September 28, 2014 :: Arkham, Massachusetts, USA

Life went on — Hallelujah and Hosanna — with its underbelly of abhorrence hidden from view.

Gemma was happy at how things had turned out, because she had exerted her will against the dark and those dark forces had backed down. It was a cause to celebrate!

She had saved herself from the black clotted insinuation and implication of that other world, or so it seemed. For Gemma didn’t like how she thought, felt, or behaved in that other world. And at times when things had seemed the most extreme . . . they had also seemed to her . . . the most forgettable . . . indeed, the most forgotten.

That was why she had started writing in her journal in the first place. And why, she had needed her black plastic glasses, even though they had no lenses. And why she had been so “stylishly systematic” through the whole process.

Indeed, despite her passing submission to morbid Kismet in that other world, and those lingering hooks of self-doubt, she had truly . . . reasoned her way to victory! Clear-headed reason, as a state of mind — the foundation for systematic processes of thought through which solutions could be investigated — had saved the day.

With the positive pressure of such satisfying momentum, Gemma had been honored in both English and Math as “first in class” — a great honor indeed. She wore her best blue dress to her graduation ceremony. In her moment . . . uh, nooooo . . . her moments on stage she had raised one hand in a most delicate wave, while her other hand pinched the side of her dress, elegantly fanning out the pleats. Such queenly dignity!

In that manner, she shook the hand of her elementary school principal and homeroom teacher. “An honor,” she had said to the principal with a slight curtsy. The principal and homeroom teacher shared a look, a smile, and a blush of pride. This was one of the reasons they had become educators in the first place.

Then there was summer, with more visits to Nana’s house, camp, craft school, sleepovers at Shirley’s house, and even making up with Iphigenia. The two girls were friends again. Iphigenia wasn’t so bossy these days. She was a bit more guarded perhaps, but the two of them were friends again! On many afternoons, under Nana’s watchful eyes, the two romped through French Hill Park and played fairytale games. There was the game of story forest, jump mushroom, gingerbread crumbs, witch eater, balancing on the log, and hide and seek, which was even better when Shirley would play.

Eventually, it was time for school again. And she was one grade older, just like the children were in each Harry Potter movie. Gemma had finished the first book that year, sometimes reading with Nana, and sometimes with her mom and dad. Recently, she had started the second, but they didn’t always read together anymore, as her parents had become increasingly preoccupied in their respective worlds.

Indeed, a world has a gravitational power, and a coherent cosmos is what keeps it in check.

What had Gemma done in her personal cosmos to make those dark forces back down?

Are you ready for a story?

“This story is called, ‘Enough’,” Gemma said out loud as she wrote of the event in her burgundy leather journal that locked with a silver key.

It was after dinner. Mommy and Daddy were downstairs. She was in her room, and her old carpet was up in the attic . . . wrapped in plastic.

“Gemma is an eight year old girl,” she said out loud as she wrote. “Her mother and father are Rhoda and Ali Wheatley. So Gemma is the daughter of Rhoda and Ali Wheatley. Rhoda is marketing marketer. Ali is a professor.” It was important, she knew, to define things, and that even she had a definition. She had a definition in a family context, and in a social context. She was a daughter, a granddaughter, a pupil, and a friend, depending upon whom you talked to. She was even a citizen, if you talked to a policeman or taxman. But she was too young to “play taxes”. Her daddy hated the taxes.

“Gemma is a Massachusettsan, just like Ben Franklin, John Adams,” (“Brewer Patriot” her dad would say.) “Dr. Seuss,” her list continued, “Paul Revere and the pineapple man.”

“Gemma is an American and she memorized the Star Spangled Banner because she sings it at Red Socks games.

“Gemma is a human being, and she shares the same two legs, two arms, head, heart, smile, and ‘hello, how are you?’ with every person on the planet. Gemma also shares this planet with animals and she likes animals, especially little dogs like at Shirley’s house.” It was important, she knew, to mention sharing.

“And this big world is in a big big cosmos. An evolution, and handsome Neil Tyson, and big band theory. All together.

“There are smart people in the world and Gemma is one of them. Gemma had an idea and she turned her idea into a plan.”

And Gemma continued to speak out loud as she wrote:

“Gemma went into the bathroom. She took pictures of the marks on her body with her cell phone. Evidence. Evidence in court. If she hit the send button, then everybody would know.

“Then she went back to her bedroom and sat on the magic carpet until the jinn came to visit. ‘Hello, Princess,’ the jinn said.

“Gemma said, ‘Don’t call me that. Don’t come back. One press on the button and everybody knows.’

“‘Oh, no,’ said the jinn. ‘I don’t want to go to jail. I’ll do as Gemma says. I’m sorry forever.’

“‘You bet, you are,’ Gemma said. She had won. Won forever. And the jinn never returned.”

And with that, she slammed the journal shut and locked it with her little silver key.

That was exactly how it had happened.

But perhaps Gemma embellished some in her telling, and perhaps she neglected to explain some things.

For Gemma didn’t mention how the jinn had laughed at her and had said that even this was a sign of her worthiness, as how this was now a time of great waiting, until a message would come from Alexis, the so-called Greek.

Until then, they were to wait. “Can you do that, princess?” the jinn had asked, “Can you wait?”

And all her bravery — her decision, her response — had been turned around . . . and given an unwholesome implication.

For up there, in the attic . . . wrapped in black plastic . . . the terror waited. And without saying a word, it threatened.

For ontologically, it was itself a threat. That was its nature, its being, its essence. Up in the attic — Looming.

“Can you do that, princess? Can you wait?”

Close that door, Gemma thought. Close that door.

And as the saying goes: “When one door closes, another opens.” Upstairs, while Gemma wrote of her heroics, downstairs, her parents had decaf coffee and . . . well, they opened a door.


“I got a phone call from my old mentor Alex,” Ali said. “I want to talk to Rubin about what Alex has found. It’s amazing, really.”

Rhoda put her coffee cup down on the table. “Amazing,” she repeated, her agitation betrayed in her voice. “Then it sounds like you’ve made your mind up about something.”

“Jesus Christ, that was abrupt.”

“Yeah, it was. I’m sorry. It’s just that, knowing Alex, he’s got some proposition for you.”

“He does actually,” Ali said. “He’s made a discovery in India, a manuscript from the Harsha Empire, and amazingly, it’s written in the languages I’m expert in.”

“In India? Are you pulling my leg? You translate Hebrew and Arabic.”

“And this is a manuscript discovered in India that’s written in both medieval Hebrew and Arabic.”

Rhoda blinked. “That’s you all over. Weird! In India?”

“The ancient world was often more cosmopolitan than we imagine. This may be the most significant contribution to my field in decades. It may even be as big as the Nag Hammadi finds.”


“That’s it? Great? Just like that? It’s easy to dismiss what isn’t in your world.”

“I said, ‘Great.’ What do you want me to do, jump up and down? Whenever Alex hits a low in his depression, he tries to suck you into his gravitational field. He’s like that. Be careful of him. I mean, remember what he did, for Christ’s sake!”

Ali shook his head, took the magazine out of Rhoda’s hands, and laid it on the coffee table. “That was an anomaly.”

“Like the comet that killed the dinosaurs?” Rhoda laughed.

Ali sighed. “Yeah. I’m probably the only friend that he falls back on like this.”

“Because everyone else is smart enough to keep their distance.”

“But what about the discovery?”

“I’ll give you that. It sounds important.”

Ali laughed. “Important,” he repeated. “It’s an enormous discovery! A testament to the cosmopolitanism of the medieval world! And most importantly . . . it’s in the languages that I work in.”

“Yes, yes,” Rhoda said. “I get it.”

“Fuck me for mentioning it,” Ali said. “When did we get like this?” He shook his head. “What my friend Alex has just offered me is really significant. Maybe even world shattering!” He reached for his coffee cup, but ended up only spilling it on the table. “Shit! That’s me, clutzo.” He mopped up the coffee with a napkin. “We used to care about each other’s passions.” He laughed. “That’s what brought us together. I didn’t know a damn thing about marketing with technology, but I knew that you loved it, and so I loved it through you. Or, no. That’s not right. I loved you . . . loving it.” He sighed. “We are passionate people, Rhoda. I don’t believe we’ve lost the passion in our relationship. Our fires are still here . . . right here. Burning.” He pointed from his heart to hers. “I think we just have to be reintroduced to them. Show me your lover . . . this cellular marketing thing. Show me the nude body of cellular marketing. Bring your lover to bed with us again. Do that, and I’ll bring my lover to bed with you.”

