Episode 14 from Must Not Sleep, a new novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
"Boy, for a Friday evening we sure lucked out," Janine exclaimed as we crossed the George Washington Bridge. "There's hardly any traffic! But look at you. Did you fall asleep under a sun lamp or something?"
"Actually, I did."
She chuckled. "How unlike you, Isaac. I'm intrigued."
When I'd reached her from a pay phone Janine had been ecstatic at the prospect of spending the weekend with us in her cabin upstate. Now we were sailing up the Palisades Parkway in her big, boxy silver Mercedes SUV, happy to have put the city behind us. With Georgia asleep in the back seat, Janine kept reaching over and squeezing my hand while she drove.
"This is fabulous, I'm so psyched. Not only do I finally get to see Georgia again, we're all together. My dream come true."
The woods along the Parkway were covered with snow, and by the time we reached the Thruway heavy skies were threatening to deliver more. Janine turned on the radio.
"Don't worry, we'll keep the volume low. She won't wake up. But I need to listen to the weather report. My place is in the mountains and today's like February 7th, right? The middle of winter. I can't afford to get stranded. I've got to drive back on Sunday night. The last time I was up there I missed three days of work. The snow just kept falling and falling."
Two to three inches were forecast for the city with more inland but there was no talk of a blizzard.
"I'm not interested in turning around no matter how much snow falls," I said. "Georgia and I need to get away. In fact, I wanted to ask if it's OK for us to stay in your cabin for a while. Maybe a week or two. We can hitchhike into town for food. That won't be a problem."
"Hitchhike into town? What town? My cabin is really isolated. I wanted something as far away from Woodstock as possible. We're talking half a mile up a steep so-called driveway which nobody plows unless I make the call. Amazingly, though, my cellphone comes in loud and clear up there. And the driveway is off a dirt road with minimal traffic, just a few alcoholic farmers. But of course you can stay there. I'd be delighted. We'll stock up at the IGA in Grunionville, which is the nearest supermarket. Twenty-seven miles away."
She turned to look at me. "Although I hope you like rice and beans. Because there's no electricity, so there's no fridge. Just kerosene lamps and candles. And satellite TV."
"You know — television direct from outer space. I fell in love with my little hideaway. It's primitive and cost me next to nothing. Just a cabin in the woods, honey. Half falling down. No amenities. There's even an outhouse, isn't that neat? If I want to take a bath it means heating buckets of water on the wood stove. But I have to have my television. There are certain programs I simply refuse to miss. Like Sex in the City. It's so great. Have you ever watched it?"
"No. But how can you have a TV without electricity?"
"Battery-operated! See, I was gonna install solar panels but that would have tempted me to wire the whole cabin, and it doesn't get enough sun anyway. I'm underneath some pretty big trees. Then I found this marvellous contrivance. It uses a ton of batteries but I brought plenty with me the last time I went up. I was really miserable then, Isaac. Before I met you. TV and Doritos, Doritos and TV…In the middle of the woods in winter. God! But I'm so happy now. Who knows, maybe I won't even turn the damn thing on at all this time."
We drove in silence. Evening turned into night and the snow began to fall, swirling through the headlights. Then she squeezed my hand again.
"What about the peace march in Manhattan, Isaac–it's next Saturday the 15th. Won't you come back to the city for that? It's going to be massive. And not only here. All over the world people will be mobilizing, pouring into the streets. Everybody's against Butch and his crazy war. Don't you think it's our duty as citizens to protest? I'll tell you, normally I'm not a political animal, but for the past two weeks I've been volunteering after work, manning the phones, calling people. That's the least I can do."
I'd been dozing and for a moment I thought that she was joking, that she knew what was really going on. But now I was glad she didn't. That meant they wouldn't come looking for her.
"Oh, Janine. Sweet Janine…"
I reached under her sweater and began stroking her nipples, first one and then the other.
"I wish you the best, you and your friends. It'll feel good to be marching in the streets. I'm sure you'll send our leaders a strong message. The question is, will they be listening?"
"Isaac, what the hell are you doing? Do you want us to have an accident?"
She pulled off the Thruway and cut the lights. While trucks and cars roared past we lowered my bucket seat and made love on its soft leather after carefully maneuvering Georgia into a fetal position on the back seat.
Miraculously, Janine's full-throated cries didn't wake her.
