Mac had said that Trudy was the best, that she’d be able to reach into the murky hereafter stew and pull out a beloved sparkling spoon. Or at least an edible bite. He'd said that she had an otherworldly aura, like an ethereal crossing guard or a maternal translator in heaven's waiting room. Because of Trudy, Mac apparently got to talk with his ex-wife pretty regularly. “And this time she always answers my calls,” he'd joked.
My dad would have asked why I was even taking advice from Knucklehead Mac. Would have said that I didn’t need to use someone else to find him, nor pay two-hundred dollars to remember who I was. But my dad hadn't been right about everything.
As I entered the Zoom meeting, my laptop screen framed a close-up of a woman's face. It was all fleshy focus as she tongued her magenta-tinted teeth while picking at a skin tag on her neck using moss-green nails. Whatever her aura was, I could imagine that it smelled like powdery perfume or graham crackers.
“Lady, that'll bleed pretty profusely,” I said with a wave at my computer.
Trudy dropped her hand and shifted back into her seat, anticipation and ease coloring her face. Based on her appearance, she'd said goodbye to embarrassment a long time ago. Her immediate enthusiasm and alertness, all while she appeared to wear a big paisley blanket, indicated she was definitely someone who clapped in movie theaters. The purple drapes behind her looked to be velvet and aged, but they made her short grey bob seem like it was glowing against the dark backdrop.
Had Mac seen her grandma aesthetic and thought the mole on her forehead was a third eye? He never could read women, which was why he'd been married three times, and the only ex who was speaking to him was on a collect call from beyond the grave.
“Charvi!” Trudy greeted me. “Hello. You and I are going to have an adventure, hm?”
My knees began to bounce, which caused my clasped hands to jostle. Even my tongue became a vessel by which the electrical current traveled. Anxiety had started rearing its head after my dad's death, reverberating from my bones and shaking me like a ragdoll. Fixating on the unknown had become like living in the back of a big moving truck; I was thrown around anytime I hit a bump.
“Oh, you look like you’ve already seen a ghost,” Trudy said with a warm, red-smudged, smile.
I cleared my throat, defensiveness storming forth. “How long have you been a medium, lady? I heard ghosts is like the derogatory word for spirits.”
She inspected me with blue marble eyes, eyes that probably held memories of dancing nude in Croatia and peyote trips that had triggered a reconciliation with some republican family member. Those ridges and creases punctuating her eyes had been drawn by natural elements, not by fear. She'd certainly seen the face of the edge, so if her vision was so clear, she’d know I wasn’t really an asshole. At least, not always.
“Let’s begin,” Trudy said, her smile this time more for me than in response to feeling.
And when her eyes closed, I took a sip of water and listened to my feet thumping along under the computer desk. Louder than my heart, I figured, so less exposing. Would I finally get sleep tonight with a calm mind, a quiet body? Did that depend on my dad or an old hippie?
“I’m sending out your name, and I’m asking for a loving energy to respond,” Trudy told me, now focusing out past her computer camera. Wistfully. Her hands came up to form a delicate pyramid under her chin. “We’ll see who comes forward.”
“Is this like a bat signal? Or like a bulletin board post?" I asked, more to myself, inspecting my keyboard for dusty bits. I couldn’t study her expression for too long, as it would've been just my luck that focused desperation could disrupt her psychic antenna reception.
“Someone is coming forward,” she said casually, like she was describing her lunch. I swallowed so noisily that I almost missed her next words: “He says you saved his life.”
Fingers dancing together, toes peeling off my socks, I tried to steady my voice. “Is it my dad?”
“I get the sense that he’s a jovial soul, that he felt most at home in the ocean.” Trudy sucked air through her teeth, tasting her words. “He calls you his 'Mermaid with Feet' – does that mean anything to you?”
“Mermaid!” I shouted. My cat rocketed from the dresser, releasing a startled cry that was drowned out by my triumphant laughter. “My dad! He used to call me ‘mermaid,’ because I love – I mean, I used to love – the water, and we’d go collect shells and walk along Old Orchard Beach all of the time – and it’s my dad!”
