Despite my beard, I have a winsome baby face, so the maid lets me in.
“Christa’s in her room.” The maid has a voice soft as tofu. “Here, you take in her morning drink.” She hands me a can of Coke.
Christa sits cross-legged on the bed. I put the Coke beside her, and hover on the edge of the mattress. Christa gives me a bare glance, then casually scratches a kitchen match against the cream-colored wall.
The cigarette dangles from her mouth while she rolls up the sleeves of her billowy blue blouse. Her jeans are comfortably faded. Her toenails are flickers of pink atop the white eyelet spread.
I wipe my wire-rims on a pillow case so I can see her better. Her face is vulnerable without last night’s makeup. She must be at least thirty. Her eyes are the color of herb tea. Christa looks intricate and fragile as a cluster of quartz.
“All right, Hector,” she says after a long drink of Coke. “I’m awake. What the hell are you doing here?”
She hands me the match to throw in the trash. With its weak charcoal point I draw a mandala on my finger. I’m not exactly sure why I’m here. My last reading said, “Rely on your intuition.”
“If you can’t think of anything to say, at least make yourself useful by turning on the television.”
I get up and turn on the small television at the foot of the bed. “I Love Lucy” comes on.
“Don’t change it,” she says.
I go out of my way to flow with life, not to alter it. Everything has a reason, a purpose, even television. I would never try to change any event already in motion. Plus, I like “Lucy.”
Christa ignores the ringing of the phone. I wonder if she expects me to answer it. When the noise stops, I remember the maid.
After a gentle knock, the maid sticks her head in. “You talking to anyone?”
“No, Picolla,” Christa answers gravely. “I have company right now and can’t be disturbed.”
Christa seems unconcerned with my presence and continues smoking, sipping, and watching television. I’m a little nervous. I am anxious for the spirit to reveal why I sit in the bedroom of my brother’s new mistress at 10:35 on a Thursday morning.
“She’s a fascinating girl,” my brother Tom had said last night at the restaurant before he introduced us. “She’s different.” Tom thrives on variety, going through women as if they were floppy disks.
I always laugh when Tom asks if he should get me a date.
“Why do I need a date? My life is complete in the spirit.”
“Life is nothing without women,” Tom answers.
Tom is the popular one: blond, muscled, with a great personality. He always has more than I do: more money, more clothes, more brains, more women. But I know that is only because in a past lifetime he was deprived: an ignorant, groveling peasant. Whereas in my last incarnation, I was a wealthy and powerful man.
“What do you think of her?” Tom asked last night, when Christa had gone to the restroom. Mostly Tom acts like I am something weird and spooky: a lanky brown shadow to his golden perfection. He acts like kid brothers are as useful to him as second-hand shoes. But he always wants my opinion of his lovers.
“I like her,” I said. And I did.
I crack a knuckle and Christa gives me a scathing look.
“Hector,” her voice now is sweet as a smear of jam, “did Tom send you?”
I shake my head to indicate I am my own messenger.
“I’m going to the kitchen to eat. Then I’m going to sit at my typewriter and see what slush and slime leaks from me today. Unless you speak soon, I will assume you are either morbidly depressed or moronic. Although last night I could have sworn you had a good strong voice with an intellect to match. Follow me.”
Christa gives orders as easily as I used to hand out flowers. She swings herself out of bed, upsetting the ashtray. Ashes to eyelets, I think, as I follow her to the kitchen. Picolla is swishing suds in the sink and singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
“Pancakes, please.” Christa sprawls on a chair, starts a cigarette, and screens herself with the newspaper.
Picolla keeps singing and starts moving around. I have never told another person to make me a meal. I feel each person should be discovering his own path. Direction from others could be harmful. Even at the bookstore, where I work evenings, I allow the employees freedom to make their own decisions. I don’t want to hamper their growth. But Christa’s directions to Picolla seem as natural as taking a deep breath.
I sit, letting things float through my mind. I wonder if it was Tom who called. “Sweet Chariot” sizzles butter in an iron skillet. Even though I stopped for an Egg McMuffin on the way over, I am hungry.
Tom teases me about my eating habits. “Aren’t you supposed to have granola for breakfast and bean sprouts for lunch? You act like a monk, and eat like a crazed teenager. You’re unreal, Hector.”
But Tom is further into the bones of reality than the computers he manipulates. Maybe I eat junk food just to keep him off balance. Tom can’t stand deviations from the program.
