It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure. When Marlene starts to work at the tea room she quickly discovers that she is all that stands between her clients and the psychic world full of all kinds of dangers and wonders.
I held the folded newspaper under my arm as I crossed the Boston Commons and headed for the door across the street that said Rita’s French Tearoom. It had been a short walk from my apartment across the open space that had once been city land for cattle grazing. The Commons was a legendary public area, mostly a park, but a park in the heart of Boston and deeply tied into the history of the city. On one side was the heart of Boston’s old town. On the other side was a jumble of small businesses and ramshackle apartments with one of which I had taken as a college student to Boston State. College had ended, but my passion and desire for a psychology degree gave me no job credits with a mere bachelor’s. Eventually I would need my masters and doctorate. But that would have to wait for more funds and more energy. So I was looking for a job that was just a job, not something I would pour myself into, or care about after hours. Just a nine to five with some benefits and salary. I’d gather some cash and catch my wind before entering the upper academic whirlwind. After a long round of interviews for shop clerk’s girls, a set of tests at a temp agency and an offer to be your own boss doing telemarketing, I circled the ad that said, “Are you Psychic? Tea Leaf reader wanted.” Almost as a lark. I went past the downstairs wig shop that could have served either cancer patients or working girls or both, from its window into the elevator that took me to the second floor where the tearoom was. I asked for a cup of tea and casually laid down the circled newspaper ad.
The woman who served me was a well cushioned black lady with a smile as warm as Georgia. “Hmm,” she said, looking me up and down. “Young lady, Rita going to want to talk to you.”
I blinked. “Who is Rita?”
“Child, you looking for a job or not? Trust me, you want to talk to Rita. Come with me.”
She turned with my teacup in hand and led me to an office in the back of the room. As I entered, a huge blue macaw in a birdcage lifted one wing and said “Tell me what you see! Tell me what you see!” Then he turned his head at me as if he expected my answer.
“Rita will be here in just a moment,” the woman said, leaving me with the bird and my tea.
I almost tipped my teacup over, waiting for the reader. I touched the silver charm at my neck for luck. Nona gave it to me so long ago, I couldn’t remember before I had it. It was a silver crafted hand with an evil eye bead center. “For you, Cara mia,” Nona had said as she pressed it into my hands. I could feel her with me whenever I touched it. I wore it always at my throat.
The tearoom featured a tiny dining area with Victorian striped wallpaper. The decor was ladylike without being cute in any way. There was nothing French about Rita or the tearoom, or, for that matter, the tea. In the world of psychics, you were who you said you were. But everyone lied or misdirected, just a bit.
Rita entered and sat at the desk across from me. “What do you want me to read for you today?” she said, smiling. Rita should have been ugly, but she had far too much presence for that. Her hair was piled on top. She wore a plum print dress. Her body and face seemed to be made of round clumps of clay. The animation in her face changed that perception. When she read she was electric.
“Your name?” she asked as she sat by me.
I finished my sandwich and sieved the last of the tea leaves with my teeth. “Marlene. My name is Marlene Calley.” I stumbled over my name.
Rita turned my cup over.
“Tell me my past. Tell me my future. Tell me what you see.” I was echoing something I’d heard before. I couldn’t remember who said it.
“They’re not that separate, you know,” Rita said. She settled into her chair and my cup. “A journey, but not too far. A man you’re with and two men you’ll meet. You won’t want the first two once you’ve met the third. The second man hunts where the others seek. The third no longer hunts because he’s found who he is. You’re at a new passage. A new road but you can’t walk it until you know your past. You think the past is gone, but it rides on your throat and sits in your pocket. You’ll attend a party that changes everything. Pay attention. Don’t let the drink dull your senses. It’s not your friend. The car you’re using isn’t your car. But be careful. I see a car crash. Beware of fire. It will not burn you but it’s the enemy of what you are trying to save. There’s a snake in your cup but it will not hurt you. It belongs to a friend you haven’t met yet.” Rita rattled on. “Do you know any priests?” she asked me. I shook my head no. Her reading was different from my college friends. She read well. She was correct in the details. But I suspected the purpose of Rita’s reading primarily served her.
I got a glimpse of the leaves in my cup. I’d been reading tea leaves with college friends since my freshman year in college. I learned picked some of it from them.
She looked straight at me. ”You have a powerful gift.”
I hadn’t thought about it like that. We drank tea and read cups in college to avoid our homework.
She put down my cup. ”I could read more for you. But will you read for me?”
She got us both another cup of tea. We both sipped and talked about the weather. When I held her cup, my hands shook a bit.
Her cup overflowed with images of people and enterprises. Odd buildings. A clothes press. Small people coming to her in streams. I learned later that the tearoom was only a small part of her fiscal empire, which entailed tenement housing. She also owned a dry cleaners service. But the tearoom was her heart. It was who she was. She’d read for years and had an enviable stable client list. She’d been married, divorced, remarried and widowed. She had become precisely who she pretended to be.
