So now I'm heading back to the castle for the Initiation ritual. But this time, Clair is with me. Okay, I apologize for possibly giving you sense of deja vu. You may wonder, if you remember the opening paragraphs, why I'd be so concerned, given all the personal information Clair had told me about herself. But I'd been through the program already and knew how some parts would take Clair by surprise.
We went to the main office, where Clair filled out all the paperwork (as I'd already completed the course, I was assigned the role of guide; something like being "Beatrice" to her "Dante," something she found endlessly amusing). I was given a burgundy-colored cloak to wear over my jeans, while Clair was dressed in a pure white, sleeveless linen gown. Despite being entirely indoors, the Castle did have a large room with a very high ceiling, skylights allowing bright sunshine in, and with its trees and assorted birds, did resemble the Conservatory from a board game I remembered playing as a kid.
I let Clair lead and she had a better sense of direction while I had previously become lost in what seemed to be a maze. There was a thin, low fog (dry ice, I'd guess). We came to a small square mailbox. Clair opened it and removed the small letter. "Sit, sip, and think of your ancestors," she read.
I opened the door to a small cabinet. "There's beer, wine, mead, and iced tea," I said, looking at the contents, deciding on a Polish mead with a label showing the comic relief character from a classic Polish novel, books my aunts and grandparents insisted I read. This fat knight was sitting in a cellar drinking merrily.
"I'll take the iced tea," Clair said. "Having my faculties will probably come in handy."
"Sensible," I said.
"My ancestors raised sheep -- no jokes," Clair said, remembering my odd knowing the name of what everybody but Americans call German Shepherds. "They moved to Canada in early 1934, realizing France was in Hitler's sights, Alsace would be an early target, and a Jewish uncle threatened the entire family."
"Mine came after World War I," I said, "looking for a better life. Most found it. The first two generations are all dead and the third and fourth are dropping rapidly. The fifth and sixth are doing well -- me being among the fifth."
"Some probably view you as the weird uncle who never gave them cousins."
"Probably," I said.
"I am lucky," Claire said. "I was the black sheep, so most of my relatives are expecting to find my name in the obituaries -- "Mutilated Body Found Strewn Across Highway One."
"The Road!" Clair said, laughing. "Wait," Clair said, turning over the letter. "... and remember this past summer."
"Rather hard to forget, I said.
"I wish I would have been able show you more of Niagara Falls."
"We can always return," I said. "And I am curious about Montreal."
"Some nice churches. One incredible cathedral and a smaller one with a lot of steps to climb. And no, I've never had sex in a church," she shrugged her shoulders. "Most of my old partners had too much Catholicism drilled into them -- typical Quebecois. What about you?"
"Where would you?" I asked, "It's been years since I've even been inside a church."
"A confessional? If a priest is there, kill off two birds with one stone. Sin and be forgiven right away."
"I saw a classified ad for an old style 3 section confessional for sale a few months ago. Price was reasonable but getting it home would be a hassle."
"There's a spot in the basement one would fit."
After only a few days, she knew my house better than I did. Annoying.
Finding a door leading out of the Conservatory, we came to a cluttered, dusty living room. There was an old floor model TV, a sofa, and a "seat of honor," a recliner directly facing the television. There was also an envelope sitting on a coffee table.
Clair read, "You remember it, don't you? The sights, smells, and quirks from the homes of people now dead. What's your strongest memory?"
"My Aunt and Uncle," I said, remembering a couple of recently-deceased relatives, "were wary of anything that entered the mainstream after 1970. 'But what can you do with it?' they'd ask, seeing no use of a home computer. They had a microwave oven, never plugged in and used to store the numerous prescription meds they were taking."
"You most remember their eccentricities?" Clair asked, and then giggled. "What does that say about you?"
"That I have a sense of humor about the past?"
"I had an Aunt who lived in northern Quebec," Clair said, "who had an old, Victorian era oven. All sorts of weird little compartments. I can remember all the smells of things baking."
"I miss the old family gatherings. Christmas was always special."
"So far," Clair said, looking at an old family Bible, "these exercises have been rather morbid."
"There is a message to them," I said as a hint.
"All men must die," Clair asked, "Valar morghulis?"
"I remember a TV news commentator who thought there might be a way around the whole death thing. He's dead now."
"But what then?" Clair asked. "Isn't any after life better than total oblivion?"
"Burn in Hell for your sins -- eternal torment."
"For what?" she snapped. "Breaking some arbitrary 'thou shalt not?'"
"That's why I'm getting out of law," I said, half-joking. "Hell has to be packed with lawyers."
"I'm not ashamed of anything I did in porn."
