Kate wondered if she didn’t need her head examined. She and that Madame Penny woman had barely stepped inside the LitLiber when Kate was informed that the book the psychic needed was something called: Spiritual Cleansing: Intuit Invocations, Smudging, and Clearing.
In other words, Penny explained, the book focused on purifying dwellings of any leftover, lingering spirits and energy. While she had never personally performed a cleansing herself, she felt more than up to the task. Plus, the recent popularity in its practices had convinced her of its necessary inclusion in her professional services. All she needed now was to practice and well, since Kate had just moved to town, it seemed only natural that she be her first client—pro bono of course.
Before Kate had time to come up with even one reason why she didn’t need her house cleared of spirits or sources of energy (whatever all that meant), Madame Penny had already pinned her down to an eight o’clock session that very night, complete with her written down address and phone number, in case something held her up; she did, after all, have to run and grab the necessary supplies to accomplish the job. Kate just hoped those supplies wouldn’t stain anything.
Standing there, stunned, next to a newsletter advertising a New Age lifestyle, Kate had barely felt Madame Penny’s hand patting her softly on the shoulder, or her expressed delight at the prospect. She’d nodded her head passively when instructed to keep her possessions in their moving boxes just a little while longer—it helped to keep the house as unfurnished as possible, for de-cluttering and contamination purposes. Contamination? Kate had opened her mouth to question the use of that word but she’d been too late. Madame Penny had already left, turning on her heel and scurrying down the aisle, her point of direction ominously final: the check-out counter. She’d called over her shoulder a short goodbye, adding that she didn’t have time to waste if she was going to get to the natural food store before they closed. She’d see her soon!
Kate had felt so bemused after the interaction she’d completely forgotten to buy her school books. She’s simply gone home. Madame Penny had given her veritable grocery list of items to accomplish before her arrival.
She’d try again tomorrow. This time, however, she’d be going alone.
Stretching out against the steps leading to the upstairs, Kate glanced down at her wristwatch; Madame Penny was officially five minutes late. The curved wood was hardly ideal for reclining, hardly ideal as a stoop for waiting, but Kate was limited in options. If she un-loaded her lounger Madame Penny would undoubtedly have a fit or worse, order its presence be removed/covered/or whatever. Not that Kate necessarily believed in spiritual cleansings, but she also didn’t want to appear rude. Besides, Madame Penny’s insistence upon this experiment hadn’t been all for naught. It had forced Kate to scrub the place properly, from top to bottom. It had been one of Madame Penny’s stipulations about the evening’s proceeding events. Apparently, it was damn near impossible to execute a proper purification if the house was swamped in dust and must.
Wiping a forearm across her brow tiredly, Kate considered that at least she hadn’t wasted the afternoon. If nothing else, she probably owed Madame Penny a ‘thank you’. She was one big step closer to moving in completely; all that was left was unpacking, furnishing and decorating and that wouldn’t take long. She hadn’t brought all that much with her, there hadn’t been time. Then she’d be able to focus her attention entirely on her studies.
With a start, Kate heard the doorbell chime. Rising to her feet, she had half a mind to pretend she wasn’t home, or that she’d fallen asleep, or perhaps that Madame Penny had the wrong house…. Entertaining the notion was one thing, but follow-through was another altogether. Kate found her feet leading the way to the front entryway posthaste.
The sight which met her eyes next, upon opening the ornate wooden door, left Kate’s confidence about this little operation at an all time low. Madame Penny had changed into something she could only assume was a muumuu—Kate had never actually seen one up close before but if the billowing tent-esque shape of the multi-flowered print thing encircling her body was anything to go by…. Her hair was in much the same shape as earlier, only she’d swapped scarves, the newest version a deep set purple with gold pattern swirls zigzagging across its width. An overstuffed tote was thrown over one shoulder, the edge of a green glass bottle poking through the top. The word ‘elixir’ came to mind at the nondescript, sciency sight. Kate nonetheless waved her inside.
“What’s all this?” she asked skeptically as the other woman trudged through the vestibule and into the kitchen. Heaving the bag onto the portable island that had come with the place, she began busily emptying it of its contents. The green bottle was placed on either side of a small wooden serving bowl and a glass jar, popped shut with a cork stopper; next came a transparent bag containing what appeared to be potpourri and a small capsule holding some form of liquid inside its opaque depths. Madame Penny quickly lined them up accordingly on the counter space before retrieving her newly bought book from the same bag and laying it out, one particular page specially dog-marked. Settling it center stage, it was only then that Madame Penny seemed to hear Kate’s question.
“I told you I’d need a certain amount of supplies in order to complete the ceremony, didn’t I?” she asked, turning in Kate’s direction. She gestured a touch impatiently toward the stuff behind her.
“I guess,” Kate agreed, mentally cringing at the thought of what this house cleansing would entail. She should have put her foot down at the first mention of this little charade, but it was too late now. It would be unheard of to cancel; it was clear Madame Penny had gone through a lot of work to bring this thing to fruition. Not to mention, it would be hard to pull off the “I’m sick, let’s reschedule” shtick when she was already here, two feet in front of her.
“Now, first I’m going to open all the windows in the house,” Madame Penny said, and wasting no time in this effort, she reached over to crack the seal on one sitting directly above the kitchen sink. “It helps to give the spirits an easy portal to pass through on their way out—except for doors. We don’t want them to leave through the doors because sometimes they can get stuck there. Keep those suckers shut.”
Kate nodded her head dumbly but, at Madame Penny’s speaking look, she moved obligingly through the rest of the house, opening windows as she went. Soon enough each pane was cast ajar, and Kate’s arms had goose bumps running their length. It was a windy night.
Then Penny went hunting. Apparently, energy had a knack for hanging out around studs and drywall because the first thing she did was place her hands up against the walls—especially the archways—to feel for any unbalanced energy there, or at least that’s what she claimed when Kate asked.
Kate’s initial fear that a sledgehammer would be required in the event of any evacuation was shortly put to rest. It seemed a simple chant would do.
“AHH OHH AYE! Spirits listen to my call. Cast out what once was here, yes listen to my call,” Madame Penny sang out, as she walked the length of the kitchen. Biting down hard, Kate could barely contain the laughter drumming against her throat. It was all just a little too much. She had to applaud Madame Penny, though; she didn’t seem the slightest bit embarrassed by her part in this bizarre and frankly ludicrous act. “AHH OHH AYE, AHH OHH AYE,” she continued unabashed, “Spirits one and all: embrace the future, leave go the past, yes spirits one and all.” Exiting the kitchen she made for the bathroom. The chant consisted of multiple verses but Kate, deciding not to follow her around the house, and, as such, declining to eavesdrop on this section of the performance, wasn’t within earshot to hear the rest, excepting for small bits caught here and there as Penny made her rounds. Kate figured the less she knew about this whole process the better anyway. Honestly, Madame Penny was the only thing that looked possessed, shuffling around the interior of the house, her palms never leaving the plaster casing.
“All right, I think we are finally ready,” Madame Penny announced minutes later, having appeared from the basement, apparently satisfied with the health and well-being of the primary walls.
“There’s more?” Kate asked incredulously.
“We’ve barely begun sugar,” Madame Penny told her. Holding out her hand, she beaconed Kate stand beside her, back at the kitchen island where it had all begun. Kate did as she was bidden, curiosity piquing when Penny reached for the green bottle and the wooden bowl.
“I’m going to recite a little invocation to help heal the house of any negativity. But don’t worry, I didn’t encounter anything of much concern as I canvassed the place just now,” she assured her.
Kate nodded her head. What else could she do? This was so far out of her element that even if she’d recorded tonight’s proceedings, she rather doubted anyone from her old life would believe she’d partook in all of this.
“Spirits of a higher and lighter love, I beseech thee: let the joining of the Universe’s elements cleanse this house and bestow upon it the sanctity of peace,” Madame Penny began, her voice low but strong. “Blessed oil,” she announced, pausing momentarily to put the words to deed, pouring this so-called substance from the green bottle and into the bowl. Then she continued, “Purest water; dried flower pedals; and kosher salt,” and again and again, Penny punctuated the words by dribbling, sprinkling, and pinching each of the named ingredients from their respective containers and into the bowl until all were combined. Reaching for a spoon, she mixed them together.
“Be with us now!” she invited, while systematically tossing a portion of this homemade remedy in a circle around the two of them. Then she bowed her head and, by default, Kate followed suit. Madame Penny may have a few screws loose, but Kate was brought up to respect the beliefs of those around her.
Seconds ticked by in this fashion, the only sound a soft humming coming from between Penny’s lips. With a flick of her eyes, Kate looked over at the psychic, unsure what was happening now. Penny’s eyes were closed, her mouth pulled slightly downward, her body seemingly in a state of utter relaxation, despite her standing position.
Kate tried to emulate the other woman’s posture, her own eyes screwed shut and a sigh suspended upon her lips… but she found the humming rather distracting. She spent the rest of the time, which she recognized as quiet meditation, trying to put words to the music.
The hum stopped abruptly. Madame Penny lifted her head, her eyes open, the irises bright with color and excitement. The room was thrust in sudden silence and expectation.
“Wow,” Kate whispered then, awkwardly. The well-worn interjection was unfortunately the best she could come up with after that, um… well she didn’t quite know what that was just now. Except. Except she was almost envious of how Penny’s body had sprung back to life in the aftermath, just as though it had been in a trance of rejuvenation or something.
“We aren’t done yet,” Penny informed her captive assistant with a wink. “Join hands with me and we will command the spirits of yesteryear to depart.” Shifting her body to face Kate’s, Madame Penny reached for her, holding tight. “Are you ready?” she asked.
“Spirits of a dark and unholy light, spirits of unknown origin and evilness and sin, spirits hosting an unwanted and unsought-for negativity, leave this house now and never return again!” With a flourish, Madame Penny raised her arms up high over her head, and, in consequence, so did Kate. They held this position for a number of seconds until, seemingly satisfied that these so-called being’s had listened, Madame Penny lowered her arms back to her side, breaking contact with Kate in the process.
Rubbing her palms against her jeans, Kate was surprised to note their slight dampness. “What happens next?” Kate whispered to Penny, who was busy retrieving candles and incense from her bag.
“Now we smoke ‘em out,” that woman said, setting a lit flame against the first of these articles, “just in case they didn’t get the message the first time I asked.” Turning away, she headed for the living room. Kate wasn’t sure but she thought she heard the beginnings of another chant echoing across the walls.
The room was shrouded in darkness, the blackness broken only by a smattering of light filtering through the bedroom window, the source coming from a streetlamp half a block down, marking the entrance into Lorring Park. Beside Kate, Phil’s body moved rhythmically with his breathing, the sound deep and even. The sight and sounds were familiar. Deliberately squeezing her eyes shut, Kate hoped to fall back to sleep. Rolling onto her side, she considered that Phil was on the verge of snoring, the noise breaking out over his mouth slowly building in a crescendo, so if she expected to get any rest tonight she’d better not waste any time reaching a state of slumber. Once Phil got started there was no stopping the small orchestra of phlegm-infused instrumentals…
Phil. Phil. Phil.
Jack-knifing into a seated position, Kate’s wild eyes landed on his sleeping form yet again, but this time with a panic and fear. His slenderness was most noticeable at night, without the added material of his suit and tie. His skin looked pale. He could never tan. Not even when they took that vacation down to Mexico last summer. He’d received only the mildest of sunburns after their trip.
What the hell was Phil doing there?! Kate’s eyes swiveled from left to right quickly. The only piece of distinction was her grandma’s bureau which currently resided against the wall beside her closet, a narrow cubbyhole she feared would hardly contain her summer wardrobe. Not that she knew this for certain yet. Her clothes were still hanging in their garment bags downstairs. She was at her new home, on Eveleth Street.
Somehow Phil had found her. He’d found her….Oh God!
The sound of Kate’s own voice screaming against the shadows woke her. Clumsily pushing the covers off, she pulled her body up against the headboard as the memory of her dream rushed against her consciousness. Telling herself she was being idiotic, Kate couldn’t help looking to her left, in what had once been Phil’s side of the bed. The space was empty, unslept-in, the pillow still freshly fluffed from her ministrations earlier that evening. Calling herself a fool, she felt her hands patting down the comforter over there, just to make sure nothing (or no one) was hiding underneath. Then, sadly, she stooped so low as to lifting the blanket over her head, still not entirely convinced. Only the sheets, still nicely tucked in, stared back at her.
Dropping her head backward, the base of which knocked against wrought iron bars, Kate let out a sigh. Then a giggle. It was just a dream. Just a stupid dream. It was probably the stress of the last couple of days. Stress gave her nightmares. Isn’t that what landed her in this town in the first place? The nightmares?
Guess Madame Penny’s cleansing hadn’t removed all the negativity; Kate’s former life was still haunting her.
Kate didn’t fall back to sleep after that. She finally gave up trying at four o’clock in the morning. It was only as she was rolling out of bed, with the intention of putting some coffee on that she remembered: she didn’t have a coffee maker anymore. She didn’t have any household appliances anymore. She was going to have to make a trip to a department store sooner rather than later, an activity she both greeted with excitement and nervousness. She’d never personally picked out so much as a saucepan before in her life.