After I’d read she said, “Your gift is strong. Why don’t you come and read for me here?” It was surreal. I had a bachelor’s degree I’d just earned in psychology. And I’d just learned that it would gain me 85 cents per hour more than a high school diploma at the clothing shop I applied at. ”How much do you pay?”
Rita smiled. ”It doesn’t work like that. We read for tips. But with a gift like yours… The clients are generous to readers they can trust.”
I was twenty-one years old. I’d spent all of that being time safely practical and practically safe. My mother was dead and past being shocked. I had no other prospects. And not much to lose. I felt the pull of my own gift. So I came to read at the tearoom. So much for a low-pressure salaried job with benefits.
What is gift? The ability to see the past, the future, the now. It’s about perception. Readers perceive more than the present. Their sight stretches from past to future. Gift comes and goes. But at the tearoom you needed to be able to read when asked, never mind whether the gift was flaring or dormant. Rita taught me the observation that could fill the gaps. She could have taught my psych professors volumes.
“Look at their eyes first,” Rita explained. ”It means you see them. See how they hold themselves. Three quarters of the reading is in their posture and eyes. Their clothing shows you who they are physically. If you are wrong and they correct you, nod as if it’s what you just said. And always end with something you know they want.”
I was dumbfounded. “How do I know what they want?”
“It’s not that complicated,” she explained. ”Everyone wants to be safe. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants their best self to be recognized. Everyone wants to pass down what they’ve learned. If you end on one of those, they’ll come back to you for years.”
In fairness, Rita didn’t scam people. Some readers frightened clients with the “terrible forces against them” and for a small fee would light candles for your protection, or cleanse you from evil spirits or remove curses. It was a vile scam that tended to make clients into slaves. It also made buckets of money.
Rita’s gift was genuine. She was not so honest that she told them everything she saw, not if she thought it would harm them. She wasn’t above making up a happy ending. She told them what she thought would help them most. She protected the people she read for. They loved her for it.
I stayed at Rita’s room and she treated me much as a daughter. She spent time on my training. My own mother was gone; it was a lot like being under a dragon’s wing. I was warm and protected, as long as it was okay with the dragon. To read, you had to detach from the present to see the future and the past. Cards, cups, palms and auras all functioned as a focus.
Rita brought out her best crystal ball. She draped black silk behind it, and sat me down. As she spoke I recognized her tone. She worked a mild form of hypnotism on me in training sessions. Her velvet voice shut the door on the outside world. ”Focus on the center. Can you see the swirl in the center?”
It was not the crystal that swirled. It made my stomach tip a bit. I looked up from the ball, not so sure. “Stay with it,” I heard Rita say. ”No thoughts. No problems. At least not any of your own.”
I thought I saw movement within the stone structure. But I couldn’t put words or pictures to it. It was not enough to read from. Twenty minutes later I was still at a blank spot.
We scratched the crystal ball.
I already knew tarot. At least, I knew the meanings of the cards. But Maggie taught me how cards fit into a whole.
Maggie was a huge-hearted black woman who had a gift like a thunderclap. She was, perhaps, the strongest psychic there. She looked at my tarot deck and sniffed. ”Why you gotta read on those old nasty things?” she asked me. ”I love to have you read for me, child, but not on those. Rita,” she called out, “Have you got a plain deck of cards?” Maggie took the new deck into her hands and shuffled like a poker master. Maggie taught me that the cards in tarot were the basis for a playing deck, and how to translate tarot into ordinary card decks. If you hit a level of perception, the meanings of the cards separately faded into a whole picture. It was like blending letters into words. The images had meanings as a whole, past separate meanings.
Maggie didn’t need a deck. Or a teacup or your palm. She just knew on sight. Maggie couldn’t teach anyone how she read. It was pure gift.
Rita taught me reading palms and astrology. I read hands well. I never mastered the math behind the astrology charts.
We had other readers who purely cold read, without any gift of sight. Their gift was observation. Since they told everyone what they wanted to hear, their clients loved them. They seemed faded though. They appeared to be translucent. They had a thin dreamy quality, as if they were already a little bit dead.
Rita also had an accountant, Will, who came in twice a week and reconciled the books. He slid past the readers at their tables, mildly afraid of them, and ensconced himself safely in the office where the numbers knew nothing of psychic powers and would not trouble his sleep. He was a big soft man in his fifties, loyal to Rita, planted firmly in the day-to-day world of accounting. Most of our clients were middle-aged Bostonian women on their lunch breaks or out of the house for the day. They came to be entertained or stroked. It was a massage session for the ego. They wanted a time in their week that was all about them.
But a few of them wanted something different. A fair number of those worked as psychic practitioners themselves. In the same way you wouldn’t do your own psychotherapy or your own tooth extraction, you didn’t do your own reading. For about the same reasons.
