Leoni was hovering in her bedroom, close to the ceiling, like one of those helium-filled party balloons. Hmm…There were cobwebs up here that Conchita must have missed when she cleaned yesterday. Left dangling amidst threads of dust and lint, a fat black spider and half a dozen paralyzed bugs swayed back and forth in the gentle afternoon breeze that drifted in through the open picture window. Avoiding the wildlife, Leoni tried to brush the webs away with her fingers but couldn’t do it. Her hands just seemed to pass through them. Poor Conchita was going to get her ass fired when Mom noticed this mess.
In a detached way, and without fear, Leoni knew that something odd was happening to her but didn’t want to deal with it right now. Then she looked down and… Oh … my … God! There on the floor was her body, sprawled like roadkill, coke-snorter’s nose buried deep in the thick pile carpet, skirt hitched up over her left butt cheek. On the table beside her bed was a glossy magazine dotted with a few telltale flecks of OxyContin powder – so she hadn’t got it all, then – a steel nail file and a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill. Might as well have a sign on the door saying “DRUG ABUSER LIVES HERE,” she thought.
She zoomed down for a closer look at … herself. Was she dead? In a coma? The questions weren’t urgent and Leoni was surprised to discover how little she actually cared about the fate of this prone, intimately familiar and yet somehow alien body which seemed reduced already to skin and bones, meat and offal. Besides – and this was totally fucked-up – she had some other kind of body now. She had transparent hands that could not sweep away cobwebs. She could see her limbs, feet and flesh but they were not solid. Overall there was a strange sort of diaphanous insubstantiality about her – an aerial quality, as buoyant and ephemeral as a glistening soap bubble. She found nothing threatening or fearful in this. Quite the opposite. She felt she was floating on
a wave of light and joy.
Still, surely she must summon help? While there was even the faintest hope, surely she couldn’t just let her meat body expire? Could she? And what would happen to her aerial body if she did? Perhaps she would just go pop! and disappear?
With that thought Leoni floated up and out of the bedroom window, down into the sunlit garden and through the open French doors into the kitchen where her parents’ shouting match had ceased. Now they were seated at the table in their usual positions, Mom at the head, Dad at the side to her right, talking in lowered, serious voices.
“Listen, guys,” Leoni told them, “I’m dying upstairs. You’ve got to get me to a hospital right now.”
They paid no attention.
“Dad!” She reached out to shake his arm, but it was as though her fingers had closed on air. She made a grab for Mom and was able to push her hand right through her chest and through the back of the chair behind her.
Leoni ascended and hovered over the middle of the table, looking down at the two of them. They seemed uglier than usual, like Komodo dragons in human masks, and their whispers had harsh, sinister undertones. She felt a mild but insistent force tug at her. She surrendered, and began to drift towards the garden, when her father said something that drew her right back: “Leoni’s putting us at risk. Pretty soon she’s going to blurt it all out to some reporter.”
“My daddy made sex with me,” Mom mimicked in a high-pitched childish tone before adding, in her own voice: “Little bitch. It’s going to hurt the business.”
“We drove her to this.” Just for an instant Dad sounded remorseful until Mom butted in with a fervent look in her eye: “It’s what Jack wanted,” she said.
“Exactly,” Dad replied, brightening. “It’s what Jack wanted.”
“He delivered his side of the bargain,” Mom said. “We delivered ours. Now it’s time to clear up the dead wood.”
Leoni’s mind reeled. She’d been plagued with doubts for years about the sick things she remembered her dad doing to her in two widely separated episodes of sustained attacks during her childhood.
Had any of it happened?
She’d so much wanted to believe it was just mad sexual nightmares and her imagination running wild, as Dad had told her again and again, but now here was Mom seeming to confirm that it had all been real – and that she’d been raped because that was what some guy called Jack wanted.
So who was Jack?
And what did Mom mean about clearing up the dead wood?
