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Miss Buddha

 

Miss Buddha

A Novel by Ulf Wolf

 

Shakespir Edition

June 2016

 

Copyright

 

Miss Buddha

Copyright © 2016 by Wolfstuff

 

http://wolfstuff.com

 

 

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

 

Shakespir License Notes

 

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

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Part One — Birth

[*1 :: (Tusita Heaven)

 

The Bodhisatta Setaketu saw that the time had now come.

After a nearly uncountable span in the Tusita Heaven awaiting his destiny, awaiting his return to the little blue planet so far below, how could he know that now was the time?

Because, far below, man had begun once again to ask meaningful questions. Because nearly incessant war and slaughter had finally begun again to subside, and the northern part of the large Indian subcontinent now lay spent but peaceful after centuries of upheaval. For how long this peace would last he could not tell, but he did see that it would last long enough for his purpose.

The barbarism that had flourished for the last many centuries had finally run out of breath or passion or both, and in the settling down he now saw a small, still lake of opportunity in that far-below spiritual darkness. And so, seeing by the light that he was, he knew that the time had come to show and share this light once more.

Although he had made a point not to share his plans, word nonetheless spread throughout the Tusita realm that Setaketu was leaving for Earth, and as he prepared to descend many a well-wisher gathered to see him off, each proffering their advice as a parting gift—some sensible, most not. It is so very easy to be wise from such a safe distance.

Embracing his friends one by one, thanking each for his or her well-meant guidance, Setaketu finally stepped back, bowed in slow and graceful namaskar to honor them all, then turned and strode toward gates that now swung open to admit soon to be Siddhattha Gotama into the cold and starry beneath and beyond.

And that is how, with a final step, he left Tusita and with it the brilliant body he had worn so long. Then, as if falling through a long and dizzying shaft, he plummeted to Earth, through seas of lightless space, through the dust of a billion, billion stars, through harder and harder gravity, through miasmal planetary grasping, and finally into startled flesh that legend holds fell out of his mother’s side feet first to then take seven steps in each of the four directions: North, South, East, West.

[*2 :: (Pasadena)

 

“We’ve already decided on a name,” said Melissa as she returned from the kitchen with a fresh pot of tea.

“What did you pick?” said Becky.

“Ruth,” she said while refilling her friend’s cup.

“Ruth?”

“Yes.” She straightened and rubbed the base of her now softly swelling belly in the way of mothers-soon-to-be, contented and proud. “She will be Ruth.”

“Ruth is a fine name,” said Becky, even though she didn’t much care for it—a grumpy aunt of hers was also named Ruth, and she could not stand the woman.

“We think so,” said Melissa.

“When is she due?” said Becky.

“Late January.” Melissa poured some more tea for herself as well, then eased herself back into her chair.

[*:*]

Melissa was twenty-six years old and this was her first child. She and Charles had been trying for a while—long enough, in fact, for Melissa to begin to worry, at times even wondering aloud to her husband if he thought there might be something wrong, since things were not “taking” as she put it—the word her obstetrician, Dr. Ross, favored in this situation and one day had explained to Melissa in some depth.

“It’ll happen,” Charles would say. “It happens when it happens. Don’t you worry.”

“I’m not really worried,” she’d say. “Just wondering.”

“Don’t you worry,” Charles would say again, his attention already back on whatever it was that Melissa had interrupted—a football game, his breakfast read of the Los Angeles Times, outlining a brief or a response, chewing.

And Charles had indeed been right, for it had happened—and he had recently had taken to reminding her of this a little too often, she thought, that things had indeed “taken.” So there was nothing wrong with him, now, was there?

[*:*]

Melissa’s husband Charles likes to be called precisely that. Charles. Not Charlie, or Chuck, or Chas, or Chip. Charles. That is his name, and that’s what he wants to be called. Every time. Even by his wife.

Every time.

[*:*]

“Can you keep a secret?” said Melissa. “Well, it’s not really a secret, but still, don’t tell anyone, not yet anyway.”

“Sure,” said Becky. Now done with her tea, and making small I’ll-soon- have-to-go movements on the sofa.

“We’re to be part of a study. Ruth and I.”

“What do you mean? What kind of a study?” said Becky, sensing, as she easily did, trouble. Becky could find shadows in the whitest snow—if not right away, then eventually: she would look and look until she did.

“About first-time mothers and their babies. A writer came by last week and asked me if I minded, and I said no, of course not.”

“A writer?”

“Yes. Ananda Wolf was his name.”

“Amanda Wolf?”

“No, not Amanda, Ananda. With an n.”

“What kind of a study?” Becky asked again.

“It’s about how first-time mothers prepare for the baby. They want to follow the pregnancy from the fifth month or so till delivery. Preparations, worries, those kinds of things.”

“They? Where is he from? Some university?”

“He didn’t say. He looked a little like a professor, though. Actually, he looked more like a Buddhist monk with a bow tie. He was a writer, he said. Reminded me a little of professor Anderson at USC, remember him? Jeans and corduroy all the time, did he actually own any white shirts?”

Becky shook her head that she didn’t remember, or didn’t care.

“He was a very nice man,” added Melissa. “Quite the gentleman.”

“Did he say where he was from?”

“He said he was from Northern California.”

“The Bay area?”

“He didn’t say. Northern California.”

“Did you sign anything? Did he leave anything?” She looked around, as if such an agreement should lie in plain sight for her review.

No, she had not, and no, he had not. Melissa informed her friend. Then added, “He has called a few times since. We’re going to speak once a week, or so.”

“Oh, Melissa.” Becky shook her head in her what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you way. Then she straightened and adopted her things-to-do, people-to-see face.

“No, no. Becky. Really. It’s nothing fishy, I promise you.”

Becky rose. “When was he here?”

“Saturday before last.”

“Does Charles know?”

“Of course.”

That was apparently the right answer, for Becky relaxed a little, as much as Becky would ever relax. Too concerned about everything was what Becky was.

Melissa rose too and kissed her friend on the cheek. Becky kissed her back. A quick peck before she headed out into her so-many-things-to-do, so-much-to-worry-about world.

[*3 :: (Ancient India)

 

The Buddha knew that the end was near.

Buddha Gotama, nearing eighty now, had recently arrived with the Sangha, his order of monks, at Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha. It was as if the city itself knew, for the approaching end had gathered as dark clouds beyond the nearby mountains, slowly rising, darkening not only the sky.

As the word spread, many came to see him. Princes and kings arrived with gifts; farmers and hunters, also with gifts. Ascetics, too; they brought reverence and bowed deeply before him.

And many others came, bringing only eyes and awe.

Few brought questions this time—as was usually the purpose for visiting the Buddha. No, this time they came from near and far only to see him, to catch one last glimpse of the Enlightened One. They came to bid him farewell.

And as some left, others arrived, and the Buddha—ever patient, ever compassionate—saw them all, spoke with them all, admonished them all to follow the eightfold path, and to practice the Dhamma diligently.

Though the end was near, it had yet to arrive. Outwardly, the Buddha seemed in good health and mostly in good spirits as well.

But he worried, not about his approaching Parinibbana—his final leaving, for that was as it should be—but about his Dhamma, his teaching. He wondered whether he had, during his long ministry, truly managed to convey the truth practicably. Looking at his Sangha, and knowing that many of the monks were now arahants who had awoken and attained Nibbana, he felt sure, comforted. He had managed to plant the seed, they had sprouted and taken root, and the roots were many and surely strong enough to grow and protect the Dhamma.

But when again his thoughts turned to the world and its immeasurable number of plants and creatures and humans and beings, and again saw how they dwarfed the Sangha into a speck of hardly anything at all, then he feared that his young Dhamma trees would soon wither and be swept away before the brute force of the world.

For all around him, every day, every hour, every minute, there were so many signs of human folly proving these blundering souls near incapable of learning. And there were so many of them, so very, very many of them.

And so, as he often did these final days—as if to make doubly, trebly sure—he would call his monks together and again present them an overview of his essential teachings. And again he would ask if they had any questions, and again he would answer those few that were voiced.

On one such night at Rajagaha he rose and said, “Virtue is strength. Concentration is strength. Wisdom is strength. Concentration fortified with virtue brings even greater benefits and greater fruits.

“Wisdom fortified with concentration brings even greater benefits and greater fruits. The mind fortified with wisdom is liberated from all cankers, particularly from the canker of sensual desire, the canker of desire for becoming, and the canker of ignorance.”

The Sangha, to a man surprised that the Buddha had risen before them, listened attentively. The surrounding country was still alive with end-of-the-day chores and early evening tune-ups: birds calling one another, hundreds of frogs and thousands of crickets weaving a carpet of sound, undulating now over water and grass, surrounding the congregation of monks and their teacher.

Into this colored silence the Buddha then announced, “Tomorrow morning, I will set out on my last journey.”

As these words faded, it was as if even the crickets had heard, and the frogs, and the many birds, for the world came to a standstill, and silence filled the air. No bird called, and no wind whispered.

Tomorrow morning, echoed the surrounding world, the Buddha will set out on his last journey.

[*:*]

The following morning the Buddha set out for Nelanda by the Ganges River, where he rested for a few days before, with a growing number of monks, he went on to Vesali.

At Vesali—which had recently seen an epidemic—his weakening body was invaded by a lingering strain of the deadly disease, but although it gained good hold, he managed to first suppress and then dispel it by sheer power of will. The time had not yet come, he would keep Death at bay a little longer.

Ananda—his first cousin and most trusted servant—noticed his master’s struggle and worried greatly about the Buddha’s health. Also, he worried—much like the Buddha himself—that perhaps there were things still unsaid or untaught that should be said and should be taught while there still was time.

The Sangha had grown greatly over the years, and Ananda feared it might need further direction and more detailed rules from the Buddha himself in order to sustain it into the future, and he said as much to his master.

But when it came to the Sangha and its rules, the Buddha did not agree. “I have given them all the rules they need,” he said. “I have seen and mapped the path of virtue for both bhikkhu and bhikkhuni. I have offered many, perhaps too many, rules and regulations to aid their practice. I have given them The Vinaya. What more does the Sangha expect from me, Ananda?”

Then, although he did fear that perhaps the Dhamma was not yet complete, or not yet clear or accessible enough, he added (perhaps to put Ananda’s mind at ease): “I have taught Dhamma doctrine without separating the esoteric from exoteric, for there is only one Dhamma, the Dhamma. It’s all there, Ananda. It is all there, to the best of my ability. There is nothing that the Buddha holds back with the closed fist of a teacher. The Dhamma is the same whether bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, layman or laywoman.”

“You have given them all that is needed,” said Ananda. “I see that.”

The Buddha nodded, then said, “I am almost eighty years old, Ananda. I have come to the end of my life, and I can maintain this body only with difficulty, just as one maintains a dilapidated old cart. My body is at ease only when I enter and dwell in the signless deliverance of the mind. I am not long now for this world, Ananda. You must know that. And you must be prepared to ensure the preservation and the survival of the Dhamma.”

Ananda, although he had known for some time that the end was near, hearing it so unequivocally from his master still welled his eyes, though he bravely fought back the tears lest he upset Gotama Buddha.

But the Buddha noticed, and said, “Ananda, grieve not for my parting. Each of you are, and should be, an island unto yourself, dwell with yourself as a refuge and with no other as your refuge. Each of you should make the Dhamma your island. Dwell with the Dhamma as your refuge and with no other as your refuge.”

Ananda understood this and took much comfort in the Buddha’s words; although his tears had not receded far.

 

The Buddha remained in Vesali, and spent his last rainy season there. While there, he gave as many talks to his beloved Sangha as his strength would allow, still worrying that he had not taught all, or had not taught it well enough, or clearly enough.

For the Buddha knew that once he left—no matter what Ananda and the other leaders of the Sangha did to preserve it—his teachings, the Dhamma, would soon begin to dissipate. Slowly at first, but as time grew between his living words and those reciting them, obscuring them with ever-widening elaborations, embellishments, and history, the Dhamma would diverge, first a word or two, then a phrase, into opinion and deficient understanding, to eventually even lose its true meaning. This was inevitable, nothing could withstand the onslaught of time. He knew this, and this was his greatest fear.

Late one night he told Ananda, “Before long, my Parinibbana will come to pass. In three months’ time, I will pass utterly away.”

Ananda, again holding back tears called to the surface at hearing the truth spoken so directly by his master, and with such finality, asked him—with as steady a voice as he could muster—if he could not remain. For the sake of the Dhamma, he said, for the sake of Ananda, he did not say.

“Forty-five years ago,” replied the Buddha, “I decided—and silently promised the world—not to attain to final Nibbana until the Dhamma was well established, and well taught.”

Ananda bowed his head that he understood.

“I have now accomplished that,” said the Buddha. “The Dhamma is as complete as I can make it.”

Then he said, “It may not be the perfect guide out of this maze, across this river, but it is a workable guide—remember and proclaim the Dhamma as such, Ananda. It is a workable guide. If diligently studied and applied, the Dhamma will take you across the river.”

“Yes, Gotama.”

“It could be clearer in places, it could be more succinct in others, and I worry sometimes about this, but I have reviewed, and turned it over in my mind this way and that, holding it to the light just so, and it is as I say, Ananda, it is workable. Followed, yes, it will lead you—unfailingly—across the river.”

“I know.”

“Remember that.”

“I will.”

Ananda then lost his battle with tears. When the Buddha saw this, he said, “Have I not taught from the very beginning, Ananda, that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change, separation, and severance? Have I not said that all that rises, comes into being, is conditioned, and subject to decay, must—sometimes sooner, sometimes later—cease and dissolve?”

“You have,” answered Ananda.

“Also,” said the Buddha, “The Buddha does not go back on his word, cannot go back on his word. In three months’ time I shall attain final Nibbana.”

Then he asked Ananda to assemble the Sangha that he might address them again. Ananda did so.

Once assembled, the Buddha again rose before them, and thus standing—although this was an effort for his ailing body—he exhorted them to learn and practice the Dhamma, the path to enlightenment. “This holy life must endure, it must endure long, for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of devas and humans.”

Then he said, “Three months from now the Buddha’s Parinibbana will come to pass.”

Then he offered a brief poem for their contemplation:

 

My years are now full ripe, the life span left is short

Departing, I shall leave you, relying on myself alone.

Be earnest then, monks, mindful and pure in virtue!

With firm resolve guard your own mind.

 

One who in this Dhamma and Discipline

Dwells in constant heedfulness

Shall abandon the wandering on in birth

And make an end to suffering.

 

The normally many-tongued Sangha was all quiet that evening. Few if any words were exchanged, each monk anchored to his own vision of a world without the Buddha.

The following morning the Buddha and the Sangha left Vesali for the province of the Mallas, in the Himalayan foothills.

At the next resting place, the Buddha again assembled his monks and addressed them on the subject of his deepest concern. And again he stood up, the better to be heard:

“Please remember this: When I am gone you will meet those who purport to quote my words. What should you then do? You should commit those words to memory and then seek confirmation in the Vinaya or in the Suttas. If you cannot hear them there, you must assume that they were wrongly learned—or otherwise colored—by that person, and you should reject such words. The Dhamma must remain pure, and only as I have taught it.”

He then raised his arm and pointed, first skyward, then seemingly to each and every monk and nun present.

“Accept no teaching attributed to me that you cannot verify as existing in the Vinaya or the Suttas. I cannot tell you anything more important than this, for accepting such false teaching as my teaching will surely destroy the Dhamma.”

[*:*]

One night nearly three months later, the Buddha asked Ananda to follow him.

“Where to, Master?”

“There is a grove of sala-trees in Kusinara. I want to go there.”

Seeing the Buddha rising with effort—though fending off Ananda’s offered hand—Ananda knew that it was now only a matter of days, if not hours.

Once they arrived, Ananda, finding a suitable spot between two large sala trees and arranging there several thick blankets just so, made for the Buddha a couch, its head to the north. And here, as the Buddha lay down to rest, the sala trees, even though out of season, blossomed and snowed their flowers down upon him as a soft and fragrant blanket.

Ananda sat down beside him.

Now, other blossoms, from the heavenly coral tree and from the very clouds themselves, drifted down from the sky upon celestial music. The Buddha noticed, looked up and smiled. Then he looked at his friend.

“Ananda,” he said. “Is it not thus, that Gotama Buddha is venerated and honored in the highest degree by greetings and gifts?”

“Yes,” said Ananda. “That is so, and has always been so.”

To this the Buddha answered, “Still, whatever bhikkhu or bhikkhuni, layman or laywoman abides by the Dhamma, lives uprightly in the Dhamma, walks in the way of the Dhamma, he or she venerates and honors the Buddha in a higher degree still. Truly, I ask for no higher reverence than this.”

Ananda nodded that he agreed, while, again, silently engaging his fear and grief.

“Do not sorrow, Ananda,” said the Buddha, as always noticing. “Have I not told you many times that everything changes and vanishes? How could something that has come into being not be destroyed? For a long time, Ananda, you have attended on the Buddha, gladly, sensitively, sincerely, and without reserve, with deeds, speech, and thoughts of loving-kindness. You have made great merit, Ananda. Keep on striving and soon you will be free from all cankers.”

While Ananda bowed his head in acknowledgement, the Buddha went on to say, “All the Buddhas of the past had such excellent attendants, and all future Buddhas will, too.”

Shortly after this the Buddha fell asleep, while Ananda stayed awake by his side, watching the sala tree blossoms drift to earth to kiss the Blessed One.

Gotama Buddha slept a deep and peaceful sleep that night.

The following day, the day of his Death, the Buddha gave some final instructions to the gathered monks. “Do not think, bhikkhu, that after I am gone you no longer have a teacher, for the Dhamma and Vinaya will be your teachers.”

Then the Buddha said nothing for many hours while the monks waited in silence.

Toward evening the Buddha arose once more. He looked at Ananda and smiled, then at the gathering of silent monks. Then he said:

“Now, monks, I declare this to you: It is the nature of all conditioned things to vanish. Do your utmost. Meditate diligently and do your utmost to reach your goal.”

And those were the last words Gotama Buddha spoke.

At that, the Buddha laid back down, closed his eyes and entered through the four Jhanas into the formless spheres of meditative absorption, until he attained the stage of cessation of perception and feeling.

Then he entered these nine stages of concentration in reverse order, back to the first Jhana.

Again he rose through the four Jhanas, and during his absorption in the fourth Jhana he passed away.

[*:*]

The sala-tree grove glimmered below. Gotama Buddha took one last look at Ananda, mute with grief now that he knew his master had left, and told him in a small breeze of love that he would soon follow, that Ananda himself would reach Nibbana soon, and shortly thereafter his own Parinibbana.

Ananda nodded that he had heard and that he had understood.

Soon the sala-tree grove was nothing but a bright speck upon the Earth below, and then the Earth turned blue and white with ocean and cloud and soon it, too, was gone in the starry dust of galaxies.

The gates to the Tusita heaven swung open, and Gotama Buddha entered once more.

[*:*]

This should have been a time of rest for the Gotama Buddha. It should have been many a Tusita day of well-deserved contemplation of a job well done. But he could not rest, for in his heart he still feared that the Dhamma was not secure, that he had not taught it well enough, that he had not sufficiently clarified it. He feared that the Dhamma was not well enough understood, not even by his closest friends, and that it would not withstand the ravages of time.

He well knew the frailties and follies of men. He well knew the compulsive importance they attached to the self. He knew how they valued—and sometimes even preferred—opinion above truth, guessing above looking. He knew that such men—and they were in the vast majority—would shape the Dhamma to fit their own notions of what it should be rather than seeing what it was. These men would adopt opinions—their own and others’—rather than seeing for themselves. That was the biggest threat to the Dhamma.

Thus he worried, and could not cease to worry.

And so it was not long before the Gotama Buddha again left for the Earth—for he simply had to see for himself how the Dhamma had fared in the troubled world below since his death as the Buddha.

This time the Gotama Buddha took birth as an Italian: Giordano Bruno.

[*4 :: (Renaissance Rome)

 

He had trouble breathing.

The year was 1600, the month was February, and its third Sunday had barely risen.

The procession making its way from his Nona Tower prison to the Campo dei Fiori was headed by the pike men guard followed by an enthusiastic trumpeter shooting fanfares into the air to let everyone know that Bruno, the heretic, was approaching.

And after the trumpeter came he, secured to a donkey.

He hugged the animal’s neck with difficulty, for his arms were too short for the robust neck. He was, however, not in danger of falling off, for his helpful jailors had ensured his embrace of the animal’s neck by wet leather straps linking his hands, straps now drying and tightening, shortening, and sending streams of pain his way. Not that he really cared, for these pains were as if nothing—barely whispers of those to come.

Flames and death were only half a procession away.

His feet, too, were tied by drying straps under the beast’s belly, sending sister streams of pain up his legs and sides for him to savor.

And he had trouble breathing, for his nose was clogging with mucus and terror and the wooden block they had forced into his mouth made passage of air all but impossible.

He could not cough.

Nor could he talk.

Nor could he scream.

Each clip and each clop of donkey hooves brought him closer to death, and for a while he listened to them as if they were part of some natural clock counting down the seconds. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. Then he twisted his head a little to his left to see what could be seen.

What he saw was that even at this hour—the sun was not yet risen—the route was lined with the curious, the awe-struck, the grinning-in-relief that this was not they tied to this donkey, heading for death.

He was naked under the large canvas they had dressed him in, a sack painted with devils and flames of hell—his eventual destination a foregone conclusion.

And beside him, easily keeping pace with the slowly clop-clopping donkey clock, walked the mercy men, members of the Confraternity of San Giovanni Decollato—Saint John the Beheaded—whose task it was to stage a last ditch effort to save his soul from eternal damnation by shoving crosses under his nose and urging, begging, imploring him to repent. This was a ridiculous exercise of futility, of course, since even had he wanted to—which he did not—he couldn’t speak, could hardly move, could not even meaningfully nod his head; it was too tightly forced against the pungent hide of the ass who seemed to resent being pressed into this revolting duty—it was Sunday after all, and his rightful place this day of rest was in the fields, or in the stables, helping himself to a day-long lazy meal of grass or hay.

And here they came again, these idiots and their crosses, dancing the dance macabre to impress the abbots and priests who had gathered, too, to make sure that Filippo Giordano Bruno, also called the Nolan, did indeed suffer the ultimate indignity this morning for trying to make a fool of the Mother Church.

 

He knows that all will be ready for him at the Campo. The brushwood and pine logs will be piled around the stake in a gruesome welcome, soaked with fetid oils the better to burn. On arrival they will cut him free of this animal and then, unceremoniously, as if he were some thick-skinned fruit, peel him naked of this sack for all to see before they strap him to the stake and set fire to the wood, but not before making sure the wooden wedge remained secure in his mouth: for screaming is not allowed.

[*5 :: (Renaissance Rome)

 

It is said that a man can review his entire life between the moment he leaps—or is thrown—off the cliff and the moment he lands, heaping into life-departed flesh and broken bones on the ravine floor. Bruno had heard it said more than once, but he had never stopped to consider whether it might be true or false.

But as the donkey grudgingly clip-clopped between the ever-thickening files of anticipating—if not salivating—celebrants, his life came rushing back and it simply made the time to be re-lived, in scope if not in detail.

 

When the Pope’s tribunal finally, and officially, pronounced its sentence—the dark and pendulous thing which had hung over him as an all but certainty for over seven jailed years—he nonetheless almost fainted, his knees almost buckled, his heart almost stopped. Almost, but not quite. Not the Nolan. He refused to give them the satisfaction. Instead, he had found the will and the resources to stiffen, to gather voice, and to hurl it at the arrogant asses that had the audacity to judge him—fools to a man, slaves to the dogmatically triumphant beast of ignorance and blind doctrine they all served.

Hurling it thus, with severity, loudly, clearly, “You, I can see, pronounce sentence against me with a fear greater than that with which I receive it.”

And he was pleased that even with death now a certainty, his voice had held firm, without even a trace of quiver.

It had fallen upon Flaminio Adriano, the Notary of the Inquisition, to do the final honors: the putting into words what long since had already been decided by the Pope, and so by the tribunal as well; and it was not without relish that the absurdly self-important little man almost sang in high-pitched Latin from the document he held high before him for all to see:

 

Having invoked the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of his most Glorious Mother Mary ever Virgin, in the cause of the aforesaid causes brought before this Holy Office between, on the one hand, the Procurator Fiscal of the said Holy Office, and on the other hand, yourself, the aforesaid Giordano Bruno, the accused, examined, brought to trial and found guilty, impenitent, obstinate and pertinacious; in this, our sentence, determined by the counsel and opinion of our advisers, the Reverend Fathers, Masters in Sacred Theology and Doctors in both laws, we hereby, in these documents, publish, announce, pronounce, sentence, and declare you, Brother Giordano Bruno, to be an impenitent heretic, and therefore to have incurred all the ecclesiastical censures and pains of the Holy Canon, the laws and constitutions, both general and particular, imposed on such confessed impenitent, pertinacious and obstinate heretics, wherefore as such we verbally degrade you and declare that you must be degraded.

And we hereby ordain and command that you shall be actually degraded from all your ecclesiastical orders, both major and minor, in which you have been ordained, according to the Sacred Canon Law; and that you must be driven forth, and we do drive you forth from our ecclesiastical forum and from our Holy and Immaculate Church of whose mercy you have become unworthy.

And we ordain and command that you must be delivered to the Secular Court, that you may be punished with the punishment deserved, though we earnestly pray that it will mitigate the rigor of the laws concerning the pains of your person, that you may not be in danger of death, or of mutilation of your members.

 

Cursed with nearly perfect memory, he could hear sentence drone on while little echoes confirmed and confirmed it from among the walls and windows as the little man continued his pompous singsong, to in the end even officially wash the hands of the Holy and Immaculate Church of the fate that was to befall him; “though we earnestly pray…” what gibberish. What play-acting and pretense, since they all knew that once he was handed over to the Secular Court, the Holy Standing Order was but one: to enforce as strictly as possible “the rigor of the laws concerning the pains of your person,” and the lay court would certainly ensure that he was put in danger of death, if not, in this particular instance, of mutilation of his members.

And so, in vivid memory—as it continued to make its own time atop the donkey, the little man droned on, now taking aim at all his writings:

 

Furthermore, we condemn, we reprobate and we prohibit all your aforesaid and your other books and writings as heretical and erroneous, containing many heresies and errors. We ordain that all of them which have come, or may in future come, into the hands of the Holy Office shall be publicly destroyed and burned upon the Square of Saint Peter, before the steps, and they shall be placed on the Index of Forbidden Books.

And as we have commanded, so shall it be done.

And thus we say, pronounce, sentence, declare, degrade, command, and ordain, we chase forth and deliver, and we pray in this, and in every other better method and form, that we reasonably can and should.

Thus pronounce we, the Cardinal General Inquisitors, whose names subscribe this document.

 

And then there was silence.

Down to the last scurrying echo, echo, gone. Silence.

The little man done braying, and now sitting down, Bruno took solace and strength from his anger, from his detestation of farce, and that kept him erect and standing, that let him find his voice, and his words, and quiver-free retort.

But within: the final traces of hope took dark wing, for now only the Pope could halt the rush of this deathly river, and Bruno knew that Pope Clement VIII would do nothing to slow, much less halt, the onrush of his death, that the Pope had in fact made it abundantly clear that he wanted Bruno erased, not only from the annals and memories of the Holy Church, but from the Earth. Bruno was to die, he, the Pope, willed it so.

And so he recalled—cursed memory atop the donkey—the prediction he had made in his own De Monade so many years prior:

 

I fought a lot; I thought I could win, but fate and nature repressed my study and my efforts. But it is already something to be on the battlefield because to win depends very much on fortune. But I did as much as I could and I do not think anyone of the future generation will deny it. I was not afraid of death, I never gave in to anyone, I chose courageous death instead of a coward’s life.

 

I chose courageous death instead of a coward’s life. This was not exactly true, but a fine sentiment nonetheless, and an even finer prediction— uncanny, in fact.

For he had in fact recanted and repented and apologized and retracted as much as his conscience allowed, and he would most likely have—though now somewhat relieved that this was never actually put, or would never be put to that test—he would most likely have retracted everything, would it have made a difference. But he had seen, known in his battered heart, that no matter what he said, no matter what he did, no matter what books or comments or view he recanted he would burn, so why give these asses the satisfaction. That was the truth of the matter. He saw that, acknowledged that, knowing self-deception to be man’s deepest vice.

Truthfully, courageous death was not his choice. Here, strapped to the donkey, he’d rather live, anything to live, anything to continue as the Nolan, in whatever shape or circumstance. Death was not a pleasant prospect, and he could not accept it peacefully.

And here they came again with their crosses and sanctimonious faces pleading again and again—what hypocrites—that he would recant and so avoid the eternal flames of hell. Ah, if he could only spit.

And all of this in perhaps ten or twenty donkey clip-clops toward the still distant square.

[*:*]

The animal rocks a little one way, and then the other, as it lifts and then brings down yet another hoof, clip, and then another, clop, and now Mademoiselle Francoise Solanges appears for him: the only woman he truly loved.

And the one woman he never took to bed.

“I want your instructions to set them dreaming,” she had told him when they first met. She was referring to the girl students in her charge, which he had agreed to tutor. But Bruno, blinded and deafened by her beauty, had not registered those words and still did not hear, though she was still talking: “I want you to open a garden in which they can walk for the rest of their lives.”

Finally, he found the thread of her request, and then his voice, “And what makes you think I can do that, Mademoiselle?”

“Monsieur Gorbin calls you a cloud walker,” she said. “And I would like you to take my girls on a walk among them, and then through the blue beyond, and then to the stars even father beyond.”

“Why?” he heard himself ask.

“They need a future of hope.”

When he looked perplexed, she laughed, and her laughter sounded to him like silver bells that rang as with understanding of what he had to give. And then he, too, understood what he was to give.

And so he gave, as often as he could, her charges all the wonder, all the knowledge, and all the fascination he possessed; and she, often as not, would sit in a corner, listening in, smiling to him, smiling to herself. By all accounts happy with his gifts.

In the end, when he could no longer contain his love for her—for it threatened to rupture him would it not reach air; when he could no longer suppress his honest passion for this woman, he declared it, to another of her beautiful smiles and slow movement back and forth of her head. “My dearest friend,” she said, taking his warm, moist hand in her two fine and cool ones, “there is no place in my life for a man. My needs, and gifts, are different.”

“I don’t understand.”

Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she unclasped a silver chain from around her neck, and, after another brief hesitation, unfolded her hand to show him the chain and its famous medallion, marking her as, yes, he knew all about the medallion and what it meant: a Cathar.

He nodded—or, rather, felt himself nod. He did not want to understand, but he did.

Beside him, still holding his hand in hers, sat one of the few to survive the intense massacres launched by Pope Innocent III, and the subsequent and thorough extermination efforts by the Inquisition; though not thorough enough, never thorough enough. Pockets had survived. Always do.

She was one of the survivors.

“Now I have entrusted you with my life,” she said. “For truly, I do love you.”

At that he had cried, for the first time and last time as a grown man, cried like a child cries when overcome with incomprehensible loss, for he realized that he would never possess this woman, and in that moment, counter to every one of his physical fibers, he no longer wanted to possess her, for he, in turn, loved her too much.

He had laid his head in her lap then—child in mother’s, the only thing he could do to ease the pain—and she had cradled it with her hands, and perhaps she had even hummed some comforting melody or incantation, for he felt surrounded by more than tender fingers and warm cloth.

 

Here comes more wood shoved in his face, stirring him back to the present. “Please, please, I beg of you,” shouts the monk holding the cross, no more than a boy, “repent. Save your soul.”

Oh, how he wishes he could spit in the ugly youth’s face.

The boy—as if startled by his thought—withdraws the crude symbol and leaves him to his reverie.

Leaves him to return to Nola, his childhood town, which comes rushing back, pushing aside crosses and throngs and jeers and trumpet blasts up ahead, while the square draws nearer with each clip, with each clop.

 

Nola, by the foot of his beloved mountain—Mount Cicala they called it; Nola, the little town gifting him its name: for he was to be known as “The Nolan.” The little town where life was lived before trouble grew too dense and clawy to be survived.

He could smell, taste even—despite wooden splinters piercing lips and cheeks and tongue—olives, chestnuts, poplars, rosemary, vines, elms, myrtle, even the earth itself out of which Cicala sprung like a vast but guarding spirit. He was running across fields with his friends, fresh wind in his face, re-living the exploits of his soldier father (always away, it seemed). And here, in this land of memory, the sun always stood high in the sky, sweeping away any cloud before it. There was no shadow upon those days. No shadow.

[*:*]

He had been a brilliant student—at least in his own estimation, though none disagreed with that assessment. But his family was poor, and there was no question of higher schooling for the bright boy. A soldier’s pay did not go far; the funds were not there.

Were he to study further—something he deemed his God-given right—he had only one option: The Church, which, in his opinion, was the far lesser of the two relevant evils.

The other, far greater evil, was to forfeit his education and settle for a menial life. This was out of the question.

Thus, just turned seventeen, he also turned monk.

If only he had learned to hold his tongue well enough to actually hold it.

He was not pious, nor did he claim to be. Not even to appease his teachers, most of whom saw and accepted him for what he was: a young man ambitious for learning, for that was all it took—in their estimation and experience—to fashion, in the end, an obedient monk, true to dogma and the Holy Church: a useful instrument.

He would, however, soon topple their complacent views for they had misjudged his desire for learning, which was by no means limited to orthodox teachings, but was a deep and irrepressible desire to know the truth; and truth, he was soon to realize, was not constrained by the codex of canon law and the constitutions of his order.

Seeing this, he deeply and honestly rebelled against the diktat that he adopt and exclusively subscribe not only to the Gospel truths—as found in the Good Book itself—but to every and minute interpretation of those truths by Roman Authority, boringly and at length spelled out in crabbed Latin by long dead theological scholars. This is the truth, decreed his order, and there is no other, down to the very last holy inflection, comma and period.

Without variation, world without end, amen.

Not to his taste.

Oh, if only he had learned to hold his tongue.

And to tolerate stupidity.

And to hide things better.

The drop to finally overflow this rebellious cup of dissent was his illegal acquisition of Erasmus of Rotterdam’s commentaries on the works of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Jerome. Erasmus, as he well knew, was on the Index of forbidden books, but a brother from Venice had whispered his name, had told him of truths told by Erasmus but denied by the Church, had offered to smuggle him a copy of his book and Bruno had agreed, of course, his thirst would have it no other way.

He had hidden the book in one of the monastery privies, well concealed, he thought. But before too long it was found, and eventually traced to him, led there by his own stupidity: Too anxious to prevail in debates, and too eager to display his brilliance, he had taken to quote from this forbidden book—not by name, obviously, but most certainly verbatim (his excellent memory, already in evidence, had seen to that). And most certainly to the recognition of those elders who did not look upon him too kindly, for they, too, had read Erasmus, the better to expose the errors of the heretic’s views. And so, hearing young Bruno expound upon something or other with the help of Erasmus, it was clear to them who had hidden the book in the privy.

And after this it was not long before the Prior asked to see him, again, and this time told him that the Neapolitan Inquisition had now initiated judicial process against him. He was charged with insubordination to the monastic authorities, and with heresy. He was urged to reflect long and hard upon his misdeeds.

The impatient young man reflected only briefly.

Then he fled.

[*:*]

Into years of exile.

Ever searching, ever seeing, ever finding, ever writing, ever fleeing, ever moving on when the Church hounds picked up his scent and alerted their masters to his whereabouts.

 

Against the ceaseless clip-clops below, the many cities parade before him, each at first a welcome, each in the end an unwelcome: Rome, Genoa, Turin, Savona, Noli, Venice, Milan, Chambery, Lyons, Geneva, Toulouse, Paris, London, Oxford, Marburg, Wittenberg, Prague, Frankfurt, where his traitor-to-be, Giovanni Mocenigo, finally reached him with an invitation to return to Venice, offering him both work and protection, which Bruno—homesick by now, and weary of constant flight—could not resist.

A few months later, Mocenigo—thirty silver pieces richer—handed him over to the Inquisition as a heretic.

Seven underfed and miserable years later. Many, many visits to the rack later. Many failed attempts to make him recant later. All these now see him tied to the back of a donkey choking on wood, and now nearing the Campo dei Fiori.

 

He caught the drifting song of oil drenched kindling mixed with the thirst for blood of the growing throng, of end approaching.

And still they shoved the cross in his face. Pleading, as if they had the faintest clue about what they were asking.

[*6 :: (Renaissance Rome)

 

Donkey hoofs no longer clip-clop. They have come to rest.

He can hear, and feel—in his arms, in his chest—the slow breath of the animal. He can hear the soft swish of tail, as it chases some early-riser flies away. He listens to this for several heartbeats, and for a time—although he cannot bend his head to see—all that takes place in the here and now is the graceful flicking of the mule’s tail.

He tries to hold on to this moment (and so many other moments like it that now comes rushing to the rescue), tries to make it last and last and take the place of all other moments. Then comes another cross near his face and another eager-to-please monkish face, and here comes the rising susurrus of the anticipating crowd. The square then. They have arrived.

The animal chooses this moment to bray. Loudly to those nearby, louder still to Bruno, ear pressed against the braying neck, issuing the grating howls first as rumbling earth within the thick, redolent hide—he is still in two minds about whether the strong scent is comforting or disgusting—then as hissing forth through windpipe and maw, then out into air as scream.

And again, and again, as if a trumpet now, heralding arrival.

Then the animal has had its say; it is still now. Waiting, it knows not for what, but waiting. Waiting, like Bruno.

A new eternity.

Or a small bouquet of heartbeats.

Hands now, a forest of fingers trying to untie the not yet wholly dried leather thongs, trying and trying but failing to. Now a discussion, much of which eludes Bruno, but it must have to do with finding something to cut the thongs with. A knife, a sword, anything sharp enough. Suggestions are offered, attempts are made, the words “not sharp enough” are repeated by someone to his right—he can sense a priestly figure, pointing, piping (voice like an old organ) “not sharp enough” and much casting about for another implement.

More commotion, further attempts, and finally: someone brought something “sharp enough” and his compulsory grip on the donkey’s neck slips to his left as he falls to his right and someone catches him, then drops him as the same “sharp enough” severs the thong for his feet and he tumbles to the ground.

More hands and fingers among other crosses. He is heaved to his feet.

The leather thongs are still welded to his wrists and ankles and he realizes he can feel neither hands nor feet, what blood normally comes and goes there has lost access. Still, with the help of many hands, he stands on feet that, for all their numb silence, still seem to serve.

How long, he thinks, how long, precisely, am I for this world? Drink, he tells himself, drink what there is to drink, even if this wine be foul and painful, it is wine nonetheless and is better than no wine at all, for now he is suddenly very afraid to die, and would recant anything, everything; would assume all the sins of the world, and trade them for eternity in hell, if only he could live one more day. One more day.

The animal brays again, but this time nowhere near as loudly. Almost kindly. This time it brays for him, he thinks, a goodbye, and he looks over at the animal, but it is being led away now, all he sees is the rump and the swish of tail. Still, the bray was meant for him, this he suddenly knows and he is flooded with remorse for not loving this animal until now.

He tries again, but still cannot feel his hands. Nor his feet. Looking down he sees they are blue with trapped blood, spindly and blue and not such good instruments for standing, and so he buckles again, but this time he is caught before finding ground. Pulled up, supported now from all sides.

Other hands—many pairs, and with what eagerness—now begin pulling at his sack, his only clothing, and with many words exchanged between pullers and supporters the garment finally rises—catching first on the wooden block in his mouth, then scraping his nose and forehead—and frees itself of its charge. Tossed then—he cannot see in which direction—it leaves him naked. His only clothing now the constricting leather thongs on wrists and ankles.

And here the voice again, the “not sharp enough” voice. It makes a reference to the thongs, and an attempt is made to remove these little too-tight nooses, but after a while the voice loses patience and changes its mind and instead orders the many hands to lead him forward, toward.

Toward.

Toward the stake driven into ground for the purpose of purifying souls and now surrounded by kindling and much wood. The reek of oil rises anew as if to signal to him its willingness to burn. Toward this stake, and he cannot feel his feet touching ground. Perhaps he is lifted rather than walking, and then there is no more toward left.

Only stake.

Hands now press his back against the rough wood and twist his arms back for new thongs. He can feel, in the same manner you hear underwater, rope secure his hands and arms the far side of the bole, and someone else is making sure that his feet—which he still cannot feel, and which still, as he glances down, are blue—will not stray. So much binding for such a small man. That is his precise thought, and if the wooden block did not fill his mouth into forced rictus he would have smiled at that. Smiled, that he could still think lucid, even amusing—if not very helpful—thoughts.

They place a metal ring—fastened by a chain somewhere above him—around his neck, and—his faculties ever alert—he works out why: to keep him erect once the rope that ties him to the pole has charred and crumbled.

The ring is tight; it is more like a metal noose than a necklace. He swallows. Can. Barely. Swallows again, or tries to. His throat is too dry for a second swallow.

And so they are done. Many fingers, and parent hands and arms, retreat. He is safely secured.

Many hands now push wood and the kindling up against him, closing the path that gained him access to this, his final spot on Earth.

A tall monk in white robes raises a Bible for him to see. Bruno looks away. The monk speaks. Bruno does not listen. The monk moves himself and the Bible into Bruno’s line of vision. Bruno looks away again, averting the detestable thing that has brought this about—though, of course, he knows the book is not to blame, but the surrounding imbeciles who—slaves to the word—know no better.

The tall monk moves again and speaks again, and again Bruno refuses to listen—turning nearly shouted words into unintelligible sounds—and refuses to look. Instead, he closes his eyes, firmly, deciding never to open them again.

A short-lived decision, for the sudden crackle of flame swings them open, morbidly curious. Smoke rises, acrid, black, oil-fed. Straight up into still morning air, and Bruno follows its rise against pale sky where curious stars still shine, wondering what on Earth?

Talking among themselves, speculating, glittering, distantly.

Beckoning?

Curious little things they are—or not so little, he reminds himself. Only distant. Distantly curious greeting the ever-thickening smoke as it rises and rises and now begins to obscure the throng the far side of it.

Bruno looks around, a little stunned. So many. From what he can see the square is full, and none of them well-wishers. Another Bible is calling for attention, or is it the same one? He cannot tell for the ever-thickening smoke. He shuts it out and listens instead to the greedy flames, innocent in their collaboration. They know not what they are doing, though the asses in long white frocks sprouting Bibles know perfectly well. They are protecting territory, securing coffers, removing competition, is precisely what they are doing, and what they will never forgive him for pointing out.

And now he registers heat. Something—he muses, and again he wishes he could smile at his sardonic path of thought—he will soon come to know quite intimately.

Someone he had not seen or sensed approach strikes his left ankle from behind sending a sharp pain up through his calf and sings of more to come. He looks down, his neck straining against the iron noose who wants to keep his feet a secret. He does manage to look down, the iron noose cutting and most likely drawing blood (he reflects), but has trouble seeing, then sees. Then sees no hand, no stick, no weapon, but flames. Making their way from behind they are the first to reach him, and now they lick his calves again, and then his legs, and then the chorus of pain rises into the screaming of more and more and more until he is surprised he is still alive, and still feeling, still capable of having ever more pain poured into him.

And now they rise, like and army of small yellow and red bears on their hind legs to take larger and large bites of the kindling and of the wood, and now those a-front draw near as well, as do those from the sides and now, now he can feel his hands—have the thongs burned free?

What an odd thought, and one immediately replaced by a fresh rising of searing flesh now, cornered and screaming in protest at all avenues of escape aflame.

He feels himself crumble into this searing ocean of fire, feels his knees either buckle or disintegrate, but the ring, that metal ring still intact, holds him—he was right—chokes him, though not lethally.

Perhaps it is a fact that when the roar of pain reaches a certain volume and pitch, it cannot be increased. Perhaps a body’s capacity to register can be out-pained. Once there is only pain, once every nerve screams in unison, once all there is is this roar, this pain, perhaps it reaches a point where there can be nothing more of it.

Bruno reaches this point.

It is now a pain edged by darkness, or should have been, would have been for any normal mortal, but Bruno is no mortal, and still he can think and still he thinks: screaming, on the one hand, through every cell in his body; amazed, on the other, that he still can, and still does, think.

Amazed, yes, and off now a little to the left of the pyre—the little body turning black and still trashing around like a reeking medallion at the end of the chain—Bruno watches and then—and this is a conscious thought, a knowing decision: enough. Enough. He recognizes and severs the channel of perception and no longer feels the anguish of what manner of life still fights on within the charcoaled puppet by the stake. That charcoaled, suffocating thing is not him, or his, never was. He knows with every thrash that it is no more but an unfortunate congregation of expiring cells, once his home, now but one last communal suffering.

A breeze of compassion rises then fades into yellow and red of still greedy flames as he takes his leave.

[*:*]

While the remains of what had once been Giordano Bruno, the Nolan, smoldered and thrashed, his hovering essence remained for some moments. Curious. Studying the greedy fascination of the many faces, each drinking in death with every beat of what seemed to be a collective heart. Drinking in the agony of the dying as if being in death’s presence bestowed life, bolstered their living.

He should have felt disgust, fury even, but he felt only sadness. True compassion now for the so terribly misguided need of these poor people.

For a while longer he remained, high above the square, until the remnants of his charred abode finally came to rest: still now in a sea of fire. Soon he could hear, as the word spread, the rising cheer: the evil is dead, the world once again made safe for us by the Holy Church. And so they began to dissipate, these poor people, ignorant beyond ignorance.

Again, he should have felt disgust, irritation, hatred even, but all the true Bruno could feel was compassion.

Then he sighed and ascended.

[*7 :: (Tusita Heaven)

 

The Tusita Heaven, to where the not-long-ago Giordano Bruno was now headed, could do with some explaining.

The time and the place we call now and here on planet Earth is, of course, not the only time nor place there is. A glace up into the night-time sky—with its trillions of glittering thens and theres—should make the point nicely.

And as you glance, find a single star, or what looks like one. What you see is a speck of light: perhaps it is a star, perhaps it is a distant galaxy, or even a group of untold numbers of galaxies, its light many millions of years on its way across the cold and vast, to finally reach you here and now.

But what arrives, what settles in your eyes, is not a now, what you see is a then, just arrived. The current now for that source of light is just setting out on its million-year journey to eventually be seen by your way-in-the-future offspring.

Perhaps, in the current now of that light-source, there is a planet similar to ours where someone, looking in your direction (perhaps through a very powerful telescope) is wondering about the when of our local star, Sol; and whether there might be someone in its planetary system looking back at him or her or it across the cold and vast.

Wondering, guessing, but never knowing, for distance—especially of this magnitude—is a formidable fortress.

And beyond these untold theres and thens—or above, or below, or perhaps in a wholly different direction—lies an elsewhen, six of them, so the story goes. Or four. Or five. It can vary, for these elsewhens do not exist unless and until someone is born into them and by residing there creates them. We here on Earth like to call these elsewhens “heavens” for in them everything is lighter, airy.

Bodies are lighter and often transparent, light is lighter and always kind. Devas are born into these realms as a reward for lives well lived, perhaps here on Earth, perhaps elsewhere. Perhaps elsewhen.

Tusita is that heaven, that elsewhen closest to Earth, where—so the same story tells—the most joyful of Devas dwell, and it is also the heaven where the Bodhisatta Setaketu lived before (some thousands of years ago) he was reborn as Siddhattha Gotama—who, as you may know, refused to rise from beneath the Bodhi tree until he knew, and in that giant act of will succeeded in so knowing and became the Buddha Gotama.

Those who dwell here are three thousand of our feet tall and live for 576 million years, give or take. This may sound like a lot of Deva and a lot of years, but don’t forget that when it comes to size everything is relative—dwellings and all surroundings (trees, grasses, rivers) in the Tusita Heaven are of course to scale, and no Deva thinks of himself (or herself—yes, there are female Devas, of course there are, else how could that pleasure be enjoyed, that pleasure which in Tusita is so far above and beyond what we know here on Earth as sex, as to make the diluted sensation that goes by that name here seem like so much faint promise), thinks of himself or herself as three thousand feet tall. They think of themselves—as we do of ourselves—as just the right size.

All such things are relative. They probably think of us as two thousand nine hundred ninety-four feet too short. As antish.

Perhaps appropriately so.

And as for time, remember that for the spirit anything short of eternity is ephemeral.

When Gotama Buddha, to the happy cheer of the many Devas who welcomed him back, returned after his brief Indian spell on Earth, he assumed the Deva form and self of Natha, to enjoy a brief respite. At least that was the plan.

Natha, however, was concerned and not a little impatient. He often thought back on Earth, on his time with the Sangha, and with his friend Ananda and the other monks, and he would not let go of the love, of the compassion he felt for the place.

“Natha,” they would say, the other Devas, “Natha is troubled.”

“Natha is troubled,” Natha would agree.

“But you have so much reward,” they would point out. “So much yet to savor.”

“Things are not well with Earth,” he would answer.

“Bother yourself not with Earth now,” they would say, there is a time for that soon enough, but that time is not now.”

“That time is drawing near,” he answered, as often as not.

Then, one day, Natha was gone. But they knew, these many dwellers in the Tusita heaven—for they are nothing if not wise, even if a little too fond of sensual pleasures, these dwellers—they knew that Natha had returned to Earth, and had been born a man in a small Italian town called Nola.

“Probably just to take a look around,” said the Devas. “He will be back soon.”

“Probably, yes,” others agreed.

Then the Devas pondered and discussed Natha’s curious impatience for a little while, but soon threw all such thoughts to the wind and returned to what they were here to do: enjoy themselves.

While Natha burned at the stake.

And now, rising, rising.

[*:*]

Below him the square grew smaller, though still stabbed by the angry plume of smoke rising from what were once Giordano Bruno and the pyre surrounding; the plume rising, too—along with him—into dissipation and lighter air.

Perhaps he should not have returned—he certainly had no taste for martyrdom; but he had to see for himself. And so he had seen: things were not well with Earth. No, far from it.

Soon the square was no longer discernable, though the plume still was, for another heartbeat of rising, maybe two, then the plume, too, was gone; and then the city, and then the big boot that was Italy, and then the small blue pebble that was Earth, all gone, vanished into black. Sol, too, now fading into a point familiar.

And rising still, or gliding perhaps, or shifting.

 

The gates that guard Tusita, the golden portals that mark, and serve approach and ingress, are not physical—though often described as such. In truth they are state of mind, and when you reach the proper height, Tusita gradually appears, until its fields and waterfalls and untold number of birds and trees have grown as real—nay, much more real—as anything here on Earth.

And so Giordano Bruno, shifting into Natha now as he dons his tall body of light, enters once again this wondrous place called the Tusita Heaven.

And soon the others, one by one, recognizing his presence, ceased their doings and turned in wonder. Natha was returned.

“Nathadeva,” one of them addressed him. “You are back.”

Bruno now nothing but a brief glimpse at a troubled world, flickered in Natha’s eyes, as he replied, “Yes, I am back.”

“You will stay this time,” suggested the fair voice.

“No,” said Natha. “I will not stay long.”

“How long?”

“A day and a night,” Natha replied. “No longer.”

“Let us take leave properly this time,” said another.

Natha did not answer this. Instead he sat down, folded his new and nimble body into a perfect lotus and reflected upon his first visit some two thousand years earlier, then upon his recent visit, upon what he had seen, then upon what he now had to do, and how he would do it.

Seeing him thus, the other Devas withdrew, not a little awed. For they were, all of them, parched for the water of sensation, and could not fully grasp the strength of Natha who did not seem to care about such things, or about enjoying all those things he had earned by so many good deeds over so many lives.

Leaving him, they returned to their fields, their seas, their skies and there danced the day and the night before they returned to see Nathadeva off, properly this time. But when they arrived at where they had left him, he was nowhere to be found.

They called out his name, and then again, many times. They looked for him some more, but without fruit. Then they collectively shrugged their shoulders, it couldn’t be helped, Natha had return to Earth before they arrived to see him off. Oh, well. We wish him well.

[*:*]

During his perfect stillness Natha merged with and donned the familiar garment of the Buddha, and once so draped he envisioned as well as he could the task that lay before him, below him—the crusted earth, the tortured planet rushing, clearly in his view, toward self-destruction.

Toward Tusita dawn, not quite a terrestrial year (but a few heart beats in Tusita) before he was to return as Ruth Marten, Gotama’s thoughts turned to Ananda.

[*8 :: (Tusita Heaven)

 

My thoughts turn to Ananda. I remember him fondly.

What set him apart—aside from his dedication both to me and to his own emancipation—was his prodigious memory. He remembered everything I said, every discourse I held; and should he miss one, for any reason—which usually meant that I had sent him on some errand or other, he had made me promise to repeat it privately to him on his return so that he may hear and so remember it for posterity.

He was the Holder and Guardian of my teachings, the Dhamma.

In fact, the Earth has Ananda to thank that the Pali Canon exists today. But for him, my teachings would have been lost or hopelessly altered and perverted by now.

But he was more than that. He was also my closest friend and companion over many, many lifetimes, both in the human and animal realms, as well as in the Deva heavens. We were seldom, if ever, apart; and if we were, it was only for an occasional lifetime. Then we would find each other again, and set out for adventure anew.

Through all this time as Bodhisatta, my destiny was always clear: to enlighten the world as to Truth, as to Dhamma—and so was Ananda’s. He had long ago chosen to do what he could to help me, and so, by his own choosing, he shouldered that destiny as well.

Thus he became Gotama Buddha’s personal attendant for over twenty-five years in those far away Indian days, and he mourned my physical passing—and return to Tusita—more deeply than any other.

Feeling perhaps that his destiny had now been fulfilled, Ananda did not follow me to the Tusita heaven upon his own Parinibbana, but took a different path. The grieving Ananda by my deathbed was the last I saw of him.

 

And now that I am soon to return to Earth, I wonder where he is, my always friend and companion. For I could use his help again.

[*9 :: (Ancient India)

 

Buddhist Legend has it that Ananda also, like Gotama Buddha, descended to Earth from Tusita Heaven. This is not so.

Ananda—as karmic reward for much accumulated merit in service of the Bodhisatta—had, before again joining the Buddha—spent his last two lives in the Nimmanarati Heaven, where he, like so many other devas on this plane, had enjoyed his arts (for at heart he was a musician) and delighted in his creations.

The Legend—being legend, after all—is not clear on precisely how Gotama Buddha got word to Ananda from Tusita that it was now time to return, that the darkness of the world had reached such depth that they could not tarry longer, but word was given and word was received.

The truth is that Ananda was not so pleased to hear from his old friend just then. He was mid-symphony, a two-year long multi-colored and many-harmonied tribute to creation itself, mirroring, to the best of his recollection and abilities, the ascent of the potential of life into life itself.

In fact, he was—if only briefly—tempted to feign deafness, or ignorance, or absence, anything to allow him to work his creation to conclusion. And had he not already promised to perform this symphony once finished? It would not do to break promises, now would it?

This line of reasoning, however, did not sit well with his conscience, for he had already, and priorly, promised Gotama Buddha to return to Earth when the Bodhisatta deemed the time was right; and now he deemed it so, though it could hardly have been more ill-timed, at least not by Ananda’s reckoning.

Still, maintained his conscience, a prior promise is a prior promise, and so Ananda—in synchronized cessation of a million energies in as many vibrations—dissolved his symphony into the nothing it had sprung from and then left Nimmanarati for the Indian subcontinent.

[*:*]

Ananda’s father, Amitodana, was the brother of Suddhodana, Gotama’s father (both of the royal warrior caste family of the Sakyans) so they were—in an act of beautiful synchronization—to be first cousins this life.

And not only that: they were born on the same day, Siddhattha Gotama and he; Ananda in Kapilavatthu—where they were to grow up together—and Siddhattha in Lumbini, in a garden beneath a Sal tree, where his mother, Queen Maha Maya, on her way to her father’s kingdom to give birth according to Sakyan tradition, were to rest for the night. For that was the night Siddhattha (and so, too, Ananda) decided to arrive.

Siddhattha’s birth was quite an occasion, sages and seers from all over arrived to pay homage and predict futures. Of all the holy men that foretold Siddhattha’s life, however, only one, Kondanna, got it unequivocally right: this boy, he said, will become a Buddha.

Kondanna’s prediction, however, did not sit well with the Gotama’s father, King Suddhodana, who preferred to believe the predictions of the remaining lot of holy men, all of whom gave Siddhattha a fifty-fifty future of growing up to be either a great king, or a great holy man; the King’s preference coming down on the side of “great king.” Queen Maya, however, wished with all of her heart that Siddhattha would indeed become a great holy man, if not a Buddha.

Unfortunately, Queen Maya, did not live to see her wish come true, she died within a week of Siddhattha’s birth; welcomed to Tusita by many a deva singing her praises.

[*:*]

He lived a sheltered life, did Gotama Siddhattha, much too sheltered for Ananda’s liking—for he always had to go to the palace to visit him, since he would never leave his luxurious seclusion to see Ananda, and would never accompany Ananda on his expeditions into the fields and forests surrounding Kapilavatthu.

Strange.

And stranger still: his uncle Suddhodana had told him, and in no uncertain terms, that Ananda was not to, under any circumstances, describe or even mention to Siddhattha anything about life in the city or surrounding country, unless—and only if—it was to tell his son how beautiful the city and its land was, and how happy was its people.

Siddhattha was to become king, and his mind and heart were not to be sullied by the mundane, is how Ananda’s father explained this to him when one day Ananda asked. And being a good son, a good cousin, and a good nephew, Ananda complied, and would never—although Siddhattha at times asked—demean the city or the country, but would always, and quite cleverly, either praise their beauty or steer the conversation back to the palace and its grounds and the many places to rest or hide or eat or enjoy the blessings of either the sun or its shadow.

Ananda, and many others, carried out the concealment so well that Siddhattha spent his first twenty-nine years well shielded from the mundane.

He was a true prince.

At twenty-nine, however, Siddhattha had had his fill of secluded luxury and insisted (and not for the first time; in fact, this was the third time) that his father let him leave the palace and visit his subjects.

Give me a week, said his father, though not in so many words. What he said was, “Uposatha,” meaning the next full moon, a week away.

And this was a busy week for his father who ordered a massive all-hands on deck to clear large parts of the city—those along Siddhattha’s path—of any sign of misery, that’s to say, any trace of age, sickness, or suffering; sights unsuitable for the prince and king-to-be.

In fact, considering the time constraint, they did a remarkable job, for riding down the prescribed route (which Suddhodana insisted Siddhattha take—that and none other) all the prince saw was young, healthy, smiling faces, greeting their prince.

“You are right, this is a beautiful city,” said Siddhattha to Ananda who came along for this ride. “It’s all like the palace, though larger.”

Ananda, biting his tongue, agreed.

At the end of the prescribed route, however—where they were meant to turn around—Siddhattha spotted a multi-colored fountain through the foliage to his right and asked his charioteer Channa to go there.

When Channa did not answer, or show any indication of carrying out the prince’s wishes, Siddhattha asked again. “Channa, take us to that fountain.” Now pointing to it.

Again Channa remained ear-less, and instead focused all his attention on some problem with the reins, or was it his hands?

“Channa,” said Siddhattha. “Why do you ignore my request?”

Channa, being almost as much a father to Siddhattha as Suddhodana, finally answered. “By the King’s wish.”

“What is the King’s wish?”

“That we travel to this place, then turn and travel back.”

“This is well and good, Channa,” said Siddhattha. “But my wish is to take a closer at that fountain.” And with that Siddhattha stepped off the chariot and said, “Ananda. Follow me.”

Thus it came to be that Siddhattha, at age twenty-nine, for the first time in his life encountered old age, for resting by the beautiful fountain, wrapped in a much-washed light-blue sari, was an eighty-eight-year-old woman, as bent and wrinkly and toothless a thing as you’d ever see, smiling up at the prince: all tongue, thin lips and gum.

Siddhattha, at first repulsed, but soon more curious than repelled, looked more closely at the woman and said to her, “Why have you no teeth?”

“I have not had teeth for one hundred and twenty moons,” answered the old woman.

“Why is that?” asked Siddhattha.

“Why?” The woman did not seem to understand the question.

“Yes.”

The woman looked long at the prince—as if to determine whether or not he was dream—before her gaze slipped past him to Channa, now approaching with horses and chariot. Ananda and Siddhattha both turned at the sound of hoofs and wheel.

“My prince,” said Channa. “We need to return.”

“Not until she answers my question,” said Siddhattha.

“What question is that?” wondered Channa.

“The Prince wants to know why an old woman has no teeth,” said the old woman, as if the question was too foolish even to acknowledge. As if the prince had asked her why clay pots fall to the ground when dropped.

Channa said something to his horses, who came to rest, and then, snorting importantly—one white and one black, beautiful steeds both—appeared to scrutinize the old woman as well.

“And what do you answer,” said the Prince.

“An old woman answers that the Prince is mocking her,” she said.

“The Prince,” said the Prince, who felt impatience rise, but reined it in, “is not mocking an old woman. The Prince does not know the answer and seeks it. Or he would not waste air to ask.”

Again, the old woman looked at the prince for a long, silent spell filled with soft splashing of water from the fountain and impatient scraping of hoofs from the horses. Then she looked at Ananda, Channa, and the two horses in turn, as if they might help explain to her this strange, royal question.

Finally, she said, realizing that Siddhattha in fact did not know, “Leaves turn golden and red in the autumn, leave their branches and fall to the ground. Teeth are no different.”

“But you are not a tree,” said the Prince.

“No,” said the old woman. “But I have my seasons.”

“But it is spring,” said Siddhattha.

“Not for me,” she answered. “My spring was many, many moons ago. I have lived a long life, and my autumn even is soon past, for winter knocks on my door.”

Then she added, as if instructing a child, “I am an old woman. This is what happens to old women. To all women, to all men, to all girls, to all boys. Time shows no mercy.”

“Ananda,” said the prince, still looking at the woman for a breath or two, time, then turning to his friend. “Is this true?”

Ananda did not answer, but Channa said, “It is true, my prince.”

 

Once they returned to the palace, Siddhattha asked that Ananda stay with him, which he gladly did. Naturally, Ananda had expected many questions from his friend, but this was not the reason the prince wanted his company, for he asked no questions, and said little else. He simply wanted his friend nearby.

And wanted him by his side the next morning, when the prince stirred Ananda from sleep even before the sun bruised the sky.

“Ananda, wake.” A strong hand on his shoulder, a gentle shake.

“What is it?” A tired Ananda getting his bearings.

“Take me back to the fountain.”

Ananda came all awake. “Shall I tell Channa?”

“No, we walk.”

“But the King,” began Ananda.

“We walk,” said Siddhattha, in so princely a way that it brooked no argument.

And so they walked. They stole out of the palace, and they walked.

Perhaps Siddhattha had more questions for the old woman, and perhaps he had expected to find her there, but she was gone. In her stead sat an old man, leprous arms twisted into a permanent plea, and fingerless hands forming a mockery of a bowl. “Please, Sir,” said the old man, revealing two dark teeth.

Again, Siddhattha was first repulsed by this sight, but curiosity soon rose the larger. “What happened to you?” he asked.

“Please, Sir,” repeated the leper, motioning his make-believe hand-bowl toward the Prince.

Siddhattha had brought nothing to give, but Ananda had, and dropped a small piece of silver into the permanently cupped palms.

“Thank you, Sir,” said the leper.

“What happened to you?” asked Siddhattha again.

“What do you mean, Sir?”

“What happened to your arms, and your legs, and your hands?”

The leper did not understand. He looked down at his hands to see if some strange change had beset and perhaps healed them, but he found them as damaged as always. He then looked at Ananda, perhaps he could explain such a strange question.

For the third time, Siddhattha asked, “What happened to you?”

“You mock me,” said the leper.

Siddhattha turned to Ananda, and Ananda knew what question was coming. “No,” he said. “As the old woman was not, nor is this leper mocking you.”

“Leper?” said Siddhattha.

“Yes.”

“Have you never seen such as one as me?” said the leper.

“No,” said Siddhattha, “I have not.”

“You must have lived a very sheltered life,” said the leper, “for we are no strangers to the world.”

Siddhattha looked at Ananda again, then back to the leper. “Yes,” said Siddhattha, “I believe I have.”

 

Siddhattha insisted they take a different way back to the palace, and Ananda—who expected Channa and horses at any time—could but agree. The winding street led to the river where a small gathering of solemn people were placing a corpse upon a pyre. Ananda saw this first, and tried to steer his friend away from the banks, but then Siddhattha saw the funeral rite, too, and would not be led aside. Instead, he wanted a closer look. What could Ananda do? Princely wishes reign supreme.

Arrived at the pyre, Siddhattha looked down at the very still man, dressed in fresh linen, decorated with newly cut, still fragrant yellow and white flowers.

Two women sang a soft hymn, while the men prepared the fire, and soon the base of the pyre was speaking its own language of snaps and sparks. Smoke rose, and the edge of new linen that had unfolded caught fire with a hiss.

Siddhattha, stunned by the sight, could not take his eyes of the face that did not react at all to so much warm strangeness.

“What is wrong with him?” asked the Prince.

The little congregation—having recognized the Prince—did not know whom he was addressing, perhaps the Prince did not either. None answered.

Until Ananda did. “He is dead, Siddhattha.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, Siddhattha. The body ages, then it sickens, then dies. It is what time does to life.”

The prince did not answer. Instead he looked from Ananda back to the corpse, now beginning to smolder under the onslaught of flame, befouling the smoke with strange odors speaking of what once was but no longer.

They made their way back toward the palace in silence, Siddhattha, now dark of eye and of mind, much consumed by what he had seen.

 

Within sight of the palace the two friends were approached by a thin, smiling man, dressed in a clean but much worn robe, alms-bowl in hand.

Noticing Siddhattha, the man said, “You seem troubled, friend.”

Siddhattha looked down into the most tranquil face he had ever seen.

“I am,” answered the Prince.

“Tell me,” said the ascetic.

“Yesterday,” said Siddhattha, “I saw an old woman. This morning I saw a leper. And just now I saw a corpse.”

“Yes,” said the smiling man, and nodded. “Yes.” Then said no more.

When Siddhattha, too, would not find words, the smiling man briefly touched the Prince’s shoulder, then walked away, still as tranquil a presence as Siddhattha had ever seen.

The two men watched the ascetic—who never once looked back—walk away. Finally, Siddhattha asked, “Who was that?”

“He is a holy man, an ascetic,” said Ananda.

“He seems not concerned about anything.”

When Ananda said nothing, Siddhattha added, “And untroubled.”

“That is their way.”

“That is my way,” said the Prince after a brief silence.

[*:*]

Thus it came to pass that at the age of twenty-nine Siddhattha Gotama, the once-to-be heir of a small, but prosperous kingdom, took a long and meaningful look at the palace, at his wife, at his son, at his father the King, at the beauty of the gardens, at the abundance that did its very best—but failed—to cover up the underlying and much larger truth: things are born, they grow, they decline, and pass away. And he saw that there is no hiding this truth under any manner of ease. He saw that there is no hiding from it, no escaping it.

And at seeing this, the palace life struck him as confining, as one large lie, which he could no longer abide. That day he told Suddhodana that he was leaving. He would pursue the life of an ascetic, to seek a permanent truth.

No manner of pleading, promises, nor even threats would change his mind.

He asked Ananda if he would join him, but Ananda declined. Although he was sympathetic to Siddhattha’s decision, there was much he had yet to do and accomplish that he could not abandon.

“As you will,” said Siddhattha. “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”

 

And so, early one morning Siddhattha slowly opened the door to his wife’s chamber, where his child slept as well, and from the doorway took one long last glimpse at them, knowing full well that if he woke them to say goodbye, he would likely not be able to leave, he loved them too much. Instead he blew two kisses in their direction, one for his wife, and one for his son, then turned away and left he palace.

The sun had yet to rise.

[*:*]

Eight years later, his commitments now fulfilled, Ananda—along with his half-brother Anuruddha, as well as Devadatta and several other Sakyan nobles—set out to join Siddhattha. They caught up with him at Savatthi.

The now enlightened one could not have been more pleased. Seeing his old friend approach from a distance, he halted his discourse, rose, and strode to greet him.

“And so we meet again,” said the Buddha after asking Ananda to rise, and embracing him.

 

Eighteen years later, when they were both fifty-five years old, the Buddha called a meeting of the monks and declared: “In my twenty years as leader of the Sangha, I have had many different attendants, but none of them has really filled the post perfectly; again and again some willfulness has become apparent. Now I am fifty-five years old and it is necessary for me to have a trustworthy and reliable attendant.”

Several of the noble disciples offered their services, but the Buddha, while thanking them all, declined their offers. Then he looked to Ananda, who had held back modestly, and asked him to volunteer.

This—being the Buddha’s wish—Ananda then did, and would for the rest of Gotama Buddha’s life remain his constant companion, attendant, and helper.

The two friends were truly together again.

[*:*]

Not long after Ananda had accepted and assumed the role of the Buddha’s attendant, they arrived—along with three hundred some monks—at Kusinara, in the Mallas’s Sal-grove. After taking evening tea and briefly discussing one or two issues concerning the Sangha, the Buddha told Ananda he wanted to retire for the day.

When Ananda did not answer right away, Siddhattha took a closer look at his friend, and in his face recognized a budding question, held in check by consideration for the Buddha’s wish to retire.

“What is it, Ananda?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Ananda. What is it?”

Ananda hesitated a while longer, as if weighing whether to burden the Enlightened One with his concern.

“Ask me,” said Siddhattha.

Ananda drew breath, and then said, “Venerable Sir. For over eighteen years I have faithfully practiced the Dhamma. Under your tutelage I have practiced higher training. For over eighteen years no sensual perception has arisen in me, no desire, no perception of hate has arisen in me. Yet, I have not reached arahanthood.

“If I, your faithful servant, your vessel and Guardian of the Dhamma, have yet to land on the arahant shore, have yet to see Nibbana after these eighteen years, how long is not the road for the ignorant farmer, the jealous mistress, the greedy merchant?

“And with so many beings in the world, with so much suffering, is our task truly possible?”

Siddhattha Gotama did not answer right away. Perhaps because Ananda’s doubt—if doubt it was—resonated dimly within himself, or perhaps because he was not sure how to frame the answer. Then he spoke:

“Friend. This is a universe of plenty. Still, given time, you can empty the ocean with a spoon. It is only a matter of quantity.”

“It is a large ocean.”

“Yes, Ananda. It is vast. Yet this ocean can only be emptied drop by drop.”

“It is possible then?”

“Yes. Drop by drop.”

[*10 :: (Still River)

 

In the quiet morning Ananda hears the far-away wondering of Gotama Buddha, soon to be Ruth Marten. Soon to set forth again from Tusita Heaven.

“Ananda, where are you?”

And in the same stillness, he answers him: “I am here, Gotama. In this cabin. At this keyboard. Dreaming your new arrival into being.”

Gotama Buddha asks: “Where is here, Ananda?”

“Here is a small town by a river.”

“What is it called, this small town?”

“It is called Still River. It is a clearing in the large forests of the north-western United States, in the state of Idaho. Not far from Canada.”

“What are you doing there?”

“I listen, I understand, and I take good notes. And what are you doing, Gotama?”

“I am preparing to return.”

“I gathered as much. When are you coming?”

“I will be born on the fourth of January next year.”

“This is certain?”

“Yes, Ananda, this is certain.”

“Where are you now?”

“I am in the Tusita heaven.”

 

Ananda leaned back, and read the laptop display of what he had just written. Then he saved the document, arose, and went into his small kitchen: it was time for his morning apple.

Chewing each bite well to make the small, sweet meal last, and looking out the window, out at the trees and the still river below though seeing none of this, Ananda recalled, again, Gotama Buddha’s passing and the terrible darkness that had all but drowned him with its grief despite his clear vision that this was precisely what the grief meant to do. And knowing this, he managed one more breath of air. And another.

 

And then, instead of drowning, Ananda gathered himself and rose. Now that his friend had gone, only one mission remained: to preserve the Dhamma.

That, and to see to his own liberation.

Once the funeral ceremonies were over, Ananda went to his friend Kassapa—an arahant these many year—and asked him for advice.

“We must gather soon to recite the Dhamma,” Kassapa said. “But before then, you must attain arahanthood. Go to the Kosala forest, live, dwell, and meditate in solitude there. Find me once you’ve found liberation.

Ananda did as Kassapa suggested, but word soon spread that the Buddha’s attendant was living nearby, and before long Ananda was inundated with visitors.