My first reading was for one of Rita’s regular clients. Betty Rider was in her late forties. She was plump, colorless woman, as contented as a matronly cat. Her colorless hair was in a slightly overgrown bob, her clothing a bit too tight around the middle. But that did not interfere with her enjoyment of her muffin or her tea.
“Betty, this is our new reader, Mirella,” Rita said. “She’s really wonderful. Do you mind if she takes your reading today?”
Betty pouted for a second as Rita popped another muffin on her plate. “She’s good, right?”
“She’s new,” Rita admitted. “But she’s very gifted.”
Betty nodded assent as she pulled the second muffin apart. She drained the last of her tea and placed the cup upside down on her saucer. “Turn it around three times to the left, “I said, as Rita had taught me. I held up the teacup and peered inside.
There was a room full of tables with toys all around. “You teach primary school, don’t you?” I started.
Betty smiled. “Yes and no.” I cocked my head, listening, and continued as if I hadn’t heard. “Your car needs new tires.” I saw the car itself with one wheel flattened. She nodded. I saw coins rolling away from the car itself. A stream of tea fell out of the cup taking the money with it. “Be careful who you take it to. I don’t think the tire guy is honest.”
I went on. “You have mice in your classroom.” I saw one sitting in her hand. “Are they pets? Do the initials OZ mean anything to you?”
Betty laughed out loud. “She’s not only good, Rita, she’s precious. Yes, I teach primary after a fashion. I teach art to adults, which means I teach them to play like kids. Yes, my tire went flat and the guy I took it to was a scumbag about fixing it. He way overcharged and didn’t tell me he was going to until he handed me the bill. I have a frightened little lady who’s my class mouse. Oz is my cat. She can read for me any time, Rita!” Betty slipped me five dollars, a respectable tip, and collected her bags to go. She hugged both Rita and me, and skipped out the door like an eight-year-old.
I read regularly for Betty after that. Almost every Saturday morning saw her at the tearoom waiting for a reading with me.
Usually her concerns were small, everyday things. People in her class. She didn’t seem to have a boyfriend or husband, but her cup was full of friends and activities. Her passion for food and cooking also showed in her cups. As did her cat.
Oz the munificent was a long-haired, Buddha-sized, gray cat, She herself was catlike and Oz was the male cat who ruled her world. She finally ‘fessed up’ that she cooked certain things especially for him. One day she came in and asked me to see if I could see anything about him. His appetite was off, and he was olderb. I looked into her cup and saw him flat on the rug. He looked dead.
I tried to remember what Rita told me about seeing the hard, bad things for people. I knew Oz was the love of her life. I tried to be gentle.
I started with a huge understatement. “I don’t think Oz has been feeling well. You might want to take him to the vet.” I said it as mildly as I could, although I knew it was bad.
“He’s sick?” she asked, hovering on my answer. “He’s not going to die, is he?”
Confronted outright, I said what I was sure of. ”He seems to be just lying there.”
“Is he going to die?”
What could I say? The answer was yes, sometime. Everyone dies, sometime. I didn’t think I could tell her that.
“I don’t know,” I said. “He doesn’t look well.”
Betty’s face pinched in. She grabbed her purse and ran out the door.
Later that day, Rita got a call from her. “You tell that Mirella I don’t ever want her to read for me again!”
Rita was, of course, her conciliatory best. “Did she read poorly for you? Was she in some way impolite?”
“Oz is dead. I had to put him down. Today. She knew. I know she knew. And she didn’t tell me.” Rita shut the door to her office so I couldn’t hear her response. Except when she put down the receiver. I went over to take whatever punishment that was waiting for me.
“What exactly did you say?” she asked me.
“I told her Oz wasn’t feeling well.”
“Did you know Oz was dying?” Rita tapped her fingers as she scanned my face, looking for some inner explanation.
“Maybe.” I answered. I shook my head and looked down at my hands.
“There wasn’t a right answer, you know,” Rita said. “Had you told her, she still would have been dreadfully upset.”
Several weeks went by. Mary Lou was an angular woman dressed in black and gray. Mary Lou spent her days looking after her older mother. Once a month, respite care would give her a morning out. She spent it partially with us. She wore gray that matched her gray hair although sometimes she spiced her color combination with rose beige. Her skin now was almost the same color. I peered into her cup, appalled to see a coffin.
Again, I was so unsure what to say. It seemed unambiguous. Her mother had been hovering over the grave for months. I tried again to soft pedal the news. “Is your mother unwell?” I asked.
Her smile was rueful and terrible. “ Mother died three days ago.”
I saw her relief and grief, both too strong for me to bear. I stumbled through the rest of the reading. Mary Lou said almost nothing. She just folded things into her purse and left. I sat shaken by her pain, by her loss, by her evident relief and her attending guilt.