As Leoni struggled to find answers, the force pulling on her aerial body grew stronger – much stronger. For an instant it was like riding the lead car of the roller coaster at Santa Monica Pier, only a thousand times faster, plunging and soaring through vast domains of sky until – WHOOMF! – she was back in her bedroom again, hovering directly over her meat and bones. There was someone else on top of her as well – Conchita! She’d come back with a broom to dust the cobwebs – screaming for help between bouts of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
With a hair-raising plunge of the roller coaster Leoni drew a huge gasping breath and was impelled back into her body. The last thing she heard before she lost consciousness was Conchita dialing 911.
Then Leoni was hovering at ceiling height again but not in her bedroom. This was more like it. They’d got her to a hospital at last. It looked like an operating room with lots of sexy male doctors in green scrubs scurrying around. And in the middle of all the action, stretched out on a gurney, hooked up to an amazing array of tubes, wires and bags, was Leoni’s poor pale body.
The docs were working at a frantic pace, doing things to her, and all of it was mildly interesting, of course. Then … what was this? Mad panic all round. Shouted commands. Whine of an electric-shock machine charging up. Looked like her heart had stopped. Over on the array of monitors Leoni could see the flat line on the ECG, heard the high-pitched buzz of the alarm and became aware again of that powerful gravitational compulsion that had drawn her back into her body earlier – only this time it seemed to be pulling her in the opposite direction, away from herself and into a staggering and awe-inspiring vortex of light that opened, like a tunnel, at her side. She just had time to think…
(Oh … my … God! This is really interesting.)
… when she found she was already inside the revolving tunnel and floating through it.
At intervals its walls were marked with large geometric grids, something like windows with multiple panes, in each of which faint images of people and places glowed.
Leoni was able to slow her forward motion to examine the images and discovered that if she concentrated on them they first sharpened and then dissolved into vivid memories.
Except the image she was concentrating on now couldn’t be a memory because nobody could remember what happened to them when they were only a few hours old. Could they?
Instead, the panel showed her a scene that she had tried to imagine all her life, but somehow it was now infused with all the solidity and shadow of an observed event.
It is night. Rain spits down. A single street light casts its orange glow into a mean alley. The alley is closed at one end by a high brick wall topped with jagged shards of glass. A barred and rusted iron door is set into the wall and piled on either side are heaps of bulging plastic trash bags, slick with rain. A young woman, blonde, pale, a livid bruise on her cheek, dark circles under her eyes, slips into the alley. Furtive, she looks back over her shoulder as though she fears she is being followed or observed. Dangling from her hand is a black plastic bag containing some small object and now, with further hunted glances, she places it amongst the rest of the trash and hurries off without a backward glance. The bag is not tied closed, merely gathered at the top, and as the woman’s footfalls echo away something stirs within it and utters a feeble cry. The bag flops open and rain leaks onto the wrinkled face and blue eyes of a
The babe, Leoni knew, was herself.
The child nobody wanted.
In the next panel she had reached two years of age. She was wearing a little print dress and was seated on the floor looking up at a TV set in a Los Angeles orphanage where all her first clear memories began.
Here she was at three, out for the day with a family, hoping they might adopt her. She so much wanted to live in a real house, with toys that were hers and with real parents. But it didn’t happen.
Another panel, another visit, another rejection. The child nobody wanted.
Now she was nearly five, quiet, withdrawn, friendless amidst the crowd of other children. She sat alone with a crayon and a sketch pad.
The next panel showed her big moment, a few months later when, after a sudden rush of interest, she was adopted by Herman and Madeleine Watts. They weren’t rich – the meteoric rise of Dad’s business began right after Leoni’s adoption – but she remembered how the house they’d lived in then in East Hollywood had felt to her like a fairy-tale palace.
Here she was at seven in their first Beverly Hills home, her best year.
