Edition 17: Results by Denise Robarge Tanaka
Lara Clarke offers another service that stays off her business cards. Not everyone is ready to have the darkness of their past stirred up. But for those special customers, Lara has a special skill, and sometimes they come looking for her help. The touch of the seedy underside of Hollywood in this paranormal psychic adventure leaves you feeling like a dirty deal has been done. SY
“So how does it work?” the client asked, not even taking off his sunglasses.
I get that question every time. People expect lots of chanting gibberish, incense that smells like burning a hippie’s sandals, furniture thumping, lights going out…You know, all that poltergeist crap. My specialty services are not listed in my front office brochure. Lara Diane Clarke, clinical physical therapist, can get you back on the team after that sports injury or back to work after that fender bender.
Not many people know about my paranormal services. He only found me by word of mouth, and even through his sunglasses, I could tell he didn’t believe.
I told him, “You just need to sign the waiver and I’ll prick your finger with a sterile needle. That’s it.”
“That’s it?” he asked skeptically.
He scanned around the room like he was searching for the hidden camera. I couldn’t blame him for being suspicious. What I do is pretty strange.
“Shouldn’t I fill out a questionnaire or tell you something about my—”
“No,” I said. “That’s what you pay me for. I don’t do interviews. I get results.”
I deliberately used that word, interview, knowing the impact it would have on an actor.
He was shorter than I expected, and thin—really thin—and kind of worn-out for his age. Actors complain a lot about their lives being hard but if this guy were to say it, I’d believe it. He wore a faded baseball cap and dark glasses to sneak in the back door of my office. As if the paparazzi cared about a floundering Tom Cruise wannabe who wasn’t dysfunctional enough to have his own reality show.
He autographed the waiver and initialed each of the six pages.
“Would you like a copy of it?” I asked him. “You can show it to your agent, or lawyer…or whatever?”
“Um, sure, yeah.” His disarming smile surprised me for being so genuine and not played for the cameras. “If you don’t mind, Ms. Clarke? I’ve had some bad experiences in the past with signing things.”
“I completely understand.”
The ergonomic chair swiveled as I rose to my feet. I paused to adjust my posture. He looked in my direction but through his sunglasses I could not be sure if he was checking me out, much less whether he approved. I have a decent body that I’m not ashamed of, though it’s not skinny by Hollywood standards. I’m not quite thirty and I take care of myself. Fill out my bra pretty well and my thighs aren’t so bad. On that day, I wore a Marshall’s top and pleated trousers. I never considered a costume that my private clients might find more appropriate, like a gypsy skirt and an off-the shoulder peasant blouse. I don’t own any ridiculous gold hoop jewelry; my ears aren’t even pierced.
I made the photocopy, brought it back, and sat down.
Now came the weird part. “It’s not going to hurt much,” I said.
I unpacked a plastic finger-jabber device and sterile needles that a diabetes patient would use to home-test blood glucose levels. The lancets, resembling the world’s tiniest thumbtacks, were advertised as extra fine for maximum comfort. Yeah, like drawing blood should be comfortable.
I filled a Japanese rice bowl with warm water from the electric teakettle that I kept on the table. “Dip your fingers in here, please. It helps the blood flow.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to tell you what I’m looking for?” The actor was used to others probing him with questions.
“You’re looking for a connection to your history,” I guessed while loading the lancet into the spring-loaded device. “You feel a bit lost, adrift in this modern age of technology. You’re seeking answers from a simpler time when people’s minds weren’t cluttered with the Internet and the smart phone. You think your ancestors knew something of wisdom that the current generation has forgotten.”
“I’m not paying for bullshit.” He paused for me to respond.
I just shrugged blankly. “Fine, you got me. That’s the canned speech. That’s why most folks seek out my services. You’re different, I take it?”
“Seriously, you must have Googled me. Any good fake psychic can do that much.”
“I’m not a psychic,” I said. “And I’m not a fake.”
I lifted his hand out of the warm water. I dabbed him dry with a blue terry cloth towel. He had really nice hands. Clearly he trimmed his own fingernails. A genuine, regular guy…for an actor.
“Will this take long? I’m due back at the hotel by five. A reporter from Rolling Stone is coming over to interview me about the—”
“Shhh,” I cut him off. He let himself be interrupted.
I aligned the plastic jabber against the side of his index finger. The box’s instructions recommended avoiding the fingertips because they would hurt more. One press of the button trigger. The spring snapped. “Ow!” He jumped a little. I set the lancet aside and gently squeezed a few drops out of his skin.
Blood dripped tiny spots into the shot glass. Slowly, the droplets extended into swirling red threads.
“That’s it?” he asked when I handed him a circular Band-Aid.