Rita came over to my table with a muffin and a teapot. She poured a cup of tea for me, which I drank. Then she picked up my cup. “Let me read for you,” she said.
Rita slid gently into trance. “You’re going to meet gypsies. There’s a fire storm you need to be careful of. Look for a man whose name starts with E. He’ll be your friend, but he’s not your lover. He’ll ask for something you can’t give him. Look for another man whose name starts with R. You don’t think so, but he’s the person you need. There’s a lady whose name begins with B who will bring you all kinds of clients. You will go to a wedding where there are ghosts who need you. You’ll meet a mermaid. Be careful of large birds. A shaman will give you three feathers and a dog. You’ll meet a nun who will be your mentor. Her best friend is a two hundred year old witch. I see you running from a tiger. And from a boy in brown shoes.
You’ll have power in your day. But you can’t be confused. You can have power, you can wield power, but you never are a power. No one is. It’s a delusion. Beware of being right. Beware of proving you are right.”
The images splashed over me. I couldn’t hold on to them. As I listened to Rita read, I understood that she was telling me what my life as a reader would be like. It would be full of amazing people, some crazy, some broken, some astonishing. Full of people’s stories. Full of the solutions they would have to find for themselves. Full of witness to their lives, their pain, their growth, their triumphs and their losses.
“No matter who opens the door on their pain, whether they do or we do, it is opened,” Rita said. “Aired. Allowed to breath. Kept from festering. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt terribly. Sometimes they’ll lash out in their pain. But we give them a space and place to sort it out. We’re readers. It’s part of what we do.“
“Part of what we do?” I asked. I was puzzled. What more could there be?
Rita smiled. “The best of us hold the line between good and evil, living and dead, while we figure out what part of the future we can and can’t change. Or maybe just should and shouldn’t. And we entertain them. All clients like to be entertained.” One of her eyes slid shut. Had Rita winked at me?
I fingered Nona’s charm at my throat. I suspected reading was something Nona had done as well at some point.
If Nona could do it, so could I.
Have you ever stopped to think that all the founding fathers of our country could be ghosts? Here’s a view of them you might not have thought of before.
“Did you ever investigate ghosts?” Alyx asked me. Alyx was one of the Artemesians, a group of self-proclaimed witches who specialized in healing and moon worship. She came into the tearoom as much a friend as a client. She was not a reader, but she was a brilliant herbalist and a very gifted psychic healer. Blond and willowy, she might have come from Danvers four hundred years ago. She might even have been hanged. Now Alyx was a rising star in her coven.
Alex had the “it-girl” factor. She had the “cool girl” thing going on. When in high school, I was far too emotionally delayed to understand the relationship dance between the girls who fluffed pompoms and went out with the football players. Or their often-cruel friendships. There was a witty, catty script to their dialogue, so vaguely cool that I almost didn’t notice the cruelties behind the words. I wish I could say I didn’t join in because I was better than that. I wasn’t. I wanted to belong, like every other backward, awkward wallflower, leaning towards the sunlight of the golden girls. By their lights, I was not worthy.
I was so flattered Alyx had befriended me that I found myself unconsciously mimicking her. It was a terrible shock when I found some of those mincingly cruel comments coming out of my mouth as well. But I felt warm around Alyx, as if I were resting in a pool of sunlight.
If she wanted to go ghost hunting, of course I’d join her. She began by making a list of equipment she thought we’d need.
“Why don’t you just talk to the ghosts?” I asked her.
She turned a baneful glance on me. “No one really talks to ghosts, do they?”
“I’ve talked with ghosts all my life. Or rather they demand to talk to me. But I never went in just to look around.”
“You talk with ghosts?” she said scornfully. “How do you codify that? How can you prove it? It must be done scientifically. You measure the temperature, take pictures, document energy surges, make films. You can prove there are ghosts. It’s not like telling someone a tale and hoping they believe you.”
Nona had always taught me not to worry about whether people believed me or not. She told me, “You believe yourself and that’s plenty and enough. If you saw it, it’s there. If you heard it, it’s there. You can’t prove anything to people who don’t believe and you don’t need to prove anything to anyone who does.” But she also warned me a lot of people would be threatened, and I should keep what I hear to myself until I know how it will be received. I was intrigued that you might actually be able to have proof. Would having proof make speaking to ghosts more legitimate?
“How do you prove you’re a healer?” I asked.
“It’s simple. If the people you work on get better, you’re a healer,” she said smugly.
“So why is talking to ghosts different?” I asked, just to burst her bubble.
“It just is. You can’t prove you did. If you use the equipment, you can prove what you’ve accomplished!” She looked down on me scornfully.
I just shook my head.
“So where would you go to ghost hunt?” I asked her.
“Don’t be silly. You go where there are ghosts!” She gave another smirk.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked.
“Granary Cemetery is right down Tremont Street. They say it’s deeply haunted.”
