Hermes Beckons: Where Is Your Woman
Chapter 4
© 2006 John Caris

The exciting exhibit of paintings by the twentieth century surrealist René Magritte had been at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for two months and was still attracting large crowds. The museum was located on Third Street across from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which housed a theater and art gallery and was situated beside a small park.

The Garlands had waited until a week before the exhibit closed when the lines were less long, but more importantly they were celebrating their thirty-sixth wedding anniversary. Because the museum remained open until 9 P.M. on Thursdays, they decided to view the Magritte exhibit and afterwards have dinner downtown at John’s Grill on Ellis Street.

They were the type of art patron who lingered over a work, absorbing as much as possible before moving to the next one. Once they had entered the exhibition area, they separated, proceeding at their own pace. During a leisurely dinner they would share their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions about Magritte’s paintings.

Ralph stood in front of the painting Personal Values. In his paintings Magritte used the three-dimensional spatial style that dominated European art from the Renaissance until the twentieth century, but within this natural space objects were placed in strange arrangements and weird relationships. Personal Values depicts a bedroom with many conventional items, yet the mental landscape manifested is upsetting. A bar of soap lying on the floor is nearly as large as the single bed. A stemmed glass and hair comb are the same size as the clothes closet. The three sides of the room reveal a blue sky and white clouds.

A sudden, overwhelming fervor ignites his imagination, and Ralph steps into the painting and disconcerting room. He investigates the giant-sized objects. Entering the wardrobe closet, he looks out the window and sees a castle atop a gigantic rock floating over the ocean. The rock mysteriously transforms into a mountain that is shaped like an eagle. He has felt a strangeness ever since he entered the room. Now a new feeling touches him: he should not be there, a wrongness as if he has broken some taboo. The feeling broadens, and he realizes that if he is discovered there and caught, something terrible will happen to him. A sharp shiver cuts through his thoughts: they know he is there. He panics. With certain knowledge he comprehends that they are coming to get him. He must leave quickly before they find him.

He exits the room, which is at one end of a hall. The only other door is at the opposite end. He runs there and hurriedly enters. The room is nearly filled with a rose flower, which is growing and occupying more space each moment. The scent is overpowering. He feels dizzy. Opening and peeking out the door, he sees a shadowy figure at the other end of the hall departing from that room. He shuts the door and looks around at the rose. It is no longer a flower but a huge granite rock, expanding and squeezing against him. He hears footsteps coming toward him, and then the door flings open: standing there is a pair of shoes-feet or feet-shoes. Bare feet are resting on the floor, but from the ankles upwards several inches are shoe tops. Nothing else is there. The shoes-feet enter and march across the room to the fireplace from which a locomotive emerges pulling several cars. But where is the boulder? It has disappeared. The feet-shoes jump on the train and ride into the hall.

Ralph peers into the empty corridor and stares at the opposite end. Where has the train gone? The slightly open door beckons. He walks down the hall to the door and, looking through, sees the street. A lamp post, giving its light to the dark night, stands a few feet from the entrance. Quietness imbues the neighborhood. From behind he hears clacking sounds like feet walking through the corridor. Hurrying into the street and darkness, he walks away from the circle of light coming from the street lamp into the deepening gloom. A questioning alertness causes him to pause. Is someone talking? Yes, two different voices, one masculine and the other feminine. Approaching the voices, he notices two figures sitting on a bench. He is facing them; the sidewalk is leading directly into the bench. A terror arises in him. The two figures have bizarre bodies: from their feet to the waist is human while above the waist is fish. A strange, weird type of seaman and seawoman. He does not understand their language, which is like a gurgling sound. Both look at him, rise, and with open mouths advance toward him. Ralph turns and scampers back to the circle of light. Reaching it, he feels safe. He cannot detect the two seapeople out there in the gloom, yet he realizes that this light in the midst of the darkness is protecting him. Wind blows and rain sprinkles onto the pavement. He gazes around at the fine precipitation. Strange, none falls into the circle of light but all around it. Then he notices human forms falling like rain. All the figures look alike—a man dressed in a black suit wearing a derby. Again, they drop and land around the circle of light but not in it. After alighting, they march off in different directions. More and more descend, rapidly striding away. One, he notices, goes to the front door of the strange building that he had escaped from. The man turns around and waves at him, calling to him with his hand. Gaining courage, Ralph leaves the circle of light and hies to the man. A strange apparition shakes Ralph—a large green apple floats in front of the man’s face. He notices the stem and several green leaves, and on either side of the apple the edges of the man’s eyes are visible. The apple begins to float toward Ralph and then, swerving to the left, rises into the bright blue sky with its fluffy, white clouds. He, intent on seeing the face, looks at the man who beckoned. Who is this mystery man?

