The "Gypsy Woman," on first impression, was not the personage Brandy or Simon anticipated. Neither an evil-eyed sorceress draped with scarves and antique jewelry, nor a soothsayer steeped in musk and nefarious intent, Maniqua was simply an elderly woman with tired lines etched into a commonplace face, shaded by a broad-brimmed hat tied primly under her chin. Whatever vitality her anatomy retained was concentrated in her hands; they were impressive. Sun and hard work had stained them a deep chestnut brown. Uncommonly large, they possessed a sculpturesque graceas they rested atop what appeared to be a dog-eared photo album.
The guests were received in Maniquas garden (every bit as elaborate as Lavalieré'sif lacking the formality) various cacti and wildflowers growing in such profusion it seemed a veritable microcosm of the Sonora desert at large. Three rough-hewn chairs had been arranged. Maniqua, occupying a fourth, appeared to have been waiting for quite some time. As Brandy, Simon, then Jodi assumed their respective seats, the old woman smiled.
"It would have been amusing, perhaps, to have dressed myself according to your preconceptions. I chose, instead, to appear as I really am. I trust that you are not unduly disillusioned?" No one ventured a comment; Maniqua continued. "Jodi would have you believe we are meeting for the purpose of my advising you, Brandy, to pursue your dancing career in Tucson, and for me to offer you, Simon, a remedy for your lacerations. Both of these I will do. The genuine reason, however, is for me to use whatever humble powers I possess to send Simon packing. Why? So Brandy can move in with Jodi and live happily-ever-after."
Clearly not expecting to have her confidence thusly betrayed, Jodi fled her chair and ran from the premises. Brandy moved in pursuit; Maniqua detained her.
"No, Brandy; let her go. You may comfort her later. More important now is your hearing what I have to sayto both of youthough unaccustomed I am to this breed of meddling. First, let me confess, I have indeed attempted to influence your lives. Only to a degree, however. And without malice. As Jodi may have mentioned, not always have I practiced such restraint. Alas, the past is unalterableexcept through memories; mine, I am glad to say, are imprecise."
She paused. Brandy glimpsed a flash of indecision (or was it deceit?). Maniqua (almost evasively) lowered her eyes then redirected focus to the dog-eared album.
"I have something here for you to look at, my dear. Perchance it will enhance your understanding." So saying, Maniqua transferred the album to Brandys lap. "My ancestors."
Brandy opened the covers and slowly paged through.
The early portraits were prints: paintings drawings one of a tapestry representations of women outnumbering those of men and were distinguished by a curious common feature a lucid quality mirrored by each pair of eyes. Complexions, for the most part, were darksome quite beautiful. Brandy tried but failed to determine what she should glean until, that is, she came to the first true photographs. There, positioned across a double-leaf entry, was a series of daguerreotypes each depicting a large family (nomads, judging by their tents and horse-drawn carts). One stood out in particular. It showed a woman in a kerchief (a Gypsy, evidently) with coal black eyes, strong jaw, and swarthy skin, her face a mass of wrinkles like an apple-core doll's. She stood in the open countryside adjacent a hand-painted wagon.
With pins and needles, Brandy's recognition dawned; this woman was identical to the one in her dreams.
"My great, great grandmother, Brandy. Please proceed."
With growing alarm, Brandy turned the next page. There, in a group portrait and again in a single frame she saw a girl who looked exactly like herself (albeit younger, and with pitch-black hair). In the close-up she was wearing a peasants costume: an elaborately embroidered skirt, sash belt, and white lace bodice, with full sleeves puffed at the armpits by a trim-fitting vest. She was barefoot. One of her ankles was adorned with a silver chain. The caption underneath read:
Brandy, eager to see if the resemblance held true from other angles, paged ahead. Some of the family faces reappeared; Adriennes did not.
"She died shortly after those were taken."
Brandy paged back, fixing a wide-eyed stare at the prepossessing girl then showed Simonwhose fascination confirmed that the likeness was remarkable.
"I'm afraid I dont understand."