“Isn’t that like the most public graveyard in all of Boston?” I asked.
Alyx pulled a strand of hair behind her ear. “The sisterhood knows a little trick they use for privacy. We can investigate there all night and no one will be the wiser.”
Alyx went home to prep ghost hunting equipment for an evening’s exploration. I finished up the day in the tearoom. Rita called me into her office.
“So do you have plans tonight?” she asked me.
I was embarrassed to tell. “I’m going off ghost hunting with Alyx,” I confessed. It seemed childish to say it that way.
Rita looked firmly at me. “You watch Alyx,” she told me. “She’s on the fast track. I’m just not quite sure where she’s headed.”
I gave her a funny look. Couldn’t Rita see how cool Alyx was?
“Do you know where I’m headed?” I asked her.
“You’re a work in progress, but you’ll be a fine reader in your time,” she said. “How much do you know about ghost hunting?”
“I know I’ve always seen ghosts. And sometimes I can speak to them. Although sometimes they don’t seem to see me back.”
“That’s the difference between a ghost and an apparition,” Rita explained. “A ghost is usually a lost or misplaced human soul. You feel like you’re talking to a person because you are. They just happen to be dead. Sometimes they’ve stayed here for one reason or another. Sometimes they don’t know they’re dead yet. It’s a grace to tell them that if you can do it in a way that’s kindly.
“An apparition is anything you see. The psychic world is the Wild West, even here in Boston. Most apparitions are like a recording of something that happened in a particular place and time. If will go through the incident repeatedly and consistently, like a tape recording. The ghosts won’t notice or speak to you. My guess is that the memory is strong enough to replay itself over and over but that no one is really present in that memory.
“But there are other apparitions as well. Be careful what you talk to. When you talk to an entity, it has permission to talk to you. Not everything golden is good.” She shook her head gently.
“Why can’t Alyx see ghosts?” I asked.
“Healing is about ritual. She’s a fine healer. Talking to ghosts is about discernment. It’s not the same thing.” she explained. “Go have fun.”
I ran out the door.
It was a soft fall evening with an enormous moon, yellow as a ripe lemon. I walked down the street, looking for Park Church. I almost missed the sidewalk that led into the graveyard. Alyx called me over. “Right here!”
“How could I have missed the turn?” I asked her. I looked around and saw small witch lights at each corner of the graveyard.
“I did a little masking spell. No one will see us. They’ll just walk right by, thinking nothing’s there.”
I had a momentary flash of jealousy over Alyx’s abilities. Or maybe over her training. No one had taught me tricks like that. Then again, it was not what we did at the tearoom. The Artemesian sisters practiced what they called gray witchcraft. They did not claim always to be white and insisted they were never really dark. But they practiced the manipulation of the world and things within it. That was something readers did not do in the tearoom. Rita was adamant about that.
Alyx had a knapsack full of gadgets. I shook my head as she started to pull them out of her bag.
“Don’t you just talk to ghosts?” I asked her.
“I can’t do that,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who can really do that. I always thought that was a myth. Besides, we need to get proof.”
It seemed imprudent to remind her I’d been talking to ghosts since I’d been three.
She pulled out two flashlights and cameras, a notebook, a digital recorder and EMF meter, followed by a collection of candy bars and other junk food. “We need to keep our strength up,” she explained. I chose a candy bar and listened to her plan.
Alyx spread her arms in display, over the pile, showing off her available technology. “We can set up equipment all over the cemetery if we wish. It’s smaller and that is better, since we can cover it more easily. Do you have anyone you want to focus on?” she asked me.
“I hadn’t thought. I didn’t know you went hunting for a particular ghost.”
“We could. We don’t have to. We can focus the equipment on someone specific or we can try to see who is most active.”
“Why don’t we see who has the most to say?” I asked.
“You think you can get someone to say something?” she taunted me. “We’ll see.”
It was a challenge, pure and simple. She didn’t want it to speak to me. Or with us. She wanted it recorded on her machines.
We set up camcorders along the wall and sat waiting for something to happen. Alyx kept checking the equipment, going from one tripod to another, taking readings with her EMF meter. It was a warm enough night that I dozed off.
Something poked me very gently. I thought I woke. But the graveyard was full of people as I opened my eyes. There was a small boy in a tricorn hat and waistcoat.
“Forgive me, milady,” he said as he removed his hat. “It seemed you slumber here. Night is swift as shadow. This no place for the quick.”
I blinked several times. He didn’t go away. “No, I suppose it’s not,” I replied. “But I wanted to see who was here.”
“Look and you shall know,” he told me. “The other girl is head blind, is she not?”
“I guess. She does seem to need her equipment.”
Alyx was now tinkering with a meter that was presumably not working. She whacked it several times with her hand, in impatience.
“She’s waking everyone,” he told me. “There are those best left sleeping.”
“What is your name?” I asked him.