"Well there was this girl who lied about being 18, but that was the director's fault for failing to card her -- not mine ... and she and I are still friends."
"How old were you your first time?"
"Fifteen years, one month, twenty days. He was a distant cousin. My family was visiting relatives for Canadian Thanksgiving -- your Columbus day. An uncle in his seventies slipped on the icy driveway and sprained his ankle. Everybody but Charles and me went to the hospital. Now you have two horny fifteen-year-olds, left alone in a house with the doors to the liquor cabinet left wide open.
"He got you drunk and took advantage of you?"
"Or I got him drunk ... after the third drink it all became very hazy. We were both virgins, despite both having a condom on us. It was a 'one of these days it will happen.' What about you?"
"My wedding night." I said, leaving it at that. "Disappointed?"
"Shocked. Are there no hookers? And the whore houses, are they still in business?"
"As much as I wanted sex," I said, a bit put off by her revision of Dickens, "it scared the shit out of me. Besides, I have two good hands."
"Yeah," she said. "And sorry my first time reminiscences weren't as titillating as some of the others."
"First times usually are that way."
"True. It wasn't until I started nude modeling I began getting ideas on how to spice things up." She stood. "So where to now?" she asked.
I led her "outside." We entered a stairwell cleverly disguised as a cave. It led down a few steps to a beach, shrouded in mist. But as we moved out a few feet, we saw we were standing on a thick glass floor, as if on an ice-covered lake.
Clair found the mailbox and pulled out the next note. "What do your dreams and fantasies mean?" she said, reading. "Are you the person you see in them? Do you even want to be that person? If so, what can you do to make the necessary changes?"
"I want to be you," I said, only half-joking.
"Oddly, mine is to be more like you. More stable, more sure where life's leading me."
An odd symbiosis, I thought. We both had what the other wanted. Clair wanted stability. I wanted adventure. But would I have wanted to live her life?
"What was the worst?" I asked, wondering if she would have any inkling of my inner-dialogue.
"Rona," she said. "Something of a lesbian version of your ex. She hated sex, wasn't at all affectionate, but liked calling herself a lesbian on the Internet so she could play the societal victim." She put her arm around my shoulder. "I never want to be that way."
And here, I thought, was someone who despite all she'd experienced -- all the disappointments and betrayals -- was still very affectionate.
"We were leaving the age," she continued, "where two woman walking down the street, hand in hand, would turn any heads. With her it was like 'Hey! I'm a dyke! Look at me and disapprove!' She could be a very attractive woman but preferred to play the role of an unattractive, masculine bull. Sure, I'll go bald to restore my hair. She had a Mohawk dyed silver gray to stand out."
"She sounds angry," I said. "That doesn't sound like you."
"Different histories," she replied, turning to a happier memory. "My first girl was Rochelle, a friend of mine in my last year of high school. Just before graduation, the senior class had this roller skating party at a nearby rink. We got identical outfits, light blue jerseys and matching spandex leggings. I started flirting with her. At first she seemed disturbed but slowly began returning my attention. Then we kinda ran into each other, she was not all that coordinated. We embraced,started kissing. A soft kiss from a seventeen-year-old girl is far nicer than the clumsy kisses of a seventeen-year-old boy."
"Did that get any attention from your classmates?"
"Of course," she said, giggling. "The amazing thing was how some girls and some boys started talking and paring off in different ways. Then the lights went off -- the chaperons had seen enough.
"Rochelle and I got our shoes and raced to her parent's house. She had an in the ground pool and a very nice tiled deck. I think we amazed ourselves at the power we were able to share. We slept together -- big house, parents gone to work by the time we woke up. We spent all night and the next morning naked. And skinny dipping in a heated pool on a sunny May morning is nice."
"That," I said, smiling, "is something I'd like to try. My ex hated being naked, always needing a nightgown and hating when I slept nude."
"But you seem to be dressed at home -- even right before we have sex. I'm the one who goes around nude all day, guessing you don't mind."
"I guess I have trouble separating nudity from sex," I said. "Nudity leads to sex ... solo or otherwise.
"It is harder for guys," she said, and then started laughing at the double entendre. "But you get acclimated very fast. We need to try it when we get back home. Go to sleep naked, spend all the next day and night without clothes. If you need any help with self control," she said, sticking out her tongue, "I can help there."
I looked at that tongue and thought about the places it had been. "So what happened to her?" I asked.
"Graduation, real life, I saw her a few years ago working at a mall at a watch kiosk. Married with a kid -- so apparently I wasn't enough of a corrupting influence."
"But was she?" I asked.
"I," she said, starting to laugh, "sure hope so."