Trudy, that old broad, had a face worthy of smooches and whisker tickles. Hopefully she possessed an affectionate dog or a troll doll collection that brought joy to her when she wasn't bathing in moonlight. With my elbows on either side of the keyboard, nose inches from my computer screen, I kicked back my chair; I wasn’t intending to get slobbery on her, but intimacy felt necessary.
I could only breathe out, “Tell-me-more.”
This lady was cozy in her element, skin tag clearly forgotten. Gaze still above the camera lens, but not seeming to drift or leave our conversation, she was narrowed in. “He’s talking about a restaurant—”
“We’d go to Garrigan’s or Meaty Sweats or . . ." I snapped my fingers. "That one Taco Bell that closed? Or, does he mean Holly’s Place?”
“No,” she said, and her nose scrunched. “Hmm.”
What was happening? Did my dad sound like he was warbled over the phone? Or was he tangential, like when he’d rant about the Seahawks? Had his voice gotten sleepy and relaxed over the lip of a cold beer? Or was he thrown off by the medium’s graffiti-scribbled teeth, so he distractedly provided information as he wondered how much beeswax she’d consumed that day?
“It’s a seafood restaurant,” Trudy said. “He says you were there together, twenty years ago. On summer solstice.”
“Absolutely not,” I said with a fist crashing down on the keyboard. My cat had reclaimed her position on the dresser, and she was now skittering off with a guttural growl. “That’s impossible. I know that day. That was the first day I remember my dad being sick, and I went to a . . . fancy schmancy restaurant down the street from the hospital. By myself. I was a broke college freshman and all I could afford was the clam chowder. You have the wrong day.”
Trudy showed some apprehension, glancing to me – to the computer camera – with a shadow of concern falling over her brow. “Charvi, he says he remembers the feeling of your touch at the restaurant. He’s being very specific. That doesn’t mean anything to you?”
“You can't hear him over your outfit,” I said, her words knocking me around and drawing aggravation instead of blood. “You’re not hearing him right.”
Trudy, that clucking flighty hen, wore a face worthy of repetitive flicking and scorn. She most certainly had a CEO daughter-in-law who rolled her eyes every time the seventy-something-year-old started rattling on about chakras and her troll dolls. There was no doubt that this psychic put too much flaxseed into everything she baked and never got invited to Thanksgivings with her family.
“You may not be able to take everything,” Trudy said. “If you can make sense of eighty-percent of it, then that’s something . . .”
I fumbled a bit until I was sitting back down in my chair, fidgety but with a fixed glare. I'd paid money to have a quack irresponsibly ruin my day.
“He says he loves your hutzpah,” Trudy continued, eyes back on the far corner of her room (or our world, whatever). “And he’s . . . he’s back to talking about that specific summer solstice back then. Um, he remembers what you were wearing: black overalls and a black baseball cap, like a . . .” Trudy chuckled, seeming to surprise herself. “He calls you a ‘Mermaid with Feet performing slam poetry.’ ”
I stopped myself from speaking when her smile grew bigger.
“He says that before he'd gotten caught up and taken from home at age ten, he'd been quite the curmudgeon crustacean. Apparently, he'd grown up getting mistaken for a crab because of his red complexion and problematic jokes at reef raves. But after he was forced into captivity, he began to find the joy in life to cancel out the bad. He started to laugh and blow bubbles, even on rough days. And he even created his own New Wave dance number.”
"What is happening?" I asked. My body was shaky, of course, but my mind was melted butter.
Seeing the mirth take hold of Trudy as she relayed to me a message from beyond – beyond my own existential crisis – felt sobering. Being the third-wheel at a séance was kind of like attending your own birthday party, only to discover that it wasn’t your birthday at all, that there was someone else’s name on the cake. And that someone else was dead, too.
“He remembers your face that day, before you took hold of him,” Trudy said, dreamily. “You looked at him like, well, like you were the one inside of the display tank. He says you scooped him up with your baseball cap, that you pet his claws with a gentle touch as you . . . as you ran out the door.”