Rhoda leaned forward and kissed Ali. “Thank you,” she said, and wiped a little tear from her eye. “I’m so sorry that I get like this. It’s not fair, I know. And you called me on my shit; that’s really really good.” She put her hand on her chest. “Ugh, I don’t want to be a bitch. I really do want to be a good wife.” She took some deep breaths, then reached forward and cupped his hands in hers. “But you first, Ali. Really. Talk. Tell me about what you love. This is your night. I should congratulate you on your good fortune. So, cheers!” She lifted her coffee cup in a toast. They clinked their cups together. “Tell me more about your lover, this medieval manuscript.”

“A man tried to destroy it.”

“Ooooo! Really? No leg pulling? Now that is super-sexy!”

“It’s over 1000 years old.”

“Well, so is the Kama Sutra. I think we need to take this manuscript to the bedroom.” She put her hand on his hip and kissed him on the mouth.

“It’s from the court of a great king.”

“Ggggrrrrooowww!” She threw her breasts on his chest and climbed on top of him, kissing his mouth, face, and hair.

“And it’s written by someone . . . who its simply impossible to have been written by!”

She unbuttoned his shorts and started shimmying them down his hips. “Can we do this on the couch?” she asked. “Gemma’s in her room. Maybe we should go to bed.”

“The bedroom,” Ali said. “After all, we’ve got appearances to keep up in front of the little one. Let’s go.”


May 24, 2014 :: Arkham, Massachusetts, USA

“Meatloaf or fish and chips?” Rhoda asked, as she and Gemma walked away with two packages from the meat and fish department of the supermarket. “I’m really of two minds about this. What would you like for dinner tonight, Gemma? If we do meatloaf, we’ll have mashed potatoes and gravy with a vegetable. And if we do fish and chips, we’ll have thick french-fries, of course, with a vegetable. Either way, we’ll have a little pie for desert.”

“You are . . . of two minds,” Gemma repeated, looking up and fiddling with a button on her coat.

Rhoda laughed. “It means, I’m undecided. I have two choices and I need to choose. So, which one should we have for dinner?”

“Of two minds,” Gemma repeated.

“Decision one . . . decision two,” Rhoda said, indicating her two arms. “What should I do, Gemma? We all have decisions we have to make. It’s good to make decisions. At work, people look to me to make a lot of their decisions. People can be funny like that. And Mommy likes to make decisions. Here’s a secret . . . sometimes its nice to relax and have someone else make decisions for you. That’s one thing I’ve learned from marriage. I remember last summer, after work (I had just completed a hypothetical six-month marketing projection) . . . your father and I . . . we had a “date night” and were going to the movies. And after meetings and consultations and planning and finalizing the proposal at Flight Cellular . . . I was just so happy . . . so completely happy . . . to have daddy drive; to have daddy pick the restaurant; to have daddy choose the wine, the appetizers, the entrées; and to have daddy even choose the movie. To just relax into that. I needed that. We all need that from time to time. But it’s good to know how to choose as well. To make decisions. At work, people look to mommy for decisions. Now, it’s your turn. Meatloaf or fish and chips?” Again, Rhoda made that gesture with her arms.

Gemma was still thinking on the phrase “of two minds”, and so she just pointed to one of her mothers hands without even being aware of which one she had chosen.

“Great!” Rhoda said, “That’s what we’ll have for dinner. See, decision-making isn’t scary. That’s how it’s done, pretty girl. Yeah?”

“Yeah!” Gemma said, mirroring that enthusiasm her mom liked to see. It was an act, of course, an easy behavioral prescription for making her mother happy. And as far as the act went . . . Gemma was “of two minds.” In fact, she might have said that she was of two minds about everything. She wasn’t quite . . . or didn’t quite feel to be the decision maker that her mother was . . . or wanted her to be. It was a little like those mind-reading cards she would pull out sometimes during their Friday afternoon tea parties. It was a subtle expectation that was somehow . . . unfair. To be more decisive about fish or meatloaf was one thing, but to have superpowers was something else entirely.

“Being of two minds” . . . Gemma had a dirty guilty feeling. A tainted ugly premonition of shapes and intimations. And there had been Iphigenia’s last sleepover. And there was obviously a thing that had happened that her friend would not speak about. For upstairs together in Gemma’s room, after they had played with the telescope . . . Gemma simply did not remember anything.

She had told herself — and told herself again — that it didn’t matter. And that it mattered even less if Iphigenia believed her or not when she told her friend that she didn’t remember anything. When she saw the way that her friend looked at her and moved around her, always avoiding her, and not speaking to her, it was as if a glass partition had been put up between them. They were now . . . of two worlds. And Iphigenia wouldn’t . . . or couldn’t . . . say why.

Although Gemma was hurt, strangely — very strangely indeed — she wasn’t mad at her friend, because somehow, she felt that she fully understood . . . and even agreed with . . . her friend’s reasoning. Even if . . . she couldn’t remember why.

She felt protective of Iphigenia, despite being the more passive of the two. And she felt that, somehow unremembered, she had, perhaps, given her friend a warning. And maybe this warning would be of some sad use later on. Maybe it would save a life.

And maybe it was preposterous to think so.

Due to this . . . unspoken and shadowy intimation . . . Gemma felt a sympathy for the phrase “of two minds”.

“I suppose if a person is perpetually of two minds,” Rhoda said, in the frozen food aisle, thinking of her husband’s secret cigarette smoking and lackadaisical attitude toward finding a new job, “then they’re a bit of a hypocrite.” She pointed down an aisle. “Go get some ice cream, sweetheart.”

Gemma didn’t know what a hypocrite was. She didn’t have the vocabulary. But she had a new growing feeling — looming — an unidentifiable suggestiveness that lurked beneath her stitched-together feelings of this world. It was not . . . something she could articulate. It was a feeling of wrongness . . . of there being a frightful wrongness to things . . . right beneath the surface. She felt that “things as they are” were enveloped in that wrongness . . . or uncertainly. She felt that the wrongness was strangely somewhere else . . . and looking in hungrily at her family’s dollhouse world.

And right there, in that supermarket moment — on the tip of her tongue — there was that suggestiveness. Was this all a dollhouse of sorts? Were Mommy, Daddy, and Nana all characters for a season in her dollhouse imaginings? Would her hand . . . or Iphigenia’s hand . . . make decisions in the comings and goings of these people?

“These people”…?

How she had thought that thought. It was as though an alien distance to things had sat its filthy foaming lard on her world of perceptions, making the emotional world of her family, friends, and even basic sensitivity . . . filthy somehow . . . or unwholesome. Her shoulders curled forward as though to hide that most subtle unacknowledged disgust.

She felt as though she had digested a subtle poison that had put to sleep something essential in her life — a sense of wholeness perhaps — or a natural feeling for human joy. Or . . . and here she felt blocked, even attempting to think the thought . . . of feeling the feeling. So it was an uncomfortable supermarket lip-biting inversion. A crime! There had been a crime somewhere.

She felt as though she had a new secret . . . but one that she had to hide even from herself. It was a secret about her feelings . . . or rather, a feeling about…

And there, in that…

She got dizzy, right there in the supermarket.

“Gemma dear,” her mother said. “What’s wrong?”

“No,” Gemma said.

“‘No,’ is not an answer to the question, Gemma sweetheart. Are you OK? Are you sick? Tummy?”

Gemma looked up at her mother, and felt a terror at something behind her feelings. Liquid seemed to rise up from the floor of this world, but not black petroleum. This time, it was tears.

“Aw, sweetheart, sweetheart,” her mother said, taking Gemma’s hand, then kneeling down, to take her into a hug. “Let it out, baby. Let it out.”

And Gemma, hidden by the red concavity of her mother’s coat, cried into the convex curve of her mother’s dark green sweater. Into Mommy’s warmth and softness. Into her rocking warm softness that believed that everything could be mended . . . that everything was alright. A fairyland. A dream.

“There there,” Rhoda cooed. “Let it out. Let it all out.” She rubbed Gemma’s back and kissed her cheek.

And when her mother did that — kissed her cheek — Gemma felt, somehow, unworthy of those kisses, unworthy of love, unworthy of compassion. She had done something terrible. And she would do something more terrible . . . quite unimaginably so.

And this woman . . . this simple stupid woman from the cellar…

More tears and more tears. Gemma gripped her mother tight, her nails going though the sweater, into Rhoda’s skin. “Mommy,” Gemma said. “Mommy, I don’t want to lose you.”

“Why would you lose me?”

“Iphigenia…” Gemma started.