A light snow was tapering off as we powered up the driveway and stumbled along a footpath in the dark. Finding several flashlights, Janine showed us around the freezing cabin which consisted of two large rooms, one above the other, connected by a staircase.
"Is this authentic or what? An old recluse lived here for like fifty years till she died at age ninety-two. A real old-timer. Grandma Lucy. She refused to move down off the mountain. Chopped her own wood. Carried water from the well that's caved in now, I keep meaning to get it cleaned out. The last couple of years she couldn't manage the stairs anymore and slept next to the stove. Sometimes late at night I feel like she's moving around in here, checking me out. It's spooky. No wonder the TV's on till I fall asleep. Although no doubt she disapproves."
Downstairs were the wood stove, a white porcelain bathtub with a plastic tube running from the drain to a hole in the corner, and a dining area: table and chairs, a sink missing its faucets, and a counter for preparing food. Across from the stove sat a sagging old sofa and a stuffed chair. Books and magazines lay in dusty piles on the floor. In front of the sofa on a coffee table was the TV.
More thought had gone into furnishing the bedroom upstairs: a mattress covered with antique windowpane quilts on a delicate wrought-iron bedframe, an expensive-looking black enamel art deco vanity with a tall bevelled mirror, and a rocking chair. Kerosene lamps and candles were everywhere.
"I love it here," Georgia said. "Listen to the silence. And it smells wonderful. I can't wait to take a walk in the woods tomorrow. It's incredible how while I'm in the city I totally lose track of nature, like it doesn't exist."
We started a fire in the stove, an imposing, pot-bellied creature named Timberline with a glass window so we could watch the flames and a sizeable surface for cooking and boiling water. At the IGA Janine had insisted on buying more than we thought we needed, including several cases of bottled water.
"Better safe than sorry. I mean, you can always melt snow but why bother? You'll be melting plenty of snow anyway for your bath water. At least that part's easy during the winter. Now let's make a big salad and heat up this genius canned soup. And remember to eat the greens while they're still fresh. Whereas carrots, cabbage, onions, and potatoes will keep forever in this cold. As long as they don't freeze, that is."
We sat in candlelight at the table and ate the soup and salad with bread and cheese. Then Janine brought out an apple pie and a container of chocolate ice cream.
"My favorite dessert," she announced. "Don't make me feel guilty!"
After we finished eating, Georgia paced around the room.
"I'm wide awake. I must have slept during the whole drive up here. What time is it?"
Janine yawned. "Well, I'm bushed, but I'm not going to sleep yet, that's for sure."
By now the cabin had become quite warm. Pointing at the ceiling, she said, "It gets quite tropical up there. The heat travels right up the stairway."
She glanced at us expectantly.
We took off our clothes and climbed the stairs.
"My bed," Janine announced. "How demure she is all wrapped up in her quilts. She's been waiting patiently for this moment. And so have I."
She looked at Georgia, suddenly self-conscious. "I've wanted you for years. Ever since the restaurant. Didn't you know? I'd go home at night and dream about you. About your butt, your sweet little breasts, your smile…Jesus, I'm shaking like a leaf."
Finding the handle for a threesome proved tricky, with Janine first burying Georgia in her voluminous passion and then rolling over onto me.
"You're trying too hard," I said. "Your heart's pounding."
I ran my fingers through her hair.
"Why don't you just close your eyes and let go…Relax… Pretend you're asleep. The girl you always wanted appears in your dream. She's so happy to see you. She's smiling as she kisses you. She gives you exquisite pleasure without you having to do a thing."
She lay back on the bed. While Georgia slowly kissed her –her lips, her neck and breasts, her arms — I opened her legs and licked her sex.
"Oh, my God," she moaned and began to cry. "Nobody has ever cared for me the way you do. Nobody. What am I going to do when you leave me?"
"You're not supposed to be talking, remember?" Georgia told her. "Or even thinking."
We continued until, shivering and whimpering, Janine came. Almost immediately she grew restless.
"I blew it, didn't I? I wasn't supposed to come. But I can't help it!"
I laughed. "Stop torturing yourself. Come all night long if it makes you feel good. Who's kidding whom, remember?"
I cupped my open palms over her eyes.
"Feel the warmth in my hands. Soak it up. It's time for you to rest, Janine. We want you fresh for tomorrow."