Flabbergasted, the magician sees his own face as if looking into a mirror. Am I this man who has thousands of clones and lives in an enchanted house?

Sitting on a cushioned bench in the middle of the room, Ralph Garland contemplated his strange experience as spectators milled about viewing Magritte’s paintings. A reverie of ideas tumbled about in his mind, and he patiently waited for an aha. Removing a small spiral notebook and pen from his jacket pocket, he commenced jotting down his thoughts and feelings about the enchanted experience. Magritte created mystery by revealing secrets of everyday objects and their relationships. His method focused on liberating things from their conventional, familiar roles, from people’s stereotyped perceptions of them. Basic emotions—panic, dread, fear, anguish, terror—removed us from daily social conditions and altered our consciousness, at least temporarily. The panic feeling of being squeezed in that room. Terror when he met the seapeople—he thought they were going to devour him. He had never perceived himself as food. The sickening, guilty awareness of being where he should not be. The dread of being discovered. The shock of the shoes-feet walking about. The absurd weirdness of the locomotive emerging from the fireplace. It was unsettling to see all the clones—of himself! He had always wanted to be different, a special individual with creative talent. Yet deep within he also knew he was a type, but like that? The shadows, hidden dangers lurking about, the unseen watching him. The safety, protection, and well-being of the circle of light, defending against all potential perils that might be hidden in the darkness—this was a counter vigor. What forces and powers lay in wait? His imagination and psyche were the stage upon which the drama took place. Like a dream—a lucid, vivid dream—he was all: actor(s), director, screenwriter, producer, set designer, and musical composer. Was there music too? Yes, now he remembered. Eerie sounds with discordant harmonies and polyrhythmic beats—all very aggravating, yet enhancing and heightening the emotional and dramatic intensity. An image of himself as a magician dressed in a tuxedo with tails, top hat, and white gloves—many such dressed-alike Ralph Garlands falling from the sky. Another image, that of him as a magician clothed in white T-shirt, levies, and sports coat—dozens of these clones dropping from the heavens. Then hundreds of famous and not so-famous magicians descending from above, cluttering the blue sky with their sleights and illusions—all had his face. He closed his eyes, dismayed at the sight. Despair surged through him, and he became aware of a slight tremble in his limbs. Gathering his courage, he stood up and fearfully stared around. Where was the circle of light that would afford him safety and refuge?

Shasta had wandered away from her spouse and was now carefully studying Magritte’s In Praise of Dialectic. The open window in the outer building allowed her to become a voyeur and partake of the interior activities without committing herself, but the building within the room caught her attention, reminding her of the doll house she had when a child. She had imagined her dolls going through daily activities. Dolls for her mother, father, sister, brother, and herself. Now she realized how her play reflected her own thoughts and feelings: her love and anger and fear, her puzzlement and resolution, and her inner harmony and disharmony. So her own life was mirrored in the dolls’ lives. The dolls had good times and bad, happiness and despair as she experienced them. The dolls had become characters in her stories. Having learned a lot since childhood, she now gave her characters a great amount of freedom, seldom trying to force behavior and words upon them. As she grew older, she was becoming more a spectator and witness to their affairs, one who recorded their adventures and wrote their memoirs. Age had given her new knowledge about human behavior.

As a writer, she had developed her interior life, furnishing it with many objects and features. Houses were a recurring image in her dream landscape, in particular one house that she visited many times over the years, beginning when she was a child. The house had hidden passageways, and she had spent a lot of her dream time in those corridors, exploring the house. The secret passages allowed her to examine the house without anyone else’s knowledge. Other people also lived there, but they did not know about her presence. Several times, though, she came close to discovery and a panic hit her, but she was always fortunate. Sometimes she woke just before her discovery. With her dream studies, she now realized that the house—all houses actually—symbolized her body. She could now map the important times in her life by the frequency of the house dream.

