by Linda Sillitoe
[p.143]Caitlin returned from Nebo County as if she had shed a skin in the wilds. Nor had her underskin quite sealed, for all the nerves still lay on the surface.
No longer was this “psychic stuff” a curiosity—a matter of being momentarily spooked by a glimpse of amber rolled glass, or by a stranger with white eyebrows and a receding hairline. Now everywhere she went she felt as if she walked on cracked ice, figuratively if not literally.
She found herself still trying to comprehend the bare-bones facts, rehearsing them as if she would find a missed step in logic that would break the factors into a meaningful equation. In Nebo County she had found a house that seemed to match the one she had seen under hypnosis. The address matched the numbers, the view from the porch fit, the color of stucco walls and roof was right. Of course the “feel” of the house—the sidewalk, that sense of sun prickling the hair on bare arms—was overwhelming. But those elements comprised subjective information.
Now the facts jumped a whole level, for within this house she had “seen” a man killed—and she had watched through the killer’s eyes. She had felt the killer’s curiosity and glee separate from her own revulsion. In ordinary life she still felt in Nebo [p.144]County a tidal wave of grief that rose as if it would gulp her down. This was not her grief, and not James’s either. But whose?—and how was any of this possible?
Caitlin could no longer compartmentalize these incidents. Their number and improbability overwhelmed her analytic process. How could the real and the mysterious provide so many matches yet no proof?
Her awareness of a dim dimension just beyond the world’s shapes and colors rode with her like a secret disease, preoccupying her thoughts and draining her energy. How could she ride the current of James’s thinking? How could she exchange messages with the urgent person she ostensibly had watched die? She had no idea, but it had happened more than once.
“Now that’s paranormal,” Isabel murmured when Caitlin told her of the presence. So what does that mean? Caitlin wanted to ask, but didn’t. Such unasked questions sapped her strength.
Her inner reality made no impression on the world although it jarred her life like a cataclysm. If she wanted to talk about it, Jake would hear her out before he rolled over and sagged into sleep. Every evening, Caitlin returned from work and greeted her daughters with a new fierceness. They seemed more lovely than ever, whole, healthy, and entirely intent on the friendship politics of the sixth grade, intensified by the holidays. Julie had abandoned her braids and now wore her hair long and straight, shining from nightly shampoos. She seemed to be brushing it every time Caitlin saw her. Heidi’s fingers seemed perpetually dusky, for she had discovered charcoal in her art class and named sketching her new passion. Caitlin knew she hugged them more than they wanted.
The habitually hectic flow at the magazine swept past her inner self, So much seemed trivial, shallow. Hal kept the work coming, article after article, writer after writer, ego after ego, from layout [p.145]to blueline to print. The world they slicked onto the pages continued, wholly preoccupied with money, politics, time, advantage, trends. Wait a minute, Caitlin wanted to say. There are things happening outside time and sight—things that are real. But she remained silent and marooned, nursing her most torturous question: What did all this say about her?
Some days she was grateful that, as part of a very unofficial police investigation, she couldn’t talk about these experiences openly. Then she moved through her day pretending that she wore her old skin, she said her old lines, performed her old gestures, went to lunch with her old friends, and brought up nothing that seemed consequential. She missed her deadline on the Indian law enforcement story but kept working on it. Inwardly she longed for night, when she could throw herself into bed early and burrow into dreams that might be dark and confusing but did not ask her to pretend.
The ordinary feel of other days confused her. Then she reached for something real—even a brief telephone chat with Marly or Nick. Nick never brought up the weird stuff, but at least he had shared that strange reality. Caitlin didn’t call often, for she found herself wondering what he might mention to colleagues. She had given up the maddening scenario of herself on the witness stand—surely this weirdness had gone too far to ever be dragged into any courtroom.
Perhaps twice a week she replayed the tape of Henry’s call that had come soon after they returned from Nebo County. She’d been so soundly asleep when Henry called that Jake had had the presence of mind to turn the answering machine to record.