Georgia massaged her stomach until she calmed down and then yawned. I covered her with the quilt and turned to Georgia.
Reaching between her thighs, feeling her open up for me, I said, "It's been a long time."
Brilliant sunshine was pouring through the windows when we woke up. Janine rummaged around and found extra gloves and hats, and after breakfast we walked into the woods. The cabin sat in the lee of a hill. We climbed through the snow and emerged at its crest, the trees so thick in every direction that we barely saw the sky.
Janine pointed toward the south and said, "In the springtime if you keep walking the woods open out into this gorgeous meadow carpeted with wildflowers. It's total magic."
She sighed. "I'm so lucky. I wish I could find somebody to share it with, is all."
Georgia took her hand. "We'll share it with you."
"No, honey. Last night was great, but you two are headed somewhere I can't follow. And I'm not sure I want to. I couldn't fall asleep right away and I heard you making love. I'm not included in that."
She looked at me, her red face filled with conflicted emotion. "You can go on forever about freedom and unconditional love and all that crap but when the chips are down you're not giving me the same thing you're giving each other. You can't. Even if you want to."
"No, wait. I don't blame you, I love you guys. But I realized I'm the odd girl out, just like always. You care about me –and believe me, that means the world to me — but you were on fire for each other. That's different. It's not just a question of physical attraction, or even love. It's something bigger. It's like you were resonating at a higher frequency. It doesn't make sense for me to get involved any further."
Now she was crying, and when I tried to comfort her she exploded.
"Take your hands off me! Why didn't you level with me that first time when I came up to Georgia's apartment? Why didn't you have the decency to tell me how difficult this would be? Instead you made me think I could join right in with your promiscuity. Your irresponsibility. As if life's one big playground, everyone gaily running around with no last names like in kindergarten. Well, I've got news for you, Isaac. I'm an adult. I suffer. I have memories. I have scars to show what I've been through. And I also have expectations. I have my dreams. How dare you pretend they're not real?"
I reached out for her again but she pulled away.
"I'm leaving now. Don't try to stop me. You can stay here as long as you like. I'm OK with that. I meant it when I said I'm fond of you two. I'm grateful for how you befriended me. But this isn't good for me. Trying to keep up with you will hurt me more than I've ever been hurt before."
She started off down the hill, then turned around and said, "Besides, this may strike you as pointless, but I remembered that there's a strategy meeting in the city tonight for the peace march. I want to be there. I know where I'm needed, and it's not here."
Swallowing hard to keep from bursting into tears again, she added, "My offer still stands. If you need anything — if you're in trouble — don't hesitate to call me…And by the way, Isaac, I tried to get you an identification card of some kind. I spent twenty minutes on the phone with that dirtbag in the Bahamas. But you didn't give me a photo of yourself, you dummy. What kind of ID do you expect me to come up with? A library card?"
Laughing now, her face suddenly suffused with mischief, she said, "Ah, hell, who knows? Maybe some other time, yes?"
And then she was gone.
Georgia and I continued in the direction Janine had pointed out. Soon the woods gave way to open blue sky with snow-covered hills and farmhouses in the distance. We sat on a large boulder, silently watching the little stream at the center of the meadow. Footprints, some delicate traceries, some larger, ran this way and that across the snow.
In spite of how cold it was, the late morning sun warmed our bodies. We held each other close, thrilled to be alone together in this frozen paradise.
"I can't believe it," she said at one point as she touched my knee. "Aren't those my yoga pants?"
"Right. Actually, there's a story behind that, I'll tell you sometime, but the upshot is I'm wearing only white. It resonates with the light of the universe."
"Well, whatever, I love your rich dark beard against the snow behind you. And that gold cross glinting in the sunlight. It's like I never noticed," she sighed. "I've been so caught up in recuperating from Adonis."
We sat silently, birdsong and wind and cold air washing through us. The stream in the middle distance, still unfrozen, sparkled and tossed in the sunlight. Somehow the fact that I couldn't hear it rushing along intensified its effect. I stared at it spellbound.
After a while I said, "Georgia, we need to talk. Is now OK?"
"Because a lot's gone down since we were separated from each other. For one thing, I found my way into the shaman's realm, into non-ordinary reality, hyperspace, the dreamtime. I came across a very dark project involving humanity's future. And the person — or entity, I don't know what to call him –who's at the center of it is the same one we encountered in the hallway of your building the night before you disappeared. You called him Papa."