Picolla puts a pile of pancakes in front of each of us, takes a pink feather duster from between the stove and refrigerator and leaves the room. Christa reaches the butter first, globs it straight through her stack, seals it all with syrup, and takes a large bite.
“I write romances. Do you ever read romances?” She talks quickly and chews fast.
I shake my head no. I wish this were supper time, and we were sitting at this red formica table with stars outside, eating breakfast food and talking about romance.
“I’m here on an intuition,” I say abruptly. I brush through my beard to make sure syrup isn’t clinging there.
“I never think of men as having intuition,” Christa says thoughtfully.
“I’m just starting to understand mine.”
Christa’s plate is clean except for a skirt of syrup. I never saw a skinny person eat so much. A cigarette appears. She bends a knee, so her foot is on the chair.
“You manage the New Life bookstore, don’t you?” she says, looking at her foot.
“Do you like it?” Her voice wanders like a bored fly. Perhaps she wishes I would go away. Since my last reading, that has happened to me a lot. I am drawn to places without knowing why, and then I must wait until the reason is revealed.
“It can be weeks or months before the object is clear to you,” the psychic told me. But today it had better be hours. If I’m not out of here by 2 o’clock, I’ll be late to work. Plus, my brother will kill me.
“The bookstore gives me contact with lots of good people,” I answer. “In my past life I did something more cerebral, but this is right for me now.”
Usually, when I mention reincarnation, people remember they have to pick up their dry cleaning. Christa does not seem to have heard. She is probably designing a heroine in her head, the way I send light to the chakras.
“In my past life, I was a bookkeeper,” she says casually, like tossing a ball to someone who is not looking. “So,” she turns to me and actually smiles, “I’m due for creativity. . . . I’m starting on chapter four of Random Love. Come watch me work.”
She pulls down on her blouse, smashes her cigarette onto her plate, and checks her teeth with her tongue.
I have never before let another person tell me what to do, but I follow Christa as if I was born to do her bidding. I realize how beautiful she is. I realize why I am here today. My intuition says it is I, rather than Tom, who should be with this woman. Christa and I are destined for greatness.
I want to tell her this, but she has already left the room. The house smells like Lemon Pledge. “Amazing Grace” dusts in the living room.
“I love you,” I shout. I can’t believe I spoke so directly. Usually I prefer to communicate on a more sub-conscious level. “I love you, Christa.” But Christa is already typing, and has written over my words.
I stand outside her office, and watch her fingers move like a flock of small, nervous birds. The doorbell rings. I hear the rich-toned voice of my brother, kidding with Picolla.
He notices me leaning in the hallway.
“Hector, what are you doing here?” Naturally, he is surprised.
“Intuition,” I say. “I knew you’d be over and I wanted to see you.” Usually I speak only the truth, but now I let the spirit put words in my mouth.
Tom looks pleased. He is always happy when someone seeks him out.
Christa keeps typing. I wish she would write me some heroic dialogue. I wish I could think of something better to say than, “I had a great time last night.” That’s what I say, though.
Tom is happy enough. He’s worked a long time on my “social potential.”
“I told you, Hector, you just need to get out more. Meditation is for the monks. How about meeting us tonight at Hooper’s? Come after work.”
“Sure,” I say, in an easy way, as though I go out every evening.
Tom will be amazed when Christa casts him aside for me. He’ll think she is crazy, certifiable. And he’ll call me an ingrate, a fraud, a hippie two-timer. He’ll be stunned, hurt, enraged. But he’ll get over it. For him, there are always more women. My intuition tells me, Christa is the only one for me.
I peek into Christa’s room. Tom leans over her as she types, nuzzling her hair with his mouth. He licks at her ears, and she laughs. I appreciate her wanting to be kind to him, easing him down. Even though she seems bossy, I know Christa is a very sensitive person.
Tom is kissing her neck as I turn to leave. I’m not upset by the cozy noises they make. Soon enough Christa will be mine. Since we probably were together some twelve or twenty lives ago, I don’t mind waiting now.
I say good-bye to Picolla and go to my car. There is plenty of time for a hamburger before work. I guess love makes me hungry.
As I pull away from Christa’s house, I feel a little uncertain. I don’t know whether to eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s. I drive slowly, waiting for my intuition to guide me. I am in no hurry. Soon enough, all will be revealed.