Day and night Ananda would console lay disciples about the Buddha’s passing, and he rarely, if ever, had a moment to himself.

As legend has it, a forest deity, concerned about Ananda’s spiritual progress and seeing how he could never attend to himself, advised him to take himself deeper into the forest, beyond reach of the many, and focus entirely upon his own enlightenment.

Ananda, agreeing with the deity that, yes, something must be done, took this advice and disappeared deep into the forest.

Even now, however, left to himself, and while meditating constantly with only a few hours a sleep a day, Ananda could not overcome his lasts fetters and attain arahanthood.

He was nearing despair when a messenger from Kassapa, now the leader of the Sangha, found him to say that Kassapa had called the council of monks to recite and strengthen the Dhamma. Ananda was to come, but only if he had attained arahanthood.

“Where?” asked Ananda.

“In Rajagaha.”

“When?”

“By the next full moon.”

The fading sliver in the western sky told Ananda that this was only a little over two weeks away.

“What if I don’t reach the other shore?” asked Ananda.

“Then don’t come,” said the monk.

“But I am the Guardian of the Dhamma.”

“Then come.” With that the monk bowed and turned.

Ananda now saw that he must attain arahanthood, not only for himself, but for the sake of the Dhamma, and with renewed urgency he thrust himself into the task with a resolve equal to the Buddha’s own.

So it was that the day before the first council of Buddhist monks, Ananda, through clarity of eye burnished by urgency, finally severed the final strands that anchored him to samsara—the seemingly endless cycle of birth and rebirth—to finally reach Nibbana for himself.

Legend has it that Ananda, in order to demonstrate to one and all that he was indeed an arahant and so was to be admitted, arrived at the council through the air.

He was admitted.

The next many months saw, first, Upali—the Guardian of the Vinaya, the Sangha Rules as laid down by the Buddha—recite the Vinaya to the council, after which Ananda was asked to recite the Dhamma—now consisting of the Sutta Pitaka—the basket of Suttas, the Buddha’s teachings. Individual portions of both the Vinaya and the Dhamma were assigned among the five hundred monks attending, each charged with the duty to commit to memory his portion of the Vinaya or the Dhamma. Thus it was that by the end of the council, the entirety of both the Vinaya and the Dhamma lived within the memory of not only Upali and Ananda, but of the members of the council as well, and would from there on be passed down, monk to monk for over five hundred years before the Dhamma and Vinaya were finally committed to written Pali.

Ananda, now satisfied that the Dhamma would survive, himself lived for another forty years, always available to be consulted about the Dhamma, always there to reinforce and strengthen it in the memory of the Sangha.

He lived to be 120 years old.

 

But upon his death, he did not follow the Buddha to the Tusita heaven, not right away. Instead, in order to do what he could to guard the Dhamma, he chose rebirth instead, and spent many a lifetime in and around the Indian, Chinese and Japanese Sangha, never letting on who he was, always helping; seeing, however, that despite his best efforts, the Dhamma was gradually altered by embellishment, interpretation, forgetfulness, and opinion. Also, he himself grew less aware lifetime to lifetime—for that is the curse of Earth—and in the end, over two thousand years later, it was only by the help of several Devas that he finally arrived in the Tusita heaven, only to then find that Gotama Buddha had just left, and was now back on Earth, wearing Giordano Bruno.

Ananda waited a while for Gotama’s return and then waited some more, but impatient and restless now he soon, despite the danger, left Tusita again in search of his friend.

 

For yes, there is definite danger. Earth is not a light adventure, not a safe place to visit.

He remembers leaving Tusita in search for Bruno. He remembers the blue and white of Earth, and approaching its surface. He remembers being met there by a forest of miasmal fingers looking for hairline rifts in his armor. He remembers fighting them off, but they were too many, and too successful and so managed to enter and to seep him in forgetting, in bright lusting, in many darknesses. Then he remembers no more.

So it was that Ananda lost sight, not only of Gotama Buddha, but of himself.

 

Finally, on a cold October evening sixty-odd years ago, he caught a fresh glimpse of the way things are, just as he was about to enter his current abode: then a soon-to-be-born male. Catching this glimpse checked him long enough to not enter that body pre-birth, but to wait and let the blinding pain and its many forgettings wash over the arriving infant, sans Ananda. Better that way, oh, so much better.

[*:*]

And so, in this current life Ananda again remembered.

All through those toddler years in northern Sweden, raised by aging and white-haired (as well as husbandless—one lost to death, the other to a dash for freedom) grandmothers as much as by parents. Winters, long and cold at those latitudes, filled his lungs with clean, crisp air, though also with the dying screams of another World War just ended, pain still lingering in the atmosphere, falling like invisible flakes to the Earth.

His maternal grandmother feared “The Russian” more than the Devil, and informed the young Ananda (who was not named Ananda then, but that is another story) often, and convincingly, that it was just a matter of time, and not very much of it, before Sweden was overrun by hungry, baby-eating, devil-worshipping, mother-and-child raping Russians.

Ananda used up much salt growing up, many grains.

Whatever mysterious dealings kept his parents in the southern part of the country while he remained up north eventually sorted themselves out and Ananda was then not so much collected, as cargoed by train to a waiting mother at Stockholm station. Four years old then, and bemused. Where was Gotama? He calculated, by Earth years, Bruno was nearly five hundred years dead, surely Gotama Buddha was back in Tusita by now.

 

When the rules of the Earth were written one of them said that once you adopt a body, you must not kill it, and you must stay with it until its natural demise; meaning: Ananda now had some living to do.

He stayed with his parents in Stockholm for a year or so, before they moved south to a small town where he had the worst handwriting of any first or second grader two years running. His inky, scribbled pages were held up by well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) teachers as short, visual cautionary tales and as warnings: if you don’t practice boys and girls, this is what you might end up with; this to many shocked oohs and aahs, especially from impressionable six- and seven-year-old females. Ananda, rightly, took offense, and to get even never did acquire a legible hand; it was not until the invention of the computer and its smoothly cooperative keyboard that he felt empowered to communicate in writing with the world.

When he was eight, Ananda’s family—now including a small sister—moved north again, though not all the way to that land targeted by the evil Russian. Still, north enough. Winters were cold and starry; summers cool with as much sun as rain. All in all, several pleasant years in which to grow.

So pleasant, in fact, that there were times that Ananda chose to forget who he was and fell in with the identity of his current garment. For he had always had a sweet spot for the arts, especially music, and the 1960s shaped up to be a very special time, music-wise, what with the Beatles and all those who rode into prominence on their coattails, and what with the growing use of mental stimulants like cannabis, something Ananda tried and soon got very used to.

Perhaps, he thought more than once, perhaps he could wait until next life to look for Gotama. This was too much fun. Far. And in all this fun Ananda drowned. For three years, as a late teenager now living alone in Stockholm, Ananda did little else than reveled in cannabis-magnified music. Almost as good as Nimmanarati Heaven, what little of it he glimpsed now and then in what had to be dream, surely.

But all things are impermanent, and his delight in the nearly boundless freedom to imbibe and listen did wear thin, and slowly the true Ananda began to percolate to the surface, arriving one raining morning with a rush of insight that almost blinded the nineteen-year old boy.

Looking back years later, Ananda knew it had been a close call. He could as easily have drowned as risen. But he didn’t drown, he did rise, and in that rising awoke again to the reason for his visit to Earth: to find Gotama Buddha.

 

Many years later, he had established that Gotama was not on Earth; he had scoured it and would have recognized him had he been here.

Then, at his keyboard in his little cabin one morning, the call. As clear as any voice whispered in stillness, the wondering of Gotama Buddha: “Ananda, where are you?”

[*:*]

“I waited for you,” Ananda said. “In Tusita. I waited for you. When I was no longer sure you would return, I returned to Earth to look for you.”

“I know,” said Gotama.

“Where will you be born?” asked Ananda.

“In a place called Pasadena.”

“I know of it.”

[*11 :: (Ancient India)

 

The following morning Ananda, who had not slept much in the night, asked the Buddha: “Venerable Sir, you said last night that the ocean can only be emptied drop by drop. Why is this?”

The Buddha nodded that he had heard. Thoughtfully, he finished his morning meal of rice and mango, then handed the empty bowl to his friend. “Sit down here, Ananda,” he said, sweeping his open hand over the ground to his right, “and I will tell you.”

Ananda put the Buddha’s empty bowl aside, and sat down. You could hear the breeze of myriad morning tasks among the Sangha a little distance away and the morning calls of many birds. The scent of dew and many plants rose to fill his nostrils as he focused all mindfulness upon the answer to come—for as with all other things the Buddha said, he had to remember it verbatim: he was the Gatherer and Guardian of the Dhamma.

“Kings and rulers make laws,” began the Buddha. “Such laws are made for groups of men and women. Such laws are like tethers which rein and prod and steer oxen from without. Thus you can prod and steer manifold beings, a city, a society, but you cannot wake them.

“In truth, Ananda, only the being himself, or herself, can wake the being—and only from within.

“Men’s laws are like walls or fences which contain the herd, and keep it from straying. They are like the banks or levees of a river to guide its course or prevent its overflowing.”

“We have many rules for the Sangha,” said Ananda. “Many banks.”

“These are to keep the bhikkhu from straying,” said the Buddha. “And to calm him so that he, guided by his own pure light, may still his mind and see himself clear to awakening.”

“Only drop by drop, then?” said Ananda, still privately despairing at the uncountable number of drops in the ocean of humanity.

“Awakening happens drop by drop.”

After a brief silence, Ananda asked, “How are we to reach so many?”

Gotama Buddha did not answer at first. Instead he looked up at the sky, at the golden ribbons of cloud, then over at the Sangha, busy preparing for their morning alms-gathering. Then he turned to his friend and said:

“I reach you and one more. You and one more reach two each. Those all reach two each.”

“But some sleep so deeply.”

“Most sleep so deeply,” said the Buddha.

“How are we to reach them?”

“With metta. With compassion. With patience.”

“And with the Dhamma?”

“And with the Dhamma,” confirmed the Buddha.

“It will be a long journey,” said Ananda.

“It will last as long as there is time to last it.”

“Please explain.”

“When the last drop leaves the ocean, there will be no ocean. There will be no time.”

“Only Nibbana?”

“Only Nibbana.”

“I understand,” said Ananda.

[*12 :: (Tusita Heaven)

 

I hear Ananda reply from his little cabin among the trees, as he dreams my return into being in short spurts of pleasant keyboard clicks. A writer now, ensconced in his little town, writing and waiting, and now listening—and hearing—as well.

I have found him. And I have found him in good time. And I know what to ask. “Ananda,” I say.

“Friend,” he answers.

“How far is Still River from Pasadena?”

“A thousand miles.”

“Can you come?”

“Of course.”

“Can you come now?”

“Of course. But why now? You are yet to be born.”

“I want you to befriend her.”

“Her?”

“My mother. Her name is Melissa. She needs a friend. Someone she can trust.”

“She has a husband, surely?”

“Of course.”

“Then why me?”

It is a good question, but the truth is that I see an unreliable father in my future. “Her husband is not her friend. He will not do,” I answer.

“Will not do for what?”

“Will not do for my arrival. For my rearing.”

“I see.”

“Go to her now that she will know you well before I arrive.”

“How?” Ananda asks, with another rush of soft clicks.

“Go there,” I say. “We will think of the best approach as you drive.”

[*13 :: (Ancient India)

 

Toward evening the following day, Ananda brooding still and not saying much, the Buddha said, “You have other questions, Ananda. What are they?”

Ananda nodded, yes, he had other questions. At least one:

“How many oceans are there in the universe, Gotama?”

“There are as many oceans in the universe as there are drops in our oceans.”

Ananda, for all his usual equanimity appeared—was, in fact—shocked. But still he dared to ask, “And each drop has to waken from within?”

“Yes.”

“How many universes are there?”

“Many.”

“We will never be done,” said Ananda, his voice broken by despair.

The Buddha smiled. “Never is a very long time, Ananda.”

“Some drops sleep very deeply and will take many lives to stir.”

“I know.”

“Many drops are animals now; many more are plants. They each have perhaps a thousand lives to live before they are born human and so can even begin to walk this path.”

“I know.”

“Are we to wake them all?”

The Buddha looked at his friend, then toward the setting sun. He then gazed up into the oncoming darkness, now scaling the sky from the east. He then looked at Ananda and lowered himself to the ground.

“Sit, Ananda,” he said.

Ananda complied.

Then the Buddha said: “We are not to wake them all. They are all to wake themselves.”

Ananda felt that perhaps his friend and teacher was using a very fine sword to split his words. “They cannot wake on their own,” he said. “We need to help them.”

“My task, Ananda, is to formulate and finalize the Dhamma,” answered the Buddha. “Your task is to remember it and pass it on. That is all we can do. The rest is up to each drop of animal, plant, human, asura, or deva.”

“But with no one to stir them, perhaps they never will. Perhaps they will stay asleep.”

“There is no such thing as permanent sleep.”

“But there is such a thing as deep and very long sleep?”

“Yes, Ananda, there is.”

“Is it enough, then?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is the Dhamma, and passing it on down dawning ages, sufficient? Will life recover?”

“What choice do we have?”

“I don’t know.” Again, Ananda’s voice cracked with a compassion that bordered despair.

“We can only point, Ananda. Each drop has to do its own seeing, its own walking, its own arriving.”

“But you stir so many with your words.”

“As do you.”

“But you grow older each day and Parinibbana awaits you.”

The Buddha did not answer right away. Instead he shifted, and looked up again at the darkening sky, stars beginning to emerge. “I will return,” he said finally.

“But you are fully enlightened.”

“Yes.”

“There is no return from Parinibbana.”

“You know this for a fact?” said the Buddha.

“I have heard it said.”

“I will return,” said the Buddha again.

“Then,” said Ananda after some silence, “so will I.”

[*14 :: (On the road)

 

It took Ananda a few days to arrange everything. To find someone to keep an eye on the cabin, not that it needed much looking after. A full service of his car—best to be safe, it was a long drive. Then packing for not quite sure how long he would stay, not that he had many things to pack.

He set out early one morning in June, heading south on the I-95.

Gotama had spoken no more, and there was a small voice within that suggested—more like a suggestion of a suggestion—that perhaps he had dreamed him. But a larger part of him knew, as if by the timbre of Gotama’s voice-less voice, that his friend and mentor, his Buddha, had found him and called upon him again to help.

Towns marched past the road; some small—barely a gathering of houses to his right, others large enough to sport tall motel signs and arrows pointing to swift and very unwholesome foods.

Another town—mainly to his left this time, another motel—no, two—and three more gasoline stations. He checked his fuel gauge just to make sure: plenty to go. His little car gave him nearly forty miles for each gallon of gasoline, and on longer trips, like this, even more. He liked his little car, had even named it. Frugal, he called it, for obvious reasons. Happily, Frugal. It had been a prudent purchase.

And then, it was just past a town called Ontario, Gotama spoke again.

“You are on your way, then?”

“Yes.”

“How long before you arrive?”

“Two days.”

“This is good, Ananda.” Then his friend said, “I have given this some thought.”

“About how we do this?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“You are a writer, Ananda.” Not really a question.

“Yes.”

“Mainly fiction, but some non-fiction?”

“Yes.”

“Good. This book will be non-fiction. It is about first-time mothers.”

Although Gotama said no more for a while, Ananda didn’t answer, waiting for more.

So Gotama elaborated. “A book like this requires research. You would need to follow, and chronicle, several first-time mothers from the inception of their child to its birth. Melissa is one of them.”

Ananda mulled this a little while, nodding to himself as Ontario disappeared behind him, replaced by undulating forest. Yes, that would work. As always when Gotama spoke like this, not only did his words arrive, but with them the full meaning, the full scenario of what he meant, as if the words were only underpinnings to the full event, detailed and complete.

“That will give me a good reason to stay in touch with her,” said Ananda.

“Precisely.”

“Where are you now, Gotama?”

“I am still in Tusita.”

“The sweet light,” said Ananda, remembering.

“Yes,” said the Buddha. Then, “Drive carefully.”

“I always do,” said Ananda.

[*15 :: (Pasadena)

 

Ananda checked the address Gotama Buddha had given him against the well-polished brass numbers beside the large oak door, and satisfied that he indeed had the right house, he rang the equally well-polished brass doorbell.

He could hear a gong sound deep within the house. Then silence. Then more silence. He pressed the doorbell again, and again heard the gong.

Steps approached. The latch unlocked. The door swung open to reveal a tall, quite bulky man, like something very well-packed with dark complexion and black, shiny hair, slickly combed back.

“Yes?” He took Ananda in with not friendly eyes; irritated would be the best description.

By the size of the man, Ananda had expected a deeper voice, and one that didn’t seem to complain. He could hear a television set broadcasting some sports event—most likely a football game—from within the house, and now sounding as if someone just scored. The tall man looked at Ananda for an answer, turned to the inside of the house on hearing the commotion from the game, then back to Ananda.

“My name is Ananda Wolf,” he said. “I am a writer. I am working on a book about first time-mothers, and I wonder if I could have a word with your wife?”

Something else just occurred in the football broadcast, and the man turned again, anxious to get back to the game. He looked back at Ananda.

“Amanda?” he asked. Trying to make things add up.

“No, Ananda, with an n.”

“Wait here.”

The man thought of closing the door, but didn’t. Then he vanished. Ananda could hear him call out: “Melissa. Someone here to see you.” Then again, and louder this time, “Melissa.”

Ananda heard fragments of a conversation in among the replay of the recent game commotion, and then she came to the door. Melissa Marten, Gotama Buddha’s mother-to-be.

Blond and pleasant, was Ananda’s first impression. Quite tall—as women go, not thin, but not large either. Very blue eyes, as blue as Ananda had ever seen. Startlingly so. And not pregnant that he—or anyone else for that matter—could tell.

Those startlingly blue eyes looked him over, trying to place him among memories, but without success. With a slight frown.

“How can I help you?” she said.

“My name is Ananda Wolf,” he said again. Then smiled, and added, “That’s Ananda with an n. I am a writer.”

Those very blue eyes were taking this in, intent on his reason for being there. Expecting more.

“I am writing a book about first-time mothers,” he continued. “And part of my research is to interview, and follow the progress of, so to speak, well, first-time mothers.”

Listening to himself stumble over his less than graceful introduction, Ananda swallowed, then drew breath to re-phrase that. But he did not get the opportunity to.

“How do you know that I am pregnant?” she said. Surprised. And there was an edge to that question.

Luckily, they had thought of this.

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am as a matter of fact. But how do you know that?”

Something else of note happened in the game her husband had now returned to, for he loudly commanded someone to “Get with it, for Christ’s sake” and yelled at what must have been the officials. Quite loudly, as if they could hear. Melissa hesitated for a moment, then stepped out on the front porch, pulling the door shut behind her, dampening the noise.

Ananda said, “Your obstetrician.”

“You know Doctor Ross?” Another surprise, but with less of an edge.

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“Ah. That explains it.”

“Yes,” agreed Ananda.

The silence that ensued filled with chirping birds and a lawnmower not far away. A large Toyota van with many children inside rolled by, as if looking for somewhere to deposit its cargo. Melissa pointed to a pair of wicker chairs to their right, a small—very clean—glass table between them. “Have a seat Mister, Wolf, was it?”

“Yes, Wolf,” said Ananda. “Ananda Wolf.”

“With an n,” she said, and smiled for the first time. “What sort of name is that?”

They both sat down. His wicker groaned a little.

“It is an Indian name. Ananda was the first cousin of the Buddha.”

“You are from India? I would not have guessed.”

“No, no. I was born in Sweden.”

“And named Ananda?” Curious.

“No, I was named Ulf. Which, by the way, means Wolf in archaic Swedish.”

“Wolf Wolf,” suggested Melissa.

“Precisely. I came across the name Ananda studying Buddhism, and I liked it so much I eventually adopted it.”

“Ananda Wolf,” she said.

“Yes.”

“People mistake that for Amanda, I bet.”

“As a rule.”

She smiled again. Then asked, “So, what kind of book are you writing? Is it scholarly, or popular, or what? A suspense novel?”

“I guess it’s more scholarly than anything else. We’re doing a study of first-time pregnancies, first-time mothers, which we’ll then compile into a book.”

“We?”

“Me and my publisher. It was really his idea. He feels it will be a helpful book for young mothers.”

“Has it got a title?”

“Not as yet, I’m afraid.”

“I see.”

“Probably ‘Young Mothers’ or ‘First Time Mothers.’ Something along those lines.”

“Neophyte Motherhood,” suggested Melissa.

“Sorry?”

“Neophyte Motherhood.”

“Ah. Yes, I see. That’s not bad.”

“I take it there is interest in that.”

“According to my publisher, yes. Or at least according to his guess, or hopes.”

“Well, it certainly is of interest to me,” said Melissa, with a glance down at her belly—though it still concealed its secret well.

“I can imagine.” Then Ananda asked, “How far along are you?”

“How many mothers will be part of this book?” she said. “And will they be named?”

“Oh, four or five. And yes, if that’s okay, we’d like to name you. Like a documentary on paper.”

She thought about that. Then said, “I’m not so sure Charles would go along.”

“Your husband.”

“My football crazy husband.”

“He wouldn’t have to,” said Ananda.

Surprised again. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, I mean, of course, he should agree, yes, of course, that would be best. What I meant is that, legally, he doesn’t have to.”

She took that in as well. Mulled it. “I see. So he doesn’t have to agree?”

“Not legally.”

“He’s a lawyer, you know.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“He is, yes.” She nodded her emphasis. “He’s a second year associate. His father is a managing partner in his firm. Has been for years.”

Ananda wasn’t sure what to answer, so he said nothing.

Melissa said, “How would this work? Would you visit regularly, or what?”

“Now and then, yes, I would visit,” said Ananda. “But the day-to-day, or week-to-week more likely, we can do over the phone.”

“I see.”

“I don’t live in California,” Ananda added.

“Where do you live?”

“I live in Idaho.”

“Boise?”

“No, further north.”

“Up by Washington State?”

“Yes, just next door.”

“The finger.”

“Yes. The finger.”

“I see,” she said again. Thought some more. Looked out at the nicely manicured lawn and the several well-tended flower beds, all in bloom. Yellows, reds, purples. Ananda wasn’t very good with flower names. Colors he knew and appreciated. Then delivered her verdict:

“Yes,” she said. “Yes. Fine with me. I’d enjoy that.” Then, “Do I need to sign anything?”

“Yes. I’ll mail that to you.”

“How many other mothers have you spoken to?”

“You’re the first.”

“I’m not very far gone,” she said. “In fact, I just found out for sure last Wednesday.”

“I know,” lied Ananda. “The idea is to get in on the ground floor, so to speak.”

“Odd expression,” said Melissa. “In this case.”

“Yes, not the best,” said Ananda. “But you know what I mean?”

“Yes,” she said. “You want to cover the whole event.”

“Precisely.”

“And that would include the birth?”

“Yes.”

“Will you be there?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be proper, would it?” she said, almost reminding herself.

“So I can call you weekly, or more often if needed?”

“I don’t see why not.” Then said, “Do you have a card.”

Yes, he did have a card, and he handed it to her. Blue with white lettering.

“Ananda Wolf,” she read. “Writer.”

“That’s what I do.”

“Yes, I gathered.” Then, suddenly the hostess, “Well, where are my manners? Would you like something to drink, tea? Coffee?

“No, thanks. I’m fine,” he said.

“Sure?”

“Yes. Sure.”

She smiled again, then rose and offered her hand, as if to seal the deal.

He rose, too, and took it—it was warm, and, yes, friendly—shook it, and felt very good about things.

 

Mission accomplished—he had made contact, and had gotten along well with her—Ananda set out on his long return trip.

Melissa waited for the game to finish to tell Charles (who by now had forgotten about the visit).

[*16 :: (Pasadena)

 

“I’m going to be in a book,” said Melissa once she judged she could wrestle his attention away from the television long enough to actually have a conversation.

“What?” said Charles.

“A book.”

“What book?”

“Mr. Wolf,” she said.

Charles didn’t seem to understand, or remember.

“The man who came to see me,” she added.

“Ah. Ananda Wolf,” he accurately remembered and then declared, for he did meet the lawyer requirement of a good and precise memory for names.

“Yes,” she said.” That’s his name. A little odd.”

“A little weird,” said Charles. “I thought he said Amanda.”

“Yes, so did I,” said Melissa. “But it’s Ananda,” stressing it: An-anda.

“What did he want?” asked Charles, while also now working the remote control, changing the set to display the schedule of other college games.

“He is writing a book about first-time mothers.”

Charles stopped fiddling with the remote to look over at Melissa. All alert now. “How does he know you are pregnant?”

“Apparently, he knows Doctor Ross.”

“What business is it of hers to speak to writers about her patients?”

“That I could not tell you.”

“You should ask her.”

She had thought of that. “I plan to.”

When Charles didn’t answer, Melissa said, “But I think it’s a great idea.”

“What is?” Charles now back at working the remote and checking scores on the screen.

“The book, Charles. That’s what we’re talking about. Could you please put that thing down for a second?”

“Sorry.” He flipped the channel again, then said to the screen, “Is he paying you anything for it?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

Which earned Melissa another husbandy glance. “You didn’t ask?”

“No. It didn’t cross my mind.”

Charles shook his head in that when-will-you-ever-grow-up way he deployed when frustrated or confused.

“Did you sign anything?”

“No. He’s sending me paperwork later.”

“Let me see it before you sign.”

It was now Melissa’s turn to not respond. Charles didn’t have to agree, that’s what Ananda Wolf had said. And Charles, from what she could tell, could not care less one way or the other about this book.

Instead she rose and left Charles to his games.

Leaving the living room Melissa made a mental note not to forget to ask Doctor Ross about Ananda Wolf, and why she would have told him that she was pregnant.

 

And she had meant to ask her, she had in fact remembered to do so even as she stepped into her office, but at this appointment she had the first ultrasound, and the detection of that new little life which flooded her with she could not describe precisely what, joy perhaps, though more than that, something deeper; in the wash of that she just plain forgot.

 

She found Mr. Wolf, who had already called her twice to see how she was doing, to be a very nice man. She enjoyed talking to him. He was comforting. Very supportive. So different from Charles.

[*17 :: (Still River)

 

Doctor Ross answered the phone herself.

“Good morning,” said Ananda, and introduced himself.

“How can I help you?” she asked in a pleasant but professional voice.

“I am writing a book on first-time pregnancies, first-time motherhood, and Melissa Marten is one of my research subjects.”

“Yes?”

“I believe she is your patient.”

“Yes, she is.”

“How is she doing? Are things going as expected?”

“Who did you say you were?” No longer quite so pleasant.

“Ananda Wolf. I’m a writer.”

“And you are doing research?”

“Yes.”

“As a researcher you should know that I cannot discuss any of my patients without a signed release.”

Ananda grew very alert, almost painfully so. He found himself on very thin ice, and it was cracking—cold, threatening water below.

But there’s nothing like necessity to sharpen the senses, and in this case the intellect. “You have not received it?” Ananda heard himself say.

“No,” said Doctor Ross.

“Oh, I apologize. I’ll make sure it gets to you, and then perhaps we can talk.”

“That would be fine.”

Ananda noticed his hand shake a little as he ended the call.

[*:*]

It rang so many times before Melissa answered the phone that Ananda was about to hang up, to call back later.

“Hello.” She seemed a little out of breath.

“Melissa?”

“Yes.” Panting still. She had definitely been running.

“This is Ananda Wolf.”

“Yes. I can tell.”

“Of course.” Then, “Have you been running?”

“Exercising,” she said. “The treadmill.”

“Should you? I mean, considering.” Ananda honestly did not know.

“Oh, sure. Yeah, no problem.”

“Well, that’s all right then. So, how are you feeling today, other than out of breath?”

“I was sick this morning,” she said. “Not much fun.”

“But you’re feeling fine now?”

“No,” she said. “Not really. Better, but not fine.”

Ananda, who knew next to nothing about motherhood or morning sickness, didn’t know what to say. So what he came up with was, “One of the perks, I guess.”

Melissa laughed at that, a short giggle that struck him as happy. He could almost see her eyes sparkle. “At least there’s no mistake about it,” she said.

Again, Ananda didn’t quite know what to say. He was, after all, not writing a book about first-time mothers, and he did not enjoy the deception, not in the least.

“Are you eating well?”

“You bet. Better than ever. More than ever. I must be gaining a pound a day.”

Ananda decided then and there to do some serious catching up on pregnancies—especially first-time ones—what to expect and do; at least to the point of sounding borderline intelligent on the subject. He owed her that much.

“When is your next checkup?” he asked.

“Tuesday.”

And here Ananda sets out on his well-rehearsed reason for calling: “Which reminds me,” he said. “I’ve sent you a release for your signature, that is, if it’s okay with you. Something Doctor Ross needs in order to share your progress with me. Only if it’s okay with you, of course.”

“Sure. That’s fine by me.”

“Has it arrived yet?”

“No.”

“It should be there any day. Once you’ve signed it, I wonder, could you give it to Doctor Ross.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks, Melissa.” Then said, not sure why, “Be sure to eat lots of fruit.”

“I’ll do that,” said Melissa, and Ananda could picture her smiling.

Then he remembered, “The other papers. Our agreement?”

“Yes, I meant to tell you, Charles wanted to look them over.”

“Oh, okay.”

“They look just fine with me.”

“Pretty standard stuff,” said Ananda. And he was not lying, he had pulled the agreement, word for word, from an online standard contracts library. Fifty dollars’ worth of standard, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary agreement.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Well, when you get a chance to sign them, just return them to me. Or if you—Charles—has any questions, call me.”

“Will do.”

As Ananda said goodbye he quietly congratulated himself for remembering to nudge her for the agreement as well, keeping things authentic. That was the whole idea right now, keeping things authentic.

[*:*]

“Oh, yes,” said Melissa, “I almost forgot.”

She rummaged through her handbag and found the release. “Mister Wolf wanted me to give you this.

“That writer?”

“Yes.”

Doctor Ross took the release form, and looked it over.

“So you can let him know how I’m doing,” said Melissa.

The doctor nodded while looking it over. It seemed to be in order.

[*:*]

This time she picked up right away. But something was wrong. There was an edge to her voice he had not heard before, or a bruise.

“How are you, Melissa?” he said.

She didn’t answer right away.

“Are you all right?”

After another short silence, she asked, “Have you ever been married, Mister Wolf?”

“Yes.”

“Happily?”

“Initially.”

“You are not married now, are you?”

“No.”

“So not so happily in the end?”

“Civilized enough,” he said, not at all sure where this was leading. When she said nothing else, he said, “Why do you ask?”

“He won’t sign the agreement,” she said.

“He doesn’t have to.”

“He says he has to.”

“No, the agreement is between you and me, Melissa.”

“He, to quote him, begs to differ.”

“Well,” said Ananda after scrambling through a string of thoughts, none leading a precise where. “That doesn’t alter the fact.” The best he could do.

“Could it be that he would have to agree?”

“No, Melissa. He doesn’t have to agree.”

But was he really sure about that? From research he had done such agreements were between the writer and an individual, not between writer and a married couple.

“Are you sure?”

Here Ananda pressed as much certainty into his answer as he could, “Yes, Melissa. I am sure.”

“Well, good. Because I signed it and sent it to you.”

“Thanks, Melissa.”

“Charles was furious.”

“What did he say?”

“He threatened to tear the agreement up and to sue you for invasion of privacy.”

“What?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“But you signed it?”

“Yes. I told him this was none of his business, and then he stormed out.”

“Oh, Melissa. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause trouble.”

He could picture her shake her head. “No, Mister Wolf. No. This is not your doing. You just brought things to a point. If it hadn’t been this, it would have been something else.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No need to be.”

Then, after a silence in which Ananda could almost hear her put the question together, then wonder whether she should ask it, she said, “What do you do when you just can’t talk?”

“You and Charles?”

“Yes. When you realize that what you meant to say just isn’t getting across.” She paused, then said, “And when you realize that it probably never will.”

Ananda said nothing, but he had listened so well that Melissa felt heard. “It doesn’t matter what I say,” she said. “I can tell that while he looks at me, and seems to be hearing, he is not listening. Or listening from such a distance that no real meaning can cross such a gap.”

“Perhaps he was upset about the agreement?” suggested Ananda.

“Oh, no. This is nothing new. I have wondered about this since before I was pregnant.” She fell silent again, putting things together. “To be honest,” she said. “I had hoped that the baby would heal this rift, bring us closer.”

“Did you ever,” began Ananda, then wasn’t sure how to finish the question.

But Melissa must have heard the unspoken intent. “I really don’t know,” she said. “When you first fall in love, everything glitters. You believe you understand each other, all of each other.”

“I know,” said Ananda. “I know that feeling.”

“So how do you tell whether that was real understanding or whether it was just being in love, infatuation?”

“I know that hindsight is twenty-twenty,” he said, “but in my experience we tend to see the other as we wish him or her to be. Especially when things start out.” Ananda was indeed speaking from experience.

“Precisely.” She said that as if Ananda had hit upon the deepest of truths. “That’s precisely it. You see who you want to see, and I wanted very much to see the Charles I really thought I loved.”

“And he wanted to see the you that he loved?”

“I guess.”

“And then,” said Ananda. “Once the glitter settled, was there real understanding?”

Ananda could almost hear Melissa scour memory for instances of this. Finally, she said, “I’m not sure. I don’t know.”

“Do you love him now?”

After another short silence she answered, “I don’t know.”

Then it was as if Melissa roused herself, grasping familiar bearings again. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “What am I doing telling you all this?”

“Oh, don’t be,” said Ananda. “Please.”

“This has nothing to do with your project.”

“Melissa,” said Ananda. “I don’t see you as a project. I see you as a friend. And believe me when I say that I am your friend as well.”

“You really mean that.”

“I really mean that.”

“You’re a kind man, Mister Wolf.”

“Ananda. Please.”

“You’re a kind man, Ananda.”

“Perhaps so.”

“Thanks for listening.”

“Not at all. And please know that if ever you want to talk, just call me. Any time of day or night.”

“You mean that, too, don’t you?”

“Yes, I mean that.”

“Just like a good friend.”

“Just like a good friend.”

[*:*]

That same evening, as Ananda was preparing his evening meal, chopping four cloves of garlic into very fine slivers, Gotama’s timbreless but unmistakable voice rose again.

“You have met my mother?” he said.

“Yes, I have.”

“You have come to know her?”

“Yes, I have.”

“She has come to trust you?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“I am pleased, Ananda.”

“So am I, friend. You have chosen well. She will be a fine mother. She is a good person.”

“Yes, she is.”

“But I worry about the father.”

“So do I, Ananda.”

[*18 :: (Tusita Heaven)

 

I had meant to wait.

I had meant to let a full five thousand terrestrial years go by before returning. I had meant to leave the Dhamma time to take root and sprout and grow exponentially to touch all beings on Earth before returning. But even through the bliss of Tusita Heaven I could sense that all was not well. The Dhamma had not taken proper root, and it was not spreading as I had planned and hoped, especially not into the West.

One man, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth in Judea, had ventured East seeking the Dhamma, and although he found much of it, what he brought back was only a fraction, only its surface. The still and fruitful waters beneath he left behind in India and Tibet, thinking them perhaps too profound for his fellow countrymen. As a result, what he did teach—and how those teachings were interpreted: often to suit political rather than religious ends—seems to have brought about more misery and violence than any treatise on the virtues of war could ever have done.

Another man, Mohammed of Mecca, further shallowed the Dhamma to a point where his followers finally invaded India to destroy any trace of it.

And destroy it they did, burn every library and monastery they did, until every single charcoaled trace was gone, except for that one copy preserved by farseeing monks who, sensing the threat, some years earlier had fled south and across water to Ceylon. This far Mohammed’s minions did not rage, and so, to this day, the Dhamma is preserved; but, alas, only used by a few, and by almost no one in the West.

All, indeed, was not well.

That is why I returned as Bruno. I had to see for myself, I had to verify my misgivings.

 

And this is what I saw:

I saw men using red-hot irons to burn faith into limbed and tortured souls.

I saw stakes firmly rooted amidst flames, compelling what only has meaning if freely chosen.

I saw gluttonous and priestly bellies lined with bribes and gifts extorted by empty promises of eternal heavenly bliss, by meaningless threats of forever fires in hells worse than anything previously imagined by the sickest of Indian Brahmans.

I saw the teachings of this man Jesus—my teachings stunted and crippled—gone terribly and sickeningly wrong.

Offended beyond tolerance, I, as Bruno, could not hold my tongue.

And so, I paid the price as I, too, came to know the flames before I shed the smoldering Bruno—suspended to the post by his iron necklace—to once again return here.

Thinking all this over—spending a Tusita day and a night in deep meditation about the fading Sangha, the Christian Church, the many wars, the colossal suffering, the continued and intensified agony of these poor, poor souls—I saw this, and I saw it clearly:

I would return.

My name would be Ruth Marten.

My mother’s name would be Melissa Marten. She shone with a light mostly hidden, but her understanding ran deep, and she could, yes she could accept me.

Charles Marten, my father, would never understand. But then, that was not a requirement.

And now her water has broken, and they’re rushing her off to hospital. Melissa, my mother.

[*19 :: (Pasadena)

 

The trick to this—and I wonder why they never catch on—is to not take possession until after the body is delivered.

If you want to learn all about true headache—and apparently most do—then, go ahead, take possession pre-delivery. Take up fetus- or even embryo-residence. Firmly entrench yourself and wrap those sensory channels around you like you’d hug a blanket against the cold. Then go for that head-first (hopefully) slow slide down the birth canal and out: squeezed takes on a whole new meaning. Your head so vised it actually changes shape and exits pointed. Coned. And that, believe me, that hurts like, well, it really hurts. That’s probably why they all cry, coned head hurts. Suffering from the first.

I have learned this lesson. That is why I wait.

I see the car. Melissa is sprawled in the back, uncomfortable, a little scared, hurting, sweating, asking where they are. How far to go. How long to go. And please hurry. Then comes another contraction and she submerges again and suffers some more.

Charles, driving, does not answer. Nor does he turn around.

No, I realize, this is not Charles. Someone else is driving the car. A neighbor, perhaps, or a friend. Whoever is driving this car does not turn around, does not answer, but concentrates very hard on just driving, on just driving as fast as possible. Tries to keep the car on even keel, smoothly flowing, by will alone; as if a stash of nitroglycerin was loosely placed in the back, not Melissa Marten. A pothole, a sudden stop, and they’d explode. Still, they have to go fast, she knows that, the driver, for Melissa is really worked up back there and could erupt any moment.

The neighbor, or whoever does this driving, must have called ahead for as they pull in to the emergency entry, the hospital staff is waiting for her, gurney at the ready. The car eases to an explosion-free stop and many willing hands—well coordinated and full of “done-this-before”—ease Melissa out of the car and onto the rolling bed.

The car moves off to the parking lot, while I follow the birthday train in through the large sliding (electronically, photo-sensored) doors. Melissa screams now as a new contraction takes over. Nurses exchange words and one of them consults a clipboard. They decide upon a room.

A doctor appears. Most likely Doctor Ross. She takes a look at Melissa, takes her hand, touches her forehead, says things, comforts her. Ten minutes she says to her—while for some reason she holds up two fingers, for the nurse’s benefit—she’ll see her in ten minutes, she says. The nurse will get her ready.

Melissa does not answer, but she tries to smile.

And true to her word, ten minutes later she’s back, examining Melissa now, talking to herself or the nurse, saying six centimeters (holding up six fingers—getting the count right this time). It’ll be a little while yet, this to Melissa, who does not listen so well right now.

So the doctor comes forward, takes Melissa’s hand again and says, “You’re six centimeters dilated, honey, it’ll be another hour, my guess, or more, before you’re ready.”

Melissa, as another contraction surges through, almost screams, no, she does scream, “I am ready now.”

The doctor does not answer, but neither does she let go of her hand. Nice touch, I think.

Then the contraction recedes, and Melissa returns to a semi-sentient state. “I’ll be back soon,” says the doctor.

The nurse stays with her, asking her if she needs something. Water, a fruit perhaps?

Melissa looks at her as if the nurse had spoken some alien tongue, not sure what to make of the woman. And here—so soon?—comes a brand new contraction, trying to outdo all of its predecessors.

Melissa screams.

This goes on for a while.

Then the doctor returns, takes another look and says, “Oh, my,” to herself, and partially to Melissa, too. To the nurse she says, “Okay, we’re ready.”

Birth follows. Melissa, on the crest of another contraction (I can see my head now, crowned, as they say) asks where the hell is Charles, and gets no reply.

And then, there I am, Ruth Marten, weighing in at the national average of seven and a half healthy pounds and screaming her head off. I’m going to let the head pain subside a little before heading in (pardon the pun).

Which it does, and she no longer cries. Another nurse hands her to Melissa who cradles her to her breast, and Melissa looks as happy as I’ve ever seen a human being look.

Now, I take possession.

Now I am Ruth Marten.

[*20 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa woke up from yet another brief slumber.

First into the soft hum of hospital equipment, and then—closer to the surface now—into the afterglow of having brought new life to the world, new life into the universe.

The hum, if the ear could see, would perhaps appear like a varicolored mist, expanding from all directions and of all sorts: rising from heart-monitors, ventilation systems, distant elevators racing (or laboring) up and down—their doors opening, some smoothly, some with little squeaks, and closing—to computer and other equipment fans, capped by the high-pitched—beyond hearing almost—frequency of various computer screens and like instruments. An ocean of sound, as pervasive as silence, rising and filling every crevice of her room, mixing with, and mixed by, the light of seeing her world anew.

In truth, Melissa heard none of these sounds—or truer still, she heard them but they did not touch her. They were of a different dimension, one that could only partially gain purchase in the light of her new knowing.

Her private dimension was one of expansive joy, threatening to drown her, but she didn’t mind. She didn’t mind one bit.

It had gone well; those were Doctor Ross’ words. Very, very well in fact, especially for a first baby. No tearing. Hard to believe, even, she said, after such a quick birth. The doctor was amazed, that’s the impression Melissa got, awed almost. But always on the run, soon off to see to some other event with a smile, a thumbs-up, and a “Good job” a turn, and then there was only the tail of her white coat, and then it was gone, too.

Job? thought Melissa. A miracle is what it was.

And, sleeping now against her breast, this miracle, Ruth. Her very own little life. Only the top of her head visible to her, nestled. Separate from her now, delivered from her, and she had a bit of trouble coming to grips with the mechanics of that, with the event, and how things had so suddenly changed. For when inside her, Ruth had not been separate, had been part of her—a kicking part of her, but part of her nonetheless. No distance between them. None.

The same ecosystem.

But no more. Not once the umbilical cord was cut, the miracle free to breathe on her own.

The umbilical cord, which Charles was supposed to have cut, that was how they had planned it. Talked about often enough even for Charles to not forget.

And with that, almost violently, the room returned, and a new mood settled heavily on her heart: They had talked about it at length, and he had promised. Promised, yes, absolutely, he said, promised there would be nothing stopping him, he said, not his work, not his parents—especially not his father, nothing. Of course, he would be there. They were in this together, holding her hand as he told her all this, a little preachy, actually.

Melissa, stroking the little downy head of her daughter, didn’t even know where her husband was.

[*:*]

Though not for long.

For here he comes, flurried, flustered, flowered.

Melissa looks up, startled by the commotion. And after him, the nurse, “Sir, sir,” which Charles, of course, being Charles, ignores.

“Oh, honey,” he almost shouts from just inside the door, in that voice that made it sound like: why didn’t you tell me?—ever so subtly shifting blame her way. “I am so sorry, so sorry.”

She doesn’t answer. She has nothing to answer him with.

“I am so sorry,” he repeats. “It wasn’t due until next week. I had to go to San Francisco for the day. I had to.”

Still, she says nothing.

“How are you, honey? How did it go?”

Finally, she says, choosing perhaps to misinterpret, “It?

“What?”

“It?

“What are you talking about?”

“Ruth is not an it.”

“Who said she is an it?”

“You just did, Charles.”

“No, honey, I didn’t.”

Suddenly Melissa wants him out of the room, wants his shiny face and perfect teeth and oily hair and stocky frame as far away from her, and her daughter, as possible. He had promised, on his bloody heart, hope to die, and, again—such bloody par for the course—he had not kept his promise.

Had it been about something else, perhaps she could have forgiven him, but this was different. So she says, with a measured voice, one precise word after another:

“I want you to leave.”

“I just got here.”

“Really. I want you to leave.”

“I want to see the baby.”

“It?”

“Ruth.” He says, now getting a little agitated.

Melissa cradles her daughter a little tighter, as if to protect her from her father. “Later,” she says. “I need to rest. Come back later.”

“I want to see her, now. She’s my daughter, too. I want to hold her. I have a right to.”

“Later,” she says again. Loud enough this time to engage the nurse, alert by the door, and now approaching the bed:

“Look, sir. She needs to rest now.”

He turns to her. “Don’t you ‘look, sir’ me,” he says, loudly. “I am the father.”

With observable effort, the nurse bites her tongue. There are many things she can say at this point, but she says none of them. Instead, she repeats, “She needs to rest now. You will have to come back later.”

“This is my wife, this is my child,” he says, raising his voice further. “I have a right.”

“She, too, has a right,” says the nurse, now raising her voice as well. “And right now, after going through what she has, and alone at that,” stressing alone, “She has the right to rest.” There is an edge to her voice, sharp enough to cut and do some damage.

Charles, uncertain at this point, looks around for somewhere to toss the flowers he still holds out in from of him like a sword. Finally, he flings them onto the chair.

“I’ll be back later,” he says to Melissa. “Be sure to get some rest,” as if leaving had been his idea all along.

“You okay?” asks the nurse once Charles had left.

“Yes.”

The nurse almost says something about Charles, but the professional in her takes over, and instead only asks Melissa if she needs anything.

“No, I’m fine,” says Melissa, still cradling Ruth. Then adds, “He can be a real piece of work, that one.”

[*21 :: (Pasadena)

 

Taking possession of a human body is not unlike working your way into a wet suit that’s a little too small. Every inch feels a little tight. Stretches a little. Constricts. Does let you in, but barely. Does let me in, and I settle—filling the little body, sort of strapping myself in. I think briefly of a Formula One driver, slipping into his car, built to his very dimensions and not leaving an inch to spare: all the controls within immediate reach.

Settling, harnessing, flexing, adjusting, and then: ready.

I find the lungs—the first thing you need to make your very own—and the muscles I need to fill them, and I breathe in, and I breathe out, and I breathe in, and I breathe out, and echoes of earlier lungs arise and there is a strange comfort in a rhythm that for me is still only two beats old, then three, then four.

And again, five.

My little fist-like heart, fresh and eager, rushes blood to my lungs and seizes its fill of oxygen to rush again to everywhere delivering. The little heart is proud, it is strong, and it knows precisely what to do.

Other parts, waking up to responsibilities mostly worn by Melissa during gestation, rub their eyes to the new day and get with the program: liver, thyroid, pancreas, stomach, eyes, and ears, all stretching and flexing and synchronizing, each taking on their role, setting out to do.

I am aware of all this, of course, for I am aware. Period.

I am aware of the room, aware of Melissa’s warm breast, and of the strong—still youthful—heart beneath calmly sending her blood on its way, a lot more and a lot farther (as hearts go) than mine.

And I am aware of Melissa herself, of her wondering—seriously now—how to go on living with a man who did not even keep his promise to be with her at my birth. I see—no, it’s more than see, I live—I live her pictures, as she imagines a life without him, seeing herself and me in a different, Charles-less world. I’m four or five years old in this projection, happily uncaring about my father. She, too, is happy. Glad she made the decision to leave him.

Then reality—in the form of a nurse—arrives and her dream disperses, evaporating fragments into mist into nothing. Melissa opens her eyes and, after a moment, answers, “No, thanks. I’m fine.”

The nurse answers, “Okay, Sweetie,” and leaves.

Melissa is left with the dream-less fact of Charles the promise-breaker. Her heart, besieged, finds no other outlet than driving blood along a little harder. For she does not know what to do about this. Dreaming will not help, she reminds herself, dreaming is fine, but it really doesn’t accomplish anything. She dreams too much, she tells herself, and then she sighs so deeply my head rises as upon a cloud, and then sinks again, against warm skin and a soft, Charles-driven despair.

[*22 :: (Pasadena)

 

Charles did not have the right change for the hospital parking attendant. Or rather, he did not have enough change, and the obstinate woman could not break a twenty. Who’s ever heard of a parking lot unable to break a twenty?

“So, what do you suggest?” he said, demanding, but not really expecting, an answer, not from these kind of people; these are the best jobs they can get. And what money they do make, they then money-order south of the border instead of spending it here where it was earned and where it belongs.

At first she said nothing, just looked at him with very dark and not exactly demure eyes, and for so long that Charles took a deep breath as a prelude to repeating the question.

Which apparently was her cue:

“I suggest you come up with the exact change,” she said, brown finger pointing at the sign which spelled out how much the company appreciated exact change, the word exact underlined twice, and in red.

“There’s a car behind me,” said Charles. “You had better let me through.”

“Not without paying,” said the woman. “I can lose my job.”

“I am paying. I can give you a twenty.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I don’t have change for a twenty.”

“Well that’s your damn problem, isn’t it?”

“Sir,” she began.

But Charles would have none it. “That’s your responsibility. That’s your job. To provide change.”

“Look, sir,” she said. Loudly now. “I’ve had a lot of customers handing me twenties. I gave them all the change I had. Now I’m out of change.”

“Well, I’m another one,” said Charles, “and you’d better come up with something better than that.”

The car behind him honked now, twice, irritably. Charles looked behind him. Guy his age. None too pleased. In a hurry, by the honk of it. Another car was pulling up behind him, but then backed up and headed for a second payment booth, now opening for business.

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have the change.”

“Why don’t you ask him,” said Charles, meaning the second booth.

“I can’t leave here,” she said.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Charles and scrambled out of the car. Strode over to the second booth. Waited while the man—boy, really—inside finished handling his customer, then broke in: “Could you split a twenty for me?” he asked.

When the boy—all pimples and grease; do these people never shower?—looked at him blankly, Charles added, “She doesn’t have any change.”

Without answering, or even giving any sign that he had heard, the boy took the offered twenty and returned a ten and two fives.

Charles, back in his car, sweating now from the exertion and the unbelievable stupidity of some women and kids, handed her one of the fives, expecting two dollars back.

“Sorry, sir,” she said. “I don’t have any singles.”

It may be that for the barest moment he had some choice, perhaps the choice not to erupt, but on some level he took great pleasure in letting anger boil over into outrage, and so: “Look here, you stupid, stupid cow. How stupid do you have to be to work here, anyway? You sure as hell passed whatever test they give you for that with flying colors. Why don’t you just go back to where the hell you came from. Jesus.”

“I am calling security, sir.”

“Oh, forget it. Keep the goddamn change.”

“Fine,” said the woman—and damn if he could not detect a smile, or at least a hint of one, a smug one, in that south-of-the-border face—and pressed whatever button they press in these booths to raise the boom, letting him out.

He gunned the car, burning tire in an attempt at angry smoke, and almost rear-ended a car suddenly in front of him from the other lane. Oh, Christ, as he stepped on the breaks, and squealed the tires again. He could see the driver stare in his rearview mirror. Glare. Well fuck him.

Finally, out on the street. The traffic was light this time of day. He just made the light, which always pleased him. And the next one as well. He began to calm down, a little.

Shook his head. Women. And Melissa, too. Throwing him out of the hospital room. That was it, wasn’t it? She threw him out. She and that nurse. He should file a complaint. Really. An official complaint, on firm letterhead, that’d get their attention. He was the father of the child for heaven’s sake. You can’t throw a father out of his wife’s room, out of his daughter’s room.

How was he to have known? She wasn’t due until next week. They’d even marked it on the calendar. Well, Melissa had marked it. She should have known. She should have told him it was due today, before he left this morning. She was the one having the thing—the girl, he corrected, glad Melissa hadn’t listened in.

How was he to know, for crying out loud? And now, this was all his fault, that he had to fly up to San Francisco, and then, like an absolute idiot excuse himself to fly back down when the call came from his firm that his wife was having a baby, as in right now.

Talk about embarrassing. Talk about seeming out of control. You can’t be out of control in this job—and if you are, you sure as hell must not give that impression. He could hear his father—the great lawyer—holding forth on the subject of control between bites of whatever fish he was savoring that day. Always fish. Best thing you can eat, son.

He almost missed the turn, but not quite. Then almost ran a light.

Pulling in to his driveway he noticed he was still sweating. The nerve of that woman. Of women.

He had remembered to buy flowers, though. That was the right thing, the fatherly thing to do. So why was she mad at him? How could it be his fault? Shook his head again, then got out of the car.

He’d better check in with his office.

[*23 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa woke into a sunny, and a little stuffy, Tuesday. For several heartbeats she had no idea where she was.

The odd smells were unfamiliar, the atmosphere a little too metallic.

Then she woke all the way, and looked up at what must have stirred her. “How’re you feeling?” the nurse said again. Melissa couldn’t quite make out her face, in shadow against the bright window.

“Where’s Ruth?” said Melissa.

“She’s in the nursery,” said the nurse. “Sleeping.”

“She’s fine?”

“She’s just fine.” Then, “Do you want some breakfast?”

“What is it? The breakfast, I mean.”

“What do you want?”

“Coffee and toast.”

“Coming right up.”

“Has my husband called?”

“Twice. You were sleeping.”

“Did he leave a message?”

“No. Only that he’ll call back. You want to speak to him when he does?”

Good question. He had brought flowers, and he had seemed about as contrite as he’ll ever be. But he had not kept his word, he had not been there, that was the not-getting-away-from bottom line. Flowers don’t make up for broken promises.

“No,” she said.

“I’ll be right back,” said the nurse.

For he had not come back. She had expected him to. By the evening at least. What was wrong with him?

In his defense, Melissa had to concede, Ruth had not been due for a week, and his firm does send him to San Francisco for what seems no good reason at all, and often. Mostly without warning. They had probably sprung it on him when he arrived in the morning.

Oh, damn it. Even so, he should have been here. He had promised.

“Here you go, honey,” said the nurse, sailing in with a tray in one hand, while swinging the little table across with the other.

“Oh, thanks,” said Melissa.

“You’re welcome.” The nurse smiled, then squeaked her way across the floor and out of the room. Must be very polished, that floor, thought Melissa.

She should have asked for Ruth.

Taking a small sip of the steaming coffee, and looking out through the window at a clear blue sky, she decided to not stay angry with him. At the least she would talk to him when he called back.

She buzzed for the nurse and then told her as much.

The nurse nodded. No problem.

[*24 :: (Still River)

 

No, he told the switchboard, he was not family. Bu the was a close friend.

“And your name, sir?”

“Ananda Wolf.”

“Just a second.”

A few clicks later Melissa came on the line. “Ananda.”

“Yes.”

“I was early,” she said.

“Doctor Ross told me,”

“She called you?”

“No, I called her.”

“It just happened. Out of the blue,” she said. Then added, “I wish you could have been here.”

“I would very much have liked to,” said Ananda.

“Ruth was in a hurry,” she said.

“How are you? And how is Ruth?”

“I feel good. I feel more than good, I feel blessed. But,” she added as if an afterthought. “Charles didn’t make it.”

“What happened?”

“He was in San Francisco.”

Ananda didn’t quite know how to answer that. He was not particularly surprised that Charles had managed to miss the birth of his own daughter, but it was quite unpardonable.

“I’m so sorry,” is what he said.

“Well, so am I.”

“And how is Ruth?” he asked again.

“She is perfection,” said Melissa, and Ananda could picture her smile.

“I’m sure she is,” he said.

“Are you coming down?”

“Perhaps in a few weeks,” he said.

“You have to meet,” said Melissa. “You and your project.”

Ananda had to smile. She didn’t realize how accurately she had put it.

“Yes, we do,” he said. “Soon.”

“She is the most perfect, most amazing, most miraculous thing you’ve ever seen,” she said.

“Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.”

“I’ve decided to forgive Charles,” she said then. “I can’t stay angry with him, though God knows he deserves it.”

“You’re a good person,” said Ananda, and meant it.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.”

“I do,” he said.

[*25 :: (Pasadena)

 

They remind me a little of the wet leather strips they used to secure me to that donkey—these tendons and muscles and arteries and lungs. This head, these arms, these legs, these toes, these fingers. Tightening as they dry, solidifying as you settle in and they grow, for now you are no longer boundless. No longer shapeless and airy.

Nor as expansive as in Tusita, where your body feels more like cloud than prison.

For once again I have solid form, the always present pressure of outline, capable of hurting. Mass permeates me, or I it, as if to remind me: I have struck a bargain, I have made an agreement.

It is mine. This thing. All of it. For a lifetime.

Though the truth is that this it, this little life we call Ruth—nearly two weeks old now—is perfectly capable of living without me, without my supervision, without an inhabitant. Lots of life here going on without me adding to it. All that metabolism, all those endocrine glands, sensing, sampling, testing, measuring and secreting—to keep at optimum levels—all those little hormones. There is a city—nay, a country—nay, a world—of life rushing hither and yon, busy, busy, busy, with little or no thought of anyone or anything directing it all, this congregation. Busy just keeping alive: cells forming, dividing, dying, forming again.

An ocean of constant process.

And into this ocean I have settled. It is a little unsettling.

I feel, of course, that I’m wasting time, waiting for Ruth to grow. But what were the options? It’s not as if I could pry someone loose from an adolescent body, or even adult—not ethically, anyway. The game here is you enter through this, the newly born. And—for better or for worse—you stick with it—literally.

Of course, at this stage of possession the typical possessor is not aware of possessing anything—too busy drowning in the body-sea, and will not surface for years. But I am Siddhattha Gotama, I am Giordano Bruno, I am Ruth, I am the Buddha Gotama, and I don’t drown. This is both blessing, and price to pay: for in this constantly shifting slough of an ocean, I am fully aware.

Aware of the little bed I lie in, comfortable and mostly drowsy. Aware of my room—light blue walls with stars and far too many moons pasted to the darker blue ceiling (Melissa insisted upon it). My room is on the ground floor—the only floor—of a very nice house in the city of Pasadena, California. It lies south of the freeway, as Charles likes to point out to friends and family (Pasadena is a city with a dual reputation: north and south of the freeway, south the less affordable), and is built from brown wood. It sits on a large lawn, which I am sure will need a lot of watering come summer.

And I am aware of the many needs of the little body, its frequent hungers and thirsts, and of course the frequent needs to dispel—which I can do at will and at any time; I’m supposed to do just that, and Melissa is supposed to clean me up. It’s an odd and a little embarrassing arrangement, but I remember it well from earlier little lives.

I am aware of my parents, Melissa and Charles, and of their troubles. And not only am I aware of them as human beings—I hear them talk often—but also as souls: I am aware of their inner landscapes, their images and thoughts and turbulences that sail like white and gray and sometimes rosy clouds across Melissa’s sky, and mostly like dark thunder across Charles’. These many clouds move in and out of view and obstruct outlook and reason for these poor people.

These poor humans.

I am aware.

[*26 :: (Still River)

 

Charles answered the phone.

“Yes?”

“Good morning, Charles. This is Ananda Wolf. I’d like to speak to Melissa, please.”

“She’s asleep.”

Why Charles always seemed on the edge of complaining, Ananda had yet to figure out.

“Ah. Is she doing okay? And Ruth?”

“Mother and baby are just fine, Mister Wolf.” Meaning, as far as Ananda could tell: please hang up and don’t bother us.

“Perhaps you could let her know I called. And tell her that I might come down to see her and Ruth soon.”

“There’s no need for that.”

“Melissa has asked me to.”

“I know.”

“So, perhaps in a week or two?”

“There really is no need.”

“I realize that. It’s no problem.”

“I will let her know that you called.”

And in the middle of Ananda’s “Thank You” Charles hung up, without another word.

Ananda did, too. A little worried for mother and child.

[*:*]

Melissa called him back later that morning.

“Ananda. Charles said you called.”

He could tell that she was upset. “Yes, I did.”

“I had to drag it out of him,” she said. Then added, “I heard it ring.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not really sure. He is being difficult.”

“How difficult?” he asked, not knowing how better to put it.

The line went silent. Ananda could hear her breath, short and urgent.

“Are things all right?” said Ananda into the silence.

“No,” she said then. “No, things are not all right.”

“He is not abusive?” said Ananda.

“No. Oh, no. Not physically, if that’s what you mean. He just isn’t,” and she hesitated. “He just isn’t with us. As if Ruth were a burden, that he is now blaming me for.”

“Has he said that?”

“He doesn’t have to say it. It surrounds him like a cloud. I thought he was going to be happy about it, that things were going to grow more loving, more honest, between us once Ruth arrived. But it’s just the opposite, he’s more distant. He’s broody.”

“But he is not,” and Ananda—thinking of Gotama—cast about for the best way to put it. “He’s not a danger, is he?”

“No. Heaven’s no. He’s morose and not very pleasant to be around, but he would never, no.”

Ananda believed her, and felt relieved. “I’d like to come down and see you.”

“That would be nice,” she said. “That would be very nice.” Then asked, “How is the book coming?”

The book. Yes. The book. “Fine,” he said. “It’s coming along just fine.”

“I’m glad,” she said.

“I’ll call again soon,” he said.

[*:*]

Ananda had barely hung up the phone when Ruth spoke, Gotama making nothing of the distance between them. “She is worried,” she said.

“Yes, I can tell.”

“Coming down would not be a bad idea. And sooner rather than later. She does not see how upset Charles really is beneath the morose surface.”

“Is he a danger?”

“I doubt he is, but he could be, yes.”

“I’ll make the arrangements,” said Ananda. “Do you think I should come to stay for a while?”

“How long is a while?”

“Weeks, months.”

“No, I don’t think so. Not yet at any rate. But she needs you right now.”

“I will book a flight.”

“That would be good.”

[*27 :: (Pasadena)

 

Charles was not happy to see him, and was not going to any great lengths to conceal it. Melissa, the very opposite.

“Mister Wolf,” he said, answering the door, making it sound like an accusation.

“Mister Marten. Charles. Good to see you again,” said Ananda, offering his hand, which Charles took, more by reflex than by courtesy. A huge hand, Ananda reflected and not for the first time. Charles had been a quarterback, or was it wide receiver, in college, one or the other, where hands this size apparently were of some use.

Charles let go of Ananda’s hand the moment he realized he was holding it, as if burned. “Yes,” he said.

“I’ve come to see Melissa,” said Ananda. “And Ruth.”

“I gathered,” said Charles, but only after a brief internal debate stepped aside to let Ananda into the house.

And there they were, the Buddha Gotama and his mother, in the living room doorway, Ruth cradled in Melissa’s arms, wide awake and looking directly at Ananda with startlingly blue eyes. So blue they seemed to carry their own light.

“Melissa,” said Ananda.

Melissa smiled, and waved with the fingers of her right hand the way friendly young women do. He crossed the entryway and looked down at Ruth, all pink face and blue eyes still fastened upon his. “And Ruth,” he said.

Melinda held up her daughter to give Ananda a better look. Motherly. Proudly.

“It is good to see you again, Ananda,” thought Ruth into the privacy of Ananda’s universe.

“And you,” answered Ananda over the same path, and as clearly into Gotama’s universe.

“I’m late,” said Charles arriving back from the inside of the house, now carrying his briefcase and coat. Then, half-way through the outside door, he turned: “There’s a chance I’ll have to go down to San Diego today. Might be late.”

Melissa lost her smile, looked up and nodded that she had heard.

“Don’t wait up,” said Charles.

“I won’t,” said Melissa.

Charles did not slam the door shut behind him, but he pulled it twice to ensure it was truly closed, as if the lock might have a habit of acting up. Satisfied that the door was indeed shut, the sound of Charles’ footsteps carried him away from wife and child and for the dog-eat-dog of law.

“He works long hours,” said Melissa as if Charles had called for an explanation.

“It cannot be easy,” said Ananda, “to work for your father.”

“Especially his father.”

“He set high expectations?”

“He sets unattainable expectations. That’s what I think.” Then she entered the living room, inviting Ananda to follow. She sat down, and looked at Ruth for a long silent moment, then said, as if this had been on her mind ever since Ananda arrived:

“She doesn’t cry.”

Before Ananda could answer, or even think of one, Gotama’s thought spanned the room to where he sat.

“I know,” he said. “I am supposed to cry.”

“Yes, you are,” Ananda replied. “You must not frighten her.”

“What did you say?” said Melissa, startled out of gazing at Ruth.

Neither Ruth, nor Ananda, answered, on any plane. But they both wondered the same thing: She had heard?

Then Ananda collected himself sufficiently to answer her, “That makes for nice, restful nights. Doesn’t it?”

“Well, it should,” said Melissa. “But then I worry instead, and that keeps me awake.”

“She doesn’t cry at all?” said Ananda. As much to Melissa as to Ruth.

“No, she doesn’t cry at all. She has never cried. Not even at the hospital, one of the nurses told me. She didn’t even cry when she, well, arrived.”

“She didn’t?”

“No.”

Ruth looked at Ananda. Guilty as charged, and not proud of it was what Ananda saw.

“Have you asked Doctor Ross?” said Ananda, after a brief reflection.

“No.” She said, “She’s not her pediatrician.”

“Ah. Does she have one?”

“Of course,” said Melissa, with a quick glance from Ruth to Ananda. “Doctor Fairfield.”

“What does he say?”

“She. Beverly Fairfield.”

“Sorry.”

“You couldn’t know.”

“Did you ask her?”

“Not yet.”

“It’s probably nothing to worry about.”

“She’s almost three weeks old,” said Melissa. “From what I’ve found on the Internet, it’s very unusual. And not even when she was born,” she added.

“But not dangerous? Surely?”

“No, not that I have found, just very unusual.”

“I’d ask Doctor Fairfield about it.”

Melissa, seemingly caught in another thought, said, “I’ve tried to explain this to Charles.”

When Ananda said nothing, Melissa went on, “You know what he said?”

“No.”

“Well, he apologized, of course, said it was a bad joke, and that he really didn’t mean it. And that he was tired, so he didn’t really think about what he was saying.”

“What did he say?”

Melissa had trouble telling him, but in the end managed. “Let sleeping dogs lie. That’s what he said. Let sleeping dogs lie.”

Ananda was a little shocked at that, at the insensitivity of the man. But perhaps he should not be surprised, he thought. It seemed like par for the Charles course.

“That was a bit insensitive,” said Ananda.

“It was very insensitive,” said Melissa. “And I told him so. That’s when he apologized. Even he saw that that was a stupid thing to say.”

Ananda said nothing.

“Then I tried to explain to him how worried I was about it.” Melissa briefly looked out the window, eyes shiny with tears not yet arrived, and Ananda was struck by how her eyes, too, like Ruth’s, now seemed to hold some internal light. Then, seeming to address the sky outside, “He listened for a while, I could see that he made an effort.”

Then she turned to face Ananda again, “But I could also see that to him this was not a problem, and that he listened—or appeared to be concerned—just to make me feel better.”

Ananda almost said “Well, that’s always something.” But he didn’t. Instead he said, “Do you want me to talk to him?”

He could almost feel Gotama shake an invisible head at that. Matching Melissa’s blond hair swaying back and forth as she, too, shook her head. “No,” she said. “He wouldn’t listen to you.”

“He doesn’t like me, does he?”

“No.”

Ananda nodded. He knew that.

[*28 :: (Pasadena)

 

It is an odd sensation to have a body go to sleep on you.

One moment it’s quite awake, everything’s working just fine: ears, eyes, bowels, lungs, heart, just humming away like the incredibly well-designed pieced of machinery they are. Then, for no apparent reason—other than, perhaps, over-contentment—curtains are rapidly pulled shut and, if you don’t manage to scramble out of the theater before they lock the doors, suddenly all is one black and deep oblivion.

I did manage to scramble out of my head before sleep arrived like a hastily assembled midnight, and now I watch her, this little body of mine—which really has no reason to cry, and seems well aware of that—lies oblivious to all but the tick-tick-tick of a tiny heart. There’s a gentle almost smile on her face, and those lashes: Charles’s dark, long lashes. She will grow a startling face, this Ruth of mine.

Melissa is talking, and Ananda is listening. He is a good listener, my Ananda. And Melissa, as she unburdens, finds a peace in being heard and understood. I see the bond forming between them, and that is precisely why I needed Ananda to come down in person.

[*29 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa was putting Ruth’s little socks away when someone came into the room and now stood behind her.

Watching her.

That was the sensation. Someone was watching her. She felt eyes.

Socks still in hand, she turned very slowly—and very afraid now, for she had heard no one enter the room. The one watching her made not a sound. She turned all the way to no one there, to empty bedroom. Only Ruth, shifting now in her bed to look at the ceiling.

Aware of her heart racing, though beginning to slow again, and aware of perspiration forming on her brow, Melissa stood stock-still for many breaths, listening hard to the noises reaching the very attentive. But there were no footsteps hurrying away from beyond the door among them. Only her own breath, and Ruth’s, and distant sounds of outside world—the muted growl of an engine angrily up the street, the distant waterfall of freeway, a thin call of anxious bird, and its answer. And her still slowing heart.

Ruth turned her head again, away from the ceiling (and its paper cosmos) and back toward Melissa, six-weeks-old eyes falling into and holding Melissa’s equally blue ones in an embrace far too mature.

Melissa did not notice at first, but her heart did and seized on this something unnatural, this very alive glance that spoke of intelligence and curiosity, concern even, and alarmed it shook several times as if to wake its owner, then began racing again.

Ruth, as if noticing the telltale heart, looked away, past Melissa, and out the window, to decipher cloudy secrets.

Melissa had yet to move.

[*30 :: (Pasadena)

 

“Charles.”

Charles, chewing carefully the way his mother had taught him, did not respond immediately. He finished chewing first. In fact, made a point of it. Then he said, “Yes?”

Melissa drew a deep breath but seemed to think better of it.

“What?” said Charles, looking at his wife.

“You know how you can tell,” began Melissa, but did not continue.

“You know how you can tell, what?”

Another intake of air by Melissa failed to produce a finished sentence, and Charles, knife and fork suspended above his plate of food, began to cloud. Darkly. “You know how you can tell, what?”

“You know how you can tell when someone’s looking at you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone’s looking at you from behind. You can tell.”

After a brief pause, Charles said, “I don’t see how.”

“You don’t?”

“I don’t see how you can tell that.”

“Well, you can.”

“If you say so.”

Melissa took a long look at her husband, as if searching for something, or someone. Charles, in turn, waited what seemed to be a required number of seconds, then arranged another bite onto his fork, brought it to his mouth, and began chewing.

Melissa, too, looked down and returned to her meal.

Ruth, in her portable cot on the floor by the door looked from one of her parents to the other.

[*31 :: (Pasadena)

 

“Charles.”

To my ear she sounds part apprehensive, part uncertain, though perhaps mostly discouraged—as if she does not hold much hope that her husband will understand; but Charles, chewing away, does not seem to notice.

I realize that I have been careless, or inconsiderate, or both.

She does not know for certain, for that is one of the conditions of being human, one of their shackles. She does not know, but she is afraid that what she fears is true. This amidst doubts that tell her not to look closer, to let go, to dismiss. For what if it were true? This thing that cannot be. And what cannot be, cannot be true. This is what doubt preaches, that is its mission.

Her startled, searching, frightened eyes have met mine and at least this once I did not veil my curiosity in time—she saw this, this mature interest so impossible in a human only six weeks old.

“Yes?” he says, but not until he has finished what he was doing—for what Charles does must not be interrupted. I am not sure how much mastication his mother may have prescribed per bite, but he is staying true to that amount.

Melissa is afraid, there’s no other word for it. Her memory in turmoil, images of my eyes upon hers, claiming the impossible, but how could they possibly? Still, she saw what she saw. But cannot have.

And warring thus within, she says nothing.

“What?” says Charles, before starting the next bite. Annoyed with his wife for interfering.

“You know how you can tell,” she says, but no more.

“You know how you can tell, what?”

Still she says no more, and Charles, quick to an anger he suppresses mostly unsuccessfully, asks again, a little louder—making the point that now he is actually being inconvenienced, “You know how you can tell, what?”

And Melissa—ignoring warring images—takes what must be a plunge. “You know how you can tell when someone’s looking at you?”

No, Charles does not know. “What do you mean?” he says.

“Someone’s looking at you from behind. You can tell.”

He ponders. Though not the question, for to him it’s a meaningless question, but his wife. Has she taken leave of her senses? “I don’t see how,” he says, truthfully.