“Oh,” Rhoda said, with a sound of understanding. There was that family’s tragedy. All the more terrible because . . . well, the less said the better. “Here I am sweetheart. Here I am. You’re not going to lose your mommy. Not me. You understand that?” And Rhoda thought of her own father when she said those words, because . . . you never really know. You can just pretend at best. Hope and wish. Her father, it seemed, had lived his life as though in defiance of his early passing. And maybe that’s how we all should live every moment, Rhoda thought. She cried too. “Nothing’s gonna happen to me, sweetheart.” Rhoda felt in the smooth surface of each word, the hidden fragility, the dollhouse of wish fulfillment. And that fantasy — the dollhouse — bled its dreamy tendrils into this world . . . until we truly believe that we have power over all the indefinite details that could break a little girl’s heart.

As if? As if?

But we all choose to live in this “as if” world out of fear of our own powerlessness.

And that’s a little too much to face . . . to fess up to . . . to admit.

Rhoda hugged poor Gemma, and lied dollhouse lies because a parent’s uncertainty is just too terrifying to admit to at times. So, best just leave that door unopened. And play the omniscient parent, the dream, the archetype, and at times like this . . . the fraud. “Mommy won’t leave you, sweetheart. Mommy stays right here.”

She kissed Gemma’s cheeks and fished in a red coat pocket for a tissue, all the while — and to great misfortune later — misreading her daughter’s mind entirely.

That afternoon, Ali left, rather excitedly, to go have coffee and cigarettes with Rubin from the old university. Rhoda sat on the back porch with a novel. Gemma played upstairs in her room alone, or rather, with her friend Iphigenia . . . in doll form. For Gemma pushed two dolls through the door of her pink plastic dollhouse. And one doll represented her, while the other doll represented Iphigenia. Although she honestly hadn’t been angry at Iphigenia earlier . . . it was peculiar to observe that Gemma made her Iphigenia doll do a great burden of housework. And it was a type of play for her — also a type of self-encapsulated world — wherein she wasn’t quite aware of herself going though these motions. And maybe her voice was a little different — and perhaps somehow imperious — when she played this type of play. She didn’t always remember these games, whether she played them alone . . . or with another. And of this type of play . . . with its half-remembered feeling of an aristocratic otherness, or of the vast sandbox kingdom, or of the thrashing gelatinous men in the hate-filled guts of something looming . . . Gemma felt very much “of two minds.”

And so, Gemma — or rather, a voice that her mother would only uncomfortably recognize as Gemma — ordered about the doll of her friend. The phrase, “whom my right hand possesses” seemed quite unlike any of Gemma’s natural speech habits. And yet, there it was, this strangely sophisticated use of English peppered sometimes with . . . was it? . . . Arabic.

And was she playing out some future scenario with the dollhouse? A secret wish?

There was something overtly humiliating in what she forced on the Iphigenia doll. And there were hints, suggestions, and threats. “Three words,” she said in that imperious voice. And she made the Iphigenia doll freeze, and shake, and beg.

Three words, Gemma thought, staring at the Iphigenia doll shaking precariously over the dollhouse carpet with all the drama of it being held over a trap door. All I have to say is three words. And that would do it. How would you get out, Iphigenia? You wouldn’t!

Now, there was one way that the girl could get out, Gemma knew, but that way was reserved for . . . another.

That is one of those thoughts best left unremembered. And Gemma tried as best she could to blot out the image she had seen in the darkness once. The image, she had seen once through jinn sight, within some dank bodily recess of that lurid monster, where there were those burnt and bleeding cakes of human meat stacked one on top of another. And ghoul-houris stitching them together in the shape of… ugh.

Best not to go there. Ever.

Close that door, Gemma thought. Close that door.

And certainly — at that! — she could see the unutterable wrongness of that foul vision. Of that hideous premonition that a two-thousand-thousand-year-old voice had called Kismet, or Fate — unassailable Destiny.

Then . . . a soft feeling that she held for that silly piece of plastic — Iphigenia, the doll — moved her to work against that threat of Kismet.

As her mom was reading on the porch below, and her dad was . . . well, wherever he was . . . Gemma went first into the bathroom . . . and did something that she had never done before.

Next she returned to her bedroom, and again, she did something dangerous.

Perhaps these were the bravest things that she had ever done in her young eight-year-old life.


Well, she did what she needed to.

And after the deeds were done, she went downstairs and asked her mother for help with disposing of that thing that she didn’t want in her room anymore.

“I need your help,” Gemma said in a quiet voice, something quite like a whisper.

Rhoda put down her book, and reached out to stroke her daughter’s shoulder.

“I need you to help me get rid of the carpet in my room.”

Rhoda laughed. “Are you putting me on? Is this some game?”


“The carpet’s so small, Gemma dear. You don’t need my help.”

“I doooo need your help. I need you to make sure that nothing bad happens.”

“But what bad things could happen when you take out a carpet?”

“I’m not allowed to say.”

“Don’t be so cryptic. Talk straight with me. It’s your room, and of course you’re allowed to decorate it as you please.”

“I don’t want the carpet in my room anymore. We need to roll up the carpet and wrap it with something.”

“Well, aren’t you thorough,” Rhoda said, remembering how, a year ago, Ali had rolled up several Kashmiri carpets, wrapped them in black plastic sheeting, and, climbing up a ladder, put them up in the attic as an investment. The plastic sheeting must have made an impression on young Gemma, she thought.

“I don’t want to offend the carpet,” Gemma said, being very particular about her words. “So, we’ll put it up in the attic with the others.”

And so, Rhoda carefully rolled up the carpet, while Gemma supervised, telling her mom, over-and-over, to be “very careful.”

What a neat freak my daughter’s become, Rhoda thought, with a smile.

And she wrapped up the carpet in black plastic sheeting and taped the edges to Gemma’s satisfaction. Then . . . standing on that precarious ladder . . . placed the sealed black plastic tube up in the attic with the others.

After a few hours, Ali came home . . . smelling like cigarettes, of course. He had a story about the historical work that Rubin was involved in. And Rhoda thought that he sounded . . . well . . . more than a little jealous of his colleague.

Later, at dinner — the dinner that Gemma chose — Rhoda told Ali what she and Gemma had done with the carpet.

And Ali frowned as he poked at the vegetables on his plate. “I always liked that carpet.”

Huma Abedin Saudi Spy?

Roger Stone has 3 questions that Hilary’s supporters need to ask themselves about:

1) What is Huma’s relationship with a Saudi Arabian official named Abdullah Omar Naseef?

2) Was he the founder of a Saudi charity called the Rabita Trust?

3) Right after 9/11, was the Rabita Trust put on a list by the U.S. government of groups that were funding terrorism?

Huma Abedin Saudi Spy?


May 15, 2014 :: Arkham, Massachusetts, USA

Gemma is developing more into one pulled by the leash than one pulling it, Rhoda thought as she watched Gemma trail after her friend Shirley. The two of them trotted through the grass on the way to the parking lot to be picked up by their parents after school. Somehow, to Rhoda, Gemma seemed, ugh . . . fawning.

There were books for that, Rhoda knew, with titles like, “How to Develop Leadership Skills in Children” — Rhoda closed her eyes imagining a book with that title on an otherwise blank bookshelf in her memory palace. And I suppose it’s time for that. Rhoda knew she shouldn’t use phrases like, “Hey there, baby girl.” She should use more empowering phrases, whatever they were. Is there a dearth of empowering epithets for young girls?

She exhaled as Beatrice had taught her, and shook her arms, as she stood next to her Toyota Scion and watched her daughter. She opened the passenger door in anticipation for her little princess, Gemma, the Christmas angel. And she couldn’t help but gush a little when she saw her baby girl coming toward her. All that nonsense talk — or inner-talk — could be infectious. She and Ali had made a pact to talk to Gemma with “adult language”, so as to continually encourage a higher level of communicative and cognitive functioning. Except upon seeing her daughter — really seeing her — with her bright cheeks, with her gentle brown eyes, and the way she could smile with her whole face . . . Rhoda couldn’t help but return to gooey baby talk as a way of cherishing the gentle vulnerability and ephemeral nature of childhood that she now shared with this little miracle . . . her daughter.

So she hugged her little miracle, who kissed her mom’s cheek, and asked in a faux British accent, “Is it time for tea, mummy?”

And “tea” meant “tea and cake or ice cream.” It was their Friday ritual — mother and daughter. Sharing a bit of gossip about the world at large. “And believe me, the world needs to be gossiped about,” Gemma would say, imitating her mother. They both laughed. Gemma seemed to be doing impressions this Friday. My little comedian, Rhoda thought. At times . . . not too often, because she didn’t want to make poor Gemma self-conscious about it . . . Rhoda would bring the deck of cards with the symbols: a circle, a square, a triangle, a cross, and a star. She would hold a card, stare at it with some intensity, and ask Gemma to guess it. And then it would be Gemma’s turn to look at a card pulled from the deck and Rhoda would have to guess. Back and forth. Rhoda kept a tally of it all in an app on her cell phone.