“For you, yes.”
I used a sterile eyedropper to draw from the shot glass. Everything was sterile.
“Hey, is that vodka?” he asked.
“Yeah, it prevents pink eye.”
This was the part that I always hated—revealing myself to the clients—but they never paid unless they could witness my process. I wish it were as spectacular as chanting runes or Latin backwards, drawing of weird Egyptian symbols on the floor, or singing to a black cat by the light of a full moon. I don’t own a cat. What I really do is quite boring to observe. I know because I took video. More often than not, I still get accused of faking it. When they demand their money back, I don’t argue; hell, I’ve got a day job.
I settled onto the wide cushions of my couch. I crossed my ankles in a yoga pose, not so much for showmanship but to help keep me balanced. I tilted my face up and used the eyedropper, plip-plip, dropping in just a little of the blood-infused vodka. It always stings, but I only notice for a moment.
I closed my eyes while the actor watched. Without ever moving from my couch, I quietly went away to wherever he wanted me to go.
It’s that easy. I just…go.
Willie leaves work at the ice cream parlour the same time every night. It’s the same time the bakery next door closes its doors and the fat German owner pulls down the shades. The bakery girls leave their aprons behind as they step into the evening. Each night, it’s the same—the two blonde girls walk arm in arm, and behind them the dark-haired foreign girl walks alone.
Willie doesn’t know the foreign girl’s name. He only knows that she arrived just after Easter and she came from a faraway place called Armenia.
His feet ache. He has been standing all day serving ice cream sundaes and root beer floats to the well-dressed lovers who did not need to work. All day long, he talks politely until his voice is hoarse. “Five cents, please” and “thank you, sir” he has been saying with rehearsed cheerfulness.
Now, in the cool of the evening, as he walks behind the girls, he would not know what to say if she were to look back over her shoulder. “Hello, I work next door, may I walk you home?” He practices the script in his mind every night, but she never turns around.
The blonde girls keep walking toward the trolley stop. They giggle together and say something about saltwater taffy.
On this night, the dark-haired Armenian girl does not stay with them. She steps off the boardwalk. She goes into a vacant lot that is a patch of weeds in-between high brick buildings.
Willie knows this way. It’s a short cut to her neighborhood, where all the other Armenians live crammed into smelly tenement apartments. The girl is new to the city—it must have taken her all this time to figure out new this route home.
Willie also knows that this shortcut will take her through the alley behind the billiards parlour and a saloon. Men drink gin and gamble there. Men who spend their days in hard labor at the shipyards will be there now blowing off steam.
“Don’t go this way,” he wants to tell her. But he is shy. He has never so much as said hello. Would she trust him, or would she run?
Willie follows her across the grassy field. He stays back at a distance so she won’t be afraid.
Thinking she is alone, the Armenian girl skips ahead. Her heels kick up the back of her long gray skirt. She laughs with her arms spread open.
Following at a distance, Willie smiles along with her. He wonders if she ever laughed where she came from.
A drunken man stumbles out of the billiard parlor into the alley. He bumps into Willie, and both of them land side-by-side against the brick wall.
“Whoa, watch where yer goin’,” the drunk yells at Willie.
“Hey, pal, you bumped into me!”
The drunk coughs up a stream of wet vomit all over Willie’s shoes. “Doggonit, mister!” They are the only shoes he owns, and now he’ll need to hang them over the rattling radiator all night to dry off.
Willie backs up slowly, kicking the sludge off his shoes. Then he remembers her.
He looks farther up the alleyway but does not see her. At the end of the square brick tunnel are the amber lights of lamps in the apartment building’s windows. Willie thinks she must have gotten home by now.
“Son of a bitch.” The drunk makes a grab for him. Willie pushes him off.
“I just wanna go home. I don’t want any trouble, mister.”
“You bumped into me!”
“Sure, mister, sure. Whatever you say. I’m sorry, all right?” Willie walks away backwards. His shoes squelch wetly with every step.
“You better not come back this way. If I see you again, kid, I’ll knock yer block off.”
“Sure, mister, sure.” Willie’s heart is pounding by the time he reaches the end of the alleyway. He looks back over his shoulder to be sure the mumbling drunk is staggering back into the billiards parlour.
He decides that, come tomorrow, he will talk to the Armenian girl. He will tell her about the dangers of this shortcut. He will warn her not to go this way, ever again, and he will offer to walk her home along the trolley route. It would take another twenty minutes going that way, but it would give them a chance to talk. He would ask her about Armenia and if she had any family and why she came to Boston. He would tell her about his own boring life, coming from Cleveland, and she would listen with a smile. Tomorrow, he decides. Tomorrow.
