By Emily Price
The Seance is my last chance, really. I’m sitting in the front garden of a large house in La Vista, with twenty other lost souls in varying degrees of distress, staring up at a young woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and a tattoo of a crow on her left bicep. The young woman is singing, though I can’t tell what about.
The garden is a study in grief. One of the women sitting next to me has grabbed her thinning hair and is pulling it rhythmically, one fist and then the other. Another has untied the laces of her tennis shoes and twists them around her fingers, turning the tips bright blue. I can barely look at them; my own distress seems insufficient by comparison, ridiculous even.
I’ve been struggling for months, working part-time as a secretary and writing poems on Twitter about a woman I asked out for coffee several times too many. My troubles have built on one another, starting a few months ago: former friends began to ignore me when I saw them in the supermarket; high schoolers started throwing chunks of dog s**t at my car. One morning, when I was walking out of the Office Depot near my work with a stack of yellow pads, a moped veered off the street and clipped my left side. My first day back from sick leave, I slipped on a discarded coffee filter and sprained my ankle.
“I think I’m cursed,” I told my coworker as she elevated my leg onto a stack of oven mitts.
She wrapped a tea towel full of ice around my ankle, which had turned a grotesque purple and was beginning to swell. “I know someone you should talk to,” she said.
I couldn’t afford a private consultation, so I shelled out for a group seance: now here we all are, arranged around the serious young medium like the spokes on a wheel.
“Close your eyes,” the medium says. We close our eyes. The sun beats down heavy on my lids. Nothing happens. Eventually I cheat and reopen my eyes. The other guests are more disciplined, but gradually they fidget in place and scratch their noses and crotches. It’s obvious they’re getting restless. Minutes pass. There are no ghosts.
We haven’t been going for more than a quarter of an hour before there’s a loud crash from somewhere in the house. The medium’s eyes snap open; she looks annoyed. The possibility that this could be something supernatural floats through everyone’s heads, along with the suspicion that we have all been conned. There is a long wail from the house, and we all shiver; then silence.
One by one we stand. We walk past the medium as one body and ascend the stairs. We don’t even reach the top of the steps before we see the carcass of a dog lying at the foot of the sliding glass door, which has cracked from the impact. The dog is the size and color of a fox. Bright red blood seeps from its head onto the welcome mat.
The woman with the shoelaces wrapped around her hands moves forward hesitantly, as if she wants to touch the body. There’s already a fly buzzing around the dog’s wet nostrils.
“Does anyone have a phone?” someone asks. There is silence, but we all know the answer. Who brings a cell phone to a seance?
I reach into my pocket; I, apparently, missed the memo. “I’ll do it.”
As we wait for animal control to arrive, most of us sit on the steps and put our heads in our hands. The woman with the shoelaces sits on her heels next to the dog’s head, dangling the laces just above its blood. The medium paces down on the lawn, scowling; perhaps she is wondering how to explain the damage to the house’s real owner. We all expect someone to come and take responsibility, but no one comes.
The air is thick with the smell of blood in the heat. No one says anything, but I can tell what they’re all thinking: what if the dog is a sign? What if it’s a brother, or an old friend, or a husband, come back to say one last thing? I can read something else in the pursed lips and furtive glances everyone gives the others when they think they’re not looking, in the way some of them stare at the dog’s body almost lovingly, with a kind of ownership: this one is mine, they’re saying.
After about ten minutes a grey van with a silhouette of a dog on the side rolls up to the curb, and two men in white Tyvek coveralls step out. All of us on the steps scoot to one side to let them through. They are professionals and work fast, without speaking. In their hands, the dog becomes a problem waiting to be taken care of.
It feels selfish not to hope that this is someone else’s relative or friend come back with some kind of message. But as I watch the two men in their white uniforms heave the dog into a plastic sheet and carry it between them down the stone steps, I wonder if it’s my curse, come to tell me that it’s over. I think about what will come of the body, how it will be bundled, disassembled, incinerated; I can’t help but feel a shiver of joy at the thought of my misfortune being so totally destroyed. Behind me, the medium begins to scrub the deck with a sponge, and the blood that hasn’t set washes down the steps in soapy rivulets.
The next day, the medium sends us all an email: she wants to invite us all to another seance, free of charge. One woman replies to the group; her profile photo is all long gray hair and sad eyes. Her email reads only, My needs have been met. Her confidence, almost saintly, radiates out to all of us. No one else replies.
*The Seance is an original fiction piece by Emily Price