Their Friday ritual was one day early this week, as the school district had called for a Teacher Planning Day that Friday. I guess the administrators want a May holiday, Rhoda had thought when it was announced.

“Our Friday tea is on Thursday, mummy.”

“Say goodbye to Shirley, darling,” Rhoda said. And “darling” is good. It’s adult, Rhoda thought.

Gemma made an elaborate flourish toward Shirley, flapping with both her arms.

It was an old gesture, Rhoda remembered. Gemma did that same goofy wave — if you could even call it a wave — at six. She remembered one day at the park, when they had a picnic with family friends. Gemma and two of her friends, Shirley and Iphigenia, were doing that same wave as a type of hula dance.

Iphigenia — always the leader — had invented that wave. But the damndest thing that day . . . well . . . the strangest thing, was how when Gemma got tired, she would lay down wherever they were playing and sleep. Of course children need their sleep. It wasn’t so much that, but how she did it. The other parents thought she might be narcoleptic. And when Rhoda had asked Gemma about that afterwards, Gemma said that she thought that if she went to sleep where her friends were, then maybe she could pull them into her dream world where they would continue playing. Yes, Rhoda thought, with some certainty, In group dynamics with her friends, Gemma was always the “dreamer”.

And certainly there’s value in that, she thought as a kneejerk reaction to her previous musing. I mean . . . Walt Disney was a dreamer.

So Rhoda didn’t pressure her daughter with the telepathy cards. And they had their tea, ice cream, and gossip at the mall. Gemma had green tea ice cream. “Tea tea. Tea ice cream. Tea tea. Tea ice cream,” Gemma repeated in one of her accents, “I’m practically British.” And she told her mother all about the British substitute teacher they had that day and how she was “super strict” like she had something to prove.

After their weekly tea ritual, Rhoda took Gemma home. And Ali greeted them at the door and took Gemma inside, while Rhoda left for her therapy appointment with Beatrice.

Juggling, juggling, Rhoda thought as she drove to the renovated old house that the therapists jointly used as clinic.

As Rhoda sat in the waiting room chair, she caught herself spacing out. Now who’s the “dreamer”, she thought. Mother, daughter . . . father. How is it that a personality develops? How do you give a little girl the strength that she needs without your . . . pressure . . . being a force that she retreats from? Rhoda sighed, feeling the tension of two forces within her. For somewhere — in the invisible interior — a dog was still darting off after squirrels and guarding the sacrosanct position of her cerebral furniture.

Being one who is easily pulled by the leash meant being vulnerable. And Rhoda didn’t want Gemma to be vulnerable. That was her fear, inherited from her mother. Or was that her own experience? A fear that she would transmit to Gemma? And if so, how would that manifest? Was her fear not an invitation for the dread and terrible to enter their lives?

“Rhoda,” Beatrice said, after they had talked about a great many things. “What’s happening now? What are you feeling?”

“I was thinking of my daughter.”

“Of course. How so?”

“You had mentioned the fox’s den.”

“Rhoda, you had mentioned the fox’s den. You said that your uncle’s house was a fox’s den. And that made you think of Gemma.”

“I don’t want my daughter to be vulnerable. I want her to be strong.”

“And how do you feel in that wish for her . . . when you wish for her to be strong?”

“When I wish,” Rhoda said. “When I’m in that wishing place . . . I’m in the fox’s den.”

“Tell me about that.”

“Julianne was a competitor for my department at Flight Cellular. Before I got rid of her, the department had an informal lunch party at a French restaurant called Renart’s.

“At the restaurant, there’s a story cycle of paintings where animals are dressed up like people. The images are from medieval French folklore. In one painting, the animals are holding court. In another, they’re at a church. And in the images, the fox is typically the center of attention. Now, Julianne, with her infantile ‘cutesy’ mannerisms started telling a story about how, in Korea, people make wishes in fox shrines.

In Korean folklore, a fox is tricky. They’re shape shifters. They live between forms . . . between this and that. They’re twilight creatures, living between day and night . . . between the human world and the world of spirits.”

“So, they’re liminal creatures. Intermediaries.” Beatrice leaned forward, intently listening to the story.

“In Julianne’s story . . . ah, this is silly . . . at the fox shrine, people think they’re making a wish.”


“They’re establishing a connection . . . or rather they’re building a relationship, or more specifically, a contractual pattern.” She waited for Beatrice to speak. She waited for an excuse not to speak. But Beatrice didn’t speak. She simply waited, and Rhoda resumed, “It’s like this in fact. It’s like psychology. The contractual pattern is created in a liminal place. It’s between what can be talked about and what cannot be talked about. It’s a smoky and ambiguous place in the mind. That . . . that liminal place . . . that’s the fox’s den.”

“And in the fox’s den . . . a girl might receive a compliment,” Beatrice offered.

“In the fox’s den, anyone might receive a compliment. And the compliment is like a wish. Or rather it’s the promise of your wish’s fulfillment.” Again Beatrice was silent and Rhoda was forced to continue. “In the fox’s den, you’re given the promise in such a smoky ambiguous way that you can’t quite tell the difference between the promise . . . and the wish’s fulfillment. Being around a sick man, for example, feeling your uncle’s erection on your leg, according to this sick logic, becomes something akin to what you want . . . which is, ‘being strong’ . . . ‘being a girl that would make your father proud.’ And that’s awful. But that’s the fox’s den.”

“I notice that you’re not speaking in the first person when you speak of your uncle.”

Over a glass of wine, Rhoda had mentioned some of that to Ali, while he cooked dinner in the kitchen. He was cutting a chicken breast into cubes to put into stuffed bell peppers. “Psychology has a hermeneutic of suspicion,” Ali said. “And it’s a tricky business to know when you should question something and when you should simply trust and move on.” He mixed the chicken cubes with onion and half-cooked rice. “Not that I have an opinion. The mind is complex. It patterns itself in remarkable ways. And metaphors are sticky. I might come to believe that I’m behaving in a certain way, because of a certain pattern, when in fact I’m behaving in a wholly different way, because of another pattern entirely. Or maybe a little of both. What’s the difference between a personality and a coherent confederacy of sub-personalities?” He washed his hands, and then with his pinky finger, pulled at the neck of her sweater. “Here’s to what we don’t understand about ourselves. Here’s to our own complexes, our complexity, and our fallibility.” He taped her glass with his and took a sip of the shiraz wine. “I know white wine is more proper with chicken, but some days you just gotta have red.”

That evening, Gemma’s friend Iphigenia visited for dinner and a sleep over. The fact that they were having a Thursday sleepover made it seem especially exciting to Gemma. It felt like they were breaking a taboo around the sacrosanct weekday night. Iphigenia was quiet at dinner — the less said about that the better — though afterwards, in Gemma’s room, with the door closed, Iphigenia, in the contractual pattern of their friendship, all of a sudden, became the boss. “Gemma dear, unless you give me Springtime Barbie’s horse, Dancer, I’m not going to be your friend.”

“But you can’t do that,” Gemma said.

“Why not?” Iphigenia said.

“Because that’s not being a friend.”

“All the same.”

“Can’t we just make Barbie the astronaut and make the horse into her friend on the moon?” Gemma put the dolls on her white and blue comforter. “See, this is the moon.”

“But then what horse would my Barbie at my home ride?”

“She can ride Dreamer.”

“Dreamer’s a pony, not a horse!” Iphigenia said, raising her voice.

Gemma was quiet.

Eventually Iphigenia said, “I’ll let you think about it. And anyway, I think Dancer’s kind of a dumb toy anyway. Isn’t it?”

The girls didn’t play Astronaut Barbie, instead they played Springtime Barbie, and all the while Iphigenia invented the story that Dancer had broken its dumb leg on a romp, and Springtime Barbie had to hide this truth from Ken, because, “You know what he’s like.”

Gemma didn’t much like the game, but she played anyway, because she knew that she had a secret of which Iphigenia was unaware. And she knew that if her friend crossed her in a way that really bothered her . . . she knew . . . she knew that she could destroy her with only three words. And was that written? Had it been fated? Was her friend living in numbered days . . . borrowed time . . . or a hallucination?

It didn’t really matter, because they were playing, and since Ken had been drinking, Springtime Barbie had to talk Ken out of that rash deed, the thing with the car and the horse that Iphigenia thought was hilarious.

Eventually, she knew that Iphigenia would ask to take the dead animal off her hands . . . “to bury it” of course. And Gemma looked at the absences on her bed where once sat stuffed animal friends whom she had invented story-lives for.

