A Pantoum of Everyday Intercourse
by Charles C Cole
Judson wore his ceremonial black silk blindfold as he was led into the simple den by his faithful, well-practiced and occasionally mischievous assistant, Elmara. Her warm hands exuded youth: small and uncalloused. She gave his hand a brief squeeze for luck.
Their paying guest was there to reconnect with a late loved one or two. One might think that this was a solemn affair, but the dead don’t always see it that way. A tiger doesn’t change its stripes; a once sharply opinionated sports enthusiast often arrives “tipsy” (as if in character) and impatient. The deceased adore being remembered, but they hate being rushed, probably the way a lifer in jail might have mixed feelings about an otherwise tender family visit.
Elmara helped Mina Turkelsen to her seat, a broad swiveling oak chair once owned by Judson’s great-grandfather. What was that new perfume? Essence of gardenia or lilac. Never again, not here where everything lingers: odors, emotions, echoes of unfinished conversations.
Elmara addressed the client: “As you can see, the pedestal table is bare and the curtains are wide open. No place to hide any gimmicks or parlor tricks. Feel free to look around. You may record the session for your private use. We cannot guarantee who comes through. If it gets unpleasant, we apologize: we don’t typically filter the messages received. Also, you are under no obligation to stay for the full thirty minutes if this gets a bit much. Any questions?”
“Can I touch the speaker?”
“Judson? That’s not recommended. We suggest you cross your arms or clasp your hands. The dead aren’t dangerous, far from it, but when they get agitated, the speaker might give off occasional static charges. He’s accustomed to this, but it can be off-putting to the uninitiated. I myself will sit nearby as support and bear witness for both of you. Do you have tissues in your pocket? They come in handy.”
“I’m all set, thanks.”
“I’m not really a crier. More of a talker.”
They worked their way through a small queue of well-wishers: Grammy, Mom, favorite uncle, first boyfriend.
Judson coughed to clear his throat, then hacked fitfully, which sometimes happened when someone shoved their way in line. Elmara stepped forward, prepared, with an opened bottle of water. He sipped and sighed, then pushed it roughly back into her hand. Then, to Elmara’s surprise, he ripped off the blindfold like an old Band-Aid.
“So this is what it’s like!” he suddenly exclaimed. “Damn, girl! You got a whole lot of dead folk with something to say! Does the plague run in your family or something? Every one of them: ‘Me first! My turn! She’s gonna want to hear from me!’ Well, now Jo-Jo’s got the psychic-man’s voice box, and she is taking her sweet time. You know it, girl!”
The guest looked confused. She shook her head and looked over at Elmara for guidance. There had never been a party crasher.
“Jo-Jo, welcome to our little reunion,” Elmara said calmly. “So nice of you to drop by. I don’t believe Mina was expecting you.”
“Not expect me? Well, she sure as hell should have; we were longtime tight, snug as a bug in a rug. Mina never went nowhere without ol’ Jo-Jo tucked in her tight-assed jeans pocket. Talk about butt-dialing, she practically invented that stuff.”
“Sassy Jo-Jo? My old phone?”
“You named me, sweetheart, and I guess the moniker stuck like poo on a shoe, ‘cause all your yappy friends called me that. Sassy Jo-Jo: the little phone your folks got you when you left for college. Man, we experienced some crazy sights! Am I right? So many nights I was your ‘sounding board’ to the true depths of degradation of the human experience. Alcohol plus homesickness equals sad sex with unnamed bouncing Boston boys! You were one wild child! Glad to see you came out the other side disease-free ‘cause there were a few close calls, and you a proud mother of two now - with a drooling grandkid on the way! Woot! Woot!”
Judson, or the entity driving Judson, pumped his right fist in the air for dramatic effect.
“Nobody said anything. You sure?”
“They was all just being polite. You and me were always honest with each other. Did I say ‘grandkid’? Well, not right away. I don’t think the future parents know yet, but someone’s got some valid suspicions. Hell, I don’t think they were even trying. A boring night of reruns on TV spells opportunity! There are no secrets on the other side. I hear everything. It’s like live-streaming all the time with all your friends. And all their friends. Remember that perky iPhone9 that Johanna Iaculli had freshman year, when we all thought it had been stolen from the girls’ bathroom at Porky’s Pizza and Barbecue?”
“Jo-Jo?” Elmara interrupted.
“We’re talking here. I don’t know you,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“That’s true. I’m one of the hosts, and we’ve got to wrap this up, dear. You heard everyone who spoke before you. Judson needs to recharge between sessions. You know what it’s like, needing to recharge?”
“More than you can imagine. My first battery was a real lemon, like Mina’s first college beau.”
“Mina, please thank Jo-Jo for joining us.”
“Talk again soon, I’m sure.”
“Okay, Jo-Jo, we’re going to hang up now. We’re going to sever the line. The signal is getting weaker. You can barely hear us. Judson is stepping forward again. Judson is in control. Judson?”
Judson reached up to remove his blindfold, which he was surprised to find already on the table. He blinked like walking out of a dark movie matinee into bright sun.
Mina thanked them and left.
Judson said: “We’ve all heard about emotional history getting trapped in a thing. But in phones? I think there are more ‘voices’ in line than we ever thought. I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready.”
He found his phone and dropped it into the kitchen trash.
Copyright © 2019 by Charles C Cole