A man jumps out from the piles of crates and sacks of garbage. His trousers are unbuttoned in the front. His shirt has a broad stain of blood like a butcher’s apron. A knife twinkles in his hand.
Willie ducks around the corner of the building to hide against the bricks. He listens for the man’s heavy feet to splash in the urine puddles of the alleyway, fading away, running in the other direction.
He wipes the sweat dripping into his eyes. Then he thinks of her.
Willie doesn’t want to go look, but he knows he has to. His sore feet go numb but he forces his legs to move. He takes sluggish halting steps back into the alley. He goes to the stack of crates. He looks to the place in the shadows where the man with the knife had emerged.
Face down, her black hair conceals the upper half of her body. Her gray dress is torn away. Blood covers her exposed back, her buttocks, her splayed legs. Blood puddles around her like a dark halo.
I woke up feeling nauseous. I could still smell blood and urine and the sooty stink of a gas-lit old city.
“Shit!” My own voice sounded weird to my ears, like it should have been lower and hoarse like a man’s.
“Well?” the client asked.
Somehow I managed to get to my feet. I staggered desperately for the stainless steel sink in the corner of my office. Gripping the sink’s rim, I braced myself to puke. Nausea did a slow swirl in my gut, bile trying to decide whether it needed to come up or if a few deep breaths would settle it down.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
I held up a pointer finger to gesture that I needed a minute. The visions, or whatever you want to call it, don’t usually hit me this hard.
Underneath the sink, the cabinet was packed with essential therapy supplies like cold packs, hot packs, a towel warmer the size of a toaster oven, and assorted gallon jugs of massage oils. Behind the jojoba was my go-to bottle of Smirnoff.
I poured a shot from the bottle and drank it so fast my gut did not have time to puke it back up. I panted in hard gasps as the clear liquid warmed my sore throat.
“What did you see?” he insisted, standing much too close behind me. Actors.
“Your ancestor Willie saw a girl get raped and murdered. Is that what you expected me to see?”
“Huh.” He backed up a step, putting a little—but not enough—distance between us. “That happened in Armenia?”
“No, Boston…in May or June of ninety-seven. That’s eighteen ninety-seven, by the way.”
“That’s after he came here from Armenia, after the Hamidian massacres?”
I turned around to talk face-to-face. By now, he had removed his sunglasses and I got my first good look at his eyes. Brown like a lost puppy.
“No, the dead girl was from Armenia. Your ancestor was from Cleveland.”
“Aha!” He pointed at my face. “You did Google me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“My ancestors were Armenians who fled the genocide in Turkey. It’s a thrilling story of one family’s courageous struggle to survive. It’s like the von Trapp family—you know, The Sound of Music—only without the singing.”
“Can’t stand that movie,” I said, and said no more. It’s hard to explain to people the moods that come with the associations. At this moment, I did not feel like sharing what I knew of the real von Trapp family and their experiences in Austria as World War Two was gearing up.
“Yeah, I know, it’s pretty sappy. For my film, I’d like to get an R-rating for the grit and realism, but the studio will probably haggle it down to a PG-13.”
I bent over to put the vodka bottle back in its place, back next to the jar of lavender salt scrub. “So this is research for a film?”
“Sort of,” he replied. “It’s also personal. See, this amateur genealogist posted a link on my Twitter that she’s done all this research for thirty years, claiming we’re eighth cousins ten times removed or something, and my great-great-grandfather was named William Wilson and he came from Cleveland. Seriously!”
“A lot of families have flimsy legends about their origins,” I said. “What makes you think you’re Armenian?”
“My mother told me, and she heard it from her Aunt Bertha who inherited all of the family memorabilia. There’s a trunk load of stuff—old newspaper clippings about what happened in Turkey and group photographs of the Armenian Heritage Society, and…”
I held up a hand to beg him to stop. “He was from Cleveland. He worked in the ice cream parlour next to the bakery where she worked. Every day, he tried to get up the balls to say hello to her, and every day he chickened out until it was too late. Maybe he felt guilty for not being more of a hero when she needed one. Maybe he collected newspapers to try and understand what she had been through before she came here, and maybe that made him feel worse. Because after surviving whatever the Turks did to her family, and coming here to start a new life in the land of the free, she got killed in a senseless brutal act by some drunken asshole in a bar.”
“Hey, I was there. I was in your ancestor’s head and his heart. I saw it—no, I felt it happen. He felt like shit. I don’t think he ever got over it.”
He lowered his head so his baseball cap shielded his face from me. “Don’t you understand? I need to prove her wrong. She’s ruining all the publicity before we’ve even started location shooting. I have a flight to Prague next week. The studio might pull the plug on the whole project, if they can’t put ‘based on a true story’ in the opening credits.”