“Ohhh, this is all pointless,” Iphigenia said, throwing Dancer inside Springtime Barbie’s Dreamhouse. “You’re not really playing anymore . . . and besides I don’t want your dumb horse.” Iphigenia got up and walked to the corner of the room and picked up Gemma’s telescope. “Let’s be spies,” she said. And for maybe a half-hour, the two of them took turns looking into the windows of houses. Eventually, Iphigenia said, “This is dumb. People are just watching TV. Why isn’t anyone robbing diamonds like they’re supposed to?” She looked at Gemma in irritation, “Don’t you have anything good we can do?”

Gemma took Iphigenia’s hand and sat her down in front of the Afghan carpet. “Sit here,” she said. “Now, look at the silver center of the carpet.”

“You are one very silly girl,” Iphigenia said.

“Do you want to go on a journey?” Gemma asked.

Red cheeked from holding back laughter, Iphigenia replied, “Sure.”

And so Gemma sat down next to Iphigenia and told her to stare at the silver center of the magic carpet. “Don’t think . . . just look . . . look at it hard . . . look at it hard for a long time . . . look at the silver center of the circle . . . nothing else exists . . . just the silver center of the circle . . . see it . . . see only it . . . the silver center . . . of the circle . . . that’s all there is . . . only the center . . . only the silver center of the circle . . . see only that . . . and only that . . . the silver center . . . going in . . . going in . . . and only that . . . then just let your eyes . . . now . . . soften . . . and don’t look at anything in particular.”

As she relaxed her eyes . . . it seemed to Iphigenia . . . that visible in her peripheral vision . . . Gemma’s room was slowly . . . slowly . . . slowly filling up . . . from the floor . . . with a thick black liquid.

She blinked and looked back at Gemma. “What on earth was that! Did you see?” And she looked around, then stood up and looked at the floor from different vantage points.

“That’s how it starts,” Gemma said.

“And then what?”

“It’s difficult to explain.”

Gemma sat Iphigenia down next to her and took her hand. “Do you want to go on an adventure?” Gemma asked, but there was no fun in her voice.

“That was real,” Iphigenia said.

And without needing an answer, Gemma began again, “Don’t think about anything . . . just look at the silver center of the carpet . . . look at it . . . look at it hard . . . stare into the silver center . . . and see that . . . see only the center . . . only the silver center . . . see only that.”

Again, it seemed to Iphigenia that an inky liquid mirror was crowding in from peripheral vision. Stinking. Swelling around them. They were entrapped by it. Terrified. She squeezed Gemma’s hand, her friend, who wouldn’t in this . . . hurt her. She was trusting Gemma, whose voice now, was like iron. It had a cold rhythm. Iphigenia was shaking. Her whole body trembling, in real paralyzed fear . . . unable to cry out . . . or scream.

It smelled like gasoline — suffocating — but with an egg yolk’s tremulous skin. And there was a throbbing arterial pulse beneath it all, deep down, that Iphigenia could feel as the liquid rose above the level of her legs, separated from her now, lost and invisible in that liquid darkness. And that awful pulse, deep down in some hidden secret place beneath the petroleum mire, seemed to match and mirror the cadence of Gemma’s trance spell: “Down now . . . see only this . . . only what you need to . . . only what you’re told . . . hear only this . . . the rest is kuffar lies . . . spread only to deceive you . . . so hear only this . . . only my voice . . . while staring only at the silver center . . . and doing only what I say . . . down now . . . Bismillaaqhir Rahmaanir Raheem . . . down now . . . into the darkness . . . submitting to this will . . . losing all resistance . . . yes . . . you feel it now . . . Alhaqmdu lillaahi Rabbil ‘aalameen . . . submit . . . all the way down . . . down . . . all willpower . . . sinking into this thickness . . . Ar-Rahmaanir-Raheem Maaliki Yawmid-Deen . . . all the way down . . . submit . . . all the way down now . . . submission is the only way now . . . you see that . . . all the way down.”

The thick petroleum bladder — like a giant clot of blood — seemed to rise . . . or perhaps the two of them were sinking . . . into its foulness. “Submit,” Gemma repeated, repeated, repeated. And Iphigenia wasn’t sure which way gravity was pulling. A fog seemed to be pushing itself into her mind. And beneath her legs, it felt like a thick gelatinous membrane was aching under her weight, fearful and shivering. It rose to a height where Iphigenia had to crane her neck to breath, whereupon the inky bladder suddenly burst with an enraged howl of great irredeemable offence. And with a flash of sparks, she was within a great roaring flame. A great petroleum-fueled flame, it seemed. A holocaust of unending fire.

Gemma buried her small nails into Iphigenia’s hand. “Don’t scream,” she said. “This is a jinn.”

The flame all about her seemed to have a face. And if you focused your eyes anywhere, you’d just see the flames, but when you defocused, you’d see the jinn face absolutely everywhere. It was the most ancient face imaginable — cavernous, craggy — like a vertical cliff about to break into 1,001 angry pieces.

“Who’s this with you, Princess Aludra?” the jinn asked. He did not sound pleased.

“No one,” Gemma said. “I only brought my mirror with me. She’s my reflection.” And Gemma imitated what Iphigenia understood must have been her pale paralytic expression, bulging eyes and all.

At this, the jinn laughed and laughed. He laughed so hard that you could see his back teeth.

Through the flames, Iphigenia saw a blurred flurry of events in different locations, seemingly all over the world: one man was backing a car out of a warehouse garage; another man was setting a package under a table in a Middle Eastern bazaar; a younger man was having a package taped to his body, then was sent, glassy-eyed and staggering, into a courthouse; elsewhere, three men entered the home of a terrified family; gunmen with quick movements gave directions to men they pulled out of a car; elsewhere, a man locked his rifle on a cleric and his companions; another man locked his rifle on a politician; elsewhere, a child thickly bundled in a sweater was being instructed to walk into a crowd. All this and more Iphigenia watched.

“This is the present,” the jinn said. “Today, May 15th . . . not unlike yesterday, or the day before. Simply actions in the world of flesh.”

And something about the tone of it all made Iphigenia close her eyes and look away. There were explosions and gunfire and people flashing their knives up and down.

It’s not tedious, Gemma reflected, it was a flavor — an aesthetic flavor, of sorts — a taste that people enjoyed just as others enjoy a turkey at Thanksgiving or a ham on Christmas.

When she opened her eyes, Iphigenia saw the green-blue sticky vapor of what was the soul (perhaps) of the man who had been backing the car out of the driveway. But this smoky translucent thing — if soul it was — had now been transported to a dark dripping cavern populated by twitching shadows that slithered and crawled toward him. And the man, or soul, gnashed his teeth and flashed his shotgun glaring eyes from the things in the shadow . . . to her!

“No no no!” Iphigenia heard herself gibbering as she tried to unlock her eyes, then with a blinking snap, she turned back to Gemma. “Away! Please, dear God, Gemma!” She shrieked. Her head and neck snapped this way and that, as she pulled her hand — again and again, thrashing — in Gemma’s tightening grip.

It looked to Gemma that her friend had lost her mind on seeing what the gentle houris — voluptuous, chaste, and with demure glances — were doing to that old Turkish man there in the darkness. It was all quite silly, almost like an act. “It’s not so bad as all that,” Gemma said, “They’re not even inside him yet.”

Nevertheless, it seemed that the flame — their mobile vantage point — was backing up, away from the shotgun eyes of that now jawless thrashing face, out of that fetid Hell — sweet Jannah, the Paradise of assassins — as now they were moving through some foaming porous membrane, the jelly phantasm of a hallucination. It was all around them, the stinking translucent dream-flesh that swelled, veined and sticky, too close to their faces . . . until they emerged outside the black clotted shape of the towering thing that held Jannah like an organ within its body.

Encircled by the uncertain buoyancy of jinn flame, the two girls were now under a sunless, though ever-burning sky. It seemed more of a psychological state than a direction. It seemed more “hate” than “up”.

Gemma had never seen Iphigenia act so silly. She was simultaneously limp and stiff, wrenching her body in little sobbing jerks. It was so ridiculous that Gemma felt compelled to imitate her friend; foaming at the mouth even, and repeated to the jinn with savage coldness, “She’s my mirror.”

And all the while . . . that thing loomed above them.

That enormous clotted shape — that looming giant 1,001-headed thing — glared down, seemingly sideways or upside down to Iphigenia, who at sight of it, had fallen into a foggy fetal contortion in Gemma’s lap.

“The monster,” Gemma said, motioning to it with her chin, and she remembered how — long-long-ago — when she had first drawn it, her father had called it a hydra. And now, in supplication to the beast, she was unaware, how in its presence, her voice sounded both imperious and infantile.

Looking up from her friend’s lap, Iphigenia saw that thing . . . and toward whatever region of the sky she looked, she saw it as before. Looming . . . looming over her.

