Echo Moon, Excerpt
Brooklyn, New York
“Silence! The spirit world demands silence!” Oscar Bodette pressed his hand to the air as if placing a finger to the lips of each audience member. They obeyed. “If the Amazing Miss Moon is to connect with a world beyond this one, she will require your cooperation.” Mystified hums surged. “Please! I beg of you, in hopes that Miss Moon can reach to the stars and what’s beyond!”
Oscar arched his arm like a rainbow, more gestures Esmerelda knew from behind her closed eyes. She sat perched on a throne bejeweled as the gown she wore, which flowed like the heavens around her. From a catatonic state, she pulled erect. On her head, she balanced a Louis the XV crown fashioned of paste gems and trailing beads. Esmerelda opened her eyes and stared like a china doll into the hushed audience. Her strawberry blonde hair fell in a wavy cascade, enhancing her bewitching pose. It was good-sized crowd, at least twenty deep. Oscar pivoted fast, his arm a divining rod aimed at the chosen man. “You, sir!”
“Me?” A well-dressed patron stepped forward.
“No. Not you.” The divining rod became a fan, Oscar waving him off. “Miss Moon sees that gentleman! The departed loved one connected to his soul.” He wagged his finger passionately. “Behind you.”
“You mean me?” a different man said.
“Yes!” Esmerelda announced. She placed her hands, as if casting a spell, over a glass globe. “The spirit of your beloved wife greets you from beyond the grave. She beckons to me now.” Speaking in a monotone voice, Esmerelda lurched about as if this spirit might be making a bodily invasion. “Anna.” She was loud and exact, her small brow scrunching.
“Good heavens. That’s right!” the man cried.
“Of course it is, sir,” Oscar said. “Miss Moon is never wrong. Come forward.” The man, who walked with a pronounced limp, made his way onto the stage, helped by two men who appeared from the wings. “Miss Moon, what is your message for…”
“Thomas,” Esmerelda said.
“Good heavens! That’s right too.” Thomas dotted himself with the sign of the cross.
“Naturally, sir. The Amazing Miss Moon is communicating with your dead wife, who would surely know your name.” Oscar looked to Esmerelda. “And what is Anna’s message for young Thomas?”
“Anna says… she says…” Her tone strained to a climax and she stared into the ball. “She says she misses you a great deal and she hopes the children are fine.”
“Fine as they can be without their beloved mama.” Thomas removed his cap from his head and covered his heart with it. “Does Anna say anything else?”
“Why, yes. She does.” Esmerelda sat taller and turned her crowned head smoothly, her gaze tracking Thomas. “Anna says you will forever miss her, but that you’ll live a long life. That you should take the children and move to your mother’s in Minnesota.”
“I’ve been thinking I should do that! Did Anna really say I should?”
“It’s a certainty,” Oscar said. “How else would the Amazing Miss Moon know your family hails from Minnesota?” Startled noises of agreement rose from the crowd. “Miss Moon, does she bring forward other insights from beyond heaven’s gate?”
“Only that Thomas shouldn’t be too hard on young Edgar. The lad merely misses his departed mother. A switch for not bringing in firewood is too much.”
The man looked sheepishly at the floor.
“Anna, she… wait!” Esmerelda cupped her hand to her ear. “She grows fainter. Thomas’s dear wife tells me that he’s endured enough hardship. Good fortune is also in his future.” Esmerelda announced the last part with renewed fervor. “Anna promises it.” The filled hall whooped into a frenzied roar, clapping and cheering. Esmerelda slumped back in the chair. “That is all. She is gone.”
Oscar removed his straw boater hat and held it out. Thomas dropped in a silver coin. “Why thank you, friend,” Oscar said, his expression laced with surprise. “The price of admission was enough, but tokens of gratitude are most appreciated.”
The same men who had appeared from the wings assisted the limping Thomas down from the stage. “Who is next?” Oscar boomed. He pointed. “Madam. Miss Moon and her otherworldly gifts, they seek you out!”
