“The Séance” by Cathy Rose

“She’s clairvoyant from birth,” my mother said to her bridge party while I lay awake, kept up by the late-night tipsy laughter of ladies playing cards in our living room.

Moeder Eva lived at the end of our street in a modest clapboard house, and we lived in a brick one not unlike it. But while our house was filled with all that was ordinary and predictable about life in suburban Virginia, Moeder Eva’s was infused with something mysterious and profound. When I was eight, my mother became a regular at this Dutch woman’s prayer meetings, or so they were called when my mother spoke of them to the more conservative members of our community. These gatherings were actually séances, communications with spirits from the other side. On the first Saturday of every month, Moeder Eva gathered up a group of local ladies to pull the veil aside. Out on the enclosed sun porch, around a table built without the use of a single power tool by Eva’s master craftsman husband, hands were held, eyes were shut tight, as Eva evoked the spirits.

“Oh, brotherhood of departed souls, guardians of the Akasha, we humbly request your presence.”

I remember the ladies’ stiff upright postures around the long table, their expectant faces freshly powered, the hum and whoosh of the air conditioning unit, the goose bumps on all our sleeveless arms. The dogwood trees outback were in bloom. It must have been in spring.

“Our hearts are open, our intentions pure. Ladies, please join me—”

“Our hearts are open, our intentions pure—”

“Louder, ladies—our hearts are open—”

My mother was the youngest of the women who attended Moeder Eva’s meetings. The others all had children old enough to have their own places to go on a Saturday afternoon. So Moeder Eva delighted in me and me alone. While the women convened over tea and cakes, she would let me clop around in the giant wooden shoes she kept by the front door, and play with the little Dutchman with the bobbing head on her mantelpiece. And in my teacup she would always drop a round Droste chocolate. “A sweets for the sweet,” she would say spraying the top of my head with tiny bits of saliva.

During the séance, I did not sit up at the table, but played on the floor below, with the dolls I brought from home, a beehive doo Barbie, a crew cut Ken, a Midge, two Skippers, and the muscular, double-jointed GI Joe. The ladies’ legs beneath the séance table were my post and pillar. But I also saw all that they probably did not want me to, the slant of their worn heels, the creeping runs in their nylons. My mother’s ankles were noticeably delicate, her shoes simple, but made in faraway countries like France and Italy. These were places my mother wanted to go, though I’m not sure she knew just why.

“We request a visit from the deceased, Anneke Van Schoonhoven, sister of my moeder, who died of poor conditions and ill health in the town of Rotterdam, in the year 1952. Ladies, join me. We request a visit from Anneke Van Schoonhoven—”

“From Anneke Van SH-KOO—on-hoven—-”

I am not certain how Moeder Eva and her husband made it from their small island town off the mainland of the Netherlands to our little street in the heart of Tidewater, Virginia. If Moeder Eva spoke of Nazi invasions, of the destruction of her country and its people during the War, it most likely escaped my mother altogether. There was never any sense of history in our family, of our own or anyone else’s, even though history runs like floodwater through this region of the South.

“Who are the great beings from Amer-IK-a you would like to consult?” Moeder Eva would sometimes ask after she had exhausted her own repertoire of spirits from the old country. “George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sir Walter Raleigh,” the ladies would call out, like eager-to-please school children.

“Amelia Earhart,” my mother, who had never stepped foot on a plane much less crossed an ocean, once tentatively requested.

“Well, what do you want to ask her, dear?”

“I don’t know, I hadn’t thought of what—”my mother said, her heel lifting cautiously out of her pump. And, I think she finally asked a question for my father–would his office indeed move across town into the site of the Old First National Bank. And whatever answer the spirits gave, I’m sure it was never shared at home. My father did not want to know the details of our shenanigans, as he called them. He tried to ignore my mother’s dreaminess, tried to deny it away. And yet, you couldn’t help but see her still frame before the living room window as the evening approached, couldn’t help but hear the wistful sighs over a slow boiling pot on the stove.

Most of the questions posed to Moeder Eva during the séances were ones I did not understand or that did not concern me—would a person’s health improve, was a financial investment wise or foolish, would there be peace on earth or calm in the troubled lives of one of the ladies in the group. “Oh, selfless beings, guardians of the Akasha . . . you are such a gift!” I would say to my dolls sometimes, imitating, but never mocking Moeder Eva.

