the Bay.

And, frankly, the gun pointed at my side the entire drive felt unnecessary, like a prop left over from a melodrama. I knew where we were going and I wasn't about to exit before my entrance.

However, the bone-thin model next to me seemed to have an entirely different idea of what was necessary. Her cats' eyes (one green, one blue) were cool and expressionless, but alert, as if waiting for the slightest movement. Hadn't she heard of color-correcting contacts? (Probably not.)

If I had to bet, I'd say the Cat rarely slept and never, ever ate her vegetables.

As we turned off the causeway, I caught a glimpse of the red coral charm hanging from the neck of my captor. It reminded me of the centuries-old puzzle I had yet to unravel and did nothing to calm my feeling that this return to Star Island, this first visit in ten years, was not going to be good.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Return to the Sort-of-Real World

If I had even the slightest sense of time, I might have realized that we weren't going to make it to the Queen's book signing. But as Brad pushed me through the doors of the over-airconditioned mega-bookstore, I hoped that the Queen might be signing one last, false-adoring page of Love sincerely, your own idol, the Queen.

Instead, as I should have expected, Eva blocks our entrance, holding a book to her chest like a life-preserver.

"It. Didn't. Go. Well," she says, shifting her icy gaze between us. "I needed you."

I glance at Brad, not sure if Eva meant him or me.

"I'm sorry," we both say at once, then look away from her, guilty of some imagined conspiracy.

Though I still don't know how we're gonna find our moon, the Second Point hangs invisibly between us, a mystery to be solved, or dissected, or searched. Now that people (and opossums) are dying, I'm not sure if I can be the Queen's pretend third assistant, or Khost's true assistant, or if true is even the opposite of pretend, but still, not knowing how, I find myself saying (or hearing?):

I'll make it up to you.

Eva, at least, thinks I've said it. She growls: "Well, the Queen's long gone. Driver took her back to the Palace. Betty's signing another box of books for her. I've been most impressed with how Betty's stepped up in your absence. So I guess all that leaves telling me where the hell you've been this evening."

Brad: "I should go."

Eva (a little manic): ", you stay here. I want to see if you get that, that eyebrow twitch that happens when you hear a lie."

Brad: "You noticed that?"

Eva: "Please, I knew you knew I'd never risk a real tan. Every time I came back from 'sunbathing': twitchy."

"I was at the library," I say quickly. "I'm sorry I can't be more interesting for you, Eva, but I'm old, I'm boring, I was at the library with the dust motes."

"Very boring," coughs Brad, eyebrows still.

For some reason I feel compelled to keep going. "And I caught Brad, here, your Brad, researching shiny objects. Shiny glittery objects. But I'm sure you'd be the least surprised to hear that," I say.

Instead of looking pleased, Eva eyes Brad strangely.

"Oh," she says, simply, unreadable.

I'm trying to process. But this is not the only thing going on. Down the street, a lone car is slowly making its way towards us. The silver Bentley crawls to a stop right outside the mega-bookstore, and a few feet away.

Max lets out a large squawk and I turn around, almost in slow motion, as the door swings crudely open.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Saints and Poets, Maybe

Outside, a thunderstorm comes down suddenly, gusting heavy rain over the saw palmetto and hibiscus.

“So, why did I send you to the Great Library?” says Khost. "Because all great stories begin (and end) in books. After Ponce de Leon died, the Red Coral Society continued to search for the second and third points, leaving clues, in the most hidden places of the city. This way, if they did not succeed, all would not be lost -- their descendants could follow their map, leading to the Fountain.

Khost turns on the lamp, and the three of us gather around my notebook.

“Bradford,” says Khost.

Brad adjusts his glasses: “‘I am like an owl of the desert.’ That’s it. That’s all there is. I think it’s some sort of riddle.”

Khost starts to smirk, then his smirk turns into a slight chuckle, and then the chuckle into a full-blown laugh. Max joins in, squawking.

“Come on,” says Khost. Didn’t they teach you anything in Hebrew school?” Brad and I look at each other.

Khost reaches under the table and opens an unseen compartment. He pulls out a large, dusty bound book that couldn’t possibly have fit inside. He thumbs it open to a page and slides it over to Brad.

“The Bible?” asks Brad.

“Psalm 102:6. A psalm of David, from the Old Testament. Go on,” he says, pointing to a verse.

“I am like an owl of the desert./ Like a little owl of the waste places./ I lie awake./ I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.”

“Okay, so it’s a psalm. But where does that get us? The Second Point has to be something real, something we can combine in a bottle with Agua de Ba,” I say.

“It’s a psalm and a riddle,” says Khost, “every word in the scriptures has layers of meaning that run deeper than your Prada bags and text messages. This is a psalm about unimaginable suffering, the end of the known world. If you try to translate this verse from the Hebrew, you end up going around in circles. It isn’t even clear what type of bird David is referring to -- pelican, owl, sparrow? Owls, by the way, are not typically found in the desert, nor were they there in 500 B.C. So you’ve got a bird, an owl, lost in a place it doesn’t belong, a bird that can’t sleep, crying out from the housetop.”