“Great and mighty one!” she heard Gemma scream in a cracked and crooked puerile voice, “Strong! Standing straight, stretching from the horizon to the sky!”

And the thing came nearer and nearer . . . until it was the distance of maybe ten feet . . . or less. Iphigenia could clearly see the texture of the black and red clotted mess that could not be its skin. And just when she thought she would vomit, she was jolted by her friend crying out the name of that thing, “Alaq! Alaq! Alaq! Blood Clot! Blood Leach! Rakta-bija, Ee-thra! To me you have revealed your form! Let those that deny you . . . those that turn away . . . beware! We will grab them by the forelock — a lying sinful forelock! — and though they call out to friends for help, we shall call down on angels — yes, angels, we shall call our accomplices! — to punish those that deny you!” And with this she gave Iphigenia’s hair one final shake before letting her fall limp and tumbling into insensible darkness.

Iphigenia awoke with a scream. And a hand pressed down hard on her mouth.

“It’s only a bad dream,” Gemma said. “It’s not real.” And her hand was not at all soft on Iphigenia’s face, it was inflexibly brutal and smelled like iron. “You know, dearest Iphigenia, I don’t think that Dancer has a broken leg at all. In fact, I think his leg’s just fine.”



May 15, 2014 :: Reyhanli, Hatay Province, Turkey

Hajji Alaattin was a man who loved good coffee and conversation. He had five sons, had lived a long and rewarding life, and intended to end it with a direct passage to Paradise. It was a new decision for him, and one he had come to through coffee and conversation.

“Have I ever told you about the experience of my hajj?” he told his most faithful coffee friends. It was funny that he knew . . . knew . . . that he had told this story to them at least three times . . . and yet they never seemed to tire from hearing it.

“Tell us about it,” the two men said at the small circular table outside the corner market.

As it was every brother’s obligation to perform the hajj at least once in their life, and one never knows when the scribe of Fate may cease writing a man’s story, his father, bless his soul, had made sure that when his four boys were of age, they would participate in that experience.

And so, in 1953, during Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of their calendar, Alaattin’s father took his family of eight to Mecca and Medina. His father had instructed the family to meditate on the life of Muhammad and Ibrahim in performing the rites. They had donned the white cloth that represents a state of Holiness about 10 kilometers from Mecca. In the center of Mecca, they had walked seven times around the Kaaba. During the family hajj to Mecca and Medina, they offered prayers, repented, and slept on the ground under the stars.

At the jamrah, the place of stoning, Alaattin’s father reminded the family to consider the evil that men do in Dar al-Garb — the “house of the West” — unclean lands where sharia law is not in force. He asked his son to consider the strange hate of those that slander Allah and His prophet, blessings be upon him. He urged them to consider that what awaited them was a fire whose fuel is men and stones.

Alaattin, at his father’s suggestion, meditated on the nature of violence and evil as he held his stone in his hand. Feeling the cold hardness of that stone that warmed in his hand, he closed his eyes and secretly prayed to the jinn. He prayed in that simple and most genuine way that all children pray, and he asked of the jinn to grant his wish. With eyes squeezed tight, his lips moved unconsciously, framing the shape of his secret wish.

As the jinn were the helpers of men, he wished that this act of ritual would not simply be the unthinking aping of social observance, but a vision into the insipient instant when a man’s heart turned to violence. He wished with a child’s pure heart for the possibility of genuine spiritual knowledge into the nature of violence.

With that, like many before him in the circle of the faithful around the jamrah pillars, he threw his first stone. And he wished again, and hurled his second stone even harder.

A small pebble now, thrown from someone on the opposite side of the circle, landed in front of his feet. His father shook his shoulder and said, “C’mon,” urging the family to back up. But Alaattin, with his jinn prayer and wish, pushed away his father’s hand, blew upon the stone, and hurled it with all his might at Jamrat al-Aqabah, the largest of the three pillars representing evil.

Immediately, something struck him in the face. He heard his mother scream and he felt his father’s hands fold over him and drag him hither and thither, yelling at other men to get out of the way. The pain in his face swelled and yawned as his father laid him on the ground. Sitting outside the corner market with his coffee friends, he reflected on how that was the only time that he had ever heard his father cry.

And that was a long time ago, the day that he had lost his right eye.

It took young Alaattin a year to confess to his father about the jinn wish. And his father had slapped him in the face, then apologized, and hugged him. “You’ve paid price enough, my son,” his father had said. “Pray to Allah, not the jinn.”

But from behind some red hollowed out hole, Alaattin half-wondered, with a seemingly prohibited curiosity, if he had not already been somehow . . . granted his wish.

It was a stupid thought that he had quickly shaken off. But there were solitary nights after his children had gone off to college, to work, and after his wife’s death, and in his retirement, when he would drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes under the stars that that curious thought would return. And it would return from an unremembered place halfway between this world and dream. It would return seemingly . . . with a promise.

But again, those were stupid thoughts of a “What if?” world.

Alaattin’s remaining coffee friends told him that it wasn’t worth thinking about. “The evil that the jamrah stoning ground represents is real. And losing an eye in the fight against evil,” they said, “was an assertion that you have a warrior’s heart, and with one eye… uh… a clear ability to focus! It was Fate,” they said, and an echo of a religious duty to come.

And Alaattin had nodded, for their proposition seemed logical enough. The indisputable aggression of evil was a thought that had — through gritted teeth at foreign tourists — shaped much of his life after his lesson at the pillars of jamrah.

Ideologically, Alaattin aligned himself most strongly with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, whose genius had drawn the West into the trap of an expensive armed conflict with IS, while simultaneously using IS to exterminate entrenched moderates such as the Free Syrian Army. Assad, as he saw it, was positioning the jihadist world for a smart future. He imagined that Turkey desperately needed that sort of two-pronged approach if it was to orchestrate its penetration into the European Union. This is Turkey’s role, to be a flying wedge (the ancient Greek military formation) carving an entrance tunnel into Europe. To a lesser degree, that’s what Algiers was — Allah bless them for showing the way. But the sheer size of Turkey promised to make it a great unassailable wave.

The Japanese had a legend of a great tidal wave, the kamikaze, after which its World War II suicide pilots were named. The truth behind the legend was this: from China, Kublai Kahn had ordered the two largest navel invasions in history against the isolated island of Japan. Both times, a “divine wind” — a wave of phantasmagoric size — pulled the water out from under both fleets, amassing it in a great tottering wall as no surviving eyes had ever witnessed.

It was both myth and history, but it was also Turkey’s divine role in returning the fight to the land of the Crusaders. Once attached to the body of the EU, Turkey would fortify its position, its flying wedge would cut deep into Southeastern Europe like a great greedy scimitar, then magnificently, like an avenging archangel howling for the loss at Tours in 732 ad, the wings of the flying wedge would open and a river of holy warriors — Nay! A great wave of phantasmagoric size — would totter over Europe for a day casting terror into the hearts of the infidels . . . before crashing down upon them with a force that would blot memory from the eyes of the dead. That was to be Turkey’s essential role in history.

Turkey’s present government, in supporting Syrian rebels, had lost sight of the model that Assad offered. Alaattin had friends with connections within Assad’s intelligence agency, the Military Intelligence Directorate. They had a great many talks over coffee at the local market. At his age most of his day was spent in talks over coffee. He had opinions for everybody who would listen. And increasingly, most of his friends preferred excuses to conversation. All except his friends connected to the MID. They listened intently to Alaattin, and agreed with him wholeheartedly about almost everything. And although he didn’t remember formulating the idea, his friends were supportive of his plan to bomb the Reyhanli shopping district where Syrian refugees with anti-Assad sentiments lived after they had been adopted by the Turkish government. Alaattin’s coffee friends had even procured a stolen car, which they had fitted with enough explosives, they had assured him, to blast concrete and shrapnel over a three-block radius.

Now, in his life as a businessman, restaurant owner, husband, and father of five, this unblinking proximity to his own mortality — to which their conversations would suddenly and inevitably turn — was where Alaattin would usually excuse himself. But then, there was that other conversation that he had had with his doctor about “organotrophic metastasis.” And although Alaattin was a hajji, he was still one to worry about getting a proper seat in the hereafter. Metastasis promised to be a horrible business. That was one conversation he wouldn’t have minded skipping. Nobody enjoys a conversation about how long you’ll be bleeding out of your ass until the cancer moves painfully into your bones to finally kill you. So, yes, he greeted conversation about “his plan” to bomb the Reyhanli shopping district with a surprisingly gentle acquiescence.

