Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 31

was yes it made an impression and if it was no, it didn’t. “She was my mother,” Mark might say. “She brought me and my brothers up on the farm all by herself.” “I’m sensing some trauma in your childhood.” But then, almost any Okie farmboy who survived to adulthood had at least one tale of a life-threatening accident to tell. “She’s asking how your foot is doing? Does that mean anything to you?” “I cut my foot real bad when I was nine hoeing weeds!” Mark proclaimed, goggle-eyed. “A couple of my toes went rotten and the doctor had to cut them off.” “Were those the two toes on the leftmost side of your right foot?” “It was! Tell Ma my foot’s doing fine, except it aches a little when it’s cold out.” Mark gamely pulled off his boot and exhibited his toe-stumps to the audience. Of course, Charlie had seen Mark’s slight limp and guessed at the missing digits while he was still walking to the stage. “Now Margaret is telling me that there was some dispute between you and her over a third person. A dispute that was not resolved at the time of your mother’s death.” Again, hardly a rare state of affairs. But then Charlie’s searching eyes spotted Mark’s hand playing with his wedding band, and he went in deeper, like a miner digging down at the spot where he’d seen a golden glitter. “Margaret didn’t approve of your choice of bride, did she?” “Oh, those two were always carrying on. I hoped they’d make peace, but they never did.” “Yes, that’s right,” Charlie said. “Margaret says she knows that’s been troubling you for a while now. But she wants you to know that she has forgiven all of her grudges against your wife, and wishes that she could take back the harsh words of the past.” The ghosts only ever said nice things in Charlie’s tent. Mark gushed his thanks for passing on the good news. The audience applauded. We did three spirits per show, and then I passed the hat around and peddled horoscope pamphlets for a nickel apiece. As soon as the audience had left, Charlie produced a flask from a hidden pocket inside his tuxedo jacket, which had once belonged to a magician, and drank deep. Spirits were always calling that man. Charlie and I traveled the circuit together for years, changing up the act as fashions dictated and gimmicks grew stale. We were Dr. Franklin Illumina and his lovely assistant Teresa when we were with the Old-Time Medicine Show, Swami Gozangi and his exotic acolyte Madam Pearl when we were in the Bonsko Brothers Carnival, Reverend Arnold Machen and his wife Sofia when we went through the Bible Belt. When we did palm readings, Charlie taught me how to read a man’s profession from the shapes of the calluses on his hands. We did a two-person mentalist show where I handled objects that the audience gave me and Charlie described them in their minutest detail while blindfolded. For that, we used a special code that took me months to memorize. For a minute or two we even played a vaudeville act in New York. The props and the names changed, but the essence of it remained the same. Figure out what people want to hear, and tell it to them. Charlie died in Des Moines in ’33, wet-brained and climbing the walls while lying in his cot. Towards the end, he was calling out to folks who weren’t there, almost like he did in our act. With Charlie gone, I found myself at a crossroads. It was lonely without him, and for the first time I understood why the marks were so eager to speak with their dead. I’d kept my figure nicely but was getting a little long in the tooth to keep working as a mentalist’s assistant, and in any case I didn’t relish the prospect of finding a new partner. Also, while I’d been in the carnival my whole life, I was yearning for a job that paid in a higher denomination than dimes. With his gifts Charlie might have made a fortune as a preacher or even a politician, but he didn’t have any worldly ambitions beyond his next drink. I decided to get into séances, which I’d heard attracted a better class of mark and didn’t require the rigors of life on the road. Fortunately, I’d been saving like a miser, so I had some capital to invest in a fresh start. I left the carnival and found a house in Teabury, Florida that suited my purposes, a grey, gloomy old Victorian in a neighborhood dominated by lime and coral-colored pre-fab abominations. That old house gave off just the right impression of a place that didn’t quite belong where it was, and where strange and uncanny things might happen. I picked it up on the cheap in a county auction. The previous owner had died a few years ago, and nobody noticed until the sheriff came by to foreclose for non-payment of property taxes, and found him dead and mummified in his easy chair. The house did require some renovations before I could host my first séance, particularly to the parlor. I installed a metronome beneath the floorboards that rapped ominously when I commanded the spirits to make themselves known. I put an air conditioning unit in the basement that blew freezing cold gusts until you could see your breath even on a sultry August night. There were hidden lights that bathed the parlor in a sickly green glow, and a phonograph in the air duct that played unearthly music. Artfully concealed foot pedals operated these devices, so I could produce all sorts of startling effects from my seat without seeming to do anything at all.