The painting suggested a mystery within a mystery like the nest of boxes Ralph used in one of his effects. If she opened the window of the little house in the room and peered through, would she discover another little house within? How far would such a series extend?

She moved on to The Therapeutist. How strange was this figure of a man sitting on a sandy dune near the ocean. His torso was a bird cage partially covered by a red cloth that functioned as a cloak. Two white doves, one in the cage and the other perched on a ledge extending outward from the entrance, which was open. The figure, she mused, was a magician. She had seen the dove effect several times when they had attended magic conventions and always had an anxiety that the doves would be hurt, even though Ralph had assured her that contemporary methods would protect them from harm. Engagingly, one bird was inside while the other outside. The bird inside was located where the man’s heart should be; the dove on the ledge was set about where the navel was.

Inside and outside, our interior and exterior selves, the heart-felt understanding and the public persona, who guarded the interior—these were the primary parts of the self whose bond must be preserved. If they became unbalanced, mental suffering would occur, if not total disintegration. She had personal experience of such anguish.

The open cage suggested freedom if the birds decided to leave, but why should they? Only if their life with the man was too harsh and mean; otherwise, they would probably stay with him.

She thought of freedom in her own life and how society placed sharp limits on the individual’s freedom to act and emote. Too often, as she soon learned as a child, one held back one’s tongue and, instead of speaking the truth, offered a white lie, which, as she discovered, was different from a horrible lie. For the terrible falsehoods she was punished, but she was also reprimanded when she should have spoken a white lie. Her older sister, Melody, would chide her for her directness. The little fibs, another of their names, assuaged people’s feelings because the blunt truth was sharp and wounding. A paradox she had learned to cope with. As an adult she found that many people were extremely sensitive to thoughts and attitudes that did not bother her. Of course, she had her own sensitivity. An important bond between Ralph and her was a shared sensitivity and set of values. The sharing nurtured their companionship and friendship.

She wondered whether the doves ever spoke to the man, sharing their bird wisdom with him. They could fly high above and view the surroundings, reporting back to him their reconnaissance. Birds have sometimes symbolized the spirit and its link between the earth and the sky. Was Magritte saying that his spirits were free to come and go? If they finally left the man, would they go together? She thought that they would because they seemed bonded. While growing up in Dunsmuir, a small town nestled on the slopes of Mt. Shasta, she had watched birds and fantasized about flying high with them through the air currents that played about the sacred snowcapped mountain.

Next she turned her attention to The False Mirror. What an amusing and yet profound painting. The central image was the human eye with blue sky filled with clouds surrounding the black pupil. The lens of the eye was reflecting back what was seen, or were we actually seeing into the mind, the soul? What was that homily: one’s soul looked out through the eyes? And so peering into someone’s eyes, we could see her soul. She wondered how much truth was there. Did the ophthalmologist see her soul when he was examining her eyes? If she asked him sometime, what would he reply?

Interesting that the artist used a sky-cloud motif rather than another, she thought. He did like the image, applying it frequently. Certainly the eyes were expressive and could display feelings and an inner state of mind. Beware, though, of always trusting such an expression because some people were quite skilled at manifesting by their eyes attitudes that were not true reflections of their mental state. A competent actor used her eyes for revealing whatever feelings she had chosen. The eyes were often shields that prevented an outsider from entering the privacy of one’s soul.

The Ready-made Bouquet aroused her feelings. This painting was the most disturbing of all. In the foreground was the back of a man looking into a wooded area. On his back was the image, as if cut out and pasted on, of the goddess Flora from Sandro Botticelli’s marvelous painting La Primavera (Allegory of Spring), considered to be an eloquent and powerful expression of Renaissance thought. It blended Platonic thinking with pagan motifs. She could visualize Botticelli’s painting. Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, was merrily distributing blossoms. Next to her on her left was the nymph Chloris being chased by Zephyr, a wind deity. Venus stood regally in the center with a blindfolded Cupid floating above her head. To her right were the three Graces dancing. Next to them was Mercury raising his caduceus in the air.