She looks at him, more surprised now than afraid, “You don’t?”

“I don’t see how you can.” Charles gets the feeling he is missing something, and does not like it. His wife is not being logical, and he likes logic.

Melissa is searching now—hope against hope—for an echo, for an understanding, for some resonance within her husband. Five heartbeats later, resigned to the lack of echo, she looks over her shoulder in my direction, while I look at Charles. She says, “Well, you can.”

“If you say so,” he answers. His well-worn way of ending discussions he does not care to participate in.

Melissa looks back at her husband, a little bewildered, and still afraid. He returns her glance according to some predetermined protocol, then resumes eating.

The ensuing silence is quite profound.

Melissa looked and looked for one, but there was no connection between them. It confounds her greatly, fanning her apprehension. This does not move Charles, however, for he—back now at his task of chewing properly—does not notice.

[*:*]

I wish that I could comfort her. Yes, I wish that more than I can tell. But I also know that I cannot do that without revealing myself, and I know that by appearing in her internal world I will do more damage than good.

For what was once commonplace is now supernatural, this visiting the internal worlds of others, and the supernatural is, almost by definition, a frightening proposition that only the awake, or almost awake, can tolerate.

Even so, I have been on the verge of doing precisely that a few times when her worry colors the room, and compassion for my mother threatens to explode my little heart; on the verge of telling her it is all right, Melissa. Things will be fine. I am the Gotama Buddha. I have come to visit. You have given me birth. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Were she sufficiently awake not to scare and assume the worst: that she is mad; yes, then I would tell her.

And I would tell her that this is the way things are, this is how spirits commune.

[*:*]

While Melissa has yet to wake, she is stirring—the surface not so very far. Her husband, on the other hand, is very much asleep, deeply rooted in spiritual comatose.

Yes, Melissa does stir now and then. She does not deny to herself, not entirely, that our eyes did meet, and that she saw mature interest in mine. On some level she allows: it could be. Of course it isn’t, but it could be. And so, part of her stirs (and at times happily so) at the recognition of what couldn’t possibly be.

Charles, on the other hand, would not only deny hearing, he would not hear, were I to speak within him. He is battened down hard and would let nothing not of this world through.

Possibly, I could have chosen a better set of parents. But I like her, Melissa, I like her very much, and I believe she is the right mother for the Buddha Gotama. I believe we will be fine.

Charles is another matter.

[*32 :: (Pasadena)

 

This little body I wear stills easily, each little limb easing into calmness as I ask it to settle. Head nestled into pillow, the body warm and content under my blanket.

And so stilled, I now find its breath—that gentle brushing of air against nostril, so softly in and so softly out—the most natural of events, and always in the present; and I follow it, this in and this out so gentle as to be almost imperceptible, once, twice, three times, four times, and here I find and enter in a small gust of recognition—like a comfortable garment I know well—the meditative state of the first Jhana where I now rest into the breath and dwell.

The world does not go away, but it fades and becomes something lived next door by considerate neighbors.

And here is a bliss I recognize, along with its softer sibling happiness. To me, this is a familiar antechamber, the threshold to deeper states—or loftier, depending on view—where I am now heading to contemplate, again, the best path to absorb this current world, this modern and cynical place, in order to shed it some new light.

The soft in and out of the breath fades as I enter the second Jhana. Here, in the first true chamber of meditation, verbal and conceptual thoughts have faded into pure happiness—the almost abrasive bliss now taking a backseat. I could remain here, and dwell in this happiness, but the bliss is still vibrant and to that degree a distraction. So I sink (or rise—directions are immaterial without gravity) into the third Jhana where bliss fades, leaving a stiller happiness and a focus stronger still.

I know this chamber, too. I know it well. I have dwelled here often, immersed in this gauze-like sea of beatitude. I can choose to stay, if I so wish, but I don’t. I let go one more time, setting happiness free, to ascent to the fourth Jhana to find and enter an equanimity so sheer as to be indistinguishable from concentration. This is the chamber I prefer when searching for answers, for here each view—wordless, yet precise—cuts like a beam through darkness and into the light of comprehension, into the clear seeing of things as they are. Here is where I know most easily. So here I settle.

The world surrounding, while still there, is now too far away to really notice, and certainly too far away to distract. Here, in the spacious light of the fourth Jhana, I am free to simply be and to see. Here I am free to once again view and determine how best to stir these slumbering people awake. This suffering world.

 

Judging by Melissa, and especially by Charles, and by the many I’ve seen come and go to wish them—and me—welcome and good luck (and my, isn’t she cute), it is as if they continue to slide down a long, and ever-steepening, slope of ignorance. Surely this clinging, this craving for possession and sensation—for wealth, for power, for entertainment, always entertainment and more and more of it—was not as deeply rooted, nor as thoroughly fused, when I walked northern India as Siddhattha Gotama, as the Buddha Gotama.

Surely.

And while the greed I now see might not be as overtly spectacular as what I saw when I, as Giordano Bruno, grieved for the folly of the Christian Church and its insatiable necessity to own and own and own, it has since then grown stronger and more insidious, for it seems to now have fused completely with the soul. In Bruno’s time there was still a discernable gap—the finest crevice, to be sure, but still crevice—between soul and its cravings, a fine space that had yet to fully close. Today, I see no such gap.

Charles, for instance, is his cravings, is his needs to possess and control; he has become, he is his owning and directing and enjoying what he chews so well and then swallows.

When I walked northern India, the highest King as well as the lowest laborer knew that all was not well, that all was part appearance, and that there was a spiritual choice, a lasting path. The meanest thief, the wealthiest merchant, the most lascivious of prostitutes, the most leprous of beggars, they all knew, and accepted, and acknowledged as justified, that many a seeker chose to leave his household life and wander the roads with his mendicant bowls in search of a higher truth. The misery of appearance was no secret then, the door to a richer spiritual path had not yet closed. Even the most ignorant of souls knew this.

They even pretended to know this in Bruno’s realm, this path leading away from the flesh, the door partially open still. A few even found it and stepped out.

But not today. The spirit, for all the lip service paid to holiness, is wholly submerged, fused with its desires. The crevice, the door, closed.

Melissa and Charles are both Catholic, on paper. Still, they are as removed from any God—or any concept of true deity—as are any of their furniture; especially Charles—perhaps I am being unfair to Melissa, for she is closer to the surface by far.

I hear what is said on the radio. I hear and see what is spoken of on the television, and it rends my heart: the darkness, the complete absence of even the smallest fissure between spirit and greed, the merging, the welding of these poor people into the dictates of craving. And I wonder what can possibly stir them awake? What can I possibly do to reach them?

And as again I examine the Magga—the eightfold path I conceived as Buddha Gotama—I attempt to adopt it to this changed and solidified world, keeping despair at bay with one hand, and the question whether I am indeed too late, at bay with the other.

And so, as I dwell in the stillness of the fourth Jhana in search of answers, I am momentarily lost to the world.

[*33 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa, after cleaning most of the morning, and now taking a well-deserved rest in front of the television set, tried to put her finger on something. She looked at her watch, then looked around her. Then back at the screen. It eluded her.

It was past noon. The nature show she liked had ended, and they were now well into the midday news with its new accidents, its new stock market figures and business problems, its latest shooting, and with its ever worsening traffic—none of which she really cared about. It certainly wasn’t delivered to cheer anyone up, that’s for sure, and only caught some of her attention.

All the while that missing thing, that something that needed her finger put on it kept out of sight, though still somewhere nearby in all its missingness. Quietly nudging.

What was it?

She looked at her watch again, then around the room. Then out through the window at a blue sky, just a thin, high cloud to mar it. Oh yes, of course, the gardener. Should have been here by now? There was no buzzing of lawnmower or scream of leaf blower. That’s the missing thing.

Or not.

No, that wasn’t it. Today was Thursday, he was not due until tomorrow. What then?

She glanced through to the kitchen, nothing missing there. Then down the hallway to her left, leading to the bedrooms, to hers and Charles’ far too large—in her opinion—master suite (why do they call it “master” suite, anyway? Why not the “mistress” suite?), to the guest bedroom, and on to Ruth’s beautiful little chamber (which is how she thought of it). And then things fell into place, the missing thing stepped into view: Of course. It was past eleven, when she normally ate, way past. Ruth should have let her know by now that she was starving.

For she had become quite vocal about that—much to her relief, actually—about eating, about feeding times. Crying, just like a baby should, and when she should. And should have by now.

Melissa turned off the television set, rose, and made her way to Ruth’s room. Softly swung the door open.

She was still asleep, bless her. Soundly, too—she would normally stir when she entered the room, as if somehow she knew.

Melissa bent down, her lips close to her daughter’s ear, and whispered her name, “Ruth. Ruth.” And still she slept on, not even a stir.

“Ruth,” she whispered again.

Not a stir.

“Ruth.” A little louder this time.

Not a stir.

“Ruth.” Nearly a shout.

Ruth did not respond.

Here rose panic, profound and vicious, and it nearly gagged her. A mute scream, her viscera in unison: Something was terribly wrong. She fought it down, willed herself calm. “Ruth,” she said again. “Wake up.”

Not a stir.

“Wake up.” Louder still.

Ruth did not wake up.

Melissa then touched her daughter’s shoulder. Lightly at first. Then firmly. Then she shook it, none too gently.

But Ruth remained asleep.

The ugly song of dread reached her heart, and Melissa backed off, staring at the crib and the lifeless thing within it. Her fist rose and reached her mouth.

“Charles,” she heard herself say, though barely aloud, as if he—and his grasp of law—could make this wrong thing right.

When panic took full charge, Melissa knew that her daughter had died. Babies die, it happens. And it had just happened to Ruth. She bit her knuckles so hard that she yelped a little; brought her fist out of her mouth and saw deep teeth mark in the skin, broken, about to bleed.

But why? Dear God, why?

Although terrified now, although hovering over an abyss only too ready to receive and swallow her, by sheer act of will she forced herself to again approach Ruth’s cot. She reached it and there stood very still for many a quick breath watching her face, her arms, her chest, and then she saw: its slow and soft rising, its slow and soft falling. Its stillness.

Its slow and soft rising, its slow and soft falling. Its stillness.

Again Melissa leaned over her daughter and put her ear to Ruth’s nose. There, the soft whisper of breath kissed her lobe, and Melissa’s vision blurred. After making doubly, trebly sure, she straightened and sank to the floor, crying now. Ruth was alive. Unconscious, unresponsive, but alive.

“Ruth, Ruth,” she said, over and over, a mantra still ignored by her daughter.

Then Melissa rose again, dried her eyes with the side of her hands and went to dial 911.

[*:*]

They were surprisingly quick. That’s what she’d tell Becky later, “I barely had time to hang up.”

Melissa heard them pull up, loud siren shrieking their arrival, and by sheer reflex wished they’d turn the thing off, Ruth was asleep. Then she caught the contradiction, shook her head—was she losing it, or what? Then, as the ambulance stopped, the siren fell quiet. Feet running, and then the doorbell. She let them in, and led them to Ruth’s chamber.

Ruth stirred as they entered, and opened her eyes, turned her head, looking for the noise. The two paramedics looked at Ruth, who suddenly smiled, and then at Melissa.

“Okay,” asked one of them. “What is wrong with her?”

“She wouldn’t wake up,” said Melissa, looking at Ruth looking at her.

“She’s awake now,” said the other one.

“I can see that,” said Melissa, instantly regretting her tone of voice. “I’m sorry. She must have just woken up.”

“So, what happened?” He was the taller of the two, and had short blond hair. “Tell me what happened.”

And Melissa did.

They then checked Ruth over as well as they could, but found nothing wrong with her. “You should bring her in,” said the darker one. The one who wore a T-shirt that said Phish on it (strange way of spelling it). “They can run some tests.”

“Especially if it happens again,” said the blond one.

Melissa nodded first to the one, then to the other. “Yes. Yes, I will do that.”

Then she looked at Ruth, who seemed to wonder at all the fuss. Then her daughter began to cry. Hungry, she cried. Definitely hungry.

Melissa thanked the two men, and saw them out. “Sorry,” she said again, though she wasn’t really sure what for.

“Better safe than sorry,” said the blond one, looking back at Melissa. He wasn’t smiling though.

[*34 :: (Pasadena)

 

It is not the sound that calls me. Not the wailing, the feverish screeching of wading birds clamoring for flight, throats aflame, beating the air with furious wings, not this, for truly I had not heard it, not at first.

It is a panic; a fright broadcast on some wavelength I am at loss to name. A terror nearby, a breaking heart, too stunned to mourn.

I ease out of the fourth Jhana, back into the third, and then the second, and now I hear it clearly, that wailing, distant though approaching, in response to panic.

And so I ease into and then leave the first Jhana as well, and step out through eyes flung open onto a smaller room for the many people in it. Then I recognized the room as mine and I count only three, though two of them are not Melissa and they are very large. Melissa looks at me, bewilderment and relief crowding her eyes.

It is only then that I realize my mistake.

The paramedics do their best to find something wrong with me, but fail.

“You should bring her in,” says one of them. “They can run some tests.”

“Especially if it happens again,” says the other.

“Yes. Yes, I will do that,” says Melissa`

I decide I had better tell her I am hungry. Something for my mother to understand and hold onto.

So I cry my best I’m-hungry impression.

And I notice Melissa relax. She sees the two men out, then comes back to feed me.

[*:*]

There is a lot to be said for a mother’s milk.

Melissa is young, and I am her first child. Everything about her works to perfection, and her breasts are a constant source of warm sustenance.

It is sweet and slightly blue, but to me it’s golden, like honey. And unending. The more I drink the more there is to drink.

I feel slightly indulgent, gorging myself on this energy drink, but the more I drink, the happier Melissa is, so I’m drinking for both of us.

And now, I can feel her calming again after her scare. Still, though, between my strong drafts—which seem to tickle her—the image of my not responding returns to her, and she tries to understand. Cannot. Cannot see why I should not have heard her, why I would not have felt her shaking me. As if I had left, she thinks—which, of course, is not so far from the truth.

She makes a brave attempt to dispel the episode as some momentary aberration that probably didn’t even take place, but she is too aware to succeed at this. She knows what she saw, there is no denying it. Either that, or she is losing her mind, is her exact thought. And what worries me is that she gives her loss of mind a small, but nonetheless actual, possibility.

And what troubles me more is that this is my doing.

And what with Charles being, if not an immediate threat, still a towering cloud on the horizon, I realize I need some help, and that I must ask Ananda to come back to California, sooner rather than later.

I will need him.

Melissa will need him.

[*35 :: (Still River)

 

Ananda Wolf views the Buddha Gotama’s return into existence, word by word. It is as if his life has gathered into closer and closer focus to finally alight upon this story, the one that needs telling more than any other story.

His cabin, so near the cliff face as to be perched, overlooks the now agitated lake, and Ananda’s awareness moves from the steel-gray water to the concerned Gotama.

“Ananda.” The thought not so much arrives as appears amid his alternating contemplations.

“Yes.”

“I worry about her.”

“I know.”

“I need you here.”

“I can come.”

“Can you come to stay?”

At that Ananda pauses. He had expected this request, of course. But not now, not for at least a year or two.

“Will that be necessary?”

“Yes, I believe it will.”

“Something has happened,” Ananda knew as he said it.

“Yes,” Ruth admitted.

“Tell me.”

“I meditated,” she said. “I entered the fourth Jhana, the better to see things, and I forgot about her, her motherly concerns.”

“She tried to wake you,” said Ananda, the picture quite vivid.

“Yes.”

“And she failed.”

“Yes.”

“What did she do?”

“She called the ambulance.”

“They came?”

“They came.”

“I see.”

“She cannot forget this,” said Ruth. “And she must not doubt her own perception.”

“Which she may well do,” said Ananda.

“Which she tries to do,” said Ruth.

“It will take some time.”

“The sooner the better.”

Then she left. Though evaporated might be a better word. The sensation of an awareness shifting away is an odd one. It is the removal of potential, a nothing which nonetheless is a something. The perception is acute, though nearly impossible to describe. Returning to the keyboard, Ananda tried, but was not all that happy with the result.

[*:*]

It took Ananda three weeks to arrange things. At first he thought of selling his cabin, but changed his mind. It might be needed later. Besides, he loved the place, it had grown a part of him, as much as a leg or an arm.

He advertised it for rent, and within a week had settled on a young couple, both professionals, but both pinching pennies to pay off their student loans (they said), a rental was precisely what they needed, and this one was perfect—if a bit snug. It was understood that the arrangement was to be month-to-month, though nothing was put in writing. Ananda knew people by seeing them, and he knew this young couple to be honorable and reliable simply by perceiving their private universes.

There was furniture to be put in storage, and there was packing to be done. There was also a place to be found in California, but Ananda decided to find an inexpensive hotel first, and find suitable accommodations from there.

He felt not a little proud that he managed to fit all that he needed to bring into Frugal, his little car, and when he set out down the I-95 for California, he tingled with anticipation and recollection both. The Buddha had called, and, again, he was responding, coming to his aid.

Just across the Oregon-California border, Ruth appeared again.

“Ananda.”

“Yes.”

“You are on your way.”

“Yes, Gotama.”

“All is well?”

“All is well.”

“I am glad.”

“I am too,” said Ananda.

“And not a moment too soon,” said Ruth, but rather than explain, she disappeared again.

[*36 :: (Glendale)

 

Ananda found a hotel about 15 minutes’ drive from Pasadena which announced “monthly rates” in disturbingly bold letters readable from the freeway.

Truth be told, it was far from any ideal Ananda might have harbored about temporary accommodations, but it was close, it was clean, and it was reasonably priced, so he signed up for a month, renewable month-to-month (just like his cabin, he thought with a pang of loss, for he already missed it, and he hoped his tenants were not too preoccupied to appreciate what he had invited them to enjoy).

His room was on the sixth floor, with a faraway view of downtown Los Angeles, thinned and darkened by haze or fog or smog, Ananda wasn’t sure which. The huddled skyscrapers gave him an odd impression of a castle keep, tall towers, held together by ramparts (smaller scrapers), and rendered fairy tale by intervening atmosphere.

To his right he could see the eastern slopes of Griffith Park (said the map provided by the hotel to be found on the small round table). A harassed slice of nature that struck him as confused and uncertain, caged on all sides by freeway and exhausts. He compared it to the proud trees protecting his cabin and knew that he would never again come here by choice.

He sat down in one of the two chairs, closed his eyes, and listened hard for any warning signs of noisy neighbors. Ten minutes later he was satisfied that this was probably as good a room as he was going to find—he had an option to switch to other vacant rooms, should this one not be to his liking—and began unpacking the few belongings he had brought (clothes, mainly, and books).

Then he thought: “Okay, Ruth. You can come out now.”

[*:*]

When I cast my mind back it seems there is not a time when I did not know Ananda. I say “seems” for I’m sure there was such a time, when the world was young—or at least much younger—but the backward glance sees life after life after life where he is either my brother, or sister, or mother, or father, or as now, a best friend, a comrade. It is only since my return to Tusita that we parted for any meaningful time, for once The Buddha Gotama’s body faded, Ananda—along with other leaders of the Sangha—focused all his attentions on remembering and establishing the Dhamma, again putting others before himself; before he in the end crossed the river, though not into Nibbana, which was his destination by right and achievement, but—knowing I would return—into Nimmanarati Heaven instead, where he, awaiting my word, enjoyed his music for a while (which he’ll do at the drop of hat, given five undisturbed minutes).

And now, here he is again, unpacking what few things (mainly books) he brought from his far away Idaho to again stand by me, protect me, help me with this so very hard-to-help world.

He knows that I’m here, of course, and now, all settled, he speaks the way we always speak, immediately and directly, universe to universe: “Okay, Ruth,” he says, thinks, intends, resonates, appears. “You can come out now.”

And so I do. I step into his universe as brightly as he into mine, and it is as if we both wore saffron robes again, on this common ground, under long ago calmer skies.

“Welcome,” I say.

He touches my robe, one brief smoothing of a crease at my shoulder, a gesture I know so well, a gesture so Ananda, always making sure I look my best, un-creased and ready for the day.

Then he smiles and says, “How are you, Gotama?”

“I am worried,” I reply.

[*:*]

And I am worried.

Although I have not repeated my mistake of entering the Jhanas so deeply as to let go my surroundings, Melissa—though she has tried her very best—has not been able to shake her memory of the one mistake I did make.

For that one brief, horrifying moment, she knew Ruth had died. No deeper scar is ever carved upon a mother’s heart, and memory gouges it deeper. She cannot let go of the still body, unresponsive to even her hands and screams. It was so terribly, terribly wrong.

She never told Charles about the episode, and he only found out when the ambulance bill arrived a week or so later asking for their deductible (a significant amount). Wanting to know “what the hell this was all about,” Melissa told him. As if Ruth had disappeared, is how she put it, knowing well that her husband would not understand something she could not herself make sense of.

“Disappeared,” he said. “What are you talking about?”

“It didn’t matter what I did, I even shook her; she would not respond.”

“What did the paramedics say?”

“By that time she was back.”

“By that time she was back?” he repeated, skeptically.

“Yes, she was back again.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he said.

“Of course I’m not bloody okay. I don’t understand what happened to her. And now, you don’t even believe me.”

“Of course I believe you.”

“Don’t lie, Charles.”

He was about to reassure her that he was not lying, that of course he believed her, but he was lying, no denying it. And Melissa saw that. And he saw that Melissa saw that.

What Melissa didn’t see, however, but which I did, was his growing suspicion that his wife was losing it, as he put it to himself. The baby too much of a stress perhaps. First she wasn’t crying, and that was a big problem—as if that’s even a problem—and now she disappears, while Melissa conveniently forgets about ambulances. Something was if not already seriously wrong with her, then certainly headed in that direction. He would have to talk to someone about this, he decided, perhaps his mother. She would know what to do. She was good at these things. Or, better yet, his father. He knew good doctors.

All this while Melissa was still talking, trying—by her hands and facial expressions—to explain things to him, but none of the words reached him. This didn’t bother him for they would hardly bear meaningful currency. Charles was quite apt at tuning his wife out.

Melissa, noticing she was not getting through, raised her voice and tried again, this time with eyes on the brink of tears—whether from fear or frustration, Charles could not say, but what he could tell was that her teary behavior confirmed his, I wouldn’t say fears, but rather misgivings about his wife.

“Melissa, please,” he interrupted her at first opportunity, for he could not stand tears. “Calm down, for heaven’s sake.” Then he said, “I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for this. You could take her in. Have Doctor Fairfield take a look at her.”

“I already did.”

“You did?”

“The paramedics suggested that.”

“And?”

“And, there is nothing wrong with her. She’s perfectly healthy.”

“So, there is nothing wrong with her,” said Charles, regretting it the moment he saw Melissa’s reaction. He didn’t want to show his hand.

“I am not crazy, Charles.”

“No one says you are, Melissa.”

“I didn’t imagine this. It happened.”

“No one says it didn’t.” As reassuringly as possible.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Melissa. “Will you stop being so bloody patronizing.”

When Charles, momentarily at loss for words, didn’t reply, Melissa turned and left him standing in the kitchen, watching her head for my bedroom.

This was a few weeks ago, and although she has tried and tried, Melissa still cannot shake the dread or heal the scar of my blunder. I am not at all happy about this.

Neither she nor Charles has brought up this incident again, and she hopes he has put it behind him.

But he has not. He is in fact still working up his courage to bring this problem up with his father—who was never truly for this marriage in the first place and will most likely sermonize about it.

Ananda says, “Tell me.”

So I do.

[*37 :: (Glendale)

 

“Tell me,” said Ananda.

The Buddha Gotama did.

Ananda listened attentively to the many details that conspired to make his friend uneasy, envisioning as they unfolded many paths, many tacks that might set the ship right again, but none truly did.

But one.

When Gotama had finished his telling, Ananda said, “We must tell her.”

Gotama hesitated, “You deem that wise?”

“Yes.”

Then ceased hesitating, “Then do so.”

[*38 :: (Pasadena)

 

Such a telling, however, is more easily decided upon than done.

But Gotama had agreed, Melissa needed to know the truth. It was either that or an approaching madness, for no matter how she tried—and she kept trying—she could not shake the knowledge: she had seen what she had seen, but the seen was inexplicable, impossible—so much not making sense that perhaps she had not seen it, and so the wheel turned again, for she knew what she had seen, and Ruth had not woken up.

And there had also been the no crying. And there had been her eyes that once that were far too old, but only for the briefest of glimpses, so brief that perhaps she was wrong, but that was just it: she wasn’t wrong, she had seen, but then again, she could not have. And so the wheel turned again. There was no way out.

 

It would be Ananda’s telling, they both knew that.

The following morning, Ananda waited until Charles left for work—Ruth keeping him posted. Then he drove to Pasadena, wholly unsure how best to broach the subject and say what must be said. He parked Frugal by her house, made sure she was locked and walked the short path up to Melissa’s ornate front door.

She was surprised to see him, mildly shocked even, for she knew nothing of his coming. But in the next breath her surprise gave way to delight, and she embraced him as she would a rarely seen tough much loved sibling.

“Ananda.”

“In person.”

“I had no idea.”

“I have business in Los Angeles,” he said.

“The book?” she asked.

“That, too,” he answered.

“Wow,” she said, just looking at him, her smile wide, but uncertain, as if not quite reconciled yet to his just appearing like this. “Well,” she said. “Don’t just stand there. Come in.”

Ananda smiled, and complied. “How’s Ruth?” he asked as she closed the door behind him.

“She’s fine,” she said. “She’s good.”

“Can I see her?”

“Sure.”

She led the way to Ruth’s bedroom. “She’s asleep,” she explained as she pushed the door from ajar to open.

And there she was, as tranquil as anything. Ananda stepped up to the cot and looked down at the Buddha Gotama—the Buddha Ruth—resting as with not a care in the world.

“Welcome,” thought Ruth.

Ananda nodded.

“Doctor Fairfield says she’s as healthy as anything.”

When Ananda turned to her, she added, “Her pediatrician.”

“She’s a picture of health,” said Ananda, glancing back at Ruth.

“I just fed her,” Melissa said. “She’ll sleep till noon now. That’s what she normally does these days.”

Ananda took a long look at Melissa, as proud a mother as he’d ever seen or imagined. Melissa smiled back, nodded, and seemed to look for somewhere to place her hands. Shadows rippled in those so very blue eyes, shifted, they almost pleaded for attention.

“Is everything all right?” said Ananda.

“Of course,” she answered, but a little too quickly.

“Tell me about it,” said Ananda.

The smile faded and her eyes studied his for several moments. “How do you know?” she asked. “Did Doctor Fairfield tell you?”

“No.”

“Did Charles?” Unlikely, but the possibility alarmed her.

“No.”

“So how then?”

And here Ananda simply said it. Whether this was wisely done or not he wasn’t sure, but then again, any broaching of the impossible may be as advisable as the next.

“Ruth,” he said.

Melissa did not hear that—or simply could not assimilate the word, the name, with the question—for she replied, “So how then?” as if Ananda had not spoken.

“Ruth,” he repeated. “Ruth told me.”

This was so obviously a joke (and not a very good one at that) that Melissa should have laughed in dismissal—or if not in dismissal, at least out of politeness—without a second thought. But her brushes with the impossible had fissured her protection, if only by a hairline, and this checked her.

She looked at Ruth and then at Ananda, then at Ruth again. Then she slid down onto the floor, leaned against the wall, and hugged her knees. What she said next—spoken as if addressing the floor—surprised Ananda.

“Should I be afraid of you?”

“No, Melissa, you should not.”

“I shouldn’t?”

“No.”

“Then why am I beginning to?”

Ananda didn’t answer. Instead he sat down opposite Melissa, barely a foot away, and folded his legs in a near half lotus. He studied her face, her eyes, then her hands, which still had not found a comfortable resting place.

“What?” she said.

“Things are not always what they appear to be,” began Ananda.

“What do you mean?”

“You thought Ruth had died,” he said.

“Yes,” said Melissa. “That is precisely what I thought.”

Ananda could tell that realizing that he knew this brought her relief.

“But she wasn’t dead.”

“No,” said Melissa. “She wasn’t.”

“She’s sorry she scared you,” said Ananda.

“Now you are scaring me,” said Melissa.

Ananda held out his hands, inviting Melissa’s to finally find their rest. She placed hers in his. They were so very smooth, those lovely young mother’s hands, like doves in his darker, treelike ones.

“I have lied to you,” said Ananda.

Melissa jolted a little, and by reflex tried to bring her hands back. Ananda held them, warmly, firmly, and would not relinquish them.

“I am not writing a book,” he said.

She tried to answer, but it seemed like too many thoughts competed for air, and no two or three words would gather long enough to carry meaning.

“But that is the only lie I told, or will ever tell you,” he said.

“Why?” she said—unclear, it seemed, even to herself what she wondered.

“You believe in God,” he said. It was part question, part statement.

She nodded, a quick up and down. Her words still had too many jumbling takers, no one thought won rights to them.

“Have you prayed to him?” asked Ananda.

She nodded again.

“Has he answered you?”

She shook her head.

“Would it scare you if he did?”

That earned him a long glance, more curious than afraid now. Then she said, realizing as she said it that it was quite true:

“Yes, it would.”

Ananda’s turn to nod. “I thought so.” Then he asked:

“Have you heard of the Buddha?”

“Yes.”

“What do you know about him?”

“He lived in India.”

“What else do you know about him?”

“Not much. Nothing. A long time ago.”

“Do you believe in reincarnation, Melissa?”

“What are you talking about, Ananda?”

“Do you believe the soul lives on?”

“I believe it goes to heaven, or hell.”

“But not that it may live on in another body, in a new life?”

She hesitated. “I haven’t really thought about it,” she began. Then corrected herself, “No, that’s not true. I thought about it in college, now and then. I guess it could.”

Ananda increased his soft grip upon Melissa’s hands. Then said:

“It does.”

“Live on?”

“Yes.”

“What are you telling me, Ananda?”

“I am telling you that Ruth has lived before. And that he, who Ruth was then, now lives on.”

Ananda’s words seemed to enter one by one, and slowly at that. As if Melissa were reading them on the air, with difficulty.

“How can that be?” she finally said.

“How can water be?” said Ananda.

When Melissa said nothing in return, and continued to say nothing, Ananda said, “Ruth is the Buddha. The Buddha is Ruth. The Buddha has returned, and you are now his, or her, mother.”

Ananda fanned these words with all the sincerity he could muster. He had to reach her. He had no other choice. He had to impress this truth upon her and she had to receive it. So he watched her closely as she digested their meaning, battling.

Then she laughed, though not happily, and a little too loudly— bewilderment ripping the air in search of an outlet. “You are serious, aren’t you?” Then, when Ananda did not respond right away, and with an edge to it, “You really believe that, don’t you?”

“It is not a matter of belief, Melissa.”

Melissa, looking directly at Ananda now, said nothing.

“And yes,” Ananda finally releasing her hands, placing them, first one, then the other, on the floor between them, each one softly, gently, lovingly. “And, yes,” he repeated. “I am very serious.”

“How could you be?”

“That is why you thought her dead,” he said.

After several breaths: “I don’t understand.”

“Have you heard about meditation?”

“Yes.”

“He, she, Ruth, was meditating. She reached a state where she could not hear you, a state where you’d barely detect her breath.” Then he added, “Isn’t that what happened?”

“Yes,” she said. Then, after a pause that seemed to harbor her return to that moment, “Yes, that is what happened.”

“And she is sorry to have scared you.”

“How do you know that?”

“She told me.”

“She told you? How did she tell you? How could she possibly tell you, Ananda?”

“Like this,” thought Ruth. Clearly to Ananda. Indistinctly—but nonetheless perceivably—to Melissa.

For a set of heartbeats much hung in the balance. Melissa paled, and seemed to stop breathing, perhaps she did. She looked at Ananda with wider eyes, as if shouting the question inaudibly.

“Did you hear?” said Ananda.

Melissa said nothing, but instead looked past Ananda to the cot where Ruth still slept peacefully.

“That was Ruth,” he said. “That was your daughter talking to us.”

Still, Ananda felt as if Melissa could topple either way: into the abyss, madly bewildered, or onto the shore, certain, and none the worse for the crossing.

“How?” she managed.

“Like this,” thought Ruth.

“Like this?” thought Melissa, hardly believing her own thought.

“Yes,” thought Ananda and Ruth both.

Not sure why, Melissa began to cry.

[*:*]

After a while, Ananda helped Melissa to her feet. She smiled a thank you and dried her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Don’t know what came over me.”

“Not at all,” said Ananda.

Melissa turned at the door and looked back a Ruth, who was still sleeping. She drew breath to say something, then changed her mind. Then, as if suddenly waking, she turned to Ananda. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Tea would be nice,” he said.

 

Over two cups of steaming green tea, she said, addressing first her cup, then Ananda. “That, what happened back there, was real, wasn’t it? Her voice?”

“Yes,” said Ananda.

Then she reached for and lifted her cup, blew on the surface to cool it, and sipped it skillfully. Replaced it.

The house was very still. Few sounds outside as well, as if the world was somehow holding its breath, curious now to see what would happen next. “How could she not hear me?” she said.

“You’ve heard of meditation. You said so.”

“I have.”

“What have you heard?”

“Honestly, not much. I know how to spell the word. I know that very thin, serious, people in India practice it while sitting very still. Some people here in California do, too. It’s calming. I’ve heard that. On television. That’s about it.”

“Well, it is a long story,” he said. “But one that I will tell you soon, or she will.” Then added, “In meditation there are states where your concentration is so strong that you only perceive what you focus on, and nothing else.”

Melissa took another sip of tea. Then looked out through the window, at the April sky, as if for corroboration. Then back at Ananda. “For real?”

Ananda nodded. “Sure.”

“But she’s so young.”

“She is not young, Melissa. She is ancient. As am I. As are you.”

She looked out the window again. “I don’t know about that.”

“Well, that’s just the thing, Melissa. In your heart, you do.”

“I don’t know about that.” This time directly to Ananda.

Ananda smiled. Then it seemed the world outside suddenly released its breath. A car went by. Then another. Farther down the street a garbage truck now growled and grumbled. Birds were heard. Bickering, singing. The distant freeway returned as river. Ananda drank his tea, and regarded Melissa.

Who suddenly asked, “Why me?”

“That, you would have to ask her,” he answered.

After a pregnant silence she smiled. Then said, “I will.”

[*39 :: (Pasadena)

 

Then she asked, “Why me?”

“That, you would have to ask her,” said her guest.

The suggestion was, of course, more than just a little crazy, but Melissa surprised herself by not dismissing it. Things, impossible only yesterday, were no longer undoubtedly so, and this possibly one of those things. Though, of course, it was impossible. Borderline crazy in fact. Across the border and well into la-la land crazy.

Or not.

For she had heard, or not really heard. It wasn’t hearing, had not been sound. But a voice nonetheless. A living presence, as if one of her own thoughts, suddenly declaring independence, had spoken out. But not with her voice, not with her familiar risings and fallings of internal inflection, but with a brightness that shone but didn’t shine, that colored and animated that other thought, the one that had not been hers. Which had been Ruth’s?

Ananda had no doubts. And, on some terrifying level—though less scary than she would, or should, have expected—she found she could not really doubt either. That thought, “Like this” it had said, twice. And she had said it, too. Thought it, too. And had not both Ananda and Ruth said “Yes” in some very—or not so very—comforting unison.

Either she had long since crossed the line of crazy herself, and she was now completely mad, or—and she smiled at this, for it felt the truer of the two options, and now quite comforting and not terrifying at all—this was really happening.

“I will,” she said.

Then she watched him closely, as if she’d never seen him before. Ancient? Yes, she could believe that.

Her next question escaped from a place that took all this in stride, now curious. “Why did you lie?”

“To get to know you.”

“You knew about Ruth already? Then?”

“Of course.”

“Of course,” she repeated, not quite trusting her ears. “She was barely conceived.”

“It helps,” said Ananda, “to think of the body and the person as being quite separate from each other. Ruth had not arrived yet, but she knew that she would.”

“She picked me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Again, I don’t know. You’d have to ask her.”

There were still two major portions to her. One, fading but still battling for survival, screamed its warning: this was insane. Utterly, totally, completely insane. Unbelievable. Ungraspable. Terrifying, really. Or certainly should be.

The other, sheltered by direct experience which—no matter how many warnings her other part raised—could not be denied, accepted this for what it seemed, for what it undeniably was: true. For, really, she was not crazy. She was in fact quite lucid, as clear of mind as she had ever felt, and this, she knew, was no sign of madness, quite the opposite, no matter how unlikely. No matter what—and she shuddered a little at this new thought, which had arrived uninvited—no matter what Charles might say.

“How could this be?” she asked again. More curious now than anything. Yes, she really wanted to know. Somewhere deep within her a wellspring seemed to have erupted, and now cascaded her in she-didn’t-know-which direction, but it was quite wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that she needed something to anchor herself, something more concrete than this rushing joy—yes, it was joy, wasn’t it? That was the word. Her joy, she thought, had sprung a leak. Gushing here and there. In need of gathering.

“How can water be?” said Ananda.

[*40 :: (Pasadena)

 

“How can water be?” Ananda said, knowing no better, nor truer, answer.

Melissa looked at him for a long while, then said something quite unexpected:

“God made a song when the world was new. Water’s laughter sings it through. Oh, Wizard of Changes, teach me the lesson of flowing.”

“What?” said Ananda.

She said it again.

He said it again.

“It’s a song,” said Melissa.

“It sounded like a poem,” said Ananda.

“I guess it is a poem, too.”

“Tell me again.”

Melissa repeated the lines for a third time, almost sang them.

“Who wrote them?” Ananda wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “My mother used to play this song on the stereo when I was a little girl. She would sing along with it, especially if Dad wasn’t home to tease her about it.”

“It’s beautiful,” said Ananda.

Melissa nodded. “Yes, it really is.”

“Maybe you could ask your mother.”

“She wouldn’t remember.”

“Why?”

“Ever since her stroke,” said Melissa.

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry,” said Ananda, remembering. Melissa had told him about her mother, not yet sixty and yet a victim of a severe stroke. By no means bedridden, she nonetheless could not remember much past the last few hours, if that.

“Tell me again,” Ananda asked.

“God made a song when the world was new. Water’s laughter sings it through. Wizard of Changes, teach me the lesson of flowing.”

“Like the mystery of water,” said Ananda. “So is the mystery of life never-ending.”

“Is that also a poem?” asked Melissa.

“No. But nonetheless true.”

“So how can this be?” she asked again. “I heard her speak. In my head. She spoke in my head. And I recognized her, without sound.”

“I know,” said Ananda. “I’ve heard her many times. She’s very good at that.”

“So how?”

“How water?” said Ananda. “How can this liquid glass, so life giving, so always moving, so rushing, so trickling, so storming, so rising as vapor, so falling as rain, so freezing as ice. So never the same river. How can it be?”

“God?” suggested Melissa.

“Do you know,” said Ananda, “that all matter, I mean all matter, grows denser and heavier the colder it gets.”

Melissa laughed. It sounded a little like morning to Ananda. “You presume I stayed awake in Physics class.”

“Sure.”

“Well, yes, I remember something of the sort.”

“Except water,” said Ananda.

“Except water?”

“Except water. Water is at its very densest and heaviest at plus four degrees Celsius, then it gets lighter as it freezes. And a good thing that is, too.”

“Why?” she said. “Why is that a good thing?”

“Because if it were not so, we would have no fish in our northern lakes. Ice, as it froze, would then sink to the bottom, and so eventually fill the lake, forcing any living creatures to the top, where they no longer could breathe, or would die from exposure to the cold.”

Melissa took this in with an almost comical expression of disbelief. “Well, I’ll be,” she said. “It’s as if it was intelligent. I mean the water. As if it had thought the whole thing through. Instead of sinking, it decided to stay afloat and keep the fishes nice and warm.” Then, after thinking about it for another little while, added, “That’s really true, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Ananda agreed.

“I think that qualifies as a miracle, doesn’t it? When you think about it.”

“That’s my thought, precisely,” said Ananda. “And, Melissa,” here Ananda reached for, and again took her hands in his. “You should think of Ruth as a miracle, as a natural miracle. As natural, and as miraculous, as water.”

Then Ananda added, “And when you stop to think about it, miracles are as natural as anything, they obey laws, too, only that we are not yet privy to them.”

To Ananda’s mild astonishment—or perhaps not so mild—Melissa seemed to understand. No, there was no seemed about it, she did understand. Or, he thought, if not understand, she certainly accepted. Yes, that’s perhaps the better word. She fully accepted the miracle that was Ruth, that was water, with not even a trace of fear.

For Melissa smiled at Ananda when she said, “Yes, she’s a miracle. all right.” Then laughed softly, “I can live with that.”

[*41 :: (Los Angeles)

 

Melissa’s father-in-law, Dexter Marten, did cheat on his wife once, but he considers this an excellent fidelity record, all things considered. No, he never told her. Of course not. For one, it really had nothing to do with love; for two, he really did not love his wife; so, for three, it was none of her business.

However, once was enough to open his eyes to the impracticality of the thing. Not that he had not enjoyed it, for he had, but affairs, especially with younger associates—she had been a 3rd year associate at the firm—complicate things, and for a lawyer unnecessary complications stood in the way of clear thinking and superlative court performance. Ergo, not to be engaged in.

For Dexter Marten, first and foremost, was a lawyer, and he had never wanted to be anything but.

His father, a son of a Scottish immigrant, had worked his way out of New York City poverty to put himself through both college and law school, and once he shared his rags-to-lawyer story with his then sixteen-year-old son, Dexter—as son with a maturity beyond his years—clearly saw his father’s sagacity and the beauty of working directly on the power-grid of the world: Money and Law. For what influences and determines lives more than law and money?

Money and law. Congressmen and Senators, almost to a man (or woman) were lawyers, were they not? The outcome of life (and often death) in the hands of lawyers. The fate of nations, in the hands of lawyers.

Money and law. Nothing was to stand in the way of this. Not for him.

Not ever.

Dexter was not a quick study, but with a near monomaniacal focus, and a determination to intimidate Calvin Coolidge he nonetheless managed to graduate in the top third bracket at Stanford, and two months later—having studied for it most nights during his final year at law school, and much to everyone’s amazement—he passed the California bar.

Impressed with the accomplished young man, a newly formed Los Angeles firm—Nesbit, Kuugler, and Stroan, then specializing in labor law—accepted him as an associate that very summer.

Now, almost forty years later, he was a managing partner and fixture at the same firm, now grown to eighty some attorneys and focusing more on medical litigation than labor law—though they still retained a well-regarded labor department. He had served on the managing committee for the last eight years straight, an unprecedented record. There was even talk of changing the firm’s name to Nesbit, Kuugler, and Marten—Mr. Stroan now deceased and Dexter Marten now the senior partner as to ownership. No official resolutions yet, but plenty of talk—much of it gendered by Dexter himself.

With Dexter, then, as father, Charles’s career was less a matter of paternal suggestion than edict: the law, naturally.

And as naturally, Charles complied.

:

To say that Charles was afraid of his father would perhaps be to overstate things; to say that he had an unhealthy respect for Dexter was pretty much on the money.

That is why it took him a good two weeks to work up the courage to confess his worries about Melissa to his father.

:

Charles dialed Rachel, Dexter’s secretary. “Is he busy right now?” he asked, with as much weight as he could muster. Being Dexter’s son was definitely a two-edged sword in the firm. Charles was neither brilliant nor quick, and many a tongue wagged in the direction of fatherly influence when he had been taken on the year before.

“He’s got a ten-thirty,” she said.

Checking his watch, Charles saw a ten-minute window, all that he would need, really.

“I only need ten minutes,” he said.

“I’ll let him know.”

Although he found it demeaning to knock, he nonetheless did—everyone knocked before entering Dexter Marten’s office, whether son or secretary, partner or client. “Enter,” said his father with practiced impatience.

Charles did, and took a seat. Uncomfortable as always in his father’s presence, and more so in this office.

“What’s up, son?” Dexter asked.

“I think I have a problem, Dad.”

“Dad?” said Dexter. “So, it’s personal, is it?”

“It’s Melissa.”

His dad, almost frowning even when smiling, now truly frowned. Dexter was not fond of Melissa, never had been, and Charles was painfully aware of that. “What is it?”

Charles looked at his watch, eight minutes to go. At which point the intercom buzzed, “You’re ten-thirty is here, Mister Marten.”

Dexter picked up the receiver, “Thanks, Rachel, I’ll only be a couple.” Then to Charles, “What’s the problem?”

Charles again looked at his watch, seven minutes. Well, better just say it. “I think she’s going mad,” he said.

Dexter looked at his son through silence. “What do you mean, mad?” he finally asked.

“Delusional,” said Charles. “I think she’s delusional.”

“Delusional,” repeated Dexter, for some reason stressing the lu in delusional. It was more a statement than question, but it did call for a response, and Charles supplied it.

“Yes, I think so,” he said, again looking at his watch. This was not going to work. Then added, “Possibly.”

“Look,” said his father, checking his own watch, “let’s talk about this later. How about lunch?”

“Yes,” nodded Charles. “That would be great.” Relieved about both the reprieve, and that his father had suggested the lunch.

 

The waiter scurried away with their order, and Dexter took a sip of his standing order designer water that appeared the moment they had sat down, something that always impressed Charles. What clout.

Now he put the glass down, regarded it for a second and then looked up at Charles. “So, tell me, Son,” he said.

Charles did. First, he touched on the problem with Ruth not crying which had Melissa all upset and worried and unable to sleep; and then, the real trouble, Ruth disappearing, as Melissa had put it, and the ambulance she had forgot to mention.

“And there is nothing wrong with the child?” asked Dexter, helping himself to some bread and olive oil.

“No. Nothing.”

“You’ve checked?”

“I, no, not personally. But Melissa brought her to Doctor Fairfield, she said. And everything was fine.”

Dexter chewed carefully, then took another sip of water.

“She thought Ruth was dead?” he asked.

“At one point, yes. That’s what she said.”

“Has it happened again?”

“No. Well, not to my knowledge.”

“Would she tell you if it did?”

A fair question. Charles wasn’t so sure. “I don’t know.” But then he remembered something else: “And once—this was before she thought that she was, that Ruth was, dead—she asked me if I could tell when someone was looking at me from behind.”

“What?”

“She asked me,” began Charles.

“I heard what you said,” interrupted Dexter. “Why did she ask you that?”

“She didn’t say, but I’m sure she had a reason. Maybe she thinks people are looking at her from behind. I don’t know, Dad. It’s weird.”

Dexter looked up as the waiter approached with their meals. Made some room for his plate. Didn’t thank or even acknowledge the waiter, but said to Charles, “The best primavera in town.”

Charles, not a fan of angel-hair pasta, nor any pasta for that matter, nodded in agreement. He had ordered the same thing as his father, just to be sure.

“Of course,” said Charles after a while, as if to placate his father (or as if to reassure himself) “she’s always been a bit odd.”

“And you’re only realizing this now?” said his father, fork midair, loaded with spun pasta and dripping with spiced sauce.

:

If truth be told, they probably would not have married had his father not been dead set against it.

What had started out as a more or less blind date had led to several sequels. It was all Tom Chester’s fault of course, for Melissa was his new girlfriend Mandy’s best friend, and it was Tom—or Mandy, he never did manage to sort that out—who had suggested the double date; though it was definitely Tom who had said, “You’ll love her, Charlie. She’s real smart, and good looking, too.”

And Tom was right, she was real smart, and not bad looking at all. And Charles liked the way she talked, and wondered about things that had nothing to do with law. Once, a few months after they started dating, she had asked him outright, “Are you sure you want to be a lawyer, Charlie? Is it really your choice?”

He was not good at facing home truths, and this particular one said the choice was not really his, in fact, there was no choosing involved, it was a given. His father was a prominent lawyer, as his father had been before him. There was never any question, nothing to deliberate.

His answer, however, was equivocal. “It seems the best way,” is what he said, and she did not challenge him, though she gave him a long, searching glance.

Given a choice, however, Charles would not have chosen law, he would much rather have been a gardener—or a landscape architect. Somewhere in his heart lingered the memories of being truly happy helping his mother planting new flowers, bushes, small trees, and then tending them and watching them grow. Something in them spoke to him, the colors perhaps, or the actual growing, which on some level seemed to him a bit miraculous.

Gardening, however—and especially in California—is not for men, his father would imply as often as say outright, “Unless, of course, your last name is Sanchez,” he’d add.

One day Melissa pointed out, apropos of spring, “Isn’t it amazing how things actually grow? From a seed, or an acorn. From such a small thing to such a big oaky thing.” That was the day Charles told her of his secret love for gardening—which made Melissa like him all the better. And, having shared such a deeply personal thing, with nothing but understanding in return, Charles knew he wanted to marry her.

“What does she do?” Dexter wanted to know when Charles brought up the possibility of proposing to Melissa.

“Do? She doesn’t really do anything, Dad. She’s a student.”

“So, what does she plan to do?”

“She hasn’t made up her mind yet. Perhaps something with children, or with animals, or with trees.”

“Trees?”

“That’s what she said.”

“It sounds to me that she will not make a good wife.”

“Don’t say that, Dexter,” offered his mother, hovering at the edge of their conversation. “She’s a nice girl. I know her mother quite well.”

“She’s not a lawyer’s wife,” said his father.

“I really like her, Dad.”

“That,” said Dexter, in what was a revelation to Charles, “is neither here nor there.”

“It isn’t?”

His mother was about to offer another of her opinions, but Dexter’s frown, followed by a wave of imperial hand, checked it mid-thought.

“It isn’t, son. You need to strip those rose-colored glasses from your nose and see the world for what it is. Through pragmatic eyes.”

Although Charles obediently did remove those glasses, he nonetheless went against his father’s wishes when it came to Melissa. Perhaps it was his last stand for independence. He could not put his finger on it, but knew that if he didn’t insist—and he did have a right to insist, this he felt—he would somehow lose his own say altogether. He had given in to his father in all other matters. Football rather than tennis, law rather than gardening, blue rather than white shirts, Rolex rather than Omega, German car rather than Japanese, primavera rather than steak.

“You can’t deny him this,” his mother, taking his side, insisted.

And so, in the end, washing his hands of the deal, Dexter consented—though he never offered his blessings—and Charles and Melissa married.

Melissa, who would much rather have seen him a gardener—or landscape architect—than a lawyer, asked him again, shortly after their wedding, “Are you sure you want to be a lawyer, Charlie? Is it really your choice?”

He had lied then, told her that yes, of course it was his choice.

She didn’t believe him, but she never brought it up again.

But with that lie, something broke, and it had yet to be repaired, if indeed it was healable at all these days.

For that was the day Melissa saw the portion of his heart that she liked, and had indeed married, begin to wane. And that was the day that he asked her, by the way, please, to call him Charles. Please, only Charles. That’s his name.

:

Dexter finished his primavera, fork and spoon plied expertly. He now replaced them by the side of his empty dish, took another sip of his five-dollar water, and said, “I would keep a close eye on that girl if I were you. A very close eye.”

Charles used a piece of bread to mop up the remains of his meal from his plate, nodding all the while. Yes, Dad, I will.

“If something’s the matter with her, and it sure seems so, she’s going to need treatment.”

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” promised Charles—feeling better now, much better, for having gotten his problem off his chest and out into the open.

[*42 :: (Pasadena)

 

Ananda had a dream that night. The stage was medieval Europe somewhere, France perhaps, perhaps Spain, Germany even (he could not identify the language spoken, but then again the language of dreams rarely has a home port). Not that it mattered, but on some level, throughout the dream, Ananda tried to establish where, precisely, and when, precisely, this all took place—feeling, somehow, that knowing would provide a lifeline, a safe way to shore.

For what took place was that Melissa, the Buddha Ruth’s mother, was being tried as a witch, and found guilty. She would burn.

Ananda had been at the trial, horrified by the accusations brought by a weak and vengeful clergy to solidify their hold on souls weaker still. He had sat in the crowded hall while the terrified group spirit, rising all around him, clamored for flames: “Burn her! Burn her!”

And her crime? She had mentioned, in confidence, to her neighbor-friend that her new baby was the Buddha Gotama. This confidence, in order to curry favor with the priests, was betrayed.

“Who is the Buddha Gotama?” the tribunal wanted to know.

“He who leads us across the river,” she had answered, facing them erect and unmoving not five steps from her accuser, now seemingly contrite and examining the floor’s rough planks.

“What river?” they wanted to know.

“The river of ignorance and death,” she answered.

“What do you know of ignorance and death?”

“I know much.”

“How can you possibly know anything about such matters?”

“He has told me.”

“He?”

“The Buddha Gotama.”

“Your child? “

“Yes.”

“Your six months old child?”

“Yes.”

The tribunal shook its collective head at such sacrilegious necromancy, and—to uproot all traces of evil—decreed that the child, too, should burn.

Ananda woke into the Los Angeles pre-dawn, heart racing.

Ruth spoke: “What is it, Ananda?”

“A dream,” he answered.

“Tell me,” she said.

Ananda did.

“How true?” asked his friend.

Ananda tested the aftermath of the trial and the upcoming fires, one large, one small—clairvoyant fingers probing the cloth of dream for threads of veracity. “Too true,” he said.

“You must warn her,” said Ruth

“I will,” said Ananda.

:

Ananda waited—now pacing, now sitting, now lying down, then some more pacing—until he heard from Ruth that Charles had left for work. He then gathered his things, elevatored himself to the ground floor, sprung Frugal to willing life, and drove the short freeway distance from Glendale to Pasadena.

“She did not sleep well,” whispered Ruth, as Ananda turned down Melissa’s street.

“This is a bad time?” asked Ananda.

“No,” answered Ruth. “It is as good a time as any.”

Ananda parked his little car by the curb, just so many inches from it, pointed her front wheels street-ward, then stilled the engine. He sat for many breaths stilling his worries, forming his thoughts, then stirred to face his task.

Melissa opened the door, then said, even as Ananda entered, “She doesn’t answer.”

Her meaning was crystal clear to Ananda. Melissa had tried to talk to Ruth, who—for reasons not apparent—had not replied.

“She is not ready,” said Ruth.

“I don’t understand,” Ananda thought in return.

“She still doubts,” said Ruth. “Although she has heard, she doubts. More hearing will not help. Evidence will not help. She knows, but does not dare to, or allow herself to, know.”

Ananda nodded.

“Perhaps I’m doing it wrong,” said Melissa as they entered the living room. “Or perhaps,” she continued, then fell silent.

“Or perhaps, what?”

“Or perhaps I imagined the whole thing,” she almost whispered.

“Did you?”

Melissa did not answer. Instead she sat down, and for a while seemed to study the coarsely woven table cloth that covered the center of the low glass table top with its blues, and whites, and greens, and reds. Then said:

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, did you?”

That earned Ananda a searching glance. And a question in return: “Can you ever be sure of anything?”

“Is there such a thing as certainty?” said Ananda. “Is that what you’re asking?”

She considered his question, then nodded. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”

“Yes,” he replied. “There is such a thing as certainty.”

“About some things, yes.”

Ananda was about to answer, when Melissa said, as if just then remembering, “Have you had breakfast?”

“No, not yet.”

“Come, I’ll fix you something vegan.”

“Fruit, if you have some, would do well.”

“I have some.”

As Melissa was fixing a fruit salad, Ananda said, “Are you certain that you are using a knife right now?”

“Yes,” she answered without hesitation, and without halting her movements.

“Stop for a minute,” said Ananda.

She did.

“Are you certain that you used a knife a few seconds ago?”

“Yes,” said Melissa.

“How can you be certain?”

“I just am.”

Ananda nodded. “Well, then.”

“But this is physical, I do this with my hands. Thoughts are elusive.”

“But less real?”

“Well, not really.” She finished slicing the banana. Then turned to face Ananda, and said:

“Are you certain, Ananda?”

“That’s irrelevant.”

“Why is that irrelevant?”

“My being certain does not make you certain.”

“But I trust you.”

“Even so.”

“But I know that you’re telling the truth.”

“You are saying that you believe me?”

“Yes.”

“Still, when you look at it closely, there is always a certain amount of faith involved in believing.” Then Ananda added, “There is no faith involved in knowing, in certainty.”

She pondered that for a while. “You’re right,” she said. “There is a difference.”

“Certainty is a constant seeing, an intimate knowing,” said Ananda.

“Wow,” said Melissa. Then laughed. “Did you come up with that?”

“No,” he answered. “A man much wiser than I did.”

“Who?”

“Your daughter.”

“I can see her voice,” said Melissa. “If that’s the right word.”

“As clearly as your knife?”

“As clearly as this knife,” she said and held it up.

“Then you are certain,” he answered.

“Yes I am.”

:

Ananda had finished the delicious fruit salad, and Melissa was now serving tea in the dining room.

“I doubt this needs saying,” said Ananda, “but I will say it anyway, for it’s too important to leave unsaid.”

Melissa looked at him and waited for more.

“No one, Melissa. No one must know about this, about Ruth, about the Buddha.”

She nodded.

“Not Charles, especially not Charles. Not your mother. Not your father. None of your friends. Not Dexter or your mother-in-law. No one, Melissa.”

Her nod slowed, but did not cease.

“Do you see why?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “If I have trouble believing, or knowing,” she corrected herself. “If I find it hard to know this, and this certainty swims in and out of focus, to be honest, then anyone else would find it impossible, would not believe, could not.”

Ananda’s turn to nod. “But more importantly,” he said. “Anyone you tell would know, would be absolutely certain that you have taken leave of your senses.”

“Would think me mad,” she suggested.

“Would think you mad,” Ananda confirmed. “Would know you mad. And that would threaten everything.”

“Everything?”

“Melissa,” began Ananda. Then, when she had her full attention, “The Buddha Gotama has returned for a reason.”

“The Buddha?”

“He always referred to himself as The Buddha Gotama, or Gotama Buddha, and that’s how I think of him.”

“I think of him as Ruth,” she said.

“Yes, that too. He is Ruth. He is your daughter. And Gotama Buddha is here, as Ruth, for a reason.”

“Will you tell me?”

“In due course.”

“As a savior?”

“Yes,” said Ananda. “As a savior. As a seer and a teller. As a pointer of path.”

“It is hard to grasp.”

“I know.”

“It is true,” whispered Ruth within their inner hearing.

“I know,” whispered Melissa in return. Then, overwhelmed by certainty she either cried or laughed, Ananda wasn’t quite sure which.

:

“I worry about Charles,” said Ruth as Ananda drove back to his hotel. He is convinced Melissa has already turned some delusional corner, and has talked to his father about it.”

“He has?”

“Yes.”

“Is she in danger, do you think? Right now?”

“No,” said Ruth. “Not yet. But I am not happy with the situation.”

“What would you have me do?”

“Stay in close touch with her, Ananda, and as much as you can, keep an eye on Charles.”

“Yes,” he replied. “Yes, I will do that.”

[*43 :: (Pasadena)

 

One thing about telepathy is that the word itself is misleading, for the secret to the concept is that it involves no distance.

Tele, at heart, means distant, or remote. Pathy grew from pathos, and means feeling, so telepathy, as commonly understood, is to feel (or communicate, mentally) across a distance, which conjures the image of transmission and reception between two points a distance apart. That is the misleading part, for the key to telepathy is the utter lack of distance.

Some have described telepathy as the spiritual sharing of the same room—an other-worldly, or un-worldly room that everyone on some level occupy at all times, though few are aware of this.

This room is impossibly vast—it has outgrown space itself—and encompasses the Physical as well as any other Universe you’d care to conceive; still, when two (or more) beings commune in this sphere, it is as if only those are present. It is then a co-existence of sorts, a co-being where thoughts are plainly visible, where feelings are plainly feel-able, where all is wholly shareable.

[*:*]

When Ruth entered this sacred room and whispered Melissa’s name just before dawn, Melissa visibly shivered with the sensation of presence, then answered, in the same manner of just being the answer: “Yes.”

“You are still certain, then,” confirmed Ruth.

“Yes.”

Melissa rose slowly and quietly, so as not to wake Charles, still asleep beside her. She gathered her robe and her slippers and tiptoed out of their bedroom and over to Ruth’s little chamber, the better to hear her (was the notion that moved her); that, and the wish to see, as well as hear, her daughter.

Entering Ruth’s room, she moved over to the little crib where Ruth lay and looking down upon her met eyes looking right back up at her: aware, sparklingly blue, intelligence shimmering within, a profound presence beneath.

“Ruth,” she said in their shared internal room

It was as if the eyes answered, while Ruth’s lips only smiled. “Yes.”

“I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“Why me?”

This question, true and burning for her, rose not only wordlessly within them both, but also, reflexively, crossed her lips and into air.

“Because,” said Gotama Buddha, “I do not terrify you.”

“I don’t understand,” said Melissa.

“Sit down,” said the Buddha. “Please.”

Melissa did, and Ruth rolled onto her side, the better to see her mother, now sitting cross-legged by the side of the crib, looking in.

“What man does not understand, frightens him,” said Gotama Buddha.

“Always?” asked Melissa. Again, as if not yet trusting her internal tongue to alone convey words, she also said this aloud.

“On some level, yes. Always,” said Ruth, who, if she noticed, did not wonder at, nor did she comment on the words leaving her mother’s lips along with their shared sister-thoughts.

“But man prefers ignorance to terror,” continued Ruth.

When Melissa said nothing, Ruth elaborated. “Numbness seems always preferable to pain. Sleep, if it shields him, seems preferable to fears awake. At least so he acts.”

Melissa nodded, assimilating, understanding, but said nothing.

“It is as if on some collective level man has chosen, or created an unawareness so deep that it appears like an ocean, or as a mist of oblivion covering this earth. And here he spends lives, submerged, barely visible to the spirit, far below the surface, among the deep-sea fishes and other creatures of darkness.”

“That’s a grim picture,” said Melissa.

“Yes, it is,” said Ruth. “But true.”

“How does that explain your choice?”

“You, Melissa, are near the surface, sometimes even breaking it.”

“I am?”

“Do you remember the night, when as a young woman you pondered life? At college. You wrote it in your daybook.”

“I pondered life often at college, and I wrote in my daybook every day.”

“I am thinking of that one evening you saw that the quality of life, what you thought of as the phenomenon life, was and is very different from the quantity of life, it’s physical aspect.”

This Melissa remembered. “Yes,” she said. “I remember that.” Then wondered, “How come you know about that?”

Ruth did not answer her question, only smiled. Then said:

“That was the evening you saw, clearly and viscerally, the evening you experienced that life, as an event, was the same, regardless of physical size, whether a mouse or an elephant. Unquantifiable.”

“Yes,” she was nodding now, remembering quite vividly. “It was like an epiphany. I remember.”

“That’s breaking the surface,” said Ruth. “That’s waking up, or refusing sleep at any rate.”

In her mind, Melissa returned to that evening. The afternoon had seen snow, draping the world in white. Evening had fallen now, and with it the darkness. Still, she could sense a softness of a million, million flakes the other side of the window, and in it her own reflection of short blond hair and pondering eyes.

The soft breathing of her roommate, asleep alongside her assignment, and shifting now to push the book onto the floor with a soft thud, brought a sense of intimacy, a love for her race.

And as she thought about the in and out of Elizabeth’s breath, and wondered at the force—no, not the force, but the motivation, the real cause, the motive power—behind each intake of air, replete with oxygen, and each expulsion of air, replete with carbon dioxide, a rush of knowing suddenly rose within her like a geyser and leapt out upon paper. A shiver that told her that life as phenomenon, as motivation, was different from, and much larger than its manifestation, its tangible result.

She had not been seeking that answer specifically, she had simply been marveling onto paper about the multitude of life on this planet, at the strange forms life took to survive in this jungle of chemicals and motion. At the soft in and out of Elizabeth’s breath, and suddenly the knowing simply arrived as experience, as geyser (is how she put in then), as irrefutable in and of itself: it is the phenomenon life that motivates and animates. It is the unquantifiable non-thing that knows and thinks that moves the fingers that write these words, that steers the feet that wander, that grows the bodies that rise and play and fall, only to grow again.

The epiphany had been brief. The following morning, though still quite vivid as recollection, it did not ring quite as immediately true. It had struck her as a little presumptuous even. And a little more so a few days later.

Still, there was no denying the rush, the geyser, rising and filling her, as the notion first appeared, as truth. So real as it rose that doubt could find no footing.

“It was just a thought I had,” she said. “Something that arrived as I was looking at things.”

“Yes. But you were looking above the surface,” said Buddha Gotama.

“I don’t know about that.”

“I know about that,” he replied.

Melissa fell quiet for a moment. Then asked, “How do you know? How can you see that I am near the surface?”

“You glow.”

“I do?”

“Faintly, but yes.”

“What do you mean, glow? Like an aura?”

“Not unlike an aura,” he said.

“And that is why you chose me as your mother?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

“You saw me, as aura?”

“Yes.”

“From where?” she asked.

“From the Tusita Heaven.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It is a place that is more frame of mind than place.”

“And you saw me from there?”

“Just like I hear you from here, in this frame of mind.”

“Were there other glows?”

“Yes.”

“Many?”

“No.”

“How many?”

“Here in Los Angeles? Or here in the world?”

The question should have appeared odd, or impossible, to Melissa, but it did not. It made perfect sense. Define thy terms. “Here in Los Angeles.”

“Perhaps a hundred.”

“So why me?”

“Because you were, you are, right. Just like your knowing about the phenomenon of life that evening in college was right.”

Melissa, again briefly re-living that geyser moment, said, “I can see that.”

“And communing like this, I know I chose you well.”

“Good point,” she said, still into the shared room as well as into the air.

Then she asked, “If that is why me, then why you? Why are you here?”

“Ananda has not explained?”

“I want to hear it from you.”

That is when Charles, standing in the doorway behind her and listening to a strange and impossible one-way conversation, shifted his weight from one foot to the other and so caught her ear.

[*44 :: (Pasadena)

 

What woke him were spoken words, drifting. A soft breeze.

At first—even though he was now awake—they seemed like so much dream, part of his lingering inner landscape, but then (listening now) they were not. No, they came from elsewhere. Not inside his head at all. Outside. In the house. Somewhere.

Sitting up in bed now, the better to listen, he recognized the voice: It was Melissa’s. Then nothing, and nothing. Then he hears her again. Yes, talking, softly. Nearby.

Wide awake now, he heard her say, “What do you mean, glow? Like an aura?”

He looked down at her empty pillow, who seemed strangely eager to corroborate; then out through the bedroom door, slightly ajar.

“And that is why you chose me as your mother?” she said from the hallway outside, or from just beyond it.

Placing his feet on the carpet, he heard, “You saw me, as aura?”

Standing up now, unsure, a little afraid, he heard her say, “From where?”

By the bedroom door now, he knew from where the voice came: Ruth’s room. “What are you talking about?” Melissa said.

And as he slowly, and silently, made his way for his daughter’s door, “And you saw me from there?”

At this point Charles felt a rising terror. There was someone else in that room with Melissa, and she was talking to him, or her, in a conversation that held her interest—he could tell by her voice: intent, even a little urgent. “Were there other glows?” she said, and she really wanted to know.

He reached the door and pushed it slightly more ajar to reveal Melissa sitting on the floor by Ruth’s cot, looking at his daughter.

“Many?” said Melissa, as if addressing the baby.

Then, “Here in Los Angeles.”

What now slowly rose, fueled by what could not be, by what had no right to be—not Melissa, not this sick—was an ice he knew as terror. He was afraid. Really, really afraid.

“So why me?” she said. Then, as if listening to a silence replying, “I can see that.”

Then, again after a brief silence, as if listening, “Good point,” she said.

Then, incomprehensibly, she asked the room, the child, her demon, “If that is why me, then why you? Why are you here?”

The she said, “I want to hear it from you.”

Charles, unaware of legs and feet, nonetheless shifted his weight from one foot to the other, making a sound, catching her ear, spinning her head. Ruth, too, looked up at him, and for the fleetest of moments her eyes, too, seemed to hold alarm.

“Charles,” said Melissa, eyes wide.

[*:*]

“Charles,” she said again, less terrified now—though he wasn’t sure whether it was his own feelings or hers he sensed.

“What are you doing?” he heard himself ask.

“How long,” she asked. And he knew precisely what she meant, what she was hiding.

Two conflicting emotions swelled side by side: briefly, compassion for his wife, his—yes, indeed, quite crazy wife; and alongside it, the urge to run, to turn and flee this madness, as if the demon that possessed her was contagious and of immediate danger to himself. But as with so many conflicting emotions, none truly gained the upper hand, so instead Charles remained, looking at his wife looking up at him, still awaiting an answer.

His compassion then shifted into the practicality of the situation facing him and with that the lawyer in him surfaced, annoyed at the obvious trouble ahead.

“Long enough,” he answered. Then he turned, looked at his watch, twice, and headed for the shower.

[*45 :: (Pasadena)

 

Her first sensation was: this had not happened. Could not, must not have happened.

No, not the conversation with Ruth, her Buddha Gotama. That was as real as anything, was the most real thing she’d ever experienced. What must not have happened was that she had said her words not only directly to Ruth, in their shared space, but also into the air, for Charles to hear and see—see his wife talking to his infant daughter at no (obviously imaginary) replies. She’d seen his face, and she’d venture that he had—in that brief moment of eye contact—been more terrified than she.

“He heard you,” whispered Ruth.

“I know,” answered Melissa, quelling the impulse to, again, also say this aloud. Succeeding.

“He is in turmoil.”

“I saw that.”

Yes, that is what she had seen in his face, in his eyes. Terror at first, then turmoil—as if terror clashed with some other equally potent force—and then, as he turned and left, surrounding him, protecting him, a cloud—stiff and impatient—of annoyance.

“He will pose a danger,” said Ruth.

The certainty of the statement shook her. “How?”

“He thinks you mad.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Even so,” said Melissa—still consciously suppressing the urge to again also voice the words. “He wouldn’t harm me. I doubt that.”

“Perhaps he would not, but his father might.”

“How?”

“Remember that man is terrified of what he does not understand, and a terrified person never acts rationally, and then only to preserve self.”

“And Charles does not understand.”

“No, he does not.”

“Nor will his father.”

“Even less so.”

[*:*]

She eased herself up from the floor and with one last glance at Ruth she left her daughter’s room. Charles was in the shower; she could hear the water sing the pipes. She checked her watch and saw that Charles, for a change, would have plenty of time for a real breakfast, and proceeded to the kitchen to prepare it for him.

By the time he entered the kitchen, all suited up, but without a “good morning,” breakfast was ready. French toast, syrup, bacon, coffee. The way he liked it.

She turned to look at him, but he would not meet her eyes. Instead he sat down by the table and looked first at the plate, then out the window. She followed his gaze. Plate overloaded, sky overcast, almost milky.

“Charles,” she began.

He shifted, and looked in her direction, but would still not meet her eyes.

“Charles,” she said again. “I am not crazy.”

Finally, their eyes met, but only briefly, as if slipping off each other, twice.

“What do you mean?” said her husband.

“You saw me. You heard me,” she said.

He then loaded half a French toast on his fork and transferred it to his mouth. Chewed for some time, expressionlessly. Then he said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You saw me,” she said again.

“Saw what, Melissa?”

Could it actually be? she wondered. Could he not have seen? No, she inwardly shook her head. He had seen, and heard. The fear in his eyes had been proof enough. And he had answered her. He had said “Long enough.” These were his words. He had definitely said them. Only he did not want to admit that, either to her, or to himself.

“You answered me,” she said. “You said ‘Long enough.’”

Charles carefully sliced off another generous piece of syrupy French toast, guided it to his mouth and began chewing. He did not look at Melissa, nor did he give any sign that he had heard her.

“You answered me,” she said again, quite loudly. “Said you saw.”

“I don’t know what I saw,” he finally answered. “I was half asleep.”

“I am not crazy,” she said.

“I never said you were.”

“I am not crazy,” she said again. To which Charles did not respond. Only chewed.

[*:*]

Ananda answered the phone almost immediately, as if he had been expecting her call—which on reflection, he might well have been.

“Charles saw me. He heard me talk to Ruth,” she said.

“I know,” said Ananda. “She told me.”

“I tried to bring this up with him at breakfast, to find out what he thought, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“Yet he is sure about what he saw?”

“Yes, he is.” Then, after a brief pause, added, “What can I do, Ananda?”

He deliberated for a moment. “For now, not much.”

“I really blew it.”

“Perhaps.”

“What should I do? What can I do?”

“I think you should act as normally as you can.”

“As if nothing has happened?”

“As if nothing has happened.”

