By EJ White
When Stacy emailed you the link for “Arizona’s most celebrated” psychic, you conjured a groan so extended, the lungs of a weaker individual may damn well have collapsed. But here you are, amongst the rainbow shawls, the rumpled pineapple-bun hair, the great many crystals in the hotel lobby. You’re surprised the hotel is so bourgeois, so Scottsdale, with the golden yellow chandeliers, the dark marble floors, and superfluous water structures, as if to wag a big middle finger at the surrounding desert; all this for a man who calls himself psychic. Your colleagues at the University would not approve.
But Stacy needs this, and she needs you: you were the only other person in the room when her mother died, when cancer extinguished the strongest woman both of you had ever known, and you marveled at the stoicism, the relief of body without life; you were the only non-family member to speak at her funeral, to be listed in the will, to fully comprehend the tremendous loss that family endured; you don’t hike, but you did with Stacy, and watched as her mom, an ashy powder, floated from Stacy’s hands, and you wondered if this is what freedom looks like, and you remembered what it was to be alone.
You and Stacy wade through the rushes of people and take your seats in the crowded ballroom. Applause crackles through the large audience like rain on a tin roof. The psychic, a tall man with thinning hair—a little too collared-shirt-and-jeans for a psychic, in your opinion—waltzes across the stage and air guns the crowd. Stacy gives you a side-eye; you facepalm. This is the self-proclaimed harbinger of the spirit realm, the ferry on which ex-pats return to their once-familiar domain. A moniker for the man materializes, and you bestow upon him the sobriquet “Psychic Stan.”
Sparing no time for introductions, Psychic Stan thrusts an index finger in to the audience: to the man in the oversized Hawaiian shirt, a son apologizes for an overdose; a father communicates to his children the pride he feels for them and their careers; a former husband sends love to an elderly woman with a loud cross necklace, to which she replies, “Which husband is this, now?”
For what seems like hours, Psychic Stan aims and fires into the wide-eyed audience messages from beyond. Stacy squirms in her chair, unblinking, her mouth agape; you don’t think she’s seen you crushing candy on your phone.
You’ve entered an intense mental debate regarding dinner options, so when Psychic Stan mentions his name once, twice, and again, it goes unnoticed. You realize the room is looking your direction, 300-or-so faces swim in front of you, and Stacy’s mouth is moving. Your eyes meet Psychic Stan’s, his index finger aimed at your nose, and sharp, neurochemical numbness accompanies your understanding, first in your head, then your arms, then deep in your stomach.
A string of words wraps around your face.
Surely you’ve misunderstood some part of this because the man in mention isn’t dead. He is, however, in your head again, in your body, and you wonder how many times one can force oneself on to another. A thousand tiny bugs tickle your spine as you remember he is dead, and recently. You remember the news report—the car’s twisted metal corpse, his mangled body sprawled over the median, his skull scattered on the asphalt like melon rind, lips peeled back in a red smile—and it made you sad, not for him or his family or the people who’ll never know what happened between you two, but because a part of you died that day as well. But the dead are never gone; you know that now.
You’re standing. You’ve made it to the back door before you see him in the corner of the room, his mutilated body and broken glass head. Your feet feel enormous as you stumble through the parking lot. You’re being followed; Stacy is behind you. You roar out of the lot, tires crying down side roads, and as you navigate the highway, his face behind the wheel of every approaching car. You’re consumed by the man’s temerity, the unflinching audacity of a man who believes an apology is his ally, his fix, a transmogrification tool, and you wish you could believe so vehemently in something. And as you pass the point on the highway where the rollover occurred, his swollen rotting corpse still present, you understand that he’ll forever be there, the toothy lipless smile mounting your psyche, and you remember what it is to be alone, a body without life.