The woman drew a handkerchief to her mouth; the man beside her steadied an arm. Oscar touched fingertips to his forehead as if willing forward information. “I believe Miss Moon sees… she sees…”
Esmerelda had fallen into another trance. She opened her eyes to see Oscar twist toward her, his own eyes shut tight. “I see a child. A daughter,” she said.
Oscar shook his head in a terse stroke, mouthing “sister.”
“No, wait…” Esmerelda fluttered her fingers as if they danced with the spirit world. She basked in a dramatic pause. “It’s a sister. Sally’s younger sister.”
“That’s right,” Oscar said in a low voice.
“You know my name—and my Tilly! You see my sweet Tilly?” As the woman from the audience confirmed the spirit, earthly astonishment rose.
“Yes,” Esmerelda said. “I’m also seeing…” She rolled her eyes high, lids fluttering like snapped roller shades. “Parents.”
“But just our Mother.”
“That’s right.” Esmerelda quickly agreed.
“She went to heaven on the Spanish flu last winter.”
“As did your sister, Tilly.” The odds were overwhelming and Esmerelda went with them. It had been her own mother’s fate. Sally sobbed into her husband’s tweed jacket. Her other hand remained gripped over her abdomen. “Your mother, she always called your sister by her Christian name, Matilda.”
“Well, Mother was Jewish.”
Esmerelda traded a panicked glance with Oscar.
“Although, Tilly was named after my aunt on my father’s side,” Sally said. “They’re from Kansas—and Lutherans.”
“Correct!” Esmerelda exclaimed. “And so it’s your sister’s Christian name I’m hearing.”
“What else?” The woman’s desperate tone tugged on Esmerelda’s heart.
“She, um… she says she loves you a great deal and…” Esmerelda homed in on the woman’s hand, still clutching her stomach. She drilled two fingers to her temple and cocked her head. “Tilly says she’d be so pleased if you named the forthcoming child for her.”
“How do you know…?” Esmerelda smiled and Oscar threw her a searing glare. The woman’s hand moved from her stomach and pressed against her wet cheek. “I haven’t even told Wallace yet. I wanted to wait longer, until…”
“You’re not serious?” Wallace’s accidental timing was impeccable. Stunned murmurs traveled the hall. Oscar cleared his throat, instructing the couple to come forward. They made their way onto the stage and the man looked at Esmerelda with godly awe. “We thought sure Sally couldn’t do it. She’s lost so many babies. So this one will make it? You’re telling us that?” They were stage left now, their anxious faces so close and real.
“I, um… saying for certain, it’s, uh…”
“But the sign out front. It says that’s what you do—speak to those who have passed and tell the future.” Wallace pointed to the spot where Thomas had stood. “You and your crystal ball knew to tell that other fellow to go to Minnesota.”
“She did indeed.” Oscar approached the couple, his large hand resting firm on the man’s shoulder. “Naturally, the child will come to term. A sure blessing.” He turned to Esmerelda, who exhaled and eased back on her throne. “Have the sister… mother figures retreated, Miss Moon?”
“They have,” she insisted.
Oscar took a step back, bowing low with his hat extended. Wallace dug deep into his pocket and placed a few coins in the hat. His startled expression clung to Esmerelda, who hadn’t recovered enough to slip into another trance. “Thank you. Thank you so much, Miss Moon. You’ve no idea what it means to Sally and me. After all this time—a child.”
“Yes… yes…” Oscar shooed the couple stage left. The same two men appeared, escorting them back to the audience. “That, my friends, was merely a sampling—sweet and tempting as your mother’s peach pie. It’s a small offering of the Amazing Miss Moon’s psychic gifts when combined with her powerful gazing ball, discovered in Machu Picchu, left by the ancient Incas.” Oscar cupped a hand to his ear. “I believe she may sense another soul connecting. Is it for you, sir?” He pointed with authority at the man. “Or you, Madam?”
“She’s the devil and they need to know it!” A woman’s voice cut through Albee’s dim hall. “If the girl possesses that power, it’s Satan whispering in her ear!”
“Where are the doormen? Where is your ticket, Madam! This is a paid performance.”
