In memory of James Merrill
They used a blue willowware teacup in place of a planchette, placing it upside down on the Ouija board and using it to converse with the dead. David would put his right hand on the overturned cup, Jimmy his left, leaving his right hand free to transcribe the answers to the questions David posed.
The first answers were a blurry, anamorphic mess, distorted by passage through the ether or whatever medium it was that separated the living from the not. With practice, Jimmy was able to pluck out words from the farrago of letters and numbers he had written down and transform them into cryptic messages.
The messages multiplied into personalities—an engineer who once met Goethe and died of cholera in Cairo, an Athenian socialite who committed suicide, a Greek Jew named Ephraim who became their Virgil and introduced them to an expanding circle of sprites. They propped a mirror in the facing chair so the spirits could see them and their conversations could become more intimate.
“What you and David are doing,” his psychoanalyst told him, ”is what we call a folie à deux.” Jimmy wasn’t sure if he was talking about their seances or the sex they were having. Jimmy was uncomfortable discussing his relationship with David. Worried about what his parents might think, he had been reluctant to come out of the closet. It was his psychoanalyst, not Jimmy, who told his father he was gay.
“Can’t you find a simpler way to arouse each other’s depth of spirit?” the doctor asked.
Jimmy read his face like it was a fortune cookie. “You mean, in bed.” He grinned.
Clearly, the headshrinker was telling him that Ephraim and the other spirits were projections of his and David’s inner selves. Both he and his lover had read Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther and wept over it; Jimmy’s mother, like Maria Mitsotáki, was a socialite. But she hadn’t killed herself, not even when Jimmy came out, and neither he nor David were Greek or Jewish.
Jimmy looked up from the analyst’s couch. “Freedom to be oneself is all very well,” he said. “The greater freedom is not to be oneself.”
His psychoanalyst scowled. “Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth,” he said sarcastically, quoting Wilde.
“So the truth was what we heard?”
“A truth.” His doctor shrugged. “It’s hard to speak of the truth.”
Later, over the Ouija board on the milk-glass tabletop and in front of the mirror in the facing chair, David demanded he come clean. “Are you telling the truth when you say you love me?”
The Ouija board answered, “Yes.” And “no.”
In the end, the spirits hadn’t told them anything they didn’t already know. Perhaps if they had used a heart-shaped planchette instead of a willowware teacup, they might have received replies that were more pointed, answers that were less circular.
Michael Zimecki is the author of the novel Death Sentences, published by Crime Wave Press, and a novella, The History of My Final Illness, published in Eclectica Magazine. His work has appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, Cleaver, Harper’s Magazine, and The National Law Journal, among other publications. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Susan. He can also be found at michaelzimecki.com and on Twitter @mikezimecki.