“Okay, it’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s the truth.”
“You’re a liar and a fake.”
I turned away to face the wall where I have a Rembrandt print framed—the one where his red-haired mistress is holding up the hem of her white chemise to go bathing in a golden stream. She is smiling down at the water, and I know for a fact that Rembrandt was smiling when he painted her. I know because, for a few sparkling minutes, I was Hendrickje.
Usually, it doesn’t bother me when the clients call me a fake. Usually, I offer them a refund. I’ve got a day job. This time, maybe it was taste of puke in the back of my throat or the stink of the memory of blood and urine. This time, no refund.
“I’m so fucking sorry you’re not happy with the answers but that’s the story that your blood wanted to tell me. I’m not a fake, goddamnit. I don’t even care if you pay me. I just need you to believe me.”
He took his sunglasses out of his denim jacket’s pocket. He wiped the lenses clean in slow circular movements of his thumb.
“Okay,” he said.
“I’ll pay you double and give you a new car. I’ve seen the Subaru, so I know you can use a Beemer. All you gotta do is go on Twitter and say you’re a psychic who had a vision of my great-great-grandfather escaping the Armenian genocide just like my mother told me, just like what’s in the script.”
When he put on his sunglasses, I saw myself reflected in the dark silvery mirrors. And something else too.
Behind my shoulder stood a pretty young girl with a slender face and raven black hair. Bruises around her large dark eyes made her look like a heroin addict, even though I knew for a fact she was far from it. She wore a gray gingham dress buttoned up to the chin and a knitted shawl draped off one shoulder. Her black hair was pinned up in a bun loosely so the frilly curls could drape around her face.
The actor was looking straight at her through his sunglasses, but he did not react.
The bleed-over is what I call it. From time to time, it happens especially with violent deaths. Murders, accidents, war, or suicides bring up a sort of restless energy from the cosmos. It’s like poking a stick into something that should not be poked. What was she, I wondered as the eyes reflected in his sunglasses stared back at me. A ghost? A spectre? A phantom? A wraith? Until now, I never had a vocabulary for what came through in the bleed-overs. Until now, I had never managed to look at one directly without them disappearing; they don’t like you to look at them.
“Fine,” I said.
“I’ll get on Twitter and the fan blogs and all the TV talk shows you want. I’ll discredit the amateur genealogist as best I can. I’ll say I’m a psychic even though I hate that word. I’ll say whatever you want me to say.”
His perfectly plucked eyebrows flexed behind the frames of his sunglasses. “What’s the catch?”
I looked straight at his face but I spoke to the ghoulish girl reflected in his sunglasses. “Go ahead and make your movie. It doesn’t matter where your family came from. It doesn’t matter if your connection to the story is true or not. It’s the story that’s important.”
I escorted the actor to my office door to see him off. He hesitated, like maybe he should tip the valet who brought his limousine around. I knew—without really knowing—this would be the last time we ever spoke. After this, he would have his people call me.
The girl dogged his heels. With every passing moment, she became more and more solid. The threads of her knitted shawl came into sharp focus. She carried herself proudly in a way that would make any mother compliment her good posture. Her dark eyes widened in the expectancy, watching him, waiting for his next words.
“By the way,” I said in parting. “You’d better do a good job on this film.”
“I know. I will. It’s my comeback after the last two bombed at the box office.”
I touched his arm and felt a chilly breeze pass between us, even though he had not yet opened the door.
“I’m just saying, it’s very, very important that you do a good job on this film. Her story needs to be told.”
“Hells, yeah.” He smiled that magazine-cover smile of his. “I’m hoping for an Oscar.”
“Good luck,” I said.
Saying nothing more, he left my office. I watched him walk away to the yellow taxi parked on the curb.
Of course I did not need to open the door for her. She melted through the glass pane without so much as rustling the striped curtain.
Briefly I considered chasing after him and telling him. When the taxi pulled away from the curb, someone else was riding unseen in the back seat. But in that instant, I realized he wouldn’t believe me. I hoped that I was wrong, that things might work out all right. The ghost did not seem like a vengeful poltergeist.
Not yet, anyway. She hadn’t seen the script.
Denise Robarge Tanaka is a lifelong writer of magical beings and fantastic worlds. She shares her life with a husband from Japan and two daughters. Working full-time as a paralegal doesn’t leave much free time, but her passion is to tell the many stories playing out in her mind. Her short fiction has appeared in recent issues of New Realm and previously in Once Upon A World (#7). Denise is signed with Phantasm Books (an imprint of Assent Publishing) and her debut novel ‘A Blighted Touch’ will be released in Spring 2015.
Website: www.drobarge.co (that really is [dot] CO, not [dot] COM)