Gloria had been at a book launch for one of her clients, promoting a bombastic thriller which played on modern female fears with the exacting due of a spreadsheet, when she bumped into the woman. She was ostentatious and feline in her long purple dress and headful of loose, auburn curls. The woman caught her eye, and came over to her, extended a hand heavy with rings and bracelets which Gloria took with polite care. Her hand was warm and soft in Gloria’s before she withdrew it.
Isabelle Durant was, she told Gloria, an author and a magician. Gloria smiled with the practiced care which came from handling authors of all stripes, from the obsessive to the flamboyant. Gloria asked what brought Durant to the launch.
Isabelle smiled and leaned in close.
‘Free food and drink, mostly, but I’ve helped Jenny out before.’ she said.
Gloria nodded, fighting the urge to look around for anyone she could go to, without offending the woman.
‘Financially?’ Gloria said.
Isabelle shook her head and gave an inscrutable smile.
‘No, not that she needs it now, of course, it will be a successful book.’ she said.
Gloria sipped her gin and tonic, fighting her curiosity at the enigmatic but possibly insane woman stood in front of her, another conversation which she filed for entertainment purposes in advance. She had her author stories available on a moment’s notice.
Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road and presented it as one length of manuscript, the individual papers taped together into a lengthy scroll of text.
James Joyce wrote in blue crayon, lying on his stomach and wearing a milkman’s coat to compensate for his failing eyesight.
Virginia Woolf wrote standing up because her sister painted in a similar position.
John Steinbeck insisted on twelve sharpened pencils being present on his writing desk to the extent his agent replaced the hexagonal models with round ones to alleviate the calluses on his hands.
Truman Capote wouldn’t begin or end a piece of work on a Friday, would change hotel rooms if the room phone number involved the number 13, and never left more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray, tucking the extra ones into his coat pocket.
Gloria considered a self-identifying magician as one for the anecdotal library.
Isabelle’s eyes narrowed as she studied Gloria.
‘The door is always open.’ she said.
Gloria’s stomach ached like the space between a thunderclap and a flash of lightning as her skin exploded with a sudden burst of gooseflesh like she had been drenched in cold static as she fought the urge to back away.
‘What do you mean?’ Gloria said.
She controlled her reaction, but Isabelle smiled and retrieved a card from her purse. Black, recycled cardboard and smooth to the touch as she pressed it into Gloria’s hand.
‘I think you know, Gloria, but it’s not too late’ she said.
Gloria’s mouth was leached of moisture and the gin stung the inside of her mouth as Isabelle demurred and walked away. Gloria tucked the card into the pocket of her jacket as she searched for the bathroom. Her glacial, bloodless expression lasted until she was in a cubicle with the door closed.
She sobbed with a force which frightened her. All those years and the phrase, coming up from the depths of her memory, like a shark scenting blood in the water. She put her hand over her mouth to stifle her cries as she sat on the toilet until they smoothed out into hitches of desperate respiration. The surprised barbs of agony faded and she looked at the card, just a name and an email address.
Gloria fixed her make up and came back to pose for a photograph with Jenny. With an arm around her waist, she asked how Jenny knew Isabelle, and watched her face glow with a burst of delight. She smiled and whispered into her ear.
‘She’s amazing, isn’t she? She made me promise not to share what happened, but honestly, Glo, go see her.’ she said.
Jenny kissed her on the cheek and Gloria flinched with bemusement before Jenny turned and waved to a man in the corner, who strode towards her with a primal confidence. Gloria slipped away as she watched Jenny bring her hands to his face and kiss him with a lover’s lack of self-consciousness.
They were one of ‘those couples’, Gloria thought, with a sudden and sharp twist of envy. She made her excuses and left, took a cab back to her house and did not breathe easily until she was inside with the front door closed.
The phrase turned in her head like a burning wire.
Gloria sent an email from her laptop and Isabelle replied a day later. The email consisted of an address and a time, which slotted into Gloria’s schedule with a mechanical ease.
Isabelle lived in a cottage on the outskirts, made from appealing but ramshackle brickwork with wooden window frames and a stout oak front door, squatting in the middle of a large flat stretch of land, some of which were turned to vegetable patches and a chicken coop. A russet coloured mongrel sauntered up and licked Gloria’s hand before Isabelle poked her head out the window and called for her to come in.
The thin scream of the kettle added to Gloria’s unease as she came in, looking at a cottage which appeared to be insulated with a fine layer of animal hair, but the cottage smelled of cinnamon and citrus which eased her concerns.
‘You said something to me, Isabelle, where did it come to you from?’ she said.