“Master Patrick. Master Patrick Williams.” I shook the shape of his illusive hand.
“Can you tell me what she’s doing?” he asked me, pointing to where Alyx was set up in the corner.
I looked over to Alyx. Her face was reflected in the screens of her instruments. She walked from one to the other checking everything, scribbling notes in her notebook by the light of her flashlight. “Alyx!” I called out. “There’s a ghost right here!” She stayed hovering over her readings, unable to hear me. She was oblivious to the boy and me.
“She wants to know if ghosts exist,” I explained. “She’s trying to find scientific proof.”
‘’Like Ben Franklin’s witchery?”
“Well, as I understand it, Ben Franklin was a scientist along with everything else. He had a lot of equipment that probably looked pretty weird.”
Patrick rolled his eyes. “Mr. Franklin was out in a thunderstorm with a key dangling from a kite trying to catch lightning. They say he was a statesman and an author, but he was outright daft.”
“A lot of science looks that way if you don’t understand it. Alyx is trying to get scientific proof of life after death, I suppose. So, no. It’s not witchery. It’s cameras and measuring equipment.”
“What’s a camera?” he asked.
“Well, it takes a picture of an image and freezes it in time.”
His eyes had glazed over by now. Perhaps all science looks like magic if you don’t know what it is.
“Anyway, she wanted to see ghosts.”
He started to giggle hysterically. I couldn’t help but join him. He went over and put his hand on the meter. Alyx jolted for a moment and began to scribble madly in her book.
“You don’t need proof, do you?” He still was bent over laughing.
“Never did. But I told her I’d come along.”
“Everyone wants to meet you. We don’t always get visitors who can see us.”
“I would be honored.”
“Not everyone actually.” he equivocated. “There are some folk you probably should not meet. But I’ll introduce the people of quality.”
A wispy image of an elder woman climbed out of her grave, as if her hips were still sore and stiff. She stood herself up and curtsied.
Patrick announced her. “This be Goodie Goose.”
“The Mother Goose? Elizabeth Goose?” I asked. I’d seen the tombstone.
“Lizzy Goose. I’m snail-paced and a sorry sight but here at your pleasure, child. You’ll have to forgive our gentlemen. They argue and tussle every night. They are rebels all, in their own ways.”
There was a heated discussion coming from one corner. On a flat tomb-surface, three men played a board game, hardly watching the moves. Instead, their focus was on a conversation so angry they were declaiming over each other.
“John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Alexander Hamilton.” Lizzy pointed out the three.
“Do they know what happened? Do they know they’re dead?” I asked her. One of them looked up at me. “Well, of course they do. This is a graveyard. To a large extent they remain here to hear what is said about them. At one time, none of them knew whether they would be heroes or hung. It was rather a near thing.”
“So, they stay here listening to tour guides?”
“It’s heady stuff for them,” she acknowledged. “They’re grander here than they were in life. But they also lived for the fight. Had they not had the revolution, they’d have argued with their neighbors or their church or their second cousins. It’s who they were. And don’t think that because they were on the same side of the war they agreed with each other. These were never men of peace. They liked nothing better than a huge, messy, irresolvable quarrel. They still love their little nightly squabbles.” The ruckus got louder.
Sam Adams pounded his ghostly hand on the stone. “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen on setting brush fires of freedom in the minds of men.”
“How do you set a brush fire in the middle of a tea party?” Hamilton smirked at Samuel.
“It accomplished both goals,” Samuel grinned. “I soaked their finances throwing tea into the harbor and set alight the fighting fire of our men.”
“Hear, hear!” Hancock cheered.
“But how will you do commerce?” Hamilton continued. “No colony will survive at all if they can’t trade with each other. You need a strong set of rules agreed upon by everyone so that business can flourish. That takes a central government, a common currency, roads and banks that all work together.”
“Are they still making the same arguments?” I asked Lizzy.
“As in life, so in death,” she said
“It sounds endless,” I said as I watched them pontificate at each other.
Lizzy answered me, “It is. It was. It has been. And will be. That’s why they’re still here.”
“Actually, the things they’re discussing are still not resolved. Different states, colonies, still have very different opinions of how much the central government should do, if anything. But we settle it by voting instead of fighting, usually. That’s something they gave us.”
“They did,” Lizzy acknowledged. “They weren’t fools. They just loved the fight.”
A plainly-tailored man walked near them. He tipped his hat in recognition and they looked up at him. “Are you tyrants still at it?” he said to the three.
Hancock answered, “Rev. Byles, we are not tyrants. We are patriots.”
“That,” the reverend said, “remains to be seen. Which is better, to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants not one mile away?”
Hancock stared at him levelly. “No one cares for what you say, you Tory son of George!”
“I am not George’s son, nor Tory whole, but servant of Christ,” Byles returned.
“But you still deny the rights of liberty!” Sam Adams roared at him.
