The Novel: A Novel: Notions & Potions

She said that John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnated. He believed her. She was, after all, an aged, sage woman, a venerated teacher, and Mama always said listen to your teachers. He already knew that the shortest path to a grade went not through the heart of the subject, but through the heart of the instructor — and that was witchcraft of a sort, wasn’t it?

And, she had scripture on her side. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” It’s how the Hebrew Bible ends and the Greek Extension begins. And all that curse stuff — Coincidence?

He always loved Jesus, but he also loved candles. His favorite holidays? Christmas and Halloween. Jean Dixon and Edgar Cayce were professing Christians. Oral Roberts and Ernest Angley sold prayer cloths to drive out demons and cast spells with the widow’s mite. Grandma praised the Lord and threw salt over her shoulder. Magic words were common in his world, some so magical they could be spoken only in church.

And then there were potions. Cherry-flavored syrups to drive out congestion. Vinegar & honey at Grandma’s table; for persistent demons, add a dash of whiskey. Steamy, deep woods Kabalahs where grizzled men danced with shotguns and tended the fire, cooking up miserable prosperity in a sweet stew of mash, copper and floating possum. Grape soda on Sunday morning to purify the soul and wash down bits of cracker. Black-eyed peas, hog jowls and greens to kick off the New Year. Corned beef and cabbage on shamrock day.

With God, all things are possible, especially if you say the right prayer, sniff the right incense, bury a statue in the corner of your yard and know the secret handshake. The truth must be somewhere between the lines, or in the fine print of Egyptian footnotes censored out of the King’s translation for peasants. It must be in the story behind the story, hidden in plain sight, revealed only to those who understand the parable, who see the literal as symbolic and the symbolic as literal. It takes a special person to see the straight and narrow truth — and Mamma always said he was special.

And if God speaks in these pages, perhaps God speaks in other books as well. Maybe God speaks in tea leaves, lines on the palm, in the subtle nuance of the Anatolian bump — and wasn’t that a sign of Gypsy blood, anyway? If God controls the deal of the cards, then a prayer should be enough to purify the Tarot. God controls the shuffle, the cut, the interpretation and the tintination.

With imagination, discipline, practice and pure motives, he learned soar the Astral plane, slip harmlessly through the vacuum of space, and find his soul mate on a distant planet. As they discussed the similarities of Earth and Neptopolis, watched one moon set as another rose, sipped the juice of paisley fruit, saw their lives unfold in the oily clouds, he considered pinching the Silver Cord, watching it snap back to earth like a rubber band, burning the bridge to loneliness and mundane trouble. There were scheduled to meet with God-in-ecktoplasm next time; perhaps he would wait until then. Little did he know that the portal would shift, and this would be his last visit. He never even said goodbye.

Red candles, salt circles, scarab beetles, colored silk to could filter out raw emotions and store them in amber bottles; Jesus and Krishna and Gautama, Moses and Mahatma and Martin and Maharishi; Late night seances this weekend, teenage pentecostal prayer on tap for later. All roads lead to Rome, he heard, and if you’d rather see Venice, find another map. Childlike faith was an accident of birth, mature faith the product of archeology and research.

This is the soup in which he swam, eyes wide open, pretending to see. He sat on a pocket Blble, that Protestant rosary in imitation leather, and hummed a silent chant from the pew in the back. And in this whirlwind of notions and potions, he found no peace, no answers, nothing of note that he would dare to pass along. He remembers that time, those teenage years, as aimless wandering worthwhile only by the process of elimination. What did it all mean? This many words, and that’s about it.

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