What always bothered her about the painting was the relationship between Zephyr and Chloris. Zephyr was definitely pursuing her sexually, wanting to impregnate her as befitting the springtime theme. Many scholars interpreted this little drama as a transformation of Chloris into Flora, often quoting the ancient Roman poet Ovid: “I was once Chloris, who am now called Flora.” Yet Shasta could not erase the look of fear on Chloris’ face as she turned her head upward to the hovering Zephyr, who was grabbing her. His face expressed the meanness of a bully. She was definitely running from him. Shasta wondered if she was not trying to get assistance from Flora, get Flora to protect her against Zephyr’s attack. Flora seemed unaware as she went about, la de da fashion, spreading flowers. Shasta deeply felt that Botticelli was representing a rape scene, however beautifully drawn in its Platonic and allegorical style.

The pair also appeared in the artist’s The Birth of Venus masterpiece. Zephyr was blowing on Venus, drying her as she stood modestly on the scallop shell. Chloris was holding onto the wind god, in Shasta’s mind, as a young woman holds on to her man-friend riding his motorcycle. In The Birth of Venus Chloris was enjoying herself playing a part of Venus’ birthing scene, but in La Primavera her whole posture, hand gestures, and facial expression declaimed surprise, fear, and even a deep terror from Zephyr’s unwanted attentions. Forgetting the scholarly white lies, this was a rape scene albeit done delicately.

The stories of the ancient deities abounded in such sexual abuse: gods raping goddesses and human women, a common practice which seemingly was socially approved by all or at least foisted upon women by the patriarchal ruling class. European civilization had always honored, if not given high praise to such abuse. Even Christianity followed the ancient patriarchal tradition: God impregnating a human woman. Did it make any difference to Mary if the angel Gabriel appeared to her as a messenger? What if she had denied the request, proving that the act was unconsented, as modern jargon calls the unwanted attention?

The twentieth century poet T. S. Eliot, an American turned British, presented many examples of men’s transgressions against women in his great poem “The Waste Land.” Modern times is, of course, a moral waste land because the adolescent male has never grown out of his violent “I-want-me-me” behavior. This mental, emotional, spiritual blockage was propelling global culture toward the abyss.

Whenever she thought of Eliot’s masterpiece, the tragic story of Philomela, an Athenian princess living in ancient times, came to mind. Her brother-in-law Tereus, king of Thrace, raped her and then sliced off her tongue so she could not tell anyone. She and her sister Procne conspired to avenge the heinous betrayal by killing Tereus’ son Itys. When Tereus grabbed his sword and threatened to kill the sisters, divine beings transformed all three into birds: Philomela into a nightingale, Procne into a swallow, and Tereus into a hoopoe, a bird whose crest is fanlike and erectile. If she had been the decision-maker, his little god would have been hacked off, yet the divine act had wisdom, for the hoopoe was nearly extinct, no doubt so fixated on its beautiful, erectile plaything that it was unable to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

She was very fortunate to have found a friend like Ralph, who, although scarred by male conditioning, was kind and gentle, more together than many men. The man in Ready-made Bouquet with his back to the viewer was a clone of the typical male image in so many of Magritte’s paintings. Some art scholars thought this image represented the artist himself, as in the painting The Son of Man, which was supposed to be a self-portrait. Flora was smiling, carrying a bouquet of flowers as she walked by him on her way to bring flowers to the world. Was he aware of her or lost in his personal reverie? He was facing the woods filled with life. Perhaps, this

Startled, she glanced toward her left seeing Ralph talking to a man in his mid-thirties, a young boy standing beside him. She caught the words “green apple.” Ralph was gesturing toward The Son of Man. She glided toward the threesome, hearing Ralph reply, “That’s what Jesus called himself, when he asked his disciples who people thought he was. His disciples answered that some said John the Baptist or Elias or Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” As she joined the group, Ralph smiled at her. Frowning, the boy looked up at Ralph and asked, “Why does the man have an apple in front of his face?”

Shasta answered, “Perhaps the apple is his bitter fruit.” ***

The softly lit dining room fostered an intimacy that the Garlands were enjoying. Although the historic restaurant on Ellis Street was crowded tonight, they were completely involved with each other, unaware of the other patrons. Even the spirit of Dashiell Hammett and his mystery story The Maltese Falcon added to the enchantment. John’s Grill, serving food since 1908, was one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco. It had been a hangout for Hammett, whose detective stories moved the genre in a new direction. Covering the oak paneled walls were photographs of old San Francisco and the many celebrities who had dined there. The décor had changed little since the early part of the twentieth century, a relic of the city’s heyday. On the second floor were two other dining rooms, Hammett’s Den and Maltese Falcon Room, and Dashiell Hammett memorabilia.

