A teenage oracle

The dead village is silent. A hushed crowd waits inside a decaying house to see the oracles. We huddle along the wooden staircase and stare up at the water-stained ceiling. Black mold spreads in fern leaf patterns across the plaster walls. A fractured kitchen sink rests at the end of the hallway. A partially disassembled motorboat engine lies in the bathtub. The pilgrims are a combination of vagrant tourists and weary travelers. Most of these patient souls have been waiting for hours. I’ve been here longer than any of them.

Their door is locked, but I peer through the keyhole and spy the oracles lost in their dreamy duties. Three pale girls in pink nightgowns with white athletic socks pulled over their knees. One oracle spoons mossy grounds into a trio of mismatched cups. Another lifts a kettle from an electric hot plate and sniffs the steam rising from its spout. The third removes the lid from a red sugar bowl and inspects the contents. The girls hover wordlessly around the steeping tea. Their shoulder blades twitch involuntarily. I’m not supposed to be watching this.

There’s the click of the lock. The squawk of the rusty hinges sounds as startling as a shipyard whistle. Two of the oracles appear in the door frame. Their sinewy faces are almost ectomorphic. Their condor eyes survey the crowd and seem vaguely unsatisfied with the tally. Each holds a glass ashtray filled with damp tea leaves. Everyone around me plays it cool, as if they’re parishioners at some rote worship service. I’m not so suave. My heart starts to sweat. “We’re ready to begin,” the two oracles announce.

I’m the first in line but let the skinhead girl with the bookish glasses take my place. The crowd pushes me into the room behind her and a flock of us hover along the nearest wall. We observe the main oracle who sits in the center of the room, a black notebook nestled in the folds of her nightgown. This must be Sara. There’s nothing particularly striking about her chubby figure and greasy brown hair, but she radiates an otherworldly air of detachment.

The skinhead girl kneels in front of Sara’s chair. One of the assistant oracles dabs a brown smudge of tea leaves on the girl’s forehead. Sara props a foot on the girl’s shoulder and presses her thumb into the spot. Her eyes turn milky white and her free hand begins to write. The pen moves at its own pace, the strokes slowly accumulating across the page. When the writing ceases, Sara rips out the sheet with a flourish. The message reads: 22, 7, 16. Bobbie Merlino. It’s unclear from the skinhead girl’s reaction if the information has significance, but she creases the paper with painstaking care before tucking it inside her plastic billfold.

I let the black teenager with the infected nose-ring go next. As Sara enters her trance, I catalog the spartan contents of the bedroom. Bare mattress arranged on the wooden floor. Oval mirror draped with black velveteen. Peeling sea-green wallpaper with sun-faded sailboats navigating toward some unknown port. Sara finishes inscribing the notebook page with a map and marks an X in the upper left-hand corner. The text reads: This is where you will kill your father. The boy acts unfazed but his eyes keep blinking at the paper, perhaps hoping a different message will materialize.

I signal the man with the grizzled beard to take my place, but one of the assistant oracles seizes my elbow. She motions for me to kneel in front of Sara, but instead I keep stalling. There’s so much that suddenly needs explaining. I want to tell her the history of my life and ask her what destiny the stars have been cooking up for me, but I can’t find the syllables. I can only stammer out the most basic information: “My name is Jeff Jackson.”

Sara’s lashes flutter, as if she’s struggling to bring a strange specimen into focus at the end of a microscope. She appears slightly cross-eyed, her brown orbs unsuitable for everyday tasks. Her semi-blank stare reminds me of a crab whose stalks twitch in the direction of the nearest noise.

I kneel in front of Sara’s chair. She splays her legs and places a foot on my shoulder. I glimpse a few curly pubic hairs sticking out like orchid tendrils from the cotton crotch of her panties. One of the assistant oracles applies the warm tea leaves to my forehead. A brown rivulet of resin slips down the tip of my nose. It probably looks like my third eye is weeping. Sara presses her thumb against the leaves.

The spot instantly feels white-hot, an intense burning pressure, as if a hole is being bored through the bone of my skull. I bite my tongue to keep from shouting. I focus on Sara’s pen as it moves across the page in swift and soundless strokes. The only noises come from the rhythmless plink of the rain, the jittery clank of the ancient steel radiator, the thin whistle of static from an unseen radio. The pen halts and Sara tears the page from her notebook and hands it to me. The sheet is blank.

A tense murmur wafts through the house. More people squeeze inside the room. Someone asks me to display the sheet and it produces an eerie silence, as if I were an executioner raising his victim’s head above the crowd. Nobody wants to tell me that the last person who received a blank page from Sara died soon afterward. Nobody wants to explain that it’s akin to drawing the tarot card of the skeleton astride his emaciated steed. One of the assistant oracles leans close and whispers, “I’m sorry.” All eyes are set on me. Only Sara’s gaze is elsewhere, transfixed by the coastline of torn paper that clings to the margins of her notebook.

Jeff Jackson, Mira Corpora , 2013.

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