So, he immersed himself in thoughts of the Western evil that the stoning at the jamrah represented. He isolated his soul in that hateful fever had driven so many of his conversational convictions and which had increasingly isolated him from all but a few friends. And with the help of his coffee friends, he filmed his martyr video, he familiarized himself with the car-bomb and the thumb trigger of its detonator, he made phone calls, wrote letters, and paid his bills. With a few tears, he finished with all these . . . the final responsibilities of a terminal widower.

So the day of his expected martyrdom finally came. In his mix of worry about technical competence, anticipation of houris, and desperation for a good seat amongst the blessed . . . something growled in the pit of his stomach . . . and burped . . . down there.

Fucking mortifying, he thought. To have shit himself on the cusp of his moment of glory. And there would be no changing his pants at this stage. They were too far in.

His coffee friend noticed the smell and told him that he was right in his thinking, and that they would simply have to “roll with it” . . . and explain it all to the prophet in Paradise. In fact, he even had a story to that effect.

“Once upon a time,” his coffee friend — his handler — told him, “There were two unfortunate assassins that Muhammad had sent out to murder a rival in Mecca. However, they had been discovered, and in their flight, they had hid in a cave.

“A fool, however, happened to be grazing his horse near the mouth of the cave, and as they feared discovery, one of the assassins snuck stealthily out and stabbed the man in the liver. But the man let out such a girlish shriek that the Meccans had heard it and the assassins had to flee a second time and find yet another cave in the desert cliffs.

“But before long, a goat shepherd came by and, with a handful of dates, walked directly into their cave to take a break from the desert heat. And as the fool lay down and slept, one of the assassins stuck an arrow in his eye with such force that it burst out the back of the man’s neck. But again, the man had shrieked, and the strange acoustics of the cave sent the man’s voice out across the desert cliffs. So, a third time the assassins had to flee.

“And in their flight from capture, the assassins came upon a third witness whom they fell upon and murdered, and who . . . again . . . had let out a tell-tale shriek.

“So again, a forth time, they were set to flight! When they had finally got back to safety in Muhammad’s camp, they related these events to the prophet, peace be upon him, who, according to Tabari . . . laughed so hard that you could see his back teeth!

“But promptly, he blessed the assassins for their trouble.

“So, even during the time of the prophet, these things happened! No big deal. Muhammad’s reaction to a soiled car seat would be much the same. He would simply laugh at the mishaps that Fate throws at us to test us along the road of duty. Most importantly, he would bless you just the same.” His coffee friend squeezed Alaattin on the shoulder. “Allah akbar, my brother. I gotta go.” And Alaattin smiled at the kindness of his coffee friend as the man left the garage.

Now all the work was left to Alaattin. And the work was easier than dying of bone cancer. There was no doubt about that. All he had to do was back the car out of the garage, drive it to the shopping district a block away, and simply . . . press this… “Fuck!”

The explosion had been immense.

And in its light, Alaattin saw what must have been fifty souls torn from their bodies . . . including the wide-eyed face of his coffee friend. It seemed to him, that these dismembered people were now connected to him in a way that was somewhat like all that Indian karma shit.

For Alaattin, there was an experience of confused uncertainty. Not about death or dying at all, but an existential confusion about the reality of his situation. The physicality of the body became an “as if” — a thought, seemingly far-distanced from a felt sense of being . . . of being alive . . . of moving the arms and legs or even of breathing. This sensual alertness to life had dissolved into a vague dream or ideation of an embodied self — the most uncertain thought of consciousness localized in a body . . . and occupying limbs with their natural eros in swimming, in running, in jumping . . . and in playing basketball as he had enjoyed long ago in high school. The innate joy of those limbs was gone — the sensual pleasure of the simple circulation of blood in an observed hand, for example, that ubiquitous though unmistakable verve of physical aliveness.

In the first moments of his death, it didn’t even occur to Alaattin that he had died. Rather, his thoughts were occupied in the reality of his situation. Is this real? he wondered. He knew that something was different, but as he had already lost the faculty of what was lost in this change, he couldn’t discern what exactly was different.

I . . . I am still thinking, he thought. That means I’m real . . . sane . . . safe. The compass center of this identity was felt as an intoxicating confirmation of existence. Am I dreaming, he wondered. And where am I?

There was a piercing Light of sharp unassailable pervasiveness — a terrifying Peace of panoramic encompassment that threatened to annihilate the seemingly contiguous center of this differentiated self that was his only fragile sense of ideation. And this self, it seemed, was threatened by the razor edge sharpness of utterly unchallengeable and pervasive Love — an immovable encompassing Sphere with no entrance. It was adamantine . . . indestructible . . . an Eternal Light wholly resting in Itself, knowing only Itself, and understood only by Itself. Its Self-Illumined Brightness — like a living eternity within the thunderbolt — was such . . . that the awe-struck self observing it . . . utterly swooned from consciousness.

And drifted . . . as it were . . . in a dream.

There was a Hell of hot coals and an intense feeling of paranoia. The self looked out and saw another — the persecutor — the man behind the mask. The pitiless hell-being that smites at one’s neck and finger-tips. This self roared and gnashed its teeth at it in indiscriminate hell-hating aggression. And the self was burned in fire, and no sooner was its skin consumed than it had been given another skin. And mockingly, here in front of the self was his eternal persecutor, the one who had (in that time-bound dream of life) argued to his face against his convictions. And on seeing the persecutor, the self instantly had a knife in his hand. It was as if the one implied the other.

However, the third — the intercessor — stepped in. The third held a piece of chalk in its hand. “Rather than strike your enemy, mark your enemy with this.”

But the self knew that the third didn’t know the subtlety or cruelty of the enemy. And so the self raised its blade in the air, and stabbed, stabbed, stabbed into the heart of the other.

Plumbs of blood spouted from the heart of this great self . . . invisible as it was and unknown to itself.

And the great self stood now in another world! And again the self could sense another, somewhere awaiting discovery. But as soon as the most insipient impression of another began to appear, the self began shifting his behavior to a position of advantage toward this other. It was a slow mechanical dance of cunning, strategy, and book learning that lacked spontaneity in its eternal impasse . . . which faded as if a dream.

But Lo! The great self stood now in another world! And again the self could sense another, somewhere awaiting discovery. In this world, the self felt the depth of its own innate poverty. It’s greedy sense of lack. The self imagined the luxuriousness of Paradise; rivers of water, wine, and honey. Golden plates of endless food offered by beautiful women. And when the self reached for the tantalizing food, the soft sweet cakes crumbled and dissolved in its grasp. It was a frustrating, exasperating hunger pang for food and drink that are . . . right here! Did I say that? Right here! Right fucking here! Here! Within grasp. Within the hands. Cake that one can crane one’s empty neck towards and bite, but which lends no satisfaction, no enjoyment, a cake of dry ash and empty air. Empty promises. Wine that one can pour from a great goblet which turns to sawdust on the tongue. And there . . . the self sees another . . . an infant satiated with breast milk from a source unseen. The infant is content . . . an enjoyer of the world . . . a source of nourishment.

However, the third — the intercessor — stepped in. The third held a piece of chalk in its hand. “Rather than feed on the source of your envy, mark it with this.”

But the self knew that the third didn’t understand the secret meaning in the frailty and insignificance of this source of envy. And so the self grabbed the infant by its neck and tore its ribcage in half, forcing the still beating heart into its mouth . . . swallowing, swallowing, swallowing . . . the fulfillment of another.

Blood and mutilated organs hung from the empty chest of this great self . . . invisible as it was and unknown to itself.

And Lo! The great self stood now in another world! And again the self could sense another, somewhere awaiting discovery. The self stood solidly in a world of routines . . . though slothful to attentiveness . . . to wakefulness . . . or joy. And the self went through its work, its habit, its routine as a myrmidon — a brute soldier soldering away on stage in the play of life, scornful, threatened, and abrasive to the joy and irony — oh, sweet irony — of this sweet sweet play! And here on stage with him stood another — a theatre person — and you know how they are! Irregularly dressed, lacking real work, with a lifestyle and sexuality that consumed the self’s mind with paranoia and an itching sense of suffocating self-doubt. As if the self was the one that needed to change! Ha!

At this moment, the third — the intercessor — stepped in. The third held a piece of chalk in its hand. “Rather than strike at this other that threatens you, mark your threat with this.”

But the self knew that the third didn’t know the genuine threat of this other. This other would only drag discipline, structure, and society down to its level. Mark my words, the self thought. And again the self murdered. And it hid its handiwork, this time, with rubber gloves and bleach . . . cleaning, cleaning, cleaning . . . a bloodstain that can never be removed.

And bleached, and scrubbed, and scoured, and sanded was the memory of this great self . . . invisible as it was and unknown to itself.