Isabelle took two china cups and saucers from the cupboard.
‘I’m sensitive to certain frequencies of being. The kind of things you can’t google. Plus I pay attention.’ she said.
Gloria watched her as she measured out loose leaf green tea into a pot.
‘None of that makes sense to me, but call me curious, and Jenny spoke well of you.’ she said.
Isabelle grinned and gestured towards the round oak table in the living room, draped with a purple cloth, told her to sit down which Gloria did. Isabelle put a crystal ashtray in front of her, and Gloria lit up with gratitude, eager to have something to hide the shaking in her hands. It took three attempts to light it but she managed it as Isabelle brought over tea and a small plate of candied ginger.
Isabelle sat down and rolled a cigarette, enhancing it with a finger pinch of green leaf from a small battered tin which sat at her right elbow like a patient dog. She lit up and sat back in the chair.
‘You never forgot him, did you?’ she said.
Gloria blinked and gritted her teeth before she shook her head.
‘I don’t know the details, but I see the gestalt and how it pulls at you. It’s a big part of what I do.’ she said.
Gloria leaned forwards.
‘If you’re a con artist, I’ll see to it you go to prison or I fuck your career into the ground. I would say that to anyone who claims knowledge of me they shouldn’t have.’ she said.
It was the tone of voice she used to push recalcitrant writers to meet deadlines and there were bestselling authors who used it to goad them on, long after the time when they had moved on to great success.
Isabelle shook her head and took a puff on the cigarette before she sat back and exhaled.
‘It comes off you in waves, Gloria. Right now, you look like a perpetual firework with all the orgone you’re generating.’ she said.
Gloria grimaced and sniffed her tea.
‘What the fuck is orgone?’ she said.
‘Sexual energy. A great man by the name of Wilhelm Reich believed it could be harnessed for any number of uses. He was half right before he was ruined by the authorities.’
Gloria shook her head and tittered as she ground out her cigarette in the ashtray. Isabelle maintained an expression of serene interest as she smoked and drank her tea.
‘So, you can see I’m soaked in sex juice, and you know a phrase I’ve had inside me for a few years, what does it entitle you other than my time?’ Gloria said.
Isabelle leaned forwards, clasped her hands together as she gave Gloria a look of frank intensity.
‘Tell me about him.’ she said.
Gloria’s indignation felt affected beneath the warm interest Isabelle showed in her, so she sat back.
‘You think there’s enough time.’ she said.
Isabelle nodded and let Gloria tell the story.
A chance encounter in a bookshop. His gentle but frank interest in her, packed into an idle lunchtime browsing session back when she had been a junior associate at the publishing house, and how he had recommended a few titles to her, before asking for her number. Joel.
She gave it to him, went back to the office with a hardback and her uneaten sandwiches, smiling to herself with a quiet delight.
Drinks in the evening then making out in his car by the river, his hands all over her as she fought the urge to ask him home and deciding to make him wait, fighting the fluttering uncertainty of intimacy.
She had pushed him away, smiling as she told him. He agreed with a quiet grace which inflamed her all the more.
The first night in her bed. Subsequent nights between his place and hers, adventures which made her chuckle and inventive intimacies which made her feel girlish and silly. He had not clung to her but in his arms, she felt safe and adored without questioning it. Poems written and left for her to find.
The last conversation as they had an exhausted breakfast before Joel left for work. She expressed her fears about where they were going, all the tiny concerns which came on the heels of a decision towards or away from intimacy. He had not said he loved her, but he showed it through his actions and a smooth, but genuine ability to share space with her as she went about her own writing.
He had smiled, kissed her on the cheek along with the soft rasp of his facial hair against her skin which made her sigh.
‘The door is always open.’ he said.
He had not answered his phone. She went around to his flat, found it full of red-eyed strangers as her legs went weak with the news and she fainted.
A drunk driver ploughed into him as he crossed the road. It tossed him into the air until he fell, broken and bleeding. It took her a long time to move past it, the senselessness and the isolation, the lack of meaningful engagement with what might have been.
Isabelle sat back with her hands folded over one another.
‘I can read it in you, Gloria. I don’t want your money, any more than I did Jenny’s but I can offer you something you’d believe impossible, if you’re interested?’ she said.
Gloria wiped her eyes and shook her head.
‘Don’t be stupid, i’d rather you throw some stupid phrases and burn shitty incense than pretend you’re doing anything other than opening old wounds.’ she said.
She was pleased with her eloquence but it did not upset Isabelle’s serene expression.
‘The flow of love, orgone, chi whatever you call it, is in and around everything. It can be channelled or harnessed, even shaped if you wish it.’ she said.