If it had not been for the sudden shifting of legs under the table, the excited, stolen glances down onto the floor where I was playing, I might not have heard Moeder Eva’s spirits at all, when one day, they spoke of me.

“Ladies, eyes closed! I have entered the Hall of Records!” Moeder Eva scolded rapping the table with the end of a teaspoon and swaying from side to side. I was used to Moeder Eva’s séance voices, to the sexless personalities that slid one into another in a kind of run-on singsong chant. Ordinarily, I just tuned them out. But the sudden commotion under the table, and Eva’s rapping combined in an instant to make me jump half out of my skin. I reached for my doll. “Hear ye, hear ye!” Ken called out to Barbie and the others who gathered round, “I have entered the Hall—–of—-Records!”

I am not sure how my Hall of Records compared to Moeder Eva’s from behind the veil. Mine, I know, looked a lot like the massive fluorescent-lit college library where my father had taken me when he wanted to research a new tax law. Moeder Eva’s Hall was probably much grander, like the British Museum or the Smithsonian.

“The little girl chi—ld among you . . . has a special des—-tiny. She is an old so—oul and will gro—woo up to serve—”

I did not know what a destiny was, but I could tell by the way Moeder Eva spoke the word that it was an important thing, and a special thing that I had. My mother had not spoken up once since the day of Amelia Earhart, and so I was startled now to hear her.

“Where–where might she travel?” my mother said, winding her foot around her ankle. I thought then of all the odd shaped vases and polished figurines from exotic places like Egypt, South America, and India that my mother had placed on the shelves above our television set and on the table beside my father’s easy chair. My father made fun of these objects and knocked them onto the floor “accidentally on purpose,” according to my mother, as he adjusted the rabbit ears on our console TV.

“She will go . . . she will go—to the Nay——derlands,” Moeder Eva said smiling and swaying more now, as if to a tune. “Oh yes, the Nay——derlands.”

I knew, of course that this was Moeder Eva’s beloved homeland. “I will go,” I said to myself, looking over at the bobble head Dutchman with new interest, “to the Nay—-derlands.” But whatever rush of excitement I felt in that moment was quickly replaced by sadness. While I would travel to the Netherlands, it seemed when I was grown, I knew my mother most likely never would, nor would she travel to any of the other exotic places she dreamed of. My father had told her many times, he wasn’t made of money, and this would always be true, I thought.

“And to the thick jungles of Af—rica, where she will develop a deeeeeep relation—-ship with the animal king—dom, and she will travel to Indi—Indi—-let me consult the Hall . . . India—no,—-In—–dohhhhh—-neeez—–YAH!” Moeder’s Eva head fell forward, then snapped back up. “But Re—re—gar—ding love—the love between man—and—wooooo–man for this child,” Moeder Eva continued. “I am checking the Akashic records . . .”

My face grew hot when Eva mentioned love. I did not speak of my longings to anyone back then. And I was afraid of what the spirits knew of Barbie and GI Joe, of their tender words to each other, and of a kiss behind the leg of the séance table.

“Love will be diff—–diff—–difficult, however,” Moeder Eva continued. “She will gain much reck——-COG—–nition for her good works, but there will not be a deeep com—-MOON—ee—ON with, she will take no huz—no huz—-no HUZ—band in this lifetime.”

I do not remember the séance after that, though I believe it continued on for quite some time. But I recall how strange it was afterwards to be in Moeder Eva’s living room with the ladies laughing and talking about shopping bargains and recipes while my mind reeled with what the spirits had said about me, about my lifetime. And I think it was a lifetime my mother was quite proud of because across the room, she called me to her, drew me up close and said, “I love you, sweetheart, you are my very special girl.”

And my eyes filled with tears then, and I wanted to stay in my mother’s arms a long while, and to whisper in her ear so that no one, not even Moeder Eva’s spirits could hear, that I was frightened of Africa, and did not want a DES-tiny, or to go to that Indo—Indo—neez—YAH, where there would be no one, not ever, to cherish me.

Cathy Rose head shotCathy Rose grew up in Williamsburg, VA and now lives in San Francisco, CA. She is a psychologist in private practice and and also holds an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. Her stories have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Review, Fourteen Hills, Santa Clara Review, Rosebud and elsewhere.