The bedroom was dark and the digital alarm read 5:40. “Henry Benally’s on the phone,” Jake was saying. Caitlin had the feeling it was not the first time Jake had said this. “He told me to wake you.”
[p.146]“Morning or night?” Caitlin croaked.
Caitlin struggled to her elbows and reached for the extension, clearing her throat. “Hi, Henry. Where are you calling from?”
“I’m in Red Mesa. I’m calling from the chapter house. I had to call collect.”
“That’s okay. How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?” The last word seemed underscored.
“I think I’m okay. I had kind of a weird experience for a couple of days.”
He said nothing.
She took a long breath and continued, “It’s hard to explain, but I found this house where we think a murder happened a long time ago—and then we got caught in a blizzard, and…” Her throat closed as tears filled her head like a wave, remembering that panic. She wiggled her feet under the covers, relishing her comfort.
“You’re sleepy now?”
“What? Yeah, I am. I’m really exhausted.”
“Sleep then. Your mind has had a shock.”
She started to chuckle, thinking how he’d insisted Jake wake her. Pay attention, she told herself.
“Sleep might be what you need most,” Henry added. “Maybe in a short time I can get up to Salt Lake and see you.”
“That would be wonderful,” Caitlin said, “but the roads are awful.”
Then came a silence that seemed loaded, but Caitlin couldn’t hear its meaning.
“You remembered what I said about calling me,” Henry said finally.
Immediately she recalled her mental scream in the snowstorm. “Oh—I guess I did.”
“Thank you for calling me back,” she added softly.
Another silence. “You found this house where you think someone was killed,” Henry said.
Caitlin winced. “That’s right.”
“So can you leave this alone now?”
“I don’t know, Henry. I really don’t. It’s still kind of police business—but not really going anywhere. I just feel I ought to do something about it, and also—it’s changed everything. I don’t know what anything means any more.”
Another silence. “You sleep,” he said. “I’ll see you soon.”
On Indian time? Caitlin thought, and smiled as she thanked him again for calling.
The odd thing was, she thought now, turning off the tape and pacing her tiny office, her conversations with Henry, whether on the telephone or inside his hogan, seemed a part of this new, strange dimension. Had her talks with him bordered on a world she shied from when they reached the edge? Not that their conversations were dark the way all this business with Hubbard was, yet they seemed made of similar stuff.
Did she and Henry connect in that shadow world? Suddenly she recalled watching the traditional men dancers, Henry among them, appear in the dusty mist of the pow wow circle. She’d had another impression, one that she’d pondered on the trip back then tucked away.
As the dancers gathered, she had felt herself standing solidly before them, no longer leaning a hip against a post. She stood squarely on her heels, bare feet on the ground, and she could feel age in the folds of her face and white in her hair. The oddest thing was that the area around her head seemed constricted—not full of words and ideas the way it usually was. Instead information seemed to flow from her midsection as she stared at the men[p.148]opposite her. They stared back. Some silent dialogue concerning ceremony filled the air. Who could such a woman have been? And how could Caitlin possibly sense her—and from the inside?
Yet she felt those shifts in her body, her way of thinking, her age, too distinctly to argue with herself. For a moment the dancers had not been dancers and she had not been Caitlin. They had all been in communication without speaking.
Was there actually another dimension, and had Indian people once lived in it? Did they still have some access that the white race had lost through rational thinking and abstract theories? Had some silent knowing drawn her and Henry together for their intense but infrequent meetings over the years? Is that what she had felt between them but never acknowledged? For a long time, she had carried an image of looking into his eyes and felt herself spiraling into—what? She had no idea, but sometimes she avoided eye contact more than he did.
One thing was certain—those few minutes of his taped voice comforted her, even though the pauses became ever more intriguing. What did he know about all this? What did he think? How did he view her now? Unlike Nick or herself, did he put this into some context where it all made sense? Did it fit into a larger picture that she had never learned to see?
She considered calling Isabel but hadn’t the nerve. I need to call Marly, she thought, reaching for the phone.