"Would it help if I explained that humans are fallible, and that life has more to teach than can be learned on our first time through?"
"But this girl, and all the details: the wagon, the painted doors, the clothing, her anklet "
"Some things keep their secrets; others can be revealed. Listen to my account, then conclude what you will. When Jodi told me she knew you, craved your company, summoned you, I had no idea who you really were. The instant I beheld you, however, doubts took their leave."
"'Beheld,' as in saw me? Where? When?"
"In the desert. The day of your mishap. I sought you out to ensure that Jodi had caused no harm. She had flexed techniques without prior permission. I must admit her success caught me off guard. She is inexperienced but no less a natural. My underestimation was a serious lapsewhich is neither here nor there."
"But how ?"
"The how is irrelevant. It will suffice to say I 'saw' you, then made contact."
Something in her voice instilled credibility. She continued.
"You are receptive to a fault, hence easy to manipulate. Yet all I did, once linked, was offer you a Readingwhich you were free to heed or to disregard. Then I shuffled the cards for a second consultationSimons." She turned toward him. "You, I could not reach by means so direct. My connection with Brandy is special, one might say 'hereditary.'" She turned back to Brandy. "Simon, on the other hand, walls himself off. He watched you as you slept, by the way. Had he made a threatening move, I would have intervened. He did not. Therefore I, through you, conveyed to him my auguries. Pity is, your recall, Brandy, proved unreliable. Still, your gifts, like Jodis, are quite profound. And though they remain undeveloped, many could evolve."
She paused, as if for questions. Brandy had so many she hardly could speak though, after a moment's hesitation, she decided not to ask. Maniqua turned toward Simon.
"You, I have, perhaps, treated unfairly. Fondnessmine for Jodimay have interfered. Still, forewarnings concerning you, were, and are justified. And though I did put obstacles in your path, each was drawn from no other source than your troubled past. Had you, with it, been reconciled, none of my impediments would have prevailed. You nearly overcame them as it wasa tribute to your self-instructed scope; I commend you. Which is not to say I envy you, for soon you will encounter your direst foewhom, in your confusion, you mistook for me. I did nothing more than dislocate your mask."
While Maniqua spoke, Brandy sat enthralled by the old womans eyes come alive, of a sudden timeless knowing mesmerizing lending the aged face a youthful veneer (mindful of those likenesses captured in the family albumbearing a striking resemblance to Maniquas great, great grandmother). Yet something else shown through the matronly eyes, calling into doubt their placid benevolence, making Brandy wonder if Simon sensed their threat.
Then it was suggested (without a word) that Brandy withdraw. She rose as if obeying an inviolable command, and, despite concerns for Simon, left in search of Jodi.
A silent thrust and parry commenced in Brandy's wake:
As Jodi, led by Brandy, ambled back, Maniqua added:
Jodi, aware of interrupting, mumbled an apology.
"Seems Im always butting in on people's conversations. Are you two finished?"
From Simons overwhelmed viewpoint, finished they were indeed. He felt whole again. Replenished. Traumas of the past had dropped their woeful reins. Insights he pursued might now be overtaken.
Maniqua, fishing an envelope from her sleeve, handed it to Brandy.
"This will introduce you to a friend of mine in Tucson. He can offer you employment as a dancer if you wish. He owns a restaurant. He is honest. If you do decide to work there, I would very much love to come and watch while you perform."
"Oh, I havent made my mind up yet about livelihood. Thanks, though. Ill keep you posted."
"You all are of a mind, then, to bid adieu?"
Jodi answered first.
"My pots need tending. If I dont get back, this sun will suck them dry."
"Of course, of course. I have enjoyed your visit. Run along. But call on me again. Seldom do I get such thought-provoking guests."
Thus dismissed, the threesome rose and left Maniqua as they had found her (smiling self-absorbedly amidst her herbs). Upon reaching the garden's gate, a strange presentiment prompted Simon to turn.
Maniqua sat unblinking, her youthful/ancient gaze both sinister and benign.