They had finished their entrées, filet of sole amandine for Shasta and sole a la Grecque for Ralph, and a delightful bottle of chardonnay. Now they were enjoying a dessert of chocolate mousse and coffee. The discussion of Magritte’s paintings had meandered through various topics until it had reached artistic creativity. They were enthralled by the skill of those artists who could portray a presence of mystery in their works. Usually these artists challenged and upset conventional thought processes. One of Shasta’s musical saints was Malvina Reynolds, whose popular ballads had shocked middle class perceptions and offered wisdom for those seeking it.

The ambience had shaped Ralph’s mood, and now his imagination turned toward the past when he frequently spent many evenings downtown. The Magic Cellar Saloon in the basement of Earthquake McGoon’s, the great jazz club featuring Turk Murphy’s famous band, located on Clay Street, was the magnet that attracted him.

“I’m remembering the Magic Cellar Saloon—the late 1960s and 1970s. It was an extraordinary era of magic in San Francisco.”

“Ah, memory lane. Those were exuberant times. High hopes and cruel betrayal of innocence.”

“Intense artistic creativity and political violence that the government inflicted on the people.”

“You spent a lot of evenings there. I was happy that you were so involved with your career, sending your roots deep into the substratum of magic.”

“What excitement invigorated us. The International Brother of Magicians Ring 38 held its meetings there. The Ring must have had around two hundred members. Weekends were very busy, and the Magic Cellar invited well-known local magicians to perform.”

“You made many contacts then. The times I went there, you were one of the performers. The Cellar exuded such mystery and strangeness. I remember that mystic-looking cabinet, which you said was a Davenport Spirit Cabinet.”

“Yes, that was an illusion originally owned by Charles Carter the Great, a world famous magician who lived in San Francisco for many years. The brothers Cedric and Peter Clute had purchased Carter’s equipment, which was contained in fifty big trunks, from his wife’s nephew and talked Turk Murphy into setting up a magic-theme club in the basement of Earthquake McGoon’s.”

“It was fancy—red carpeting on the floor and colorful posters of Carter covering the walls. Glass cases exhibited small effects. I remember a pair of handcuffs, supposedly Houdini’s.”

“There was the Aga and . . .”

“The Aga? What was that?”

“It’s a type of levitation couch. There are several different methods for levitating things.”

“You did close-up routines on that little table with a green velvet covering with gold fringe.”

“Yeh, it was located in a corner of the room.”

“And the Tiffany lamp lighting your performance. It was so bewitching.”

“During the 1970s toward the end of the Cellar’s existence I performed some routines on the small stage. You saw some of those acts, didn’t you?”

“Hmm. Yes, I did. You were developing some effects that you used later.” She smiled, a hidden memory rising to the surface. “Who was that emcee, the master magus, I suppose? He spoke with a British accent. I thought he was cute.”

“Martin Lewis. He’s come a long way since then. He’s been very successful and deservedly so. He was quite encouraging to young magicians.”

“Where did Carter the Great live in San Francisco?”

“In the Seacliff area. It was known as Carter Manor.”

“Near China Beach?”

“Yes, on El Camino del Mar.”

“I wonder who lives there now?”

“Why don’t we drive out there sometime and investigate.”

Their eyes met, and a mutual understanding touched them. Imbued with a shared intimacy, they left the restaurant, sated and pleased, and strolled hand-in-hand along Ellis Street, heading for the Powell Street station located at the intersection with Market Street. High in the sky Jupiter shone brightly, and Saturn, close by, emitted a reddish hue. In the dark of the moon the heavenly wanderers held court. Constellations in their silvery garments paraded across the deep blue expanse, as the happy couple entered the underground Muni station. ***

A gentle breeze rippled the curtains in the dark bedroom where Shasta and Ralph were sleeping. He stirred, slowly sat up, and looked toward the undulating curtains. He had been having a strange dream: a woman is killing people, secretly, before anyone realizes what has happened. He is holding a long, slender, sharp tipped sword, and he strides into the area where she is standing. She also has a sword. When he sees her, he wonders if he is seeing a holographic image of the woman. A caution tugs at him. Is this a real woman standing before me or an image? A fear whispers in his mind: look behind you; she might be in back of you. The uncertainty enhances his anxiety, and his heart rate speeds up. Suddenly, he realized he was dreaming, and as the scene dissolved, his heart rate slowed down.

