Bradley | Sep 13, 2019 | 0
Ch. 1: Science has to be right all of the time. Magic only has to be right once. Or twice.
The kids, taxes due, a naming project, and no time for hairy eyeballs.
There was a part of me that figured that the odd encounter in the subterranean cavern of a Florentine cafe was just a one-off experience and something told me that I should just chalk it up to an overactive imagination combined with too much red wine and €6 ice cream cones.
‘Just let it go,’ I said to myself once in a while when the images of that woman came back to me. ‘It was just a fluke.’
But then there was another part of me, although smaller, in fact, more like a splinter in a toe, that just couldn’t let it go.
This is a continuation of the series that started in Italy where our hero possibly discovered that he had a supernatural power. But that’s just it: possibly. Possibly not.
After Italy, life slid back into normalcy and the wriggling receipts and fiery orange eyes fell back into my memory just like the busy Florentine streets and the Venitian waterways. It all streamed together and after just a few short weeks, I was no longer sure which was a photo for the photo album and which happened in that cafe and, at some points in time, I questioned whether or not it all really happened at all.
Was it all a dream? Maybe it was an intense meditation session? How could I know? And how could reality get so mixed up with something as important and real as that woman in the cellar so quickly?
When daily life consumed my time, none of it seemed to matter much anyway. There were still twenty-four hours in a day and Li still needed to be woken up to go to school and Lu needed to be reminded every morning that he was still in school. It was tax time and if there had been any doubt about an alternate reality, financial spreadsheets snapped that streak of luscious illusion like a twig in the forest.
No, I could safely say that the blue ink of the receipt was just a fluke, a one-off moment of weakness where I let down my guard and let, well, something in.
“Do you have something like a chai latte?” I asked the Dutch woman as she approached. For some reason, they rarely had menus and maybe you’re supposed to know what you want. But a good portion of the fun of eating or drinking in a cafe is seeing what they might have, discovering something new, and not just ordering what you know.
“Yes, well, something like it,” she searched her mind for the explanation. “It is a milky drink and has turmeric.” She waited for my response, but my thoughts immediately went to World War II and wasn’t there a poison called turmeric? “I think you’ll like it if you like chai,” she continued as my thoughts were on dark and dank cellars with Germans killing themselves.
“I think you’ll like it if you like chai,” she continued as my thoughts were on dark and dank cellars with Germans killing themselves.
Arsenic. Sounds like turmeric. Probably not on the menu.
As my thoughts wandered back to World War II Germany and I realized I wasn’t at all sure it was arsenic and not cyanide and I made a mental note that I could use a little history refresher, my mind switched from the day-to-day rush to something of a more fluid stream.
Just like a storm can subside almost instantaneously, our minds can go from a hurried state of daily affairs to a flow state of rest and creativity in just a few moments.
While I was sidetracked and somewhere behind enemy lines decades previous, I absently looked around the outdoor cafe and my eyes fixated on a woman casually sitting in the far corner of the terrace. She had a book in front of her that she held upright and it all would have been a regular woman reading her book if her eyes were pointed towards the words on the page and not directly laser beamed into mine.
I could not look away. I even did that dorky move where you try to pull your head in another direction, but your eyes won’t move. You can try this trick at home with your dog. Put a mouth-watering pig ear on the floor for him and then turn his head with your hands and his eyes will stay focused on the treat. Loads of fun for the whole family.
She had no expression and didn’t so much seem to be looking at me as much as through me or, dare I say, into me. I blinked to see if she would go away. Nope. I did the whole blink-really-hard-and-it-will-all-have-been-a-dream thing and that didn’t help either.
She didn’t move. She didn’t seem to blink. Maybe she was a wax figure. Maybe she escaped from the Madame Tussauds wax museum here in Amsterdam. I smiled at my own little conundrum of an escaping wax figure as it was even more far-fetched than just this woman gazing at me with the intensity of a laser pointer on a tripod.
I even smiled at my own sense of humor, but I stopped smiling when I noticed that she also smiled.
Which meant that she was looking at me. Not behind me, not next to me, not at the couple seated to my left. It was me. I was smiling because of wax museum escapees and she was smiling because, well, I don’t know. I couldn’t look away.
Then it started again. I didn’t want it and I immediately tried to suppress it, but I knew instinctively that it would be useless. It was quick and over almost as fast as it started.
It was that churning inside. Those bubbles or whatever they were, not unlike an ad for a bubbly soda where they have a close-up video of the bubbles rising up inside of the glass. Except this wasn’t a glass and I don’t even drink soda. The bubbles were inside of me and they started in my gut, went through my chest to the point where I felt slightly cramped, up through my throat, and finally into my head and up behind my eyes and forehead.
It all happened so fast and so automatically and so out of my control that I decided not to fight it. The images of Italy swarmed in my mind like a Hollywood thriller trailer. I felt almost faint. My eyes drooped, but as I opened them again, I was still staring into this woman’s eyes and she into mine.
