** Work-in-progress **
The old mantel clock starts ticking for the first time in months, repetitive and angry. Or perhaps it has been all along, but I’ve grown too accustom to the sound to register it anymore.
The clock has been in my family for generations. The last remaining vestige of my grandfather’s life before America. Its exact placement in his house is still so clear in my mind: on the hearth with the wobbly brick at the end. The centerpiece of an otherwise ordinary living room.
His fondness for it left an indelible imprint on me. When he told tales of its history, I gave my undivided attention, captivated. It was the only thing of his I wanted when he passed. The clock, his prized heirloom, and I, now its keeper and docent.
At this time of night, the clock’s beautiful cherry color is lost, blending into the darkness. A chime used to announce the arrival of each hour, but it has been silent for many years now. When money allows, one day I’ll have it fixed. Grandpa would’ve liked that.
I close my eyes and try convincing myself that sleep will come, but my brain is restless. My bedding is damp, and my heart is racing. Strands of frizzy hair stick to the moisture on my face. I dreamt about her again. Is this her way of sending me a message from wherever she is?
I wouldn’t normally believe in such a thing, but the visions are becoming more frequent. More vivid. In this most recent dream, she appeared on my TV and spoke to me, but I couldn’t decipher the muffled words, crackling in my ears like static. I put my hand on the glass and felt only the smooth cold barrier between us. What is she trying to tell me? Is she scared? Confused? Alone? The thought is too difficult to bear and weighs heavy on my mind throughout another sleepless night.
When I arrive at the medium’s place of business, an ADU located not far from the main house on the property, I’m filled with instant shame and regret. It’s all a scam dating back to the Victorians, isn’t it? A ruse perpetrated by soulless con-artists who take advantage of desperate people, exploiting grief for profit. Sickening. Yet here I am. Why? Because she believed in this stuff.
I chose this particular medium in part because her name is Karen. Not “Madame Karen” or “Karen the Magnificent.” No gimmicks or bluster. Just Karen. And I like that. The other main contributing factor is that previous clients have left countless positive reviews on her Facebook page. None of this implies trust, however, but I’m confident that my hundred bucks at least earns me an empathic ear.
The windows are covered with colorful psychedelic patterns on sheer fabric. I knock on the door and a shadow passes behind the makeshift curtains. A woman with short white hair answers. She greets me and offers her hand. Bright blue veins poke through her thin, soft skin.
“You must be Avery. Please, come in and warm yourself,” she says, shivering and pulling her gray, cable-knit sweater tighter across her body.
I want to turn back around and leave and pretend I never came here in the first place, but I don’t. I follow her into the dimly lit space. My eyes gravitate toward the seating arrangement: two leather chairs facing each other. A dark-stained coffee table between them. An active lava lamp, the room’s only light source, bounces off the faux wood-paneled walls.
“Have a seat,” she says.
I ease into the nearest chair and she sits down in the one across from me. Her eyes find mine and lock in, followed by a warm, gentle smile. Am I supposed to speak first? My hands twitch, though I try to still them. I know she’ll be watching my body language closely, homing in on any sign that may direct her reading. That’s how they do it. They gauge your reaction to the things they say to determine whether or not they’re on the right track, making it appear as though they’re channeling the great beyond for guidance.
“It’s natural to feel guarded,” Karen says. “I know the first meeting can be especially awkward, but you’re in a safe space here.”
Shit. It’s starting already. I need to stay calm and not give her anything she can work with.
“I’m an open book,” I blurt, sounding as convincing as a death row inmate claiming innocence.
“Great. Shall we begin then?”
With my eyes now adjusted to the low light, I glimpse her business license hanging on the wall behind her, nestled between two framed nature photographs. One beautifully captures sun rays peeking in through the forest. The other showcases a breathtaking snow-capped mountain range. Maybe the Rockies or the Olympics. I’m not sure.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” I say. “I’m new to this sort of thing. I don’t really know how to start.”
“Your message said that you’ve been experiencing strange dreams. Would you like to begin by telling me a little more about them?”
“Okay.” I hesitate, rub the back of my head. “How does this work? Am I supposed to leave out certain details that may influence your reading or something?”
Karen clasps her hands. She crosses her legs and chuckles. “Try and forget what you’ve seen on one of those silly manufactured TV shows. I’m a medium. I have a gift, but it doesn’t include psychic powers. The best way for me to help you is to know as much information as you’re comfortable sharing.”
Although her tone is kind, I can’t help but feel like a dog just bopped on the nose with a rolled-up magazine. Does this happen to her a lot? Do people like me, close-minded and full of pre-conceived notions, make appointments just to come in and waste her time? I’ve already paid for this session, so I may as well use it.
“It’s my mother,” I say, ending the conversation drought. “She passed earlier this year.”
Karen’s face softens, erasing all traces of her earlier grin. “I’m so sorry.” She reaches for a tissue box, but I wave her off.
There’s sincerity in her voice, which I appreciate. I imagine Karen hears sob stories like mine daily, so her ability to still demonstrate genuine empathy is impressive. After all, how many dead relative stories can a person really hear before they eventually start to lose effect?
“Anyway,” I continue, “things were fine at first. Well, not fine, obviously, but the expected grief you feel after losing someone close. Then a few months ago, the dreams started. Maybe once a month, then every couple of weeks.”
I swallow against the lump forming in my throat. “Every couple of days.”
Karen curls a finger and taps it against her upper lip. “I see.”
“I thought about seeing a therapist. That maybe this was all part of the grieving process, but… instead I’m discussing it with a medium. So, clearly I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Karen shifts in her seat. “Do you feel embarrassed by coming here?”
“I’m not a believer in any of this crap.” The words escape with more venom than I’d intended. “Sorry. I really don’t mean any offense, it’s just…”
Karen raises her hand. “No apology necessary. It’s quite all right. What I do can’t be scientifically proven, and as such, will always be the subject of ridicule and skepticism. I get that.” She leans forward. “But you’re here—not in a therapist’s office—so there must be some part of you that believes I can help.”