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
Have you ever felt like you were suddenly placed in the middle of a long conversation? In the middle of other people’s thoughts? And yet it was your job to be the translator, to make it all work so that each person understands the other?
Have you ever felt that way at least just a little?
I can tell you that’s how I felt starting on the morning of April 15th, and for the thirteen weeks afterwards that constitute most of this story.
It’s a mindset that can become a kind of bondage, especially when it includes ghosts.
Just to be clear, this isn’t just my story.
It’s my job as a journalist to explore Manhattan and translate the opinions and ideas of many different people. 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.
Even this list isn’t complete.
There were murders. To tally them up, there were eight murders. But one of the murders was a rescue not a murder per se, which would make the tally seven. Another murder went back long into the past, to the Hudson River near Hoboken in 1841. Although in this case it may not have been a murder, either, keeping the tally to six murders and two additional deaths. Finally, one of the ‘murders’ was really an execution—a largely justifiable execution if you were to ask me—or else it might have just been an accident. Which would leave the tally of murders to five, with one probable execution, one rescue, and one additional death from the mid-19th century.
As you might imagine, trying to sort all this out is still something of a work in progress.
But it also requires active dedication.
Which is why I’m writing this now.
First, to introduce myself.
My name is Naomi Nesbitt. I am 36 years old, although some people say I look a lot younger.
Last fall, in November, I was fortunate to become a staff writer for a new publication, Manhattan Wildelife, where I started by doing short pieces on curiosities in China like playing Kenny G’s “Going Home” in shopping malls as a signal that it was closing time. Another piece was about all the wealthy Chinese lining up to blast off into outer space. For other short features, I wrote on climate change working with our climatologist, who was also, as it turned out, a specialist in Manhattan wildlife.
Doing these and other stories opened the door to even more conversations. More dialogs. More perspectives. Soon I found myself standing in the middle of it all and trying to make sense out of it, while knowing that something was amiss.
Something major was amiss!
All of the latest craziness in my life began when on the morning of April 15th, I woke up from an unforgettable dream.
The night before I’d been reading through an illustrated book on Chinese mythology, which must have set the stage.
I felt my body go hot, almost feverish.
And then a woman appeared. She was older than myself and younger at the same time.
In other words, she seemed ageless.
She was dressed in a hooded robe of green and pink and glided forward on a cloud. Her hands were glowing with a golden light. Her eyes and face remained distant and poised. The wind took her clothes, her sash, and the string around her neck, as if everything around her was moving through the air.
But she, herself, remained as still as the distant glow in her eyes.
She was standing 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 her penchant for bygone dress.
“We have a war on our hands,” she said.
“A war?” I asked this out loud in my dream. 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 confirmed.
“Who’s included with the ‘we’ as in we have a war on our hands?” I was already suspicious.
“Everyone is included. Everyone in the world.” Then she stared at me like a stern mother. “But especially you, Naomi.”
For a moment, I wondered if she were 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?” I thought I’d get that out of the way first.
“Is your life in danger?”
“I’m a goddess, so no.”
“Oh.” Although I’m a medium, this was my first goddess conversation ever. She was attractive, but not especially beautiful. A little too thin and uptight. Nothing like Aphrodite. So she wasn’t that kind of goddess.
She must have eavesdropped on my thinking because she flexed her lips in annoyance the very moment I had that unflattering opinion. Even her bird stared at me as if I’d behaved badly.
“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.”
“And I’m one of them?”
“Potentially. But I believe you can avoid it.” Her eyes showed no emotion.
“You believe, or you really think?”
The goddess looked at me indifferently and said nothing. My question seemed to have annoyed her.
“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 others, including yourself. Your saving isn’t just about saving lives. It’s also about saving consciousness and mind. And to do that kind of saving you will need to reach out to the world with your imagination and your words. In fact, it is partly through what you imagine that 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 back to what seemed the most obvious.
“You’re telling me that I’m supposed to resolve a ‘war of mysteries’?”
“How many mysteries are there?”
I could see her thinking. Finally, she said, “It depends in part on how you define mystery. Not every mystery is a crime. And not every mystery is in the present tense. Some are mysterious adventures. And one, in your case, is the mystery of a life.”
“Oh! The mystery of a life? Of my life?” I was already feeling overwhelmed and this seemed to be a tipping point.
“For the moment, no. It’s someone else’s life.”
I felt a little relieved, but I also thought about asking “What about later?” before I decided not to.
“How many mysteries are there in all?”
“On the gravest level, there are two which are real and present dangers. On a more inclusive level, the number is eight.”
“Eight mysteries—that’s a lot!”
The goddess said nothing to acknowledge my dismay.
“And what do you mean by real and present dangers?”
“One is real, and in the very recent past. One is present but hasn’t happened yet.”
“It hasn’t happened yet?”
“But it’s about to?”
“And it’s dangerous?”
“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, as if to put a second period to the end of that sentence. Then the bird strutted a little, moving its feet in a rhythmic pattern, as if to underscore the fact that I shouldn’t be bothering the goddess by asking for so many details.
But by then I was getting annoyed, not to mention just a little terrified.
And things didn’t get much better.
“So there are eight mysteries all told. Is there any way to prioritize?”
The goddess stared at me as if she didn’t recognize the word ‘prioritize,’ which I didn’t take as a good sign.
“I suppose I should start by asking you about those which you indicated are most life-threatening, the two that are real and present dangers?”
“Each mystery has its own weight. The biggest mystery of all—the one where you must devote the most time—is not life-threatening.”
“That’s good.” Once again, I began to feel a tiny bit relieved. But I was still pretty annoyed.
“It contains a grand design within it.”
“A design for what?”
“That’s for you to find out.”
My goddess still showed no compassion, no empathy whatsoever, or what we in our magazine sometimes refer to as human concern. Instead she looked at me coolly, as if to say, “Don’t whine!”
At the time, I 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 she and her bird stood like privileged couple, comfortable for all eternity, I was only getting more aggravated, goddess or no goddess.
“Can’t you tell me anything else?”
“Not now. Not at present.”
“That will be up to you.”
“Only up to me???”
“It will be up to you to find ways to commune with the truth.”
There was not a single glimmer of appreciation in the goddess’s eyes. While her bird looked up at her and away from me as if it had already become a little bored.
This annoyed me even further, 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.” I’m not sure how I had the audacity to be so blunt. But it just felt right.
And in fact, even before the sentence was complete, the goddess and the gorgeous bird standing with her began to fade into the sky, as if they were little more than the puffs of clouds evaporating into the wind.