“Hi,” Marly said. “Can you come over for tea?”
“Maybe right after work. Don’t you want to talk?”
“God, yes,” Caitlin said gratefully. “Shoot, I can’t though. Julie’s science project is due tomorrow. They assign these things to keep parents off the streets.”
“Can’t Jake help her?”
[p.149]Caitlin allowed herself a small and familiar inner war. “Okay, I’ll come. What can I bring?”
“Bring something to go with tea.”
Caitlin laughed. Marly wasn’t known for her cooking. “How about those huge whole-wheat sweet rolls that aren’t covered with goop?”
“Perfect. I have tons of veggies. See you then.”
Caitlin walked through the main office past Hal on the other phone, down the hall to the restroom. When she came back, she stacked up the afternoon’s editing and listed telephone calls she had to make, and by the time she left the office, the editing was done and the disks back in Hal’s basket. Who said she was a flaky new age type who couldn’t cope with the real world?
“Cait,” Marly said toward the evening’s end, “you look so pale, I’m not sure I should let you drive home.”
“I’m okay. Talking about all this weird stuff makes me feel like I just gave blood—about six pints.”
Marly gazed at her, her blue eyes clear and gentle. “The trouble isn’t that it’s weird.”
“Then what is the problem?” The best thing about Marly was that she absorbed the entire tale without shuddering once. Caitlin had drained two tumblers of water and three cups of tea.
“The problem is that it’s so dark.”
Caitlin nodded. The wicker table between them was piled with the remains of their meal. Lennon drowsed on a third chair, tail switching occasionally. “Yes, I guess you could say that having a private mental line to a murderer is pretty dark.”
Across the table from her, Marly finally shuddered.
“It’s more than that, Marly. I’m beginning to realize that this [p.150]has altered my view of reality, my picture of who I am. Half my friends are pursuing this stuff—developing their intuition or joining a new age group to learn to read Tarot cards. But I didn’t go after this; this is coming after me.”
“Exactly,” Marly said, “and it’s dark.”
“But what do I do? If I try not to think or talk about it, it invades my dreams. One way or the other, it’s with me all the time. I feel like I’ve been infiltrated or something. It’s like being pregnant with an alien and not showing. There’s no way to integrate it into the rest of my life.”
Marly was smiling at her. “Don’t try so hard to figure it out or understand it. And don’t deny it. That’s when you’re really crazy. “
Caitlin nodded slowly. “Just say that it happened, I don’t understand it, but there it is? And keep living.”
“Definitely keep living.” She smiled again. “Does Henry Benally think your experience is weird?”
Caitlin considered. “I think he has some kind of framework for it. He hasn’t said much, but he doesn’t think what’s happening is nuts—he thinks I’m nuts for writing about the murders. It’s a little like stealing pots from burials—you just don’t mess with someone’s bones.”
Marly nodded. “Right. Stay away.” “There’s no need-to-know ethic in Navajo country,” Caitlin said. “What do Navajo journalists do for material?”
“Write about bilagaanas?” Marly suggested, using the Navajo word for Anglos. Caitlin was suitably impressed.
“Another thing,” Marly exclaimed without specifying what came first. “You knew you were out of your depth when you were assigned to write on Indian issues, right?”
“Right. So you read up on it.”
[p.150]“Yes. I’m still reading.”
“Look at you now, Caitlin. You’re out of your depth again, but how much have you done to find out what you don’t know about this psychic stuff, as you call it?”
Caitlin was quiet for a minute considering the bias Marly had just exposed. “Okay, Marly, give me some titles because I’ve really got to be on my way.” Caitlin stood and gathered the dirty dishes, stretching her shoulders, arms, and legs on the way to the sink.
“I know two books that ought to help, and I have one in my bookcase to get you started.”
“Also, what energizes you? What are you editing at the magazine these days?”
From the sink, Caitlin laughed shortly. “Right now, a cover story on child sexual abuse—my all-time least favorite subject. I guess I’m terrible at seeking nourishment. But I do enjoy the
twins, and I spend a fair amount of time reading and sleeping. Just ask Jake.”