I even did the whole rub-my-eyes-really-hard trick. Eyes open. She was still there. She was still smiling. I was no longer smiling.
There was just one thing I did not want to happen at this point. In fact, I tried to not even think about it so that I might not influence my own thoughts that might influence what might happen, but that’s probably the worst strategy of all time as trying not to think of something is pretty much a guarantee that you’ll think about it–and you’ll think about it even more.
I didn’t want to even clearly formulate in my head what I didn’t want to happen. I tried to look away and was successful. I looked over the canal and up into the canal mansions that rose up majestically next to each other. My head was turned and I forced myself to admire the houses and think maybe about the bricklayer who built it or maybe just who lived in there now. Any thought other than what I didn’t want to happen.
As my gaze reached the top window, I knew I couldn’t go on. A sense of overwhelm came over me like a shower of molasses. Not that I’ve ever had a molasses shower, but now I know what it will feel like should I ever choose that option at the Canadian spa.
I closed my eyes. I was about to give up and give in. ‘Just get it over with,’ I said in my mind.
‘I don’t know what you’re so afraid of,’ was the next thing that my mind said, well, to my mind. ‘I know exactly what you’re afraid of,’ said Mind 1 to Mind 2. I enjoyed a moment of lightness as I imagined Dr. Suess-like creatures, complete with colorful shirts, dancing around in between my ears: Mind 1 and Mind 2. They were loving this. I was not.
I turned my head. I didn’t even need to open my eyes to know that it was in the direction of the woman. I didn’t want to look at her. I didn’t want what I didn’t want. I didn’t even want to say it. I didn’t want to think it. If I think it, there’s more of a chance that it could happen.
I just want that all to be that thing that happened in Italy. That thing that I told no one about and if I told no one, maybe it didn’t really happen. If I just did my taxes and worked on my naming project and help Li with his math homework, I could go on in my regular life and wouldn’t have snaking ink on receipts and people from seemingly another plane that I didn’t understand, didn’t want to be a part of, didn’t want to be one of.
I opened my eyes.
The relief poured over me like a reverse film of the molasses shower. I exhaled and my shoulders fell. I inhaled and exhaled.
Although she was still looking at me, her eyes were normal. She wasn’t one of them. I could sip my arsenic tea in peace and enjoy the afternoon in the cafe along the canal. I could continue my day and I would be thankful for everything normal about it. I’d even be happy to help Lu and his school project about John Wooden. I swore I would hang the curtains in Li’s room. I would even go home and finish up my taxes.
I smiled at her. A relaxed, friendly, thank-you-for-not-being-who-I-thought-you-might-be smile. I wanted to thank her. I wanted to get up and tell her, well, no, don’t tell her all about that, but maybe just say Thank you and maybe she would know what I was talking about.
I let my guard down. I stopped all of my forced thinking and just turned it all off. I was so relieved that I thought I might melt into my wicker chair.
It was so sweet. So warm. Maybe a little flirty, but that was fun, too. My smile became deeper and I even tilted my head in dog fashion as I was enamored with this woman and her gaze.
Then I saw it.
A chill wrapped its hands around my neck and I couldn’t breathe. My eyes watered instantaneously out of fear. My knees tingled. I swallowed. I blinked. No, it couldn’t be.
I leaned forward. I looked harder. I focused. I leaned even more to the point where I was hanging off my chair.
I saw it. I saw what I didn’t want to see. I tried to not see it. I pushed myself to unsee it. I immediately knew it was all in vain. I knew at that point that I would never be able to unsee what I just saw.
But it was still there. I wasn’t sure I was breathing. I’m pretty sure my face carried a look of horror, a feeling of please-please-please, anything-but-that. But it was there.
In fact, I don’t even know how I could see it so clearly at the distance we were from each other. We were at least three table lengths. Maybe I couldn’t really see it. Yes, that was it. She was too far. It wasn’t possible. I leaned in more. Both wanting to know and not wanting to know.
Only one of her eyes had it. I could no longer deny it. The pupil was no longer a circle but was a line, a moving snake, of green. A deep, emerald, shiny, captivating, and gorgeous green that no one could deny. I could see it so terribly clearly. So horrifically clearly.
The green worm slowly made its way around and inside of her eyeball. It went away, it slithered up and away, then came back from another point. I could no longer avert my gaze, but I no longer wanted to.
I closed my eyes and was not surprised that not only could I still see the emerald serpent, but I could see it all even more majestically with my eyes closed. I quickly opened them as the idea of that concerned me even more.
Her lips curled up more and she emanated a warmth and friendliness that only a sincere and heartfelt person could have. Either that or a brilliant serial killer.
I gave up. I gave in.
I was hers. Or someone’s. But I was no longer mine. I was a part of something that I didn’t understand. I only understood that I was a part of it.
As if just that thought were the key, just having that single thought made it all go away, she winked again.
Her eye was back to normal.
I was far, far, far from back to normal.