“You think he’d forget?”

“No, I don’t think so. But if you don’t nourish what he saw, perhaps doubt will arise.”

“He did not want to talk about it,” she said again.

“He’s probably afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Of you.”

She brought back the image of Charles standing in the doorway to Ruth’s chamber, eyes agape, fear apparent. A fear of what he had seen, or, as Ananda said, of her, if indeed there was a difference. “Of the impossible,” she said.

“Precisely.”

[*46 :: (Los Angeles)

 

It did not matter how important Charles told Rachel it was, his father could not see him until eleven, and then only for a few minutes. Rachel, his father’s secretary—a peerless professional when it came to managing Dexter’s time—was adamant. Impertinent, in fact, he thought.

But when those few minutes were up, Dexter Marten called her and asked her to reschedule his eleven o’clock, with his sincere apologies, something urgent had come up.

“Tell me again,” Dexter told his son. “From the beginning.”

And Charles did. Melissa had been sitting by the cot talking to their baby, he said—not baby-talk, not even close. She was talking to Ruth as if she had been a grown-up, about glows and auras and about why she had chosen her, and what she was doing here.

“Are you absolutely sure about this?”

“Yes, Dad. Absolutely.”

Dexter shook his head, “This is not good.”

“I know.”

“She sounds clearly,” he fished around for a word, “disturbed.”

“I know.”

“But she brought it up at breakfast?”

“Yes.”

“And you, how did you respond?”

“First I tried to pretend it hadn’t happened. Then I told her I was half asleep anyway.”

Dexter nodded his concurrence, probably the best course of action. For once his son seems to have done the right thing. Then he reached for his Rolodex—the electronic address books so in vogue, especially among the secretaries, had yet to gain his trust—and spun it around to Dr. David Evans, psychiatrist.

He reached for the phone, punched a direct outside line, and dialed the number.

“Who are you calling?” asked Charles.

Dexter did not answer, intent on the wall behind Charles, listening attentively. The call was answered.

“Dr. Evans please.” A brief pause. “Dexter Marten.” Another brief pause. “Tell Dave it’s urgent.”

His dad continued to study something beyond his shoulder while Dave Evans apparently was persuaded to take the call.

“David,” said his father. “Dexter here.” Yet another pause, then, “Just a second. Let me put you on the speaker phone.” His father pressed another button.

“What can I do for you?” said a deep voice with what struck Charles as a faint Scottish accent.

“Turns out my son’s wife is a little unbalanced,” said Dexter, “and could do with some treatment, at least in my opinion.”

“Specifically?” asked Dr. Evans.

Dexter supplied the specifics, asking Charles to corroborate now and then, which he did.

“I’d need to see her,” was the expected reply.

“Today?” asked Dexter.

“Wednesday,” said Dr. Evans. “I’m booked solid until then.”

“No chance of a slot?”

“Sorry, Dexter. I really can’t.”

“Okay, Wednesday it is. What time?”

Evans asked his secretary. Then said, “Around two. I’ll have my nurse confirm. What’s her name, your boy’s wife?”

“Melissa,” said Charles. “Melissa Marten.”

“I’ll see her then,” said Dr. Evans, and hung up.

[*47 :: (Pasadena)

 

Charles had no idea how to put it to her.

He really should have settled all this yesterday, or even the evening after telling Dexter about it, but ever since the incident—which is how he thought of it—he found his wife if not terrifying, at least intimidating, and the right words refused to reach his lips, much less leave them.

Now he was running out of time, and so—over breakfast—he had no option but to simply state it: “You have a doctor’s appointment at two-thirty.”

“What?”

“You have an appointment with Doctor Evans at two thirty.”

“No I don’t.”

“Yes, Honey, you do.”

“I never made any appointment. I don’t even know a Doctor Evans.”

“Dexter does. Dexter did.”

Melissa seemed too stunned to answer, so Charles explained, “About the other day, the Monday morning thing.”

“What about it?”

“You know what happened, Melissa. And I did see, and hear.”

“But you said.”

“I know what I said. I spoke to Dad about it and he made an appointment for you.”

“Why?”

“To see what’s going on.”

“I know what’s going on.” Melissa sounded certain.

“You do?” Charles was genuinely surprised.

“Nothing’s going on, Charles. Absolutely nothing.”

“That’s not what I’d call it.”

“Call what?”

“You know. Talking to yourself like that, or to Ruth as if she were a grown-up.”

Melissa was about to say something, but changed her mind. Instead she said, “I’m not going anywhere.” And meant it.

“Yes, you are,” said Charles. And tried to mean it.

[*:*]

This time Dr. Evans called his father, who in turn asked Rachel to fetch Charles. Right away.

“Where is Melissa?” said Dexter, covering the mouthpiece of the phone, as an anxious Charles arrived.

“I don’t know.”

“Let me tell you where she’s not,” said Dexter. “She’s not seeing Doctor Evans right now.”

“I told her,” said Charles.

“I’m sure you did,” said Dexter, and waved for him to leave his office.

Feeling like a ten-year old again, Charles left, tail between his legs, hating his wife.

[*48 :: (Pasadena)

 

Two days later a large white car pulled up outside the Marten’s Pasadena residence. For a number of minutes no one emerged, then what seemed like a small crowed gradually formed on the sidewalk, consisting of Dexter, Dr. Evans, Charles, and a sizeable male nurse in jeans and tee shirt.

Melissa, feeding Ruth at the time, was unaware of this arrival until she heard a key turn the front door lock.

Ruth’s eyes flew wide open at the sound and she spoke urgently into their shared room: “Beware, Melissa.”

She quickly returned Ruth to her cot, but did not even have time to tuck her in before Dexter, followed by Charles, Dr. Evan and the male nurse, entered Ruth’s little chamber.

Melissa looked from her father-in-law to her husband and back again. “What is the matter?” she asked. “Has something happened?”

Dr. Evans and the nurse exchanged words too softly for Melissa to hear. The nurse nodded an understanding.

“Nothing’s the matter,” said Dexter, and so calmly that Melissa felt a tremor of warning. She looked at Charles who would not meet her eyes, then back at Dexter.

“What are you all doing here?” She said.

What happened next exuded efficiency. Charles, as if on cue, stepped aside to let Dr. Evans through, while the male nurse, in three quick, ballet-like steps, appeared behind Melissa and in the next moment had her arms pinned to her sides in a bear-like hug.

The pinprick was lost in the flurry of motions, and it was not until the curtain—gray, billowy, warm, and heavy—begun descending that Melissa realized that Dr. Evans had just given her an injection.

Ruth tried to say something—did say something—that Melissa neither heard clearly nor understood. She turned to look at her daughter, to ask her what she said—did ask her what she said, aloud, battling with words that would not arrive properly, nor in sequence, all through a mist enclosing her so fast and so thoroughly that she never got to the end of her question.

Dr. Evans and Dexter exchanged glances. Dr. Evan’s glance said that Dexter had been right to call him, and Dexter’s glance simply confirmed this. Charles was trying to catch up with events when his eyes met Ruth’s.

For an instant something filled the room that could not possibly be: an accusation in the eyes of a four-month old girl.

But of course not. A trick of the light, perhaps. Or a trick of the mind. Charles tried to forget, kept trying for the rest of the day; though not successfully.

[*49 :: (Pasadena)

 

Even if I could have done something to prevent this, I am not sure it would have been wise. In fact, I am positive it would not have been wise.

From the moment I heard the front door open and saw Charles, his father and the two other men enter my room, I knew that they had come for Melissa, and that realistically, I could do nothing to prevent this.

As a four-month old baby, how could I have intervened? No, as Ruth I could have done nothing. Literally. Apart from crying perhaps, and that would have achieved nothing.

As the Buddha Gotama? Yes, I could have spoken. I could have raised my spiritual voice within these men and told them the truth: Melissa was not delusional. We had had a conversation. There is absolutely nothing the matter with her.

But that, for these men, would have amounted to the Impossible, for—as far as modern mankind knows, and can recall—there is no such thing, there is no room for such voices, for such communication. The Impossible.

And I know from experience that humans manage to stay rational only so long as, and only to the degree that, they are not faced with and then overwhelmed by the Impossible.

For forced to face what he then, against his will, must concede is in fact so, Man is first blinded, then he crumbles. It is as if for him everything that has taken place since the Impossible was commonplace so many, many lifetimes ago, comes crashing down upon him. All those lives. All those deeds, done by and done to. All these eons, all this descent, all this accumulated insanity, all this lived darkness now amass against him by the Impossible once again—and here and now—proven Possible.

This he can neither fathom nor tolerate, and so he falls apart and into madness.

And so he burns witches, wielders of magic.

And so he kills saints, wielders of miracles.

That is why, even though I, easily enough, could have told them that Melissa was not crazy, that if anything, they were, for believing such a thing—that is why I said nothing, gave no sign that I was anything but Melissa’s four-month old baby, oblivious to current events.

For had I said something, or had I done something Impossible, a damage far worse would have been done, of that I am sure.

 

Next, in an organized flurry of action, Melissa was injected by the large male nurse and soon crumbled beneath chemical onslaught. I tried to reach her, but was too late: all windows closed, all curtains drawn.

For an instant my eyes then met Charles’, and I saw rising alarm in them, his seeing in mine the accusative awareness I must learn to hide—to protect not only Melissa, but myself as well.

As her knees buckled, the doctor caught one arm and the male nurse the other, and together they ushered her out of the room.

Charles cast another look in my direction—as if to confirm that he had imagined things—but no such luck. He tried to rule out what he had seen in my eyes, but did not succeed. I would not let him.

Shaken, he followed his father and my kidnapped mother out the door.

[*:*]

Man, long before he became Man, was well acquainted with the Impossible.

He knew the beauty of whispering across distances and universes. He knew the magic of real dreams—not the faint shadows cast by them upon current sleepers. But he chose—and make no mistake, it was a conscious act of will—he chose to forgo such innate powers for the sake of sensation.

And perhaps to cure boredom. Because the constantly aware is never surprised, and surprise can sometimes be desirable, is sometimes sought, and so, eons and eons later, Man has now relieved his boredom to such an extent that life is a constant battle for survival one moment to the next.

All to have a game—though unaware of which game, or who are the players—for I believe that to have a game was his intent all along.

Easing Man up to pre-game levels is my task. A near impossible task since you cannot tell or educate Man into rising. He must look, and see, and experience the string of ever-larger truths by himself and for himself, until finally he arrives at The Truth, and then he will—again—know all. You cannot guide, only point. This is a lesson I have learned more than once.

That is why I am here. To point, using current sensibilities as finger.

[*50 :: (Glendale)

 

He felt the urgency, for the Buddha Gotama not so much whispered as thundered his message, and Ananda nearly reeled from it, as if from physical impact.

“Ananda. They have taken her.”

“Who?”

“Charles, his father, a doctor and a nurse. They arrived, sedated her and led her away.”

“How?” Ananda was trying to understand what exactly had happened. “Why?”

“Charles heard her, saw her, speak to me. You know that. He told his father. His father called the doctor.”

“And they have taken her away?”

“Yes.”

“And you?”

“What about me?”

“Where are you?”

There was a moment of silence while Ruth considered the question. “They seem to have forgotten about me.”

Ananda shook his head both physically and mentally. Then said:

“What will they do?”

“I don’t know, Ananda.”

“This is not good.”

“No, this is very far from good.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“You must prevent whatever might happen to her. You must find her and keep her safe.”

“I will.”

[*:*]

Easier thought than done. For try as he might, Ananda could not even discover where they had taken her, much less do anything about it. He told Ruth as much.

Ruth in turn informed him that someone had apparently remembered that she was alone, for a nurse of some sort, nice enough woman, she said, had arrived to keep an eye on her.

So, one less thing to worry about, said Ananda.

The Buddha Gotama agreed.

[*51 :: (Pasadena)

 

The descending mist thickened and darkened at a terrifying rate, and soon there was no rising surface to cling to. A disembodied voice that might have been Ruth’s, or that might have been vivid memory, muffled its way through murky waters but made no sense to her, and it, too, soon rose into some nebulous nothing far above.

Melissa didn’t feel her knees buckle, nor did she feel supporting hands seize her and prevent her collapse onto the floor. Nor could she tell being led by these same two pairs of hands out of Ruth’s room and out of the house.

The ride to the Greenwood Clinic took precisely twenty-three minutes. In normal traffic that ride would have taken less, but being a Friday there were more cars on the street than usual.

Melissa noticed none of this.

Once arrived, she was registered by Dr. Evans and wheeled to a private (and lockable) room, which the staff did indeed lock as part of clinic policy for all new admissions.

Melissa noticed nothing for the rest of the day and for none of the night.

[*:*]

She was back in the maternity ward—that was her first thought on waking the following morning, Ruth nearby. It was the ambience of the room, the starchy sense of curtained cleanness that spoke of hospital to her, the heavy door, the little night table.

She saw all this as if through a heavy—though painless—hangover, each detail lumbering its way through to her with effort. Then something, possibly the sound of a key turning, dissolved illusion. Ruth was not nearby. Terrible memory tried to get her attention. She sat up, afraid now. The door open and someone vaguely familiar entered. And spoke:

“Good morning, Melissa. How are you feeling?”

A doctor, obviously. Parts of her returned to the maternity ward, but not with certainty. “Not sure,” she heard herself saying. Then she came fully awake. “Who are you?” she said.

“My name is Doctor Evans,” said the man.

She believed him. Or not. He was too well dressed under his loosely worn white coat to convince. “Doctor?”

“Yes.”

And now memory returned. “Where is Ruth?”

“She is fine.”

“I asked where,” she said.

“She’s at home.”

“And where am I?”

“You are at the Greenwood Clinic,” said Evans.

She knew of it, of course.

“What the hell am I doing here?” she said. “And what did you give me?”

“You’re upset,” he observed.

“Damn right. Please answer my question.”

“Your husband, and father-in-law, thought it best. Well, they thought you might need a rest. As for the second question, a mild sedative.”

The little man seemed a congregation of contradictions. Too well-dressed for his coat; too short for his confidence; too shiny for his expertise.

“There was nothing mild about it,” said Melissa.

“Oh, it was mild, all right,” said Evans. “But quite a lot of it, perhaps.”

“You’re splitting words.”

Evans ignored that. “So how are you feeling?”

As if he wanted to know, or actually did. “Tired,” she answered. “Hung over.”

“Sorry about that.”

“I need to go home.”

“I’m afraid you can’t leave right now.”

“And why is that?”

“It’s called a seventy-two-hour hold.”

“What?”

“Your husband requested a seventy-two-hour hold.”

“Charles requested a seventy-two-hour hold? That I be held here?”

“Yes.”

“That is ridiculous. Illegal and ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous, perhaps, from your point of view. But quite legal I assure you. Your husband signed all the requisite paperwork, witnessed by your father-in-law.”

“And the reason?”

“Delusional behavior.”

“As in?”

Here the little man hesitated, not sure how to answer.

“What am I being delusional about, Doctor Evans?”

Reluctant to plunge: “Let’s discuss that later.”

“No, let’s discuss this now,” she said. “I want out of here.”

“I’ve explained,” began Evans.

“Seventy-two-hour hold, so you’ve said. I would call it kidnapping.”

“Please, Melissa.”

“Mrs. Marten, to you Doctor.”

Getting flustered, edged slightly out of his (rather large) comfort zone, the doctor said, “Really, Mrs. Marten. There’s no need for this.”

“I want to call my lawyer.”

“I’m afraid that is not possible.”

“I am of legal age. Charles has no business signing papers on my behalf, I am not incompetent.”

“That’s precisely what we want to determine,” interrupted Evans.

“What?”

“That’s why the hold. To determine competency.”

“You have one hell of a nerve, Doctor.”

Sliding a little father out of his comfort zone, hands seemingly rising of their own volition in defense: “Don’t get upset, please.”

“And why the hell not? I am here against my will.”

“For your own good.”

“Jesus.”

“No, really.”

Melissa made to slide out of bed, but on discovering that the flimsy gown barely covered her, she changed her mind. She sat straight up, however. All alert now, and quite aware of the reason, she asked, “Why, Doctor, why am I here. Precisely? What is my delusion? And I don’t want to talk about it later, I want to talk about it now.”

The little man debated internally for a brief moment. Then reached for his cellphone and selected a speed dial. “Reschedule my morning,” he said. “Yes,” he said after some apparent consternation the other end of the line, “all morning.” He listened for another short while. Then said, “Thanks,” and disconnected.

“Let’s get you dressed,” he said to Melissa.

“I’m not a kid,” she answered. “And I’m not incompetent.”

It actually seemed that Doctor Evans might agree. “I’ll have a nurse bring your things,” he said. “I’ll see you in my office in a few minutes. She’ll take you.” Then, as if an afterthought, “Are you hungry?”

[*:*]

In her own clothes again, Melissa was—well, perhaps not enjoying, but at least not disliking her breakfast. She did however dislike the rather large woman who brought the food and then stayed to watch her eat. Obviously her keeper, lest she made a break for it.

“Relax,” she told her between bites. “I’m not going anywhere.”

The large woman did not answer, apparently not amused. Once Melissa had finished her meal, she took the tray and placed it by the door. Then said, “Follow me.”

 

Doctor Evans’s office was what Melissa thought of as well-appointed. It had built-in bookshelves, a beautiful desk, several tasteful paintings (a horse in each one), and a nice view of the clinic lawns, which seemed extensive—knowing only the street-side of the facility, she would not have guessed.

Doctor Evans rose as the nurse ushered her in. “All breakfasted?” he asked.

“Yes, thanks.”

“Sit, please.” Indicating a large leather armchair.

She did.

“Coffee?”

“Thanks, I just had some.”

“Do you mind if I?”

“Not at all.”

“You sure you don’t want some?”

“I’m fine.”

Doctor Evans stabbed an intercom button and ordered his “usual” from what must have been his secretary, for a well-dressed young woman (who could easily qualify as a secretary poster-girl) soon brought coffee in a silver pot, on a silver tray which also held—Melissa would wager—a bone china cup.

“I feel a little awkward drinking alone,” he said, again inviting Melissa to join him.

“That’s perfectly fine with me,” she said. She didn’t smile, but could have.

Evans, however, shot her a quick glance, and did smile. He added two bits of sugar using a silver tong, and then began stirring with a silver spoon. All very silvery, she thought. Then, when Evans maintained his silence, she said: “You first.”

Again, the doctor smiled, as if at some private joke. Then he made a decision and finally spoke:

“Your husband saw, and heard, you speak to your baby.”

“And?”

“And, it wasn’t baby talk, exactly.”

“What was it then?”

Evans replaced his bone china cup, opened up a folder, and referred to his notes: “You were asking your daughter why she had chosen you, and from where she had seen you. And, yes, you mentioned auras and glows.” Then added, as if by protocol, “according to Charles.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Melissa.

“Ridiculous or not, that’s what he told me.”

Melissa shook her head slowly, then leaned back into the chair, which moaned a leathery moan. Then she said: “Perhaps you are evaluating the wrong person.”

The doctor looked up, mildly startled. Then, by the expression on his face, it struck Melissa that he might agree. “What exactly did you say?” he asked.

“When?” said Melissa, though she knew perfectly well.

“When he walked in on you and your daughter,” said Evans. “What were you telling her?”

“I wasn’t telling her anything. I was speaking to her, mothers do that, you know. She’s a baby, Doctor Evans. Four, going on five, months old.”

“I know that.”

“I don’t remember precisely what I said.” Then she paused, considered things. “Charles has been under a lot of stress lately,” she said. “Working in a firm where your father is a managing partner is not a formula for peace of mind.”

Evans made another note.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” asked Evans.

“What do you think I’m saying?”

“That Charles,” he was casting about for the right word, “imagined this.”

“He did not imagine me speaking, no. But as for what I said to my daughter, yes, I guess that’s what I’m saying.”

Evans made another note. Sipped his coffee. Made one more note.

“I’ve changed my mind,” said Melissa.

Evans looked up at her, surprised, almost suspiciously.

“About the coffee,” she said.

“Ah,” Evans said, seemingly relieved.

“It does smell very good,” she said. “Even from here.”

“It is good,” he said, and ordered a cup for Melissa as well.

Another silver tray, bone china, silver spoon. Amazing. The well-dressed woman poured for her, and Melissa thanked her very much. Then took a sip. “Agreed.”

“What?” said the secretary.

“It is very good,” said Melissa, addressing Evans but including the secretary as well with her praise.

“Thanks,” said the secretary.

“I told you,” said Evans, then went back to study the papers on his desk. He shuffled through several sheets of them, then stacked them and replaced them neatly into a folder, which he slowly closed.

Then he said, looking directly at her, “You are telling me the truth, are you not?”

“Why would I lie?” said Melissa.

“Well, that’s sort of obvious, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said. “I guess it is.” Then added, “But no, I am not lying. And no, I am not delusional. And yes, I’m competent. Very, in fact.”

Doctor Evans sat back in his chair, which creaked a little from old age. Then he asked Melissa’s question for her: “So, why are you here?”

“Beats me,” said Melissa.

“Me, too,” said Evans.

[*:*]

In the taxi home (which Evans actually offered to pay for, though Melissa declined), her feelings were gravely mixed.

She was deeply relieved at escaping (and she did think of it as an escape), but stronger than that was her remorse at lying and essentially shifting the delusion Charles’s way, when, indeed, he had seen and heard things just fine, and correctly—just has he had reported. The mistake had been all hers, along with the prevarication; and so, now, the delusion was all Charles’.

The fact that her lie was the greater good—her reasoning easily navigated its way to that destination, for her freedom was not the only one at stake—this fact did, however, not go very far toward absolving her from the outright lie. Charles was an idiot at times, and lately more than usually so. Still, whether he had acted out of concern for her health, or from some other, darker motive, he did not deserve the implication she had made, and she hoped she had not made trouble for him.

Or none too serious, anyway.

Then she thought of Ruth, and of seeing her soon. And she smiled.

“Good job,” Ruth said.

[*52 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa let herself in, much to the consternation of Sylvia, her mother-in-law, who was holding Ruth in her arms and was trying, though not very successfully, to make her drink something from a bottle.

And much to the wide-eyed paleness of Charles.

Ruth looked up, too, and not so much smiled as beamed her welcome.

“What on earth?” said Sylvia.

Charles said nothing, too bewildered to find words, much less form them. Melissa shot him a glance that she initially had meant as rebuke, but which, once it left her, held concern more than anything.

“Shouldn’t you…?” said Sylvia, then lost the thread of it.

“Shouldn’t I what, Sylvia?” said Melissa, then took Ruth from her mother-in-law, and cradled her daughter against her chest.

“Shouldn’t you be…?” and again Sylvia lost her mental footing.

“Be incarcerated?” said Melissa.

“Yes. No, I mean no, not incarcerated.”

“What then?” asked Melissa, looking directly at Charles. “Detained?”

Finally, Charles came to, all husbandy. “How did it go?” Adding, by some protocol, “Honey.”

Melissa could not help herself. “The kidnapping, you mean?”

“Well, I’ve never…” said Sylvia, still struggling to complete sentences.

“I’m fine, Charles. I’m not crazy. Clean bill of health. You can relax.”

Charles swallowed. Looked at his mother, then back at Melissa. Cleared his throat, twice. Sweating now, “You saw Doctor Evans?”

“Oh, yes,” said Melissa. “Though not by choice, as you know.”

“What does she mean?” said Sylvia.

Charles cleared his throat a third time, looked at his mother, looked for words.

“What?” said Melissa. “You haven’t told her?”

“Haven’t told me what, Charles?” said Sylvia, now facing his son. Charles either didn’t, or couldn’t, answer. “Haven’t told me what?” his mother repeated, louder this time and with an edge.

Still, Charles did not, could not, answer.

“Charles and Dexter had me committed,” said Melissa. Well, there was no other way to put it. No way to sugarcoat it. It was exactly what had happened.

Obviously news to Sylvia.

“We were concerned, Mom,” Charles finally managed.

“About what?”

“She was. Well, I heard her,” began Charles while looking from mother to wife back to mother.

“She was what? Heard what?” asked Sylvia.

“She was talking to the baby.”

“She has a name,” said Melissa.

“She was talking to Ruth.”

“And?” said his mother.

“I mean, really talking. Like Ruth was a grown-up, about glows and I don’t remember what exactly.”

Melissa, shifting Ruth from one arm to the other, looked at Charles with renewed concern, though mostly for Sylvia’s benefit.

Her mother-in-law said nothing.

“So?” said Melissa. “I’ve heard you talk to flowers, Charles.”

“That’s right,” said Sylvia. “I’ve heard that, too.”

“That doesn’t make you crazy,” said Melissa.

“It wasn’t like that,” said Charles, though uncertain now of the ground he stood on.

“I used to talk to you when you were a baby,” said Sylvia.

“It wasn’t like that,” said Charles.

“How do you know?” said Melissa.

Again, Charles looked from his mother to his wife and back to his mother. A not-so-long-ago certainty was packing its things and heading out the door, leaving nothing but confusion behind. Melissa saw this, and did feel sorry for him, compassion.

“He suffers,” whispered Ruth, “though not too much.”

“A bed he’s made,” Melissa whispered back, without so much as a twitch of her lips.

“A bed he’s made,” confirmed Ruth.

“I cannot believe that you and Dexter,” began Sylvia.

“It wasn’t like that,” said Charles for the third time.

Again, Melissa felt more compassion for her husband than anger. After all, he had seen and heard precisely what he believed he had. And it had certainly been out of the ordinary.

“I am sorry,” said Melissa, looking directly at Charles.

“For what?” said Sylvia, not about to forgive her son, nor her husband.

“He was worried,” said Melissa.

“He shouldn’t have,” said Sylvia.

Charles said nothing. Still looking from wife to mother: two closed doors.

[*:*]

Ananda answered right away.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“Where were you?”

“At a clinic.”

“What happened?”

“Charles told his dad. Who called a doctor.”

“I know they came.”

“Yes.”

“Did they,” he hesitated. “Mistreat you?”

“No.”

The silence seemed relieved.

“I’ve learned my lesson,” said Melissa.

The silence nodded.

[*53 :: (Los Angeles)

 

“Yes,” Dexter told his secretary, “I’ll take it.”

Doctor Evans came on the line.

“David,” said Dexter, “Charles tells me you’ve release her. What happened?”

“Nothing happened, Dexter. And that about sums it up.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your daughter-in-law is about as sane as you or me. Perhaps saner,” he added.

“Explain. Please.”

“Your son has a vivid imagination,” said the doctor.

“He made this up?”

“She was speaking to her daughter, yes. Mothers do that. But she never said what Charles claims he heard.”

“She’s lying.” It was a reflex answer, perhaps to protect his son, and perhaps in some measure to protect himself. Still, it felt true.

“No, Dexter. She is not lying.”

“How do you know?”

“I know. It’s my job to know.”

Dexter said nothing for quite a while. Then, bowing to an authority greater than his own in the matter, “I’ll be damned.”

“Honest mistake,” said Evans. Then, “Do you want me to see him?”

“Who? Charles?”

“Yes.”

“No,” said Dexter. “I’ll see him myself.”

Evans didn’t reply.

“Thanks, David,” said Dexter. “Thanks for your help, and sorry for the trouble.”

“Not at all.”

 

Dexter stabbed at the intercom button. Hit it on the second try. “Get me Charles,” he said.

“Will do,” said Rachel.

[*:*]

Charles was sweating. He hated that, he really hated that. He would have given almost anything to appear cool and calm, to not have this carpet of beads sprout on his forehead to then gather and course down, some onto his nose, others onto cheeks.

He pulled a paper napkin out of his drawer and dabbed his forehead with it. Then his cheeks. Tossed it, reached for another, and again wished for his nerves to settle down. They didn’t even listen. He was on his own, seemed to be their message.

“Now,” Rachel had said. He wants to see you now. It really was embarrassing, treated like this, like a five-year old. “Now.” She had seemed a little embarrassed at telling him, but not much.

And a Dexter-Now meant precisely that: Now. He had to comply. No choice in the matter.

He dabbed his forehead again, rose, straightened his back and then his tie.

Made his way. Knocked. Entered. Closed the heavy door behind him.

“Sit. Son.”

Sat.

“You’ve made me look a bloody fool.”

Charles did not track. Just knew something bad was coming, and he repressed the urge to shield his head with his arms and hands. Said nothing. Waiting for more.

“Like an utter idiot.”

And for more.

His father picked up a pencil and looked at it, studied it, spoke to it: “An absolute fool.”

“What, Dad?”

“What?”

“Yes.”

“Melissa.”

“What about her?”

“Evans just called me.”

Charles didn’t answer.

“He thinks you’re bloody delusional.”

“What?”

“Perhaps not in so many words, but reading between the lines.”

A bead on his nose tickled. He dried his palms on his trousers. “I heard her,” he said.

“So you keep telling me.”

“I know what I heard.”

“Apparently.”

“I know what I heard, Dad.”

“So you say.”

“I am not crazy.”

“I sure as hell hope not.”

“Dad. What are you saying?”

“Evans gives your wife a clean bill of mental health. Nothing wrong at all. Not in the least. He did, however, suggest having a chat with you.”

“Why?”

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?”

“I am not crazy, Dad. I know what I heard.”

“Well, that story doesn’t seem to fly. I don’t know. No, I really don’t know what the hell you heard her say. But you’ve made a mess of it. She could sue you for this, you know.”

“She wouldn’t.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

He dried his palms again. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Precisely.”

“What do you mean?”

“The whole thing, you included.”

“I know what I heard, Dad.” Sticking to his guns.

“If I were you, I’d apologize. To her. And you’d better make it sound good. And to Evans, for wasting his time.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Yes, you can.”

“But you were the one,” he began.

“I know what happened, Charles. I’m not the idiot.”

“You called him.”

“I know I called him.”

“So?”

“So, apologize to your wife and Doctor Evans, and get on with it.”

His father took a closer look at the pencil he had yet to let go of. Then swiveled his chair to face the windows. Audience over.

Charles rose. Left. Hated.

Wasn’t about to apologize to anyone.

[*54 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa startled a little at the key in the front door. She heard him enter the house. He was home early. She glanced at the kitchen clock. Very early.

She listened for—was in some way hoping for—the normal I’m home, but it never came. Instead the front door shut softly and he entered the kitchen without a greeting.

She turned to face him, but he didn’t seem to notice. Instead he went to the refrigerator, took a long look inside as if looking for some answer, or something he had lost, then closed it again without helping himself to anything. Finally, he looked at Melissa. A dark, unfriendly look which seemed to not quite recognize her, as if trying to place her face among a host of unremembered ones of his past.

“Charles,” she said. “Are you all right?”

“No,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think I am.”

She was going to ask why, but he did not stay. Instead, he left the kitchen and after many slow steps Melissa heard him close the bedroom door behind him.

[*:*]

That night was the first time in their marriage that, while both at home, they slept in separate beds. Charles emerged from their bedroom toward evening, and went straight to the garage, where he unearthed a camping bed, which he brought to the den. Moments later he closed the den door behind him and did not come out again until morning—before Melissa was awake.

Strained days and evenings turned into strained weeks, as Charles grew increasingly sullen. He rarely spoke. Some nights he did not come home. Other nights Melissa could smell alcohol in his wake.

She tried to approach him several times, but each time he faced her with dark, unfriendly silence. There was nothing to talk about, it said. Sometimes he said this aloud.

Several times she was about to tell him—though, tell him what, precisely, she asked herself. Tell him that he had not been mistaken, had indeed heard her address Ruth as an adult, she answered. But she never did. Not that Ruth—nor Ananda, for that matter—ever told her not to, but she knew that telling him would, or at least could, endanger much. And so she lived with her lie, while Charles settled deeper into his gloomy silence.

[*55 :: (Los Angeles)

 

Sarah Gray owned the Los Angeles apartment she lived in. The correct word would be condominium. Three years back, with money garnered and saved over several frugal years, she had bought it outright at an estates auction and had since renovated it to her precise, and well-documented image of good living. It was now worth three times what she had paid for it, and this fact lit up many of her long days.

She was a fourth-year associate at Nesbit, Kuugler, and Stroan, heading up her own team of hospital law specialists, and rumored to be on the fast track for partnership. The firm—recognizing talent—had recruited her at a UCLA campus event during her final year in law school, which she graduated summa cum laude.

Whether you thought her unremarkable or attractive—and opinions varied—all agreed she was a model of efficiency, relentlessly, sometimes ruthlessly, headed for great things. A perfect lawyer: intelligent, attentive, professional, practical.

Perfect, but for her one blind spot: she had a crush on Charles Marten. This was just an animal thing, she had told herself that many times, just a physical magnetism thing, and of course impractical as all hell, not her at all. Good thing she had the sense to keep it where it belonged, down there among other impossibilities. The man was married, for Christ’s sake, and he was the boss’ son to boot. Not only impossible but dangerous, that one. And none too bright either, that one, though not exactly dumb.

She did put her infatuation to good use, however; wrapped it around herself as a shield to fend off other approaches like the mosquito-like nuisances they were. It actually kept her on keel, nicely balanced in fact. It was a fantasy to only be let out in the privacy of her own perfect apartment, and not very often at that.

Perhaps she did carry an extraneous pound or two, and perhaps her face did not as a rule turn heads, but as a package—she told herself often enough, especially to the bathroom mirror—she added up nicely. Would have been a great match for the boss’ son, great match. Yes, sir.

Would have.

 

Then, late July—a Friday, and a fateful one at that—Charles Marten was assigned to work a case that she managed. What she had asked for was paralegal assistance, too much paperwork, too many affidavits to digest. What she got—much to her amazement and mixed feelings—was Charles Marten.

[*:*]

Late that Friday, he knocked on her partially open door. She was trying to get out of there, was busy packing things up to bring home with her to review after dinner. She looked up at the sound. And there he stood, looking a little lost was her impression.

“Sarah,” he said.

“Yes.”

“You need some help with Saint Mary’s.” Question or fact? She couldn’t tell.

“Yes.” Part question.

“I’m it. Apparently.”

“I asked for paralegal assistance.”

“I know. None to spare right now.” And again, “Apparently.”

Two very conflicting emotions rose hand in hand. One congratulating her on outlandish luck, the other carrying warning signs, large and vocal.

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Ignoring the signs, she smiled and said, “Welcome to the team.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“That.” She pointed at two boxes by the window. “Affidavits. Fourteen of them, and all rather long. Reams, actually. I need them summarized. By the end of next week. Here,” she leafed through the content of a folder on her desk, and handed him a sheet, “are the criteria. Anything to do with the highlighted points. Well, you know the drill.”

“I know the drill.” Not exhilarated.

“Welcome to the team,” she said again as he bent down to pick up the first box.

“I’ll be right back for that one,” he said, nodding toward the remaining one.

“Great.”

The boss’ son disappeared with half of his assignment as she sat down, shaking a little, humming just off-center.

He was soon back for the second box, which he again lifted quite effortlessly, strong boy that he was.

“I’ll see you Monday,” he said, turning just as he left.

“Great,” she said again.

[*:*]

Things would probably have turned out well, had she not—from years of habit: you always check paralegal summaries—made a quick spot-check, though not really necessary, was it, for Charles was not a paralegal, was he now? Still, years of making sure won out and she scanned the first summary against the affidavit itself.

Yes, things would have turned out well, considering, had she not soon discovered that his work was far from flawless. Unpardonably shoddy, as a matter of fact. She would have to confront him with this.

And that’s how it started.

A week later, just after seven in the evening, early August now, she called him and asked him to come see her.

Again, he knocked, but entered before she had a chance to respond. He closed the door behind him.

“Charles,” she said. “Please sit.”

He picked one of her two visitor’s chairs and eased himself into it. Did not look comfortable. Sensing trouble, perhaps.

She remained standing. “I’ll get right to the point,” she said. “We’re going to have to re-summarize the affidavits. And now we’re in panic mode.”

“Why?” he asked, but not with conviction, and in a voice that seemed to have trouble handling that single syllable.

“Because,” she said. And here she had a whole display of word choices, from the bluntest truth to the softest euphemism. She normally took the blunt route and in the end settled for the same here. “You fucked up.”

She had expected any of several reactions from the boss’ son, but not the one she got.

He broke down in tears. All two hundred odd pounds of him.

Next, some instincts—bordering on the motherly—that she had not even suspected she owned, rose along with a wave of that animal thing, as she rounded her desk, pulled the second visitor’s chair close to Charles’s, and said, “What on earth?” Kindly.

Some sort of floodgate was in tatters, no stopping him. She looked up and around him through the glass walls between her office and the outside corridor, was anyone looking? No.

She rose and pulled the drapes to make sure no one would. Returned to the troubled boy’s side.

“What’s going on, Charles?” Again, kindly.

It took five more minutes for the hacking and sniveling to cease, and another twenty minutes for the whole story to come out, somewhere during which she actually hugged him.

“I just don’t know what to do,” he said in the end. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“What I think you need is a good meal,” said a cheerful part of her that knew nothing of caution. “A good meal, some wine perhaps, and a kind ear.”

He looked at her, not understanding.

“Come,” she said.

 

She only lived a ten-minute walk away from the office. They made it there in twenty-five, picking up Chinese takeout on the way. “I have some great wine to go with that,” she joked.

He smiled her a not-so-sure smile.

As he picked his way through his kung pao shrimp he said again, calmer now, but still upset, “I just don’t know what to do.”

“Have you asked her about it?” she asked.

“How can I? I don’t trust her. It wouldn’t matter if I did.”

“Have you told your father that you think she lied?”

“Yes,” he said. Then shook his head. “He doesn’t give a damn.”

“Your mom?”

“No.”

“You did hear her,” she said after a while, confirming that she did believe him.

“Yes, I know I did,” he said.

“I know you did,” she said, and he would probably have started to cry again, had she not leaned across to him and kissed him on the mouth.

And so began her ill-advised romance with the boss’ son.

[*56 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa served him tea in silence.

Ruth was sleeping in her chamber, while Ananda watched Melissa perform what almost seemed to him a ceremony: pouring the steaming light-green liquid from the little pot into earless glass cups, smaller still.

Then she said, pot still in hand and without looking up, “He didn’t come home all weekend. I haven’t seen him since last Friday morning.”

Before Ananda had a chance to answer, or even think of one, she said, “He really isn’t that bad of a person.”

“You’ve done nothing wrong,” said Ananda.

She paused, then replaced the small glass pot on its bamboo coaster. She leaned back and looked right at Ananda. “Well, that’s just the thing,” she said. “I have.”

They had been over this ground before. She had been careless, she had spoken to Ruth, and Charles had both heard and seen. Denying that, for whatever greater good—and she never really questioned or disputed that—was still a lie, in her view.

Ananda loved her for that.

And she was right, of course. She had lied, and was in a sense, by her silence, lying still. And, yes, Charles had suffered as a result, and he still suffered. But any alternative, which he had pointed out as often as needed, would have been, or would be far grimmer. Was in fact inconceivable. Would perhaps see her incarcerated, certainly treated for her delusions, and worse still—and this was the critical point—she might, if things went all wrong, jeopardize her relation with Ruth, perhaps even lose custody if things went really astray. That was the inconceivable part. The must not part, the whatever had to be done, whatever lie told, must not happen part.

“Not in a wider view,” he said, looking right at her.

“A lie is a lie, no matter the view.”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes it is.”

“So how, then, is this right? Charles is not a bad person. He doesn’t deserve this.”

“I know that, too.”

“So how, then, is this right?”

“Ruth must not be endangered.”

“Yes, yes I know that.”

“Were you to lose custody, she would be imperiled.”

She considered that, again. Looked at Ananda, then out the window at the California summer, sweltering beyond the soft hum of conditioned air.

When, after a while, she had said nothing, Ananda went on. “She would not have the freedom to do what needs doing.”

“And what needs doing, Ananda?” Her eyes left the outside sky and returned to his.

“A world needs waking up.”

“You’ve said that before.”

“That does not make it less true.”

“And how will she do this?”

“I don’t know, Melissa. She has not told me.”

She sipped her tea, and Ananda his.

“If you must,” said Ruth into their shared silence, clearly meant for Melissa. “You should tell him.”

When Melissa did not respond, Ananda did, “Tell what? Tell whom?”

“She should tell her husband the truth.”

“Would that be wise, Gotama?”

“Wise or not,” said Ruth, “the integrity at stake is Melissa’s. Without that, what does she have? With it sundered she might as well be incarcerated.”

“Do you really mean that?” said Melissa.

“Yes.”

“What would he do if you told him?” said Ananda.

“Probably tell Dexter, and Doctor Evans.”

“And what might Doctor Evans do?”

“I don’t know.”

“What might Dexter do?”

“I don’t know.” Then added, “He’d probably call Doctor Evans.”

Ananda was well aware of this ethical dilemma, he had faced it, or its close relatives, in the past, as had Buddha Gotama, many times, in many guises, almost always involving a truth versus a greater good.

By experience, the truth won out, but never—or hardly ever—in the short run, perhaps not until many lifetimes later.

They did not have many lifetimes.

“It is up to you,” said Ananda.

“What is happening to him?” said Melissa. “Where is he? Do you know?”

Ruth answered. “He is distracted and he is distraught. He’s seeking solace.”

“Seeking solace? What do you mean?”

“And finding.”

“What do you mean? Where is he?”

“Visiting a colleague.”

“A woman?”

“Yes.”

“Which woman?”

Ruth told her.

Ananda could feel the turmoil within her rise again as a warring began. “Did I cause this?” she asked.

“No,” said Ruth. “Had he loved you true, he would have sought to understand, even if you did what to him was incomprehensible. He would have sought to understand and to help, and not to have you committed.”

“I believe his father is more the one.”

“Even so,” said Ruth. “Love does not imprison, or seek to imprison.”

“He was afraid of me. You said so Ananda,” looked over at him.

“Frightened, yes. But even so, I think Ruth is correct, he should have sought understanding, with you, with love, rather than telling his father.”

Melissa said nothing. Neither did Ruth, nor Ananda. Melissa took another sip of her tea, regarded the little glass cup as if perhaps it held the answer. Ananda said, aloud, “Closeness is a curious thing, Melissa. Easy and plain at times, at others, territory to fight for.”

She looked up at him, expecting more.

“Your strangeness should not have repelled him,” said Ananda. “The oddness of it should have craved further closeness, should have attracted. Affinity attracts, it does not repel.”

“Are you saying he doesn’t, that he didn’t, love me.”

“I am saying that love should have sought to understand, rather than reject and report.”

“I agree,” said Ruth.

“Still, I lied,” said Melissa.

“Still, you lied,” said Ruth.

Ananda readied to say something, but Ruth held up an invisible hand. This was up to Melissa, and up to her alone.

[*57 :: (Pasadena)

 

Charles came home late that evening. Melissa was waiting up for him.

The house was all quiet—as seemed the whole world. The front door key into lock startled her. She heard the key turn and the door swing open, letting a different texture of silence into the house.

Melissa sat on the living room couch, very still. The door was eased shut, and then, disheveled and furtive, her husband appeared.

“Charles,” she said, which startled him in turn.

“Where have you been?” she said.

“I,” he said, but managed no more. Voice abandoning its task.

“Where have you been?” she said again.

“Out,” he said, finally.

“Where, out? You’ve been gone three days, Charles. Not a word?”

“At Mom and Dad’s.”

“I know that is not true.”

Then Charles finally moved, and made for their bedroom.

“I have something to tell you,” said Melissa.

He froze for a moment, then set out again down the hall. Melissa heard him use the bathroom, then rummage through his closet. He came out into the living room carrying a couple of shirts and suits.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

He carefully draped the clothes over the back of an armchair. Didn’t answer.

“Sit down,” said Melissa. “I have something to tell you.”

After some brief internal conference, her husband did as she asked. Melissa got a closer look at him. He badly needed a shave, and a shower.

“What?” he said.

“I want to tell you this,” she said, “because you are my husband, and you deserve to know. But this is for you, so that you know. Only for you.”

“What is it?” he asked, sitting very still.

“You were right,” she said. “I did speak to Ruth. Talked to her as I’m talking to you. You did not imagine that.”

He looked at her, then past her, then at her again for so long that she wondered whether he had heard her. “Yes,” he said in the end.

“I want you to know that you are not crazy, not delusional.”

“Yes,” he said again. Then he said, as if the thought had just struck him, and with some force, “What does that make you?”

“That’s neither here nor there,” she said.

“Only for me?” he said. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that you are the only one who will hear me say that.”

This took some work for Charles to digest. “So, if I told Dad, or Doctor Evans?”

“I would deny it,” Melissa confirmed.

He didn’t understand. “So then, why tell me?”

“To let you know that you’re hearing is just fine. And to let you know that you’re not crazy. I owe you that.”

“And that you are?” he said.

“No, Charles. No, I’m not.”

“If you say so.”

“I do.”

“But you must be. Talking to a baby as if you’re having an argument, or expect answers. That’s it, you expected her to answer.”

“Not always,” she said.

“Not always what?”

“That is not always crazy.”

He rummaged around for other pieces like it, to make them fit together, found none. Then he shook his head and looked at hear again. “What are you saying, Melissa? I don’t get it.”

“I am saying that you are not crazy. And I’m saying that I am not crazy. Let’s leave it at that.”

Her husband, finding some ground that did not give way, said, “You’ve changed. What’s wrong with you?”

Melissa ignored the question, and instead asked one of her own. “How’s Sarah?”

Few things could have stunned Charles Marten with more precision and impact. Finally, he answered, “Fine.” Then, after a thought or two, “How do you know?”

“I just do.”

The glance her husband gave Melissa now held both uncertainty and fear. “But you couldn’t possibly.”

“If you say so, Charles.”

“But you do?”

“Yes, I do.”

After another silence he asked, seemingly of the coffee table, “Are you a witch or something?”

The question hit a mark, for it rang in spaces she hadn’t known where there. Then it settled down. Then she answered, “No, Charles. I am not a witch.”

“Well, you must be something.”

“I am your wife. I think. I am the mother of your child.”

“How can you know about Sarah?”

“So it is true, then?”

Another hesitation. Then, “Yes.”

“That’s where you’ve been?” Though more like a statement.

“Yes.”

“And that’s where you’re going?” She glanced at the shirts and suits.

“Yes.”

“Give her my best,” she said.

“How did you know?” he said again.

Melissa did not answer. Instead she rose, leaving Charles to leave on his own.

“That went well,” said Ruth.

“Shut up,” said Melissa.

[*58 :: (Los Angeles)

 

“It’s Charles,” he said into the entranceway intercom.

Sarah didn’t answer, but he could hear her take a breath, then expel it. The door sprang to life, buzzed open.

“Charles,” she said as she opened her apartment door. She didn’t step aside, as if protecting the interior. “What are you doing here?”

“She knows,” he said.

“Who knows what?”

“Melissa. She knows about us.”

“That’s impossible.”

“She knows.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, Sarah. I am not kidding.”

“But that’s impossible.” Again.

“Can I come in?”

“You planning to stay?” she said as she stepped aside, indicating the suits and shirts he had brought along with a tote bag. Not necessarily happy about it.

“Can I?” he asked.

She hesitated long enough for him to notice. “Sure,” she said.

“Unless,” he said.

“Oh, no. It’s fine.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Something’s wrong with her.”

“Hang them in here,” she said, opening a hallway closet, then handing him a hanger or two. He took them and began arranging his clothes.

“What happened?” she asked after watching him for a while.

Charles smoothed out the last shirt. It had to hang just so, no creasing. “Two things happened,” he said. Then, as if something had just occurred to him, he ran his hands over his cheeks. “Boy, I really need to shave.”

“And shower,” she added without hesitation. Then:

“What happened, Charles?”

When he didn’t answer, “What is the matter with her?”

He didn’t answer that either, but he did follow her as she turned and left for the kitchen. He sat down at her kitchen table. “Coffee?” she asked.

“No, thanks. No.”

She put things back, then sat down opposite him. “What happened, Charles? Tell me.”

“Two things. Two things happened. First she told me that I was not delusional. That I was not crazy. That my hearing was just fine. Then she told me to give you her best.”

“Okay. Please make some sense.”

“She told me, God knows why, that actually, that actually I had heard what I heard. When she spoke to Ruth.”

Sarah nodded, she remembered.

“She told me that I had heard her correctly, that I was not delusional. That I was not crazy.”

“So she lied.”

“She lied to Doctor Evans, yes. But she also said that she would deny telling me that. What she just told me. That was only for my benefit, she said.”

“For your benefit? I don’t understand.”

“That’s what she said. So I wouldn’t think I was crazy. Was hearing things.”

Sarah digested that for a breath or two. “She still loves you,” she said.

“Oh, I doubt that.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Not sure, but I doubt it.”

“Why did she tell you then? For your benefit.”

“I’m not sure about that either.”

“And what else did she say? About giving me her best. I hardly know her.”

“That’s not really the point, is it? She knew, Sarah. That’s the point. She knew that I had been here. How could she possibly have known? Nobody but you and I knew that I was here.”

This time it finally reached all the way home with her, widening her eyes. “Jesus,” she said.

“Precisely.”

[*59 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa had known Richard Schuster since high school. He had sat behind her in Biology and in English Literature. Had probably had a crush on her, at least that’s what she had suspected, if not precisely hoped, at the time.

Not anymore though. Happily married, he said. Two kids. And yes, doing quite well as a divorce lawyer now. Seems like there will always be a call for us, he joked, then helped himself to another biscuit.

“So you can help me?”

“He’s moved in with her?”

“Yes, from what I can tell, he has.”

“How often does he come to the house?”

“Twice, in the last couple of weeks. To pick up clothes and personal stuff.”

“And when did he leave you?”

“About a month ago.”

“Even so,” he said, “any judge would ask that you first try to reconcile. Now that you have a new baby.”

“Not a chance,” said Melissa.

“Why?”

“Richard, Charles has been—is being, for Christ’s sake—unfaithful. He is cheating on his wife. He is an adulterer. I can forgive as well as the next girl, but here’s where I draw the line.”

He nodded, and made a note.

“I want the house and sole custody.”

He made another note.

“Would there be a problem with that?” she asked.

“Under the circumstances, I don’t think so,” he answered. Then asked, “Visitation rights?”

“None, if possible. And no shared custody,” she stressed.

“That’s going to be a problem.”

“You said there wasn’t going to be a problem.”

“What I mean is that no judge is going to prevent a father from seeing his child, unless he’s outright criminal.”

“I see.”

“As for shared custody, I don’t think he has a leg to stand on. Legally, he’s abandoned his child, so I think you’re pretty safe there.”

“Good.”

“When do you want to file?”

“Right away.”

Richard Schuster made another note.

[*:*]

She watched her lawyer drive away, her life in tow. Seeing his car turn the corner and vanish, she felt like everything up to this point was doing the same. Stepping away from the window, she faced the empty house.

“Perhaps Ananda could come,” said Ruth.

“What do you mean?”

“Perhaps Ananda could come and stay.”

“To live here?”

“Why not?”

Why not indeed, thought Melissa. It was, in fact, a good idea. He would not only keep her company; he would keep her grounded. And, too, he would be closer to the Buddha Gotama. To her miraculous little daughter.

“Thanks,” said Ruth. “Glad you agree. I’ll ask him.”

[*60 :: (Pasadena)

 

Ananda, too, agreed: yes, it would be a good idea for him to move to Melissa’s house, but not right away. Given the circumstances, it would not seem right, he pointed out, and both Ruth and Melissa saw his point.

So it was not until Ruth’s first birthday that Ananda finally loaded up his little car, twice, and drove his fifteen minutes from Glendale to Pasadena, unloaded, unpacked, and settled into Melissa’s guest room.

Life, after that, settled into a pleasant routine. Ananda wrote articles and fiction to generate income (for he insisted on paying for his room and board). Melissa, after the divorce came through in April of that year, decided to return to school, and planned to major in Philosophy and Religion—encouraged and supported by both Ananda and Ruth.

Melissa’s parents, after first suggesting that Melissa sell the house and find somewhere less expensive to live—something she outright refused to do—agreed to “lend” her the cost of maintaining the house; she would repay them once she was had finished her studies and secured herself a job.

“We’ll see about that,” her father said, meaning not to worry about that too much.

Ruth grew to healthy toddler, then to precocious little girl, all the while promising both Ananda and Melissa that she would not “begin anything” (as Ananda put it), not until she could do so without calling undue attention to herself.

So passed nine uneventful years.

::

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two — Youth

 

[*61 :: (Pasadena)

 

Imagine this: An ocean in a small flask. A vast day encased unable to unfold. A universe with cheekbones.

An impatient genie.

Yet, I have learned patience. As Bruno awaiting sentence for nearly a decade in that cold, infested cell, watching each day claw its way across the sometimes slippery, sometimes frosty floor and back into darkness.

As Natha in the Tusita Heaven, returned from Earth, willing my just planted seeds to grow, hoping they would spread, reseed, grow, spread, reseed, grow, to eventually cover the Earth, knowing they had to do this on their own, by the impetus of my teaching, for I cannot guide each and every spirit individually. There are far, far too many. I do not have hands enough, nor fingers enough to point.

And in this here and now, I am learning patience all over: this time as Ruth, the little flask for me the ocean. It never gets easier.

Learning, too, how to maneuver this flask. On wobbly legs at first, too feeble to support much of anything, then growing less so, then growing stable, then working balance from chance to fact, into the first step, and then the second, and so walking soon, muscles agreeing now and all pulling in the same direction.

Finding voice and shaping it into words sung out across air, mainly to Melissa and Ananda. But sometimes to others. To Doctor Fairfield, my pediatrician; amazed, she says each time we meet, how well I have developed, how so very healthy I am—for it is true, this bottle does not get sick.

Amazed, she says each time we meet, how quickly I am learning how to talk, how precisely (is the word she uses, each time) I pronounce each word, and so clearly. She said once it was as if I had been born in Inverness, Scotland, where, so she said—and she had been there to hear it for herself, she informed us, each time—they speak the clearest English in the world. Well, I don’t know about that, but it is a fact that I enjoy a clear voice, clear enunciation; the voice of the unambiguous, the translucent, the distinct, the fine. Nectar for the tongue and palate. Luminous song. Amazing, says my pediatrician, again, and wonders if we’ve ever been to Inverness.

Ears to hear words slung back across air from other lungs, other tongues. Language. This jumble of many strains that calls itself English.

To be honest, I prefer Pali, where by long and deep agreement words rise out of and mean things more essential to life. It was (and to some extent still is) a language where nuances were spiritual and aesthetic rather than material and economic.

Still, English is a bountiful garden, replete, wild and untamed, and often profound enough to serve quite well. And if individual words do not burrow as deeply as those of Pali, they easily and nimbly, and willingly—I have come to discover—combine to metaphor to take you deeper, as deep even as Pali, and sometimes even deeper still, as the target image forms just beyond their borders.

 

Melissa feels that the house is too big for just the three of us—Melissa, me, and Ananda—and has twice thought seriously of moving. Twice, though, her parents talked her out of it, and us into staying put; at least until the real estate market comes back (is how her father put it). So we’re still here, in this rather large house with its ornate front door and marble-slabbed entryway; where my room is still called “Ruth’s Chamber,” where Melissa’s hall of a bedroom is now referred to as her “domain,” and where Ananda’s book-filled den-cum-guestroom is always called the “library.” He likes books, Ananda does.

 

As planned, Melissa went back to school to study philosophy and religion. She graduated with honors. She then gave some thought to teaching, and even did some post-graduate work in that direction, but in the end she changed her mind.

One day not so long ago she told me—well, us, really, for Ananda was there too—that the only reason that she went back to school was to find out what questions to ask me.

Ananda doesn’t laugh often—smiles, is what he does—but that time Melissa managed to coax a hearty laugh out of him, so surprising, and so apropos was her announcement. Then, when Melissa looked alarmed and was about to apologize, he quickly apologized instead, “No, no,” he said, “it’s not like that at all. I think you’re brilliant.”

Well, I think so, too. She’s quite brilliant.

 

Charles made some trouble for her at one point, and by extension, for me and Ananda as well. That was about four years ago. I had just started school. At that time he had married Sarah—Sarah Gray who insisted on keeping her own last name, not even Sarah Marten Gray, just Gray—and perhaps this trouble was her idea, I don’t know, but that fall he went to court to obtain joint custody, and that dragged on for a while. He was very remorseful in his approach, and the judge almost grated it, but in the end—and much to our, especially my, relief—turned it down.

Apparently, according to the ruling, I am well enough taken care of by Melissa and my “uncle” Ananda, and Charles did, after all, abandon his then wife, and child, for his current Gray wife, which didn’t sit too well with the judge.

This abandonment spoke volumes about Charles’s character, is how the judge put it.

There was some talk about Charles filing another motion in the matter implying (or stating) that there was something untoward going on in the house between Melissa and Ananda (which, of course, is total rubbish), but in the end he (or Sarah, or both of them—or their legal representation) thought better of it.

He (and Sara) still come around on occasion to see me—he does have visitation rights, after all—and then we all turn our very politest, and endure. I don’t care for him very much, but I do not not care for him either. He’s a large, turbulent ocean in a very confused bottle.

Sarah is a calmer sea. I think she calls most of the shots in that marriage.

 

And while we’re on the subject of enduring, both Melissa and Ananda insisted that I go to school. They must have plotted, because they spoke with one voice when they said that I must be raised as normally as possible, as unobtrusively as possible (is how Melissa put it—inconspicuously is the word Ananda used). The better to lay the groundwork, said Ananda and Melissa as one. Well, there was no budging them. Ananda can be very stubborn, and Melissa is not doing too badly herself in that department.

Still, I tried. I objected, argued, pleaded, but they would have none of it, so off to school I went, clear enunciation and all.

 

Imagine this: Being taught the alphabet (as a six-year old in first grade) while knowing English a far sight better than my teacher (an overly enthusiastic Mr. Campbell, very bubbly—but it rang false).

It was a matter of faking ignorance, a matter of not giving myself away. Singing with the rest of the class: A-A-A-A-A, B-B-B-B-B. Yes, boring. Yes, enduring. Though, I did like the little sea of voice that we lofted in praise of Alphabet, the God du jour.

Same goes for the other subjects: Mathematics. I have always had an agile mind; I have always enjoyed the abstract dance of symbol. To press this analytical freedom into the service of 2+2=4 (without noticeable objection) is no small feat. I deserve medals.

I cannot claim I that I suffered, per se, but it does wear on you. More than once that first year I asked Melissa and Ananda to please, please, please take me out of school and go with home schooling instead.

That would give Charles a reason to file some other motion, answered Melissa so right away that she must have considered this option as length. Ananda—my trusted attendant—sided with her, so what’s a six-year old to do?

Back to school, with my little lunch and my little books in my little backpack, that’s what.

 

I did well—and by that I mean, I did not give myself away—through third grade. Melissa was proud of me, she said, and in such a way that I was not beyond lapping it up. Ananda chimed in—proud, too. Then, last fall, enter Kristina Medina—Mrs. Medina to me—our fourth grade teacher, who proved the challenge I wasn’t quite up to.

Some people are more perceptive than others, that’s the problem, and Mrs. Medina is at the very top of that particular class.

Today, by the way, is my birthday. This little bottle is ten years old, and I know that they have something planned. I have to stop myself from peeking into heads, because I want it to be a surprise.

[*62 :: (Pasadena)

 

Kristina Cortez was only sixteen years old when she eloped with a man thrice her age. She did this more to make a statement of independence from her parents than to accommodate and formalize her feelings for Cameron Phelps, her soon-to-be husband.

Unable to quite believe his luck—for, while well-to-do, he was not a balm for sore eyes—and giddy with the insanity of it all, he let her drive his Corvette all the way to Las Vegas, even though she had no license, and even after she got them a speeding ticket in Barstow.

“We’re off to get married,” she said by way of explanation to the officer who took her protestation on faith, along with a crisp hundred dollar bill, but nonetheless handed her the order to appear (unless you pay the $300 fine, of course) with the comment that “She’d better have a license next time.” Then added, with a polite nod, “Have a nice day.”

A blemish on their bliss this ticket, true, but it soon faded, along with California, into the west as they crossed into Nevada and managed to arrive in Las Vegas without further tickets.

She looked her vivacious best in that Elvis-styled Chapel, and he, grinning ear-to-ear, followed suit as far as it went (he would never look good no matter what the circumstances).

Ten minutes later they were married and headed for the casinos.

Ten hours later they finally made it up to their room.

Twenty minutes later she was thoroughly impregnated.

Four hours later she woke up into a sun-filled and worst-ever hangover (more like a still drunk but now with an absolutely first-rate headache) and knew without as much as a glance at her now snoring husband that she had made the biggest mistake of her life.

But she had made this bed and she was damned if she wouldn’t lie in it; she would not give her parents the satisfaction of her running back to them for help.

So, straight-backed and determined she spent the rest of the Las Vegas weekend and the next two Los Angeles months with Cameron Phelps, doing her best to be and feel wife-like. Not very successfully.

She also ruled out all other reasons for missing her period, twice.

She didn’t tell her husband, nor did she tell anyone else, especially not her parents. Instead, she made an even biggest mistake of her life.

The secretly spent two thousand dollars bought her a brutally terminated pregnancy and a severely damaged uterus. She would never conceive again.

Six months later and Cameron now making noises about needing “space” she called that particular spade by its proper name and suggested they get divorced. Apparently quite relieved, Cameron agreed, and Kristina took a big gulp of pride and finally called her mother.

“I’ve really screwed up,” she said.

“I know,” her mother confirmed.

“And Dad?”

“Worried. Furious. But nothing we can’t handle.”

“Can I?” she said.

“Of course, Honey.”

 

The second night back home she told her mother about the botched abortion, and she took her daughter to the hospital the following morning for a full checkup.

“Oh, Honey. What on earth were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t.”

The news was not good, and never got better; her parents never longed for grandchildren within her hearing.

 

She met Daniel Medina in graduate school. She was working on her thesis on Philosophy vs. Religion, and he was studying law. “To be the best public defender Los Angeles has ever seen,” he told her. “And you?”

“Elementary school teacher.”

“You said your thesis was on Religion vs. Philosophy.”

“It is.”

“Why?”

“To answer some questions.”

“What questions.”

“I can’t tell you, or I’ll have to marry you.”

“So tell me.”

 

Kristina got her master’s degree in philosophy and then spent another year in a teacher’s college. She was overqualified to teach grades four to six, they said at Pasadena Polytechnic School, would she not rather teach in the upper school. No, she said, four to six is what she wanted to teach. The pay is less, they told her, and she, in turn, informed them that even if she tried really very hard she probably could not care much less.

She got the job she wanted in 1996, and she has been one of Polytechnic’s most beloved teachers ever since.

She and Daniel were married in 1997, and have navigated a mutually satisfying—though childless—marriage fairly successfully ever since. There was the one single mishap with Julian in 1998, just the one well-kept secret mishap.

And now she had been invited to Ruth’s tenth birthday party.

Mysterious Ruth.

[*63 :: (Pasadena)

 

Kristina Medina arrived early, emanating her trademark layered multicolor as she rang the doorbell.

Still slightly uneasy: perhaps the invitation had not really been one.

 

One day during the last week before the holidays, Melissa Marten, picking up her daughter after school, had remarked that Ruth’s birthday fell during the Christmas break—a little unfair to children to have Christmas and their birthday so close together, don’t you think? (to which Kristina had shaken her head, no, she didn’t think so)—and, in pretty much the same breath—and most likely unintentionally, just polite chatter, really: why didn’t she drop by if she wanted to? The fourth. Two in the afternoon. Ruth would enjoy that.

Nothing further, however. Nothing written. Still, even if open to interpretation, it had been said, no doubts there; and now, here she stood, waiting for the door to open.

 

And she knew why:

She had something to tell Melissa Marten.

Who now swung the door open.

“Mrs. Medina,” she said, part surprise (which she had expected), part delight (which surprised and delighted her).

“Guilty as charged,” she said.

“You remembered.”

Kristina wasn’t quite sure how to take that. “Of course.”

“Ruth,” said Melissa back into the house, and quite loudly. “Look who’s here.”

Ruth came running round a corner and pulled up, skidding a little on the marble, but with a big smile, “Mrs. Medina.”

“In person,” she said.

“Come in,” said Melissa.

Kristina complied, then handed the present she had brought for Ruth, who curtsied, said “Thank you,” and then handed it to her mother, who apparently knew better what to do with it. “Thank you so much,” said Melissa.

Kristina smiled in return, then followed them into their living room.

She wasn’t sure what kind (or size) of a party she had expected, but there had not been many cars parked outside, nor were there many people inside. Three children, and their mothers by the looks of it, although one of those mothers seemed more like an older sister, or perhaps a baby sitter. She recognized Ruth’s uncle, Ananda—who wasn’t really an uncle, she was pretty sure of that, though she had yet to make the family connection, if there was one. Lastly, in the corner of the room sat a somewhat dour man, silently with a woman she pegged as a lawyer at both first, and second glance. And that was it.

The children looked a little uneasy, and uneasier still once they spotted a teacher in their midst.

The hostess did her best to engage and jolly the place up, but things felt a little strained, and Ruth, that mysterious child, seemed aware of that and a little at loss as to how to behave.

She spoke to the children, inviting them to come along, she had something to show them, apparently. Two accepted, but the third moved closer to her mother, and shook her head. A few minutes later Ruth was back, the pair in tow, no less uncertain for whatever Ruth had shown them.

A party, Kristina decided, that tried so hard to be one, but didn’t know how to.

Melissa, apparently reaching the same conclusion after a while, fell back on protocol: “Cake,” she announced cheerfully, and disappeared into the kitchen, soon to return with a gorgeous cake with ten burning candles. Someone other than Melissa started the song, and Kristina joined in, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Ru-uth, happy birthday to you.”

One deep breath and precise exhalation later, and the ten candles painted ten thin streaks of smoke into the air. “A wish,” someone said. “Yes, a wish,” someone else agreed. Ruth, obliging, closed her eyes and apparently wished for something.

Presents were opened and thanks were given. The dour man (Ruth’s father, Kristina decided), left for just a moment, then returned with a very large package, beautifully wrapped.

“Here you go, honey,” he said. “Happy birthday.” His lawyer friend (wife?) smiled and echoed the happy birthday.

Ruth did not rip the paper from the large present in expected frenzy, but somewhat expertly removed it, to expose the bicycle box. “A bicycle,” she said. “Thanks, Charles.”

“You’re welcome, honey,” said Charles’s wife (Kristina had spotted the rings). “I hope you like it,” said her husband.

“I do,” said Ruth. “I will.”

More cake was served. Soda paper cups were refilled. And then the mothers and the baby sitter realized what time it was and with best of wishes and thanks (and you’re welcomes) drifted out of the house and away.

The father and his wife also looked at their watches and decided things were over. Ruth was very polite to this couple, and thanked them again, assuring them that she would “get good use” of their present. Just the thing she would say.

And then only Kristina, the “uncle” Ananda, Melissa and Ruth remained. Melissa, discovering that Kristina had not left, seemed a little unsure as to why. Ruth seemed quite happy about it though, and Ananda smiled to himself.

“Mrs. Medina,” said Melissa. But didn’t add, “You’re still here.”

“I brought you something else,” said Kristina to Ruth, retrieved it from her handbag, and then held it out for Ruth to take.

“A Mortimer,” said Ruth, more impressed than surprised as she accepted the gift.

“Oh, my,” said Melissa. “These things are a fortune.”

“Not for teachers,” said Kristina, which was only partially true. Even with a generous educational discount, the Mortimer did not come cheap. And neither should it. Introduced in 2015 and perfected within the next two years, it was the first holographic, hand-held (it was hardly larger than paperback book) encyclopedic research tool the world had ever seen. Its content beautifully researched and presented (as well as constantly and automatically updated), the Mortimer soon became standard equipment for any serious student in just about any field, at least for those who could afford it.

“A Mortimer,” Ruth repeated.

Even her uncle stood up to get a closer look. “A Mark III,” he said. Also impressed.

“He has one,” Ruth explained to Kristina.

“A Mark I,” he said, almost apologetically.

“There is no way,” began Melissa, but a little too late. Kristina had already handed it to Ruth, who showed no signs of letting go, severing all strings. No going back on this.

“You shouldn’t have,” Melissa said again.

“A present to match the student,” said Kristina.

When Melissa didn’t seem to understand, Kristina said, “Do you have a moment?”

When Melissa didn’t understand, Kristina added, “Just a brief word.”

“Sure,” and smiled and gave Kristina her full attention. But she made no sign of moving, so Kristina said:

“Somewhere private?”

“Oh, sure,” now realizing the extent of the original request. “Of course.”

Kristina followed her host into the Kitchen, where Melissa cleared the table sufficiently for them to sit down by it. “Coffee?” she asked.

“That would be nice,” said Kristina.

It had started to rain outside. Not heavily, but hard enough that, here in the stillness of the kitchen, she noticed the soft drumming on the roof.

“Have you lived here long?” she asked.

Melissa, by the stove, arranging the coffee, turned to face her. “Yes. From before Ruth was born.”

“It’s a lovely house.”

“That it is. A bit big for us though.”

Then silence returned, a thousand rain drums in tow. Melissa brought two white coffee mugs down from a cupboard, then poured fresh coffee. “Milk? Sugar?” she asked.

Kristina shook her head. “No, thanks. This is fine.” Nodding at her cup.

Melissa sat down and looked right at Kristina. “What do you want to talk about?” She said. Then added, “Ruth, I gather.”

“Yes.”

“Everything’s fine, I hope.”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that.”

Melissa sat quietly, waiting for more. Sipped her coffee.

“Do you tutor her in any subjects?” Kristina asked after considering for a while how best to put things. It wasn’t really what she wanted to ask, but at least it was headed in the right direction.

“What do you mean?”

“Reading? Writing? History?”

Melissa tensed ever so slightly, all alert now, though still smiling.

“History?”

“Yes. Or religion.”

“No,” said Melissa. “No, we don’t.”

When Kristina, rather than speaking watched the steam curl and rise from the coffee-surface, Melissa said, “Why do you ask?” The obvious question.

There was, however, no obvious, or easy answer. It was a feeling, a notion, but she was good at notions, and from years of experience had learned to trust them. But how to put it?

Well, she might as well just say it. “She knows more about Giordano Bruno than I do.”

[*:*]

Their conversation had started innocently enough. Just before the holiday break, Kristina had given her children an impromptu history lecture on Rome, brought about by a stray question concerning the pope and where he lived, and what was his job anyway?

The little lecture included a snapshot of ancient Rome, Christianity, and the centuries between then and now. There had been many popes, she told them, all with names ending in roman numerals. This surprised some of the children, who for some reason thought there had ever been just the one. And all through this, her precocious self, Ruth had sat very still, eyes clear and steady fixed on her teacher, nodding now and then as if in agreement.

Kristina again had the little terrifying notion that this child knew more about what she was teaching then Kristina did. As if she approved of what she was hearing, ratifying veracity.

Then, better than halfway up the centuries, Ruth raised her hand.

“Yes, Ruth.”

“Did they burn people?”

“Burn people?”

Most of the class seemed unsure of what precisely had been asked, and some, clearly, had a problem reconciling fire and people.

“Yes,” said Ruth.

“They don’t burn people,” said Agnes, a little offended it seemed.

“Sure they do,” said Ruth.

“It has happened,” said Kristina as diplomatically as possible.

“No way,” said Agnes.

Ruth was about to say something, but Kristina shook her head at her, and Ruth said nothing.

“Why would they burn people?” asked Thomas.

“When they disagree with them,” said Ruth.

“What?” said Thomas.

“What?” said Kristina.

“They call them heretics,” said Ruth.

What could she do? The child was absolutely right. They did call them heretics, and they did burn them. But how on earth would she know?

“Yes,” she said to the whole class. “Yes, they sometimes burned those that disagreed, at the stake. And yes, they called them heretics.”

“I don’t believe that,” said Agnes, still offended at the thought.

“Wow,” said Thomas.

Kristina quickly drew her little discourse to a close, and managed to arrive at the present, with its current pope, just before the bell.

As the class filed out, Kristina asked Ruth to stay.

She did. When they were alone in the room, Kristina, by the way of a feeler said, “You must read a lot.”

“Some,” agreed Ruth. Meant, Kristina was almost certain, as an understatement.

“Heretics?” she said.

“And saints,” said Ruth.

“This,” how was she going to put this? “This interests you?”

“I find it fascinating,” said the child.

“What? Anything in particular?”

“Bruno,” she said.

“Bruno?”

“Giordano Bruno. He was a good man. They burned him anyway.”

Kristina had heard of him, of course, but not in any great detail. “Giordano Bruno?”

