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  • Writer's pictureJeoff Ayers

An Eye Here or There

“Everything's forseeable... My grandmother sweeping the sidewalk knows that. She says there's no god, only an eye here and there that sees clearly. The neighbors are too busy watching TV to burn her as a witch.”

-Charles Simic, “The World Doesn’t End”


The tea kettle whistled, and the door clicked behind her (minutes earlier, Sam had entered ten minutes earlier). The apartment was still dark, she couldn't bring herself to turn on the light (why?). She felt a trickling in her throat, as if oil was dripping from her uvula down through the esophagus, like stagnant pond water.

The hallway into her apartment had been fluorescent bright (just like the hallways in her office) just like the freight tunnels she took underneath downtown. She couldn't bear it, she couldn't bear it anymore. She brewed some tea wheezing short breaths (her or the tea?). She slid to the floor slumping beside the door to the cabinet under her sink. She pulled her knees to her chest and sipped while something (what could it be?) seemed to drip somewhere, not sure where, around her. She considered calling 911 for only a moment.

There was no object to her abject terror, no spontaneous combustion, no apparition of the dead (if only...). Only despair, and the humid suffering of knowing that nothing could change now. What is happening now is all that can happen. Jesus Christ, she thought, Jesus Christ, as she rolled onto her side and closed her eyes.

 

There was a cross with a crucified Jesus at the altar and stained glass parallel to the pews. I hadn’t stepped foot in a church since I was 16, it was strange to be reminded of their existence. I returned at 8 a.m. on Sunday to attend the rite of Holy Eucharist, and the beauty of the spoken word moved me as much as the light on the mosaic glass. I kept attending, to the annoyance of my partner. One Sunday, it was alleged that Jesus turned water into wine. It was strange to be reminded that some people believe this. The beauty of the cathedral morphed into curiosity, and the curiosity into a project after a conversation with the priest. “Sam, the universe is mysterious,” he said after I cornered him. How mysterious, exactly? “I don’t know if Jesus literally resurrected, or if the early apostolic church just used the idea of resurrection as a metaphor for the continuing life of the church.”

But do you believe that the miracles happened?

The priest shifted into a posture that suggested a shrug, not just in the shoulders, but in the spirit also. So I began my project with a question: what does it mean to be dead?

 

“Words are binding, Ms. Delaney, but knots bind the rope’s own self,” spoke the middle-aged man with a desperately thin crown and pencil mustache. His hair was a deep shade of brown and greasy, the same shade as his tweed blazer. I felt the entire time in that small Irish pub deep in the downtown of St. Louis like he was a grotesque performance artist. And I was bored. No, bored isn’t quite the right word. It gets across my lack of interest, but does not convey the revulsion. Yet even still, as he leaned in a little closer, I felt compelled to listen a little more. As if there was a gas leak and he was about to strike a match. He stared at me intensely and, almost against my will, I equally met his gaze. His pungent, whiskey-tinged breath hit my face as he spoke again.


“What is it you desire?” he asked. I waited for a few moments, like I needed to collect my thoughts. I whispered my response a little softer than I expected. He smirked a little, and I hated that I told him the truth. He was a self-proclaimed wizard that I’d met on the internet. This moment alone was enough to convince me I really shouldn’t have asked to meet him, let alone the hour and a half previous of his nearly incoherent rambling. But then, he finally said something that mattered. “Sam, I perceive that you don’t believe any of what I’m saying. I could teach you a spell, right now, that will grant your wish.”

 

Sam had held her father's hand in the hospital. It was an unrehearsed motion that felt foreign and stiff. She had felt compelled to do so, believing she had a duty to remember his touch (how would she remember him? she didn't even have a voicemail saved).


Watching him etch into stone, watching him become a series of painted figures and chipped indentations, she cried most nights. The hospital chaplain came in one evening and read scripture. The hospital chaplain came in some evenings and guided her through prayer.


They cried together most nights too.

 

At her apartment, she watered her succulents. On her laptop played The Midnight Gospel, the episode with Damien Echols. She cooked asparagus and ate it with a small stack of saltines as a side.


“Well, the Eastern traditions are set up to achieve enlightenment, which is what we call in the West 'crossing the abyss,' over a period of several lifetimes,” said Damien from the computer. In a moment, she was conscious (suddenly) that she was in a room. She heard the next words clearly: “Magick is like pouring jet fuel on that process, what we call 'high magick,' we're trying to achieve that state in the course of one lifetime. And that can be a little overwhelming sometimes.”


Halfway through the next episode that had auto-played, she shut the laptop’s lid and googled “magick” on her phone.

 

I was gathering materials. I had sage, I needed to procure blue lotus and special candles. High magick seemed semi-stuck between procedure and meditation. At the counter (if you could call it a counter, a rough-hewn board strapped atop cardboard boxes), Lavinia helped me find what I needed in her small (strange) shop. Dark wood paneling, items stacked on the floor or cupped in small shelves and cupboards.


She had asked what kind of spell I was attempting. I, knowing it was beyond me, lied.


She knows enough about magick to know I was lying, but said no more, only pointed at a poster along the back wall for those seeking a consultation with a priestess (for exorcisms, or entity attachments, or contacting the dead). The wizard had messaged me the night before, "The spirits tell me you’re preparing for the spell." Sure, I thought, of course the spirits have nothing better to do.


River had called before I left for the magick shop. They were in Arizona, caring for their Mom. We said very little, mostly in between the words that we could muster. I didn't tell them about the magick (who even believes in that shit?).

 

There was a knock on the door. Sam, are you in there? Can you let me in? She was still on the floor, rolled up into a ball. The knocking became a crescendo. Sam recognized the voice of her neighbor. She crawled to the door and twisted the handle. Brooke pushed the door open from the other side.


Brooke didn't see anything wrong, or smell anything wrong either. The apartment seemed calm in its modern simplicity. She flipped the light switch, and Sam wheezed.


Brooke looked down into an ashen face.


What happened, love? You'll be okay, love. A few words from Brooke, spoken softly, spread through the air.


An hour later, Brooke walked Sam across the hall and into her apartment.


Crossing the threshold, Sam felt her lungs open up. They sat drinking tea around the spruce table, Sam wrapped in a shawl.


Why did you knock on my door? The Lord told me to. The Lord? Yes, the Lord. What did you do? I prayed. Seriously?


Seriously?

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