And Lo! The great self stood now in another world! And again the self could sense another, somewhere awaiting discovery. And with embittered disgust, he perceived this other. This other claimed all the wrong ideas, habits, preferences, and pleasures. He ate the wrong meat, celebrated the wrong holidays, and did violence upon violence upon violence upon Allah Himself . . . by living in a skin outside of this self’s burning itching rash! Seeing the joy and play of this other gave him no natural happiness, for instead he felt a hot and needling anger which burned and embroiled his hands in the planning of assassinations, political intrigues, and the laying of traps. Sitting in a vehicular bomb made of insecurity and entitled rage, the self rolled his thumb over a trigger that would kill all those others who dared live in a world outside his inflamed rashness.

At this moment, the third — the intercessor — stepped in. The third held a piece of chalk in its hand. “Rather than avenge yourself at this other that incites you, simply mark your enemy with this.”

And in a moment of insight, the self paused. “What if . . . just what if . . . my sense of self could encompass this apparent other and the observant third state as well? What if this third — this third state — led me to see a wholeness that encompassed the trap of this apparent binary conflict? What if?”

But that was just crazy talk!

He pressed the thumb trigger of his vehicular bomb killing, killing, killing . . . this great self . . . invisible as it was and unknown to itself.

In life, Alaattin had already been transported into a state, only it had seemed so subtle (in his denial) that he hadn’t allowed himself to consciously notice. A pity perhaps . . . for at the moment of death, there was only one difference, and it was that the stability of a body had been pulled out from under him like the disappearance of a magic carpet. The body had been a compass, a measuring rod, and ultimately an elegantly complex feedback system that he had failed to utilize in relation to the state of his awareness.

In life, he had flown out through the sense organs and made a new center — like a bird making a nest of straw — in one of two polarities that ever hovered in front of his nose. And now his center, his house of five-doors, his home in the body . . . was gone.

And with the total absence of a body, the hallucination that had hovered in front of his nose . . . and in which he had invested a life — like a nest of straw . . . was now all that he had for the hope of a home.

Just as he had chased that contrived state of awareness — that hallucination — in life, so he would in death . . . or rather, in this bodiless state. And so he . . . was pulled . . . and allowed himself to be pulled . . . and pulled himself . . . toward the gravitational center of this ever so self-inventive hallucination.

It was as though, through sympathetic magic, or the logic of “likes attract like”, that he had invented his preferences in the theatre of life. And just as a man who only eats spicy food might “only” be attracted to “spicy” women, heated relationships, and violent action films, so too, Alaattin drifted toward a contrived gravitational vortex of awareness that accommodated his most habituated feeling tone.

He found himself in a dark pit surrounded by smoky red-veined walls of semi-translucency. His surroundings had a hazy liquidity and phantom organic quality. Nothing was physical, per se, except bits of meat and bone somehow transported through the fire. Otherwise, everything existed with a semi-vaporous and sometimes jelly-like incandescence. And all around him was the smell of rotting putrefaction. He ran to the semi-translucent wall and pressed his face against its gelatinous slime before recoiling in angry surprise. In that instant, he had seen what looked like an enormous spine, ribs, and huge billowing lungs above him. He was in the rank throbbing belly of some gigantic beast whose outline he could not imagine.

And crawling toward him on crooked ambling hooks was a figure that swayed in and out of vision to the rhythm of a cooing and comforting voice. A translucent face with pouting lips came toward him then inched back into the darkness as its hue changed. “Darling,” its voice said, as an arm-like appendage from a sleek seductive shoulder slid a rotting hooked hand gently around his waist. “It would be violence not to kiss one who has waited so long to taste your mouth.”

Through the mad gnashing teeth of his habituated state, he held onto the fragment of a feeling tone that he had once held for his wife. But now all such irregular feelings were clouded over by the unremitting truth that was his wish-granted world of embittered rage. 


March 19, 2014 :: Arkham, Massachusetts, USA 

“Well, that did in my career,” Ali told Rubin Demsky, as he sat outside a café with his old friend from the university. The two men were drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and shivering every now and then in the early spring breeze, as they sat at a small circular table on the patio.

Rubin laughed. “Well, I don’t think it was so much content as it was the tone of your lecture last fall. You could have framed the content in a way that your attitude toward it didn’t seem so pointed.” He laughed again. “I have to say, you sure shook up the Brotherhood’s community in Massachusetts. When I came to work at MU the next week and saw all the men with picket signs and the women in their ninja outfits . . . and the effigy of you hanging from the tree limb . . . oh my God, I thought a bomb was going to explode. That was the craziest thing that the university had seen in years.”

“A bomb did explode — my job! That angry mob got what they came for. That huge mannequin made of pillows and sheets shoved in a suit — that giant voodoo doll with my face pinned to it — was that so-called religion’s attack on my job.” Ali shook.

“You angered a lot of people.”

“With plain history.”

“Yeah, but you can’t touch Muhammad as a subject. You just can’t. They’ll lynch you. Or they’ll lynch your job . . . which is what they did. This is a different community. It’s not like if you anger Russian, German, or Chinese immigrants about the biography of their twentieth-century ideological messiahs. If it were me, I would never say or do anything that might anger the Brotherhood. Not in a hundred years, Ali. Not in a hundred years.”

“How can scholarship communicate an understanding of the medieval period if one of its most pertinent historical figures is off limits?”

Rubin laughed. “What do you want me to say, Ali? That you’re right? Do you need to hear that so desperately? Drop this ploy for attention. You were right . . . and move on from it. Leave it at that. Leave the world of ‘being right’ behind you and just . . . be a professor.

Ali readjusted himself in the seat and took a long drag on his cigarette.

“Our Medieval History initiative is going to crumble without you and Alexis.”

Ali smiled at the thought of his being indispensible, and also at the thought of Alexis Theodorou who had been quietly discussing how in June he might fly off to India as a classical studies advisor on several Middle Kingdom archeological sites.

Rubin smiled and said, “He’s a weird old bird. You learned a lot from him as your mentor, but you didn’t need to pick up his unassailable self-importance.”

Ali frowned and rolled his eyes.

Four years ago, Ali and Rubin had joined Alexis, MU’s leading professor of classical languages, in an interdepartmental initiative entitled “A New Foundation for Medieval History”. Alexis was the director who had given shape to the program. His cultural studies courses demonstrated how Alexandrian and post-Alexandrian humanism and cosmopolitanism stretched from Europe to India and informed such cultures as the Sasinad, Auxum, and Kushan empires, to name only a few. While Ali focused on the fluidity of Christian culture during and despite the ecumenical councils beginning with the first council of Nicaea. And Rubin picked it up from there with lectures on how the craft guilds of antinomian Jewish, Christian, and Sufi communities maintained a cultural continuity, not because of, but rather, in spite of the calcified authoritarianism of their respective institutions. Alexis had organized an impressive archeological exhibit, and they collaborated on a study-abroad program in Europe and — of course — there was talk about a group book. Additionally, each of them gave lectures on topics of Medieval History. It was Ali’s lecture of “Muhammad in Arabia” that seemed to have brought the whole enterprise thudding to a halt.

“It’s a point of irritation for all of us to see how the word ‘medieval’ is popularly used in an almost completely derogatory context,” Rubin said to Ali as the two of them smoked cigarettes outside the coffee shop. “People call something ‘medieval’ if they want to indicate that it’s backward. ‘Medieval’ is the term people use to describe backward or despised institutions.” He laughed. “Isn’t it paradoxical then, that the fire of that howling mob’s emotional explosion should have derived from your demonstration that at least one medieval tradition is indeed backwards. If anything, the university should have given you credit for demonstrating the relevance of the medieval.”


“Well, they’re bureaucrats and make decisions from that . . . mental enclosure.” He laughed again, bringing his hands up to his head. “I kind of imagine it as a hat with a tube in front of the face for cyclopean tunnel vision and there’s a cage of iron bars on all four sides.”

“And there’s a dollar hanging from a string that flutters in front of the tunnel,” Ali added.

“That’s exactly it. But you, Ali, you’ve been hit hard by this.”

“They’ve made me an embarrassment.”

“Our intentions suffered from the start, if you’ll remember. Alex and that whole disaster. He’s a man with a sincere vision for enlarging our understanding of the classical world’s continuity, but oy, if he doesn’t have a self-destructive streak. He builds, he creates . . . but I’m terrified of how he undermines absolutely everything.” Rubin took a drag on his cigarette. “But then, he’s got his idiotic secret to keep, doesn’t he? Can’t he just admit it? It’s so . . . it’s so utterly stupid! His ridiculous brainless fantasy.” Rubin started laughing. “We are following a putz to ruin. You know that? And you, with your self-destructive lecture, were you imitating your mentor? Was that some unconscious misguided protégé love of yours? And if you two are my cohorts in the Medieval History initiative, then God help me, what am I doing?”