We came to a small, narrow wrought iron bride with a mailbox in the middle. Clair got the envelope and began to read. "What goals do you still have to realize?"
"Well, change jobs, more nudity," I said. "What about you?"
"I don't know," she said. "Find the right person, maybe,"
"I see," I said, unable not to sound disappointed.
"It could be you," she said, putting her arm around my shoulder. "Thing is, I've messed up so many times in the past, I have to be sure you're not just another fuck-up. But you are emotionally stable. No substance abuse problems. So ... promising."
"So were all your great adventures with unstable druggies?"
"That was usually me," she said. "Nothing serious. Weed, an occasional hallucinogen. I would like to return to modeling -- I realize I've only a few years left before things start to sag."
"Some women way older than you have held up very well," I said, thinking of a still very firm fifty-five-year-old former client, who'd apparently never worn a bra since she got out of high school. "But what sort of pictures would you need to be stoned for?"
"No, need?" she said, laughing. "Preference. Bondage mostly -- it added a dash of spice to the experience. Being suspended by pulleys is more enjoyable stoned. Tied to beds, only able to stop giggling long enough to look scared. Crucified -- a seasonal thing -- very scary, needing a lot of supervision. You know, there was that guy who died on the cross -- a very slow, agonizing form of suffocation."
"Okay," I joked, "when do I start worshiping you?"
"You don't already?"
"I'm assuming much of the nude modeling was done out of doors?"
"Weather permitting," she said. "Or if the photographer was wealthy and not politically correct, owning a coat from some particularly nasty critter. Minks have very warm fur, but you would not want to run into one in the wild."
"A few close calls," she said, grinning. "We went to a park when Shelly, a college art class mate of mine pulls out these body paints. She was going for a Piet Mondrain look -- rectangles of different colors. The result was not that uniform, more like a six year old flinging paint. This was the week between the summer solstice and Canada Day, early sunrises and few people out. She had me follow her to a pedestrian bridge over a highway, usually crouching down but occasionally standing, as if casually crossing the bridge. That was the shot she was after. Suddenly we hear a police siren and dash back to her car, only making me stop to give her time to put a drop cloth over my seat. Vinyl seats, at that."
"So were you and she ..." I started to ask.
"She scared me," Clair said, shaking her head. "Or, rather, she made me scare myself. Risk-taking can become addictive. Mirrors. Your getting off own reflection -- all the time, her snapping pictures. Yeah, the scary thing is I wanted someone to catch me. No one ever did."
"You sound disappointed."
"That's what I mean -- addictive and scary."
"We can get a large mirror," I suggested.
"Maybe both of us doing the same thing?
"You'd have to teach me," I insisted. "Something I'd have to get used to."
"Take it from me," she said, licking her upper lip, "once you get over the insane messages kids are taught about their bodies, you'll be fine."
She was right about that. From anorexic girls seeing themselves as fat to morbidly obese folks needing motorized scooters to shop, being happy with ones own body was difficult. Finding an actually middle ground as far as body mass went was nearly impossible. I felt a bit guilty for once representing a cola company, blatantly lying about the healthiness of their product. I was part of the problem.
The mailbox was at the bottom of a circular staircase, leading straight to the second floor. "What do you know about the occult?" the letter asked. "Do you fear it as being satanic or do you feel it a key to ancient wisdom? Maybe you see it as total hogwash. Consider your understanding of the occult and your reasons for your feelings."
"Ritual orgies are hardly worth the effort," Clair said.
"Voice of experience?" I asked as we started up the steps.
"College," she said. "Guy tried having a proper thirteen person orgy. Four girls and nine guys showed up. Not the best male to female ratio, particularly when it breaks down to three guys and you."
I had to laugh, "And you didn't jump at that?"
"Too confusing," she admitted. "Too much going on all at once."
"I once represented a woman who was fired from her teaching job for being pagan. Public school, suburban, but with a Bible-thumping principal. A little checking up on the principal revealed she'd had a very rocky adolescence and made some very bad personal choices. Just hinting at that bias in court got my client a very healthy severance package -- including a letter of recommendation to a school with an openly atheist as principal." I smiled, realizing it had made up for the cola thing, as far as karma was concerned.
"Did that change your opinion of the occult?" she asked.
"Showed me there can be a balance between science and belief. She was an intelligent, articulate woman whose acceptance of Darwin in no way altered her belief in reincarnation -- that it was just an evolutionary step."
"The schools I went to taught evolution very grudgingly and quickly. Trilobites to Neanderthals in 40 minutes. The theology course I was required to take spent more time justifying the concept of a separate but equal Trinity."