“That’s compensating, not nourishing,” Marly said. “That’s run ‘til you drop, not stop and smell the roses.” She considered. “There’s nowhere to take this murder case right now, is there?”
“Not really. Nick’s trying to figure out a way to confront James, but without much success. There’s not much info that’s independent of me, and he doesn’t want James’s attorney screaming that his client’s being persecuted.”
“Well, what if you just give it a rest for a while? If there’s something you really need to do with all this, it’ll come back. In the meantime, just take care of yourself”
“And Jake and the twins,” Caitlin amended. “I haven’t been much use to anyone lately.” She placed the last clean dish to drain on the counter.
[p.152]Marly picked up Lennon and plucked the cat brush from under the heating unit. “That’s ridiculous, Cait. All you do is take care of people, not only your family, but Robyn and her family. And the world, speaking journalistically.” She added, “Why don’t you sleep over tonight? You can relax, and I’ll leave you alone.”
“I can’t. I’ve really got to go. Julie gave me the distinct impression when I called home that only moms know the full scoop on photosynthesis. Dads can’t be expected to proceed through posters and demonstrative aids.”
“They’ve all got you brainwashed into thinking you’re indispensable,” Marly said, shaking her head. “It was the same when we were kids.”
“You’re probably right,” Caitlin said, “but something in me wants to believe it’s true.” She gathered her things, took the book Marly offered her, then gave her a quick squeeze. “Thanks for listening. I feel downright sane.”
“You are eminently sane,” Marly said solemnly, framed in the doorway. “You’re just living in a crazy juxtaposition of events and dimensions.”
“I’m going to write that down,” Caitlin laughed. She paused, looking at Marly closely. “Everything okay with you?”
Marly shrugged and gave a wry smile. “What is it?”
“Oh, a good friend might be transferred to Denver. It’s a promotion, but I’m going to miss him.”
“Mmm,” Caitlin sympathized, wondering the friend’s name.
“Also—I told you about my funny films, didn’t I?”
“An odd one came day before yesterday—really vivid.”
“At least I have company. What was it?”
“I was standing in the bleachers watching these little girls do round-offs. Aren’t those the somersaults without hands?”
[p.153]Caitlin burst into laughter. She wondered how long it had been since she’d really laughed. “You? At a gymnastics meet?”
“Evidently. One little girl with dark corkscrew curls did backward flips clear down the mat, then a round-off. My heart was thumping so hard I could hardly stand it.”
Caitlin smiled. Marly didn’t, continuing, “The funny thing is, I was almost delirious watching her throw up her hands, then bow. She was my little girl. Another mother hugged me. She must have been mine.”
“Interesting. Did I miss some announcement somewhere along the way?”
“Not that I know of,” Marly shrugged. “So far, it’s just me and Lennon.”
“Maybe she was really a part of yourself,” Caitlin mused. “Maybe you’re about to win some victory.”
Marly looked unconvinced. “No, I was definitely in the bleachers watching. If it means anything, it’ll come back—maybe clearer.”
Caitlin shook her head at Marly in amused exasperation. “Well, try to stay grounded. I will if you will. ‘Bye, Lennon.”
Lennon gave her a one-eyed look and yawned. Caitlin hurried down the stairs and opened the heavy front door. Directly ahead, high in the frigid air, the December moon glowed above the eastern mountains, almost the same almond shape and shade as Lennon’s eye.
Caitlin had a sudden vision of Red Mesa and the field outside Henry’s hogan. She felt how the weeds had prickled against the backs of her legs. The sky would be a dome of stars there, unbroken by buildings, trees, mountains. Henry’s intent eyes burned in the back of her mind. Caitlin breathed the cold air deeply and wished herself south and east, ankle-deep in pink dust [p.154]and weeds. Suddenly Henry’s presence seemed almost strong enough to speak, then it faded. Shivering, Caitlin unlocked her car wondering if he might be standing in the desert wind, watching the same pale moon.