“They kept him in the Nona Tower for years and years. Then they dragged him on top of a donkey to Campo dei Fiori, and set a match to him. Well, not a match, they didn’t have matches then.”

Kristina was too stunned to reply for the better part of a minute. And not once did the child blink.

Later that evening, Kristina looked him up on her Mortimer: Giordano Bruno. And yes, indeed, he had been kept in the Nona Tower for “years and years” as Ruth had put it, and yes, indeed, they had finally dragged him to the Campo dei Fiori on top of an ass, and set him alight.

Kristina had put her Mortimer aside in a wonder bordering on chill.

[*:*]

“Bruno?” said Melissa.

“You’ve heard of him,” suggested Kristina.

“She has mentioned him.”

“Ruth has?”

“Yes.” Then Melissa added, “She reads a lot.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Yes,” Melissa confirmed, partially to herself, “she reads a lot.”

“Where did she find this? In which book? History? Religion?”

“I honestly don’t know,” said Melissa.

“Could we ask her?”

And here, again, Melissa Marten seemed to tense up, as if veering too closely to some internal precipice. Finally, “Sure. Why not.”

“I don’t remember,” said Ruth looking from Kristina to her mother and back to Kristina.

“She doesn’t remember,” said Melissa, as if translating.

“Big book or small book? Online, perhaps?”

“She doesn’t use the computers much.”

“I don’t remember,” said Ruth with such finality that Kristina decided not to pursue it. Instead, she said to Melissa, watching the back of Ruth recede into the hallway, “She’s a very precocious child.”

“I know,” said Melissa.

“Have you had her tested?”

“Tested for what?”

“IQ, aptitude. I’d wager she’d score well.”

“I’d wager the same,” said Melissa.

“So, you haven’t?”

“No.”

“Would you consider it?”

Melissa took another sip, and considered the cup for a while, then her hands, then the rain outside. “Why?” she finally said.

“I have taught children her age for many years, Mrs. Marten, and I have never come across anyone like her.”

“Melissa, please,” said Melissa.

“Thank you, of course. And please call me Kristina.”

Melissa nodded and smiled softly. Then asked again, “But why have her tested? What difference would it make?”

“I think she might be a prodigy. I really do. Bright does not even begin to describe her. The word, actually, that comes to my mind more often than not is ancient,” said Kristina.

Again, Melissa seemed to teeter on some brink.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t see the point.”

“It’s just a thought,” said Kristina. “A suggestion. Nothing more.”

Melissa nodded again, yes, yes, she could see that, and appreciated it, don’t get her wrong.

Then she said, “Thanks so much for the Mortimer. You really shouldn’t have.”

“A gift to match the student.”

“Ananda has one. Well, Ruth told you that.”

“Yes.”

“She loves it, I can tell.”

Kristina nodded. Running out of things to say. Still seeing Melissa Marten on some sort of wire, performing a balance. Just a notion, but she was good at notions.

[*64 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa closed the door after Kristina Medina. She had offered to lend her an umbrella to see her dry to her car, but Ruth’s teacher had declined. What’s a little rain? The last she saw of her was the colorful skirt (or was it skirts, Melissa wasn’t sure) ripple in the little winds and the brightly colored shawl flutter through the rain down the street. She didn’t look back. Melissa wondered fleetingly how old the woman was.

She found Ananda and Ruth comparing Mortimers in the living room; observed them not noticing her for a while. Try this, said Ananda, and Ruth did. And try that. She did. Ananda impressed, even a little jealous, perhaps.

Melissa sat down, still teetering a little, still a little unsure how much of a leak their secret had sprung, if any.

“She wants you tested,” she said loudly enough to startle the little conference on the sofa to look up at her.

“For what?” said Ruth, who always caught on pretty much instantly.

“She thinks you’re a prodigy.” Then she looked directly at Ruth, and not necessarily kindly. “What have you told the woman? She mentioned Bruno.”

“We had an exchange about him.”

“What about him? What did you say?”

“Just that he was burned at the stake after a short donkey ride.”

“She made a point of telling me that you seem to know more about him than she does.”

“Well, that would stand to reason, wouldn’t it?”

“This is not a joke, Ruth.”

“I know.”

“What did she say?” Ananda wondered, a Mortimer in each hand, though each forgotten.

“She wanted to know how Ruth knew.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I told her she reads a lot.”

“I do,” said Ruth.

“She also called her precocious,” said Melissa, still answering Ananda’s question. “Thinks we should have her tested.”

Then she added, again looking right at Ruth, though still addressing Ananda, “She strikes her as ancient. Yes, that was the word she used. Ruth strikes her as ancient. Bright, she says, doesn’t even begin to do her justice.” Then finally to Ruth, “We’ve been over this.”

Ruth, looking a little uncomfortable by this point, nonetheless smiled. “The woman is perceptive,” she said.

“This is not a joke,” Melissa said again.

“I know,” said Ruth. “I told you, I know.”

The silence that fell upon the room was not comfortable. Rifts in it where turbulence seeped through. Ananda finally broke it, “Perhaps this is not so bad,” he said.

Melissa looked at him as if wondering where the sound had come from. “What’s not so bad?”

Ruth turned to him as well.

“I think Ruth has done very well to keep a lid on things for as long as she has.”

Ruth nodded in agreement. “It’s not easy,” she said.

Melissa looked from one to the other, at these two people on her living room sofa, who, as far apart as two humans could be on the surface of it, yet were so familiar with each other. For good reason, of course, but at times still very hard to wrap your wits around.

“Have you told her anything else?” Melissa asked Ruth.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Just about Bruno?”

Ruth pondered for a while. “I do answer questions. And I do get them right.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Ananda told Melissa.

“Always right?” inquired Melissa.

“Well, yes,” said Ruth.

“There might be something wrong with that,” said Melissa.

The silence threatened to return, as uncomfortable as before. They had discussed this before, and never quite resolved it: the question of when?

And the question of how?

Ruth was impatient, and who could blame her? Ananda was a little impatient, too, getting on in years. Seventy-two by now, if she had things added up right.

“Until we know how,” she said, “we cannot know when.” This as much to herself as to Ruth and Ananda.

Ruth sighed. It was the same sigh of resignation she had sighed the last time the subject came to a boil. For they didn’t know how best to.

Ananda looked at Melissa, but said nothing.

“You’re only ten, for heaven’s sake,” said Melissa.

“I’m ancient,” corrected Ruth, not quite joking.

“Yes, and that’s the problem,” said Melissa.

Ananda still said nothing.

[*65 :: (Pasadena)

 

Although the subject had been raised before, the first true discussion about it took place when Ruth was six years old.

Melissa was still having a hard time reconciling the adult, not to say ancient words often uttered by her young daughter. To be sure, there were times they actually struck her as faintly normal, but these time were still too few, and too far between; the extraordinary still holding the upper hand.

At six, Ruth was getting antsy, is how Melissa put it. Restless, is how Ananda put it. Eager is how Ruth put it.

She was here for a reason; Melissa was well aware of that. But she was also well aware that no one, not in this day and age (perhaps in India 2,500 years ago, yes, but not today) would listen for more than two minutes, if that, to a six-year old holding forth on suffering and the origin and end of suffering before calling the police, a shrink, or both.

But Ruth did not want to hold her horses—though she did like the expression, she said—very Krishna.

After an afternoon, evening, and a night that first serious discussion finally reached the consensus that Ruth would only “go forth” as Ananda put it, by consensus. Unless they all agreed on the how, and the when, she would, in fact, hold those horses, restless thought they were.

Once Ruth (reluctantly) agreed, Melissa felt a little calmer about having the Buddha in her house—the Tathagata, her daughter.

[*:*]

The following summer, that of Ruth’s seventh year, saw another attempt at resolution. It was during their 2017 Colorado summer vacation, where Ruth had almost, almost—she stressed this—given the game away after overhearing two “new agers” (as Ananda called them) discuss Dhamma within her hearing. Normally possessed with a calm that saw her through most everything, something in this exchange rubbed her so the wrong way that she cast the bulk of caution to the wind and set out to correct them: “Excuse me,” she said, looking up at the two disputing know-it-alls, neither of whom heard her, or chose to hear her. “Excuse me,” she repeated, almost a shout, which caught their attention.

“What?” In a curious unison.

At which point Ruth finally managed to check herself, as she later reported at the condo (leased for two weeks).

“I can’t do this much longer,” she complained. Primarily to Ananda, but to Melissa as well (washing up in the kitchen at the time, but within earshot).

“Can’t do what?” she said, appearing in the kitchen doorway, towel in hand.

Ruth told them what had happened. “They haven’t a clue,” she said. “Just words, words, words, back and forth. How could I stand by and listen to that?”

Melissa, more pragmatic than either of her two charges (yes, at times she viewed Ananda as an impossibly older sibling or an even more impossibly graying child that she was responsible for—though this was neither accurate nor fair, for Ananda took well care of himself and more besides; still, it was just a feeling she occasionally had and didn’t particularly dislike) said, “It’s not like you have a choice.”

“I do have a choice,” said Ruth.

“We have agreed,” Ananda pointed out, referring to their still-in-force consensus.

“We have agreed,” confirmed Melissa, referring to the same thing.

Ruth acknowledged this by her silence. Then she took a deep breath, and said, “Do you have any idea what this is like?”

“Yes,” said Ananda, who did.

“I can imagine,” said Melissa, who tried to.

Ruth was about to say, “No, you can’t,” but she did not. Instead she said, “I feel like a prisoner.”

“I know,” said Ananda.

“I can imagine,” said Melissa after a short pause, and still very much meaning it. Then, swinging the towel onto her left shoulder, she said, “You’re too young, Ruth. There is no way. It would not work.”

Ruth did not look up, and looked every bit her age, faced by relentless logic.

“I’m sorry,” said Melissa.

Ruth remained silent.

[*:*]

At eight, it was shortly after her birthday and they were now on the promised trip to Catalina Island, things again came to a head. Ruth had said nothing on their way to Long Beach. Had said nothing on the boat to the island. Had sat quietly by the window, turned away from Melissa and Ananda, looking out at the gray and restless water. Had said nothing while they checked in and settled at their hotel, and now—while looking out the sliding glass doors at the still foggy ocean below—was still not talking.

“Are you planning to keep this up the entire weekend,” said Melissa, none too gently, still putting things away in drawers.

To no answer.

Ananda looked at her, and shook his head gently: leave her alone.

No, Melissa did not want to leave her alone. Buddha or no Buddha, Ruth was her petulant daughter and she was not behaving very well. “Ruth,” she said. “I’m talking to you.”

This earned her a daughterly shoulder shrug, indicating she could not care much less.

“Ruth.”

Finally, “What?”

“What is the matter with you?”

No answer.

“You wanted to come, remember?”

“Yes.”

“So what on earth is going on?”

Ruth finally turned around and this changed the room’s mood completely. Both Ananda and Melissa saw that she was crying. Softly and sparingly, but crying nonetheless. Cheeks glistening, eyes shiny but un-bright.

Melissa fought down the urge to run over and take her daughter in her arms, but not for long; for she lost sight of the Buddha and only saw the young girl, distraught, wrapped her arms around her and asked softly, “What’s wrong?”

“Everything,” she said into her mother’s dress.

Melissa hugged her even tighter, “Could you be a little bit more specific,” she said, knowing Ruth would actually appreciate the question.

“You have no idea,” said Ruth, still into the embrace.

Melissa knew not how to respond, so didn’t. Just held her daughter, as if trying to draw the despair out of her and into herself.

“I have an idea,” said Ananda.

Ruth unburied her head and looked at him with blurry eyes. “I know,” she said. “I know you do.”

“What is it Ruth?” said Melissa.

“I cannot wait,” she answered.

Of course, Melissa realized, of course this is what it was about. And equally of course she had no answer to it that would appease her daughter. “Ruth,” she said. “You are too young.”

“I feel like a coiled spring,” she said. “Bursting from not bursting.”

Melissa let go of her, and sat down on one of the beds. “I am not going to pretend that I know how you feel,” she said. “But I cannot lie to you either. Were you to go forth at this point, nothing would be gained. Nothing. In fact,” she added, “I would probably lose custody.”

That reached home. Ruth’s face, glistening with unwiped tears, turned serious, intent on her mother. “What do you mean?”

“They’ll think you’re crazy. And they’ll think I’m to blame. Charles would be in court before you could snap your fingers.”

“She’s got a point,” mumbled Ananda.

“I know,” said Ruth after a moment’s reflection. “That’s the problem.”

“What’s the problem?” said Melissa.

“I’m the problem. The world’s the problem. It’s a straitjacket, Melissa. This body. No, not this body, this person.”

“What person?”

“Ruth.”

“You?”

“No.”

“But you are Ruth.”

“I am not Ruth, Melissa.”

“You are the Buddha.”

“I am not even him.”

Melissa looked to Ananda for support. For clarification. She didn’t follow. He looked right back at her, but if there was something to say, he gave none of it away.

“I am an ocean in a bottle,” said Ruth. “A sky in a pearl.”

Melissa tried her hardest to comprehend, to imagine, to empathize with her daughter’s containment, but she couldn’t, and couldn’t, but then found that she could, as talons or tendrils or arms or craggy shores rising to contain and restrain. For several desperate heartbeats she could not find her breath. Above her a hatch was slammed closed, and sealed, and now she ached from the compression.

Smaller and smaller yet the same size, crushing borders nearing, closing, the same amount of her, in far, far less space, and less still. Was he doing this? Was her daughter?

She slipped off the bed and hugged her knees, twin apparitions of the faintly familiar. Shaking, she forced her eyes open, then forced them to look at her, at her daughter Ruth, who found the gaze and met it, steadily drinking her space away.

“Stop, please,” she said.

Ruth stopped. Melissa unfurled.

“That’s how it feels,” she said. “Only, there is no one to stop it for me.”

“How?” said Melissa after a while.

“I shouldn’t even be here,” said Ruth.

“Yes, you should,” said Ananda.

Ruth didn’t answer. Then said, “I’ll take that as a no.”

Melissa shook her head slowly, “What are you talking about?”

“Consensus. Not today.”

“Yes,” said Ananda. “That’s a no.”

[*:*]

Ruth held those horses for another year, did not even broach the subject. Not once. What suffering there was she suffered in silence. Whenever she thought of it, Melissa was relieved. Whenever he thought of it, Ananda was concerned.

Then, on the evening of her ninth birthday, just after opening her one present—a complete set of Beethoven’s piano sonatas (she had come to adore, that was her word, the German composer, and had hinted—and none too subtly—that she would like to have “some of his piano music”), and now putting it aside, she said, “I no longer agree.”

Melissa—as if expecting the subject to surface (it was that time of year), even bracing for it—froze. Ananda looked up from reading one of the CD sleeves. It was as if the Catalina conversation had only been suspended, and was now set free again. “We agreed, said Melissa. “You agreed.”

“I know.”

“You agreed,” confirmed Ananda.

“I know.”

“You cannot un-agree,” said Ananda.

“I can.” And truly meant it.

And of course she could. She could do anything, Melissa realized that, and so did Ananda.

“You have seen the world,” said Ananda.

“I have.”

“You know what it would do.”

“I don’t know that.”

“You hope,” said Ananda. “You hope that it will listen.”

“I do.”

“What will you tell it, Tathagata?” said Ananda. “What will the nine-year old girl go forth and tell the world.?”

“The four noble truths, and the noble eightfold path.”

“And the world will listen? That is what you think?”

“That is what I think.”

“Well, Tathagata, you think wrong,” Ananda declared.

“It must,” said Ruth.

“It will not,” said Melissa.

“How do you know? How could you know? Why do you say that?” Addressing the two of them. Almost shouting.

“I have been here nearly seventy years,” said Ananda. “I have seen the depths to which the world has sunk. I have seen the fears it has gathered and now wraps around itself as a wreath, eyes blind with earthy dust. Please believe me, it will not understand.”

“It will not understand what?” said Ruth.

“It will not believe a nine-year old girl,” said Melissa, “no matter how true her words.”

“I can convince them.”

“You’ll be deemed insane, and treated accordingly,” said Melissa.

“It’s a chance I’ll have to take,” said Ruth.

“It’s a chance I will not permit you to take,” said Melissa.

“How are you going to prevent me?” said Ruth.

Melissa said nothing. Ananda looked from one to the other. Ruth said nothing. Melissa looked down on her hands, then back to her daughter, “By never speaking to you again,” she said.

Ruth looked stricken. She looked over at Ananda who now actually smiled. She looked back at Melissa who held her gaze, daring Ruth to disbelieve her.

“That’s not fair,” Ruth said finally.

“When the time is right,” said Melissa, “I will do whatever it takes, whatever I can, to help you. I believe you, I know you, and I know what you must do. But I also know that you must succeed.”

“Fair or not,” said Ananda. “Melissa is right. And you, Buddha Gotama, know better than to dishonor your agreements.”

“It is so hard,” said Ruth.

“We will know when the time is right,” Ananda said. Melissa nodded her agreement. “And then we will know how.”

[*66 :: (White Mountains)

 

In March of 2020 they took a trip to the White Mountains in eastern California. Ruth wanted to speak to the Bristlecones, she said.

Melissa, who had heard of Bristlecone Pines only fleetingly—she couldn’t remember where, though she tried to—borrowed her daughter’s Mortimer and did some research, from which she emerged astounded.

“Five thousand years old?” she said, looking up at Ruth who was studying the Mortimer over her shoulder.

“And mostly heartwood,” said Ruth.

“What’s heartwood?” said Melissa.

“True wood,” said Ananda.

Early spring the weather had yet to turn too hot as they drove through high desert and salt flats. Signs pointing east spoke of “Death Valley” not too far away in that direction. They looked at each other, each softly shaking a head. None of them opted for a detour.

The little motel in Big Pine had two adjacent rooms for rent—in fact, had most, if not all, of the motel for rent—so Ruth and Melissa settled in one of them, Ananda in the one next door.

“Are you really going to talk to them?” said Melissa, as they unpacked the few things they had brought, hanging things up on the odd assortment of leftover plastic and wire hangers provided—or not cleared out—by the motel.

“Yes,” said Ruth.

“So you believe,” began Melissa, but then realized that she didn’t quite know what she was asking.

Ruth did, however. “It is not a matter of belief,” said Ruth. And then, as if she had been meaning to tell Melissa for some time about this, “So much, today, is just that. Belief. No, not even belief, that’s too strong a word. Opinions, more often than not masquerading as beliefs. Or hope, that’s what it is. At its base, today’s belief is nothing but opinions or hope, and vague hope at that. Wish.”

Melissa didn’t answer. She knew what Ruth was talking about, could feel the meaning viscerally. Didn’t want to think or analyze the words lest her instinctive certainty took wing.

Ruth, working her sweater and jacket them onto un-matching hangers, continued as if addressing them, but Melissa knew each word was meant for her.

“Life is life is life,” she said. “Some life has tongues; other life has leaves. Whether tongue or leaf, life knows life. Life knows the presence of life. Life sings life.”

“Sings?”

Ruth finally worked her sweater onto too large a hanger. Then turned and looked at her mother. Her eyes more startlingly blue every day, Melissa thought. Her hair darker and darker, nearly the blue black of distant Indian cousins now. Such an incongruous combination, a little unsettling.

“It is not the right word, I know that. But no other word comes closer. It is the song of the floorboards when the low notes of the church organ begin to breathe. The ear is fooled into believing that nothing speaks, but your feet know better.”

Melissa wondered how Ruth knew, but it was the perfect analogy, for she remembered knowing this the first (and only) time her mother had brought her to an organ recital. The Pasadena Presbyterian Church, if she remembered correctly, on Colorado Boulevard. The low notes, those notes her feet heard way before her ears, if indeed the ears truly caught on.

“I know,” she said.

“It’s not so much a vibration,” said Ruth, “as it is a layered ocean.”

Melissa sat down on the edge of her bed, waited for more.

“We talk through surface ripples and waves,” said Ruth. “But we know through deeper currents. And there are currents deeper still, cooler, slower, more patient. We have our roots in those currents, same as the bristlecone.”

Melissa tried to picture it. Tried to be this picture. Succeeded.

“Precisely,” said (or thought, Melissa didn’t catch which) Ruth.

“How do you learn? How can you hear?”

“Not with your ears,” said Ruth. “With your roots.”

“But I don’t have any roots,” said Melissa.

“You don’t?” said Ruth, in mock surprise.

“I do?” said Melissa.

“Of course,” said Ruth.

“How can I learn?” said Melissa again.

“Listen, but not with your ears.”

“Like when you appear in my head?”

“Like that, but deeper. As if your history appeared in the present as roots.”

“You’ll have to show me,” said Melissa.

“That I can’t do. I can only point.”

She had said this before. She can only point. She will only point. These were the words of the Buddha Gotama, she knew that; had read that. He would only point. The looking, the seeing, the experiencing, was up to her. Up to the pointed-for.

“What do you expect to hear?”

“From the bristlecone?”

“Yes.”

“I expect to hear the song of true heartwood.”

[*:*]

They set out the following morning, a good hour before sunrise. Melissa drove, Ananda studied the map and gave directions. Ruth, in the back seat, quietly saw what could be seen in the diminishing darkness the other side of the car window.

The road, as it happened, was well marked, and soon they were serpentining up the broad mountain side of the White Mountains, home of the world’s largest congregation of bristlecone pine.

The sky drew less dark, then less dark still, then pink in the east, then streaked with flame as the oncoming sun blushed strips of cloud barely above the horizon. There was no wind, just the slow, majestic turning of planet that by minute degree intensified the brightness of flame, until the flame extinguished into white and the tip of sun—a steadily growing arc, massive even at such distance—heralded morning.

The half-light struck the old bristlecone and sprung it alive.

They all saw it at the same time. Alone, atop a small slope, perhaps fifty meters off the road. Neither Ruth nor Ananda told Melissa to stop, it was a given.

She stilled the engine, and they climbed out into the thinner, cooler air. The world was still asleep, and the only sound that reached their ears was the soft and occasional crackle of the car engine cooling from the journey.

The bristlecone grew lighter and lighter with the Earth’s continued turning, and the three of them set out to greet it.

The terrain was rocky and dry. No path here. Just stones and tenacious little plants, brown and green asking not to be stepped on. Careful where you place your foot lest you slip. One mindful step after the other, repeated, and repeated again, they made their way up the hill, where it stood, looking their way, as if expecting company.

And so they arrived, the three visitors, none moving now, just looking at this ancient citizen. At ancient wood, still standing. Ruth finally stepped all the way up to it and touched it with both hands. Closed her eyes, and sang the deepest layer of ocean this planet knows.

[*:*]

Melissa heard nothing but soft wind rising. It was coming out of the east, as if sunlight had harnessed the air, or the other way around. Soft air on cheek, a small chill against her neck. A whisper in her ear. I am air. I am sun.

Ananda to her left had closed his eyes.

Melissa could not tell whether Ruth had, too; her hands still on the ancient trunk, her face turned away, head tilting down, slightly, as if listening intently or respectfully.

Then Melissa, too, closed her eyes—or her eyes closed themselves.

Out of the silent distance, the cry of a bird. Not an anxious cry, or an agitated one. A greeting perhaps. Soon answered. Other priorities, other lives lived, other tales told.

Then there was only the wind again, light-carrying toucher of cheek and stirrer of hair, rustler of pine, waker of brushwood.

With this gentle wind, Melissa heard how much she enjoyed life at this moment.

 

If it was a note, she didn’t notice its arrival. Perhaps it had always been with her, always beyond reach, until now. Part of her makeup all along. Perhaps they could have been, but were not thoughts. Not articulated as such, anyway. But there was a note, for a note is a vibration, is it not? And there are spectra. And there are layers, one deeper than the other. Perhaps a vast or distant enough ear can hear the once a day oscillation of the Earth turning, perhaps an ear larger still can hear the once an aeon turning of our galaxy.

This note, however, called for ears less colossal.

The difference between a note and just any sound, Melissa could have thought, but didn’t—instead it arose as unarticulated epiphany—is the constancy of oscillation, the core of beauty. The continuous scraping of tectonic plates, for example, which is quite audible to the larger ear, is not a note, it is a noise. The constant indigestion of the Earth’s core is no song, it is a complaint, a peevishness.

What she heard with her larger ear was a note. First one, then another. Several, long and slow each. A song.

The next notion that arose was that she was not hearing as much as seeing the song, though she will later never quite resolve the difference, if any.

Perhaps, she did think, I am listening to language, though no message beyond the unutterable beauty of the wave reached her, as if beauty itself stood guard, and would not let meaning through; it was not meant for her ear.

Perhaps, she thought, I am listening to conversation. This thought, however, was more like the brief glitter of firefly than statement of being, soon gone, leaving her lost to beauty.

When Ananda finally spoke, it might has well have been a stone, or a twig, or a moss speaking, Melissa had such trouble locating a source of the word. Then he spoke again, the same word: “Melissa.”

She finally opened her eyes. Ruth was looking at her, Ananda, too.

“Sorry,” she said. “I was miles away.”

[*:*]

There it stands, atop a small, pathless incline perhaps fifty meters away. A solitary tree, this copse-less bristlecone. Was it him I heard? Was it he that called?

We all see it, as with communal eyes, as with communal ear. Melissa stops the car, parks as far off to the right of the road as she can, even dipping the wheels over the bed side, kills the engine, looks back at the beckoning tree.

We careful our way up the soft slope, sidestepping rocks and anxious shrub, step by deliberate step approaching the soft light surrounding him that I wonder if Ananda sees, too?

I look over at him but he is too busy placing feet just right to look back, but then he looks up and I know he, too, sees the soft glow of true heartwood.

Arrived. First we stand, a small congregation, and very still, as if awaiting an invitation, though we were already invited, expected even. In awe of his age, that is how we stand.

Then I step up to him, and place my hands on his trunk, fuse my hands to his trunk, fuse my being to his, and then I listen.

He had a name once, he tells me, but it is so old it has crumbled under the weight of years and turned to distant dust, though he wishes he could gather and de-dust it, and so greet me properly, for he knows mine, he says, and then he says it, Tathagata.

Yes, I tell him, yes, I am Tathagata.

“And you have come,” he says.

“Yes.”

“Bearing questions?”

“One, yes.”

The river that sings his words is deep and untroubled. Far beneath the rumble and mumble of earth, far beneath the constant longing of gravity. Slow and still the deep note rises and falls with meaning.

“What would you know, Tathagata, that you don’t already know?”

“I would know—for in this world, I don’t know—how best to help.”

“And I would know?”

“You never left,” I answer. “Half a life you had lived before I returned the Buddha Gotama, half a life again you have watched the folly of the world, from here, safely aloof, pondered its many fates and stirrings.”

“This is so,” he answers.

“Surely you know humankind as well as anyone.”

“That may be so.”

“So you would know,” I say.

“You may be too late,” says the bristlecone.

“I must not be too late. I must never be too late.”

Hearing the tree think its regal thoughts is like listening to slow moving water deep below the Earth’s surface, eddies like galactic arms converging, conversing, comparing impressions and conclusions, sifting through memory deeper still, and so finally arriving in unison, through roots older than any other living thing on this Earth, “He reveres science,” he finally tells me. “Science is his new religion.”

“Man?” I ask, just to clarify.

“Yes. Science is his new God.”

I taste the meaning and it tastes like truth. “You know this,” I say. Not so much as a question as a confirmation.

Again, the tree consults his roots, as if he too needs confirmation. “Yes,” he says finally. “This is so. The twin doors of religion and mysticism are mostly shut.” Then he adds, “There was a battle, a long battle, a thousand years ago. Religion the victor at first, then not.”

“Science the victor?”

“Yes.”

“That is the door then,” I say.

“That is the one door seen by all, respected by all, revered by all.”

“I don’t know anything about science,” I protest, but that is not really true.

“Modesty does not become you,” says Ananda at which the tree, I swear, chuckles.

“Ananda!” I say.

“I invited him,” says the tree.

“But I don’t see how,” I begin.

“Science without religion is hollow,” Ananda says. “And religion without science is blind.” Then adds, “According to Einstein.”

“I still don’t see how,” I say.

“You will,” says the tree. “If you are to touch and redirect this folly, you must.”

I can feel Ananda agreeing somewhere behind me, though he says nothing.

[*:*]

That evening at the motel the three of them gathered in Ananda’s room, all on the floor. Ananda was leaning against his bed, Melissa sat just by the window, and Ruth to the side, underneath the wall-mounted (dark and silent) television, facing the two of them.

They had said little on the way back from visiting the bristlecone, each perhaps a little stunned—or elevated—by the encounter and now immersed in private thoughts. Neither had they spoken much since.

Looking first out the window, and then at Melissa and Ananda in turn, Ruth said, “I am well versed, but I don’t know how to tell it.”

Melissa said, “You’re well versed in what?”

“In science,” said Ananda.

Which Melissa didn’t follow.

“He knows what science knows, and more, but not in its current terms,” explained Ananda.

“What do you mean?” she asked of them both.

Ruth said, “Today, the Bristlecone said that the door leading to the minds of men is science. It is the new god, the almighty and the most revered.”

“But you don’t know how to tell it,” she said. “What do you mean?”

“I know science, I know it well,” answered Ruth. “But I don’t even know the English words that might approximate what I know—if, indeed, they exist.”

“Then,” said Melissa, “if that is the door, you must learn the words.”

Which to both Ruth and Ananda was such an innocently perfect answer that they both looked at her in wonder, then smiled.

“From the mouth of babes,” said Ananda, realizing as the words left him that they were not the right ones—though perhaps relatively speaking they had bearing.

“What?” said Melissa, confused by smiles and words both.

“You are right,” said Ruth. “I must learn the words.”

Ananda nodded in agreement.

“Well,” said Melissa, understanding, and smiling now as well, “You’re welcome.”

[*67 :: (Pasadena)

 

He answered me, and his answer was science.

I have done little else all weekend but reflect on this, on whether the old tree is correct or not. But why should I doubt him? He simply spoke truth as he saw it. Still, has he seen enough, and does he then judge correctly? Is science really my path then?

The more I ponder, the more I add all these impressions of the world I have gathered through television, at school, in the papers Ananda says he prefers to that ignorant tube as he calls it, the more I agree with the tree, the more I see that he is right. The new priesthood is science—particularly medicine. If I am to be believed, if my voice is to carry, it must resonate with the authority of that field.

I know now that the tree is correct.

[*:*]

They reached a new consensus that evening.

Ruth was to become, among other things—they all agreed—a physicist.

[*68 :: (Pasadena)

 

Ananda returned from the library bearing quantum gifts.

“Here you go,” he said, placing a stack of what must have appeared to Ruth as tomes on the living room table.

Ruth closed her Mortimer and surveyed the impressive little tower of paper. “What is it?” she asked.

“Your path,” said Ananda. “Elementary and advanced physics.”

“Dinner is ready,” said Melissa from the kitchen.

“I have this,” said Ruth, holding up her Mortimer.

“It is good; I grant you that. But you need more than that. You need the grounding to prove your understanding in their field.”

“What do you mean?”

“Dinner is ready,” Melissa’s voice carried emphasis this time.

“What do you mean?” repeated Ruth.

“You need to know quantum mechanics and string and other theories well enough to contribute to their current research, not just enough to sound intelligent on the subject.”

Ruth looked from Ananda to Melissa who appeared at the doorway, “Dinner is ready,” she said.

Ruth put the Mortimer aside and scrambled to her feet. Ananda said, “Sorry,” and followed Ruth and her mother into the kitchen.

“I think Ananda is taking this a little too far,” said Ruth.

Who disagreed by not responding.

“Taking what a little too far?” said Melissa.

“This physicist thing.”

“How so?” Then, “Pass me your plate, please.”

Ruth did, and said, “He wants me to not only walk like a physicist, and talk like a physicist. He wants me to be a physicist.”

“And Ananda is wrong, why precisely?” said Melissa, handing Ruth her plate back, now home to a generous helping of steamed rice and vegetables.

Ananda looked to Ruth for her answer, in no way straining himself to hide his amusement. Ruth frowned, and began eating.

After several well-chewed fork-fulls, as if careful mastication would serve up the answer, she said, “I can be science literate in a few months.”

“What exactly is a science literate person,” said Ananda, clearly enjoying this.

“A science literate person,” said Ruth, keeping up the stressing-the-word-literate game, is someone whose voice will resonate with today’s population.

“You once told me,” said Ananda. “Or asked me, rather, how you tell the truth from its perfect impersonation, and you stressed perfect, as in perfect in every way, as in indistinguishable from the original.”

“Yes,” said Ruth. “I remember.”

“And do you remember the answer?”

“Yes,” helping herself to another fork-full, and chewing it well.

“And?”

“And,” she said once done with her toothy task, “you can tell.”

“Even if the impersonation is perfect in every regard?”

“Even if the impersonation is perfect in every regard.”

“Explain to Melissa,” said Ananda.

“Even if perfect in every regard,” said Ruth in her mother’s direction. “Even if the impersonation is indistinguishable from the original, the impersonation remains impersonation—even if perfect, still impersonation—and the person, the spirit, life will always know the true from the false. At heart, life always does.”

Melissa listened carefully, and Ananda saw that she understood. “And now Ananda has the temerity to suggest that you become the real thing,” she said.

“Yes,” said Ruth. “That’s precisely what he has, temerity,” but looking by this time like someone who has managed to talk herself into a corner.

“Or your voice will not resonate,” said Ananda. “Not truly.”

To which Ruth had no answer, so instead she smiled like Ananda had seen the Buddha Gotama do when the former Ananda’s advice held up to scrutiny and was accepted by the Buddha.

[*:*]

“Interesting?” said Ananda one night.

Ruth looked up from a book on string theory with many diagrams and not a few equations. It was one of the many books Ananda had brought back from the library. “I’d like to have my own copy of this one,” she said. “So I can mark it.”

“Interesting, in other words,” said Ananda.

“Yes,” said Ruth. “They are so clever,” she added.

“In which way?”

“They think in such microscopic detail, and harmonize things so well. And they extrapolate—well, theorize—so well.” Then she said, “I need to understand their mathematics better. Their symbols and logic.”

Ananda nodded. He had seen this coming; for many—if not all—of the writers of the books he had surveyed were well versed in the theoretical structures and formulae of their subject, and there probably was no way to enter their field, on their terms, without that dialect as well.

“That would be quite an undertaking,” said Ananda.

“Nonetheless,” said Ruth. “I think it’s something I’ll have to face.”

Ananda nodded, yes.

“Much of this is true,” said Ruth, giving a nod to the book in her lap.

“I wouldn’t know,” said Ananda, and meant it. He had little or no stomach for the tiny particulars of myopic investigation—as he thought of it.

“They do look,” said Ruth. “And hard.”

Again, Ananda nodded, yes, he was sure they did.

“But do people really listen to them?”

“What do you mean?”

“These people, these physicists, are at the forefront of physical science. They are looking and thinking their way into the heart of mysteries, and they understand each other, that seems clear. But does anyone else understand them? Does anyone else really care? Does anyone actually listen to them?”

“Several of these writers are Nobel Laureates.”

“So the Nobel committee cares.”

“Or seems to.”

“Or seems to.”

“I don’t know, Tathagata,” said Ananda. “I don’t know to what extent, if any, the man in the street cares about quantum physics.”

“Or even knows about quantum physics,” said Ruth.

“Or even knows about quantum physics,” agreed Ananda.

“And the world is mainly made up of men in streets,” Ruth pointed out.

“True.”

“It seemed so clear to me,” she said. “That science would reach them. As the bristlecone said.”

Ananda took an age to answer. “Maybe the average man does not know about, or care about quantum mechanics, but he respects the scientists that do.”

“Is that enough, Ananda?”

“If you can bridge, or reconcile, science and religion.”

“That is a tall order.”

“And your mission isn’t?”

“Touché.”

[*69 :: (Pasadena)

 

That day—it was now early April—Kristina Medina arrived back from lunch early in order to prepare for her next class. On entering the quiet classroom, she didn’t even notice Ruth at first. It was only when her young pupil turned the page in the book she was reading that Kristina looked up to quickly survey the room for the source of this papery whisper. And saw: Ruth, in her seat, immersed in story, unaware of Kristina’s arrival.

Kristina walked up to her. Ruth, first now sensing her presence finally looked up.

“What are you reading, Ruth?”

Ruth placed a finger at her place and closed the book show her teacher the cover.

“The Self-Aware Universe,” read Kristina. “What is it about?”

“Religion and quantum physics,” said Ruth, truthfully.

“Religion and quantum physics?” Kristina wasn’t completely sure she had heard this right, but there was the book, there was the cover, there was the eye as universe—which struck her as a clever design. “Can I have a look?” she said.

A little reluctantly, Ruth opened the book to her fingered place, then ruffled through the pages following to find her marker. Located, she placed it at the open page, re-closed the book, and gravely handed it to Kristina. Following orders.

“Thank you,” said Kristina. Then read from the cover, “How consciousness creates the material world.” She opened the book, scanned the table of contents: The Integration of Science and Spirituality. Quantum Physics and the Demise of Material Realism. The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox.

Ruth waited quietly for her book to be returned.

Kristina closed it again, turned it over and scanned the back cover. Much praise. Then she looked up at Ruth for some time before she said, “Who are you?”

That was not the question Kristina had intended to ask. She had intended to ask how, and why. But when the question left her lips it surprised Kristina more than Ruth.

“Your most precocious student,” said Ruth.

“I’d say,” she said. The, “Do you understand this?” meaning the book she was now preparing to return to Ruth.

“Yes,” said Ruth. Again, truthfully.

Kristina handed the book back to her. “No, really, Ruth. Who are you?” Not really believing her own question, but feeling the need to ask it. “No ten-year old girl reads, much less understands books on quantum physics.”

“This one does.”

Kristina pulled out a chair from a nearby desk and sat down. Thoughts came tumbling down like boulders, large and clumsy. Ruth, still as a tree looked at her, unopened book in hand. Curious. Waiting.

“I know,” began Kristina. “I know that you’re advanced for your age. But this,” she nodded at the book, “is more than advanced. It is,” she paused, looking for words, found them, then added them, more to herself, “it’s a little frightening.”

Ruth nodded an adult nod, yes, she understood. A little frightening.

“Are you someone?” said Kristina, unable to let go of the notion.

“Yes,” answered Ruth. “I am someone.”

“You know what I mean,” said Kristina. Though that didn’t come out right. It sounded like something she would have said to her husband in an argument. She felt her face color. Looked down.

“I do know what you mean,” said the child.

“Well, then. Are you?”

“Yes,” said Ruth.

“Who, then?”

“One day,” said Ruth, and with such finality that Kristina knew not to inquire further, “I will tell you.”

[*70 :: (New York)

 

Julian Lawson was sitting in the back seat of the family car when he shocked his father.

He was eleven, curious, and bored. The weekend at the upstate cabin had been a rain-out. Five people in the small house, pinned down by pelting weather, for two days. Not a recipe for tranquility.

Now he sat behind his father. Sally to his right. Alice to her right. Both older than Julian, both reading. Julian looked out at the gray skies through the rain-streaked car window, and wondered aloud, “What makes gravity pull?”

His farther Alex thought of himself as a theoretical physicist. Not that he thought of himself as anything very often (or of himself at all), he preferred thinking in formulae. In aesthetic symbols and numbers that ebbed and flowed like music across blackboards, whiteboards, and screen, boards and boards and screens of them, pages thick with of them, code void of life or meaning to all but the initiated.

Alex Lawson was one of the initiated.

Then, still wondering from the back seat, his son said, “There doesn’t seem to be a good reason why it should, does it?”

Alex did not answer, unsure of what to say. He was actually holding his breath.

“Perhaps it’s a matter of longing,” said Julian, to whom that seemed natural enough.

“What are you talking about?” said Alice.

“Gravity,” said Julian.

His father shot him a long glance via the rearview mirror, “What do you mean by longing, Julian?”

“Perhaps it feels separated.”

“What feels separated?” said Sally.

“The things that long to be closer,” said Julian.

“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Alice.

“Stupid as they come,” said Sally.

“Girls,” said Olga, their mother. She did not like them ganging up on Julian. It was unfair, and childish, and she tried to convey all of that in that one word thick with her still heavy Russian accent, both the “r” and the “l” very distinct.

Neither girl answered their mother.

Nor did Alex Lawson answer is son, he was still too stunned to assimilate what his son was saying. Longing was not the word he himself had assigned to the theta variable in his current equation, the word he had used was yearning. Splitting hairs though. And how on earth?

Julian, unaware of the always-to-be-expected sisterly taunting and of his father’s silent bewilderment, continued to look out the car window, and said nothing more. Really, he had only been thinking aloud, hardly aware of having spoken.

 

That same evening—everybody safely back in a far drier Brooklyn, spread out through their two story brownstone and very happy to be back in civilization, as Alice liked to put it—Alex knocked on Julian’s door.

When Julian didn’t answer, Alex eased the door open. Julian, bent over a book at his desk, didn’t notice. Alex knocked again, harder, on the now mostly open door, hard enough to disturb his son, who turned around.

“Dad,” he said, a little surprised to see him, a little worried even. Was something the matter?

“Julian.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, not at all.” Alex stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “What you said today,” he began.

“When?”

“In the car.”

“What did I say?”

“About longing. Gravity, and longing.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Julian, remembering. A little embarrassed. “I was just talking.”

“What made you think of it?” said his father.

Julian shifted in his chair, a little uncomfortable about being put on the spot. “I wasn’t really thinking,” he said. “Or, more like I was just thinking aloud.”

“Yes, but where did the longing come from?”

“When I’m away,” he said. “I sometimes long for my room. Sometimes I even long for Alice and Sally. I know that might be hard to believe, but I kind of like having them around.”

“Believe it or not, I used to long for our cabin when I was your age.”

“Yeah, you told me.”

“But why gravity? Do you think matter has that capacity?”

“Of longing, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“You mean because it’s inanimate?”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I mean.”

“Well, how can something inanimate have the power to pull? If it can pull, it can probably long as well.”

Again, his son’s perspicacity rocked him momentarily speechless. “Good point,” was all he eventually managed.

A long, and a little awkward silence settled upon the room. Alex didn’t know what else to say and Julian—still not certain why his father had come in the first place—wanted to get back to his reading, but did not want to be impolite.

“Well,” Alex finally said, “I’ll let you get back to, to your book.”

Julian smiled and turned back to the text, father almost forgotten by the time he found is place again.

[*:*]

Not only did Julian skip the third grade, he skipped the seventh grade as well, graduating high school at sixteen. Yes, he was aware of his brilliance, but he was never conceited about it. In fact, he was too busy researching, figuring, finding, thinking, postulating—and discussing-slash-arguing with his father about the researched, figured, found, thought, and postulated—to be conceited.

Alex, himself a Cal Tech graduate, had little problem arranging for a generous Cal Tech scholarship for his son, who, as a result, arrived there as the youngest freshman in the school’s history to delve further into particle physics.

He made it well known that he intended to be—was, in fact—an experimenter, not a theorist (like his father). Nobody tried to disabuse him of that approach.

Ten years later he is still in Pasadena. He had not really intended to stay in California, but the prestigious school offered him both tenure and several grants to continue his research and he (as his father put it) would have been an idiot to turn down such an opportunity.

:: 71 :: (Pasadena)

 

The year was 1998, the season was late fall, and the event was a donors’ dinner held at the Athenaeum—the time honored Cal Tech building dedicated to the goddess of wisdom. Julian Lawson was there to thank as many donors as possible, Kristina Medina was there because her father’s company, Cortez Construction, was a generous Cal Tech sponsor. Her parents were away on vacation, so the task fell on her to represent the company. Naturally, the invitation had read “Mr. and Mrs. Medina,” but her husband had regretfully to decline the invitation. There were depositions to take in New York, and they were more pressing than a night of Cal Tech appreciation. Besides, it was Kristina’s family money that were being appreciated, anyway. Did she mind going by herself?

No, not really.

So, Kristina Medina, in her flowery and colorful best arrived for the both of them, conspicuous as a Rose Parade float among the grays and blacks of the conservative donor community. She even caught Julian’s attention.

As he pressed her palm in thanks, she pressed right back—sign of life, thought Julian, weary after thanking so many weakly past-their-prime palms for their invaluable support of science and progress.

Pressed right back, she did, and said, reading his name tag, “Julian Lawson.” Looked up, “I think I’ve heard of you.”

“I didn’t do it,” said Julian.

“Pity,” said Kristina.

They were not seated together at dinner, not even close, but—bored to tears by their respective dinner neighbors—sought each other out in its aftermath.

“So, Mr. Lawson, what do you do, actually?”

“Actually,” said Julian, sensing that she did in fact want to know, “when it comes to particle physics, there are two breeds of scientists: the theorist and the experimenter. Well, there is also the materialist, and he comes in the theorist and experimenter flavors as well.”

“And you are a non-materialist experimenter?”

“Precisely.”

“What is a materialist?”

“Oh, that’s a question.”

“I know.”

“Well, the short answer is that a materialist is a scientist who does not believe in nonlocality. And nonlocality is defined as an instantaneous influence or communication without any exchange of signals through space-time. Locality, on the other hand is the idea that all interaction or communication among objects occur via fields or signals that propagate through space-time obeying the speed-of-light limit.”

“Should that make sense to me?”

Julian found himself laughing, and heartily at that. Then said, “I don’t see why not.”

“And what does the non-materialist believe?”

“He believes in nonlocality.”

“And what does the non-materialist particle physics experimenter do, actually?” She wanted to know, again, actually.

“He, in a word,” then groped around for the next word, the right one.

“Experiments,” she suggested.

As simple as that, yes. “Precisely.”

“How, though?”

Julian took a good look at Kristina and saw that there was more than politeness behind that short question. “You do want to know, don’t you?”

“I do want to know, yes,” she confirmed.

Still he hesitated. Instead he said, “Do you want something to drink?”

“No, I’m fine,” she replied.

So, instead of drifting towards the open bar, he answered her question: “Right now, I hope to establish nonlocal synchronization between coordinated quantum particles.” And added, “Beyond any doubt.”

Kristina said nothing, but he had her attention.

“Quantum particles—and don’t ask me to explain them, for they are not really particles and not really not particles—often form bonds, and once they do they tend to act like identical twins, one does precisely what the other does, no matter the distance between them, and instantly.”

Kristina—she appeared tremendously awake, holding the younger man’s eyes steadily—still said nothing.

“We call these twin quantum particles correlated. And one of the two correlated quantum particles can, and often—under certain circumstances—does, shift polarity, and in that same instant,” he stressed same, both with his voice and with his hands, “no matter what the distance apart—it can be light-years, literally—it’s twin will change polarity as well.”

“That sounds impossible.”

“I agree.”

“But it happens?”

“It happens.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s been proven.”

“But not,” she said, apparently remembering what he had said, “beyond any doubt?”

He took a long look at her before he answered, “It is proven to the experimenter’s satisfaction.”

“But not to the theorist’s?”

“But not to the theorists,” he confirmed. “We have no doubt, and when I say we, I mean the doers. But the thinkers, at least some of them, and some of the leading ones at that, like to poke holes—sometimes I think just for the sake of poking holes.”

“But how can you doubt the outcome of an experiment. Isn’t that the very purpose of the thing, to dispel doubt, because your eyes see?”

Julian nodded. Yes, that’s true. That’s true. Then said, “The trick with quantum experiments is that we’re dealing more with traces and effects of things than with things themselves. No one’s ever seen an atom, you know. They’re too small. And quantum particles are magnitudes smaller. But even the smallest thing casts a shadow, and we’re very good at catching and reading shadows.”

“And?”

“And the shadows show the instant correlation.”

“But that’s not good enough,” began Kristina’s suggestion. But Julian cut her off.

“One thing the thinkers like to point out is that we have never traced two paired quantum particles heading out into space in opposite directions, for, say, a light-week, and then change the polarity of one and see the instant polarity-change of its twin, now two light-weeks away.”

Kristina said nothing, but may have stopped breathing.

“The thing is,” said Julian. “The thing is that according to Einstein, nothing in this universe can travel faster than light. Nothing. So, even if these twinned particles had a means of communicating locally—and by that we mean, through this, the physical, universe—and this communication traveled at light-speed, the message would never reach its twin, for their separation is growing at twice the speed of light, heading off in opposite directions.”

Kristina nodded, yes, she could see that.

“What we have proven, in our experiments, is that this instant communication does indeed occur within the micro-time frame of billionths of seconds. But here, and this is what the theorists like to point out, the time span is so infinitely short that the particles don’t have a chance to separate very far, and who can really be sure of anything a couple of billionths of a second apart.”

Kristina nodded that she was following what he said.

“Of course,” said Julian, “it has to do with our equipment, and at this point our apparatus can only trace the flight—and polarity—of both twins in journeys this short. But in this scenario, yes, every time the change is indeed instant, and yes, even within these minute distances a physical message cannot reach a twin going at speed of light in the opposite direction, it will never catch up.”

“So what is the theorist’s objection?”

“Reliability of measurement. How do you tell, for certain, that one billionth of a second has passed, as opposed to two, or three—which would make all the difference?”

“A good watch?” said Kristina, smiling.

“We think the watches we have are good enough, but that may be an opinion.”

“So,” said Kristina. “What do you propose to do? How are you going to prove this? What is your experiment?”

“I am going to perform the experiment in the macro-time frame of tenths rather than billionths of seconds.”

He could see that she didn’t quite follow.

“If my experiment works, and I am certain that it will, I will show that a twinned set of quantum particles will instantly coordinate even if too far apart for a light-speed message to synchronize them. I want to rule out the crudity-of-time-measurement argument.”

“And how are you going to do this?” she said.

“With difficulty,” said Julian.

Again, Kristina said nothing, waiting for more.

“Firstly—and, believe me, this is no small challenge—we will shoot two wide laser beams rising in parallel at about a respective thirty-degree angle above the horizon from opposite points of the equator. One in southern Colombia and one on Borneo, Indonesia. These beams will rise from roughly 12,750 kilometers apart—that’s the diameter of the earth—to about 30,000 kilometers apart at a 15,000 kilometer altitude. That means that there they will be about one tenth of a light-second apart.”

Kristina, nodded, yes. “But you still not talking seconds,” she pointed out.

“I know. But the theorist has no problem with measuring tens or even hundredths of a second. Hell, they do that at the Olympics, and no one’s arguing.”

“I see.”

“One of these beams is capable of changing particle polarization, the other is set up to only read polarization. We will then fire a twinned pair of quantum particles from our sister lab in Cambridge, England, aimed directly at our respective beams at 15,000 kilometers altitude—well, one particle, the one whose polarization we will change, will hit his beam slightly lower than that in order to hit it before his twin.”

“How much before?”

“Oh, a couple of millionths of a second, somewhere in there.”

“Wow.”

“And, of course, we’ll know with the scientific certainty that the theorist likes with what polarity they leave Cambridge.”

“Of course.”

“So after about one-twentieth of a seconds travel the one twin will hit his beam and change polarity in the ultra-microscopic instance.”

“And his twin, hitting the reader-beam a couple of millionths of a second later will have changed polarity too, before hitting his beam?”

He looked at her for some time without answering. Then, “You get it, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes.” Julian nodded, and smiled, and nodded some more. “And since the two particles are one-tenth of a light-second apart when the first one hits his beam and changes polarity, there is absolutely no way that a local, physical, communication can reach the twin in the two or three millionths of a second before it hits the reading beam. And in this scenario, the time frame now being macro, there is no disputing, none whatever, that the communication between the two is not communication as we know it. Rather, the way I see it, it is a knowing, an instant knowing between the two twins.”

“Wow,” said Kristina. Then she frowned a little and said, “How can you be sure to hit the beams?”

“We aim well. We know how to do that.”

“And change the polarity?”

“We know how to do that, too.”

“And all of this just to bring the experiment into the macro-time frame, as you put it.”

“That is, in fact, the only reason.”

“Bet you that’s costing a bundle.”

“And we thank you,” said Julian with a perfectly straight face.

“When?” she asked. “Your experiment.”

“In a few months,” he answered. “We don’t have a precise date yet. Some will depend of weather conditions and, believe it or not, on the activities of the sun, there may be interference.”

“I can believe it,” said Kristina. Then, after a brief silence, she said:

“And when you’ve proven this. What have you proven, really?”

“We’ve proven the existence of instant communication, or knowing, between two particles. A knowing independent of distance, of space, and energy. What else we will have proven, I am not too sure, for I honestly don’t know how this can take place, only that it does. Perhaps there is a field or a zone, or a space, or a knowing non-space, beyond the physical where communication, if we can call it that, is instant, is co-knowing.”

“And proven well enough for the theorist to agree.”

“And proven well enough for the theorist to agree.”

Kristina was shaking her head, slowly, as if not knowing what to make of this. “But that would mean, wouldn’t it, that these particles are alive?”

“In a sense, yes. I’ve thought the same thing.”

And then Kristina said the fatal thing. She said, “You know, I always thought that gravity was alive. You know, all that pulling. That things just longed to be together.”

Not that Julian grew up uninterested in girls, he was as amazed by the fairer sex as the next guy, it’s just that his priorities were different. The problems of gravity, or of particle polarity had first claim.

But now, here in the Cal Tech Athenaeum, going on ten o’clock at night, a marriage of sort took place within him: this girl, this woman, standing not two feet away, nodding that yes, she understood, and yes, gravity had always seemed to her to be alive.

How could she possibly be?

Kristina Medina stopped nodding and her face took on a shade of concern. Was he okay? Julian then realized that he had said nothing for quite some time, and that he was—well, there was no better word for it—staring at her.

He finally found his tongue: “Sorry,” he said. “It’s just that, it’s just that that is precisely, what you said about gravity, is precisely what I have often thought, and is what I hope to prove one day, though I dare tell no one about that.”

“You mean longing?” said Kristina Medina, who apparently had a clear view directly into his head by now.

“Yes, I mean longing.”

The silence that followed was mutual, but not uneasy. Kristina was the one that broke it, “What are you doing tonight?”

He was about to answer, somewhat flippantly, that he was talking to her, but he knew that this was not what she meant—and the rush of what she meant filled him from toe to head with his next breath.

[*:*]

Julian lived less than three blocks away from the Athenaeum, and they walked there—purposefully. The moon was out, young, slivery and pale. Other guests were leaving the function as well, and they saw many expensive cars—some chauffeur-driven—pull out and slowly set courses. They said nothing, until they reached Julian’s small house—a cottage rental, owned and maintained by the school.

“Here,” said Julian, and pointed. As they turned onto the short asphalted walk up to the front door, Julian found Kristina’s hand in his, not sure how. He led the way to the door, let go her hand, found his keys, and let her in.

[*:*]

Later, neither Kristina nor Julian would be able to put a precise finger on how or even why what followed followed. Julian often saw himself as a little possessed. The rush of what she had meant at the dinner had filled him so thoroughly, so vibrantly, so vibratingly, that there was no room for other thought, or other emotions, or for even the tiniest grain of reason.

As for Kristina, admiration for the younger man metamorphosed to need shortly after crossing his threshold, but she never saw it coming, nor could she fight it when it did.

When she finally left Julian’s house the sun was not long in rising, and most of the bird population was already up and about. Her car was the only one at the Athenaeum parking lot—conspicuously alone, thought Kristina, but to hell with that.

What she decided on her drive home was: never again. Just that, and with such undiluted intention that the decision held firm, and does to this day. She slipped, fine. Nothing she could do about that now that it was done. But she would never, ever, again.

 

Julian, on waking and finding, not surprisingly, Kristina gone, made no similar pledge. He would have, again, in a heartbeat. For what he had discovered was the one love of his life. The beautiful, colorful woman who understood him. There was (he was convinced of this) for each person on this Earth, precisely one specific mate; there was only the one other who you were meant to find. Few did, and most settled for alternatives—some alternative poorer others. The few who did find their true companion were the lucky, the magically lucky ones.

Kristina Medina was his fated companion. But she was married, and not unhappily. They had met too late. By lunchtime he had arrived at that conclusion, and so it crystallized into decision: he would stay true to this love for the rest of his life, but he would also honor her situation, and not pursue her in any way. He would file as cherished and holy memory their night together, and he would carry this in his heart for the rest of his days. After all, not many get to experience this, he was in fact lucky.

[*:*]

The next several months saw Julian absorbed in the details and execution of his macro-time project, which is how he thought of it. Depending on who thought or talked about it, it carried several other names: the Colombia-Borneo Laser Experiment, the Parallel Laser Project, the Polarity Change Confirmation Experiment. The official name, however, the one used in the header on all his grant applications said Cal Tech Twin-Particle Polarity Experiment.

By early spring 1999 the sun, who, astronomically speaking, had been quite agitated through the winter, had finally settled down. Very little activity now, and from what the astronomers predicted, none to speak of for the next two weeks.

So, Julian set the date: April 11.

:: 72 :: (Pasadena)

 

If he could have scripted the weather, he would not have changed a thing. There were no clouds over Colombia, none over Borneo, and none over Cambridge. There were no winds either place. It was as if a sunny and curious Earth was playing along and now holding its breath.

Even the sun was behaving.

At precisely noon Greenwich Mean Time the Cambridge lab fired the twin-particles at their respective beams. They both left the planet’s surface as positive—this was verified beyond a doubt and documented.

They were fired at angles calculated to hit their respective lasers beams at an altitude of about 15,000 kilometers and approximately 30,000 kilometers apart.

What was termed the Colombia Twin would hit its laser (which would then instantly change the particle’s polarity to negative) precisely 3.62 millionths of a second before the Borneo Twin hit its laser, which would be far too little time for any local communication to cross 30,000 kilometers even at light speed. In other words, no such communication could possibly take place between the particles before the Borneo Twin found its target.

The Borneo laser’s job was to receive its twin, read its polarity and report back. It did.

The Borneo Twin polarity was negative.

At precisely one minute past noon, another twin pair was fired, both leaving with negative polarity this time.

The Borneo laser reported back: positive.

Eighteen more twins were fired exactly sixty seconds apart, and in each instant the changed polarity of the Colombia twin was faithfully (and instantly) reflected in its Borneo sibling.

Julian had proven instant, non-local communication between the twins. And in macro-time.

 

It was not until the following morning, when the lack of headlines about his successful experiment took him a little aback—a cluster of suicide bombings in Yemen and Afghanistan was the main topic of the day, that and the omnipresent Y2K speculations: would the world actually come to a standstill at midnight December 31?—that he returned to the printouts that covered his desk—now interspersed with congratulatory telexes and emails—and asked himself the same question Kristina had asked him, but with added depth: he had now proven what, exactly?

He knew there was more, much more; something much larger than the fact that nonlocal communication does in fact exist—now even to the theoreticians’ macro-satisfaction.

He felt as if he had pried open an ancient door or window, and—were he to be absolutely honest: he found himself afraid to look inside.

[*:*]

The next time they met—a few months after the successful twin-particle project, Kristina was by her husband Daniel’s side along with Frank and Katiana, her parents. The occasion was a one-million-dollar grant made by Cortez Construction in favor of Cal Tech’s Quantum Physics Department—Julian’s domain. Kristina’s doing.

Finally seeing her again, Julian had trouble breathing, but Kristina took it in stride. Although Julian tried to steer clear of her, she cornered him briefly after dinner, while the Department Head entertained her parents and Daniel tried to avoid legal questions from a couple that recognized him from the papers.

“It’s really for you,” said Kristina, referring to the grant.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Julian.

“You’re a brilliant man, Julian Lawson.”

“The world doesn’t seem to care.”

“The world is too busy looking in wrong directions,” she replied. Then added, “Too busy to observe what you have done.”

He smiled. “I have to admit,” he said. “It was a bulls-eye.”

“I know,” she said. Then repeated, “You are a brilliant man. And I’ve managed to convince my parents of that as well.”

“I don’t know what to say,” said Julian again.

“No need to say anything.”

The silence that followed touched them both with the same warm hand.

“Did you ever,” began Julian.

“I’ve been meaning,” began Kristina at the same time.

The silence returned. Then Julian said, “You go first.”

“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” said Kristina, “that it can never happen again.”

“Of course not,” said Julian.

“You understand why?”

“Yes, I understand why.”

“You do,” said Kristina.

“Yes.”

The silence returned.

“I would very much like for us to be friends,” she said after a while.

Julian did not answer right away. Instead he looked around the room. At Kristina’s parents now sharing some story with his Department Head, at her husband still fending off legal questions, at the waitresses sifting through the crowd with drinks of various kinds. Then he looked back at Kristina and said:

“I would like that.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

 

And so they did indeed become friends.

Kristina’s hunger was for knowledge. She sought to catch glimpses of that underlying and mystical reality that the world at large seemed so firmly determined to remain blissfully ignorant of, and she would sometimes show up unannounced at Cal Tech to take part in, or at least observe, what Julian was doing.

Julian—the treasure of that further and further away night safely ensconced in his heart—found her visits less and less troubling, and in the end learned to accept her presence with equanimity.

[*73 :: (Pasadena)

 

She arrived unannounced as usual.

Julian did, however, look up in surprise: Kristina Medina usually arrived unannounced on Wednesdays, and this—as far has he knew—was not Wednesday.

And here she was, as colorful and beautiful as ever. And excited about something, something near the surface, he could see it in her eyes.

He leaned back in what he thought of as his Department Head chair, which always creaked no matter how well he oiled the springs.

“Kristina.”

She didn’t answer. Instead she looked around for somewhere to sit, a futile exercise. “Just put it on the floor,” he said, pointing to a pile of papers on one of the chairs. She did. Sat down.

“Julian,” she said, aglitter.

“Yes, Kristina.”

Who, before getting to the point, remembered something, “Oh, by the way, happy anniversary.”

“What?”

“Twenty-one years.”

“What’s the date?”

“April eleven.”

“Well, I’ll be. You’re right.”

Kristina smiled. Then got to the point, “Remember Ruth?”

“No.”

“Ruth Marten.”

“Should I?”

“Yes.”

A past Kristina enthusiasm finally arose to be recognized.

“The precocious one?”

“She’s more than that, Julian. Believe or not, but this girl is studying quantum physics.”

“She’s what?”

“I caught her reading Goswami’s Self-Aware Universe the other day.”

“How old is she?”

“Ten and change.”

“Well, I’ll be.”

“Exactly.”

This had barely had a chance to sink in, when Kristina added, “I want you to meet her.”

“Sure.”

“There is something about this girl,” said Kristina. “Something,” but then couldn’t find the next word. Instead she said, after a heartbeat or two:

“Twenty-one years, and still the world at large doesn’t care.”

“That’s pretty much the size of it.”

[*74 :: (Pasadena)

 

Kristina showed up in his office the following afternoon, Ruth in tow.

Julian made room for them, then offered some coffee, which they both declined.

“Tea, perhaps?”

“Any green tea?” wondered Kristina.

“Sorry, no,” said Julian, remembering it was her drink of choice. “I need to buy some,” he added, all the while looking at Ruth, struck by the incongruous, though he wasn’t sure precisely what the incongruous was. Then he saw: eyes, as blue as eyes could be, he’d venture, and hair, as black as hair could be. On the same head. That’s what.

“I’m fine,” said Ruth.

Julian nodded. All right then. Sat down. He took another long look at the black and blue. The very black and the so very blue. “So this is Ruth,” he said, as much to Ruth as to Kristina. Then, straight to Ruth, “The precocious one.”

Kristina frowned at that, and Julian realized he was way off base here. Not quite sure what to say he rose again, and extended a hand across the table to Ruth. “I’m Julian,” he said.

Ruth rose, took the hand, shook it for some time, and said, “The precocious one knows.” Then finally let go of Julian’s hand and sat back down.

Julian remained standing. Then finally managed, “Well, here we are.”

“You two need to get acquainted,” said Kristina.

“I would like that,” said Ruth.

“You’re reading The Self-Aware Universe,” said Julian.

“I’ve just finished it,” she answered.

“What did you think of it?” he asked, then sat down again behind his desk.

“I thought it sincere,” she said.

“Do you think it the truth?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Ruth. Then added a question of her own, “Have you read it?”

“Me? Yes. A long time ago, though.”

“Do you believe it is true?” she wanted to know.

“Parts.”

“Which parts?”

“The quantum action at a distance,” Julian said. “We’ve proven that.”

“Yes you have,” said Ruth. “Twenty-one years ago, yesterday.”

“You know about that?”

“Of course,” she said. Then added, “Kristina told me.”

Julian looked over at Kristina, at his all-alert now long-time friend. She nodded, yes, yes, she had told her.

Ruth’s next question stunned him into silence, for he had asked himself the same question, many times. “It was a brilliant experiment. Well-conceived and well executed. Why is it then that the world has forgotten all about it?” Then, as afterthought, “If indeed it ever cared.”

There was something terribly unreal about the words this girl was using. They belonged to no girl, no teenager even. Old words. Old meanings. As if the girl he saw didn’t exist or was growing more and more transparent, revealing something, someone else. He looked away. Listened to the words again, memory talking.

The truth was that he had no more answer for Ruth than for himself, and so said nothing.

“Why is it that the world doesn’t care?” said Ruth into the silence.

That, too, was a question that he had pondered off and on. “I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I really don’t know.”

“I think it is afraid,” said Ruth.

“You think what?”

“I think the world is afraid,” she said. “I think it does not dare to know.”

Then Julian found himself asking the same question Kristina had recently found herself asking: “Who are you?”

“Ruth Marten,” said Ruth.

“I know,” he answered. “But really, beneath her, who are you?” Not at all sure where “beneath her” had come from.

Ruth held his gaze but did not answer. Julian nodded again, as if in reply. Then heard himself ask another question he wasn’t sure he heard quite right: “How can I be of help?” is what he asked.

Ruth turned and looked at Kristina, who seemed as surprised as Julian at the odd question. She turned to face Julian again.

“Teach me,” she said.

“Teach you what?”

“Quantum Physics. Particle Physics. Teach me what you know.”

As a request, it was not only surreal but impossible. That’s what reason suggested. But Julian was not listening to reason just then. Instead he said, “I can do that.”

“Great,” said Ruth.

“She can come here after school, any time she wants,” he said to Kristina, but really meant to inform Ruth.

“Great,” said Ruth.

[*75 :: (Pasadena)

 

The walk from Pasadena Polytechnic School—situated not even half a block from the Cal Tech campus—to Julian’s Quantum Department (as it was more or less incorrectly called) was about five adult minutes, a little longer with legs Ruth’s size.

And so she showed up a little after three o’clock the next day. William, Julian’s assistant cum secretary had been told (Kristina thought of this, and made sure Julian did it) to expect a young girl now and then, and apparently he had taken this odd piece of news in stride for he looked up at her when she stepped into the department reception. “Ruth?” he wanted to know.

“Yes.”

“Just a second.”

He called Julian on the intercom, and a moment later Julian appeared at his office door. “You don’t mess around,” he said across the room. Two or three people looked up at this, from Julian to Ruth to each other, then returned to their respective tasks at hand.

“You said any time,” Ruth explained.

“Yes, I did. Come in.” He held the door open for her, and she scurried into the clutter, moved some papers and sat down. Julian followed suit.

“I’ve thought about the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment,” she said.

This, again, should not, could not, have come out of her mouth, but it did, clear as day, and with more to follow, that was obvious. Julian thought briefly about the suspension of disbelief that writers talk about, something readers must engage in more at some times than at others—something he must do right now, he decided. Thoroughly. And did.

“Einstein never did accept it,” she said.

“No, he did not,” Julian confirmed.

 

The EPR experiment—which is how he (and most of his colleagues) thought of it—involved two spinning electrons, paired and spinning in opposite directions on their respective axes so that their total spin always equaled what the physicists referred to as zero—the opposite directions negating each other—and, this being part of the order of the particle universe, they always do. Should one electron shift direction of its spin, the other, paired electron, to maintain this holy zero, will also, and instantly, shift spin direction for the sum of the spins cannot, not even for a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second, ever be other than zero, no matter how far apart spatially the two electrons.

Now, as in all of quantum physics, much of what is observed depends upon the observer, and the same holds true for the electrons: the exact axis of rotation, for example, is never determined until the observer chooses to look for a definite axis, at which point the electron will accommodate the observer and present its axis as both locatable and measurable.

The crucial point of the EPR experiment is that once the observer chooses to observe the axis of one of a pair of electrons and has determined a definite spin around that axis; at that very instant its twin, which—theoretically—may be thousands, even millions of miles, if not light years away, also acquires a definite spin along the same determined axis. How does the twin know which axis (which angle) was chosen, and which direction the spin? There is no time to receive that information by any conventional, space-traveling signal. The speed of light—the fastest thing there is, according to Einstein—simply is not fast enough.

And this is where Einstein disagreed with Bohr. Since, according to Einstein, no signal can travel faster than light, it would be impossible that the measurement performed on one electron would instantly determine the axis and direction of the other electron’s spin, thousands or millions of miles (or light years) away.

Bohr—correctly—maintained that even though the two electrons were far apart in space, they were nevertheless linked by instantaneous, nonlocal connections. He further maintained that connections were not signals in the Einsteinian sense: they transcend conventional notions of information transfer, something Einstein simply refused to believe.

 

“Bohr was correct,” said Ruth. “Which is what you proved in 1999.”

“He was,” Julian agreed.

“And you proved it to everyone’s satisfaction.”

“Nearly everyone’s.”

“There are always those who refuse to see feet at the end of their legs as a matter of principle.”

Julian laughed. Whether at what she said, or whether because she—such an unlikely source—had said it, he wasn’t sure. Things were slipping a little toward a quantum reality where nothing would sit still for very long, if at all. Shifting.

“Yes,” he finally said. “There are always those.”

“But all who matter agreed, isn’t that so? The theorists?”

“Did Kristina tell you about that, too?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, the theorists agreed. At least those who mattered.”

“And the experimenters? Any dissent there?”

What ten-year old used the word “dissent?” he thought. Then let the thought go, he simply had to get used to this.

“No,” he answered. There was no dissent in that camp either.”

Ruth shifted in her chair, then pulled one leg up and tucked it in under the other, then straightened her skirt as a matter of course. “You showed the world that non-local communication exists. Proved it beyond a doubt. It didn’t get much press, did it?”

“I had expected more,” he admitted.

“It should have changed everything,” she said.

One hell of a statement. But he, himself had thought precisely that, and more than once. “Yes,” he said. “It should have changed everything.”

“Then, why didn’t it?”

“Honestly, I don’t know.” Then he heard himself add, “Do you?”

She did not voice her answer, but only shook her head slowly while she asked her next question. “What are you working on now?”

“Specifically, or in general?”

“Either.”

“Well, both then. I, as well as many others today, am trying to isolate the fundamental particle.”

“The God particle?”

“Yes, that’s what Lederman called it.”

“And you don’t?”

“It’s as good a name as any.”

“So it’s not the quark then?”

“We don’t think so. I don’t think so. We have never been able to detect one, only theorize one.”

“Is it a string?”

“I don’t know.”

“Wasn’t it Geoffrey Chew who pointed out that what we actually detect in subatomic particles is the energies of their internal interaction. And doesn’t that mean that what particles we can detect all have structure—constituent parts, in other words—or there would be no internal interaction to detect?”

Julian at this point was too stunned to answer. He only looked across his cluttered desk at the impossibility talking to him.

So Ruth continued, “Would it not then follow that a truly elementary particle, one without any form of internal structure, would not be subject to any forces that would allow us to detect it? The fact that we know of the particle at all implies that it has an internal structure, constituent parts, and so cannot be elemental.”

He followed the argument, of course he did. He had pondered this precise question more often that he’d care to admit. The impossibility of their quest. Then, again, he tried to reconcile the logic—the clearly stated and very perceptive logic—with its ten-years something source. It did not compute. Could not be. Again, he engaged, with some effort, the suspension of disbelief, or the conversation simply could not go on.

“I’ve considered the problem,” he said finally. “Often.”

“Is Chew right?”

“As far as it goes, yes.”

“As far as what goes?”

“In so far as what we have detected so far is precisely that internal energy.”

“The energies of the internal structure? The interaction?”

“Yes.”

“So, then, would an elemental particle, if there is one, in fact be detectable?”

“I don’t know.”

Ruth considered this for a while. Looked out the window briefly, then back at Julian. “Do you think there is an elemental particle?”

“There must be. Mustn’t it?”

“Must there?”

This was another thing which Julian had considered; often, and at some depth. He looked again at his the most unlikely of guests. Incongruous didn’t even start to describe the young girl at the other side of his desk. Large, and very awake blue eyes regarding him in turn, unblinking, unwavering, waiting for his reply. But he had no reply, he only had the question that now was gaining rapid momentum, and could no longer be contained for it cried out for an answer.