I paused. "Do you know who I'm talking about? Is he really your father?"
"Yes," she said, her chest caving in on itself, her smile gone.
"Why did you disappear on me in the hallway that night? First I turned to look and you were dressed like a little girl. More than that, you were a little girl. Then the next moment–"
"I can't do this now, Isaac. It makes me too shaky. Maybe some other time."
"Maybe some other time — that's what Janine said when she bailed out on us. And it's also what you said when we were attempting to clear after we first met, do you remember? But actually there never is another time. The time is now. Look into my eyes. Use them as the jumping off place to journey into your past. Stay with me, Georgia."
"But I don't know where I went that night, that's the problem. I remember pleading with you not to go downstairs. Pleading with you and you wouldn't listen to me and I got dizzy then, everything cracked open. I can't say what happened after that because I was outside myself."
"Outside yourself where?"
She started to cry. "Outside myself in the basement."
"Go on, sweetheart. I'm right here."
"The basement in the house where I grew up. The door leading up to the kitchen, Papa locked it. He came down the stairs with a crooked grin on his face. He started touching me. Touching me all over…Please, Isaac, I don't want–"
"You can do this, Georgia. Easily. No sweat. Something or someone — your father, for starters — made you forget yourself, doubt yourself. But you know who you are. When the Goddess is in her power, nothing can touch her. She could care less about abuse. Everything's grist for her mill. All you need to do is stay present. Because this garbage is the past, it's dead weight. It has no life of its own except when it's suppressed. You can get rid of it but it has to be brought to the surface. Layer after layer, that's all people are. And the deeper you go, the more transparent it becomes. Remember those crystal turds, stringing them around the apartment with me, laughing and dancing? Remember bouncing off the walls? That's who's inside you, honey, waiting to be let out into the light of day. Into this glorious sunshine. This brilliant cold air."
She grinned, wiping away her tears. "Oh, God."
"Well, he wouldn't leave me alone after that. One way or another, he always found me. ‘Let's make time for us,' he'd say. ‘Quality time.' And, you know…Do I have say what he did?"
"…Like one night weeks after that, I don't know when, what does it matter when? He left my mother and brother at a dinner party and came home. I stayed behind because I was sick. I had a fever. He just walked into my room and bent down and started fondling me."
"How old, how old. Six years old, that's how old. Very old," she said sorrowfully. She couldn't look at me anymore, her eyes aimed off into the trees. "He won't stop, he's got his hand inside me and he's swaying back and forth. And then he's lying down next to me in my bed and running his other hand over my ass and breathing really hard. ‘You smell so sweet, little one,' he says and he's opening my legs and asking me to hold his penis, which is big and bent. And I can't do that, I'm so afraid, I'm like jumping out of my skin, I'm going blank. Six years old. Going blank. Six years old. Going blank. And he's trying to fuck only it's not working and he's cursing and because I'm crying now he stops, he flips into Papa. ‘It's all right,' he says, ‘It's nothing. Nothing happened here. You're feverish, you have to rest.' And he gets up and kisses me on the forehead. ‘I'll go downstairs and make you some hot chocolate. Would you like that?' And he zips up his pants and disappears…"
She looked at me. "He never came back with the hot chocolate. And he never touched me again. But I was broken. Wouldn't you say I was broken, Isaac? How did I ever live through it?"
I held her glance. "You went away while it happened, you went outside, like you said. Outside where he couldn't hurt you. And ever since, even years later, just thinking about him you go back outside again. To protect yourself. A six-year-old girl. Dressed in white satin and carrying a little yellow pocketbook."
I paused, then yelled as loud as I could, "Drop her! Now! Visualize her clearly. And visualize yourself as you are now, leading that little girl right up to the edge of a cliff. Tell her she's suffered enough. Kiss her goodbye. Push her over the edge."
She closed her eyes. Time went by and eventually she said, "OK…Right…Jesus, how amazing…I didn't even have to push her. She jumped."
I laughed. "She jumped. Perfect. The little girl's gone. You're free now, Georgia. Dick can't hurt you anymore. We have no history, no private history, no public history. It's all been burned away…"
Image by Nep, courtesy of Creative Commons license.