Mom and Dad must have wanted her otherwise they wouldn’t have adopted her. Would they? They gave her so much. A tree house. All the pets in the world. A little car with a real engine to drive around the grounds. Closets full of clothes. Make-up. Zillions of pairs of shoes. She felt like Cinderella at the ball.
Now she was eight, the beginning of the bad times. She was asleep in bed in her cozy room. Suddenly someone grabbed her hair, jerking and shaking her, and she awoke with a scream. It was Dad. He had no clothes on. In the glow of the night light his eyes were blank as stones as he clambered on top of her, still gripping hold of her hair. She struggled, screamed – “What’s happening? What’s happening? Dad? No!” – and he cuffed her face hard with his free hand, making her head spin. He was heavy. He sprawled over her, forced his knee between her legs and groped her. She screamed again – “Mom! Mom! Mom!” – very loud.
But Mom didn’t come to her rescue. She didn’t come once during that whole year of terrifying night-time visits.
Now Leoni was nine. She was in the car with Dad. He was explaining to her that the rapes had never happened, and at some level she did believe they were just bad dreams and her imagination. The other problem – the damage to her body – was because she went a little crazy sometimes and hurt herself in her private parts.
In the next panel she was ten, on a family day out with her parents. Adam, their own biological child (they called him the “miracle child” because of Madeleine’s previous infertility) was celebrating his second birthday. As she reviewed the scene Leoni experienced again the pangs of envy and hatred she had felt that day at the way Mom doted on Adam, giving him all her attention, and was cold and neglectful towards her.
Now she was eleven. There had been no more rapes. Or dreams. She was in the schoolyard, mercilessly bullying poor Janet Lithgo, a smaller girl with a hair lip who later committed suicide.
Now Leoni was twelve. The bad times were back. She saw herself
lying in her bed, as though paralyzed, with her dad’s body, sweaty, face
averted, humping away on top of her.
(“It’s what Jack wanted.”)
There had been thirty rapes that year and she hadn’t screamed. Not
once. She just shut her eyes and let them happen, did any positions he
wanted, and never complained. It didn’t hurt so much that way and
while he was inside her she just pulled herself out of her body the way
the Blue Angel had taught her.
The Blue Angel, who started to visit her in dreams around that time.
Her secret friend who she never talked about.
Not to anyone.
Just the way she never talked about what her dad did to her.
In the next panel she was fourteen, on a shopping spree in Rodeo Drive. Mom and Dad had been showering possessions and money on her, she hadn’t been raped for nearly two years and there had been no more dreams.
Here she was at fifteen, naked, down on her hands and knees in a big bathroom at a party. Five guys she didn’t know were taking turns to screw her.
Now she was sixteen, on the floor of some other bathroom, sniffing up lines of cocaine, her nostrils red and her eyes stinging.
And finally here she was at seventeen, overdosing on Oxycontin in her bedroom…
Leoni could still see the operating room behind, and sense the rush and chaos surrounding the body on the gurney in there; but all that was fading…fading. Ahead, getting closer, the other end of the tunnel was filled with an illuminated swirling fog through which tantalizing vistas of green sunlit meadows dotted with trees appeared and vanished again.
Looks good, Leoni couldn’t help thinking. Is it heaven?
Then the figure of a woman materialized out of the fog filling the mouth of the tunnel, a tall, very beautiful woman, beckoning to her, surrounded by a cascade of white robes – a smiling woman with jet-black hair and indigo skin whose face was hauntingly familiar like an old friend not seen for many years.
The walls of the tunnel dissolved, full remembrance dawned, and
Leoni found herself in the presence of the mysterious being she called the Blue Angel. They were standing barefoot on grass wet with dew, in the midst of a vast meadow. A herd of strange animals unlike any she had ever seen before grazed in the shadows of a nearby clump of trees and there were two suns in the sky, one almost at the zenith, one low down towards the horizon.
“Where are we?” asked Leoni.
“This is the land where everything is known,” replied the woman.
“Shall we walk a bit?"
Image "On The Way Home" ephoz on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons