“She died so suddenly … right here.”
Trying to control herself, Deborah walked slowly around her little flat which until recently had been rented out to Mary Collins—or Mieleeka Mountaindaughter as the clairvoyant healer referred to herself.
Deborah forced herself to imagine that Mary’s abilities to speak with angels and spirit guides had somehow prepared her for having a heart attack in her cushioned round chair, right there where she stood now—with the perfect view through the window (and a couple of palm trees) over a bustling Venice Beach and then the turquoise Pacific.
But despite believing fervently in Mary’s extrasensory gifts, Deborah felt a sting of doubt. It was like this apartment she had been so lucky to find and afford when she first moved to L.A. was a trap: A graveyard disguised as a beautiful shop, like the one on Santa Monica Boulevard, that radiated life and hope beyond what most people could see, or dared to see.
No. It wasn’t a trap. I couldn’t be. It was the same.
Mieleeka—Mary—had furnished the apartment just like the shop, with stones with spiritual properties: the big amethyst on the little table where she gave readings, and tiger’s eye and the jade block over at her writing desk, all guarded by the purifying rose quarts near the door.
All reminders of something heavenly, just beyond our reach …
“How long had she lived here?”
Deborah turned towards her husband, who was standing in the doorway, leaning against it. His white shirt was slightly damp from perspiration, even though it was a cool November in California. “You should sit down.” She motioned towards him, reaching out, as if to take his jacket, which was folded neatly over his arm.
Marcus shook his head. “I’m fine. How long?”
“Oh … not long.” Deborah looked at the empty round chair. Behind it hung the big painting of the archangel Metatron that seemed to glow, even though Deborah knew it was probably just the autumnal sunlight reflecting in the window next to it …
“Do you regret letting it out to her—and others?” Marcus took a step inside as if he was going to sit down, and then his phone beeped furiously in the pocket of the folded jacket.
Deborah sighed. “I had nothing when I divorced Calum, and my own parents …” She shrugged. “I swore I’d always keep a backup, in case—” she looked him in the eyes “—something happened.”
He smiled quickly. “We’ve been married for some years, Qīn’ài de.” He reached for the phone. “I have to take this.”
Deborah nodded. “It’s okay. And you know I was planning to let it go anytime now. My landlord isn’t too thrilled about subleases, anyway … ” She let herself drop in Mieleeka’s chair. No, correction. It was her chair. She had bought it at a flea market over by the Marina, and as with some of her other furniture, Mieleeka—Mary—had been happy to pay for that, too. She didn’t have a lot to furnish her little practice with, after her own divorce. Calum had at least let Deborah keep her own things …and her daughter.
Deborah checked her own phone while she could hear Marcus giving orders in hushed but firm tones outside on the platform before the stairs:
“—No, Ray—I want them fucking gone. As in yesterday.
“—We won that round, so Lydia’s co-conspirators among the employees are not going to stay in HQ a second longer.
“—Nobody signs a letter like that—against me. I can’t trust them anymore.”
Deborah frowned when she saw how few messages there were from Carrie. Only one in fact:
Nothing new. We are still waiting to hear from them.
Marcus came in again. “Are you okay?”
Deborah pulled her legs up under her in the round chair. “I was about to ask you the same thing.”
Marcus looked as if he was about to say something, but then he made a grimace and wiped more sweat off his brow. “We’re starting over. Lydia’s rebellion is over. I just need to take care of the employees who signed the letter.”
“Will they be fired?”
“What else would you do? They wrote an open letter to the board, asking them to oust me.”
“But how many are there? Perhaps you should—”
Marcus held up his hand. An elegant smile played on his lips. He had charmed so many with that smile, including her. “It’s fine, Qīn’ài de. It’s really only a handful out of several hundred. But who knows what they will do next? Now—any news from Mali?”
It was a windy day with few people passing outside, and Deborah felt the emptiness and the chill right in the little room. “They are still holding Dave and the rest of the staff. And the French troops haven’t arrived.”
Marcus’ voice became grave for the first time. Aside from the little chit-chat just before he had been very upbeat about the whole situation this morning. Even though it had been very close. 3:4 on the board for not kicking him out. And god knows how many had signed that letter. Marcus was keeping those numbers as close to his vest as his cardio checkup yesterday. “I thought there had been a resolution. What went wrong?”
Deborah wiped something from her eyes. She looked at the big amethyst on the table. Its heart was like frozen purple blood. “I can’t keep track of all those factions fighting with each other. But two of them, who were officially on the same side, came to blows, yes. And now that that’s over, they took the hospital staff, took them into the desert. They want a ransom.” She sniffed. “Damn these people. They are all fanatics.”
“I think they are just poor and desperate,” Marcus said, his voice still measured. “It was never about religion or ideology.”
“Well, what the hell do they want?” Deborah took the amethyst and weighed it in her hands. It weighed almost as much as a dumbbell from her fitness center near home. “And when can we expect to hear from them—from any of them?”
“Dave is as brave and hardy as his brother,” Marcus said, looking her straight in the eyes. “And your son-in-law is the bravest of the brave. He was in Iraq. He is a policeman. They are one brave family and they will hold out. I know it.”
“It’s not Jon,” Deborah said, cradling the amethyst in her lap, “more Carrie. She loves Dave as much as Jon. And the kids … If anything should happen.”
“It won’t.” Marcus came over to sit down on the floor beside her, not unlike when he had proposed. He put a gentle hand on her knee. “And when we know their demands, I will pay for everything.”
Deborah sniffed. “Good thing the board didn’t get rid of you last night, then?”
“They will have to carry me out.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“I’ll be all right.”
Deborah looked at the plaque behind Marcus. It was on the wall next to the street door. Mary had been so proud of it:
This is to certify that Mary Elizabeth Collins has successfully completed the Spiritual Star Institute course XVII in Clairvoyant Healing …
“It’s just that … anything can happen at any time,” Deborah said quietly. “They could slit his throat because he doesn’t say the right thing about Allah or something.”
“It’s not quite like that,” Marcus said, his hand seeking hers. “Anyway, I talked to the embassy this morning …”
She looked at him incredulously. “You have time for that in the middle of another company crisis?”
He nodded casually as if he had been asked about what he had decided from a menu. “Just to keep abreast. They are in constant contact with the French troops and they are going to find them.”
Deborah squeezed his hand, too. The amethyst was still in her lap. She closed her eyes. “It’s just so hard to find peace when everyone …” She glanced at Mieleeka’s plaque again and felt tears sting. “All of the time. There is nowhere to … breathe anymore.”
Marcus’ firm smile became gentler. “The assumption is that you can always find peace. But maybe you have to look for it more. Instead of just going about your daily business as if life will go on forever. That’s why I founded the Church, remember?”
“It’s not the same,” Deborah said wearily. “I’m old. You’re old. The world is falling to pieces. A course in quantum physics and spirituality can’t help with that.”
Marcus did not let go of her hand. “It’s not any particular course.” He also looked at the plaque now, the only commemoration that was left of Mieleeka Mountaindaughter’s career as a clairvoyant healer. “It’s about the search. We must always keep searching. For anything that gives us hope.”
His phone chimed again. Marcus took it with his free hand and frowned deeply.
“Can you do that later?” Deborah’s voice was gossamer thin.
“It’s … important.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“No, tell me—or shut the damn phone.”
He breathed deeply. “I know this is difficult for you, but you—we—wouldn’t be where we are if DD Systems does not have a stable board soon.”
“You mean if they kick you out.”
He shrugged. “I suppose.”
“And what did you mean before? That I’m just mooching on you? For God’s sake, we’re married.”
Annoyance crept into Marcus’ voice. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Well, what did you mean? I kept this place because I am still my own woman, Marcus. But if you want me to start teaching again—”
“I’m … sorry.” He wiped his brow with his sleeve. “There are a lot of things going on right now.”
She hesitated. Summer hospital visits seemed very clear in her mind. She decided she wasn’t going to shout.
“Call them back. I will wait in here,” she said quietly.
“I have something I want to talk to you about,” he said earnestly. “It’s from my new course. It’s about how we can surmise from the science of near-death experiences that … there is always a greater power looking out for us.”
She thought about his lost fiancée and unborn child. She thought about using them, saying something that would hit him … right there. Then she felt the amethyst again, its weight and the cool, rugged surface that promised a connection … to something more.
And she wanted that. She had wanted it all her life. She really, really did. Angels …
But there was also Dave who was a hostage in the foreign desert. And her autistic grandson who might never talk. And Marcus’ heart problems this summer.
And here, in this chair, her friend, existing one moment, and the next … nothing.
Deborah felt that she would never come back again to this apartment now, despite her protestations to Marcus about her independence. And, well, they had been married for some time. She had to trust him, hadn’t she?
Yes. She had to.
So Mary’s sister would come by tomorrow and pick up her things and then there would be a shell with an assortment of furniture and other items that were Deborah’s but which she didn’t really want again. It would have to be thrown out.
It wasn’t often Marcus used her first name. He usually resorted to endearing terms in his native Chinese, which he knew she loved. But now his hand was on hers and he was looking intently at her.
There was little traffic going to and fro Venice Beach outside, as opposed to the bustling, sweaty summer months. Otherwise, everything was … still.
“Are you all right?” Marcus looked at her with clear concern.
“You should go take that call,” she said. “It will be bad for all of us—and the Church, too—if something happens to the company.”
“Yes, it will,” he said. “Many bad things can happen, I know that very well.”
Then he put down the phone, which he still had in his free hand. He put it on the floor and switched it off.
DEBORAH & MARCUS, 23 NOV 2015