Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Gone Before)
Verbena tucked her wiping rag into her apron band and slipped along the cupboard, her skirts brushing Honoré as he knelt at Ebrach’s trunk. She went to her husband’s chair, taking only his fingertips in hers.
“Richard! I put away some supper for you.”
The younger Richard stood at the bedroom threshold and watched his parents…stared for a minute at his mother unable to wake his father. He directed a sideways shake of the head at Lawrence, who moved closer to his brother’s side.
Such tacit exchanges Honoré had seen before. Skating almost, along the edge of the rug, cautious that he not stub his foot against an outcropping of furniture, thus to offer the excuse of having made a mess or a noise, Honoré came to the table, arms nearly overloaded. He felt that if Ebrach had not been there, and did not (as by force of personality he could) exert the restraint of authority, the brothers would crowd him, thrust a boot in front of him, bump his arm—seize, then, on this provocation of having been touched by Honoré, to beat and kick him. He removed himself from their reach as far as possible, sliding round the table, laying down lamps and oil can, lowering to the bench beside Ebrach.
Ebrach said, “Well done. I would have asked you to bring the can in any case. Do you know how to fill such a lamp?”
Such a lamp looked the ordinary type, excepting the globes were of costly crystal. The flames when lit would wax to refract a thousand times upon themselves, fierce and strange against the night’s blackness. The oil’s fragrance was like cedar wood combined with musky attar of rose.
Honoré could foresee this hypnotic effect; he did not want the responsibility of helping to stage it. “You, Mr. Ebrach, will do best to fill them. Is there another thing that you need of me?”
“There is, in fact, a particular service. Mr. Jerome…”
“Why do you call him that?” Lawrence asked, and Ebrach ignored the question.
“Mr. Jerome, it is my practice to ask that my subject make of him or herself a vessel, that the mind be cleared, that every thought and sound be subsumed to a concentrated vision of the face, the very cadence of the longed-for voice. The subject thus fully attuned, the loved one must feel emboldened to answer our call, for the way is alight with mental energy. I say that the message will flow, Jerome…by this channel, it will flow, in a passage as natural and unimpeded as the mountain stream which follows the spring thaw.”
To complement this imagery, Ebrach unleashed something—as his little speech climbed its mountain—of his banked incantatory heat. He paused. And Honoré, having assumed the role of magician’s assistant, felt called upon to offer an affirmation no less evocative.
“The subject,” he said, looking only at Ebrach, as though they alone conversed, “is taken by the hand. She writes, but this is the spirit expressing so much that it has endured in its loneliness…”
Ebrach’s eyes widened, but he spoke without the least irony.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)