Byles tipped his hat and walked away from the three rebels.
I looked in a corner. A beautiful young black woman in a Georgian dress and mob cap sat on a tree stump. She read her words aloud as she wrote.
“Great God, what light’ning flashes from thine eyes?
What pow’r withstands if thou indignant rise?
Against thy Zion though her foes may rage.”
She didn’t look up at us. Her whole focus was on her writing. Byles walked by her, stopped and looked over her shoulder at her writing. She looked up at him in reverence
“Who is she?” I asked Lizzy.
“She’s a marvel. Phyllis Wheately. ‘a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.’ Her master taught her to read and write. So she writes poetry, as fine as any in America. Mr. Byles said so after he examined it. Better than mine. Mine are rhymes to put babes to bed.”
“Lizzy, people are still putting babies to bed with your poetry.”
“Really?” she smiled. Perhaps she hadn’t known.
“My mother read them to me,” I told her.
“Your mother could read?” she said in astonishment.
“Most people do now,” I confessed. Lizzy looked amazed.
“It must be a wonderful age. To all be learned!”
“It’s like every age,” I said. “Some wonderful things, some terrible messes and some things you just have to get through.”
Three shimmering riders on horseback burst through a monument. “Revere, Dawes and Prescott,” Lizzy pointed out.
Across the graveyard, I saw a lovely woman in apron and mob cap wave her hankie. “Now you be careful, Willie Dawes, and come home safe to me.”
Dawes turned his horse towards her and cried, “I’ll be back by midnight, Mehitabel.”
Revere grabbed Dawes’ reins. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Will. Ride. We need to reach Concord by morning.”
The three men halted in front of Lizzy. “Madam.” They dismounted, removed their hats, and gave her a short bow. Then they rushed through the cemetery to Adams and Hancock. The game was forgotten as all the men spoke in desperate whispers.
“Do they make the ride every night?” I asked.
“Oh, assuredly. Sometimes three and four times a night,” Lizzy told me.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s their strongest memory. They warned Lexington and Concord that the British troops were on their way. The apparition repeats it over and over because it was the most important moment in their lives.”
The ghost of a black man drifted up through the stone erected for the martyrs of Boston Massacre. He walked across the graveyard, neither looking left or right. He seemed unaware of everyone.
“Who is that,” I asked.
“Poor Crispus,” Lizzy answered me. “Crispus Attucks.”
I could hear the man mutter to himself. “Just walkin’ through Bunker Hill on a short cut. Tryin’ to get back to my ship. Damn all white people yellin’ and shootin’ at each other. I pushed at someone trying to get away and they had to go and shoot me! Damn all.” His specter trudged through the graveyard and evaporated at the fence. Several seconds later, he drifted through the tombstone again and went through his march, like a set piece.
“He’s stuck?” I asked Lizzy.
“No one knows, child, but he responds to no one and nothing. I believe this is just his memory. It’s sad though.”
“Why are you still here, Lizzy?” I wondered what could have held this sensible woman here at her grave.
“I miss my babies,” she told me. “I miss my Thomas too. He still wanders through here and I’m waiting for him to be done with this world. When he’s done, I’ll go home with him. Until then, I watch after other people’s babies.
“Babies?” I asked.
“You all are babes. I always enjoyed caring for the young. It’s just that the young are a bit older now.” She smoothed her skirt with her hands.
There was a rumpus in the back of the yard and one of the stones split open as a man in black robes strutted among the tombstones. A black robed winged creature clung to the man.
Master Patrick grabbed my arm.
“You might best leave, mistress. This is not commodious company.”
The other ghosts evaporated in front of the apparition.
“Who is he?” I asked.
“Cotton Mather and his master,” Patrick told me.
“The thing on his back?” I asked.
“Purely evil,” Lizzy answered me. “We keep well out of its reach.”
Another man opened a door from his tomb. Like the first man he wore a judge’s robe. But the black was a clear galaxy as opposed to the filth hanging on the first judge. Light showed out of his open hand.
“Cotton,” the second man bellowed, “you’ll not bring that trash in with the rest of us.”
“‘Sewell, you’re deluded. You wanted charity, proof, legal reasoning. Against demons. A court of law is the only place to decide such things and that was our job. Couldn’t you smell the devil at Danvers?”
“You’re an idiot, Cotton,” Sewell answered. “You rail against demons and you wear one like a robe.”
Both men turned their attention to Alyx.
Sewell turned towards me. “And why are the living here?” he asked me.
“I was curious,” I stuttered. The man put out his arm. It blocked me from Mather’s sight. I could see Alyx if I stretched past his protective arm.
Alyx had been watching the meters closely. Apparently, the readings bounced off the chart when the two judges started to rail against each other. She walked steadily towards Mather with her meter extended in her hand. From her face, I could see her amazement. She saw him.
“You’re a ghost!” she exclaimed. Her face beamed with wild excitement.