The paradoxical character of the dream bothered him. His mind was too active to go back to sleep; so he rose, put a robe and slippers on, and went downstairs into the kitchen and out into the backyard. The sweet scent of the star jasmine aroused his senses. He inhaled deeply several times, taking in the multi-layered odors of the warm June night. Sitting down on the wooden bench next to the fragrant lavender shrub, he inspected the puzzle offered by the dream. Was the woman real or only a holographic image? How could he discover the truth without actually walking into the space where the woman stood with her blood-dripping sword?

A series of soft scratches coming from the back door caught his attention. Karma and Lucy were peering out, requesting permission to join him, but he decided against letting them out because raccoons had been sighted the past few nights, and the kitties were no match for a hungry raccoon. The sky was clear, and high overhead Jupiter and Saturn smiled down on him. He gazed at stars twinkling their light across the vast universe. He was viewing their past. Were they still existing or had some of them exploded, scattering chemical components and adding to the debris floating through space?

His mind quieted; questions passed into oblivion. All his senses were alive. Feeling open and calm, he discerned a buoyancy, a free floating sensation. He was levitating, actually floating in the air. Marvelous! He was totally relaxed without a concern in the world. As he was drifting upwards, he saw a dark figure looming above. A fear spread through him as he moved closer toward the human form. The being was huge and was seated in a full lotus position. A reddish aura encircled the figure; even its skin emitted a reddish patina. Ralph’s levitation continued until he faced the red Buddha-like giant, who smiled benignly. On top of the giant’s head was a basket hat, similar to those woven and worn by the people of the Karuk and Hupa nations, who lived in northern California in the Klamath Mountain Range. Around his neck hung a necklace of dentalia with a medicine bundle basket at the end.

Ralph was startled by the similarity of the necklace to one he owned. Then he looked at the red-glowing giant more carefully because something about this Buddha was peculiar. He had always assumed that Buddha was masculine, but femininity definitely radiated from him, a curious blending of traits. A fiery warmth spread outward, inflaming Ralph’s psyche. Alert, senses super-sharp, he mirrored Red Buddha’s tranquil smile.

They sat in silence. Ralph wondered whether he should say something, like a greeting. The silence grew. Ralph felt restless, annoyed by the utter stillness. Suddenly, he blurted, “I don’t know who I am.”

The quiet continued. Buddha beamed, red light glowing around him. “Who were you before?”

“Why, a magician.”

“And you’re not one now?”

“Oh, yes. That hasn’t changed. But I feel an emptiness, something missing. My life is a hollow routine.”

“Find the stone, Ralph.”

“The stone?”

“The stone from which the living water flows.”

“You’re speaking in riddles, and I don’t understand.”

“Aren’t you studying the Hermetic Art?”

“Yes, I’ve been examining alchemical texts on and off for years. I haven’t made much progress, though.”

“Look within for the basic substance, the black stone.”

“I’ve been improving my meditative techniques, quieting the voices blaring in my mind. But what kind of stone are you referring to?”

“As a magician you know about misdirection. The magician within you has produced a veil of confusion that blinds you to the truth.”

Ralph was puzzled, and then amazement shook him to his foundation. In his mind’s eye he saw himself in many roles: a magician, a husband, a friend, a son, a lover, a gardener, a melancholy creature, and many others. He was all of them and more. The falsehood of identifying with any single one began dissolving.

As if he could read Ralph’s thoughts, Red Buddha remarked, “Consistency is a fallacy. You’ve been conditioned by your culture. Modern science is based on a rational mind-set, so logical consistency is a basic premise. Without it, prediction and control would be gone, and these are the two primary goals of science. You have the potential to play many roles in your life. Your role-selecting decisions should arise from deep within and not be fixed by external forces.”

“That sounds like non-doing. I’m certainly trying that technique, but I’m not having much success.”

“Ralph, don’t try. Trying or forcing only sets up a repressive barrier. Let go of your conscious control, and the inner energy will flow. Have you heard of Kurt Gödel?”

“Yeah, the name rings a bell. He’s a twentieth century mathematician.”