"Hey, Jodi. This isnt the right way; is it?"
"I thought wed take a different route back home. It isnt any longer. This trail follows the stream, too, except it keeps to the opposite side."
They wound their way through some haphazard shrubs to waters edge where a second stepping-stone bridge presented a tenuous crossing. Taking off her footwear, Jodi led, skipping over widely-spaced rocks (some partially submerged) with deer-like agility. Brandy, less sure-footed, got stranded half way across. The current rushed past dizzyingly.
"Ooo, its tickling my toes."
"Turning them blue, no doubt. Come on."
Jodi held out her hand.
"Are there any big pools around? Id love to go skinny-dipping."
"Up ahead. Ill show you."
Simon, trailing again, caught up just as Brandy slipped and "kerplunked" in. She laughed. Rivulets climbed her pant-legs, darkening the fabric, while goose flesh worked its way down her naked arms, her blouse developing pinnacles on the mounds made firm beneath.
Waving off assistance, she sloshed her way across, then dawdled putting her shoes back on slowly hoping Jodi would go ahead alone so that she might speak with Simon, compare impressions, share what she had learned, from Jodi, about "The Gypsy," discriminate fact from accounts she judged farfetched. For instance, Maniqua had first made contact, according to Jodi, via "astral projection" (described as a "traveling dream," a "floating from place to place, distances no obstacle.") Recalling her own experience the previous night (drifting back and forth, hammock to toilet seat) Brandy had an idea about what this feat entailed... Then again, she never did get to pee; not actually; not until the 'dream-pee' frustration woke her up. About Adrienne, Jodi (unfortunately) knew next to nothing. Her best guess was that Brandy once had been Adrienne in a previous life (a "former incarnation"), and that the link with Maniquas family was due to mere "coincidence"—which sounded at least plausible. Most of Jodis revelations, however, lacked common sense. Especially when describing Maniquas "intervention," suggesting Brandy and Simon were puppets on a string—whereas surely they had acted of their own accord drawn together by chance then mutual inclination mutual attraction or so it seemed to Brandy eager as she was to explore their oddball connection now that they could do so free from duressJodi having sworn (if they would stay "just one more night") that she would step aside and cease to press her suit.
Simon crossed without incident, overtaking Brandy on the opposite shore. She glanced up.
"Oh, your head! We forgot to ask for a salve to treat those cuts."
Jodi, still within earshot, doubled back.
"Maniqua didn't give you anything?"
Simon indicated she had, then lifted the crisscrossed bandages. Brandy stared with wonder; the cuts were gone. Simon touched the spot, equally amazed. Jodi merely turned and sashayed up the trail.
In time they reached a tributary of the primary stream, that angled in on their left through a narrow canyon. It zigzagged from above like a slender silver snake.
"That swimming hole you were after is right up there." Jodi pointed toward a cataract. "If you look from where I'm standing you can see a path that switchbacks clear to the top. Just below its crest is a lovely little pool. Its a long hard climb, though."
"What are we waiting for? Lets go."
"Really, Brandy, no; I have to trim my pots."
"Oh, come on. Itll be fun."
Jodi (for obvious reasons) never swam nude (and was miffed at Brandy for failing to appreciate why she declined).
"You two go ahead."
"How 'bout it, Simon; you game?"
He nodded. Jodi did her best to affect magnanimity.
"Be careful. Its really steep. And this is rattlesnake season."
"Oh, they wont bother us. Will they?"
"Not if youre careful. Just look before you step, and watch where you put your hands."
Brandy missed this caution's double entendre.
"We will, we will."
"Its an hours climb at least."
"What time is it now?"
Jodi checked her watch.
"Plenty of time."
"Well, give yourselves enough leeway. Get back before dark. The trail on this side isnt as well-traveled. You wouldnt want to get lost."
"Dont worry about us; well be fine. Sure you wont come along?"
"Sorry. I can't."
Brandy, oblivious to Jodi's plain-as-day martyrdom, scampered up the trail Simon followed as Jodi, sullenly bitter, trudged her way home.