“Who are you?” he asked. And he really meant that question.

“I am more than meets the eye,” she replied.

“That much is obvious,” he said.

“Some other time,” she said, and there was no question in his mind about what she meant. Some other time she would tell him who she really was, and there was definitely something to tell. He shuddered inwardly, then took command of himself again. Nodded that he understood, accepted.

“Does there, in fact, have to be an elemental particle?” she asked again.

“How can there not be one?”

Ruth said nothing.

Julian knocked on his desk. And again. “There’s something here,” he said. “And it has to be made from something.”

“Are you close?” she wondered.

“To discovering it?”

“Yes.”

“Some days closer than others, but no. No, not really.”

“But you are sure there is one?”

Julian did not know what to answer. How could there not be one. He could still hear the knock on the tabletop with his inner ear. Unless.

“Unless what?” said Ruth.

His knee-jerk reaction, naturally, was that he had misheard her. But his more fundamental self calmly pointed out that he had heard her just fine.

“Unless it’s all illusion?”

“The atom is mainly space,” suggested Ruth.

“Sure.”

“Sometimes we forget,” she said. “There’s hardly anything but space.”

“I know.”

“Has anybody ever seen an atom? A nucleus?”

“Not yet. Only what it does to light.”

“So maybe it doesn’t exist?”

“It exists all right,” he said. Almost defensively. Then, “Did you hear me think?”

Without hesitation, “Yes.”

“That is not possible, is it?”

Ruth smiled. “Much is possible.”

 

The she asked, “How do you go about it? How do you hope to detect the elemental particle, if there indeed is one?”

“We smash things together,” he said.

She nodded that she understood. “Particle accelerators.”

“Yes.”

“Fermilab and CERN?”

“Yes.”

“Bubble chambers?”

“Yes. To trace the little bits.”

“But if they’re traceable, they must have internal structure?”

“So the theory goes.”

“So that’s not going to work then, is it?”

“We hope it will.”

“Though futile?”

There was no answer to that, so Julian didn’t bother. Instead, he said, though not with any hope of an answer, of course:

“How would you go about it?”

“I would look,” said the girl. Smiling now.

“Look?”

“I would make myself really, really small, and look.” And still smiling.

“You’re kidding.”

“Am I?”

“Of course.”

“Am I?” Surprise or mock surprise? She did it so well that Julian could not tell.

“Of course,” seemed to be the only two words left in his vocabulary. Then the question walked in and sat down, and he asked it of her:

“Do you think matter longs for matter?”

If she was surprised at that question, she did not show it. But there was no hiding his own surprise at her answer:

“As in gravity?”

[*76 :: (Pasadena)

 

He is a brilliant man, this Julian Lawson. Kristina Medina was clever to have introduced us. He knows on many levels, and he is knocking on the final door.

And he knows the language of deep science. Yes, he is indeed my next teacher.

I see in his heart that he loves Kristina Medina. Deeply. Hopelessly. Strangely, I also see that he is resigned to, and quite happy with this. He is an unusual man.

And then he asks me if I think matter longs for matter. Which, of course it does. So I answer him:

“As in gravity?”

And his eyes spring open, very wide, as if I had turned ghost.

“Do you know?” he says after a long while.

“I know many things,” I tell him.

“About gravity?” he says. “Do you know about gravity?”

“About the longing?”

“Yes, about the longing.”

For him, it is a matter of what the world calls a strong intuition—an intuition so strong as to border certainty, though not crossing that border. He knows with his deeper roots, of course, but the leaves that are his current life have had no direct dealings with those roots for many lives.

Yet, he sees with the clear eye of intuition, matter pulling matter, this universal affinity at work, this strong need and yearning to return to elemental particle, before its sundering into universe.

Finally, I answer, “Yes.”

Then he falls silent again, scrutinizing me, visually probing surfaces as if the answer to his now growing question lies in my face, my eyes, my hair, or in the air surrounding.

Then he asks it, again:

“Who are you?”

Shall I avoid, ignore, or answer the question? But when he asks with such earnestness, with such intensity, he does not really leave me a choice. And besides, he deserves to know. So I say:

“Can you keep a secret?”

[*77 :: (Pasadena)

 

Julian did not sleep much that night. Perhaps he didn’t sleep at all, he couldn’t really tell. Some of his ponderings felt like sleep, or at least next door to it, but even here he was partly awake, for how can you fall away from such a revelation?

If true.

And how could it possibly?

The rational part of him, the part he sometimes thought of as C & B—Checks and Balances, as if the name of some accounting firm—issued warning after warning not to be taken in by the apparent romance of this mystery; for how could it possibly?

Romance? he’d argue back with himself. Romance?

The wish for the unbelievable to be believable, C & B said, the thrill of transcendence, that romance. That dream.

But how do you explain?

C & B said nothing, for he had nothing to say to that. Julian reached out for his alarm clock and brought it close to his face. He had to press a small button for the face to illuminate, and he did. Two-thirty-three. He carefully placed the clock back on his bedside table. The Buddha.

It was a thrill, all right. He laughed into the still night, wondering fleetingly what someone who heard that might think of the madman inside. Then he laughed again. Let them.

For the deeper part of him that considered C & B nothing but an auxiliary view—the part of him he sometimes thought of as groundwater—knew. Just knew that the impossibility that called itself Ruth Marten now made sense.

Not that he knew much about the Buddha. In fact, all he knew at this point is that it rang true. The name, the person, and her mission, as she had put it, to marry the mystery of science with the mystery of religion, for they are one and the same.

One and the same.

And he laughed again.

Then climbed out of bed to fix himself some chamomile tea, perhaps that’ll relax him and help him sleep.

It did and it did not.

[*:*]

Another person who slept little, if at all, that night was Ananda.

Ruth had been unusually quiet, subdued even, when she came home from Cal Tech that afternoon. Both Ananda and Melissa had wondered how it had gone, had she gotten along with Julian?

Sure. Nodded.

“Oh, well,” said Melissa, “Sounds like you got on like a house on fire.”

“Maybe not a house,” she’d answered. “And maybe not on fire.”

“You didn’t get along?” Melissa concerned now.

“Oh, we got along just fine.”

“What then?”

“Nothing. Just a lot to think about.”

And give Melissa credit, she does give Ruth “space” as they call it these days, and does respect her privacy, especially when, like this, she’s a little pensive.

But there was more to it than that. When Ruth maintained what struck Ananda as her brooding, and at dinner only picked at and hardly ate any of her food, he just had to know—he had come to suspect, but had to know.

“You told him, didn’t you?” he said.

Melissa nearly dropped her fork, then actually did drop her fork in her quick turn to face him then Ruth then him again. There was something she wanted to say but it seemed like she could not catch it.

Ruth didn’t answer.

“Am I right?” Ananda repeated.

“Is he right?” Melissa finally managed, fork retrieved.

“It was the right thing to do,” said Ruth.

Ananda’s first impulse was to tell her the precise opposite, but he checked it, for something not so much in Ruth’s external demeanor as in the Buddha Gotama’s internal air seemed too certain, too resolved.

“What did you tell him?” asked Melissa. “How much.”

“Name, rank, and serial number,” said Ruth. “And mission objective.”

“You did not,” said Melissa, having retrieved her dropped fork held on to it this time.

“She did,” said Ananda, though smiling now.

“Julian is an amazing person,” said Ruth. “And very perceptive. I could not have kept this from him for long, and if a river has to be crossed, might as well cross it now rather than later.”

“How did he take it?” said Ananda.

“Time will tell,” said Ruth.

“Did he believe you?” said Melissa.

“He will soon enough, if not already,” said Ruth.

“Are you being flippant?” asked her mother, and not kindly.

“No, I am not.”

But now, in the middle of the night, both Ruth and Melissa asleep, Ananda did worry that it might not have been the prudent thing for the Buddha to do. What did they know about this Julian Lawson? Other than that he was a good friend of Kristina Medina, Ruth’s teacher, who, from what Melissa was saying, had her own suspicions. It was all too soon. Too soon, that was his main worry.

He wondered what time it was, but decided he did not want to know. Instead he turned over to face the wall, and willed sleep to come.

[*:*]

He rang the doorbell shortly after eight. If this was too early, well so be it. This could not wait. He had to do two things: confirm, and warn.

The woman who opened the door was obviously Ruth’s mother, she had the most startling blue eyes he had ever seen, and not incongruously so either.

“Can I help you?” she asked him.

“You are Ruth’s mother,” she said.

“And you are?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “Julian Lawson.”

“Ah,” she said. “Julian Lawson. Ruth’s hi-tech friend.”

“Well, Cal Tech, anyway.” Which, a fraction too late, struck him as an exquisitely lame thing to say.

And unrewarded, since the woman did not smile. “What can we do for you?” she said, a little more pointedly this time, really wanting to know his business.

“Could I see Ruth?” he asked.

“It is a little bit early,” she said.

“Julian,” said Ruth, arriving at the door. Her mother turned to look at her, and then seemed to make up her mind. Stepping aside, she let him in. “Well, since she’s up,” she said.

“Thanks,” said Julian. “I appreciate it.”

“He’s here to see you,” she said.

“Actually, I’m here to see both of you.”

“You are Julian Lawson,” said an older man with cropped hair, hardly longer than a whisper, who struck Julian as friendly and pleasantly gaunt. He offered his hand. “Ananda,” he said. “Wolf.”

Julian took it, shook it. “Julian.”

“And you’ve met Melissa, I see.”

“Ah, that’s your name,” said Julian, not facetiously.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Melissa, now friendlier. “Where are my manners?” Another offered hand, which he took and shook. “Melissa Marten.”

“Julian,” he said again. Then, “Can we talk?”

She nodded, as did Ruth. The old man said, “This way,” and led him into a nicely furnished living room. “Anywhere you want,” he said, meaning take a seat. Which he did.

Ruth said, “I told them.”

Sitting by her mother, the likeness, especially the eyes, was striking. As was the contrast, blonde and black. “You told them?” he said.

“Yes.”

Then he caught on. “Oh, that you’ve told me?”

“Yes.”

The old man, Ananda, was regarding him intensely, looking for what?, Julian wondered. And soon found out.

“Do you believe her?” he asked.

Straight to the point. And he really meant the question, Julian could tell.

And that was the question, wasn’t it? The one that had kept him up all night, and that had led him to visit strangers at what might to them have appeared as first light.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I do.”

“You do,” said Melissa Marten. Confirming.

“Yes, I believe her. I believe that what she told me is in fact the case. That’s why I’ve come.”

“How could that possibly be?” said the old man. Which sounded to Julian more like “Why on earth would you believe a child’s fantasies?” Again, that was one aspect of what he had pondered all night.

“I’m not a religious person,” he said, addressing Ananda, then looking over to Melissa and Ruth to indicate that his answer was meant for them, too.

All three waited for him to go on.

“Or a particularly spiritual one,” he continued. “I am more of a logical person. I like things to make sense.”

Ananda was nodding slowly, “According to reason,” he said.

“Yes, according to reason.” He looked at all three taking him in, one after the other. Then he continued:

“I don’t care how precocious the child, no ten-year old understands particle physics as well as Ruth does. I’m sorry. That’s just not happening. No way. But here she is, and I know—don’t ask me how, not just yet anyway—but I know that she has a firmer grasp on the subject than I have myself. Which flies straight in the face of making sense.”

Melissa Marten sat stiffly upright, as if listening with her entire body. Ruth, smiling a little, now seemed to enjoy this.

“Where would such knowledge come from? That’s what I’ve been asking myself all night. How could she possibly? Unless. Unless, indeed.”

“But she would not have to be the Buddha to know that. Why not Einstein or someone like that?” suggested Ananda.

“Why would she lie?” said Julian.

No takers.

Then he said, “Once you open the door to having lived as someone else before. I mean, once you credit that with being possible, then I’d take her word for it. One’s as impossible as the next.”

Ruth nodded. Well put, is what she nodded. Melissa Marten didn’t move a muscle. The old man shifted in his chair, crossed his legs, and drew breath. But before he had a chance to voice whatever else he had in mind, Julian said:

“So it’s true, isn’t it?”

Mother and old man—uncle, grandfather, what?—exchanged a brief glance. Ruth still nodding. Good going.

Seemed like mother drew the shorter of the straws. “Yes, Julian,” she said. “That’s who she is.”

Ruth still nodding.

“The Buddha?”

“Well, I’m Ruth now,” she said. “I was the Buddha once.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Julian.

“How are you at keeping secrets?” asked Ananda.

“She already asked me that,” he answered.

“And the answer was?” he wanted to know.

“I can keep a secret,” said Julian. “And that’s partially why I’m here. I know many who can’t. And I know many who would not believe anything Ruth has told me. I’m not even sure why I believe her, but I do. I really do.”

“We’re all good at keeping secrets,” said Melissa. “Except, this one,” she said, looking down at her daughter. Who, again—without looking back up at her mother—nodded. Yes, she’s right. Terrible secret-keeper.

“I don’t know if you took a chance with me,” looking straight at Ruth now. “Or, perhaps you knew I could deal with it. But you can’t go telling people about this. That’s what I came here to tell you.”

“I know,” said Ruth.

“So why did you tell me?”

“You’re right,” she said. “I knew that you could deal with it, as you put it. And, I also felt that you had a right to know. “

“You do know what gravity is, don’t you?” said Julian.

“You’re right, Julian. It’s longing.”

“You see?” he said, addressing Melissa now. “That’s why I had to believe her. Only one other person, ever, that I know,” then a thought struck him, a memory. “Well, two, actually. My father did, too. But no one else has ever equated gravity with longing, and none with such certainty—she really does know, you know. No one with such certainty as your daughter.”

“Longing?” said Melissa.

“Long story,” said Ruth.

“Try me,” said her mother.

Before any attempts were made, Julian asked, “Does Kristina Medina know?”

“Not really,” said Ruth.

“Not really?”

“She’s asked me the very same question you did,” said Ruth.

“Which question?”

“She wondered who I was, really.”

“She would,” said Julian. Then, “But you didn’t tell her?”

“No. Someday I would, is what I told her.”

“You should tell her.”

“I know.”

“What about longing?” said Melissa.

[*:*]

Julian did not leave the Marten house until after lunch, which Melissa had cooked for the four of them. By the time he left, Melissa knew more about gravity than she’d bargained for, and that, at heart, it was all about longing.

But more importantly, Julian had been put fully in the picture, as Ananda put it, and now knew that he had a very important part to play in waking up planet Earth.

Also—and they had all agreed—he had their blessings: he wanted to be the one to tell Kristina.

[*78 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa stood by the nearly closed door and watched Julian Lawson cross the street and get into his car.

“He’s spoken for,” said Ruth from behind her.

Melissa swirled around. “What?”

“He’s spoken for,” said her daughter.

“Listen you. You had better stay out of my head.”

“I’m nowhere near it. I’m just telling you, his heart is given, never to be given again.”

[*79 :: (Pasadena)

 

Julian called her at school. It was a number he knew by heart.

After a short while she came on the line.

“Kristina.”

“Yes, Julian.”

“We need to talk.”

When she did not respond, he added, “About Ruth.”

“What about Ruth?”

“Not on the phone,” he said. “Here, any time. Come here. To my office.”

[*:*]

Kristina Medina arrived shortly after the school day was over, and did in fact wake him up when she entered his office without knocking.

“Julian!”

For the briefest of moments he was back in Brooklyn and his mother—and none too happy about it—was back in his room for the third or something time, making sure he got up, or he’d be late for school.

But it wasn’t his mom at all. “Kristina.”

“You were sleeping, Julian.”

“Sorry. I don’t think I slept at all last night.”

She cleared a spot for herself and sat down. “What kept you up?”

“Ruth.”

As if that would explain everything—which, in fact, it did.

“I see.”

“I know who she is.”

Kristina turned very still. Possibly holding her breath.

“Kristina. She is the Buddha.”

“The Buddha?”

“That’s what she told me yesterday, and they confirmed it this morning.”

“They?”

“I went to her house this morning. I met her mother, Melissa, and her—what is he, Ananda? Her uncle? Grandfather?”

“I don’t know,” said Kristina. “I’ve been wondering the same thing.”

“Well, Ananda Wolf was there as well, and they, all three, confirmed it: Ruth Marten is a reincarnation—though they didn’t use that word—of the Buddha. The actual Buddha, as in the founder of Buddhism.”

“Why did you go to her house?”

“To warn her, more than anything.”

Kristina waited for him to continue.

“For if that’s really true…” Another thought occurred to him, “Did you know that she, just like you, sees gravity as longing. In fact I think she knows that gravity is longing.”

Kristina smiled in recognition, or recollection.

Julian said, “If Ruth Marten really is the Buddha, and I believe that she is, she could do worse than keeping it to herself.”

“What do you mean?”

“No one would believe her.”

Kristina nodded. This was true. Though, “You believe her.”

“And you,” said Julian, quite certain about it.

“I don’t know, Julian. That’s a tall order.”

“Well, you do, don’t you?”

“It would explain things.”

“It does explain things.”

“What else did she say?”

“She said that she is here, she has returned, to wake us up, the planet. The population. And that she now sees the best way to do it: to wed science and religion—her words.”

“She said that? To wed science and religion?”

“Verbatim.”

“Wow.”

“I know.”

“Is that why she’s studying quantum physics?”

“That is precisely why she is studying quantum physics. To gain the right vocabulary, she said.”

Kristina was shaking her head, not so much in disbelief as in wonder.

“But she understands it? It’s not just the words.”

“Oh, she understands it, all right. Better than I do, I think.”

“And you believe her? About the Buddha, I mean.”

Did he? Really? “Yes,” he said after a brief introspection. “I find that quite believable. Not that I know anything about the Buddha, but if that is who this girl—who is no more a young girl inside than you or I—if that is who she says she is, then I see no reason not to believe her.”

“But that’s not the same thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“To not disbelieve is not the same thing as believe.”

Good point. “Let me put it this way then: I don’t know that she was the Buddha, but I believe her when she says that she was.”

Yes, this she could see, for she nodded again. Then she said:

“What should we do?”

“I’ve thought about that. I think we should do two things: Keep an air tight lid on who she is, and assist her in any way we can.”

“It’s clear what you can do to help her, but what do you think I can do?” wondered Kristina.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her.”

“I think I will do just that,” she answered.

[*80 :: (Pasadena)

 

The strategy agreed upon that morning among Melissa and Ruth Marten, Ananda Wolf, and Julian Lawson was that Ruth would have to be at least sixteen years old to even vaguely be taken seriously, whatever message she would deliver to the world.

Melissa and Ananda would have preferred that she does nothing of any sort until she is eighteen, but Ruth strenuously objected. They looked to Julian to mediate. He had seen sixteen-year-old geniuses, had in fact been one himself, come to think of it.

“See?” said Ruth, turning pointedly to Ananda and her mother.

“Is that right?” said Ananda.

Julian explained that he was accepted at Cal Tech at that age for his exceptional aptitude for science.

“Maybe it’s easier to be accepted young in that field, as a scientist,” suggested Melissa.

“That’s the field I’m entering,” Ruth pointed out.

Which Melissa realized, yes, of course, that’s true.

So, for the next five years or so, Ruth would have to cool her heels, and prepare.

“Five years,” said Ruth. Not in protest, more as a sigh.

“You can help me in my research,” said Julian. “I’ll make you my research assistant.”

“You can do that?” asked Ananda.

“I don’t see why not.”

“Five more years,” said Ruth again.

No one answered her this time.

[*81 :: (Pasadena)

 

“Ruth,” said Kristina after the final bell. “Would you mind staying a while.” Someone, she didn’t catch who, giggled one of those look-who’s-in-trouble giggles in Ruth’s direction. If Ruth noticed, she didn’t show it.

“Sure,” she said.

Once the classroom had emptied, Kristina walked over to Ruth’s desk and pulled out a chair—to small, really—and sat down.

“Julian told me,” she said.

“I know,” said Ruth.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I had promised Melissa and Ananda not to tell anyone.”

“But you told Julian.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“You are the Buddha?”

“I was the Buddha.”

“And you have returned?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Why?”

“Why? Take a look at the world, Kristina. That’s why.”

She blushed at her own stupidity. “I’m sorry, Ruth.”

“No need.” Then said, “I had hoped that by now the Dhamma would have spread and taken good root everywhere and that the world would now manage on its own. But what I saw—especially when I returned as Bruno—proved otherwise.”

“You were Bruno?”

“Yes, Kristina.”

“I should have known.”

“How could you have?”

Kristina frowned, then shifted on the narrow chair. “What is the Dhamma?”

“It is Dhamma in Pali, Dharma in Sanskrit. It is the Buddha’s teaching. When I taught the Buddha’s Dhamma I voiced it in Pali.”

“Ah,” said Kristina. “Dhamma.”

“The world is on a suicide course, Kristina,” said Ruth. “I must do what I can to stop it. I must turn it around. But the world is like a far too huge ocean liner on a perilous course, far too close to and heading for the rocky shore. How do you halt such a vast momentum and turn it toward safety and enlightenment?”

“I don’t know, Ruth. How do you?”

“By science, I hope. By unifying science and religion. That’s what I hope.”

“To wed science and religion. That’s what Julian said your plan was.”

“Yes, to wed science and religion. An old bristlecone thought that would be a good idea.”

“What?”

“Another story,” said Ruth. “Another time.” Then: “Do you think it will work?”

“Science and religion?”

“Yes.”

Kristina took a long internal journey, and fell silent for so long that Ruth wondered if Kristina had in fact heard her.

She had. Returning, she said, “Today’s priest is the medical doctor. But I don’t see anyone marrying medicine and religion. The scientist is not quite as deified, though he is viewed with respect and not a little awe. But will they listen to him, or her? I don’t know.”

“I trust they will. The bristlecone said they will.”

“The bristlecone. Tell me. Now.”

Ruth did.

“You’re a little much to take,” said Kristina once Ruth had finished her White Mountains story. Though she smiled as she said it.

“But that’s what he said,” said Ruth.

“Well, he’s been around long enough. He should know.”

“My thought, precisely.” Then, “But you don’t think it will work?”

“I didn’t say that. In fact, I think it’s the only tack that will work.”

Ruth nodded. “I’m glad,” she said. “I’m glad you agree.”

The Kristina asked the burning question: “How can I help, Ruth?”

Without hesitation, Ruth answered, as if she had already considered this, at length, “Help me through high school without me going crazy. Help me to transfer to Cal Tech to work with Julian as soon as that’s feasible. Help keep my secret secret.”

“I can do that,” said Kristina.

“Sorry for not telling you sooner,” said Ruth.

[*82 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa had not been moved by anyone for as long as she could remember. Not since meeting Charles so long ago, and those feelings—she had since discovered and eventually admitted to herself—had not been love as much as compassion.

Who was this Julian Lawson, and why had Ruth told her what she did about his heart. Who had he given it to?

Then, as the mind tends to do if you let it, it rushed off into sweet courtship, engagement, marriage and a few more children before she got a fix and a hold on it again. Melissa, for heaven’s sake.

Still.

[*:*]

At one point that evening she asks her daughter, seemingly out of the blue, “What did you mean about Julian Lawson’s heart?”

“It’s been given.”

“To whom?”

“To Kristina Medina.”

“But she’s married.”

“That is why,” said Ruth, “his heart will forever be given, for it will never, can never, be received. And so can never, will never be returned.”

“What happened?” asked Melissa, but Ruth had said enough on the subject, and would not answer. Maybe she didn’t know the details.

Melissa tried to envision the circumstances of Julian Lawson’s given heart but could not. What she did see, however, is that her daughter was right, for in recalling his visit, she could sense no interest whatsoever drifting her way from Ruth’s new teacher—his heart already truly given.

[*83 :: (Pasadena)

 

Both Kristina and Julian held true to their promises to not only keep the secret, but also that they would do anything they could to help Ruth, and so it was that upon finishing seventh grade at Pasadena Polytechnic—and now an acknowledged fourteen year old science protégé—it was decided in an unprecedented move by both Polytechnic and Cal Tech that she would transfer to Cal Tech under the now Professor Julian Lawson’s guidance and tutelage to continue her education.

At her own request, and eventually granted by Cal Tech—whose board didn’t quite see the point of it, but consented since Ruth, and her mother, both insisted—she would augment her science curriculum and research with courses in philosophy and religion. Her stated reason was personal interest, while her real reason was preparation.

[*:*]

Melissa more or less succeeded in wholly putting aside her interest in Julian Lawson, whom she saw a fair amount of, especially once Ruth transferred to Cal Tech; but she did not manage to finally transcend her perceived need until after a conversation they had in the spring of 2025 in Julian’s office (now much larger and better kept—William, his assistant, insisted on neatness, and would take matters in his own hands if Julian lapsed).

Julian and Ruth were working on a new series of experiments to prove that what allowed non-local communication was simply life itself, the true underlying reality to everything. They had made good progress, but while they both saw the results as evident, other, more critical views, were nowhere near convinced, and so they continued to refine and redo.

Another day had come to an end and Melissa had driven over to Cal Tech to pick up Ruth—they were headed for a dinner with Melissa’s parents. Ruth, however, was not ready yet, and pleaded for “five more minutes” which soon had turned forty-five.

Melissa, meanwhile, dropped in on Julian, who, as always, was delighted to see her though still as un-interested (by Melissa’s yard stick) as ever.

“She’s not ready yet,” by way of explanation, as she sat down.

“Yes, I know. She wants to re-check some settings for another round tomorrow.”

“Five minutes, she said.”

“Don’t hold your breath—or her to it,” said Julian. Then he said:

“I’ve been meaning to ask you. For a long time, actually.” But did not go on.

“Meaning to ask me what, Julian?”

“Does she talk in your head as well?”

She laughed more at the surprise of it than the question itself, then quickly gathered herself. “Yes, she certainly does.”

“It scared the pants of me the first time.”

“Me, too,” she admitted.

“Can you talk back?” he wanted to know.

“Sure.”

“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t seem to find that, that,” he faltered.

“Tongue?” she suggested.

“Yes, precisely. That tongue. I have to speak my answers out loud. But I hear her just fine.”

Melissa wasn’t sure what to answer, what to suggest. For her the tongue, as she had put it, had been found naturally, it had just been there, for her use, no finding involved. Julian had not found it, and she could see that it bothered him, at least on some level. Instead of trying to say something comforting, she said something that had been on her mind for at least as long:

“I have a question for you.”

He waited.

“Does your heart still belong to Kristina Medina?”

“How do you know?”

“Ruth.”

This was the first time Melissa had ever observed someone about to blush but then change his mind. Like a shade announced that never arrived. Odd sensation. She realized that she had put Julian very much on the spot, and was about to apologize when he said:

“Do you believe in fate?” Then, before she had a chance to answer, clarified, “I mean, do you believe that for each person there is a someone that is fated to be your,” he stopped, apparently searching for the right word; “your partner,” he said—having gone full circle and then some; from mate to partner to girl to intended to destined to mate again and then finally back to partner.

“Do I believe there is someone out there meant just for you?”

“Yes. That’s what I mean.”

“I used to.”

“Not anymore?”

“I haven’t thought about it lately.”

“I believe there is. And I believe that when you find that someone you’ll know, just flat out know that this is the person you were intended to spend the rest of your life with.”

“But she is married.”

“I know. Believe me, I know. That was my problem. She was already spoken for.”

“Perhaps she is not the one.”

“Oh, she’s the one, all right. I told you that you flat out know. I flat out knew.”

“And,” she said. “You gave her your heart?”

He looked up at hear, startled. “Yes, that’s precisely what I did. I gave her my heart.”

“And you have not retrieved it in all these years.”

“No, I haven’t retrieved it. I gave it away for good.”

“You are an amazing man, Julian Lawson.”

Julian didn’t reply. Instead he seemed to retreat a little, to consider some internal scenario, memory perhaps. Melissa regarded him with a feeling part wonder, part compassion. What was he giving up to remain true to his gift? Was he happy, was he truly happy with such a profound choice?

Then something occurred that made them both sit up and look at each other in wonder, for he answered her question, quite clearly, and purely by thought: “Yes.”

“Yes, what?” She said aloud.

“You heard that?”

“You heard my question?”

“Yes I did,” said Julian.

“Yes I did,” said Melissa.

“Well, I’ll be,” said Julian. “Looks like I found that tongue.”

Then she thought the question, “Does Kristina know?”

“That she owns my heart?” he said.

“Yes.”

“No. No, she does not.”

Melissa nodded. Yes, she could see that the noble, the loving thing to do was to not tell her.

“Yes,” Julian said. That’s the noble, the right thing to do.

“I had a thing for you for a while,” said Melissa. “Though not anymore.”

“I’m flattered.”

“Though now you feel to me more like a brother than anything else. A dear and close brother.”

“Amazing,” said Julian. Again reflecting on finding his tongue, and on hearing her thoughts. Then he said, “We have to establish some sort of protocol.”

“What do you mean?”

“Privacy,” he said. “Respect thereof.”

“Ah, yes. Yes, we have to establish some sort of protocol.”

But instead of discussing protocol, Julian said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“What is it like to be the Buddha’s mother? If that is that how you see yourself.”

Good question. “No,” she said after a little while. “That is not how I see myself. I see myself as Ruth’s mother. She’s the one I carried in my belly, and she’s the one I’ve worried about and raised. That fact that she’s also the Buddha Gotama, well, somehow that is secondary.”

Julian nodded. Yes, he could see that. “But,” he said. “The responsibility?”

“The responsibility?”

“She’s on a mission. A crucial mission.”

“I know.”

“Legally, I mean. You’re still her mother.”

“Of course I am.”

“Is it a burden?”

She shook her head. “No, no burden. Not at all. A joy.”

He smiled at that. “She told me once that she chose you. She chose well.”

“I hope so,” said Melissa.

“I know so,” said Julian.

“Flat-out know?” wondered Melissa.

“Yes.”

[*:*]

On paper, what Julian and Ruth wanted to prove was straightforward enough: that life—at its most fundamental—was indeed the medium that facilitated instant communication between the twin particles. This, however, proved extremely difficult to demonstrate.

Ruth had told Julian that from the ultimate view of the Buddha and his insight into the truth about nature—the thus-ness of things, as she put it—in that light neither of the correlated twin-particles really existed. She had told him that they—in truth—were a result of life thinking them, and that without life there would be neither particle or instant communication (knowing) between them.

Julian was on board with this. Generally accepted research had already established that these particles were and also were not particles. What Ruth said—that these were direct products of life thinking them—was not beyond the realm of reason. But it would take some proving.

At this proving this had proved more than just elusive, it was flirting with the impossible.

A string of experiments were running into an either/or brick wall. Either life was present and looking, and then the instant communication between twinned particles did take place—Julian had already proven this

But to show that instant communication did not take place when life was not present and looking, well, that was the problem, how on earth could you prove that since you were not looking? How could you tell anything about them if you were not observing?

It was very much like the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. Did it indeed make a sound? There was no real way of telling, was there? And never would be. For you—life, in other words—would have to be present to register the sound or non-sound to prove it one way or another, but in being present there would, of course be a sound.

Perhaps non-local communication between twinned particles is impossible in the absence of life, but how on earth would you go about proving that?

After many attempts, and many failures, they were quite literally back at the proverbial drawing board.

[*84 :: (Pasadena)

 

“So, how do we fool them into thinking that we’re not looking,” said Julian. He said this partially as a joke, but as he said it, he also felt a deep-within rumbling sense of onto-something about that.

Ruth shook her head. “As long as life is intimately involved in the experiment, the particles will exist and non-local communication will occur.” Then she went on to think out aloud: “If there were to be no life whatever involved in the experiment, there would be no communication possible. No instant communication between the twins will take place. Nor, of course, would there be any twin particles to experiment with.”

“So, simply not provable. Is that what you’re saying?”

“I don’t know, Julian. We’re back to our either/or proposition. Either life is present to exist the twin particles into being, and with that the instant communication—their co-knowing; or, there is no life to facilitate their co-knowing, but then, by the same token, there will be no twin particles either.

“So, not provable?”

Ruth sighed. “I honestly don’t know.” Then, after a brief silence, she added, “I wonder if there can be a way to provide or display or manifest—I don’t know what the right word would be—to show a sufficient amount of life to keep the particles in place, to exist them, but not enough life to facilitate co-knowing.”

Julian remained silent, still rumbling inside, waiting for more.

“The real problem, of course,” she continued. “Is that life is always present, to some degree or other, or there would be no universe, no world, no twin particles, nothing to prove, nothing.

“That’s a thought,” said Julian. “Problem solved.”

“In more ways than you’ll ever know,” said Ruth.

That earned he a long glance, which she chose to ignore. Instead she said, “Being, at heart, the product of thought and nothing else, the twin particles are finely attuned to thought, and they know that we—as experimenters—expect them to not only exist, but to instantly communicate. And, being friendly particles they oblige.”

Julian remained silent. Listening intently.

“This behavior was agreed upon aeons ago,” she said. “The physical has a long memory. And always does what it’s told.”

“You lost me there.”

“I’ve said it before, Julian. It is all illusion. All of it. Some a bit more illusion that others. Non-local communication is very fundamental to matter, without it matter would, literally, fall apart. The left hand has to know, at all time, precisely what the right hand is doing. Always coordinated. It is, truly, one body. As long as life is involved.

“But life is always involved.”

“Yes,” Ruth said. “That is the problem.”

Julian sat very still while within him the rumble turned small geyser of intuition that gathered strength and then erupted, and then took wing, “Perhaps if we don’t observe directly.”

Ruth looked up at him, with that look that took in everything, both external and internal. Still, she didn’t quite follow, “What do you mean?”

“Perhaps if we place enough vias, enough relays, between us as observing life and the particles we observe, perhaps they won’t notice our looking?”

Now she saw his reasoning, and smiled. “I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s worth trying.”

“Or, perhaps they will see through the charade.”

“I don’t know, Julian,” she said. “Chances are that they will, but we won’t know until we try. How do you see us setting this up?”

Julian’s private geyser seemed to have had it all worked out from the start, and as he listened to it (if that is what he did) he nodded to himself and saw that if there indeed was a way to fool life into believing there was no life there looking, this would be it.

“Remember the Colombia-Borneo experiment?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“We should duplicate that experiment, but rather than having the data sent directly to our monitoring computers, we should first beam it to a communication satellite, and from there to another satellite, and from there to a third, and so on, until we have enough relays and vias to appear to the particles that no one is looking. Nothing alive anyway.”

Ruth smiled and nodded. “Worth trying,” she said.

[*85 :: (Pasadena)

 

The experiment took three grueling months to arrange. The sites in Colombia and Borneo were easily enough brought online—lasers calibrated and made ready, as was Cambridge, it was the communication satellites that was the problem. One or two, fine, it was Cal Tech asking after all, they could have them on short notice; but Julian wanted ten, twenty, and that raised not only quite a few eyebrows but a host of objections. Julian stuck to his guns, he needed a minimum of ten, twenty would be better. In the end they managed to line up sixteen, for a window of precisely four minutes and twelve seconds.

“Is sixteen enough?” wondered Ruth.

“Is four minutes enough?” wondered Julian.

They sat looking at each other across Julian’s desk, cluttered as usual, lately striking Julian more like something alive than simply wood and paper. How many relays were enough? Julian had pondered this what felt like endlessly. He’d like a hundred, a thousand, but that was not going to happen, was it? Sixteen relays would inject roughly thirty milliseconds to the data path, which in particle physical time was a small eternity. Still, would it fool the twins? He hoped, but he was far from sure.

He said, “I have to assume that if sixteen doesn’t fool them, then no amount will.”

“I don’t know,” said Ruth. “I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember?”

“There are so many agreements,” she said. “I don’t remember their sequence, in what order they were made. I don’t remember if delays were ever agreed upon. Or whether it was ever agreed that life could mask its looking.”

“You are talking long ago,” said Julian, who by now had ceased to be surprised by anything Ruth said.

“I am talking very long ago,” Ruth agreed.

“There’s only one way to find out,” said Julian. “Although I am concerned about the window. Four minutes is not much.”

“And twelve seconds,” added Ruth.

“And twelve seconds, yes. But a single hiccup will eat all of that, and then we have no experiment left.”

“So, we won’t have any hiccups,” said Ruth.

“Let’s hope so,” said Julian.

[*:*]

The year was 2026, the day was December 16th. It was a Wednesday, and everything went smoothly.

At precisely 14:10 hours, Cambridge time, the sixteen communication satellites would sync up and provide a path of relays for the data sent by the Borneo detecting laser.

At precisely that time Cambridge fired a set of negative particle twins for the lasers, the Colombia twin hitting firsts and reversed to positive, the Borneo particle hitting its laser that hair-breadth of time later, which detected and reported back, via, via, via—through all sixteen relays—and the particle was: positive.

And again, and again, and again. All positive. Non-locally told by its twin to change polarity, again and again.

There was no fooling life.

“Oh, well,” said Ruth.

[*:*]

December 17th was a gloomy day. I many ways.

Pasadena did its best not to rain, but didn’t do a very good job of it. Clouds ran low and intrusively. The wind blew in no particular direction but that which at that moment would find some unprotected spot to usher the rain toward—at least that’s how Julian felt as he rang the doorbell. Melissa answered it. “Julian, you’re soaking.”

He nodded in agreement and scrambled inside.

“They have a thing called umbrellas,” Melissa informed him. “It’s supposed to keep you dry in weather like this.”

“This is not England,” said Julian. “Or Boston.”

“Boston’s into umbrellas?” said Melissa.

“Oh, I don’t know. They’re an east-coast thing.”

“Here,” said Melissa. “Give me that jacket.”

Julian obliged, and Melissa hung it up, away from the other coats and jackets to give it space to dry.

“Ruth?” said Julian.

“Yes,” said Melissa. “She’s waiting for you. She and Ananda. They’re in Ananda’s room. Do you want anything? Coffee? Have you had breakfast?”

“Coffee would be great.”

“You go on,” said Melissa, “I’ll bring it.”

“Thanks.”

Julian had visited the Marten household at least once a month over the last few years, and knew where to go. The door to Ananda’s room stood open, but he still announced his arrival with a soft knock.

They both looked up from a diagram that Ruth was drawing.

“Julian,” said Ananda. “Good to see you.”

“Do you remember EPROMs?” asked Ruth.

“EPROMs?”

“Erasable, programmable, read-only memory.”

“Yes, I know the acronym.”

“Do we still use them?”

“I’m sure we do. In some fashion or another.”

Julian looked around for somewhere to sit down. Something Ananda would notice, and did. “Oh, I’m sorry, Julian—here.” He stood up and fetched a chair for him. He placed it by his desk, next to Ruth’s. Julian eased into it, and eyed the diagram Ruth was still sketching.

“Why do you ask?” he asked.

“Remember we talked about sequences of agreements?”

“You talked about.”

“Well, yes.”

“Yes, I do.”

“By that sequence, some things can, by agreement, be undone. Others can’t. Yesterday, we didn’t know whether the Borneo twin was positive or not until we looked, until, even after sixteen relays, we looked. Even had the data up to that point shown a negative Borneo particle, when we looked it was instantly positive, for that is what life has agreed will happen. We’ve certainly proven that there’s no way around that.”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Julian agreed.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only way to erase the data stored on a nonvolatile EPROM is to douse it with a healthy helping of ultra-violet light? Strong ultra-violet light.”

“That’s correct,” said Julian. Ananda nodded in agreement, he must have researched this as well—he was pretty handy with his Mortimer.

“RAM, random access memory, on the other hand, is easily erased, or changed.”

“Of course. It’s volatile. Just turn off the power, or write something else to it. That’s how RAM works.”

Ruth smiled, apparently pleased with herself. “What if,” she said, and pointed to her diagram. “What if we have the Borneo laser report dually, both to a RAM receptacle and an EPROM receptacle.”

Julian’s internal geyser rumbled again, and then he shivered. Then grew very still, very vacuum: He saw, yes, he saw.

“If we see a polarity change because we look, even if there had been no change until we did, such a change is easily made and displayed by RAM, but perhaps not by EPROM. Is that what you’re saying?”

“I believe that the agreements that make the EPROM work, run deeper than detecting a looking life. I don’t think there is a way for the data recorded on the EPROM to be changed once the particles realized they’re being viewed as to behavior. And, just to be sure, we’ll keep any source of ultra-violet light well away from the EPROM.”

“My god,” said Julian. Then, after a few racing heartbeats, and a better look at the diagram, “I believe that will work.”

Ananda smiled.

“Coffee for Julian,” announced Melissa.

Ananda made some room for it, and fetched a coaster out of a drawer.

“What will work?” said Melissa, putting the mug of steaming coffee down on the bamboo coaster.

Julian looked up at her. “I think Ruth has come up with a way to outwit the twin particles.”

“Agreement,” said Ruth.

Melissa, interested, went to get another chair, brought it, sat down. “I’m a big ear,” she said.

“We can’t prove that life is what facilitates the non-local communication for whenever we look, the particles know we’re looking and behaves as expected,” said Julian.

“As agreed,” said Ruth.

“Yes,” said Melissa. “Ananda told me.”

“Ah,” said Julian, looking over at Ananda. Then, looking over Ruth’s diagram, asked for a clean sheet of paper and a pen, which the ever-efficient Ananda supplied.

“If I understand Ruth correctly,” said Julian, while sketching out the Colombia-Borneo experiment again, “even though the particles will detect that they are being viewed by life, and so will conform accordingly, their actual state, or pre-viewed state, will already have been recorded on the EPROM, which cannot be reversed or altered when we finally look. The RAM data will be changed—we know that they can manage that, because they have done so in earlier experiments—but the EPROM data will not.”

Ruth nodded. As did Ananda.

“So what do you hope to see?” asked Melissa.

Ruth looked at Ananda and then at Julian. “I’m not sure,” she said.

“We hope to see the state of the particles when no one is looking,” said Ananda.

“Yes,” said Julian. “The state of the particles when no one is looking.”

“Will that prove that life is the medium that facilitates non-local communication?” Melissa wanted to know.

“It will show what effect life looking will have on them,” said Ruth.

“And what effect is that?” said Melissa.

“Well,” said Ruth. “Basically, without life there would be no particles.”

“So, if life is not looking, there will be nothing there,” said Melissa.

Ruth looked at her, then at Ananda, then at Julian, then back at Melissa. Then said to all of them, with a smile, “See, that’s why I chose her as my mother.”

“I think you’re right,” Ananda told her.

Julian was still catching up. “What exactly do you mean?” to all of them.

“If life takes absolutely no interest in the twin particles, there will most likely not be any particles there at all,” said Ruth.

“And no data will be recorded on the EPROM,” said Julian.

“Not until we look,” said Ruth.

“We’re going to need a large EPROM,” said Julian.

“That is true,” said Ruth.

[*:*]

And that turned out to be the problem. Non-volatile EPROMs were normally used to house smaller programs that would stay active, or in place, even though the computer would power down. Julian and Ruth spent the next three weeks both on rescheduling Colombia and Borneo, and on tracking down a sufficiently large EPROM. They estimated that to capture all the data from the Borneo twin as it sped toward the Borneo laser would take at least 2 terabytes, and the largest EPROM chip in production was 1 terabyte.

Intel, however—owing much of its existence to Cal Tech in the first place—promised that they could serialize four 1 terabyte EPROMs for a total of 4 TBs which would be plenty, with room to spare. Give us two weeks.

And two weeks later, they had the chips (four sets of them, actually, to facilitate four individual experiments), nicely aligned and ready for deployment.

They also adjusted the Cambridge particle firing angles so that the twin particles would not reach their respective beams for a full twelve seconds, which would give them a meaningful window large enough to look, then not-look, then look again. There was some concern that the vastly increased travel time would minimize the difference of arrival too much, but this—once the calculations were made—proved to not be a problem, there would still be an easily measurable time difference between their arrivals.

That settled, they also had a detector laser installed at Cambridge, which would provide a sensor beam along which the Borneo particle would fly en route to the Borneo laser. This way they would have a complete data stream of that twin’s behavior, first setting out, then on its way, and then at arrival—displayed real-time on two trajectory screens, one RAM-fed and one EPROM-fed (TSR and TSE in their diagrams).

“Twelve seconds,” said Ruth. “That’s the travel time?”

“Yes,” said Julian.

“So, if we read the RAM-fed trajectory screen for the first four seconds, then look away for four, and then look back for the last four, we should receive meaningful data.”

Julian nodded. “Yes.”

“Looks like we’re ready,” said Ruth.

“Agreed.”

[*86 :: (Pasadena)

 

The experiments—four separate ones run precisely eight minutes apart, giving their engineers ample time to exchange the EPROMs—took place the third week of January 2027.

The results could not have been more conclusive, nor more astonishing. For Melissa had hit it on the nail.

Imagine three computer monitors, connected to individual Central Processing Units (CPUs) each of which is receiving a direct fiber feed from their respective sources.

Monitor A (TSR—the RAM-fed trajectory screen) will show the entire journey of the Borneo particle from firing to arriving at the Borneo beam, a journey of twelve seconds, as received and passed on by volatile RAM.

Monitor B (TSE) will show the very same journey, but from data received and passed on by non-volatile EPROM.

Monitor C will wait for the Borneo particles arrival at its detection beam and then simply report its polarity.

The Cambridge crew will of course have to be aware of, and monitor (which amounts to viewing), the Borneo particle firing, and so will exist it into place. But their directions are that once fired, no further human observation of any kind will be made at Cambridge.

Once fired, the only viewing of the Borneo particle, anywhere, by any life, will take place at Cal Tech, by Julian and Ruth.

At precisely four o’clock in the morning Pasadena time (precisely noon in Cambridge) the first particle was fired into perfect conditions. A countdown was given real-time over audio connection, four, three, two, one, fire.

At four seconds past four, both Julian and Ruth looked up from Monitor A and studied the ceiling for one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, one-thousand-four seconds and then looked back down at Monitor A, which now showed the unbroken trajectory of the Borneo particle toward its beam.

Four seconds later Monitor C reported that the Borneo particle had, as expected, sensed the polarity shift of its Colombia twin (which was fired as positive, then changed to negative by the Colombia beam), and instantly turned negative as well.

Monitor A now painted a long white streak starting with a bright blip at the bottom left of the screen (Cambridge) arriving at the top right (Borneo beam) twelve seconds later, showing an unbroken journey.

Two deep breaths after that (one each) Julian and Ruth turned their attention to Monitor B which showed the bright blip at the bottom left—the firing of the Borneo particle. Then:

A white streak heading for the top right corner of the screen, reaching about one-third of the way before it vanished. It then stayed vanished for about another third of the screen (four seconds) before it re-appeared and completed the journey to its beam.

Julian and Ruth looked at each other, then back at the monitor. According to the EPROM, seconds five through eight of the Borneo-particle’s travel had never happened.

They looked back at Monitor A, which still displayed the full trajectory.

“Which is what we expect to see,” said Ruth.

“And the Borneo particle obliges,” said Julian. “Even producing a bit of revisionist history.”

“Well, we expected life to affect instant change, revisionist or not, in RAM,” said Ruth. “And prove to us that the Borneo particle never went away.”

Here they looked up and then stepped aside as the engineers descended on their Monitor B computer to change the serialized EPROMs to a fresh set.

This sequence of events was repeated three more times, precisely eight minutes apart, with the exact same result (apart from the Borneo twin’s reported polarity which went positive-negative-positive, to match its Colombia twin, which was fired negative-positive-negative then reversed by the Colombia beam).

They reviewed the data on the four different EPROM sets, and there was no doubt: in each test, the Borneo particle vanished after four seconds and stayed vanished until again viewed by life four seconds later, when it reappeared. Each time.

There was no way of telling (without ruining the experiment) whether the RAM-fed connected Monitor A (TSR) had displayed the same information as the EPROM-fed Monitor B (TSE) during seconds five through eight, for at eight seconds the particle evidently revised the prior four seconds worth of history stored in RAM to now show a continued presence; but without violating prior agreements, as Ruth had put it, it could not alter the history irrevocably burned into the EPROM.

Did this prove that non-local communication was facilitated by life? Not as such, but what it did prove rendered the non-local question moot.

What Julian and Ruth had proved was that not only is non-local communication facilitated by life, the particles themselves are made possible by life. Without life looking, there are is no particle.

Without life looking, there is nothing there.

 

“What does this mean?” was Melissa’s only response to Ruth’s and Julian’s congratulations later than evening: it was Melissa, after all, who had predicted this result.

“I’m not really sure,” said Julian. “But it should shake a few people up.”

“It means,” said Ruth, “that I can begin my mission in earnest.”

“It does?” Melissa looked to Ananda for support. Surely not?

But Ananda only shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly, meaning: Ruth had a point.

“No,” said Melissa, refusing to believe, or accept.

“If there ever was a marriage of science and religion,” said Ruth, facing her mother. “This is it.”

[*87 :: (Pasadena)

 

To make doubly and trebly and even more sure than that, Julian requested eight more sets of serialized EPROMs from the Intel labs, which arrived two days later. Two days after that they repeated the experiment, this time eight times over, eight minutes apart, with precisely the same result each time.

While there had been no doubt in their minds after the initial experiment, Julian wanted to rule out any possibility of mistake or fluke and as a result he now had twelve sets of serialized EPROMs each one showing that at four seconds (give or take some fraction) after firing, and for seconds five through eight, the Borneo particle simply ceased to be.

No life looking = nothing there.

[*:*]

It was a warm for the season and sunny early February afternoon. Ruth and Julian sat in his office, the set of EPROMs safely ensconced in protective, UV resistant rapping, on the desk between them.

William had brought tea for the two of them, and Ruth was now sipping hers while Julian looked out the window at the green meadow of a garden behind his lab. He breathed very slowly, and very carefully, as if any sudden movement would disturb the dream and wake him up.

Ruth, a little less awed by their success, broke the silence, “What now?”

Still a little dazed and careful about keeping the world in place—for this was a world he did not want to vanish by some mental blunder of his, this discovery was too amazing to take any chances with. Even so, he managed to say the correct thing, what they must do next.

“We have to document this, as clearly and as carefully as we can, and publish our findings in a peer paper.”

“Peer paper?”

“The next step is to have others replicate the experiment.”

“Why?”

Which Julian ignored. “We make this possible by writing a technical paper addressing the scientific community, documenting the experiment in sufficient detail to allow others to run the exact same experiment, to the exact same result. Unless this is done, we will not—and I can guarantee you this, Ruth—we will not be believed.”

“But the EPROMs,” she said, nodding at the silvery package on Julian’s desk. “They’re right there.”

“Easily doctored,” said Julian. “Any discovery of magnitude—and nothing has ever been of this magnitude, ever—must be replicated and verified. That’s a natural scientific law.”

Ruth seemed uncomfortable with this.

“What?” asked Julian.

“How long will this take? How much time do you need?”

“Do I need? There’s no ‘I’ here, Ruth. This is our experiment, our paper. This will be published jointly.”

Ruth didn’t answer.

“What? I don’t get it, Ruth.”

“I had hoped to tell the world.”

“We will tell the world, but not until the experiment has been verified. You’ll just have to hold your horses.”

“How long will this take?”

“Well, once you stop pouting, it shouldn’t take more than a week, two perhaps—it has to be approved by Cal Tech review as well.”

“All this red tape.”

“Do you want to be believed or not?”

Ruth shrugged her shoulders, striking Julian as the picture of a slightly petulant teenager. “Of course,” she said.

“Then we have to go about it the red-tape way.”

Ruth sighed her concession.

[*:*]

It took a full month.

The writing, the stating everything as clearly, as unambiguously as possible, took one, two, three drafts, then some input from Ananda and Melissa, then a fourth draft read with meticulous care by William Williams, Julian’s perfectionist assistant, who spotted no less than fourteen what he called inconsistencies (but what any normal person would call typos, or grammar mistakes), then a final draft that they all agreed upon. This was all done in less than a week.

The problem was the review board. What Ruth thought of a red tape. Turning very red indeed.

The board, consisting of three Cal Tech professors, all with a host of patents to their name, all busy on their own projects, and all a little envious—if not suspicious—of Julian and his pretty protégé assistant, flat out did not believe the findings.

Not until they got assurances, both in writing and in person, from the head of Intel Labs concerning the soundness of the EPROMs used; not until they had spoken to—again in person—to the Cambridge team leader, as well as those heading up the Borneo and Colombia sites, to verify every last comma (it seemed to Ruth) of the paper.

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to Cal Tech as an institution,” Julian told Ruth, “is that they sign off on these findings only to have them disproved. Cal Tech would be the laughing stock of science. It happened to the University of Utah in 1989 with their Fleischmann–Pons cold fusion experiment, which was prematurely reported by the school to the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry only to then be disproved by just about every attempt to replicate it. Talk about eggs and face.”

“Yes, but two weeks.”

“They’ll come around,” said Julian. “They have no choice. They’re right to be cautious, but they’re also good scientists, and they’re doing all the right things, speaking to the right people. I don’t blame them.”

Again, the teenager looked her age, not liking the delay one bit.

The final step was the board’s interview with Julian and Ruth, which took two full days—though with ample breaks for coffee, sandwiches, lunches, seemingly any excuse for a break. In the end, however, they were satisfied—and scared, was Ruth’s observation—that their experiment was sound, and that the result was scientifically correct. Impossibly unexpected, is how they put it, but obviously true.

They signed the paper, and it was rushed to publication in the Journal of Particle Physics, which had it online within an hour after submission.

Julian—with Ruth’s concurrence—knowing that the paper would create a storm (and a storm of inquiries and questions, both from the scientific community and the press) had made it abundantly clear in the prolog to the paper that the research team (meaning himself and Ruth) would answer no questions—or grant any interviews—from anyone who did not seriously intend to replicate the experience; stating clearly that before this was made available for public consumption, as he put it, he wanted verification in place.

This assertion notwithstanding, within hours Cal Tech was inundated with calls, and soon thereafter, visits. All wanting to speak to Julian and Ruth, and now.

The Cal Tech switchboard had been instructed to ask every caller if they intended to replicate the experiment, if not, sorry, we can’t help you.

Many a caller lied, of course, sure, that’s why we’re calling. Those were put through to Julian’s office and fielded by the efficient-as-ever William Williams. Julian had left him a list of institutions and teams that should be believed if they claimed to plan a replication, and for each caller (or visitor), William went down the list, vetting them.

Julian and Ruth, meanwhile, had cleared out, and was spending the week following the publication at Melissa’s.

The result of this storm was that four teams declared that they would like to replicate, and as they were all on Julian’s list appointments were made, and meetings were held, questions were answered, dates were set.

The four teams that were to mirror Julian’s and Ruth’s experiment were UCLA in Los Angeles, California; Cal Tech’s archrival MIT in Massachusetts; QUT (Queensland University of Technology) in Brisbane, Australia; and KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm, Sweden.

All four teams had travelled to Pasadena, had met with Julian and Ruth, and were now confident that they could recreate the experiment exactly, although each team member—with the exception of Sara Karlsson, heading up the Swedish team and who smiled a lot—expressed serious doubts as to the outcome. This simply wasn’t possible was it?

“I think it’s possible,” smiled Karlsson.

[*88 :: (Pasadena)

 

The first team to complete verification was QUT in Brisbane. Twelve runs. Perfect duplication. On the April video call their team leader looked as stunned as he looked pleased: “I’ll be damned,” he said. “I’ll be damned.” And then for good measure said it a few more times.

“I take it you confirmed,” said Julian.

“I’ll be damned,” he said.

 

Sara Karlsson at KTH called two days later. Smiling.

“I knew it,” she said.

 

MIT, however, had bad news. Aaron Short, heading up the MIT Molecular Phenomena Department, was shaking his head. “Not a single time,” he said.

“I know I have no right to ask, but I have to,” said Julian. “You did follow the procedure exactly?”

“Of course.”

 

The UCLA team arrived two days later, in person, with champagne. “Incredible,” was their consensus. “Incredible.”

[*:*]

Two days later, Julian and Ruth arrived at MIT, to see Aaron Short.

“Tell me, precisely,” said Ruth. Which saw a raised eyebrow or two, especially from Professor Short, who was accustomed to always occupy center stage, no one would tell him what to say, precisely.

“Please,” added Julian.

So he did, take them through it, step by minute step, and it all replicated the Cal Tech protocol, to the letter.

Julian was shaking his head, he didn’t understand.

Ruth observed, “Shouldn’t you keep those EPROMs under wraps, the sunlight could disturb the data.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Aaron short, they’re not EPROMs, they’re Flash Memory. UV can’t harm them.”

“They’re not EPROMs?” said Ruth, shouted Julian, with one, strange combined voice.

“Same principle,” said Short.

“No, no, no,” said Julian. “They have to be EPROMs.”

“What are you getting at?” asked Professor Short. “They’re non-volatile, just like EPROMs. And a lot cheaper. We did ask the Intel Labs for some, but it seems KTH got to them first. They were out, and we could not wait.”

“It will only work with EPROMs,” said Ruth.

“You’re kidding,” said Short.

“No, not kidding,” said Julian. “There is a lot of electricity floating around for the particles to use to revise the Flash Memory history, and they obviously found and used it. Only EPROMs.”

Short turned and looked at his colleagues. “EPROMs,” he said. “Nothing else will work.”

“I’ll call Intel Labs if you want,” said Julian.

“No, don’t worry,” said Short. “We’ll take care of it.” Scrambling to regain some of his lost control.

[*:*]

A week later, on the last day of April, Aaron Short placed another video call to Cal Tech.

“I have to apologize,” he said. “And congratulate you.”

“You confirm?” said Julian.

Aaron Short smiled and shook his head. “I don’t understand, I really do not understand it. Not yet, anyway. But I confirm. We ran it twelve times, every time confirmed. You’ve really stumbled onto something here, Julian.”

“It was Ruth’s stumble,” said Julian.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Ruth.

“Incredible,” said Short. “This is really incredible.”

“Not really,” said Ruth.

Apart from some more or less formal wrap-up pleasantries, that was the gist of the call.

[*89 :: (Pasadena)

 

“And now what?” said Ruth.

“Now we write the public paper,” said Julian.

“How public is public?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Are we writing for broad consumption? Should it be accessible to the man on the street?”

“Both of those.”

“How do we best include my mission?”

“You’re really serious about that?,” said Julian. “I’m not sure this is the appropriate venue.”

“I am serious about it, Julian. People will care about this, about what we’ve shown here. That’s why I’m sure they will also care about who I am.”

“I don’t see how we can work it in.”

Ruth was waiting for more.

“It’s not like we can add a footnote,” said Julian. “Oh, by the way, Ruth Marten is also the Buddha returned. Or include it in the bio section.”

“We should outline the sequence of universal agreements, explain that this is why the EPROM worked where RAM and even Flash Memory would not. We should clarify which agreement came first, which agreement takes precedence.”

“I think we’ll lose them.”

“Surely we should mention it?”

“The agreements?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not sure. I see the paper as a less technical version of what we’ve already published.”

Ruth was shaking her head. “It has to be more than that. We’ve proven that without life there is nothing.”

“What we have proven,” said Julian, and rather carefully, “is that without life looking for these four seconds there is no subatomic particle. That’s what we’ve proven. Nothing else.”

“I mean by extension.”

“I think you’re giving the man on the street too much credit, intellectually.”

“He is smarter than you think,” said Ruth, and not especially kindly. “The man on the street.”

Julian regarded the young girl in silence. She was no young girl, this he knew, of course, and now this was more evident than ever. Then he said:

“What do you suggest then?”

“Do you mind if I write the paper on my own?”

That had, in fact, been on the tip of his tongue to suggest. “No,” he said. “Actually, no. I don’t mind. This really is your experiment, your idea. Your recollection, as you put it.”

“Thanks, Julian. I will do that then.”

Then Julian told her, “According to William, they’re already clamoring for it. The papers, the television stations.”

“That is good. Clamor is good,” said Ruth.

[*:*]

Technically speaking, Ruth’s public paper—which she referred to as her coming-out paper (see below)—should have been approved by the Cal Tech review board, but Julian, once he had read it (and being well versed with the board) advised against showing it to them.

“They’ll never let it see the light of public day.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Bad? No, not at all. It’s that good. It’s too radical. It’s too much.”

“For the board?”

“Yes.”

“But the public, what do you think?”

“I think it’ll raise some eyebrows.”

“Do you think they’ll get it?”

“I’m understating. Yes, I think they’ll get it, at least many will. And it’ll cause a storm. That’s what I think. A storm that Cal Tech will not necessarily welcome, but there you have it.”

Ruth nodded. “So it’s a go.”

“I’d say so.”

Enlisting the services of Cal Tech’s Public Relations department, Julian saw to it that copies of Ruth’s paper were widely disseminated. It was a Monday. It was the third of May. It was late in the afternoon.

Even so, after much scramble and rearrangement of topics, most U.S. television stations led with the story that evening.

:: 90 :: (Ruth’s Paper)

 

What The Colombia-Borneo EPROM Experiment Revealed

by Ruth Marten

Cal Tech Department of Particle Physics

 

Life

Nothing exists but life.

Before the beginning there was life. Or, perhaps better put, there was a stillness, a spaceless and timeless nothing which nonetheless held the potential of life.

That potential is still here, it has gone nowhere. It has nowhere to do. Being nothing but still potential it cannot be killed, and existing outside of time it cannot expire.

Everything tangible in this Universe will one day expire. Death will one day visit everything that exists (along with taxes, some say). Everything except this silent potential that will forever remain in a time-less now.

One day the Universe will fold in on itself and then withdraw into this potential of nothingness. So it will one day return home.

The Buddha called this home, this ever-present potential, Nibbana.

 

Non-Locality

Over twenty-seven years ago, on April 11, 1999, in his Colombia-Borneo Laser Experiment, also known as the Parallel Laser Project, or the Polarity Change Confirmation Experiment, and officially named the Cal Tech Twin-Particle Polarity Experiment, Doctor Julian Lawson of the Cal Tech Department of Particle Physics proved—to the satisfaction of even the harshest scientific critic at the time—the existence and phenomenon of non-local communication between twinned (bonded) subatomic particles, and so, once and for all settled Einstein’s challenge to the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) thought experiment and paradox.

To fully appreciate the significance of both Doctor Lawson’s experiment, and the recently successful Colombia-Borneo EPROM experiment (and bear with me here) you have to understand a little about quantum physics.

Therefore, a small, or not so small, detour.

 

Quantum Mechanics

Here is a fact: no one has ever seen an atom. They are simply too small even for the most powerful microscope man has ever made to detect.

How small is too small? Very. Consider this:

There are 2 sextillion oxygen atoms and 4 sextillion hydrogen atoms in a single drop of water. One sextillion is a number 1 followed by 23 zeros—thus: 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

To illustrate the minuteness of atoms and molecules (which of course are larger than atoms, being a combination of them), Lord Kelvin paints this amazing picture: Suppose that you could color all the molecules in a glass of water, say bright yellow; then pour the contents of the glass into the ocean and stir the latter thoroughly, so thoroughly that you distribute the yellow molecules uniformly throughout the seven seas; if then you took a glass of water anywhere out of the ocean, whether on the surface or tne kilometers down, you would find in this glass about a hundred of your marked, yellow molecules. If you don’t believe that, try it for yourself.

For a long time, Science considered that the atom and its three major constituents, (the proton, neutron, and electron) were elementary particles, that they were the smallest particles in the universe, the basic building blocks. Atom, after all, is ancient Greek for “indivisible.”

But, if we have never seen one, how do we know atoms exist? We study their effects. Every effect has a cause, and specific effects were observed that could only have been cause by an atom, constituted precisely the way we now understand them. That is how Niels Bohr, the Danish physics genius, mapped and discovered the workings of the hydrogen atom—a discovery that eventually earned him the 1922 Nobel Prize.

Not so long thereafter, however, we discovered that the Greek had it wrong and that the atom was divisible after all, and so we surmised the existence of subatomic particles and gave them names like quarks and photons. These are at least a thousand times smaller than the proton, and that would qualify as very, very small.

And what do the quarks and photons consist of?

Some now say that the photon is an elementary particle, meaning that it does not consist of parts, cannot be divided. Well, that’s what we thought about the atom as well.

We will eventually find a way to divide the photon as well, and eventually we will find a way to divide the particles that make up photons, too. In the very end, when we finally cut through all this very, very, very minutenesses to the very core, we will find that there is nothing there, nothing but thought.

We will discover that nothing exists but life.

But let us return to the strange (some would go so far as to say magical) world of the subatomic particle, the realm of photons and quarks. Let’s return to the heart of quantum physics or quantum mechanics.

Although we have definitely detected (or unequivocally surmised) that these particles do exist, it is not a true statement to say that they always do.

 

To Be or Not to Be

To borrow a line from Shakespeare, we have “To Be” and we have “Not to Be.” But in this realm we also have that thing in-between: “Maybe To Be.”

For there is this odd, mysterious uncertainty at the heart of quantum nature that lies at the core of nature itself, and this uncertainty is what Albert Einstein fought for years (if unsuccessfully) to disprove: the apparent laws of quantum mechanics.

Most readers—if they have heard of quantum mechanics at all—will consider it an esoteric science without real-world applications. The truth begs to differ, for without quantum mechanics, and without the knowledge of how to use quantum mechanics, we would have no Mortimers, no cell phones, no mp3 players, no computers: these inventions and devices all rely on, and perform in accordance with, the properties of quantum mechanics.

Einstein’s objections notwithstanding, quantum mechanics, as a mathematical description of the world, is the most successful scientific theory ever devised. No experiments have ever been made to disprove or contradict this theory.

And not only is the theory of quantum mechanics productive, it also forces us to confront the deeper issues of existence; in other words, it’s not only a matter of a mathematical recipe for describing (and, some would say exploiting) the world.

In fact, by now most scientists agree that quantum mechanics was a greater scientific evolution than the relativity theory. In fact, scientists view Einstein’s gem as the 19th century’s crowning achievement, while they now see quantum mechanics as the 20th century’s crowning achievement.

Simply stated, quantum mechanics is the theory of how the world behaves at a subatomic level.

 

No Longer Certain

We have all come to regard the physical universe, or nature, as being certain, dependable, and predictable. After all, that’s what our physical laws—gravity and such—are all based on.

But when we enter the tiny quantum world this no longer holds true. Some would say that what happens inside an atom is just plain weird.

 

Einstein vs. Bohr

A good way to present quantum theory might be to tell the story of a battle. A battle between two of the greatest physicists of the 20th century: Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr.

I am sure that most of you have of Albert Einstein (if not, well, shame on you). Niels Bohr, on the other hand—who was also one of the giants of 20th century physics—is not a household name (so you’re forgiven).

They were both hugely influential figures, Bohr and Einstein. They knew each other well, were fond of each other, and each respected the other deeply. But when it came to quantum mechanics, gloves would come off, for here they were at loggerheads. Here they fundamentally disagreed.

As one of Einstein’s students would later put it, “As soon as quantum mechanics was brought up, sparks would fly. Einstein felt that certain aspects of quantum mechanics—the world according to quantum mechanics—didn’t really make philosophical sense.

“Einstein believed that the world presented by quantum mechanics was too ugly to be true.”

 

Predictable Nature

As mentioned, for centuries now, scientists have believed that the laws of nature hold firm, that knowing them makes nature predictable. In fact, some go so far as to say that if only we knew enough about the way the world worked, and if we could gather sufficient data, we would be able to predict the future down to the minutest detail.

For it seems obvious that nature is deterministic, that one thing determines another. One thing happens which causes another thing to happen. Hit a gong and a pleasant sound appears. Drop a ball and it bounces.

But quantum mechanics shattered that certainty. It upset people then and it still does now. And Einstein spent most of his life doubting it.

That said, Albert Einstein was, of course, himself an early pioneer of quantum theory. He was the one first to show that light exists as tiny quantum particles—photons. This was before he went on to become famous for his relativity theory: e=mc2 and all that.

Niels Bohr—who developed the theory of quantum mechanics along with Einstein and others—was to become its most prominent champion, while Einstein became its most famous doubter. Now, Einstein didn’t out and out disagree with the theory—after all, he had helped develop it—but he thought the theory was incomplete, and was therefore saying the wrong things about the true nature of reality.

So, what does quantum theory say about the true nature of reality?

What is says is that there is a limit to what we can know about what goes on at nature’s subatomic level. It also says that the universe seems to be run on chance, and that nothing is truly certain.

Which means what, exactly?

 

Two Gloves

To give you an idea of the difference between the ordinary (macro) world and the quantum (micro) world, imagine that inside a sealed box is an ordinary glove. Now, as gloves go, this glove is either left-handed or right-handed. The obvious way to find out which kind it is, is to have a look.

Opening the box and peaking inside we simply reveal to our senses what nature knew all along: it’s a left-handed (or right-handed) glove. This is the nature that scientists and the rest of us are used to. Certainty.

But in the quantum world it’s not quite as straightforward.

Imagine, instead, that inside the sealed box is a quantum (micro) glove that behaves in the same way as does a subatomic quantum particle. In this case, before we open this box (same as with the macro glove) we know that there is an equal chance that the glove could be left-handed or right-handed. We don’t know which, yet, but we only have to open the sealed box to find out.

But here’s the crux: according to quantum theory not only do we not know which hand the micro glove will fit, it also says that neither does the glove—neither does nature.

In fact, the theory goes on to state that on a sub-atomic level, the micro glove doesn’t really exist one way or the other while the box is sealed; that it is in a ghostly state of in-between left- and right-handed; that it is only once we open the box and take a look (or measurement) that nature makes up its mind and then manifests as one or the other.

In other words, in the quantum world—so says the theory—things are not as simple as to be or not to be, because until the subatomic particle (the micro glove) is observed, nature has not made up its mind one way or the other.

I am sure that you find this odd, and probably believe it not to be true. Well, you would be in very good company as Albert Einstein would be on your side. He just could not accept that nature was not certain.

And that is precisely what he was getting at when he said “God does not play dice.”

As Einstein was wont to point out, fighting quantum mechanics and the idea that nature was uncertain: “If I’m not looking at the moon, does this mean the moon is not there?”

(The answer, truthfully speaking, is yes, that is, in fact, what it does mean).

The thing that Einstein fundamentally hated about quantum mechanics was the element of uncertainty or what he termed indeterminism. This deeply offended his sense of an orderly universe that is fundamentally rational, and his belief that there should always be an ascertainable reason why things occur.

Einstein came down on the side of centuries’ worth of scientists—going all the way back to ancient Greece—who all believed in a deterministic universe; who believed that things happen for a reason; who believed that the secrets of the universe were just waiting to be unlocked. You just have to have your wits about you and take a good look.

The same holds true for most of us today. We are used to the fact that events always occur with well-defined causes. We may not know right away what the causes are, but if we investigate, and gather all the relevant information, we normally rest assured that we can then determine why something happened.

Things don’t occur spontaneously or arbitrarily, they don’t occur for no reason, that was Einstein’s view.

 

For No Reason

But in the quantum realm things do occur for no (apparent) reason. Generally speaking, from one moment to the next you don’t know precisely what an atom or an electron is going to do.

Indeterminism or uncertainty is the central feature of quantum mechanics.

Einstein did not see eye to eye with that. He championed an “objective reality”—one where you could make a statement about the physical world independent of how (the way in which) you observed it.

And that is where Bohr and Einstein disagreed, their one pivotal disagreement. Bohr would always maintain that the observer, and the way the quantum world was observed, was, if not the only, then at least a vital determining factor of what nature would now make up its mind to be (and so show the observer).

Einstein’s vigorous objections notwithstanding, the quantum theory was a huge success. Mysterious effects like radioactivity could now be understood (and harnessed), and new technologies like microelectronics were being born.

That is not to say that scientists liked what quantum theory said about the uncertainty of nature. In fact, many worried about that. But the theory worked, it produced results, whether you agreed with, or understood it, or not.

And to this day, scientists have no difficulties doing the mathematics of quantum mechanics—it all works just fine, but they still find it impossible to understand the full consequences of the theory, what—when all is said and done, at the core—does it really say about nature?

For it seems—contrary to all reason and common sense—that you have to assume one attitude, or outlook, toward small scale objects (the micro world of atoms and subatomic particles) and another when you work with large object (the macro part of nature).

So, that is what the working physicist did: viewed macro nature one way and micro nature another. No, it didn’t really make philosophical sense, and there was always the question of what counts as small and what counts as big, and why do they work differently if big things are just made of lots of small things?

Bohr—perhaps less philosophically inclined than Einstein—arrived at the conclusion that you just have to accept that nature is odd. Quantum theory may not make sense but, look, you can’t argue with its applicability and its success. The theory works, whether ugly or not.