Gloria looked up at her, exhausted but intrigued by Isabelle’s words. She asked her to go on.
‘Do you know what a tulpa is?’ she said.
Gloria laughed and asked her to explain.
Isabelle went about the process in a practiced orderly manner. It was a ritual without pomp, a series of tools and readings which required Gloria’s focus and attention as well as a willingness to be open to the possibility.
A five point spread tarot reading which made Isabelle murmur to herself as she took out a loose leaf pad of paper and a stick of charcoal. She wrote out Gloria’s full name and some numbers then Joel’s name with further numbers and symbols underneath it.
She drew the figure out several times, refining it according to a set of criteria which she did not explain.
A tulpa, Isabelle said, was a tangible thought form. It was formed from your memories, existing in your consciousness and gaining sentience through contemplation and time. Gloria shook her head as she pointed at the sheets of paper.
‘I do remember him, that’s the worst part. It fades but christ, I can still feel his hands on me when I close my eyes -‘
She lowered her head and wept as Isabelle put her hand atop hers.
‘What I offer is something a little more robust than that, if you’re interested?’ she said.
Gloria looked up and nodded.
‘Is that who Jenny’s with? An imaginary boyfriend?’ she said.
Isabelle chuckled and shook her head.
‘No, but I won’t tell you. The best proof is direct experience, and if not, you’ll have something to tell people at dinner parties, won’t you?’ she said.
Gloria shuddered at the quiet insight, apparently snatched from the inside of her head as she stared at Isabelle. The rasp of his beard brushed against her, made her insides ache with a poignant longing, a homesickness for a person over a place.
‘Tell me more.’ she said.
Gloria walked to the stone bench and sat down by the river as she fished in her handbag to find her phone and cigarettes. She had walked from work and the heat of the afternoon had made her skin damp underneath her arms and at the small of her back. She lit a cigarette and sat up straight to alleviate the tension in her lower back and shoulders.
She smoked through her nerves, looking for a portent in the silences and shadows. A faint sense of silliness permeated her thoughts as Isabelle’s instructions echoed in her head. She opened the image file on her phone and remembered her instructions as she stared at the symbol.
Isabelle explained it as a point of focus, a bomb sight and her will was the bomb.
She stubbed out her cigarette, breathed in through her nose as she felt a prickling sensation between her eyebrows. Thoughts wandered into her forebrain but she kept breathing through, letting the sensation swim through her head as the temperature rose by a few degrees.
Faith was difficult to maintain, so she reached inside herself, to the well of emotions which sat inside her, each drop of its water tasting of his skin, his mouth and she shifted on the bench as sense memory ran rough fingertips against her skin, through her clothes.
She committed the symbol to memory as she closed her eyes, reached within and drew up all the feelings she had for him, good and bad. The pressure grew between her eyes as she visualised the symbol before her, all straight lines and circles and imagined it aglow with tongues of golden flame before she felt it grow in her consciousness, expanding into the final, qlippothic thought before she felt something twist in her perceptions and she sagged forwards, feeling like she had failed at something ridiculous and impossible.
A child’s prayer.
She flinched at the warm hand on the nape of her neck, hands up ready to lash out at whoever touched her.
His eyes were soft and warm with surprise as he looked at her. She moved backwards as the phone dropped from her grasp, babbling and shaking her head. He bent down and picked it up, brushed off a leaf from the front and held the phone out to her.
‘You dropped this.’ he said.
She took it from him, unable to speak as she took him in. Her fingers ran over his, found he was solid, real and warm. He stepped towards her and smiled.
‘Hello, Glo. ‘ he said.
She slipped the phone into her handbag and stared at him. Her heart thumped in her ears as she stepped towards him and watched his lips part with anticipation as he moved in to close the distance.
People saw them together and no one asked about their history. He was flesh and blood, and Gloria helped piece together a story which no one asked to clarify, not when there was such happiness between them. He said less than her in any conversation, and at night when she was draped across him, flush with the worthwhile rush of endorphins and a sense of honourable victory snatched from chaos, she remembered the last thing he said and wondered at a world where such a door was possible, let alone able to walk through.
One day, she drove out to the cottage, driven by a need for explanation to make sense of the situation. The doors and windows were boarded up, and she walked around the cottage, noting the divots in the soil where the vegetables had been dug up. She stood there, placed her palm on the door and whispered her thanks before she drove home to her man. There was a halting conversation with Jenny, which devolved into more rational subjects due to a poor connection but otherwise there was no explanation beyond a simple ceremony and a belief in his actions, and the truth of his last words.
The door was always open.