Out-of-Body Experiences, Etc.- Part 5
When Miles opens his eyes again, he’s lying on the floor. His palms and knees sting from a fall he can’t remember taking. Vivian sits close by, one hand on his leg. “I didn’t want you to think I was going to leave you behind,” she says, nodding towards the hand.
“Is it gone?” he asks. His voice is hoarse.
“Yes.” She pulls herself to her feet, and he does the same. He feels fine other than the cuts. “I think it all passed through me, anyway.”
“So you saw it, then? The – the ghost?”
“I think they were just jammed-up memories.”
He wants to say Who cares what it was, we got shoved up against the wall and now I can’t remember how I got to the floor, but instead he picks up the flashlight from where it’s fallen and flicks it on. Miles shines the beam inside the empty cell. Nothing. The door is open, but still – no signs of forced entry.
“They passed through me,” Vivian says again. “Through me. I could feel them. And they took something out of me when they went. See?” She places his fingers on her shoulder and presses down. He’s expecting tension, but the muscles underneath give way. He lets his fingers probe her trapezius and deltoid. No tension, no tenderness.
“Memories can’t do that,” he says.
“There’s no limit to what memories can do,” she tells him, and in that moment her eyes are luminous in the dark, like a cat’s. “But only when they’re applied to the body.” She switches from mystic to mother in the tiny space between sentences. “Come on. We should go and get some antiseptic gel for those cuts.”
He’s still too shocked to do anything but follow Vivian out of the penitentiary. When she asks for directions, he says, “Left,” or “Straight ahead for another minute.” Finally, he says, “I know what you mean. About not being yourself. I think…for me, that was what happened. Just now.”
* * *
In the car, he takes a tube of gel out of the first-aid kit he keeps in the glove box. The gel is at least five years old, but it still stings as Vivian smoothes it over his cuts.
“Are you all right?” Miles keeps asking, but she just shakes her head, as if to say, Of course.
After, he drives her in silence back to the nondescript stretch of road where she’d asked to be picked up.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” he asks.
“I haven’t decided yet.” She must sense his dismay, because she says, “Look. I came here because my body was so wound up, I had to leave. You started undoing all that tightness, all that anxiety, and don’t get me wrong, Miles, I’ll never be able to thank you for that. But now that I’m all right again…” She shrugs.
“I understand,” he says, although that’s only half-true. Vivian leans over the gear shift to give him a cramped, quick hug, then slides out of the passenger’s seat. He watches her walk towards a stand of economy cabin rentals. In the midnight darkness, the outline of her body still doesn’t seem fully formed again.
* * *
“What were you on?” says Marie. Miles has the phone on speaker so that he can organize the Serenity House supply room. “Because Jesus, Miles, the way we used to smoke up there sometimes is one thing, but whatever made you see that – was it acid? PCP?” This time, instead of the usual exasperation, her tone is mixed with real worry.
“We hadn’t had anything but the wine, I swear.” He pulls freshly laundered massage table covers out of the dryer and folds them with precision, matching corner to corner. The room is warm and smells like sage – almost comfortable enough to make him think that last night wasn’t real, but it’s eleven in the morning and Vivian still hasn’t shown. He’s called the number she gave him, but nobody picked up. “And I wouldn’t make this up. It’s too creepy. Just like the locksmith story – the one you used to tell on every tour?”
“Yeah,” she says. “I remember it.”
“But it felt like – it felt like-” Miles hunts for the right word. “Whatever energy was there, it went right through her. Like she was some kind of lightning rod. It went through her and out her. And afterwards, it just felt…peaceful, to be sitting there in the cell block.”
There is a long beat of silence. Marie doesn’t believe in ghost stories, but she’s studied hundreds. “I wish I could talk to her,” Marie says eventually. “That’s what you’re supposed to do, you know. Talk to everyone who witnessed the event, just like you’re gathering a police report. See where the details match up, and where they don’t.”
“Good luck getting ahold of her,” he says, finishing with the sheets and filling all the bottles with massage oils in various scents: lemongrass, peppermint, vanilla, jasmine. He hesitates when he reaches for the jar of lavender oil. “I have a feeling she’s already halfway down I-95.”
“Probably for the best.”
He uncorks the lavender oil, closes his eyes, and inhales. There Vivian is again, with her soft eyes and narrow, avian jaw. With a start, he remembers that Phoebe’s baby lotion was scented with lavender, too. He remembers rubbing it behind her dimpled knees. “I saw Phoebe’s face last night,” he says after a moment. “In the…cloud, or whatever it was. I saw her face again and again.”
“I did, too,” says Marie, which surprises him. Miles knows Marie doesn’t think he grieved well, grieved right, after Phoebe died, and so it’s the one subject they hardly ever mention. “I had a dream. She was a baby, and I was holding her, sitting in the rocking chair. Just rocking.”
They’re both quiet for a while. Miles changes the batteries on the hot stone heaters. He can hear Marie eating something on the other end of the line. Then he says, “I think I’m going to move.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes.” The thought hadn’t surfaced in his mind until he said it, but now it seems like it’s been there all along, waiting, like salmon searching for the right moment to leap over the falls. “Not to New York, or anything. Just…away from the Birches. Away from Rumsford.”
“In New York,” says Marie, “you’d be able to meet people like Vivian every day.”
“This isn’t about Vivian,” he tells her, even though part of it is, and he knows it.
“What is it about, then?”
He runs his hands through his hair, thinking. “Energy,” he finally says. “Energy going from one thing to another, getting a spark started, all that. There’s no energy left here. It’s too still.”
“Pretty New-Agey, if you ask me,” Marie says. “But you know I think it’s a good idea for you to go somewhere else.”
After he says goodbye to Marie, he just sits in the reception room for half an hour, thinking about what he saw last night and waiting for Vivian, if she decides to come in one last time. But no one comes, so he calls a real estate agent while he waits for his next client. Yes, the agent tells him, a house like his could probably sell for a good deal. Lots of potential as a vacation home.
All the while, he thinks of Vivian’s car speeding down I-95, moving steadily from New York to New Jersey to Maryland. He thinks of her face reflected in the side mirrors as she shifts from lane to lane: her jaw muscles loose now, her forehead uncreased. Her car will continue on, bringing her closer to her children, until she dissolves into the blur of red-and-white lights that is the interstate’s horizon. Come, altered, and gone, all in the course of a week. A miracle, he thinks. And here he is, wanting to cry out to her receding car, Change me, change me.