The quaking ceased as my chest became a block of ice, limbs like popsicle sticks that had been solidified in place. It was a sensation opposite of the buzzing worriedness that kept me up at night. “Who the hell are you talking with, Trudy?”
“When you released him into the ocean that day,” Trudy said, the smile completely gone and replaced by solemn awe, “he says that the water felt like a baptism. And not like a—” She readied herself with a shoulder roll. “— King Tritan Science Institute type of baptism. Erm, much more cleansing and renewing than that. He says he went on to be who he was supposed to be.”
“Did Mac pay you to mess with me?” I asked. "Is this because I wouldn't be wife number four?"
Trudy appeared to return to me then. Eyes met mine, cheeks flushed, and she said, “Charvi, this is a clarity I’ve never experienced. He says that if you have anything to ask him, he’ll answer it as honestly as possible. He says it’s the least he can do for his Mermaid with Feet. He says you're his hero.”
“No one has ever said that about me,” I said, the strangeness that had spread over me becoming like a second skin.
When I was eighteen, I’d ended the longest day of the year by running down Carlsmith Street with the tingles of terror growing in my brain; they'd begun growing like coral under a full spectrum of oranges. So my feet had pounded out my own anthem, allowed the terror to work its way through the movement. A pair of beady eyes, dark as ballpoint tips, had peeked out from the bowl of my sopping cap, and I’d felt like I was a million things all at once. Like how the ocean could be an avenue, a showcase for tragedy, a haven, and a picture.
“You're talking to a lobster?” I asked, remembering the shuffling little legs, scattered but synchronous, as I'd knelt at the shoreline on that summer solstice and tipped my hat onto the sand.
Trudy sighed, and I was able to feel that maternal aura Mac spoke about. Instead of Zoom, it was as if we were both sitting across from one another at a café. She could have been my former fifth-grade teacher, invested in my journey as a woman and a student.
The medium went on. "He says you weren't shaky that night. That you were clearly afraid of something bigger than the sea, but that you were steady and awake. He says you whispered something to him as you released him."
I was clutching at my throat, feeling the lazy summer breeze from all those years ago now damp on my cheeks. With each passing day, I'd been trying to still my body by fighting my mind, maybe even vilifying it because it only held memories of my dad and a version of me that had made sense. Before grief muddied my waters, I'd been a person with direction.
"Do you remember what you whispered to him?" Trudy asked. "You said that if he was going to live, he needed to be alive for all of it."
The whirlpool inside of me carried anger and delight and bewilderment all in opposing currents, all moving, real, and dangerous. I was shocked that I believed Trudy, but more shocked that I'd let my eighteen-year-old self get buried under decades of self-doubt.
"So, now I get to ask him a question?" I said, my voice dusty from the toppling of internal boxes I hadn't acknowledged in years. Maybe I'd been the moving truck just driving into the same wall all this time.
"Yes," she said.
So I asked, "Is he happy?"
“He says he’s at the bottom of a new sea, that depths aren't measured. Happiness is just like being concerned with rain when you live underwater." Trudy settled back into herself and grinned tentatively.
I propped my mouth against my fist, noticing the mug on Trudy's table, nearly out of frame; it had a picture of Idris Elba on it. At the same time, I was comforted by the soft hum that my cat made behind me from her reclaimed position on the dresser.
“This your first lobster?” I asked Trudy.
She nodded and let her shoulders drop a bit. “I’m sorry it wasn’t your dad, kiddo.”
“Yeah," I said. "Hey, Mac told me you live in Scarborough. Any chance you’re up for meeting at Piper Shores? As long as you don't try to psychically connect with any dead seagulls while we're there.”
Trudy waved her hands in celebration, wrists adorned with way too many bracelets. She had a face that was etched by stories I likely wouldn’t believe and longings I probably would know too well. She said that she would love to go to the beach, but that she had to let me know something first.
“You have a little bit of lipstick on your teeth. Just a smidge,” she said.
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