“A poor city bird,” says Brad. I give him a look.

“David is looking up at the heavens and declaring that he is utterly alone. I hope that neither of you will ever have to see such a place,” says Khost.

“But maybe if we get to a place of despair, we’ll find the Second Point. Maybe it’s like a test, of our strength,” I say, not too happy about this prospect.

“Maybe,” says Khost, staring deeply at the psalm, “but if that were the answer, many saints and poets would have found the Second Point by now.”

“‘Saints and poets, maybe,’” I say. Brad and Khost look at me. “Sorry, it’s from one of my favorite plays.”

“Let’s think about this,” says Khost.

“‘I am like an owl of the desert.’ Who’s the speaker here? Not David, I mean the real speaker. What is like an owl but is not an owl? That’s your answer.”

Brad and I sit silently, trying to wrap our heads around this. Max flies over to my bag and starts rifling through it.

“Hey, get out of there!” I say, as Max grabs my favorite Chanel lip gloss. “Come on, I paid $30 for that!”

Max ignores me and, after a minute, emerges triumphantly, holding Luis Delgado’s book of children’s stories in his beak.

“Bring that here, Max,” says Khost.

“It’s just this book of stories the Librarian gave me,” I say. “I figured since we already found the Second Point...”

Brad flips through it, then tosses it to me.

“Start reading,” he says.

“Okay, where should I start?” I say, and then it hits me. I flip to page 102, then turn to the next page. There’s a pull-out section that seems to have been pasted in. It’s marked 102:6.

“102:6,” I read, “Fragment of the Native’s Tale.” I read the story aloud, then grab the Bible.

“I’ve got it,” I say, “or at least I think I do.”

“It’s actually quite simple. What’s like an owl of the desert? What hangs over us, like a bird on a housetop, every night, watching over us, over the waste places we’ve created? It has no companion, and it never sleeps.”

Brad, Khost, and I turn and look at the framed article on the Fire in the Glades. The moon hangs somberly over the scene, a light in the darkness.

“Nice work, Francie,” says Khost. “Now find us our moon.”

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Mysteries of the Soul, or, the Talking Opossum

Khost hands me a small, inlaid box, like the one we saw him give the red-haired woman. Max flutters over and perches on the chair next to Khost. Khost lights a cigarette, then begins to speak.

“I believe the soul like a Chinese puzzle box. When we are born, it is the easiest to open. But as we grow older, the box starts to take on a new shape, like a vast forest, unfurling layer after layer. For reasons that we do not know, some people have souls that become...locked, for lack of a better term. Impenetrable. Unravelable. Spreading out further and further into a person’s frame, like tangled branches.”

“Like a cancer,” I say.

“I prefer the term 'spiritual growth,'" says Khost.

“And you think I have one of these...locked souls?”

“Did anything happen to you while you were up north that could not be explained? Anything strange or terrifying, that could have sent your soul spinning in all different directions?”

“No,” I say, flatly, after a moment. “Nothing.”

Brad looks like he’s about to say something, but Khost silences him.

“It was no coincidence, Francie, that you discovered the first point. Or that opossums are starting to talk to you. The world’s greatest mysteries always have a human counterpart.”

I get up from the table and walk over to the row of framed articles. The world’s greatest mysteries.

“So...what does that mean exactly?”

“It means,” says Brad, “that we’re never gonna find Ponce de Leon’s three points, or any answers, unless we also...unravel you.”

“That’s crazy, how can I have anything to do with...with the Fountain?”

Khost approaches me, turning into a detective.

“Tell me about New York. Where you lived. Was it an old brownstone or a hi-rise? What did the fall feel like, when the leaves started to turn? Were you happy there?”

Khost stands so he is right in front of me.

“You don’t remember, do you?”

“I remember in the fall, the leaves changed.”

“Because you read it in a book,” says Khost.

I start to panic. What sort of apartment did I live in? The room starts to turn a little, and I reach to steady myself on one of the frames. I turn to look at it. It's titled: “The Thing That Happened in the Snow.” The frame is empty.

“I remember what happened,” I say, holding onto the frame. “I remember this. But it’s the last thing I remember.”

“Come on Khost, enough. Let’s just...focus on the second point.”

“This was your idea,” growls Khost.

“It’s too much,” says Brad.

“Oh, now it’s too much?”

“Stop!” I say. “I have one more question.” Khost and Brad both look at me.

“What happens if my soul...can’t be unraveled. What if it stays locked? What if we never find the three points?”

“We’ll find them,” says Brad, uncertainly, and in my mind, I can hear a great howling noise, getting unbearably close.