Scorpion

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 grace—as they rested atop what appeared to be a dog-eared photo album.

The guests were received in Maniqua’s garden (every bit as elaborate as Lavalieré's—if 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 say—to both of you—though 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 unalterable—except 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 Brandy’s 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 dark—some 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.The Gypsy WomanSienna.jpg (12705 bytes)

"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 peasant’s 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:

ADRIENNE

AGE 18

Brandy, eager to see if the resemblance held true from other angles, paged ahead. Some of the family faces reappeared; Adrienne’s did not.

"She died shortly after those were taken."

Brandy paged back, fixing a wide-eyed stare at the prepossessing girl… then showed Simon—whose fascination confirmed that the likeness was remarkable.

"I'm afraid I don’t 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 lapse—which 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 Reading—which you were free to heed or to disregard. Then I shuffled the cards for a second consultation—Simon’s." 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 Jodi’s, 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. Fondness—mine for Jodi—may 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 was—a tribute to your self-instructed scope; I commend you. Which is not to say I envy you, for soon you will encounter your direst foe—whom, in your confusion, you mistook for me. I did nothing more than dislocate your mask."

While Maniqua spoke, Brandy sat enthralled by the old woman’s eyes… come alive, of a sudden… timeless… knowing… mesmerizing… lending the aged face a youthful veneer (mindful of those likenesses captured in the family album—bearing a striking resemblance to Maniqua’s 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:

 

‘I have used suggestions with her, sometimes images. You, I understand, have honed the methodology. Might I offer one or two refinements?’

‘Clouds do not block skies that have surmount those with lower ceilings.’

‘Oh, I see; you have advanced rapidly. True, I am confined to certain… realms. But you would be unwise to presume my talents lowly.’

‘I have questions.’

‘As have I, Simon.’

‘TIME.’

‘Is so much sand in an hourglass, relevant to its see-through confines only. It empties, as does wisdom, into itself. My turn. EGO.’

‘Identity’s counterfeit; the soul’s inert appendix. SEX.’

‘Procreative, of course.’

‘And?’

‘A tenuous bridge, poor footing for the Western stride. LOVE.’

Simon faltered, his psychic voice unsure, reduced to a stammer.

‘I… I… it… ’

‘LOVE. Answer!’

He refused.

‘GUILT, then.’

Simon felt his conscience cinch like a knot. Maniqua persisted.

‘GUILT, Simon!’

Abruptly he saw Suzi squatting in front of him… naked… wounded… bleeding from her vagina… dust stirred up like steam as clots hit the soil… fearful… snarling like an animal… gnashing teeth that glistened… grew dim… then her effigy dissolved.

Maniqua, hovering in the background, spoke through static lips.

‘I’m going to tell you a secret, Simon.’

Suzi re-materialized

‘Listen carefully.’

howling (drowning out the Gypsy Woman's remarks)… dropping to all fours… staring with half-crazed eyes as something put its paws atop either shoulder… mounted her from behind… a vulgar laugh erupting through canine jaws… fangs then seizing the scruff of Suzi's tender nape… holding her inert while effecting penetration… then humping her in spasms (her outcries abominable).

Simon tried to rise, overcome the spectacle, lift himself above and beyond Maniqua's will, free himself from words, words, words…

‘LOVE, Simon. Answer!’

Useless; he was back again in his chair. Maniqua, unrelenting, pressed her assault.

‘GUILT, then!’

Suzi (sans Anubis) re-entered his field of vision… her outstretched fingers raking the blood-soaked soil… her face contorted… her eyes demented… her lips curled back in a snarl of caustic accusation…

‘LOVE, Simon.’

… fading as he finally answered the Seer.

‘Brandy.’

‘That’s better. SUZI?’

… once more manifest… gaping at the mud beneath her groin… picking through the ejected ruins of her placenta… dislodging a tiny hand, a foot, a mutilated torso… scooping up, from the mire, a misbegotten head… and pressing it, oh so tenderly, to her unavailing breast… as Simon, brought to his knees, painstakingly crawled… under indictment… under the wild-eyed censure of Suzi's vindictive gaze… hating him… despising him… until, for the very first time, he appeared to share her shame… by spreading his arms to embrace both mother and aborted child.

Simon, visibly shaken, acknowledged his denouement.

Maniqua took a jar from her inside pocket.

‘Lift your bandages.’

He scarcely felt the balm she tenderly applied.

‘There. You may replace them.’

He did so.

‘Perhaps we should invite our friends to return?’

‘But… what about… ?’

‘The secret?’

He nodded.

‘I have none. My gifts, as you perceived, have been impaired.’

He winced.

‘Tend to your own endowments, Simon. Clouds for you have lifted, but threatening skies prevail. Your Significator card remains The Fool.’

m00.jpg (11638 bytes)

Voices intruded.

‘Ah, it seems they come of their own accord.’

‘One last question.’

‘Death?’

He nodded again.

‘Time’s blood brother. One last mortal symptom before the Soul's release. Cling to Life and Life-Everlasting eludes ones grasp.’

 

As Jodi, led by Brandy, ambled back, Maniqua added:

 

‘But Life knows naught of Death beyond the Seasons. And I am of the living, as you are yet. Ours are suppositions merely made in passing.’

 

Jodi, aware of interrupting, mumbled an apology.

"Seems I’m always butting in on people's conversations. Are you two finished?"

From Simon’s 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 haven’t made my mind up yet about livelihood. Thanks, though. I’ll keep you posted."

"You all are of a mind, then, to bid adieu?"

Jodi answered first.

"My pots need tending. If I don’t 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 isn’t the right way; is it?"

"I thought we’d take a different route back home. It isn’t any longer. This trail follows the stream, too, except it keeps to the opposite side."

They wound their way through some haphazard shrubs to water’s 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, it’s tickling my toes."

"Turning them blue, no doubt. Come on."

Jodi held out her hand.

"Are there any big pools around? I’d love to go skinny-dipping."

"Up ahead. I’ll 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 Maniqua’s family was due to mere "coincidence"which sounded at least plausible. Most of Jodi’s revelations, however, lacked common sense. Especially when describing Maniqua’s "intervention," suggesting Brandy and Simon were puppets on a stringwhereas 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 duress—Jodi 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. It’s a long hard climb, though."

"What are we waiting for? Let’s go."

"Really, Brandy, no; I have to trim my pots."

"Oh, come on. It’ll 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. It’s really steep. And this is rattlesnake season."

"Oh, they won’t bother us. Will they?"

"Not if you’re careful. Just look before you step, and watch where you put your hands."

Brandy missed this caution's double entendre.

"We will, we will."

"It’s an hour’s climb at least."

"What time is it now?"

Jodi checked her watch.

"About eleven."

"Plenty of time."

"Well, give yourselves enough leeway. Get back before dark. The trail on this side isn’t as well-traveled. You wouldn’t want to get lost."

"Don’t worry about us; we’ll be fine. Sure you won’t 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.

*

*

The sun seemed to hang...

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