“Never mind my ticket. My Ernie come by here the other night. Then he came home talkin’ gibberish. Said he wanted to speak to his daddy, that he was comin’ back till she,” the woman stabbed a finger in Esmerelda’s direction, “digs up my dead Henry.” Esmerelda wriggled her nose at the thought. The woman was halfway up the aisle, commanding the crowd like a preacher. “Nothin’ changes death—specially no She-Devil! Don’t matter how much gold you wrap her up in or rouge you paint on her face.”
Esmerelda clutched at the low-cut bodice with one hand and touched her painted cheek with her other.
“There’s no gettin’ back to someone you loved and lost. Not through no phantasm.” The interloper thrust a worn bible into the air. “Deuteronomy, 18:11 ‘Anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium… whoever inquires of the dead is an abomination to the Lord!’ It’s scripture!” Clamors rose, patrons sounding more concerned about evil and less awed by foretold futures.
“It’s a free country, ma’am.” Oscar stayed steady. “No one forced these good people to gather.”
“So said the serpent. Tis the way of temptation, sir.” Her voice boomed, rivaling Oscar’s. “Recognize what you’re doing!” She spun in a circle, pointing. “If that girl sees your dead loved ones, listening puts your soul in the devil’s hand. Says it right here!” She thrust her bible upward. Esmerelda’s gaze followed, wary of a hail of brimstone.
“Pull the curtain!” Oscar was caught in the velvet fabric and his large frame floundered like a weighty ghost under a bedsheet. The ruckus grew as patrons demanded refunds, perhaps absolution. Making his way to the other side of the curtain, Oscar barked directions at his troupe. “Could be worse. She could have called us swindlers.”
Bill, and his true gimpy leg, hustled past Oscar, laughing. “Thank goodness she sided with the Lord instead of the truth.” Bill portrayed the widower Thomas nightly, after he and Barney gathered personal tidbits from marks in the crowd. Sally had been the first of a half dozen intended recipients of messages from beyond.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Oscar said. “Barney, Jimmie, grab the chair and load it on the wagon. Don’t drop the ball! If we lose either, there goes half the act!” The two men all but dumped Esmerelda from the chair. She and the crown spilled forward. Esmerelda caught the headwear, but tripped on the gown, which was several sizes too big. She’d inherited the costume and gift from Marlena the Mystic. Marlena had abandoned Oscar Bodette’s Traveling Extravaganza to run off with a contortionist from Istanbul.
Minutes later they were all packed in the wagon and doing double time, galloping across the Brooklyn Bridge. The horses, Go and Fish, were sweaty and snorting by the time Oscar slowed their pace, coming into Lower Manhattan. From there, the team clip-clopped up the city avenues. After a while they came to a stop, and Esmerelda peeked through a hole in the canvas covered wagon. They were parked at the rear of Hupp’s Supper Club & Hotel.
She sighed. This was the grind of a traveling life—the show would go on. Oscar worked them hard, but protected them well. He was the anchor, if not the security in life. Like much of Esmerelda’s world, this was one of many facts she never imagined two short years earlier.
She closed one eye and spied Hupp’s sign again. That said, she wasn’t sure Oscar could do a thing to save her from Benjamin Hupp’s attentions. She was being silly, of course, and scoffed at her folly. As if any girl should require saving from an heir to a fortune… She rested back on her heels and opened a small crate. A china doll lay on top. Marigold was one of a few threads that had trailed Esmerelda from her life in New England to the one in New York. She’d outgrown the doll ages ago but hugged it anyway, the gold lame fabric crunching in between the two of them.
She looked at Marigold and imagined the doll’s glass aqua eyes could see fortunes, old and new. Esmerelda brushed at her beaded gown. She glanced at the crown balanced upon a broom handle, the gazing ball nested in a box of straw. Bells chimed from blocks away, the Church of the Resurrection. Before they faded, Esmerelda said a prayer and made a wish. She wanted it to be true, that these props and possessions, maybe even mystics, had the power to predict all that was to come.