Chapter one, Continued

On June 1, 2009

I’m back. I have been preparing for Dan Nelson’s visit to L.A. Professor and theoretical physicist-turned private researcher from Helena, Montana, Dan will be conducting a four-day seminar in which he will demonstrate his revolutionary techniques of the future that I believe could forever change the face of self-healing. Introductory talks will be held Thursday & Friday evening Dec. 3rd & 4th – 7pm to 9pm, followed by a weekend workshop all day Saturday Dec. 5th and Sunday Dec. 6th. For details and to RSVP contact me at sandy@sanjohns.com. I have been researching and writing about healers and healing for more than 10 years; Dan Nelson’s work is the most unique — and radical — I have yet to come across. I will be reporting on the seminar.

Now, back to the 4th installment of Chapter One of The Thirteenth Moon. I’ll try to keep to my schedule of weekly posts.

I sped along the interstate, blaming myself for leaving the house, blaming Bill for not talking it over with me (he had lost the ability to speak, but he was able to communicate by writing on a pad) and for not giving me a chance to talk him out of it (maybe that was the point). And outrage that he had left it to our son find him.

Over the coming days the word dignity was repeated over and over again, as well as the words choice and control. He had to do it this way, Sally said, so as not to implicate any of us in his demise. Billy said Dad had chosen him to be the one to find him because he knew he could handle it. Like me, Wendy was furious. He had ducked out the back door. Left without saying I love you.

Grief would have to wait.

New Mexico had turned to ashes for me, so I packed up and moved to L.A.

Seven years have passed. Now it’s my turn to dance with mortality. I go into the kitchen, make coffee and get ready to work. We were always there for each other, in sickness and in health, even in divorce. We knew we could count on each other. Didn’t you know that, Bill? I would have been there for you at your side right to the end. Just as I know you would be here for me now.

I must stop focusing on the coming days and get back to my novel. I am on Chapter Two where during the midnight ceremony at the water’s edge, Peter – who finds it all rather picaresque–has accepted a gift from the Black Pope, not knowing that the gift will change his life. Perhaps even end it.

The commotion at the water’s edge caught Peter’s attention, making him forget for a moment his own torment. He watched, fascinated as people – tourists and natives, young and old – were crowded around a flower-strewn float carried down the beach toward the water’s edge by a procession of men dressed in white. In the center of the float on a throne decorated with flowers and streamers, sat an ebony-skinned man in a white satin cape. Children ran alongside, trying to touch the throne.

Narrowing his eyes to frame the image in his mind he could see it on canvas – all primary colors: alabaster white carnations, cadmium yellow gladiolas on long parrot-green stems, crimson madder for the roses. Bright-colored trinkets and beads bobbing along the white foamy edge of a wave, midnight blue-black sky, inky sea, half-moon tilted crazily, a million candles flickering… That’s it. That’s what I need to get.

“Gifts for Yemanja,” a man standing next to him said. He was pointing to people wading into the surf, their arms filled with flowers and trinkets. “If their gifts get swept into the ocean that means the sea goddess has accepted their offerings and their wishes will be granted.”

A moment later, Peter felt a tap on his shoulder. “Senhor,” another man, white shirt and pants, this one wearing a large gold cross around his neck.

“What?”

He pointed to the man behind him in a white cape sitting on the flowered throne by small statues and dozens of votive candles. At his feet sat a bottle and a metal cup. “He is inviting you to take a drink, Senhor.”

“No thanks. I’ve had enough drink.”

“You don’t understand. He is Gustavo di Vasconcelos. He is offering you a wish, Senhor.”

“He’s offering me what?”

A man standing to his left, a tourist, judging from his evening suit, explained. “Gustavo. He’s the head of one of the Afro-Brazilian Quimbanda sects. It’s our New Year’s, but here in Brazil they’re celebrating the goddess of the sea, Yemanja. Gustavo comes down here only once a year, on this night. He is known as the Black Pope.”

“Brazil has its own pope?”

“The newspapers gave him that name,” the tourist said. “It stuck.”

“One night a year the goddess Yemanja picks someone whose destiny she will change,” the man in white said. “She has picked you, Senhor. She will give you a wish. You are to go drink from that cup. Go. Go to him.”

“Go ahead,” the tourist said. “What the hell, when in Brazil, you know …”

Peter turned. The man in the cape — the pope — was beckoning to him, looking at him with large knowing eyes that shone in the candlelight like polished coals. He was studying him. As if he could read his every thought. He held out a cup, urging Peter to take it. Urging or daring?

Drawn by the strangeness of the man they called a pope, Peter walked toward him. When he got close, and looked into the piercing eyes, he felt a split second’s unexpected pang of fear and almost backed away. But the pope’s face broke into a wide, warm smile. Peter half smiled in return, and took the cup and started to bring it to his lips.

“No, no!” the other man in white cried. “First, you must pour some into the sea as an offering to Yemanja, then drink. All of it.”

“Oh. Okay.” Peter started away, but the pope reached out and tugged at his sleeve. “Espere,” he said. “Lembra-se sempre–”

Peter looked to the man in white to translate, but the pope in accented English said softly, so softly that Peter had to lean to hear him, “Only remember, you must respect the recklessness of fate.”

Peter nodded. “Right.” With a wry grimace, he walked to the water’s edge. He stood a moment, staring out at the sea again. Beyond the moonlight path the sea became black and empty as death. As empty as his life felt at that moment. He looked at the cup in his hand. “Right,” he muttered. “A goddam wish.” Tilting the cup, he watched a stream of the liquor melt into the sea. He gulped the rest. The strong, sugary liquor burned his throat and fire spread through him. He cried out, a long hoarse cry that tore through the night sky.

“You want my wish, goddess lady?” he shouted, “Well, here it is. Listen up. Find me a new way to paint. A way that’ll make me good. Not just good, forget good, I want to be fucking great!” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes and said quietly, “Find me the soul of my art.”

With one swift motion, he hurled the cup high in the air, beyond the breakers, along the moonlight path.

Behind him, over the sound of the breaking wave that swept the cup out to sea, he heard a strange high-pitched laugh.

I stop. A thought suddenly hits me: You took the option you chose away from me, Bill. Because no matter how gruesome this cancer I’ve been hit with might become, no matter how painful or debilitating, I am forced to live it out. Our children cannot have both parents leave this world by their own hand.

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