It is so easy to fall, fall, fall. You think that you have a place, that if you were to vanish people would notice. They really know me. That’s the way you feel when they look you in the eye and say your name, your parents, your lovers, your co-workers, your friends and teachers. There is so much power in a name.
Samantha James Pearson, 24, long dark hair, short cropped bangs, green eyes, a smattering of freckles. Me as I thought of myself. Tromping up the stairs to my third floor studio apartment, heating water in the microwave, stirring ramen in a Styrofoam cup, flopping over the blue coach, watching the hands of the clock dance gracefully around.
I work in a bookstore on Valencia; Hargroves. We are the oldest booksellers in the city, dealing in used and rare books as well as new. Every genre. I collect occult treasures. Why?
When I was 7 my father came home with a bag full of toys and books he had found in a dumpster. One of them, a lime green paperback with purple trees on the cover, he shelved without examination and forgot. I forgot it too.
Six years later I was thirteen and bored. Scanning the shelf I realized that as many times as I had seen this lime green book nestled among the others, I had never read it. I had never even noticed the title. What was it like, opening that book and discovering that something so extraordinary had been sitting there on the periphery of ordinary life? Dizzying. There was everything in that strange book, from instructions for using soda pop as a douche, to conjuring the devil by killing a black rooster at a crossroads.
The point at which I became frightened was the moment when I discovered the invisibility spell. It called for boiling a white kitten alive. It upset me enough that I never finished the book. I gave it away with a lot destined for the local thrift store.
Gone but not forgotten, the many mysteries it suggested clung to my mind, the impossible set side by side with the probable, ritual sacrifice and home remedies printed hand in hand. You could say that it haunted me. The strange thing, the most disturbing thing, was that while other details remained crystal clear, the title vanished from my memory.
At Hargroves I purchased and sold books, shelved books, boxed books and even wrapped them. I studied every occult title that came through our doors looking for that one unnamable book, because its mystery clung to me. I thought that if I could only set eyes upon it again, see the name of it printed clearly between the two purple trees, then I could face it as an adult, dispelling with unerring cynicism the awe and terror it had evoked in the child.
I have fallen in this black hole. This no place, no face nothingness. Still life goes on, whirling twirling figures of a cuckoo clock. Samantha James Pearson, 24, long dark hair, short-cropped bangs, green eyes, a smattering of freckles, still works at Hargroves. She still lives in the studio on the third floor. Her boyfriend Thom still takes her out for ice cream on Sundays, a movie or a show on Fridays. Her flighty friend Tess still texts her when she wants to swing by for a cup of Ramen and a jam session, Tess on bass, Sam on the Theremin. Margaret Pearson recently sent her daughter an Easter card with a pair of pastel toe socks.
But I don’t know who that is reading the card, wiggling toes in new socks, kissing Thom under a lamppost. I don’t know who is in there because I am out here hanging on the fringe of the abyss, watching this curious cuckoo dance, observing the name and face I once believed was my self, now functioning autonomously.
I was spread over the couch, legs dangling over the armrest, inspecting a new acquisition. No, it was not THE BOOK, but simply a book that reminded me of the first. It was an independently printed publication bound in the early 70’s, filled with an odd assortment of spells and drawings and rife with misprints. I generally only glanced through the insides of these books, sometimes leaving post it notes on pages I would scan later.
I was not a practitioner of magick, only a collector, an amateur archivist. It had never occurred to me to try any of the spells or rituals suggested in these curious volumes, at least not since my encounter with the unnamed book of my youth. What then happened to me that night, a Sunday after 6pm, which made me change my habit?
As I said, it reminded me of that book my father had rescued from a waste bin in San Bernardino in 1986. Like the first, it contained hand drawn flourishes upon each page to add a mystic edge to the courier type.
I was alone. Thom was out of town for the funeral of a great uncle. The afternoon sun was spilling in through the window like liquid gold drenching the sofa in radiance. The page I was looking at was so vague. It said:
“To free your real self… burn a candle and write your name on a mirror three times before bed. Extinguish the candle and leave the names over night.”
It seemed so benign. There were no demons to summon, no animals to sacrifice, no rhyming chants to twist my tongue over. It sounded like a nice empowering psychomagical act, something a feminist hippie psychotherapist invented for slumber parties.
I put the book away and went for a leisurely bike ride around the lake. I ate my customary cup of ramen, took a long shower, slipped into my footed pajamas and lip-synched to lady gaga in front of the mirror. When my performance was over I grinned at my reflection, and, on a whim, I lit the cinnamon cookie scented candle that was accumulating dust on the bathroom sink. I popped the cap off my tube of red lipstick and wrote “Samantha James Pearson” across the length of the mirror three times. Then I snuffed out the candle, hit the light switch and felt my way to bed.
I can’t say that I dreamed, or if I did then I can’t say that the dreaming has stopped. I awoke to the buzzing of my alarm and was immediately disoriented. It seemed as if my entire bedroom had been flipped, inverted. What had been left was right, what once was right was left. I sat on the edge of the bed in a panic asking myself, “What the fuck?” over and over until the threat of being late for work overruled the urge to scream. I hurried into the bathroom and was confronted by my reflection.
Samantha James Pearson was already dressed and ready for work, brushing her teeth into a frothy foam. My jaw dropped. I approached the mirror with my name now written backward across its surface and stared as my reflection spat and rinsed. Groggily my reflection set the toothbrush in the holder and looked up, at me, still dressed in the plush footed jamies.
Our eyes met and she screamed, three sharp bursts before she clapped a hand over her mouth, grabbed the wash cloth and started rubbing the name away, smearing crimson everywhere.
I reached for the mirror, for the vanishing name. I touched it, cooling gelatin, liquid mercury, rainbow colors of an oil slick in a rain puddle. The worlds rushed away from me as I fell up uncontrollably, like a helium balloon come off its tether. I struggled with all of my might to stop, to return to my room, but all I could do was get close enough to watch. Samantha cleaning the mirror with Windex, examining her now compliant reflection. Samantha sighing relief as I struggled to stay near, to see her.
I thought, at first that someone would notice that she was not me. I waited for Isaac or Scott working at Hargroves to comment on a perceived difference. I watched later that night as she picked Thom up from the airport. I watched their lips lock and thought: “He knows me, he really knows me.” He would shove the doppelganger away, he would demand to know what she had done with me. Instead he came home with her. I watched them make love. The following day she had lunch with Tess, she spoke to my mother for an hour, the neighbor chatted with her in the hall for 30 minutes. No one noticed that I was gone.
I have fallen in this black hole. This no place, no face nothingness. Life goes on, whirling twirling figures of a cuckoo clock. Samantha James Pearson, 24, long dark hair, short-cropped bangs, green eyes, a smattering of freckles, still works at Hargroves. She still lives in the studio on the third floor. Her boyfriend Thom still takes her out for ice cream on Sundays, a movie or a show on Fridays. Her flighty friend Tess still texts her when she wants to swing by for a cup of Ramen and a jam session. Margaret James recently sent her daughter an Easter card with a pair of pastel toe socks.
But I don’t know who that is reading the card, wiggling toes in new socks, kissing Thom on the couch. I don’t know who is in there because I am out here, hanging on the fringe of the abyss, watching this curious cuckoo dance, observing the name and face I once believed were my own functioning autonomously. As I recede bit by bit into the darkness, I watch the face and the name carry on without me and I wonder; who is free of whom?