“What if I am?” he said, maintaining his dignity.
“But I’m here to see ghosts. Are you a real ghost?” She waved the meter at him as if to get a better readout.
“You’re a witch, like as not,” he snarled at her. He reached to the upside-down silver star at her throat. His voice rose to a bellow. “The Maleficum speaks of such deviltry. Do you have a familiar? Do you rut with Satan?”
“I just wanted to see a ghost,” she continued simply.
“What would you like? Should I rattle my chains? Moan? Appear and disappear?” He was haughty, aloof and handsome in his regal court manners. She reached out to touch him. He pulled himself out of range and stood mighty as he had always in court.
“I just wanted to see if you were real,” she exclaimed.
The ragged demon riding him reached out and touched her hair. It picked a strand up and started to play with it. The wind rattled bushes and trees like castanets.
“Alyx!’’ I said, anxious to leave. “Let’s get out of here!” I ran up to grab her. Sewell blocked me from reaching her. I could see her, the ghost and the demon all together in an unholy trinity.
“Will you teach me?” she said to the pair. “I want to know everything about the afterlife.” She looked up to Mather with longing.
I watched Mather smile at her one way as the demon smiled a much crueler smile. “But of course child. We’ll teach you.”
“Alyx no!” I screamed. “It’s not what you think it is. Come on. Come with me. Let’s go.”
Lizzy and Patrick were on the side screaming “GO!
I ran through, grabbed at Alyx’s hand and pulled. She pulled away me and slapped me so hard I fell to the ground.
I rubbed my cheek, feeling the bruise already.
I looked up at her. She was beautiful. Cool. Chic. And a demon like a black rag was draped around her shoulders, stroking her face.
“You can go if you like, wimp. I’ve found my ghosts. You are such a baby.” Alyx dismissed me, the way the cool girls had always dismissed me. It still hurt.
Lizzy grabbed my hand and Patrick stood guard behind.
Lizzy ran with me to the cemetery fence, dragging me along when I stumbled. I flew over it as she released me. “Go!” she shrieked. “Don’t look back.”
But of course, once I was over the threshold, I did look back. I could see the church, but the cemetery and Alyx were blanketed in thick mist.
I ran down the middle of the street, terrified to be near the bushes or the buildings. When I got home I slammed the door, locked it and shivered over my hot tea in a hot bubble bath.
The next morning, Alyx marched into the tearoom. She looked triumphant. “I thought you’d like to see the tapes and readings.” She didn’t laugh out loud at me, but I could hear the sneer in her voice. “It’s a shame you got scared. I got some great readings after you ran away. What was wrong with you? I wouldn’t have thought you were that kind of a coward. I told the story at the sisterhood and they’re still laughing. Who’d have thought?”
Was there something different about her? A dark cloaked thing clung to her back, close and tight to her skin. But I could see it. Was there a thread of burnished gold around her outline?
Rita stepped out of her office and called to me.
“Sorry, Alyx. Got to go,” I said. It was a reprieve. I didn’t want to hear Alyx tell me what a baby I was again.
“See you.” She dismissed me with a wave and left.
Rita opened the door and waited for me to sit.
“What did you do last night?” Rita’s eye bore through me.
“We investigated the Granary Graveyard,” I said, as quietly as if I hoped she wouldn’t hear me. But she did.
She stared at me deeply, investigating, probing. Did she wonder if I had brought back a visitor as well? “You seem to be all right.”
“I hope I am. I had help. What was the thing on Cotton Mather?”
“You saw old Cotton?” she asked me. “What did you think it was?”
“I don’t know. It was just nasty. Mean and violent and evil. It gave Alyx what she wanted, but it felt vile.”
“Exactly. That, Marlene, is a demon. And you better not bring one home as a souvenir.”
“I’m afraid Alyx did. Is there something I can do to help Alyx?”
“Did she choose to engage with this thing?” Rita asked. “Actively?”
I thought about it. “Yes,” I concluded.
“There’s a reason I would never have Alyx as a reader at the tea room. Alyx will only learn if she’s allowed the dignity of her choices,” Rita explained. “She’ll find her own way to recover from her mistakes. Or else she won’t. But I don’t think she’ll learn except by experience. What did you do?”
“I chose not to talk to that nasty thing,” I said simply. But I’d been helped by the others in the graveyard that meant no harm.
She smiled. And poured another cup of tea.
“Then you can’t change her choices. But you may stay,” Rita said with finality.
I hadn’t realized leaving might be a consequence of the night before. I let go of my breath. “Would you have thrown me out for talking to it?” I asked her.
“In a heartbeat,” Rita smiled.
Did you enjoy this story? It’s a part of Book One: Tea Room Tales, from the Sight Unseen Series. Leave a comment or you can review it on Amazon.com. Or you can purchase Book One: Tea Room Tales on Amazon.