Naomi Nesbitt struggles to establish herself as both a woman and a journalist, as she is pushed to cover a wide variety of stories for Manhattan Wildelife. These range from the mysterious discovery of foxes in Central Park, to the poisoning of a Chinese dissident painter at a Midtown gallery, to four successive murders in central Manhattan.
Wednesday, April 15th: At War
Did you ever feel like you’d been placed in the middle of someone else’s conversation? People talking at each other rather than to each other who can’t begin to grasp what their exchange is really about? And then, even though you had no history with them, it became yourjob to be the translator? To make it all work so that each person can hear what the other is actually saying?
Have you ever felt that way at least just a little?
That was a big part of what I went through starting in mid-April and for the thirteen weeks afterward that constitute most of this story. It was a list of obligations that soon began to feel like a kind of bondage, especially because the troublesome conversations were many, and some of them included ghosts.
To be clear, this isn’t just my story.
I’m Naomi Nesbitt. I write for a weekly called “Manhattan Wildelife.” And it’s my job as a journalist to explore Manhattan and translate the opinions and ideas of many different people into coherent articles for our magazine. These adventures brought me some surprising new perspectives on the art scene. And on China. And on our police. And on Central Park. And on the wildlife that has found its way back into Manhattan. And on Edgar Allen Poe, who of course was dead at the time.
All the craziness in my recent life began on the morning of April 15thwhen I awoke from an unforgettable dream. Or maybe it wasn’t just a dream. Or at least more than a dream. The night before I’d been reading through an illustrated book on Chinese mythology, which helped to set the stage.
I felt my body get hot, almost feverish.
Then a woman appeared. She glided forward on a cloud, dressed in a hooded robe of green and pink. Her hands were glowing with a golden light. The wind took her clothes, her sash, and the string around her neck. But she, herself, remained as still as the distant glow in her eyes.
She stood beside a large bird with a green-feathered crest, something like a turkey or a pheasant, but bigger and frankly gorgeous. Its feathers, too, moved gently with the wind, while its eyes were fawning over the lady who petted its head.
Even though my visitor appeared to belong to ancient China, she seemed to be quite alive, vibrant and powerful. And yet, I got the sense that she was also uptight. And that she didn’t cope well with change given the stiff way she held herself and her penchant for bygone dress.
“We have a war on our hands!” she said.
“A war?” I asked this out loud in my dream. But the whole sentence in my imagination was, “A war? Give me a break, I’m already stressed enough!”
“A war of mysteries that must be resolved,” she explained. But it wasn’t much of an explanation.
“A war of mysteries?”
“Yes.” I could tell she was getting impatient with me. Just as I was getting impatient with her. And also more than a little anxious.
“Who’s included with the ‘we’ as inwe have a war on our hands?” I had to wonder.
“Everyone is included. Everyone in the world.” Then she stared at me like a stern mother. “But especially you, Naomi.”
At first, I hoped she was trying to be funny. But I didn’t laugh when she looked away like she was about to read a footnote printed in outer space.
“Is my life in danger?” Before I decided to panic, I thought I’d get that out of the way first.
With that I groaned outloud—in my dream and probably for real. The goddess and her bird pretended not to notice, and once again, I tried to collect myself.
“Isyourlife in danger?”
“I’m a goddess, so no.”
“Oh.” Although I’m also a medium, this was my first goddess conversation ever. “Is anyone else’s life in danger?”
“Two men have already died. We came too late to save one of them. Then we took our wrath out on his killer. But there will be more deaths from another source.”
The goddess remained silent.
“Might I be one of the victims?”
“You’re potentially a victim. But from what I know, you can avoid it.”
“From what you know?” By now I wasn’t just afraid and annoyed, I was also getting a little bit angry. “What doyou know?”
The goddess looked at me indifferently and said nothing. As I watched her, I concluded that she was attractive, but not especially beautiful. A little too thin and uptight. Nothing like Aphrodite. So she wasn’t thatkind of goddess. She must have eavesdropped on my thinking because she flexed her lips in annoyance while her eyes were scanning mine. Even her bird stared at me like I’d just behaved badly.
“Should I buy a gun?” I almost added, “After all, it’s the American way.”
“A gun is not for you. The mysteries are for you. And by solving them you can save other lives, including your own. Moreover, your savingisn’t just about saving lives. It’s also about saving consciousness and mind. And to do that you will need to reach out to the world with your imagination and your words. In fact, it is through what youimaginethat the real world can begin to be put back in order.”
I swallowed so deeply that I felt my body shake. This seemed like way too much to ask of me, or anyone else, for that matter.
So I decided to go back the obvious. “You’re telling me that I’m supposed to solve a series of mysteries? How many mysteries are there?”
I could see her thinking. Finally, she said, “It depends in part on how you definemystery. Not every mystery is a crime. And not every mystery is in the present tense. Some are mysterious adventures. And one is the mystery of a life.”
“Oh! The mystery of a life? Of my life?”
“Not for now, at least. It’s someone else’s life.”
To be honest, I felt both disappointed and a little bit relieved. “How many mysteries are there in all?”
“On the gravest level, one of the mysteries is a real and present danger. On a more inclusive level, the number is seven.”
“Seven mysteries—that’s a lot!”
The goddess did nothing to acknowledge my dismay.
“What do you mean by real and present danger? Is someone about to be killed?”
“But that person’s not me?”
“That person’s not you for now.”
“Not for now!!!”
“This is a question you should seek to revisit in the future.”
Both the goddess and her bird nodded, putting a second period after in the future. Then the bird glared at me as if to suggest that I shouldn’t be bothering the goddess by asking for so many details. But by thenIwas more than annoyed. Not to mention a little terrified.
And things didn’t get much better.
“So there are seven mysteries all told. Is there any way to prioritize?”
The goddess looked at me obliquely, like she didn’t recognize the word ‘prioritize.’
“OK. Let me start by asking you about the real and present danger. I assume it’s the most important.”
“Each mystery has its own weight. The biggest mystery of all—the one where you must devote the most time—is not life-threatening. It’s the mystery of a life and it contains a grand design within it.”
I remembered that this was someone else’s life. Not mine. “A design for what?”
“That’s for you to find out.” The goddess looked at me coolly.
I still hadn’t a clue what the mysteries were, or how to find out about them, let alone how I might start using my imagination to put the real world in order. While my dream goddess and her bird stood like privileged couple, comfortable for all eternity, I was only getting more anxious, worried and aggravated.
“Can’t you tell me anything else?”
“Not now. Not at present. It will be up to you to find ways to commune with the truth.”
There wasn’t a single glimmer of concern or appreciation in the goddess’s eyes. While her bird looked up at her and away from me as if itwere already a little bored.
This annoyed me yet more, and even in my dream I could feel the bed scraping underneath my body and my chest rise up.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave now.” To this day, I’m not sure how I had the audacity to be so blunt.
But in fact, even before the sentence was complete, the goddess and the gorgeous bird standing beside her began to fade into the sky until they became nothing more than shifting, white clouds floating in the wind.