“What else do you know about him?”

“That’s it.”

“Have you heard about the incompleteness theorem?”

“No.”

“Gödel proved that any mathematical system, and by extension any logical system, cannot be both complete and consistent.”

“So what?”

“Listen to my story. A pilgrim, wandering for many years seeking enlightenment, comes upon a delightful and fragrant garden located in a cemetery. In the middle of the garden is a palace made from human skulls. When he reaches the palace door, he notices that it is shut. He sits down and begins meditating. A servant, carrying water, arrives at the door, but she is prevented from entering by his meditative power. Putting down the water jug, she takes out a crystal knife and slices open her breast, revealing forty-two peaceful deities in the upper part and fifty-eight wrathful deities in the lower region. She then speaks to the pilgrim. ‘I see that you are a sojourner who has developed strong meditative energy, yet you seem to have no faith in me.’ The wanderer bows before her, offering her an apology and entreating her for teachings on enlightenment. Responding that she is only a servant, she invites him into the palace.

“He is ushered into a large chamber where he beholds a beautiful lady seated on a throne carved with a sun and moon design. Her brilliant light is dazzling. In one hand she holds a double drum and in the other a cup made from a human skull. She is surrounded by thirty-two lovely women who are offering sacrifices to her. The pilgrim, humbly bowing and giving an offering, beseeches her to guide him. Suddenly, one hundred peaceful and wrathful deities emerge above them. She exclaims, ‘There are the deities. You shall have your initiation.’ He meekly answers, ‘All enlightened ones have had teachers, so please receive me as your student.’

“The magnificent lady then assimilates the one hundred deities. She changes the pilgrim into the syllable HUM, which, while reposing on her lips, is blessed and then moves down into her stomach where a secret initiation is bestowed on it. Finally when the pilgrim reaches the lowest region, that of the root center, he receives another initiation.”

Ralph reflected on the story as the images penetrated into the depths of his mind. Red Buddha broke the silence. “I’ll give you a clue. There are two of you and thus you’re not free, yet if you were united, you would be released from your bondage.”

“What do you mean I’m two?”

“As a magician you’ve performed the two rope routine, sometimes called grandmother’s necklace. Well, you’re divided and have separate parts.”

“Ah, a house divided . . . .”

“Yes, it collapses and crumbles into nothingness.”

“What should I do?”

“Fuse the pieces into one, like joining holistically the two sides of your brain. All aspects of your personality should be integrated. What basic parts do you project outside of yourself, Ralph? Can you touch and identify each part?”

“I don’t know? I can try.”

“Where is your woman?”

“My woman? Do you mean Shasta?”

“Shasta may represent certain feminine qualities to you. You naturally view yourself as a man, and society encourages that perception since people also see you as a man, but I’m talking about the feminine part of your soul, the Ralph woman. Everyone has both a man and a woman within. How much of your feminine do you find in Shasta? Can you find her within, or do you search for her without?” ***

A squeaky meowing next to his ear jolted him. “Lucy, be quiet. Shhh.” He peered at her inquisitive face. Karma jumped onto his stomach and sat watching him. The enchanted experience of the night came back to him. What a weird dream. It must have been a lucid dream because he had believed that he had woken up. Of course, levitating could only occur in a fantasy, not in waking reality. He picked up his journal and pen from the bedside table and recorded the adventure.

Shasta was eating breakfast in the dining room when he entered the kitchen to fix his. He called out his morning greeting, and while the bread was toasting, he pondered the bizarre experience he had while doing his morning calisthenics. He always looked out the bedroom windows facing north as he exercised. Today, the scene that he enjoyed each morning appeared altered. He was uncertain what had changed. A subtle shift, perhaps, in his perception or a real modification in the neighborhood—either way he felt influenced by last night’s happening. After spreading hummus on both slices of sourdough bread, he went into the dining room with his morning snack and coffee.

She looked up from a new novel by Winona LaDuke she was reading as he placed the plate and cup on the table. He bent over and kissed her gently, the happy mood returning from their anniversary celebration the night before. Sitting down, he sipped some coffee and then munched on the toast. “How did you sleep?” A tender bond of love passed between them.

“Fine. A quiet sleep.” She exuded a vitality that warmed him.

“I had a bizarre dream last night. Are you interested in hearing about it?”