And so, in the end, Bohr’s view of quantum mechanics, which was to be known as “the Copenhagen interpretation,” became the new orthodoxy of the nature of reality. Einstein grumbling and mumbling offstage.

Bohr thought of reality has having two perspectives, that reality contains two alternative dimensions.

And that is the Copenhagen interpretation: Bohr postulated one reality at the microscopic level, where everything behaved like quantum mechanics said—that things were wavy and did not have definite positions or speeds; and then there was another reality at the macroscopic level, obeying classical physics where everything is definite and not so puzzling.

But as someone who constantly worried about what is really going on, Einstein could not let this go. He was determined to solve this apparent contradiction.

His problem, however, was that 1930s’ technology was not up to the job. There was no way to conclusively prove things at this level one way or the other.

So, instead of approaching the problem experimentally, Einstein and his colleagues set out to test nature in their heads to attempt to expose the flaws in Niels Bohr’s philosophy.

 

The EPR Thought Experiment

Now, remember, we are dealing with intellectual giants here. These were theorists and thinkers that could create and agree upon a mental universe with specific laws—law that could then be tested; a universe that would behave according to these laws when subjected to postulated events and introduced variables.

But even in the elaborate thought-universe of quantum mechanics, Einstein could not disprove Bohr’s view, or improve upon the theory.

Let’s take a look at the most famous of these what they called thought experiments. It was devised and carried out by Einstein and two of his colleagues, Podolsky and Rosen, and thus it has become known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) thought experiment.

It can be a little tricky to get your head around, but let’s return to the quantum (micro) glove in the sealed box. So here, again, we have a glove inside a box. And again, imagine that this glove is a tiny quantum particle, only this time we have a pair of particles, and so we have another box, with another glove in it to make up this pair of quantum particles.

Now, we have yet to open either of the boxes or make any measurements of the gloves, so according to Niels Bohr, at this unobserved point, neither of these gloves knows whether it is left-handed or right-handed. They are, both of them, in a strange state of mixture of maybe left and maybe right—if indeed, they are at all.

Here it is important to add that while there are not many things we can know about these quantum particles with certainty, one thing we do know is this: like gloves, they come in (bonded) pairs. But until observed, the pair remains in a strange unknown state as to which of them is right-handed and which is left-handed.

“Okay,” said Einstein, “I don’t believe it, but let’s just suppose it were true, if I open one of these boxes, we will then force nature to make a decision.”

Now, because the gloves—just like the quantum particles—must be a pair, if you discover, upon opening one of the boxes that it is a left-handed glove (particle), the other glove must instantly be(come) the opposite, i.e., right-handed.

In the quantum world left or right translates into polarity: positive or negative, or into which way the particle spins, clockwise or anti-clockwise. If one of the pair is one way, the other one has to be the other way. This has be experimentally proven (without a single deviation) over and over and for so long that it is now accepted as a natural truth.

But here’s the big question: How does the right-handed glove (inside its unopened box) know when we open the left-handed box, and so make sure to be its opposite (inside the still unopened box)?

The only answer is that the gloves obviously, one way or another, communicate with each other. But this communication cannot be via messages (which would themselves be particles of some kind), because, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, a message-particle cannot travel faster than the speed of light—while the other of the pair instantly (and instantly is a whole lot faster than the speed of light) adjusts to be the opposite of its observed twin. (This is what Doctor Lawson conclusively proved in April of 1999).

Also, were we to open the boxes at exactly the same moment, there would be no time for a message-particle to travel. And still, the quantum gloves would be each other’s opposite.

This, as one scientist put it, “is instantaneous action at a distance, and modern physics, because of Einstein’s own theory of relativity, does not allow for that, because things—even if travelling at the speed of light—has to take time; and instant essentially means no time.

“That is why Einstein said that if you believe quantum mechanics like it is normally understood, then you also believe something that is inconsistent with special relativity, and that just looks wrong.”

 

Moving On

The (failed) EPR thought experiment—Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen could not disprove Bohr’s take on things—was Einstein’s last and best challenge to the quantum theory, and after 1935 he moved on to other things. Still, he remained unconvinced about Bohr’s quantum theory for the rest of his life, despite Bohr’s efforts to sway him otherwise.

Actually, it really bothered Bohr that he could never convince Einstein; it was a real aggravation to him. Some even say that Bohr felt that he had failed because he could not convince Einstein.

Still, as the quantum theory was refined it became more and more successful, and despite its philosophical difficulties most scientists just got on with it and used deployed in their work.

This thought experiment was to remain a thought experiment for decades since there was no way to physically prove it one way or another, but in the 1960s, John Bell, a physicist from Northern Ireland, moved things on by turning the EPR thought experiment into something that could be practically tested.

And after a few years of refinement, and allowing for lab technology to catch up and be ready for the task, the EPR thought experiment was carried out in the real world.

 

The Geneva Experiment

This was finally done over a tiny distance by a French team led by Alain Aspect in the early 1980s. The result proved Bohr’s assumption: the observation of one particle did indeed cause the instant “opposition” of the other.

Still, this was not sufficiently convincing for the large majority of the scientific community.

So, we fast forward to 1997, when a team at the University of Geneva lead by Nicolas Gisin attempted the experiment on a much large scale. They wanted to demonstrate that a pair of quantum particles actually do have this strange, unexplainable connection, but this time across a whole city.

For this experiment they first had to create a bonded pair of quantum particles: a pair of photons, particles of light. And, as always and just like gloves, one photon must be the opposite of the other.

The plan was to then separate them by ten kilometers and then measure them at exactly the same moment.

Timed correctly—and being Swiss they had the clocking thing down—there would then be no time for a message to pass between the photons, even at ten times the speed of light.

In this experiment they first isolated one photon and then, by firing it at a non-linear crystal, divided it into two, bonded twin photons—together now forming what they termed a single quantum system.

One of these twin-photons was then sent down one fiber strand to travel about five kilometers to the south, while the other twin-photon was sent down another strand of fiber to travel five kilometers to the north.

At ten kilometers apart, a measurement was made at the exact same time.

Said Nicolas Gisin in a subsequent interview, “Measuring the northbound photon forced it to assume a measurable property, with the effect that instantaneously—in theory, and certainly faster than light in practice—the southbound photon acquired the opposite property—every time.

“The output on one side was always completely random, the outcome on the other side was also always completely random, however, the two outcomes were always opposite. Always. Always.”

Not only did the researchers not know which photon had which property, but according quantum theory, and well confirmed by the experiment, the photons themselves did not know until one of the twins was measured.

One way of stating that is that nature itself does not know what it is until viewed by life.

Bohr 1 – Einstein 0.

So, nature is, if you will, at the subatomic level, and as I’ve pointed out, just plain weird.

Until someone makes a measurement, two bonded photons exist in a tangled-up state, both being and not being at the same time, while also, somehow, being intimately connected whether side by side or across vast distances.

According to quantum mechanics, the two photons would maintain this intimate and instant connection even across galaxies. This, of course, is more difficult to test and prove, but it’s a fascinating (and correct) prediction.

While most scientists agree that this is the case, this does not mean that science understands what is going on here, not really. Both philosophers and physicists are still trying to make sense out of this paradox.

 

Non-Local Communication

What is occurring between these two bonded twins has been termed non-local communication.

What exactly is it? The short answer is: It is the instant exchange of information between particles.

A longer answer would be: It is the instant exchange of information that by virtue of not being local (where local is defined as place consisting of space and time) and so not occupying time at all, indeed takes zero time to exchange.

In fact, in non-local communication, there is no particle exchange involved. There cannot be. There is no message-particle traversing distance. There is simply a shared knowing, one particle to another, which—regardless of physical distance between them—does not take a thousandth, nor a millionth, nor a billionth of a second, nor a trillionth or a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, but is truly instant.

Much should have been made about the 1997 Geneva experiment; and even more should have been made of Doctor Lawson’s April 1999 experiment—which showed, on an incontrovertible scale, that non-local communication does indeed exist.

Yes, much should have been made about these experiments, but other matters occupied the world, and apart from brief mentions on pages three and four, or in the science section of the news broadcast, if mentioned there at all, the spectacular outcome of Doctor Lawson’s proof was for all intents and purposes ignored by one and all outside of the scientific community—which did, by and large, accept the findings.

 

What Does Non-Local Consist Of?

Once non-local communication had been establish as reality, many particle physicists (and an almost equal number of philosophers), naturally raised the question: How is this even possible? How can communication not travel? How can it be instant?

In fact, ever since his successful 1999 experiment Doctor Lawson has worked tirelessly to answer that question. In 2024 I was invited to study with him, and learn from him, and over the next few years I grew increasingly familiar with the constituent and underlying principles of what he was trying to show.

And the underlying principle is that subatomic particles react to life. Once life looks, the subatomic particle will present itself, either in terms of location or in terms of speed (though never both at the same time, life must choose what it wants to see).

In fact, prior to our EPROM experiment we had no way of establishing whether particles even existed when not observed. For to ascertain this one way or another one would have to observe, and—well, there went the premise of the experiment.

So how do you observe life when it’s not observed?

It is like looking for fairies.

Fairies—by fable and tradition—will never show themselves to anyone looking for them. But in order to catch a glimpse of them, you have to be on the lookout for them, or you’ll miss them, guaranteed. So, how do you look for them without looking for them? Without announcing your intentions? You don’t. That’s the bottom line, and is also why people as a rule don’t see fairies.

Those who do see fairies are apparently very lucky—or quite magical.

One approach we took was to attempt to “fake out” nature by masking the fact that we were indeed looking.

 

We’re Not Looking

This was attempted by repeating the Colombia-Borneo experiment, but instead of monitoring the particles directly, we sent the lasers’ measurement data via so many relays (in this case via sixteen communications satellites) in the hope that nature would lose track and not realize that at the very end of the string of relays there would be a human eye.

No such luck. Nature is not easily fooled.

 

Agreements

Considering this failure to fake nature out, one night I remembered—and how come I remembered is indeed part of this story, but more of that later—I remembered that nature sprung into being on the back of a string of agreements, agreed among itself by life to constitute the basic laws of physics, at least of classical physics—to become the laws of the macro world.

There were agreements made in the micro world as well, but these are by no means as firm, and (as discovered by Doctor Lawson and others) depend in large measure upon immediate interaction with life.

One level of agreement, however, allowed nature to revise history electrically. This was demonstrated by recording the state of a photon from point of ejection to point of later observation, only to find that the moment it was observed, the entire trajectory showed a certain polarity from the outset, even though we know for a fact that this polarity was indeed undecided for a time—up to the point of observation.

Another agreement, the one I remembered that night, and the one that allowed the EPROM experiment to succeed, in essence established the laws that prohibited nature from revising history when recorded on what we call EPROMs.

 

RAM vs. EPROM

Comparing RAM with EPROM we find that volatile RAM can be revised with the manipulation of electricity, and this nature knows how to do. To revise a non-volatile EPROM, however, requires a generous helping of ultra-violet light which, if not supplied, cannot be manufactured by nature on the fly, and so, any data recorded up the point of observation cannot be altered once observation has taken place and nature has made up its mind what properties to exhibit.

 

The EPROM Experiment

Our EPROM experiment was in fact a modified version of the Colombia-Borneo Experiment with the flight path of one of the photons recorded both on volatile RAM and on non-volatile EPROM.

Once observed, the RAM (by nature’s version of revisionist history) recorded that both the particle itself and the observed polarity had existed since the firing of the particle.

The EPROM, on the other hand, traced the initial four seconds of the particle’s trajectory (which Doctor Lawson and I observed on the RAM-fed screen) but then showed nothing from seconds five through eight when we both looked away and at the ceiling.

The EPROM-fed screen then took up the particle trace again from seconds nine (when we both returned to observing its progress on the RAM-fed monitor) through twelve and arrival at its detector beam.

The key here is that at five seconds through second eight, the EPROM recorded nothing at all. There was no particle there to record.

This bears repeating. Between seconds five and eight, nothing was recorded in the EPROM (and no trace shown on its monitor) because: there was no particle there. Not a trace.

And again: There was no particle there.

Life, by looking, coaxed this particle into existence.

 

Experiment Validated

This experiment is not a one-off fluke. Not only did Doctor Lawson and I run this experiment a total of twelve times—four on the initial day, and eight more times a few days later—but four international teams have replicated the experiment and attested to its veracity.

These four teams were from UCLA in Los Angeles, MIT in Massachusetts; QUT (Queensland University of Technology) in Brisbane, Australia; and KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm, Sweden.

All four ran a series of twelve tests, and each single test replicated ours and confirmed our findings.

The fact that life “exists” (using this word as transitive verb for a change) these particles into being by observing them is no longer theory, it is a proven fact.

When life looked away, there was nothing there. The moment life looked back, the nothing instantly became a something.

Fact.

 

Micro vs Macro World

 

We have proven that quantum (micro) particles, for all intents and purposes vanish when not observed and appear when observed. That said, I am pretty certain that the (macro) keyboard I currently use to type this will not vanish if I look away.

Why not?

The laws governing micro and macro worlds are different. However, this does not repudiate the fact that the macro world consists of micro world congregations.

 

Who Am I?

I mentioned above that I remembered the sequence of agreements that allowed the EPROM to record the truth of the particle vs. life in such a way that nature could not revise its history. How could I remember such things?

As I said at the beginning of this paper, there is nothing but life. We are all nothing but life.

Those who have woken up to this fact are called Buddhas.

Those who have notions of this fact are called artists.

Those who see none of these facts are the public at large.

I am awake.

[*91 :: (Los Angeles)

 

Federico Alvarez was in it for the money. That, and the fame. And he did not hide that light under as much as a hint of a bushel. Rather, he was proud of it, and enjoyed enlightening all and sundry about how (well) and why he did what he did.

He was KCAA’s investigative reporter, with a lot of scalps to his credit, as he liked to put it. He also liked to enlighten anyone within earshot about his ratings—unmatched, he’d inform them. Unmatched. It’s a big word that, meaning a lot of money, both for his station and for his wallet.

He was also extremely well connected.

“Connected,” in this business is normally reflected in “reciprocal favors,” and is primarily a matter of the accounting of these favors—who’s in debt, who’s accumulated credit.

Federico, over the years, had accumulated sizeable credit.

That is why, by mid-afternoon on the fourth of May—after calling in some major favors owed him—he had managed to secure an exclusive interview with the wunderkind Ruth Marten, the author if this extraordinary paper, that now made the rounds, both in the papers and on the radio and television news.

The interview was set for Saturday the eighth of May, which—in his own estimation—should give him just about enough time to dig around a little and expose her as the fraud she was.

[*:*]

Federico was in his first real fight at age six. The wealthy Buenos Aires neighborhood where he grew up was not, like some others in that city, known for violence, but then again, fights among children—though they can be as life-threatening (though perhaps not literally) as any—don’t really count.

To this day he remembers the fight, and the reason for it. His mother, an American born in New York who during her Buenos Aires residency had met and married his father, also a doctor (though a surgeon, not internal medicine, like his mother), had received a care package from New York, which included the latest fashion for children, apparently: A checkered cap, which she proudly bestowed upon him.

Truth be told, he liked it, even if it made him look a little out of place—no one in Buenos Aires, if not in the entire country, wore a cap like this. So, he donned it, and went out to share the wealth.

Out of place, indeed. Within minutes it seemed, he had become the laughing stock of his and many neighboring blocks in his part of town. It was as if kids migrated in his direction just to scorn.

Now, Federico Alvarez loved and adored his mother, so when the taunts (which up to this point he took in stride) expanded in scope to include his mother and the fact that she was an ugly (not true) gringo bitch, he had to defend her.

Carlos, the fat kid who seemed to head up this delegation of taunt, said it again, “Look at what the ugly gringo bitch has bought him, the little doll.”

Once Federico had decided to draw blood in her defense, he found an odd stillness within, a sort of certainty that he could and would win—a feeling that was to stay with him all his life. He took four quick steps into the fat bully and nearly knocked him over.

“Say that again,” he said. “And I’ll kill you.”

The bully, now unable to back down even if he wanted to (and he did, actually) obliged, “The ugly gringo bitch has bought the little doll a doll’s hat.”

Children’s bones are softer than those of the grown, which is the only reason Federico did not break the bully’s nose—soft knuckles hitting soft nose, which rather than breaking simply sprung a terrible leak and bled not only all over the bully but all over Federico as well, who now wrestled him to the ground where he proceeded to pummel his puffy face with a string of soft-knuckled blows, which nonetheless managed to shut bully eyes for the next few days.

It can only be speculated what might have happened had not Mr. and Mrs. Moreno walked by just then, and between them, after much tearing and pulling of boys’ limbs and clothing, finally succeed in tearing Federico off the bully, now openly crying for his mother.

The following day, Federico wore his New York cap, boldly, proudly, and not a word was said about it—in fact, two days later someone else showed up with a similar cap, and a day after that three more caps appeared. The new trend in American children’s fashion was taking root in Buenos Aires courtesy of Federico Alvarez.

 

His uncle, Lautaro Alvarez, a highly ranked Argentine amateur boxer in his day and who still put in a fight or two “just to keep in shape, and to teach the young ones a lesson or two,” got wind of Federico’s recent encounter and decided to tutor him a little, something he figured would always come in handy. Federico’s mom objected, but his dad, Lautaro’s younger brother, did not, and after some discussions where Federico himself was given the final say, off to the gym they went; twice a week for the next many months and then weekly until Federico moved to New York City with his parents a few days after his eighth birthday, now showing great—in fact, more than great, as Lautaro put it—promise as a boxer.

“Over my dead body,” said his mom.

“You’re welcome,” said Lautaro.

 

Even though his mother had always spoken English to him as he grew up (“He has to know both,” she insisted and his father agreed) his accent clearly marked him as an outsider in New York, and to make a long story short, let’s say that Lautaro’s coaching was to come in very handy over the next few years.

He called them “scraps” or “nothings” when his mother asked—applying Band-Aids here and there and, in her opinion, far too often; he called them “confrontations” when his father asked. Where he had picked up that word he wasn’t quite sure.

Himself, he thought of them as “teaching lessons” and what he would call his local encounters among his peers was “kicking ass.”

But whatever the label, he did fight a lot, and seldom his own fights; more often than not he was pressed into service by his neighborhood, to defend their honor, to right some wrong, to stand up for his part of town. Hero-stuff.

And that’s what he liked, the hero part. Worth a lot of cuts and bruises, the hero business.

Until one day when a kid from Queens pulled a knife in the middle of a fight and all but cut his right little finger off. His mom threw a fit (but only after ascertaining that everything that could be done to rescue the finger had been done, and successfully at that). His dad echoed her sentiments, and he was made to swear—No, Federico, really swear—to stop fighting.

He swore, and he kept his promise. He never again fought—physically.

The truth is that he kept fighting, only the venue had changed.

And that is how he got into broadcasting. For he was both intelligent (though not scholarly so, Ivy Leagues were not lining up scholarships or anything) and tenacious, and after securing an office-boy job at one of the New York radio stations—in a wild display of true talent for the job—he broke through when, with the help of neighborhood connections (for he had already at this time built up a strong credit side in the favors ledger) he managed to obtain an interview with a rape victim that no one else at the station, or any other station for that matter, whether radio or television, could reach.

Hero again. And he liked it. No, loved it. Lived for it. True calling.

 

To the credit of the owner of the station, he did not wait for an opening, he simply created the job of “Investigative Reporter” and gave it to Federico, who grabbed it, ran with it, and shone.

And kept shining.

In 2010 he received an offer from television station WNYW which he simply could not turn down. Out of loyalty, he did check with his boss to see what he thought, and the old man could not but agree, he had to make the move.

He worked at WNYW for nearly ten years before moving out to Los Angeles where his now wife had grown up and to where she wanted to return. KCAA jumped the fastest and highest to secure his services and he has been their star reporter ever since.

To be honest, perhaps his coverage over the years has veered a little toward the sensational—some would even say toward the tabloid, but to be frank Federico Alvarez does not give a damn. His ratings continue to blow the competition out of the water and so the figures on his paychecks (which his street-wise contract negotiations tied to his ratings) keep growing. Laughing all the way to the bank, as they say. Twice a month.

And now, by wits and guts and by tapping his store of favors owed, he had landed what he considered the interview of the century and was busy preparing.

[*92 :: (Burbank)

 

Federico was reading Ruth Marten’s paper for a fourth time; or was it a fifth, or a sixth time?, he had lost count. He made yet another note in the margin, joining the score or so already there, climbing up and down the margins in his careless hand. He circled another point, underlined something else, checked back to the beginning of the paper, read the opening paragraphs again: “Nothing exists but life. Before the beginning there was life. Or, perhaps better put, there was a stillness, a spaceless and timeless nothing which nonetheless held the potential of life.”

Before the beginning there was life. It tasted of Bible. Not that he was particularly religious, but he didn’t like it. Pretentious, is what he thought.

He put the paper down on the small desk beside him, then leaned back into his leather armchair, his head swirling a little with the magnitude of what the girl was proposing.

Or appeared to propose.

For he could see it no other way: It was fake. It had to be. A huge and elaborately disguised hoax, for no matter how scientifically proven and ostensibly verified, it reeked of the utterly impossible. And then to end things up by claiming, which was what the girl was doing—wasn’t it?, that she is the Buddha, or a Buddha, whichever.

The general media reaction was split just about fifty-fifty.

Some papers reported the paper and its subject as the “miracle experiment,” which was the phrase used by quite a few stations as well. Others reported it as one of the world’s most elaborate (and expensive) hoaxes, sharing his view that this, this mystical mumbo jumbo, well, it simply could not be true. Nor could the girl be anything like a Buddha. Of course not. Preposterous. The audacity.

Some of the smaller, and more radical mid-west and southern stations saw the Buddha inference as quite apt. The Buddha, after all, was nothing but an idol worshipped by a bunch of heathens, and since the paper was nothing but lies, the liar herself—they claimed—only confirmed it by this wild Buddha innuendo.

He thought briefly of getting up and fixing himself a drink, then thought better of it. It was too late, and he needed to rise early, with a clear head. There remained many strings to pull and he only had two more days to prepare. The interview—which was to be live, the girl had insisted on that (and this was just fine with him, thank you very much)—was scheduled for eight o’clock Saturday night. KCAA had scrambled to rearrange the programming to accommodate him and were now, even as he sat there, he’d venture to guess, promoting the upcoming interview (exclusively on KCAA here in Los Angeles, of course) every commercial break.

He had two days to prove the hoax, and all he had to go on was his guts, though they were not entirely well-mustered behind him. Faint stirrings of what ifs refused to toe the line.

Well, damn it. He reached for the paper and continued to read, pen at the ready.

[*:*]

Apparently, one of Federico’s debtors knew someone who knew someone who knew someone whose friend knew Melissa’s mother Sylvia quite well, and that friend had convinced Sylvia that Ruth Marten would benefit both financially and PR-wise if she granted KCAA the first (exclusive) interview, and did not give any other interviews before then.

Sylvia, not quite sure what to make of Ruth’s paper—she had known the girl since she was a baby for heaven’s sake, and to write such things—was nevertheless happy to be of help by bringing such good tidings (the amount offered Ruth for the interview was considerable), convincing Melissa that Ruth simply must do this.

Melissa in turn convinced Ruth (if not Ananda, but he felt he had to go along), then called her mother back: “Yes, she’ll do it.”

And that is how Federico landed his interview.

 

“I’m not entirely comfortable with this,” said Ananda.

“For one,” said Melissa, setting out to count on her fingers. “We need the money.”

Ruth looked from one to the other. She could see it both ways. Ananda had a point, Federico Alvarez was neither scientifically nor religiously oriented, but he had a fantastic following and he had promised a wholly unbiased, informative interview. And a handy sum to go along with that. And yes, they did need the money.

“For two,” Melissa continued. “The man’s the best-known television reporter in the country. Mom tells me they will broadcast the interview not only in Los Angeles, but KCAA will also provide a feed to every interested station in the country—except local competitors, of course.”

“He’s a sensationalist, and I don’t trust him,” said Ananda. “He’ll do anything for ratings, and I don’t think he’ll give us an unbiased interview.”

“He said he would,” said Melissa.

“I know he did.”

“What can he do?” she said. “It’s not like he can challenge the results of the experiment.”

“Oh, I’m sure he can. Others do.” Then added, “I’m sure he will.”

“Well, I’m sure he won’t,” said Melissa.

They did not always see eye to eye on matters, Ananda and Melissa, but they were always civil about that, and their at times disparate views had never caused any bad blood between them. They each acknowledged the other’s right to an opinion and viewpoint, and were quite comfortable with that. This held true now as well.

“I’ve done a quick survey of his career,” said Ananda. “And lately, he’s made a living out of exposés, and some of them quite brutal, in my opinion.”

“Ananda has a point,” said Ruth.

“What would you suggest, daughter of mine?” Melissa asked her.

“You have a point, too,” she attempted, diplomatically.

“I know I do.”

“What if he tries to ‘expose’ you?” said Ananda, surrounding the word expose with fingered quotes.

“I’d like to see him try,” said Ruth.

“He promised an unbiased interview,” repeated Melissa.

“Well,” said Ananda, “I still don’t trust him. I think you need to be on your guard,” addressing Ruth.

“Always,” said Ruth.

[*:*]

To squeeze as large an audience as possible into Studio C—the largest one on the lot—KCAA had removed ten back-rows of seating to make standing room, which could accommodate about four times as many as the number of seats. The remaining seats were not as easily removable and were left in place. Even so, they had to turn away what one reporter estimated to be at least four thousand people. To say that the the producer was ecstatic would be an understatement. Chances were they would break viewer records with this. Virtually every independent station in the country had subscribed to the feed, and even quite a few networks affiliates (which they no doubt would catch hell for when discovered by their respective mother ships).

Federico, still being worked on by make-up, was silently rehearsing his line of questioning while watching Lela put the final touches to his appearance. She was truly an artist: he looked if not half his age, perhaps at least part-way there. Lela could shave ten years with her magic. He nodded in approval at his mirror-image—which nodded right back, but with a bit of a frown.

“You okay?” said Lela.

“Fine. Yes. Fine.”

And he was. Just fine. He knew where to go with this. The only cloudiness was the strange what if that did not want to leave (and that seemed to frown at him): what if the experiment and the paper were not fakes? But of course they were, the whole deal: a setup. And he knew just how to get this young lady to spill those very valuable beans on his show, prime time, live and, for all intents and purposes, nationwide. It was to be quite a night. His crowning achievement? Well, he didn’t even want to think that, so as not to jinx it, but perhaps.

Someone just outside the make-up door was shouting “Ten minutes” and louder than she had to. Lela stepped back and took a final look at him in the mirror, pleased with herself. “You’re done,” she said.

“Thanks,” he said. “Good job. As always.”

 

Two chairs. A small steel and glass-top table between them. A crystal water carafe and two nice crystal glasses on bamboo coasters. Nice touch.

As always, he sat down in the chair to the right from the audience’s perspective. One of the sound guys appeared behind him, and began to gear him up with the microphone and earpiece.

He heard “Five minutes” from somewhere, and here—guided by the producer—she came: the Ruth Marten.

A stunning Ruth Marten.

He hadn’t noticed this from her photos, but those were some of the bluest eyes he’d ever seen, framed by some of the blackest hair he’d ever seen. Incongruous was the word. Or contradictory.

A stunning combination, three others.

He rose and extended his hand, which she took and shook. Nice dry hand, firm shake. She should be nervous, but apparently was not.

“Mr. Alvarez,” she said.

“Oh, please. Federico.”

“Federico,” she said. She let go of his hand and turned toward the audience, shielding her eyes against the glare with her hand. You could hear the audience well enough, a murmur, a rustle, a forest in the wind—picking up now that Ruth was on stage—but it was hard to make out, except for the first few rows.

He wanted to say something else, something to give the impression of wanting to put her at ease, something like, just pretend that we’re having a conversation in your living room, but there seemed no need, or more correctly: no space, for that. Instead he sat down again and let the soundman complete his task. Another sound guy was adjusting Ruth’s microphone (which had been fitted backstage) and tested for sound. Then he looked over to the producer and gave a thumbs-up.

Someone said “Three minutes,” and the murmur of audience-forest gathered even more. So much, in fact, that one of the producer’s assistants, crowd-control was the nickname, ran up and started to flash “Silence Please” on the overhead electronic banner, which almost instantly had the desired (and somewhat frightening) effect: the place grew dead-quiet.

“Two minutes,” this over the monitors, and was the producer’s voice.

“You ready?” he asked Ruth Marten.

“Of course,” she said.

“They’ve explained to you about the commercial breaks?”

“Yes.”

“Comfortable?”

“Sure.”

“This is live, you know that?” There had to be some way of rattling her, at least a little.

“Yes. That was the deal.”

Granted, the makeup would hide any sweat, but after twenty some years he could tell when someone was flushing under the makeup, and Ruth Marten was not.

The audience as forest was very much there, you could tell—that many warm bodies and eager attentions could not help forming a tangible presence—but made no sound.

“One minute,” said the producer. Federico looked over at Ruth again, who in turn looked back at him, still as anything. Ready indeed.

Here came the production assistant holding up five fingers: “Five.” Four fingers: “Four.” Then just the fingers: three, two, one, and that one now firing at him with the meaning: Go.

Which he did.

“Unless you’ve just returned from a long trip to the South Pole, or Mars, you will have heard, or seen, or read about the recent Cal Tech EPROM experiment,” he said, addressing both the camera and the audience, which laughed obligingly, and just the right amount.

“And,” he continued, “at the center of this storm, this divine revelation, is a young—and let me add, beautiful—girl, Ruth Marten.”

Applause.

He now turned toward her. “Seventeen, and by all accounts a genius. Have I got that right?”

“By what accounts?” said Ruth. Right away, and without a shiver. She seemed genuinely curious, though.

“By what accounts?” He was surprised into repeating.

“Yes.”

“Well,” Federico glanced down at his notes. “You transferred from Pasadena Polytechnic to Cal Tech at fourteen. That’s a bit precocious, don’t you think? Or don’t you agree?”

“I have a knack for physics,” said Ruth.

“So they say.”

“Who’s they?” As right away, and as commanding of an answer.

For the briefest of moments Federico looked like he had been bitten. Then said, again consulting his notes, “Kristina Medina, for one.”

“Is she here?” asked Ruth, again shielding her eyes from the lights with her hand and peeking into the audience, which laughed at the gesture.

“I don’t know,” said Federico.

But Ruth had spotted her in the front row, and now waved. Kristina waved back. The audience laughed again, enjoying the exchange.

Federico smiled, he had to. Then asked, “You asked that the particle physics department at MIT replicate the test, is that right?”

“That is right.”

“But isn’t it true that MIT had to do the experiment twice, why was that?”

Before Ruth could answer, Federico added, “Was it because the first set of tests were a complete failure?”

“Yes,” said Ruth.

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, it was because their first set of tests was a complete failure.”

“Because it did not verify your findings?”

“That’s correct.”

“So you told them to do it again?”

“That’s what we did.”

“Asking MIT to do the test again just because it didn’t verify your findings isn’t very scientific, is it?”

“Do you know the difference between EPROM and Flash Memory?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the difference?”

Her question, again, demanded an answer, and he virtually heard himself say, “Flash Memory is the newer of the two technologies.”

“True. What else?”

“Flash has a much higher density?” He was guessing here.

“True. What else?”

“That’s about it.”

“No, that’s not about it. The singular—and, as far as our experiment is concerned, crucial—difference between EPROM and Flash is that EPROM requires ultraviolet light for erasure, while Flash only requires additional electricity.”

Federico again consulted his notes. “Right you are.”

“Right I am.”

This got another cheerful laugh from the audience, and Ruth again looked in Kristin Medina’s direction, and also spotted some other people she knew, her mom among them. She waved at them, too. Then she turned back to Federico, and continued, before he could ask the next question:

“MIT were using Flash memory in their first set of tests. There was some mix-up with their EPROM supply. Our EPROM experiment was called an ‘EPROM experience’ for a fairly obvious reason.”

Another brief audience giggle cut her off, but she soon picked up the thread, “We did the experiment using EPROMs, that’s the only kind of memory that nature cannot revise after the fact. That is why we asked MIT to do their tests again, using EPROMs this time. They did, and as soon as they actually ran our experiment as done—as we had described it and requested it be run—they verified our findings.”

“Or so you say.”

“Or so MIT says.”

Federico took a long look at this seemingly unflappable girl. He had underestimated her, gravely. Those incredibly blue eyes met his, and did not waver. A challenge. No, more like curiosity. And laughing. Or, if not laughing, at least mocking. She smiled and shifted in the chair, waiting for the next question, which he had to come up with fast.

Looking first at Ruth, and then into the camera, he said, “Several renowned physicists have gone on record calling your experiment a spoof, a stunt.”

Ruth did not rise to the bait of the insinuated question, and was obviously waiting for more to come—so he had to state it.

“Why on earth would you pull a stunt like this? What’s in it for you, or your mother?”

Federico noted that she flinched ever so slightly on the mention of her mother. A chink in the armor?

“Is that the question?” She said.

“Yes, that’s the question.”

“Why on earth would I pull a stunt like this? And what’s in it for me, or my mother?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

Ruth shifted again, then swept back her hair with her hand. “You are right, Mr. Alvarez, several renowned physicists and institutions have expressed disbelief. Among them research teams at Fermilab in Illinois and at CERN in Switzerland—primarily, I guess, for political rather than scientific reasons. Some questions have been raised by those who have not had the chance to fully familiarize themselves with the facts and details. Others still, I’d venture to assume, have been paid very well to fuel controversy, which I assume is good for ratings. Isn’t it?”

And before Federico could respond, Ruth went on, “And as to what’s in it for me, or for my mom: The truth. That’s all. The goal of all science, and the goal of both philosophy and religion as well. The truth.”

Federico’s strategy had been to first cast his famous doubt upon the experiment itself, and upon the quote verifications unquote, which he would frame by index and long fingers slashing the air, enlisting the many articles and reports that questioned—some politely, some mockingly, some outrageously—the veracity of the EPROM experiment findings.

Then, with the young girl reeling from this onslaught, he would move in for the kill and expose the ludicrous claim that she was the Buddha, for that is what she claimed wrapping up her paper: “Those who have woken up to this fact are called Buddhas.” And, “Those who have notions of this fact are called artists. Those who see none of these facts are called humans. I am awake.”

And “I am awake,” meaning precisely that: I am the Buddha. Ridiculous, of course, and an invitation to exposure.

But the girl wasn’t reeling. Not in the least. Calm as anything, and those too-blue, mocking eyes, as if asking whether that was the best he could do. Well, it wasn’t. Far from it. He had done his homework, lots of it.

And so the fighter in him stirred more fully awake, smiled, and said, “It’s a big word that: the truth.”

“Yes, it is.”

“About once a year,” he said. “Sometimes more often, we hear the clamor from some part or other of the country—or the world, for that matter—that Jesus has returned. We hear that the end is near, and that the savior has come back in the flesh to lead his flock back home. And every time this happens we pull the string only find some lunatic at the end of it, fit for the spin bin.”

Ruth drew breath to answer or comment, but Federico held up his hand. “Now, you’ve gone one better in your paper.”

“What do you mean?”

The he laughed, “I mean seriously: the Buddha?”

“What do you mean?”

“Perhaps I’m reading between the lines, but I don’t think so. That’s what you say at the end of the paper. That you are awake. And that those who are awake are Buddhas. That’s how you end your paper: ‘I am awake.’ A point you’re stressing.

Ruth shifted again, and again swung her hair back with her splayed fingers. “What if it were true?”

“What? That you’re Jesus? That you’re a lunatic?”

“That I’m a Buddha.”

Federico looked up and out over the audience, “Is there a doctor in the house?”

Some laughed outright—small explosions, some laughed politely, some laughed with embarrassment because they were expected to, or felt they were, some laughed not at all.

Finally, Federico thought, finally I’ve made a dent in her. And pressed his advantage. “We’ve already established that you’re a smart girl. So, by definition, you’re not stupid. But, apparently, that doesn’t disqualify you as a lunatic. I mean, come on Ruth, the Buddha?”

“A Buddha,” she said.

“The Buddha. A Buddha. What’s the difference? The Jesus, a Jesus. The lunatic, a lunatic. It escapes me.”

Ruth straightened in her chair and asked, “Have you actually read the paper, Mr. Alvarez?”

“Of course. Several times.”

“I take it you don’t give it much credence.”

“I find bits of it hard to swallow, that’s true.”

“What bits?”

“The nothing’s there bit. Unless we look.”

“Hard to swallow or not, the results bore out in four independent labs.”

“I don’t think that’s been impartially verified.”

“You don’t trust MIT, or UCLA?”

“Unfortunately, I’ve been around long enough to know that you can buy pretty much anything these days.”

“Meaning?”

Before Federico had a chance to reply the producer cut in in his earpiece, “Fifteen seconds to commercial. Segue, please.”

“Meaning,” said Federico, now facing the camera. “Meaning that it’s time to offer up some more things to buy. But stay right where you are, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.”

During the sixty seconds that followed, Federico did not look at Ruth, but busied himself with his notes. Ruth looked over at Kristina and Melissa, and also caught Julian’s eye. He tried to tell her something, but she could not make it out. Ananda was looking at Federico, slowly shaking his head. Not in an I-told-you-so way, but sadly.

The producer returned to Federico’s earpiece, “Ten seconds, nine, eight.”

Federico stacked his papers again his lap, and looked into the camera, “And we’re back.” Then over to Ruth, “You were saying?”

“You were actually saying,” said Ruth.

“I was saying what?”

“You were saying ‘Meaning’ and were about to imply that we had bought the test results from MIT, UCLA, QUT, and KTH?”

“Is it so far-fetched?”

“Of course it’s so far-fetched?”

“Research takes money,” said Federico.

“Yes it does.”

“And every little bit helps, no?”

“Have you ever heard of honesty, Mr. Alvarez?”

“Of course…”

“None of these research facilities would sell out, no matter what the enticement. None would violate the researcher’s integrity.”

“That’s your opinion?”

“That’s my opinion. And I believe that if you personally called the heads of these institutions, they would gladly come on the show and state as much in person.”

Federico looked down at his notes again, flipped to the second, then third page. “Johnston 1976. Frost 2011. Blackburn 2012. Tindler 2021.”

Ruth shook her head. “Never heard of them.”

“Each one investigated for, and found guilty of, fraud. Each expelled from UCLA, MIT, QUT, and KTH respectively for the very thing we’re discussing right now, for accepting money to influence a result.”

“I have not,” began Ruth.

“So, it is not so absolutely unheard of as you want us to believe, is it, Ms. Marten?”

“What were the circumstances?”

“My producer will be happy to supply you the particulars after the show,” he said. “My point is that not only is your experiment and the results you claim so far removed from reason as to be ludicrous, but you also—and carefully, from what I can make out—selected institutions known for fraudulent research to verify your findings.”

“I’d like the particulars now,” said Ruth.

“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

“Can you tell me what they were, in each instance.”

“We don’t have the time for that.”

“That strikes me as rather convenient,” said Ruth.

A few in the audience giggled.

“Trust me,” said Federico, “the particulars bear out, and tend to support that you selected institutions you could manipulate to verify your results.”

After a brief and pregnant silence, Ruth said:

“I have a question.”

“All right.”

“I know that you are aware—since this is very much by design—that you convey the impression to the audience and to the viewer that these four institutions are the only labs to ever, in the entire history of research, have employed individuals who ended up selling out. Have you investigated any other institutions so as to verify that each and every one of those are utterly clean and free of such instances of fraud or questionable behavior?”

“You have to understand, we did not have the time.”

“Again, rather convenient. And, by the way, one of the reasons I agreed to this interview was your—or your station’s—very generous monetary offer. Frankly, we could do with the money.”

“Because you had spent what you had on these bribes?”

“Now, that’s truly ridiculous.”

“I agree. The whole thing is ridiculous.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“But what I don’t understand,” said Federico, and he actually meant this, “is what’s in it for you? Really.”

“Nothing’s in it for me.”

“So why did you do it?”

“Why did we do what?”

“Put on this over-the-top elaborate spoof? What would you possibly hope to gain by fake results? Did you truthfully think you were going to get away with it?”

“Mr. Alvarez, do you honestly believe that we faked the results?”

“Of course I do. You did.”

“And you have verified this, how?”

Ah, walking right into it. “For one, I think we have established here that the institutions you so carefully picked to verify your results are prone to fraudulent research, or selling out as you put it. We also know that you avoided labs that could disprove your experiment, like Fermilab and CERN. We also possess a fair amount of common sense. You’re saying that things only exist because we look. If we don’t look there is no-thing there.”

“That is precisely what we are saying.”

“And then you top this lunacy off by calling yourself Buddha. Who put you up to this craziness? Your mom? I know she’s had her mental health issues in the past.”

“What?”

Federico consulted his notes again, “Not long after you were born, she was committed to psychiatric care for delusional behavior—having long, rambling conversations with you, before you could even talk, believing that you talked back. At least according to her ex-husband’s very illuminating account.”

Ruth Marten’s very blue eyes turned very cold. In fact, they turned frightening. Federico wondered whether he had gone too far here, but done was done. He had planned to use his Charles Marten interview only if needed, but it had been, and now he had.

“Have you no shame?” said Ruth, one word at a time.

“Truth, my dear,” said Federico, and quite condescendingly, “will always out.”

“How much did you pay Charles Marten for his illuminating account?”

“Pay? We didn’t have to pay him anything. I think his only concern was for the truth, and perhaps for your safety.”

“My safety?”

“An unstable mother who most likely put you up to this.”

Ruth looked long and hard at Federico, but said nothing in return. Federico tried to hold her gaze, but found he could not.

Then the young girl leaned back and closed her eyes.

At that point someone in the audience, said “No.” And quite loudly. Then once more, “No.” Federico strained to see who was speaking. Then saw him. It was the old man sitting beside Melissa Marten. Ananda Wolf, if he wasn’t mistaken. And then he said for a third time, and as loudly, “No.”

Who was addressed, and concerning what, he could not tell. But the “No” was definitely an appeal, if not an injunction.

What happened next, however, he certainly could tell. Even though he did not believe it, even though he had no grounds to believe it, he could not help but tell for it was actually happening.

Ever so gently his chair, with him in it, stirred, then began to rise. Had he not been leaning back he would have fallen off. But he was leaning back, and as his feet softly parted with the floor, his surprise was so great that he let go a brief, hysterical laugh—more like a giggle.

The chair continued its slow rise, a foot, two, then three. At about four feet off the studio floor, it stopped. And here it hovered in absolute stillness for a dozen or so of his now violent heartbeats, then began a slow descent.

Someone in the audience screamed. The rest were dead silent.

And equally gently, first his feet and then the chair touched down.

This is when Federico Alvarez discovered that he had wet himself. Warm and moist down there. He crossed his legs to conceal the condition. He looked around, no one seemed to have noticed. The he caught Ruth’s gaze. Steady and cold and knowing. She was something out of some terrible movie, not real at all. He was trying to wake up, trying so very hard to wake up, but there was nowhere to wake up into, for he was already there. And Ruth Marten would not stop looking at him like that.

“Go to commercial,” yelled the producer in his ear, probably for the third or fourth time. But Federico Alvarez did not register, nor was he entirely in control of his tongue right then, so the producer skipped the segue and went to commercial anyway.

The next few minutes can best be described as chaos. Utter.

[*:*]

Yes, I did something miraculously dumb. And I could hear, both internally and externally, Ananda trying to warn me, for he saw what was coming.

I was prepared for, and could easily have withstood and responded to any kind of verbal abuse or trick, but I had not counted on this snake of a man going after Melissa. I wanted those words coaxed back into his throat inch by rising inch, and—yes, I should have considered the consequences—set out to do precisely that.

And then I put him back just as gently.

Many of us can do this, it’s easy. But it is also much frowned upon for it really does no one any good. Quite the opposite. Whomever sees a feat like this will normally either consider himself crazy, and that he, in fact, never did see what he thought he saw; or he will accept what he saw, but make a god out of you, which doesn’t help either. Miracles like these (and they always think of them as miracles) are rocks thrown on the path, and I knew that. Obstacles. I knew that. Of course I knew that.

But no one speaks about Melissa that way in my presence.

And, what is done is done. I cannot undo it.

I hear the word “trick” being handed to the audience, and many of them hand it on in turn as they are ushered out of the studio. That must be the official explanation.

But as for those who know this was no trick, well that is another story.

Mr. Alvarez, for one. His producer for two. The television crew, for three. And then, of course, Julian, Melissa, and Ananda.

Ananda’s view, and I can’t say I blame him: “That was an amazingly dumb thing to do. I thought you incapable of such stupidity.”

Now what can you say to that? He is right. It was an unbearably stupid thing to do.

Julian, on the other hand, on the way back to the house, is more interested in how, exactly, had I gone about this—circumventing gravity, as he put it. And Melissa, in two minds: glad, I think, even a little proud, that I had so drastically come to her defense, but plainly worried that I may have bit off a lot more than I can chew. A lot more.

So is Ananda.

Time will tell.

[*93 :: (Pasadena)

 

The easiest and most effective way to contain the fire storm that now swept the country and threatened emotional damage would have been to clearly and unequivocally establish “the rising” (as the incident was quickly labeled) as a hoax.

The only problem with that solution was that too many people knew that it was not a hoax, and too many of those people spoke up about it, gladly giving interviews—some even seeking them out, and not only for money but to share what they saw as an incredible event, a miracle even—disregarding KCAA’s moratorium on anyone involved in the Federico Alvarez program as much as whispering to the media.

As a result, much of the media frenzy of the days following the rising speculated not on the nature of the rising—it was a miracle, confirmed by many who were present, and one that most of the country had observed on live television—but on the true nature of Ruth Marten.

Was she a God? Was she a Witch? Was Satan involved? The prevailing Bible Belt view was that God, somehow, did have a finger in this, and the openly asked question was whether this young girl heralded the imminent return of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. This view soon found broad sustenance and could now be heard over many a small rural radio station.

Some outlets, especially in the less gullible (which is how both New York and Los Angeles media portrayed themselves) metropolitan areas, refused to accept the miracle version of the rising, no matter how many voices offered or supplied confirmation. The laws of physics were still alive and well around the country they repeatedly pointed out, all was still as it should be with gravity. Their conclusion: the rising was a hoax. Elaborate and technically astute, to be sure, but a hoax nonetheless. And also unforgivable.

Judging by the media, nothing else occurred in the country for the few days following the rising. There was only the rising and its fallout.

 

During the night following the rising, a crowd of reporters, primarily from television but quite a few from the print media as well, gathered outside Melissa’s Pasadena home. The street was crammed with brightly colored vans donning satellite transmission dishes on their roofs; some even double-parked, to the escalating outrage of her neighbors.

Melissa, noticing the growing media horde, called the police requesting protection and they arrived in force at daybreak, cordoning off the entire house on all sides, and keeping the clamoring reporters at bay.

Ananda had not slept much. Not that he slept much anyway these days, but the interview, and Ruth’s rash antics, prevented even a wink of sleep. Also, it seemed that the Melissa, Ruth, and Julian (who was staying the night) had followed the television coverage most of the night, perhaps in shifts. In fact, as he made his way for the kitchen, the television set was still on. He could hear some excited reporter or another holding forth to an empty living room, for they were all gathered at the breakfast table as he entered. None of them looked like they’d slept much either.

Melissa served him up his customary orange, nicely sliced. “We’ve got company,” she said, nodding in the direction of the street outside.

“I saw,” he said, pouring himself some tea, then giving Ruth a pointed glance as he replaced the teapot on the coaster. “They have been gathering all night.”

“It was a stupid thing to do,” said Ruth. “I know.”

“Yes it was,” confirmed Ananda.

“Yes it was,” confirmed Melissa.

“Amazing, though,” said Julian, helping himself to another slice of toast.

“The question is,” said Ananda. “What do we do now?”

“Wait it out,” suggested Ruth. “What else can we do?”

“I don’t think this, or any of the reporters outside, will go away anytime soon,” said Ananda, shaking his head. “You’ve painted us into a very uncomfortable corner.”

“I know,” said Ruth.

“It really did happen, didn’t it?” said Julian, who was not tracking with the damage-control mode of the others; and not for the first time, “You really did it, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” admitted Ruth. “I really did.”

“No one can really predict,” said Ananda, “what happens when a human being sees something that by any stretch of logic is impossible. He simply is not equipped to handle it. He cannot compute, nor can he reconcile. He knows he’s seen it—first his eyes, then his memory tells him so—but it’s not possible that he could have, not within his framework of logic. There are usually only two ways out of this dilemma, for it is a dilemma for him, and always has been: go crazy—simply throw up your mental hands and give up, or turn everything you have and are over to God, seeing the impossible as proof of his existence.”

“That’s a bit grim,” suggested Julian.

“But nonetheless true,” said Ananda, Ruth nodding her agreement, yes Ananda’s right.

“Well, in that case,” said Julian very matter-of-factly. “We’ll have to tell them it was a hoax. Some stations, especially here in LA and in New York believe that already. Several Chicago stations as well.”

Ananda looked at Ruth and then at Julian. “Will they believe us? Or, Ruth, rather.”

Ruth shrugged, “I don’t know.”

Julian said, “Many of the KCAA crew have already told reporters that it was no hoax, that it actually did happen. That’s the problem.”

Melissa finally sat down, and began peeling her own orange. “Not unlike getting the toothpaste back into the tube,” she said. “Not easily done.”

“If it can be done,” said Ananda. “It would be the prudent, and most merciful, way to go.”

Ruth now nodded, “I agree.”

“What does Cal Tech have to say about all this?” Ananda wondered.

Julian looked not a little uncomfortable at this. “To be honest,” he said. “I don’t know. But I’m guessing they don’t like the spectacle—sorry, Ruth—the spectacle of all this detracting from the bona fide findings of the experiment, which seems to be lost in all this. They don’t have a well-tended sense of humor.”

Ruth pushed her chair back and rose, “Let’s do it.” Then turned to leave.

“Do what?” Melissa said. Ruth stopped and turned again.

“Let’s tell them it was a carefully planned hoax,” said Ruth.

“Sit down, please,” said Ananda. “We have to prepare a little. If we tell them that, they will have questions we need to answer believably.” He paused and considered. “I can think of several, the most obvious one being, why on earth would we pull a hoax like this? What possible reason would we have? And why would KCAA employees lie about it?”

Ruth returned to her seat. “Okay,” she said after a moment’s reflection. “This was not our idea; this was Alvarez’s stunt.”

“Why would he pull a stunt like this?” said Melissa.

“Ratings,” suggested Julian.

“Ratings,” confirmed Ruth, looking from Julian to Melissa.

“Why would you, the Awake One, go along with this, making a mockery out of your experiment findings?” asked Ananda.

That question settled around the table like a heavy mist. It had no immediate or good answer.

Finally, Ruth suggested, “I didn’t know about it.”

“He set this up without you knowing?” said Julian.

“Yes. I was as surprised as anybody,” said Ruth.

“If you didn’t know anything about it. How do you know it was Alvarez’s stunt?”

“He told me,” Ruth answered.

“When?”

“Just before we left, he pulled me aside and apologized.”

“You know that’s an out and out lie,” said Ananda.

“I know that.”

“What if he denies this?”

“I doubt that he will.”

“On what grounds?”

“He’s been dead quiet so far,” said Ruth. “I think he is too embarrassed or frightened or both.”

“You’re the one who should apologize to him,” said Melissa.

“I know,” said Ruth.

“I’m not sure this will fly,” said Ananda.

“I’m open to suggestions,” said Ruth.

“Don’t forget,” began Ananda.

“I know, I know,” said Ruth, raising her hands in apology.

Ananda straightened in his chair and frowned. “Do not forget to apologize to him,” completing what he meant to say.

“If you admit to rising the chair,” said Julian. “Hell will continue to break loose. If you admit to knowing about the hoax, one and all with question both your motive and your sanity, Cal Tech probably first among them. If you wash your hands of the whole deal—what I would term a lie of both convenience and necessity—no one can blame you, or discredit you.”

“I think Federico Alvarez will still dispute this,” said Melissa.

“Or he may not,” said Ananda, having considered further. “The man is nothing if not concerned about his reputation, and as it stands right now, if this really did happen, he looks nothing but the outplayed, and taught-a-lesson fool. I don’t think he likes that. I think he’d much rather be the author of this spectacle,” looking over at Julian to acknowledge where that word had originated. “Much rather the author of it than its victim.”

“Good point,” said Melissa.

“Good point,” said Ruth.

Julian nodded in agreement. The way to go.

“So,” said Ruth. “It’s a hoax. I had nothing to do with it. I was as surprised as any of you. In fact, I’m still quite upset about it, since this spectacle,” also looking over at Julian, “has made very little of the experiment and my paper that I came on the program to discuss.”

They all looked at each other, waiting for objections, elaborations, anything else. No one spoke.

“Let’s do it then,” said Ruth.

[*:*]

They decided that only Ruth and Melissa would face the reporters.

Melissa took a long look at the throng of people with cameras and microphones that seemed to huddle against the gloomy May air and actually felt a little sorry for them. At least she and the others were warm inside.

She looked up briefly at the overcast sky and confirmed another misty, dripping day that was good for the lawn—which quite a few feet were treading on right now—but not so good for the mood.

When they stepped out onto the porch the police sprang to life and prevented the media crowd from approaching too closely—also stepping on the lawn, Melissa noticed. Oh, well.

Unlike the movie version of the agitated media posse, each yelling their questions and demands for comments that none really could hear, this crowd was dead silent, and wholly focused on Ruth, who must have emanated the appearance of about to make a statement—which, of course, was precisely what she was about to do.

Ruth surveyed the gathering, frowned at the one or two spotlights that had sprung up in the gloomy dawn, then drew breath and said, “You can all go home.”

She paused to study the silent reporters again, each holding up a microphone tilted in her direction. Then smiled and shook her head in what appeared to be amazement. “You look cold. You shouldn’t be out here freezing. It might even start to rain soon.”

When no one responded, Ruth changed gears and in a stronger voice more or less proclaimed, “I want to confirm what some of you already suspect, that the rising was a hoax. Let me repeat that, the rising was a hoax.

“I am not happy to have been part of it, but Mr. Alvarez saw it fit to play me as much of a fool as he played all of you and everybody else.

“I don’t know how he did it, for—from where I was sitting, and I had a good view—it certainly looked convincing, but I assume that this was his idea of a practical joke. Maybe this was his way of mocking the last line of my paper, to somewhat playfully express his disbelief of my allusion to the Buddha. Perhaps this was an attempt to throw attention off the subject we were supposed to discuss, the verified and validated result of the Cal Tech EPROM experiment—which, sadly, seems to have fallen by the wayside in the ruckus of all this.

“The person whose house you should camp outside is not ours, but Federico Alvarez’s. So, if you wouldn’t mind, would you please pack up all of your stuff—the neighbors would like that, too—and head on over to wherever he lives. We would all appreciate that very much.

“Any questions?”

Oh, yes, there were questions. The first, or loudest:

“How do you know this?”

“Alvarez told me. He apologized, then told me.”

The next loudest: “Several of the crew on the show swear, on camera, that it was not a hoax.”

“They must have been paid handsomely by Mr. Alvarez to say precisely that,” said Melissa.

The same reporter: “We have examined the footage, Ms. Marten. Thoroughly. There is no sign whatever of a hoax, no traces of lines or thread. Do you have any suggestions how Alvarez did this, if indeed he did?”

“I’m as clueless as you are,” said Ruth. But then added, “Magnets, perhaps. Iron in the chair, a strong, finely directed electrical magnet above. Have you examined that possibility?”

The reporters looked at each other, this had apparently not crossed media minds yet.

“Can you prove his?” From the middle of the pack.

“Of course not. As I said, I haven’t a clue. I don’t know how Alvarez pulled this off. That was just a suggestion.”

“You did not look very surprised on camera, Ms. Marten.” Someone else.

“I rarely look very surprised,” answered Ruth.

“If the chair next to me rose in the air of its own free will, I would be very surprised,” the same someone. “Shocked, in fact.”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t surprised, I said I rarely look surprised.”

“Why, if this was Alvarez’s stunt, would he do this?”

“My guess is for the ratings,” said Melissa.

“Ratings,” confirmed Ruth, nodding. “What else does Mr. Alvarez live for?”

Melissa didn’t catch the next question (from someone in the back) for her attention was caught by a waving hand, closer and to her left, and realized that the hand belonged to Clare Downes, her favorite television personality. She was surprised to see her there, among the pack, but on second thought, why should she not be there, this was a story she would be interested in, surely.

“I have no idea,” answered Ruth to the question Melissa hadn’t heard.

“Yes,” Melissa said, pointing to Clare Downes, acknowledging the waving hand and inviting the question.

“Are you truly the Maitreya, Ruth?”

The question struck Melissa as free of any trace of sarcasm or cynicism. Clare Downes meant this as a question; she was truly curious.

“Why do you ask?” said Ruth.

“I don’t know, but I always pictured the Maitreya as a man.” Again, this was said in all earnestness, as far as Melissa could tell.

“I would have thought the true Maitreya would be neither man nor woman,” said Ruth.

“Yes,” said Clare Downes. “You have a point. But back to the question, though, if you don’t mind. You say in your paper—in fact, you end your paper with a statement that really cannot be taken any other way. Is that what you mean? How you intended it to be taken?”

Melissa was unsure whether this was indeed the right forum for this and looking over at Ruth, who met her look straight on, she saw that she was of the same mind.

Ruth looked back at Clare Downes and said, “I’m getting cold, and you guys are not getting any warmer. You’re far too many to invite in, or I would. But,” and here she turned to Melissa and said under her breath, “I recognize her, what’s her name?”

“Clare Downes,” Melissa whispered back.

“But you, Clare, if you want, are invited in.”

This brought an almost threatening protest groan from the crowd, something that pulled the police officers to stricter attention and alert. One of them looked back at Melissa. “Yes,” she said. “Miss Downes can come through.”

The officer pointed, nodded, then waved her through. Her cameraman made to follow.

“Not him,” said Ruth, meaning the cameraman.

“Really?” said Clare Downes.

“Really,” said Ruth.

Clare turned to her cameraman and said something. He nodded, and turned while Clare continued to make her way for the porch. Again, the mutter of protest spoke of the unfairness of it all, but with the police line holding firm nothing more came of that, and once Clare Downes had entered the house, and Melissa closed the door behind them, the rest of the reporters and their cameramen seemed to decide that nothing would be gained by lingering, so they began to pack up and head back to the studio with whatever footage they had, or perhaps heading over to Federico Alvarez’s house.

Just as the sun decided to break through the gloomy overhead.

[*94 :: (Pasadena)

 

Clare Downes could easily qualify as poster child for the all-American girl. Sincere to a fault—some would go so far (actually, many did) as to call her naïve, but they would be wrong—and stunningly good looking, she quickly became the viewer darling in Minnesota, where she began her career, as well as in Los Angeles, once KCRI managed to lure her out there.

With a sister who had just taken first steps, and with a brother yet to come, she was born during a Minneapolis snow storm to Craig and Ellen Downes.

Craig Downes was—and still is—a well-known, and much respected, architect, at least as far as Minnesota goes. Ellen Downes still owns and runs a prestigious Minneapolis art gallery—The Canvas, a local gem that she inherited from her mother Berit, and made it her life’s mission to run and expand; that and raising three great kids.

Clare probably got her voracious reading habit from her mom, who never seemed to tire of informing one and all that television numbed you into a zombie state more effectively than anything she could name. It killed any sense of participation and creativity, she’d add. Then she’d turn around, holding her book high, like a banner or a flag, and disappear into what she insisted on calling the library to read.

Still, the last word to come to mind if you’d run into her as a teenager would be “brainy.” She was so vivacious that she literally sparkled. And so beautiful that her main complaint at the time was that “there were boys everywhere, could someone please do something.”

She finally settled on a boyfriend who spelled his name Marq, and who could probably bench-press a horse—more for protection than anything else, she once confided to her sister—and so was safely escorted through high school by this very nice man who’d agreed that there was no question about sex until they were married, if that were to happen. Indeed, he was happy enough just to be seen with her. A good arrangement. And he also enjoyed the kissing.

 

Her life took a major turn during the summer of her twentieth year. She and her sister were on a two-week hike in the Canadian Rockies when it happened.

To be perfectly honest, she had smoked pot a couple of days before, and she had not slept for about 48 hours (as an experiment), when it happened. But in her view, neither of these circumstances had any bearing on the realness, or the significance, of her experience—neither detracted one iota from the genuine event.

Three days earlier they had set up camp just above the tree line, that was the evening that she also smoked pot. Not too much, but enough to enable her to put her finger on precisely how come she decided not to sleep.

Either she had read about it, or she’d heard it said (she could not decide which), but apparently, if you can stay up for forty-eight hours or more, and still stay alert, your thoughts slow down to where you can trace them like lasers through darkness.

Perhaps it was leaning back against her backpack and looking up at the stars at this altitude, into a sky that even treated her to a meteor or two slicing across the dusty dark in quick arcs; perhaps it was this that made her curious as to whether there was some truth to that staying awake thing.

Britt, her sister, was rolling another joint when Clare asked her, “Do you think it’s true that you can see and trace your thoughts like streaks of lasers through blackness if you don’t sleep for a few days?”

Britt licked the paper and finalized her creation before she looked over at Clare, searchingly, and said, “Lasers?”

“Yes, like strands of light through dark space.”

“Thoughts?”

“Yes. Like lasers.”

“Who said that?”

“I don’t remember. I may have read it somewhere.”

“I bet you did.”

“Seriously.”

Britt lit the joint and filled her lungs with the sweet smoke. Still holding it in she offered the joint to Clare. “No, I’m fine,” she said. “Fine for now.”

Britt finally exhaled. “Okay, more for me.”

“So, do you think that’ll work?”

“What?”

“Staying up to turn thoughts into lasers.”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you try it and find out?”

“I may just do that.”

And that is precisely what she did. Although partly floating on the pot she’d already smoked, the curiosity (there’s no other word for it) of what would happen if she didn’t fall asleep kept her up not only through that star-filled night, and the following rather warm day, but the next (overcast) night and the following windy day as well.

Towards the end of that second day, the clouds—that she was now studying quite intently—amazingly cleared the sky in several directions, not unlike a huge, multifaceted curtain opening to reveal the stage of clear sky beyond, now admitting first one star, then two, then many.

Britt was toking it again, and again offering Clare her fair share, but she declined, no, not for her, not now, perhaps not ever. As darkness fell further and deeper Britt eventually crawled into their tent and slumbered off. In the new stillness Clare could hear her sister’s breathing: in, out, in, out, then in again.

Clare, to her surprise wide awake still, leaned back into the soft undergrowth, giving herself to mossy, motherly arms. So cradled by the Earth she felt safe and secure in letting go, in relaxing and simply looking. And looking she could see a thought enter the heavens and travel, slowly, almost stately, through that huge silence above.

This was her thought: “They were right.” It spawned and sailed loftily between constellations, though whether the constellations themselves were out there or in here, she could not tell, just that the thought made its way between them, like a slow—or on a universal scale, very fast—laser between them.

Eventually the thought evaporated—a wave breaking into a trillion little pieces upon the welcoming shore—now gone, and in its place: nothing. No new thought. And she was aware of this: I am not thinking. Aware of not thinking, and this awareness did not consist of thought, it was pure awareness being aware of doing nothing but being aware of doing nothing.

She grew.

Again, whether inward our outward she could not tell, she either absorbed the skies she saw or they absorbed her (these were thoughts she had on reflection, at the time she thought nothing).

Then she thought, actually and consciously thought, “I am controlling my own thoughts.” She sent this thought on its way toward the deep darkness above and then thought nothing—again aware of thinking nothing.

Thinking nothing elated her, she felt like she hovered above the moss and plants that supported her body.

Then she thought, “I have found truth. I have come home.”

She watched those twin thoughts travel, one after the other, into that utter stillness above, to eventually vanish into the Milky Way.

Then she thought, “Am I the only one to ever experience this?”

She watched this though shoot up and away, speeding for some constellation she recognized but could not name.

The reply to this question didn’t so much reply as settle, softly and perfectly: This is the true human condition. Headlessly, she nodded her acknowledgement of this: Yes, of course it is. I am human. This is who we are beneath all that tumbling about we call living.

Then, for many, many breaths, and perhaps ten times as many heartbeats, she simply watched the stars and wondered whether they were thoughts, too. Constant thoughts thought by angels to light our way. She smiled at this, and thanked them.

Again she realized—and with a shiver this time—that her mind was absolutely still, that all that constant chatter you normally live with had died down. That nothing happened, that no thought occurred unless she occurred it. She thought this and watched that thought rise and vanish into the sky above.

Then she thought nothing again for many, many breaths.

Then she thought, “Could there possibly be something beyond this?”

Then, while watching that thought rise and then take wing for the Milky Way, she heard, as if whispered by someone else very close to her ear, or perhaps in it, the single word: “Nirvana.”

At the fading of that word—which she both recognized and did not—she felt a ripple, or the hint of a ripple, in her feet. This hint grew to true ripple, to wave gathering both strength and speed to then shoot up through calves and thighs and abdomen and lungs and neck and head and out and into light.

And all was light.

Not a sea of photons, but living light. Light, more golden than white. Light that breathed and pulsated and filled her with the most divine feeling she had ever experienced.

All was light. There was in fact no Clare left to sense it. There was only the light experiencing itself, radiantly, brilliantly, tenderly, lovingly.

For minutes? Hours? Looking back, she could never truly tell. Her guess is minutes, say five.

Then, receding, the light gave way to sky and stars and moss and tent and Britt breathing in and out, and to Clare saying aloud to herself or to the stars or to whomever had whispered that strange word which she knew meant Nirvana, “Now I know.”

Her next impulse was to wake Britt and tell her all about it, but she knew right away that this would not serve any purpose or come to any good. Britt would not, not in her current state, understand that this had nothing to do with high or stoned or pot in any way. This was truth. She had just been kissed by truth, and you cannot explain that easily, especially not to your stoned older sister.

Instead she sat up, walked over to the little lean-to that sheltered their backpacks, found an apple and took a bite.

Her mouth, if not her whole head, exploded with the sensation of fruit. Never, never had an apple tasted so loudly, and so good. She chewed, then swallowed, only to discover that she could sense the bite sliding down her throat, could sense it settle in the stomach. Could sense the clamoring of millions and millions and millions of hungry little digestive microbes spreading the word “mealtime” around, and found herself laughing at the picture she realized was more than just picture.

She could still feel the apple-swallow in her stomach, in fact she could feel all through her body, as if she had suddenly turned all transparent, at least to herself.

She took another bite. Same thing, except for the microbe part—apparently the “mealtime” alarm had reached everyone and they are all intent on silently going to work. Still, she was aware of them. Amazing.

Amazing.

She returned to her bed of moss and happy plants, lay down again and looked back at the stars. Again not thinking, and feeling no need to do so. Only aware. An awareness she felt hovering above the surface of a quiet and still forest lake.

Tranquil.

And now she fell asleep, into a pitch black dream-less rest that lasted well into the morning and her sister shaking her gently and then not so gently, “Clare. Clare.”

Finally, the surface. “What?”

“God, Clare. How asleep were you?”

She had no idea. But she felt refreshed, and still calmly elated. The sun had climbed past the eastern rim and was cascading the canyon below into light.

“What a night,” she said.

“Did you stay awake?”

“More than that,” she said. “I think I woke up.”

 

Although she tried a few times, she could not convince her sister that the awakening (which is how she came to think of it) was not just a belated pot-high, and eventually she stopped trying.

But the event changed her life. Once so awake, how can you go back to sleep? she asked herself. You cannot. You cannot forget something like that.

Returning for her junior year at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, feeling that she needed to find out more about her experience, and that she needed to tell people about what she had found out, she promptly changed her major from English Literature (much to the chagrin of her English professor who saw in her great promise as a writer, and over some—though not too vehement—objections of her mother’s) to a double major of Philosophy and Journalism. Philosophy to learn what others had experience and thought about Truth, and Journalism to learn all she could about pursuing clues.

She graduated cum laude not that much wiser about what on earth had happened to her, but as an excellent journalist, who, based on her summer and intermittent work with KFCA, was hired the week after graduation.

“A face like yours will always have an audience,” her editor told her, and apparently so, for she quickly became quite well known as the fresh wind at KFCA and was soon doing her own special assignments—none of which, so far, had been very philosophical or religious, however.

She had the knack—which she had always had, or acquired in the Canadian Rockies, she wasn’t sure which—to sense when people were truthful with her, and she was gentle enough to coax the truth out of people even when they set out to lie at any cost.

Into her fourth year at KFCA, she received a call from the owner of KCRI in Los Angeles which a promise of twice her salary, a paid for house and car, and creative control if she would move to Los Angeles. KCRI would also buy out the balance of her contract (six months to go), he promised.

It was the creative control that clinched it.

That, and an understanding boss.

That, and what appeared to be a well-established Theravada Buddhist community in Santa Monica, for in her continuing search for what her awakening was and meant and what could possibly have made it happened, she had in the end turned to Buddhism and Insight Meditation.

She had never forgotten the word Nirvana, and following where it would lead her she had arrived at the feet of the Buddha.

She began to devour all she could find about Buddhism and, to true and grateful joy, came to see that these people, this order of Theravada monks, knew all about what had happened that night. To them, it was no secret, and here—so they said, and so their canon said—is how to get there.

A quick Mortimer search revealed this blossoming Theravada community not far from her new house, much better equipped than her local meetups to help her find answers, she figured.

Naturally, being a player in a much larger market appealed to her as well. The pay, house, and car were nice too. The house was a Santa Monica bungalow, and the car a current year—and very fuel efficient—Honda.

A car that she still drove, in fact.

A car that she, in the pre-dawn darkness of this foggy morning, had driven all the way from her Santa Monica home to the Marten’s Pasadena house.

[*95 :: (Pasadena)

 

Melissa closed the door behind them, shutting out the reluctant commotion of the press corps retreating.

She turned to Clare Downes. “This way, Miss Downes.”

“Clare, please.”

Melissa felt a little self-conscious, no doubt about it. Living with the Buddha as her daughter apparently had not prepared her for standing this close to a television personality or celebrity or whatever she should call her, and such a beautiful one at that.

“Here, give me that coat,” she said.

Clare obliged, and handed her the coat which dripped dew on the entryway floor as she did. “Sorry about this,” she said.

“Oh, no. Don’t mind that.” Then she offered her hand. “Melissa,” she said. The real live television personality took it and said, again, “Clare.”

[*:*]

There were two additional people in the nicely appointed living room. One, the older, looked like an emaciated Buddhist monk, the other she recognized as Julian Lawson, the Cal Tech physicist.

They both rose as she and her host entered. Melissa introduced them.

“Ananda Wolf,” she said with a graceful sweep of her hand. The old man smiled and shook her hand. “Clare Downes,” said Clare.

“And here’s Julian Lawson, you may recognize him.”

“Yes, I do,” said Clare, and shook hands again.

Then, turning to her daughter, trailing them, “And this, of course, is Ruth.”

“Whom all the fuss is about,” said Clair with a smile, and shook her hand as well.

“Can I get you something?” said Melissa. “Coffee, tea?”

“A coffee would be great,” she said. “You’re right, it’s pretty cold out there, and I’ve been here a while.”

“How long?” asked Ananda.

“Since about four o’clock,” she answered.

“Oh my,” said Ananda.

“Sit down, please,” said Melissa, and pointed to one of the armchairs by the low table.

“Thanks.” And did.

Melissa vanished, and the remaining three pairs of eyes were all trained on her, expectantly.

She turned to Ruth. And for the first time noticed the startling blueness of her eyes, so contrasted to her hair so black it shimmered blue in the lamplight. “So,” she said. “Are you?”

And as she asked the purposely vague question she knew that Ruth Marten knew precisely what she was asking, knew even before it had left her lips.

“Yes,” she said. “I am.”

“The Maitreya?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

Clare looked over at the old monk, Ananda was it? That was the same name as the Buddha’s attendant. His face revealed little more than that he did not find the conversation humorous.

“What do you mean?”

“You are a Buddhist, are you not?” said Ruth, ignoring her question.

“Why, yes. Yes, I am. How did you know?”

“Of the Theravada persuasion?” said Ruth, for some reason seeming to mock the word persuasion.

“Yes. Yes, to that, too.”

Ruth nodded. Then looked over at the old monk—which she had to stop thinking of as the old monk, really. Ananda nodded in reply to a silent question. There was a strange connection between those two.