In the end, Kate had to wait another two hours, when that coffee shop downtown opened, before she got her morning shot of caffeine. By then she was bedraggled and crabby. It was the first time in her life she’d ever left the house without showering, without doing her hair. It was the first time in her life she walked out in public wearing something as grungy as a sweatshirt with a pair of faded jeans, loafers strapped to her feet. And it was exhilarating. Still, the coffee shop, at an hour of day unlikely to receive much traffic, was one thing, the rest of her errands—namely the bookstore and a retail outlet—would have to wait until she’d properly dressed herself. She might actually run into someone there.
And actually, as it happened, Kate didn’t make it to either of those places that day. Nor the next for that matter. By the time she got home, the night’s sleep deprivation had subsided and, thanks to an overwhelmingly burnt cup of café au lait, the sensory cells connected to her nose had perked up accordingly. Unfortunately, with the reawakening of these receptors came a newfound realization: Madame Penny’s little cleansing the night before had stunk up her house!
The rest of her afternoon was spent ridding it of the overwhelming smells: Frankincense and Patchouli—incense the psychic had burned throughout the place, claiming they possessed healing powers; Olive Oil and expired potpourri—ingredients from her invocation.
It took fans strategically placed at each of her three exterior doors, all propped open to allow for a breeze; bowls, filled to overflowing with expertly ground coffee, stationed between her living room and kitchen, where the walls had been most heavily doused with the ‘blessed’ elements; and baking soda, the amount of which should have prequalified Kate for a stake in the company, sprinkled just about everywhere else, before she succeeded in neutralizing the pungent odor.
Already sweaty and determined, the following two hours saw Kate attempting to put the house to rights, an admittedly limited activity because she’d had time to pack very lightly before she moved, taking with her only the bare essentials, and not even all of those. Her clothes were quickly hung up in the closets of both her bedroom and the guestroom. Gram’s bureau was painstakingly pushed into the hallway, its thick design overpowering anywhere else. Pushed up against the back wall she considered it was both decorative and functional. She could house her linens in there. Maybe she’d buy a plant to set on its surface. Looking around the dimly lit space she considered it’d have to be something that didn’t require a lot of natural sunlight.
Next she moved her recliner, a relic from her college apartment which Phil had refused to exhibit in their loft and she’d quietly stowed away in the basement of her parent’s lake home, to the living room with the sole addition of an end table. The sparse furnishings, if nothing else, gave the appearance of a rather minimalist style—plus, the space looked enormous that way. The only other item she had left was the china dish set her mother had given her as an engagement gift which, since she and Phil hadn’t set on display yet, deciding to wait until after their wedding vows, had been easy to grab on her way out. They were entirely too fancy for her current living arrangements, but they’d do for now.
On the second day, Kate barely managed to get out of bed at all. Mostly, she snuggled deep against the pillows and cried. Fear. She knew it was fear. Starting all over, from scratch, by herself was scary. Instead of fighting the sensation, as she’d done for the past two weeks, she welcomed its presence, giving into its demanding insistence.
Her childhood nanny, aptly referred to as Nanny Moore—or just Nanny—had told her never to hide from her feelings. It is okay to be happy when you feel happy, just as it is to be sad when you feel sad, she’d tell her, when a young Kate would burrow her head against the folds of her long skirts in unhappiness. It is foolish to ignore your feelings, and only the weak pretend to be something they are not. This had brought untold comfort to a small child. But, of course, she’d caution next, in rather the same breath, one cannot allow these feelings to linger for long—too much of anything is dangerous, my poppet. The strong are inspired by their existence, the weak are consumed. So, cry it out now my poppet, but don’t be sad tomorrow.
Kate couldn’t stay in her bed forever and she knew it. So, on the following day, she made herself get up. She brushed her teeth, she hopped in the shower, and she applied make-up to her face. And, like Nanny Moore had always predicted, she felt better. Even if only a little bit, she still felt better. She would not enable fear to control her life.
School syllabus in hand, Kate made for the door. Today she would go to the LitLiber bookshop, she would smile at the strangers she came across along the way, knowing that they were her new neighbors, and possibly, maybe, hopefully someday, her new friends. She would welcome the sunlight streaming through the kitchen windows, and she would be ready to tackle the day for what it brought her: a fresh perspective. And if she felt a little scared, that was fine.
She would meet it head-on.