“Very much.”

She was spellbound as he recounted his dream. “What an amazing vision. You should attend my dream group. They would love to hear this night journey.”

“It was so realistic. All my senses were active. But the actions were, of course, fantasy.”

“That detail about the kitties wanting out and seeing them looking through the back door exemplifies intensely realistic, but not lucid, dreaming because you didn’t realize you were still dreaming. Yet the clues were present if you had recognized them. The kitties couldn’t have done that since they would be unable to peek out the window at the top of the door, unless they were floating.”

“You’re right. They were inside on the floor looking out. It never seemed impossible, but there are several things I don’t understand. I learned about Gödel’s incompleteness theory, which I never knew before. How could that be in the dream?”

“Well, you may have read about it years ago and then forgotten. That happens a lot.”

“Yes, but what about the ending when Red Buddha discusses another tour of duty?”

“Dear, this dream has a lot of deep meaning. With your philosophical bent, the ending isn’t so unusual.”

Ralph nodded affirmatively. His college major had been philosophy, and he had continued his studies in things metaphysical and spiritual. In the vision’s finale Red Buddha had asked if he wanted to sign up for another tour of duty. He had inquired about where he would go and what he would do. Red Buddha had responded that it would take place in the here and now and he could choose his own job description. Ralph had thought about the proposal and then had stated that he was uncertain at the moment, but he would like to think about it and decide later. Red Buddha had been very accommodating and agreed to his decision. Ralph then had raised some questions about the sign-up contract. Was it enforceable? If he said no, what would happen to him? Could he negotiate the terms now?

Red Buddha had smiled, his reddish glow vibrating, and then responded that the terms were based and fixed on what Ralph did with his life. The contract not only was enforceable but would be enforced: if he failed to follow the terms, he would not be given a choice the next time but would be automatically signed on for another tour. If he said no, he would go someplace else that was yet to be determined. The determination would be made after he left here.

“A suggestion.” Shasta leaned toward him. “Think about the connection between the first fragment involving the woman who is murdering people and the second part conversing with Red Buddha.”

“That is strange, isn’t it? Sam Spade was probably haunting my dream time. Then, of course, Red Buddha’s weird story.”

“You might have been delving into the mysteries of life and death.”

“And then being asked about my woman. In both fragments the woman was linked to knives and death. It’s deep. I need to give the dream serious thought.”

Silence reigned as they thought about the implications of the symbols. Shasta broke her reverie. “Nancy and I are going beach-walking this morning. Why not join us.” She picked up her plate and cup and went into the kitchen.

“I don’t know.” He felt that he would be barging into their fun and amusement. The tone of his voice suggested resignation. He got up, following her into the kitchen.

Shasta recognized his mood. “We’d enjoy having you with us. Nancy likes your company very much.” Nancy Burke and she had known each other for years; they had roomed together on Beulah Street when Shasta had first resided in San Francisco, and their friendship had grown stronger over the years. Nancy had been very supportive during the worst part of Ralph’s illness, and Shasta still continued to rely on her insights.

“Oh, the beach doesn’t appeal to me right now.”

“Remember all the fun we used to have walking Ocean Beach, collecting shells, stones, and driftwood.”

“Yes.” His mind reviewed a film of memories. “Breakfast at the Donut Shop on Stanyan Street and then onto the beach.”

“The delicious burgers there, twenty-four hours a day.”

“Fresh donuts and pastries if we wanted sweets.” His face began to shine as a smile swept across it.

Shasta, alert to his positive energy, returned the enthusiasm. “Saturdays and Sundays, our leisure time. Remember the day when we walked over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito in Marin County, ate lunch, and then took the bus home? What a glorious adventure.”

“Ah, the joys of youth. I couldn’t do that today.” His eagerness began to leak out.

“We don’t have to do everything we did back then. Let’s make a date for beach-walking. Soon, in the next few days, if the weather is decent.” She smiled gently.

He looked at her and was surprised to see her youthful image, the same smile and twinkle she had when they first met. A rush of affection moved him. “I’m for it. Is tomorrow too soon? But the Donut Shop is long gone, so we’ll breakfast somewhere else.”

“Okay. It’s a date, for tomorrow.” She turned on the water in the sink and washed her dishes.

Hermes Beckons Chapters Melancholia Is One of the Muses