“I am Tathagata,” said Ruth.

Tathagata, the one who has thus gone, the one who has thus come, Clare knew. “What are you saying? You are the Buddha?”

Ruth did not reply, but she smiled and nodded in agreement.

“That,” said Clare. Then lost her thread. Found it again. Looked at Ruth then at the other two. Then back at Ruth. “That, I must admit, is very hard to believe.”

“Of course it is,” said Ruth. “But nonetheless true.”

Clare had serious trouble adding things up. This was, of course, on the face of things, sheer fairy tale stuff. But so was that night in the Canadian Rockies. Sheer fairy tale.

But nonetheless true.

She looked at Ananda and Julian Lawson who seemed to take Ruth’s declaration in stride. “It’s true?” said Clare.

“It’s true,” said Ananda. Julian Lawson nodded as well.

“Just like you said,” said Clare, looking at Ruth—who smiled and said, “Just like I said.”

Melissa, now at the door with a tray, “Some daughter, huh?”

Clare knew with grim certainty that if she had not fallen into the Canadian sky that summer, none of this would have made any sense at all, would simply mean a bunch of strange people pulling her leg, and very hard at that. But she had fallen into the Canadian sky, and she had woken up, and if that was real, well, so was this.

She looked at Ruth Marten again, who smiled at her as if she knew. As if she knew about her falling, about her awakening.

Melissa put the tray down, and served her.

“How about you,” said Clare, realizing she was the only one taking coffee.

“We’ve just had breakfast,” said Julian Lawson.

“Ah,” said Clare.

Clare blew on the surface of the coffee to cool it a little, then sipped. Delicious and warm. Very much a spot-hitter.

She turned to Julian, “I read your paper.”

“The dry version?” he said.

“I guess. Yes, a little drier that Ruth’s. But fascinating nonetheless. You really have achieved something stellar.”

“I know,” said Julian.

“And now, this,” said Clare, not entirely sure herself what she meant by that.

“You mean the chair? The rising?” said Melissa.

“Yes, I guess I do.”

Ananda Wolf was shaking his head. “It’s a mess, that.”

“Amen, to that,” said Melissa.

“Federico Alvarez can be about as insensitive as they come,” said Clare, looking at Ruth.

“Yes, he can be that,” said the girl, the Buddha. But she left something unsaid, something quite tangible.”

“But what?” said Clare, sensing the unspoken.

“It was not Alvarez,” said Ruth.

Clare looked from face to face and said, “If not Alvarez, who was it?” Then asked, “It was a hoax, right?”

“No,” said Ruth. “It was not a hoax.”

“That’s. That’s,” said Clare. Then managed to form a sentence, “So, what was it?”

“A rising,” said Ruth. “And a lesson.”

Clare took in this young girl, this Buddha, this Tathagata, and tried to understand. For a moment she made sense of it, but not for long. And then again she did while wrestling something to the ground, something that decried all this, that accused her for falling prey to an even worse hoax.

“You did this,” she finally told Ruth. “And it was not a trick.”

“I did this,” Ruth confirmed. “And it was not a trick.”

Clare looked to Melissa for some help with this. Her host noticed, nodded and said, “Afraid so.”

“So why did you just tell us, the reporters?”

“It’s better that way,” said Ananda. “And we trust that you will honor our request for discretion.”

“Sure. Of course,” she said.

“No, really,” said Melissa.

“Yes. Absolutely,” she said, sounding less flippant.

She finished the rest of her coffee. “This is all unbelievable. I guess you know that.”

“We do,” said Ruth. Understanding precisely what she meant.

Then the professional in her stirred and asked, “So what am I to do with this? I’m a television reporter. This is amazing news. This is the story of a lifetime. And that’s putting it mildly.”

“But, as you pointed out, unbelievable,” observed Ananda.

“Yes. Good point. I did say that. And that is true. It is unbelievable.”

Julian Lawson rose and walked up to the window behind her. She turned to see him peek out from behind the curtain. “They’re gone,” he said.

“Good,” said Melissa.

Clare looked back at Ruth. “So what do I do with this?” she said.

“To be honest, we haven’t had a chance to think about that,” said Ananda. “Any suggestions?”

“You are going to maintain that this was a hoax,” Clare not so much asked as stated.

“That would be best, don’t you think?” said Melissa. Ruth nodded in agreement.

“I guess,” Clare said.

“Ruth’s paper deserves a fair hearing,” said Julian Lawson. Again, Ruth nodded in agreement.

Clare found herself nodding as well. “Especially in light of recent events,” she said.

“Especially in light of that,” agreed Melissa.

“How did you do it?” said Clare. The question finally seeing daylight.

“That’s beside the point,” said Ruth, seemingly unwilling to elaborate.

“No, seriously,” said Clare. “How did you do it?”

Ruth looked at her as if taking stock, as if deliberating, as if making up her mind. Which she apparently did. “It’s one of the things I can do.”

Simple as that.

“Lifting things without touching them,” said Clare, knowing each word to be superfluous.

“Yes.”

“I see,” said Clare, and she did see. It was one of the things the Buddha could do. Why should that be surprising? “I see,” she said again.

“Ruth’s paper deserves a fair hearing,” said Julian Lawson again, getting things back on track.

“Yes, that’s right,” said Clare.

“How about,” said Ruth, as if thinking aloud. “How about you interview me? But not live. And I want to approve the final edit.”

Again, the professional in her sprang to attention, “Tell me when and where.”

“Here, tomorrow,” said Ruth. Then she looked over at Ananda to see if he had any objections. He didn’t.

“One o’clock?” suggested Clare. “You’d have to let Lars in though, my camera guy.”

“Of course,” said Melissa.

[*96 :: (Pasadena)

 

Lars Sanderson was a wizard with lighting, and had set up a nice interview spot in the living room, Ruth in one armchair, Clare in the other, facing each other at slight angles. Comfortable. Homely.

“Ready when you are,” he said to Clare.

Clare looked over at Ruth. Again, she was struck by her startling eyes. Close up they stood in such amazing contrast to her hair that they actually detracted from an otherwise remarkable face.

“You okay?” said Clare.

“Yes.”

“You’re happy with the questions?” She held up a sheets in her hand, of which she had given Ruth and Melissa each a copy. She also had a copy of Ruth’s paper handy.

“Yes. They’re fine.”

“I may expand on some of them.”

“Fine.”

Melissa was sitting in the sofa, behind and to the right of Lars. The old monk, Ananda, stood in the corner, not really frowning, but not really smiling either. Clare had a hard time putting her finger on exactly how he fit into this household.

“Okay, let’s roll,” said Clare. Lars nodded, and the red light came on above the camera lens. Recording.

“How do you define ‘non-local communication’ Ruth?”

That was not the first question Ruth had expected, apparently, for she straightened slightly, then smiled to herself, as if gathering things, and took a deep breath. “Non-local communication was at the core of the much overlooked experiment that Doctor Lawson successfully performed in 1999.”

Clare was about to restate her question when Ruth continued:

“By ‘non-local’ we mean that there is no locality involved, no geography, no geometry, no world—no space, no time. And ‘communication’ may be a misleading word in this scenario for that word implies that something is emanated from one point, to then travel a distance and arrive at another. This is never the case with non-local communication. It is best described, I think, as instant co-knowing, regardless of physical distances between what is doing the co-knowing.”

“And not only living things can establish, or perform, or execute this—I’m not sure which word is the best here—but what we normally consider dead things as well, particles, photons. Is that correct?”

“On the surface of it, yes.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am not so sure that we can summarily pronounce these particles dead. They move, you know. They wave—I mean move in wavelike patterns. Whenever we observe them, or rather, observe traces or effects of their actions—for no one has ever seen these particles, we have only seen the traces or shadows they cast; but, whenever we do, there is motion involved. So can we really call them dead?

“We consider something alive because of motion. There’s a lot of motion about in life. Take the human body. The heart beats, the lungs expand and contract inhaling and expelling air. Blood rushes around, T-Cells fight wars with bacteria and viruses, billions of microbes hustle to work every day in your stomach to break down food—for which they charge very little, just a small portion of the take.

“It’s motion. It’s activity. That’s what we mean when we say alive. Now, while this tabletop,” and she knocks gently on the tempered glass, “seems immobile, as in dead enough, there is a small infinity of motion constantly occurring within. So is it really dead?”

“Normal people—no offence, mind you—would call that tabletop dead.”

“Yes, they would.”

“So, my question then is: why do we really care? Why would the man or woman on the street give a second thought to whether or not non-local communication occurs? I mean, it occurs at a level that the normal person will never encounter in a million years.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

“Well, you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do.”

“So, why then? Whether subatomic particles instantly co-know or not has absolutely no bearing on your paycheck, or whether your wife loves you or not, or whether your children come home safely from school.”

“You’re talking about reality? The reality we know and love.”

“Precisely.”

“Well, that’s just it, Clare. The reality we know and love, and where non-local communication—or co-knowing—doesn’t mean a thing, this reality is just the very tip of the iceberg we call life, of a much more comprehensive reality. And this tip is not fundamental, and it is not, ultimately, true.”

“But why should we care?”

“We should care because in truth we are not of this tip-of-the-iceberg reality. Actually, most people suffer in this reality. I think it was Thoreau who said that most men live lives of quiet desperation. They’re just trying to survive one day to the next, some even one moment to the next.

“The sea of pleasure we see portrayed on television day in and day out, and the euphoric smile that this sweet model flashes at you from behind her American Express card, new dress in hand, is more often than not just an appearance.

“It may very well be that in her heart this model, this person, is in agony. Her mom has just died, or her boyfriend has just cheated on her, or she is hooked on prescription drugs, or she cannot sleep at night: this is the normal, this is the man or woman on the street. Suffering.

“And if not suffering today, in this very moment, there is suffering tomorrow. In their heart of hearts every sentient being wants to know why they are here and where they are going. They are not satisfied with their lot. No one is. Even the richest person on earth believes he needs ‘a little more’ to finally be happy, as Henry Ford is reputed to have said even though he was sitting on billions by then.

“This tip-of-the-iceberg reality we are living is, quite frankly, a sham. It’s a surface manifestation which we treat as truth. When we take a closer look, which our EPROM experiment did, it falls apart. It yields up its secrets. It displays a more fundamental truth. And this truth lies on a level we have to reach unless we want to suffer forever.”

“You sound like a Buddhist.” It was the natural thing to say, both the professional and the personal in her agreed.

“I am a Buddhist.”

“And people really don’t care about this more fundamental reality, do they? Not as a rule.”

“I think the public reaction to Doctor Lawson’s 1999 experiment paints an unequivocal picture. His experiment, for the first time on a macro scale, proved non-local communication as fact. Proved it. Categorically. There were no arguments in the scientific community about it. It was a done deal. Proof. But, relatively speaking, it did not even cause a ripple on the pond of news. A few mentions on pack pages, completely overshadowed by who was terrorizing whom at the time, or what strikes were staged, or what celebrity had slept with what celebrity, and what kind of traffic to expect on the freeways.

“Doctor Lawson delivered firm proof to the world that the reality we live is indeed only a surface reality, but honestly, the world did not then, and still does not, want to know.”

“Do you ever think it will?”

“Oh, I hope so.”

“But you went a step further in the EPROM experiment, did you not? Not only did you in essence replicate Doctor Lawson’s 1999 experiment, but you showed that without life looking there is nothing there.”

“And that,” said Ruth right away, “is the level of reality that we need to confront and be aware of to end suffering.”

“There was some contention about the MIT replication. What happened?”

“MIT initially used Flash memory instead of EPROMs. That was the problem. Nature, at this fundamental level, is alive enough, or resourceful enough should I say, to attempt to revise history to keep up the façade of constancy. And when it comes to Flash memory, it manages to do that just fine.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Flash memory is written to and erased or revised with electricity available at the computer mother board level. Given the right direction, available electricity does any reading or writing that you wish. That is what the software using the Flash memory is designed to do.

“In the case of the MIT experiment, once they had counted their four seconds of looking away to then look back at the screen, the photon—or nature, rather—realized that it was being viewed again, and in essence re-materialized. And it re-materialized not only in the present, but it went back to the beginning of the four seconds of looking away and materialized, as far as the trace went, from the moment—at four seconds after firing—they began to look away.

“What I am saying is that nature revised the last four or so seconds of history to show that it had existed all along.

“The EPROM, on the other hand, requires special equipment that provides a hefty dose of ultraviolet light to erase what’s written on that chip, and we were very careful not to provide nature any channel of acquisition of such light, so to speak. So when we viewed the particle trace after our four seconds of looking away, the truth—that the particle had in fact not even existed during our looking away—was clearly displayed on the screen. There was no revision of history, and so, there was no trace from the moment of looking away and looking back at the screen four seconds later.

“In other words, we looked it into existence.”

At this point Clare fully realized what Ruth Marten was talking about, and also why Ananda the monk finally smiled.

“And this,” she began. Then started over. “And this experiment has been replicated, hasn’t it?”

“At four very respected research institutions,” said Ruth.

“My God,” said Clare.

“Precisely,” said Ruth.

“The world needs to know about this.”

“Precisely,” said Ruth again.

Clare shivered at the clarity that formed in, or around, her—she wasn’t sure which. Then she looked down at her copy of Ruth’s paper, found what she was looking for. “Here you say, if I’m not misreading this, that you remembered the sequence of nature’s agreements that made the EPROM experiment possible.”

“Yes.”

“What sequence of agreements?”

“All of this,” said Ruth, and took in the room with a hand gesture, “didn’t just happen. Agreements were made in order to make things persist.”

“What do you mean? Who agreed? And to what?”

“Nature had to fool itself into existence.”

“What?”

“Imagine a cat.”

“What, now? Me?”

“Yes. Imagine a cat.”

“Sure. Okay.”

“Close your eyes and imagine a cat. Can you see it?”

“Yes.”

“Describe it, please.”

“Well, it’s black with a white tip on the tail.”

“Now, you know that you have created this mental cat, right?”

“Of course.”

“So you know that, unless you will it to, it will never, say, fly up in your face and scratch you?”

“That’s true.”

“The cat really doesn’t have any existence apart from what you grant it, isn’t that true?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“So, how would you, as life, make a cat, or imagine a cat, that will do things on its own volition?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, think about it.”

Clare did think about it, and saw, quite clearly, that as long as she knew that she had created that cat, she could also un-create it at any moment simply by ceasing to put it there. The only way that this cat of hers could take on any sort of independent life was if someone else—perhaps the cat itself—had created it.

“Precisely,” said Ruth.

Which froze Clare into absolute stillness.

“Sorry,” said Ruth. “You were saying?”

“I wasn’t saying a thing,” said Clare. Not at all sure now what kind of ground she was standing on.

“But you were about to.”

“Yes.”

Had Ruth, the Buddha, just read her mind? She took a deep breath and looked her straight in the eyes. Said nothing though. She looked over at Lars who seemed to know that something was going on but not exactly sure what. Clare looked back at Ruth, collected herself, and said, “As long as I know I created the cat, it won’t harm me. If someone else created this cat and put it here, then it’s free to act on a volition other than mine. So either someone else has to create the cat, and give it volition, or I have to fool myself into believing that is the case. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, that is what I am saying,” said Ruth.

“Did you just read my mind?” said Clare. No use holding back on this.

Ruth did not answer her question, however; only smiled. Clare took that to mean: yes.

Instead, Ruth said, “There’s a considerable amount of natural sleight-of-hand involved in all this,” again indicating the room with her hand. “This surface reality we know so well. And there is a long string of all but forgotten agreements—what to remember, what to pretend, what is senior to what in terms of consideration, a long and rather convoluted path of agreements that determine how the universe we see today holds together and works. We’ve given all these agreements a name: We call them Natural Law.”

Then Ruth added, “The Buddha gave it another name: Dharma.”

Which led Clare to repeat the question, or re-state it: “And you, Ruth Marten, remember these agreements?”

“In a word, yes.”

“How is that even possible?”

Ruth knocked on the tabletop again, “How is this even possible? Really?”

“No, seriously.”

“I am serious.”

“How can that be? How can you remember? I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast.” Clare needed an answer to this question.

“All life has that capability. When life wakes up to what it is, it remembers how it got here.”

“And you have woken up? That is how you end your paper. ‘I am awake’ you say.”

“I am awake, yes.”

“Fully awake?”

“Fully awake.”

Clare looked down at the last page of Ruth’s paper, and read, “Those who have woken up to this fact are called Buddhas.” Then looked up at Ruth for a comment.

“They are,” said Ruth.

“You are a Buddha. That is what you are saying.”

“I am saying that I am awake.”

“And you say in your paper that the awake is a Buddha,” insisted Clare.

“I do.”

“So, what conclusion should I draw from that?”

“Whichever comes natural to you.”

“So you are the Buddha?”

“So I am the Buddha.”

Clare was not sure where to go with this, she had made her point, Ruth Marten was the Buddha, and she hoped that she would agree to leave it in the final edit.

Ruth spoke next, “You are a Buddhist.”

“Yes.”

“And you believe the Dharma.”

“I do.”

“Would you believe it if I told you that I was the Buddha? Tathagata.” then added, “Honestly, now.”

Clare had already accepted this, at least to the degree that she was capable of. But Ruth wanted to stress the point, she, or the Buddha, wanted to convey a message.

Clare said what would make sense for the interviewer to say, “It would seem too implausible. Impossible, even.”

“So, if you, a Buddhist, find it hard—if not impossible—to see me as the Buddha, what conclusion would the general population draw?”

“They would conclude that you are pulling their legs.”

“I think so, too.”

“Still, you said in your paper. Quite clearly.”

“I know. Perhaps that was a mistake. Perhaps I was a little too optimistic.”

Then those calm, blue eyes held Clare’s for a long time. “Tell me about your experience,” said their owner.

To Clare there was only one experience worth telling. And Ruth Marten, the Buddha in the opposite chair, knew about it.

“About the light?”

“Yes.”

So Clare told them. All listening intently to her recounting of the light living the light. When she had finished her telling, Lars—while still training the camera on her—was the only one to speak, “You never told me,” he said. Not accusingly, just matter-of-fact.

She looked at him, “No, Lars. I didn’t. Would you have believed me?”

“Good point.”

“And you heard the voice whisper Nirvana?” said Ruth.

“Yes.”

“Who could that have been?” she asked.

“I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea.”

“Have you not wondered?”

“Of course I have wondered. It’s one of the most wondering I do.”

“Maybe Nirvana whispered Nirvana,” suggested Ruth. Though it sounded more like plain statement of fact.

Clare had never considered that. But now did. And in the light of the experience itself, and of the current conversation, yes, that was as feasible an answer as anything. “Maybe,” she said. “Yes, why not?”

“Yes, why not,” said Ruth.

In the silence that followed, Clare tried to retrace her steps to regain the thread of the interview. Then found it:

“You said it was a mistake to imply in your paper that you are the Buddha.”

“Yes.”

“If you could do it over, would you omit that reference?”

“I don’t know,” said Ruth. “Those with little dust in their eyes may still be able to connect the dots.”

Clare nodded that she understood. Then looked down at her notes, found her place, and asked, “Is the bottom line of your EPROM experience that matter does not exist?”

Ruth, with no apparent gear-shifting problems, tapped the top of the glass table. “No, it does exist all right, there’s no denying that.”

“But if you didn’t expect the glass top to be there, and if you didn’t expect your hand to be solid enough to tap it, would either then exist?”

“Now that is a good question. That is the right question.”

“So, would they?”

“What did the EPROM experiment show?”

“It showed that unless we look—expecting to find, I guess—there is nothing there.”

“And that is precisely true. We proved that unless we look—which in scientific circles really translates to measure—there is nothing there to see, or measure.”

“Do the other institutions agree? UCLA, and so forth.”

“Yes. They do.”

“How come we haven’t seen them tear down the scientific halls, so to speak, heralding these findings?”

“Well, partly because they were not their findings. Institutions like Cal Tech and MIT are very competitive. It’s the not-invented (or discovered)-here syndrome.”

“Though you would think that findings like these would transcend competition, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, you would, wouldn’t you?”

“Still, I’ve not seen much from either UCLA or MIT.”

“One of the Swedish dailies published a long KTH article about this, with a page one lead.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“And the Australian school?” Clare referred to her notes, “Queensland University of Technology? Anything from them?”

“Not yet.”

“I mean, this is ground-breaking. I’d say colossal.”

“Yes, I’d say colossal, too.”

“Your paper spends quite a bit of real estate on quantum mechanics. Why is that?”

“I hope to convey the depth and importance of the findings to the man or woman in the street,” said Ruth. “What we established will not make as much of an impression if you don’t know the relative situation, so to speak.”

“Einstein would have appreciated this, don’t you think?”

“I know Bohr would. Not so sure about Einstein.”

“Yes, he was looking for something more logical.”

“That’s Einstein for you.”

“Should people study quantum mechanics? In general, I mean. To get a better grasp on the significance of non-local communication and this looking things into existence.”

“I don’t know if that’s necessary. As long as they recognize that this surface reality of ours is, as I said, only the tip of the reality iceberg, and is far from actual truth.”

“What would you suggest then? How to bring this across? I guess the question is, how to wake people up?”

“I’ve been pondering this questions myself,” said Ruth, looking over at Ananda, who by now had finally taken a seat.

“Well, your experiment would go a way towards that, wouldn’t it?”

“I hope so.”

“We’ll do our best to get the point across,” said Clare, looking over at Lars, who nodded in agreement.

Clare took another look at her notes to make sure that she had covered all that she had intended. She had. So she looked up at Ruth, “I think that just about does it. Enough meat, I’d say, for a pretty good report.”

Ruth smiled, and so did Lars.

“Remember, I’d like to see the final cut,” said Ruth.

“Yes, absolutely,” agreed Clare.

[*:*]

The following afternoon, Melissa and Ruth were ushered into the KCRI editing room where they were greeted by Clare and Lars (who was also an accomplished editor, and had volunteered to work on this project with Clare).

Tea was served and the final cut of the program run through the monitor. Twenty minutes later, as the screen went blank, Ruth said, “Fine.”

“I’d say,” said Melissa.

[*97 :: (Pasadena)

 

The Clare Downes interview with Ruth Marten aired on the evening of Tuesday, May 12.

In a not particularly opaque swipe at KCAA and Federico Alvarez, KCRI billed this as a serious prime time interview—to be followed by a live post-interview expert commentary (the one thing Clare’s producer had insisted on, and which Ruth, after some reflection, reluctantly had agreed to), and was not to be confused with a spectacle or a side-show.

They had all gathered at Melissa’s to watch the show. Clare (sans Lars, who, having edited it, said he had seen it enough times by now, and wanted the evening off), Julian Lawson, Ruth, Melissa, and that fellow Ananda, whom Clare still could not quite fit into the picture, and was too polite to outright inquire about. He seemed a closer friend to Ruth than to Melisa, and he apparently lived there.

Julian Lawson was his own oddity. Very focused on the task at hand, very dedicated to Ruth, and very non-attentive to Clare’s looks. In fact, Julian was probably the first male in, well, she could not remember how long, who didn’t eye her on the sly (or overtly, for that matter). Not interested at all, as if she were not even there. Well, as if the good-looks part of her were not even there. Not that she felt like complaining; in fact, it was refreshing. But it took some getting used to and it was hard to let down your guard when no longer needed needed.

Melissa had cooked a wonderful curry—all vegan, she proclaimed, I hope nobody minds. Which nobody did, Clare included.

The meal was winding down when the interview came on. Of course, they all knew what to expect from the interview itself, it was the expert commentary to follow that concerned them. How would they receive the interview? Would Ruth be ridiculed? Would she be taken seriously? These were the questions foremost on Ruth’s mind, as well as on hers.

The final edit, including commercials (which were charged at prime rate plus) ran a full thirty minutes. Another thirty minutes had been set aside by the producer for the live post-interview commentary.

A panel billed as three experts watched the interview at KCRI’s studios, and would open the commentary immediately following the conclusion of the interview.

This panel consisted of Cindy Gilchrist, professor of Ontology at USC, Carl Brecht, professor of Oriental Studies at UCLA, and Abbot Timothy White, abbot at the Los Angeles Franciscan mission.

As the interview was winding down, and the announcer exhorted all viewers to stay tuned for the panel discussion, Ananda asked:

“Who picked the panel?”

“They were all selected and invited by my producer,” she answered.

“Are we going to get a fair hearing from them?” Ananda again.

“From Cindy Gilchrist, I’m pretty sure. I’ve met her a couple of times, and she seems a sweetheart. And most likely from Abbot White as well. He is an old, well-established, and well-respected religious figure in Los Angeles. He’s known to be very levelheaded, and fair. And he’s a good listener, is how my producer characterized him.

“Carl Brecht, on the other hand, although he is a professor of Oriental Studies, usually takes a dim view of what he finds in these studies. He is a Sanskrit scholar and has read much of the Vedas and Upanishads in the original language and has been known to call them fairy tales.”

“Does he know Pali?” asked Ruth.

“I don’t know,” said Clare.

“Does he regard the Pali Canon as fairy tales as well?” Ananda’s question.

“I don’t know how familiar he is with the Pali Canon. I couldn’t say.”

“How old are they?” asked Melissa.

“Cindy Gilchrist is about your age, I’d guess. Carl Brecht is in his early sixties, again my guess. And Abbot White is ancient. He has to be eighty if he’s a day.”

“Interesting,” said Ananda—who of course was at least eighty himself if he was a day.

“Okay,” said Ruth, turning to the screen. “Here we go.”

The moderator turned out to be Clare’s producer, Vivian Taft. This came as a surprise to Clare. “I wonder who’s producing this segment then,” she said. Nobody answered, though.

Vivian Taft put the first question to Cindy Gilchrist, not beating about any bushes, “Is it possible, do you think, that this young, attractive, prodigy of a girl, can be—as her paper implies—the Buddha reincarnated?”

“Possible?” said Gilchrist. “That’s a very generous term. Really, anything is possible. I am not sure how likely it is, though.”

“You don’t think it’s likely?” In that confirming tone of voice that moderators seem to like.

“No, not really. The remarkable experiment notwithstanding, it just seems too far-fetched. And in some ways too pat.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it would fit too well. Sort of unbelievably well. Hard to accept.”

“So what do you think she means; I am awake?”

Before she could answer, Carl Brecht leaned into his microphone and suggested, “Perhaps to spice up a boring paper.”

“Do you mean her account of the EPROM experiment?”

“Yes.”

“So, I take it you don’t find it fascinating.”

“Not particularly, no.”

“Why do you say that? It strikes me as quite a breakthrough in the field of quantum mechanics.”

“Well,” said Brecht. “That’s where it belongs. Precisely where you just put it: in quantum mechanics. The world has done well over the last many millennia without the questionable details of particle physics, and will go on doing well for the next many.”

“I don’t agree with that,” said Gilchrist. “I found the findings of the EPROM experiment absolutely fascinating. And the fact that the experiment has been replicated successfully speaks volumes, I think. But,” she added, “that does not make the young girl at the center of all this a Buddha. It makes her a prodigy and a brilliant researcher, but not a Buddha.”

“How about you Abbot White,” said Taft. “Where do you come down on this?”

Timothy White looked every one of his eight-four years as he leaned slightly in the direction of his microphone. “I think,” he said with a soft but still vibrant voice, “that this young woman is a remarkable person. Absolutely remarkable.” Then added, “I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

“Are you saying,” said Taft, “that you would allow that she might be the Buddha returned?”

“I had no idea that the Roman Catholic Church endorsed reincarnation,” interjected Brecht, apparently not quite on board with the protocol of the situation.

“As I said,” said the Abbot calmly in his almost velvety voice, ignoring Brecht’s rudeness, “I would not rule anything out. A year ago I would not have believed it even remotely possible that life, at its core, expects or measures particles into being. But, evidently it does. And there is not a very large leap from there to Miss Marten being who she says she is. Which, by the way, is that she’s awakened. She does not say that she is the Buddha.”

“Oh, I think you’re splitting hairs here. I think the paper is quite clear on that,” offered Gilchrist. “What else can she mean? First she says that those who have woken up to the fact that there is nothing but life are called Buddhas. Then she goes on to say that she is awake. Those are the last three words of the paper. I don’t think there is any equivocation here, do you?”

“There is no arguing about that,” said the Abbot. Again as calmly. “She does say what she says.”

“Now,” said Taft, looking directly at Brecht. “If we were to assume for a minute that Ruth Marten is in fact the Buddha. What impact do you think this could have on the religious landscape here in the United States? Well, in the world, for that matter?”

Brecht shifted importantly in his chair before answering. Then he said, “If she were the Christ returned, and so proven,” at which he looked around at his colleagues, particularly at Abbot White, who was studying his hands. “If she were Jesus Christ, now, that would be an impact. As for the Buddha, the western world doesn’t care much about Buddhism and would probably care even less whether she was the Buddha or not.”

“I disagree,” said Gilchrist again, not seeming particularly to care for Brecht. “Statistically, Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in our country. People, according to recent surveys, turn to Buddhism because it is not faith-based. Because it offers, or at least seems to offer, an actual path of enlightenment, a way that can be traveled by the individual. People today find that appealing. So I believe that if she were the Buddha, if that was established fact—and I have no idea how you would objectively establish that—”

“By appearing to raise someone’s chair?” suggested Brecht, which earned him two quick glances from his panel co-members.

“If that were established fact,” repeated Gilchrist pointedly, “I think it would have an effect indeed, both here and abroad.”

“Right,” said Taft. “Now, speaking of chairs, what is your take on that?”

“Staged, surely,” said Gilchrist. “Miss Marten has already confirmed that.”

“Agreed,” said Brecht. “I’m not sure how they did it, but I’m positive that it was staged. I wouldn’t put it past Alvarez.”

“I would not rule anything out,” said the Abbot again.

“You would not?” said Taft, apparently not a little surprised at the Abbot’s leanings.

“Miracles do occur,” he said. “History is replete with them.

“Yes, but not on television,” said Brecht.

“And she did state that it was a hoax,” said Taft.

“I know what she said,” said the Abbot. And then, with a little more weight to his voice, the Abbot said, “Miracles do happen. Miracles have always happened. But today we seem only to give credence to those that occurred in the distant past. We have ruled them out as present-day possibilities.

“In fact,” he added, before Brecht could voice what he had drawn a deep and obvious breath to offer. “I consider the outcome of the EPROM experiment a miracle. And in the final analysis, are not miracles just natural phenomena that we do not quite understand yet?”

“Good point,” said Taft. Then, “Let’s take a quick break. We’ll be right back.”

On to commercial.

“I like the Abbot,” said Ruth.

“I like him, too,” said Ananda. “He’s a smart man.”

“You did a really great job, Clare,” said Melissa, referring to the interview. “A good focus on the right things, and so clearly presented. And,” she turned to Ruth, “you, too, of course.”

Ruth smiled at her mom, but said, “Brecht is a funny one. Oriental Studies, is that what you said, Clare?”

“Yes, apparently.”

“There is very little that’s Oriental about him.”

“I agree,” said Clare. “He’s an odd one.”

“Can I ask you something,” said Clare to the three of them.

“Sure,” said Melissa, but before Clare could voice her question the expert panel discussion returned from commercial.

“Miss Marten, in her paper, makes the point that the world doesn’t really care about the eighty-five or so percent of reality that’s below water, as she puts it. Why do you think this is, Abbot White?”

“In my experience, people are not afraid of what they can see, no matter how frightening, they are afraid of what they cannot see. And they can only see, as this young girl put it, the tip of the iceberg. What’s beneath the surface may be as benign as anything, but unseen it is still a threat and is best ignored.”

“I agree with that assessment,” said Gilchrist.

“I don’t know if fear is the right word,” offered Brecht.

“What is the right word, then?” asked Taft.

“Irrelevance,” he said.

“What do you mean?” said Taft.

“As I said earlier, whether or not elemental particles split and then co-know instantly across inconceivable distance has no bearing on your paycheck. Has no bearing on your happiness here and now. That data is irrelevant.”

“I see,” said Taft.

“I think what the girl is alerting us to,” said the Abbot, “is that life as lived today is very stressful, and as Thoreau said, lived in quiet desperation. And life will continue to be stressful and quietly desperate until, or unless, we look at all of life, at all levels. I think she is right. So I think it is relevant.”

“You sound less like a Catholic than a Buddhist,” said Brecht.

“Perhaps I should take that as a compliment,” said the Abbot.

“Cindy,” said Taft. “What if the rising chair was not a hoax?”

“But it was a hoax,” said Gilchrist. “She categorically stated that on camera the following day. Staged by Federico Alvarez.”

“Okay, that’s true. She did say that. But let’s assume it was not a hoax.”

“Are you saying that she lied,” said Gilchrist.

“Perhaps she did. Who knows? Quite a few people, including those at KCAA who worked the program, insist there was no funny business about the incident. If only for argument’s sake, let’s assume it happened, that it was a miracle. Let’s assume that Ruth Marten made the chair rise with Alvarez in it. If that were to be proven true, what impact would that have on our country, from a religious standpoint?”

“Okay, for argument’s sake,” said Gilchrist. “That would be telekinesis in the extreme. And it would show Ruth Marten as more than just human, it would make her some sort of deity, I think. In fact, she could start her own religion based on this; if it were proven, of course—which it won’t be. Can’t be. It was a hoax.”

“You Doctor Brecht?”

“If it were proven beyond a doubt?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then I agree with Ms. Gilchrist. The girl could write her own ticket. Start her own religion. Make a fortune.”

(“I do not like that man,” said Ruth. All heads nodded in agreement).

“You, Abbot White?” said Taft.

“In that case, if this miracle is proven true, I think we ought to take this girl seriously. I think we ought to take this girl seriously in any event.”

“And, with that, let’s take another short break,” said Taft.

Off to commercial.

“My question,” said Clare, who had cradled it, ready to go.

“Oh, yes,” said Melissa.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, looking at Ananda, “but, how do you fit it? I mean, are you related to the family? I don’t see a resemblance.”

“Good question,” said Ananda, and then actually chuckled. Something that became him.

“He’s actually Ruth’s friend,” said Melissa, but then looked as if she’d like to take that one back.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” said Ruth. Stress on long.

Then Clare finally made the almost terrifying connection, “Ananda.”

Ruth nodded, “Yes, that Ananda.”

Clare shook her head to see if she could make it understand. “You are the Buddha, and he is Ananda?”

“That pretty much sums it up,” said Melissa.

Julian Lawson said, “Wonders never cease.”

“I’d say,” said Clare, looking from one to the other, as the panel came back from commercial.

“I want to go back to the actual paper,” said Taft. “The experiment. How many of you have had a chance to read Doctor Lawson’s original paper?”

No takers.

“Well, if a bit on the dry side, I don’t think it leaves much room for doubt. The photon they traced disappeared when no one was looking. Does that not have metaphysical implications?” She addressed the question to Cindy Gilchrist.

“Sure it does,” said Gilchrist. “In fact,” she added as if this thought had just struck her, “extrapolating that evidence makes us all gods.”

“What do you mean?”

“If subatomic particles only appear when we are looking at it or measuring it, would that not make us, whoever is looking, the creator of that particle?”

“And you think the same holds true for everything?” Taft.

“Well, everything is made from subatomic particles, isn’t it?”

“That is my understanding, yes.”

“I still say it’s all irrelevant,” said Brecht. “Does the tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it? Whether the answer is yes or the answer is no, who cares?”

“What about you Abbot?” Taft turned to Abbot White.

“This is all in the realm of the eighty-five percent of the iceberg we don’t, or choose not to, see.”

“Interesting choice of word there, choose,” said Taft.

“I think the experiment proves that there is a substantial portion of reality we know little or nothing about, especially the average man or woman. And I think that the purpose of any religion, mine included, is to encompass, if not explain, all of reality.”

Cindy Gilchrist nodded. “That’s right.”

Taft took a brief moment to consult her notes, then said to all three, “If either of you had the opportunity to ask Ruth Marten one question, which question would that be?”

Doctor Brecht spoke first, “How did you rig the chair.” Laughing.

“What else does she remember?” said Cindy Gilchrist. “If she remembered that nature cannot change an EPROM without access to ultraviolet light, what else does she remember? That would be my question.”

“And you, Abbot,” said Taft.

“I would ask her if she wouldn’t mind sitting down and have a talk with an old Abbot,” he said. Sincerely.

“Well, that’s all we have time for,” said Taft. “I’d like to thank you all for coming.” Then to the camera, “Be sure to tune in for further reactions to the interview and other developments at the ten o’clock news.”

And off to commercial.

“I would like to sit down and have a talk with an old Abbot, said Ruth.”

“So would I,” said Ananda.

“Wish I could be there to film it,” said Clare.

“Perhaps you can,” said Ruth.

[*:*]

The Clare Downes interview, and the subsequent panel discussion, did nothing to ease the media storm. Rather, as expected, they fueled it.

A new report, interviewing three KCAA employees who went on record with sworn affidavits that the rising was no hoax, got ubiquitous coverage the following morning. Most stations, and papers, also covered the refusal of Federico Alvarez to comment, by now either seeing this as an admission of guilt (fearing the consequences) or as confirmation of a true miracle (for shame or other personal reasons).

Abbot White was loudly criticized for virtually conceding that Ruth Marten was the Buddha returned, as was KCRI as a station for clearly holding, and broadcasting, the same view.

One Arkansas radio station added everything up as it saw things: The rising was a miracle. Only our Savior Jesus Christ can perform such miracles. Ruth Marten, therefore, was our Savior returned. Many rural stations agreed but took serious issue with the fact that Ruth Marten was a girl, so while clearly a performer of miracles, could therefore not be Jesus, who we all know is a man.

The most prevalent view, however, the one racing the fastest across the country, and indeed creating the most distress and havoc, was the view that Ruth Marten—whoever she was, whether Jesus or the Buddha—was a clear message from God that the end was near. Many a station exhorted their viewers and listeners to prepare for the day of Judgment, often citing the Nicene Creed: “Jesus shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.”

Other stations (and pastors) quoted the similar message of the biblical Pauline Creed, in 1 Corinthians 15:23.

This message was clear: “Get your house in order.” A message that soon took on a life of its own to spread across the Midwest and the South like a sinister weather system.

Causing chaos in some places, a rush on food and supplies in others.

So sinister a weather system, in fact, that someone in Washington DC—it was never established who, precisely, but most speculations came to veer toward the President himself—called the California Governor and urged him to “Straighten things out with KCAA. Now, before this thing gets out of hand.”

:: 98 :: (Pasadena)

 

This straightening out took place early afternoon on Thursday the 14th of May, when the Governor of the State of California placed a call to Gordon Fairweather, the KCAA station manager. The two men knew each other, but were not particularly friendly.

“Gordon,” said the Governor.

“Yes, sir.”

“The Marten thing.”

“Yes.”

“It was a hoax.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“I’m telling you Gordon, it was a hoax.”

“No, sir. With all due respect, it was not.”

“Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. It has to be a hoax, and you will make an announcement to that effect by the end of the day.”

Finally, Gordon Fairweather’s light went on. “Are you telling me?”

“Yes, Gordon. I am. We don’t have a choice.”

“But that would be suicide.”

“I know.”

“I cannot do it. I’d rather resign.”

“You’ll have to resign in any event.”

Gordon Fairweather leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. On some hard-to-put-your-finger-on level he had seen this coming.

He replied, looking at but not seeing the blue sky outside his tenth floor window, “I cannot afford to.”

“I will make it worth your while.”

“Sorry, sir, but I don’t know you well enough to take your word for that.”

“You’ll have a signed letter of guarantee within the hour.”

“Why?”

“Why the letter?”

“No, why the admission of guilt.”

“Civil unrest,” said the Governor.

Gordon Fairweather nodded, yes, that was part of seeing it coming. “In the South, you mean.”

“And other places. It is spreading.”

“And Washington has called you to defuse.”

“Perhaps.”

“What does making it worth my while mean, in actual numbers?”

The Governor told him, and Fairweather saw the wisdom of shouldering the fall guy mantle.

“Okay.”

“By the end of the day.”

“By the end of the day.”

Gordon Fairweather hung up the phone.

[*:*]

KCAA’s flagship broadcast was the 8PM news. It was, in fact, the most watched news program in Los Angeles, something Gordon Fairweather was extremely proud of. So it was with severely mixed feelings that he slotted himself in at the top of the hour for an “Important Announcement.”

He made a somber figure as the camera closed in on him. Looking down at his notes for most of the zoom, he looked up as if on cue once the zoom arrived.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said.

Melissa, Ruth, Ananda and Kristina Medina (now up to speed on events) were watching at Melissa’s house. This Important Announcement had been advertised not only on television throughout the afternoon, but on most radio stations as well. It was never specifically stated what this announcement would concern, but speculation ran high that it had something to do with the Alvarez show and the rising.

None of them spoke. They were all very still, not knowing what to expect.

The KCAA Station Manager continued:

“I wish to apologize to our viewers. And also to my colleagues and employees. It was never intended to create such a profound and widespread effect. It was meant as nothing but practical joke.

“The chair rising during the Federico Alvarez show was staged. It was, in a word, a hoax. It was a practical joke played by the station—with my approval—on Federico. He had no idea about it, neither did Miss Marten. It was in fact a tit for a past tat that Federico had pulled on some of his crew.

“This joke has had repercussions far wider and deeper than any of us could have imagined, and that is why I see it as my duty to make the truth known and to apologize for any turmoil caused by this on-air stunt.

“Again, I apologize.”

With that, the program went to commercial.

“Wow,” said Melissa. “But I must confess that I’m relieved. It was getting out of hand.”

“Yes,” said Ananda. “That it was.”

Ruth said nothing, feeling not a little responsible for the whole spectacle.

“If they swallow this, you should be off the hook,” said Ananda, turning to Ruth.

“Let’s hope so,” said Melissa.

“Yes, let’s hope so,” said Kristina.

Ruth still said nothing.

“Surely, you agree?” Melissa turned Ruth’s way as well.

“Yes, I do,” she said. “It is for the best.” Then, after an unequivocal sigh, she added, “One of my goals, one of the things I’ve always seen as a must in order to do what I have to do, is to become a household name. I’ve achieved that now. For all the wrong reasons.”

Neither of the others challenged that. Ruth was all too right.

Ruth closed her eyes and leaned back into silence. Many angels crossed the room. Then she opened her eyes again and said, “No one will remember the experiment. It has been lost in all this frenzy. Whether I’m now off the hook or not, I’ve done more damage to my mission than I could possibly have done had I planned to sabotage it.”

“Aren’t you a little too hard on yourself,” said Kristina.

“Do you think so?” said Ruth, and not very kindly.

“I didn’t see this coming,” said Ananda.

“That’s comforting,” said Ruth, still with an edge.

“Ruth,” said Melissa, suddenly all mother.

“Sorry,” said Ruth, including them all. “For everything.”

[*99 :: (Pasadena)

 

I should have been wiser. Much wiser. I should never, never have raised the chair. I should have listened to Ananda.

The truth is that I reacted to Federico Alvarez’s terribly unfair barb at Melissa and I just wanted to shut him up. Not very compassionate, not very Buddha-like, I know.

The truth is that miracles—for that is how they see these things—upset people. They upset people, if less so, when I walked northern India so long ago, and man has not grown more receptive to the unexplainable since then. Quite the opposite. I see now that miracles are likely to drive him crazy, and if there was any way, any way at all I could undo this stupid, stupid thing I did, I would undo it in a heartbeat.

But there is no way to undo it, and I simply have to live with that.

I feel very sorry for Alvarez, who must be wondering which way to turn now that his boss has been fired for ostensibly pulling this stunt. I wonder what he’s thinking. Untrue to form—he should have at least made a comment by now—there has been nothing but silence form the man. I must have shocked him terribly to seal his tongue so thoroughly. No, that is not funny, and I realize that. I’ve scarred the man, deeply, I fear.

I also feel very sorry for Fairweather, jobless now (though, from what I understand, well compensated) for my antics.

Ananda is a walking “told you so” and Melissa not much better—or perhaps that’s just how I perceive them with my clouded heart. Julian and Kristina are being as supportive and forgiving as any human beings can be, and I appreciate them both more than I can say.

I am rarely despondent, but this is as close to hopelessly as I’ve seen things in a while.

[*:*]

“It’s for you,” said Melissa offering me the phone.

“I don’t take calls,” I said, for that was the long standing agreement.

“This one you will,” said Melissa.

“Who is it?”

“Federico Alvarez.”

I could see that Melissa would not take no for an answer and she was right. I owed Alvarez this.

“This is Ruth.”

I could hear the man breathe at the other end of the line, and a little erratically, but he said nothing. So I told him again, “This is Ruth.” I tried to sound friendly.

“This is Federico Alvarez,” he said finally. He sounded tired, as if the confidence that seemed to constitute the man had all but evaporated.

“Yes, Federico,” I said.

“Is this Ruth?”

“Yes it is.”

Then he said nothing. And then nothing. Gathering strength, is what it felt like. Then he said:

“I have to ask you this. I have to know. Did you do it?”

What could I say? I had to be truthful. “Yes, I did.”

He took a deep breath, as if to steady himself. Then surprised me, to say the least by what he said next. “I’m sorry,” is what he said.

“Whatever for?” I asked, though it was suddenly clear to me.

“For doubting you,” he said. “And for,” then seemed to changed his mind, “well, for doubting you.”

“Are you?” is all I said before he answered, for he knew the question to come.

“No,” he said. “Let them believe Gordon.”

Then I began another question with “Are you?” I paused, but he said nothing.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“No,” he answered. “Well, yes and no.” Then he asked a question. “Am I to believe everything you said.”

“All,” I answered, “but my denial.” I meant my morning-after denial of causing the rising, and I knew he understood that.

“I see,” he said. Then again, “I see.”

Then I said, “I am sorry too.”

“For what?”

“I reacted.”

“With a reason to,” he answered.

“Be that as it may.”

“I was out of line,” he said.

“Yes you were,” I agreed.

After a brief silence, he asked, “What will you do now?”

Strangely, the question seemed born from solicitude, true concern.

“I don’t know,” I answered.

“I would, if I were you, lie low for a while,” he offered.

“We’ve been considering that,” I replied.

Then another short silence as he formed the question. “Can I call some other time?” is what he finally asked.

“Yes,” I said. “That would be fine.”

Again, he said, “I’m sorry. So many things got in the way.”

I knew when he meant, and confirmed it, “I know.”

Then, without a goodbye, He hung up.

 

I handed the phone to Melissa who stood nearby looking at me. She took it, but didn’t ask the question. Ananda did.

“What did he want?”

“To apologize,” I said.

[*:*]

Whoever in Washington—or was it someone in Sacramento had who put the final touches to the Fairweather resignation strategy?—had estimated the situation and its resolution correctly. The official hoax announcement gained almost immediate, and universal, traction and things around the country soon began to simmer down.

The Savior had not returned, after all. Judgment Day still some ways off.

The major urban stations and papers ran self-congratulatory we-told-you-so stories, making Fairweather the villain of this unforgivable deception of the public. Stories served up with indignation wholly out of proportion to the many times they themselves had deceived the public, and its God-given right to know the truth and nothing but.

Reporters and journalists continued to call for interviews, but Melissa and Ananda fielded them all and turned them down, and as one overcast Pasadena day after the other crawled by, the story of Ruth Marten and the rising chair, of the coming of saviors and the ending of worlds, began to fade into the background, overtaken and overshadowed by other, more urgent events in the world.

One aspect of the story did, however, linger. That of Federico Alvarez’s silence. Nobody could explain it. Several papers and stations even tried to goad him into a response, alternately ridiculing and accusing him of complicity, but from the Alvarez camp there came only silence.

Eventually, even this angle of things died a silent, natural death.

 

Kristina Medina and Julian Lawson arrived together one afternoon to see how Ruth was holding up under all this.

“I’m doing okay,” she told them over tea. Then turned to Julian, “How are they taking things at Cal Tech?”

“They are as happy as can be expected,” he said. “Not all that, in other words. But they’re not vilifying you or anything. As far as they’re concerned, you did nothing wrong.”

Ruth nodded. “I’m glad,” she said, and looked it.

“They’ve defended you, and your paper, against a few skeptics. Successfully, I think.”

“I’m glad,” she said again.

Ruth then took them all in when she said, “I’m really, really sorry about all this.”

“Shit happens,” said Julian. Which earned him a few quick, rather startled glances. “I’m sorry,” he said when he noticed. “That just slipped out.”

“Things do happen,” said Ruth. “And I’m not too proud of my part in this.”

 

Later that afternoon the phone rang again. Melissa answered. After a brief exchange, she went looking for Ruth to once again break their long-standing phone policy.

Found her.

“It’s for you Ruth. It’s Abbot White.”

[*100 :: (Pasadena)

 

Timothy White, the Abbot of the Los Angeles Franciscan Mission, was born in Ireland in the spring of 1948. Four years later, in the summer of 1952, his parents emigrated to America.

Growing up, he was often told that his first words were Irish, but he has little memory of that. What he does remember is the Mauretania, the ship that took them to America; well, not so much the Mauretania herself as the ocean. Growing up in a small town, in hilly country, there had never been much of a vista in his forming years, the horizon always close and uphill. But here, leaning his head up against the stanchions of the promenade deck railing looking out at the endless water he realized, for the first time that he can recall, that the world was a very large place, near enough endless.

His father, a deacon of the parish church, had been offered a small parish of his own in the Irish section of Chicago, which his well-to-do brother—who had settled there a score of years earlier—attended and supported. So, off they went, soon-to-become-priest father, mother, four older brothers and one sister on the way, and Timothy, staring at the watery horizon so distant, and so all around. So almighty (which was a word he’d heard his father use often, and which seemed to fit well, especially with the way the water glittered in the sun). So everywhere. It was an experience and an image that he would carry with him and treasure for the rest of his life. His first impression of God.

It established a special relationship between them, that’s how Timothy would tell it later. And so, whereas his brothers always did their best to shirk any church duties their father saw fit to assign them, Timothy volunteered.

Timothy volunteered because in the church, even on early winter’s mornings, when the cold and dark said otherwise, he felt—almost saw—the endless horizon of God’s sea stretch in all directions. He felt at home, as if called there not by his father, but by ocean.

By age eight he was his father’s favorite altar boy; his father’s favorite, period. He took his duties seriously, and frowned (though he never bothered to defend himself, it was beneath him) when his brothers teased him for being a push-over and a toady.

After high school there was never any doubt what his next step would be. By then, his father had arranged a place for him at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, which, together, they had already selected during his junior year in high school. The following summer he visited (and liked) the campus, and even got to meet some of the staff—which all seemed of the finest cloth as far as he was concerned.

A few days before the start of fall term his second year at Steubenville, Father Martin broached the subject not of priesthood but of joining the order.

“Becoming a monk?” said Timothy. “No, Father. I admit, I have thought about it, but my plan remains the priesthood. I already know the parish.”

“You have a higher calling than that,” said Father Martin.

“Why is joining the order the higher calling, Father?”

“Perhaps I did not put that very well,” answered Father Martin. “The priesthood is a fine calling, of course it is. Heaven knows we need dedicated priests these days. But the order is a narrower path, more arduous, but, in the long run, more rewarding. Purer.”

“I don’t know, Father. My father expects me back. It is his mantle I mean to shoulder.”

Nodding that he understood, Father Martin said, “Do me this one favor, Timothy. Add a Franciscan History class to your curriculum this year, find out more about our roots. See for yourself whether you think I would steer you wrong.”

He considered that. Considered his workload for the next two semesters—which was not light—but he liked Father Martin, trusted him, and so consented. He would add Father Martin’s own class of Franciscan History to his workload.

A choice he never regretted.

Half-way through the fall semester that year, he had already dropped another class in order to delve deeper into the Franciscan Mysteries (as he called them), and by the following spring he saw for himself what Father Martin had already known: this was his path.

To better serve his chosen fraternity and its mission, Timothy (with Father Martin’s gladly given blessings, and his father’s less gladly given consent—at heart he would rather have seen Timothy take over his church and congregation) remained at Steubenville to complete his studies—which included master’s degrees in both theology and philosophy, and so it was not until 1974 that he joined the Los Angeles Mission to become Brother Timothy, which is what he to this day liked to be called, even though he was now the abbot of the Mission.

And of a surprisingly successful Mission at that. Successful both in terms of finances and of outreach and goodwill. Under his guidance the Mission had established not one but several very effective drug rehabilitation programs with a more than twice the national average success rate, many graduates of which moved on to successful careers and who never ceased to share their success with generous donations.

Other donors included those whose lives Abbot White personally had consoled, consulted and changed, steering some from the brink of despair back into the light.

By any conventional yardstick, Abbot White had lived a full, rewarding life, achieving all that he had set out to achieve. Even his father, toward the end of his life, had to concede that his son had made the right choice—something that gladdened Timothy deeply. And his brothers, to a man, not only respected him, but brought their many problems to him, and quite often at that.

Viewed objectively, Abbot White was an unqualified success.

Viewed subjectively, he was not.

 

Many of us deem ourselves as successful or as good as others consider us to be, sustaining our sense of worth on their praise and admiration. It is a trap easily stumbled into, and one comfortable to settle in. Abbot White, however, was not one of us, and he carried his own yardstick of success: the glittering ocean, the far-reaching horizon of no land in sight. The glimmering presence that excluded all other presences. And, in truth, while longing for it his whole life, he had never managed to return there, nor had he—to the best of his knowledge—managed to lead others to it either. Toward, sure. But all the way, no. No, there was always a falling short.

And that is why, during the last decade or so, he had taken to study other paths, including thorough readings of Dogen’s complete Shobogenzo, of the Dhammapada, of the Tao Te Ching, and of other Eastern writings, wondering now if his chosen path had not been too restrictive, too narrow; and wondering, too, if it were not too late to do anything about it.

And it was with this view, against this backdrop, that Abbot White, with mounting interest watched the Ruth Marten spectacle unfold.

[*:*]

When he saw a startled Federico Alvarez levitate, chair and all, his immediate thought was that he was witnessing a miracle. In fact, he knew that he was witnessing a miracle. Don’t ask him how he knew, he just did.

And the source of this miracle, well that was the young girl with the black hair and blue eyes watching the rising with what he deemed to be gentle, quiet amusement.

When he then was asked to sit on the expert panel (their word, not his) commenting on the Clare Downes interview with this very Miss Marten, he took that as a sign. Something fundamental was going on, he felt the stirring. Up onto the promenade deck.

And that is why he, after the storm around her had settled down, found himself on the telephone with Ruth Marten.

[*:*]

For the first time in years—he could in fact not remember the last time this had happened to him; refreshing, is what he thought—he found himself a little nervous. For this call was of consequence, true consequence.

She came to the phone.

“This is Ruth,” she said.

“Miss Marten. This is Abbot White.”

“Yes?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yes, I do. I watched your commentary on my interview.”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“What can I do for you Abbot?”

She did not seem to him friendly. She seemed to him his equal. Her voice, though quite soft (like his own), carried unmistakable authority.

“I should like to see you,” he said.

“Why?”

“I think I can be of help.”

“How can a Franciscan abbot be of help to a young particle physicist?” she said. Still unfriendly, though either amused or curious.

“I don’t think that’s the correct question,” he answered.

“What would be the correct question?” she said.

“How can a Franciscan abbot help a young Buddha?” he said. “That would be the correct question.” And that was apparently the right thing to say, for her voice donned a friendlier note. And what it said was:

“I should like to see you, too.”

[*101:: (Pasadena)

 

Shortly after ten in the morning the following day, the doorbell rang and Melissa went to answer it. And there he was. A Catholic Ananda is how the old abbot struck her.

“Come in, Abbot, please,” she said, holding the door wide open.

“Timothy, if you don’t mind.”

“Okay, Timothy. Melissa,” she said, and held out her hand.

“Melissa.”

She led him through to the living room where Ruth and Ananda were waiting, both standing. The abbot introduced himself two more times, insisting on “Timothy” all the way. Ruth and Ananda reciprocated.

Melissa had tea and some fruit ready to go and dashed off to the kitchen to fetch it. She returned to a quiet living room, apparently waiting for her.

“Did an angel just cross the room?” she asked.

The abbot laughed at that, quite unexpectedly. “Oh,” he said. “Funny you should say that. My mother used to say that whenever silence fell upon us, which was rare to be sure.”

Ananda smiled, too. As did Ruth, who then added, “I think she just returned, bearing tea.”

And so, what little ice there was found itself broken.

“I have a confession to make,” said the Abbot.

No one said anything, but the listening was almost palpable.

The Abbot took another sip of the green tea, then regarded the cup for quite a silent while. Then said, “I have been a Catholic all my life, and a Franciscan for most of it, for near enough sixty years. All, yes I think I can say that, all to regain the clarity I experienced as a four-year-old boy in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Yes,” he continued, “I have done much good, and I have helped many. I have lived in the conviction that my path has been the correct one, and that if only I could walk it with more sincerity, more truly, more deeply, then I would finally enter into light.”

He paused here and helped himself to some more tea. Then he recounted his horizon experience on the deck of the Mauretania, leaving his young Ireland for the unknown America.

“I knew God then,” he said to end the story. Then he said it again.

The he looked directly at Ruth. “Am I incorrect in assuming that you, in fact, did raise that chair? That you performed that miracle?”

“Not a bit,” said Ruth.

“I thought not,” said the Abbot. Then, after another brief silence, looking down at his hands and then back at Ruth, he asked, “Do you know the way back to God?”

“Your God?” said Ruth.

“Is there more than one?” said the Abbot.

“No,” said Ruth.

“Is there a way back?” said the Abbot.

“I know the way back to the stillness you described,” said Ruth. “If that is what you mean by God.”

“That is what I mean by God,” he replied.

What struck Melissa the most and deepest about this exchange was that her sixteen-year-old daughter and the ancient—and he was truly ancient—abbot treated each other as equals in every respect, age included. Truth be told, she had a hard time trusting her perception, but then she reminded herself, again, who her daughter was and that took the edge of the wonder. But it remained a wonder.

“You are who you say you are?” said the Abbot.

“Who do I say I am?” said Ruth.

“The Tathagata,” said the Abbot.

Melissa saw Ananda’s eyes startle, then fix upon the Abbot. And it was in fact Ananda who spoken next, “the Tathagata?”

The Abbot turned to him, “Yes.”

Ananda turned to Ruth, who smiled in turn. “Yes, Timothy. I am Tathagata. Sooner back than planned.”

The Abbot nodded. Then said, “Pardon me for saying so, but I think—and don’t take me wrong, I know you had your reasons—but it seems to me that you’ve made a bit of a mess of it.”

“My thoughts, precisely,” said Ananda.

“How so?” said Ruth.

“You are the Buddha, back here for a reason,” said the Abbot.

“Yes,” said Ruth.

“Miracles have their places,” said the Abbot. “That was not one of them.”

“It was not meant as a miracle,” said Ruth. “I just got unforgivably annoyed with the man, and wanted to put him in his place.”

“And so you did,” said the Abbot. “He hasn’t been heard from since.”

“Actually,” said Ruth. “He called the other day.”

“He did?”

“To apologize.”

“For what?” The Abbot sincerely curious.

“For doubting me, is what he said.”

“Seriously?”

“Indeed.”

“Well,” said the Abbot. “Wonders seem to never cease.”

“It was a bit of a surprise,” agreed Ruth.

“Still, what you did created more agitation than clarity. It was not, well, to speak your tongue, it was not very skillful.”

“Well put. And you are absolutely right. It was a very stupid thing to do. Really stupid.”

Ananda nodded his agreement. Ruth turned to him, and watched the slowly bobbing head for a breath or two. “Nobody’s asked you,” she said, though more in jest than anything.

Then the Abbot asked, “Can I be of help?”

“To be honest,” said Ruth. “I don’t know. I have made a mess of things, that’s obvious. Even though the media have accepted the official account, the Fairweather explanation—which is probably for the best, of course—still, I have managed to muddy my waters. And as time will blur memory and erase details, I fear people will remember me not as innocent bystander but simply as murky part of that scandal.”

The Abbot considered that. “Yes,” he said. “I can see that.”

“And I think very few if any will take my intimation about being the Buddha seriously. Perhaps that too was a part of the hoax. I don’t know what they will think, but the waters are muddied. Definitely.”

“Yes, they are,” he answered.

“I had hoped to stand on an elevated but wholly credible platform—which is how I saw the successful EPROM experiment—and speak from there. My voice would then carry, and people would hear it and take it seriously. Now I fear that this window of opportunity has not only passed, but that it now lies in a thousand pieces.”

“Apt,” said Ananda.

The Abbot nodded, “Yes, apt.”

“So,” said Ruth. “How can you help? I don’t know. But I’m wide open to suggestions. In other words, what do I do now?”

Another angel entered, lingered, then left the room. Finally, the Abbot spoke:

“It is a matters of credentials, then? Your approach. Of respectable, believable credentials?”

“Yes,” said Ruth.

“Why did you choose this way? As opposed, I guess, to being yourself?”

“The Buddha Gotama?”

“Yes.”

“A tree told me,” said Ruth.

“I don’t follow.”

And so Ruth told the Abbot about the old Bristlecone.

The Abbot, a little puzzled at first, then began to nod. He understood. And then, once Ruth had finished the story, said, “Good advice.”

“I thought so.”

“Science.” said the Abbot.

“And religion,” said Ruth. “I want to marry them.”

The Abbot was weighing his word-options, that is how it struck Melissa. Then he said:

“So it is with authority that you want to address the world.”

“Yes, from strength. With the authority of science,” said Ruth.

“You’ve certainly gained scientific recognition,” said the Abbot. “Perhaps you now need to gain religious recognition.”

“What do you mean?” said Melissa.

The Abbot set out to summarize, as much for himself as for others. Again, this was Melissa’s impression. “I think we have to face the fact that few will take a sixteen-year-old girl seriously, especially on matters of life and death, the essential matters. Most sixteen-year-olds are still in high school, trying to find their own feet, and have no business instructing others about theirs. That would be the general consensus.”

“Yes,” said Ruth. “I agree.”

“You are, and remain, a recognized genius in scientific circles, I don’t think the Alvarez incident has tarnished you in this respect. And your plan was to widen that recognition, then build on that, on those credentials, to make your voice not only heard—not an easy thing these days—but believed.”

Ruth was nodding, yes, that had been her plan.

“In view of what has happened, I fear as you do that those credentials will no longer hold up for the man on the street. You will not be heard.”

And now looking straight at Ruth again, he added, “At this point you have no place to stand, do you?”

“That sums it up nicely,” said Ruth.

“You mentioned religious recognition.” said Melissa.

The Abbot may or may not have heard this, but looked at Melissa as he continued:

“She must not give up,” he said. “She is too important.”

Then looking back at Ruth: “You are a light, Miss Marten. You must not give up.”

“I’m not about to,” said Ruth.

“You must be recognized,” he added, as if Ruth had not spoken.

“How?” said Ruth and Ananda both, and with a voice so single that they all laughed.

Then the Abbot asked, “Who can recognize you for who you are?”

“Ananda does. Melissa and Julian do.”

“No, I mean broadly. Religiously. Who can provide you a platform? Who, in the Buddhist world can recognize, and vouch for you?”

“I see,” said Melissa, and did.

“That’s a thought,” said Ananda.

“Who is the most prominent Buddhist in the world, today? And would he, or she, recognize you for who you are?” asked the Abbot.

“The Dalai Lama would have recognized me,” said Ruth. “But, as you know, he recently passed.”

“And they have yet to find the next,” said the Abbot.

“Still looking,” confirmed Ananda.

“Who else?” said the Abbot.

“There is someone at the Mahavihara Monastery in Sri Lanka,” said Ruth.

The Abbot looked from Ruth to Ananda to Ruth. “How do you know?” he said. Then quickly added, “Sorry. I didn’t mean.”

“A feeling,” said Ruth. Not unkindly.

“Who?” said Ananda.

“Bhante is his name,” said Ruth. “The Venerable Bhante Mahathera. He doesn’t know me yet, but I know that he will recognize me were we to meet.”

“Do you think he can shore up your platform?” said the Abbot.

“Perhaps,” said Ruth. “Yes, perhaps he can.” Then said, “Do you want to come?”

“Come where?”

“To Sri Lanka,” said Ruth.

“Oh, I see. No, I’m afraid I couldn’t do that. Too much to see to here in Los Angeles, still. You’d think I’d be out on the scrap heap by now, but still they come to me for far too many things. But,” he added, then paused. “If I may make a suggestion.”

“Sure.”

“Perhaps it would help your cause to invite that reporter along?”

“Clare Downes?” said Melissa, feeling sure that’s who he meant.

“Yes, that who I mean,” said the Abbot.

“That’s an idea,” said Melissa. Both Ananda and Ruth agreed.

[*:*]

Clare Downes saw there was a story in the trip and encountered only token resistance from her producer who, while she felt a little uneasy about letting her star reporter out of her sight for a full week, soon could see the story as well. Yes, time and money well spent. Documenting international Buddhist acceptance of Ruth as the Buddha. Yes, quite a story indeed.

And yes, of course she could bring Lars.

And yes, finally, the station would pay for all of them.

[*102 :: (Sri Lanka)

 

The temperature at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo put the unseasonably warm Los Angeles they had left behind to shame. And the humidity, my Lord. Clare asked Lars if the equipment would actually work okay here. He sniffed the air, as if testing it for something, and nodded, “Sure. Not quite under water yet.”

They had not expected any crowds, nor were there any. Once they cleared immigration and customs the little group, consisting of Clare and Lars (who were attracting some attention, what with her recognizable face, even here, and what with his impressive camera), Ruth, Melissa, and Ananda, were met by a single monk in a saffron robe holding up a hand-painted sign saying “Marten” in blue letters.

Ruth went up to him. “I am Ruth Marten.”

The monk lowered the sign, and looked at Ruth up and down and up again, at loss for words. Then said, in slightly sing-songy English, and not a little surprised, by the looks of him, “You are Marten?” He then looked over at Ananda as if hoping, somehow, that he was the Marten and they were playing a trick on him.

“Yes,” said Ruth.

“But,” said the monk, and then fell silent. Apparently looking for words. Then found some, “You are a girl.”

Lars, ever the professional, had unobtrusively hoisted the camera onto his shoulder and was getting this. Clare nodded in acknowledgement.

“I guess the Venerable Bhante Mahathera did not tell you,” said Ruth.

The monk suddenly realized his rudeness. Clare could practically see embarrassment pouring into him, filling him toe to head. He seemed unable to answer, and no answer came.

“Please take us to him,” said Ruth.

The monk then bowed so deeply his head almost touched the floor, then turned, motioning with the hand that held the sign for them to follow.

The ride to the Mahavihara Monastery went from slow—through chaotic traffic, to slower—through worse traffic, to crawl when the paved road stopped, and the old van more navigated than rode the rutted track that took them to the old monastery.

“So sorry,” said the monk with each bump in the road that seemed determined to shake the old vehicle apart, with a few “so sorrys” in-between bumps for good measure.

Everyone smiled as well as they could, what with the jet lag and what with the pathetic air conditioner, whose attempt at cooling the inside of the van amounted to nothing but futile gesture.

Arriving at last, the monk turned to Ruth and said, “The Venerable Bhante Mahathera would like to see you right away.”

Two other monks appeared to help unload the van, and to bring their luggage to guest quarters as the group made to follow their guide. Who, when he noticed turned and said, “Only the Marten,” he said.

“I have promised them,” began Ruth, looking over at Clare and Lars.

“Only you,” said the monk, and with such finality that there was no arguing about this. Clare saw that writing on the wall and touched Lars’ arm in a let’s-go gesture, then turned and followed Ananda and Melissa and their luggage.

[*:*]

The Venerable Bhante Mahathera was ninety-five years old, though you were hard pressed to guess. Old, yes, that was plain enough, but that old could be anywhere between seventy and a hundred plus. He was a small, somewhat emaciated man with all of his teeth and a soft smile that seemed to reflect a subtle amusement at some private joke.

Ordained at age fifteen, he had been a Theravada Buddhist monk for eighty years, fifty or so of these as the leader of the Mahavihara Sangha. He retired his leadership on his eighty-fifth birthday, announcing that he would live out his days in seclusion and meditation. This decision was, of course, greeted and accepted with respect, and the new leader had built for him a small bungalow at the far end of the large compound, somewhat secluded, that he may live, undisturbed, to reflect and meditate for his remaining days.

As a rule, he would only see his attendant (the monk meeting Ruth and company) and on rare occasions the leader of the Sangha, to advice as needed. Other than that he dwelled alone, and saw no one.

The front of his bungalow faced a worn pathway, the back—with its two small windows—faced the forest.

He was standing at the door, watching Ruth and his attendant approach, smiling softly, now as if at some distant memory.

[*:*]

I feel his presence even from this distance. He is a true bhikkhu. He has walked the path and he has laid down his burden. His next step will be Parinibbana, the final destination-less journey.

My guide still seems mortified that he did not know I was a girl. He says nothing to me, nor does he turn around. I don’t know what Bhante told him about me, but I’ve certainly disappointed his expectations.

We reach the little bungalow which is Bhante’s home, and my guide steps aside, “Mahathera,” he says. “This is your guest, Ruth Marten.”

Bhante looks up, as if in recognition, and his smile broadens. “Welcome,” he says in good English. “Please come.” He turns and enters his building. My guide does not follow, but motions for me to.

The inside is quite dark at first, though my eyes soon adjust. I see one large room to the right, a smaller one to the left, where I spy the edge of a low bed, not more than a mattress on the floor. Bhante enters the larger room, which is part kitchen, part sitting room, prepared, it seems, to receive its guest.

He motions for me to sit down on one of the two pillows by the low table, while he turns to the stove to prepare my welcome tea. He is very agile for his age, and seems in perfect health. I notice his movements as he strains the tea and pours it into two small cups, which he places on a small copper tray. He says nothing while he does this, for there really is nothing to say. He does not feel the need to fill silences.

He places the tray on the table, sits down and hands me one of the cups.

“You said you were a girl,” he says. “I found that a little hard to believe. But here you are.”

“It was the best attire,” I reply.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“You can speak across such distance,” he says. “That is impressive, but how do I know that you are the Buddha? Others know the voice, too.”

“How did I recognize you, Bhante Mahathera?”

“Yes, that is true.”

“Have you heard anything about Ruth Marten? Anything in the papers or on television recently?”

“I don’t have a television. I don’t read papers.”

“Has anyone spoken of her?”

“Not in my presence.”

“I am here, Bhante Mahathera, for the world needs another wakening.”

“I agree it does.”

“It has grown complacent and blind.”

“And placed most of its trust in dogma,” said Bhante.

“Even in the Sangha?”

“Even in the Sangha.”

“Will they recognize me?”

“I have yet to recognize you.”

I am not sure he is being entirely truthful about that. I get the feeling he is testing me, something that under the circumstances I cannot take umbrage at, of course. It’s age asking youth to make its case—yet, I cannot shake the feeling that he does know me, that he does not truly have the doubt he presents me. But these are shadowy waters.

So, instead I ask, “How can I prove myself?”

“Is there such a thing as proof?” he asks.

“Experience,” I answer.

“Yes, there is that.”

And so I fill him with my recent past, with Ananda, with my hopes and my plans and the need for both. His face does not change expression, but his smile widens.

“Venerable Sir,” he says. Then adds, “You brought Ananda?”

“Yes, I did.”

“I should like to meet him,” he says. “He is a him, yes?”

“Don’t worry. He’s exactly what you’d expect.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” he says and chuckles. Then he turns serious again. He drinks a little from his cup, and takes a long look at me. “They may not believe you.”

“The Sangha?”

“Yes, that is what I mean.”

“Will they not perceive me?”

“Few, if any, these days, know this chamber of hearing.”

“What should I tell them? How can I convince them?”

“Why do they need convincing?”

Which is a good question.

“I need to be believed,” I answer. “Not only by the Sangha and the Buddhist world, but through them by the Western world as well.”

“I think you are too late for that.”

“Can that be true?”

“See for yourself.”

[*:*]

When Ruth returned from her audience with The Venerable Bhante Mahathera she found them all in varying degrees of asleep in the guest quarters.

Clare was the first to stir at her entering, then Ananda. Lars seemed out cold, as did Melissa. It had been a long flight, and KCRI had not sprung for first class (expensive enough as it is, her producer had told Clare when she asked about the tickets).

Ruth sat down, tired, concerned.

“It went well?” Clare asked.

Ruth looked at her for some little time before answering. “With Bhante, yes. But he does not hold out much hope for the Sangha itself.”

“Why?”

“That’s what I am trying to u