“When did the episodes begin?”
Eva glanced out the window to her left. It framed several winding bare branches, none of which seemed sturdy enough to hold up against the powerful autumn winds.
The doctor’s soft voice tried to reach her, but she found it impossible to draw her attention completely away from the tree. That disconnection – it was one of the reasons she was here.
“Always,” she replied. The words had to be forced out of her, but she continued, “It’s like the whole thing is just one big episode, you know?” she dared, eyes still glued to the tree. “The whole thing, I’m just, always in it.”
“Do you mean that during these episodes, you feel as though you’re reliving the incident?” the doctor pried.
Eva’s glare softened, but didn’t break. “No,” she whispered hoarsely, “it’s as though I’ve never left the incident.”
In the elevator, Eva counted down the flights, her heart pounding nervously each time a lower number menacingly lit up. When Level 1 was reached, the doors would creak open and expose her to the extraordinary bustle of downtown Montreal. Though she had never particularly liked the big city, growing up she had been rather indifferent to the noise and crowds. Lately, however, it had all become unbearable. As had many things. Bagels, for instance. She had to walk past a bagel shop every morning on her way to work and the smell sickened her. It was a sensory reaction that she could not even connect to the incident. Perhaps bagels had been on his breath, or in the air that night. She didn’t know, and she didn’t care. She just wished she could find a new route to work.
The evening air was crisp and Eva thought she might enjoy feeling the raw, honest, cold under her skin if she weren’t in such a rush to make it back to her apartment. It was just at the tail end of rush hour, so the restaurant and pub entrances were beginning to crowd with smokers dressed business-casual, still reeling from their long days and first drinks. As Eva squeezed through them she tried to ignore the bi-lingual cacophony filling the tight spaces. By the time she made it to her apartment building entrance, she had felt as though the crowds had all crawled inside of her, wriggling their way through her ears, swirling now in her temples. She knew exactly what her mother would say: ‘you’ve always been anti-social. Never one for big crowds.’ She hated to admit her daughter wasn’t getting any better, so she always looked for ways to normalize the episodes. But Eva knew – she knew things were different now, that they would never be the same. So much had been taken from her that night. So much more than he’d ever know.
Eva let the long sleeve of her oversized sweater drop over her hand; made sure it was tightly wrapped, then tugged on the first glass door. As it opened, she stepped backwards, as if trying to stay out of its way. But, as she did so, someone slammed into her; tried to walk through her as if she wasn’t even there. His shoulder clipped hers with surprising force and she choked out a wisp of dry air. And in that moment, everything slowed down. Suddenly, Eva’s field of vision widened, opening up to 100, 200, 300 degrees. Her temporal visual field sharpened so that even blinking seemed to take minutes, and minutes, and minutes. She could hear the scraping of the door’s frame against the cement; the clawing of her clothed fingernails digging into the handle; the sound of his shoes slapping into the distance. Even in slow motion, Eva knew he was hurrying away. His breath exhaled in an exaggerated puff. The paper bag he was carrying, which she could inexplicably see behind her bumped shoulder, wafted a disturbing scent into her nostrils. Bagels.
A jolt of electricity sizzled up Eva’s spine and worked its way into her chest, where it nested and grew. She felt her teeth gritting, and her body taking over. The metal handle of her apartment door crumbled in her hand. At that exact moment, lightning cut through the sky, and Eva knew that – somehow – it had come from inside of her.
And then it was over. Her field of vision closed in, returning to its ordinary 90-degree range. Time caught up with itself, and the pace of the world made sense again. The sounds of the city were back, and the smell of singe was in the air. Hesitantly, Eva turned to observe the chaos behind her. The man who had bumped her, hooded sweatshirt and baggy jeans, stood dumbfounded. He was looking down at his bag of bagels. It had been set on fire. Eva ran inside, metal shards of handle fumbling down her sleeve.
Comic books, super heroes, super villains – Eva had never really been one for that stuff. She certainly hadn’t thought any of it could be real. She had, however, always been a believer in the supernatural. The world was too fucked up to just be ordinary. Divination, omens, the power of Sight; these had all been things Eva had been drawn to in her youth. When she failed, time and again, she had decided only that she was not Gifted. She still believed wholeheartedly that others could be. Now, she wondered if it was possible to have something inside of you, lying dormant like a predator in your closet, only to attack when the timing was just right. The thought twisted her insides, as if her guts were turning to rot.
She rushed to the kitchen, which was really just a corner of the room that a mini fridge, a stove and a couple cabinets and drawers were tucked into. She tore open the top drawer and used two hands to scoop out all of the silverware. Breathing fast through her nose she began organizing them by size and patterns. They were from mixed sets, compiled mostly from thrift shops. Soon, the work sent a calm through her. The more relaxed she became, the more welcoming that newly familiar feeling of cold disconnection was. Outside, the lightning had triggered an autumn storm. Though, Eva supposed the way the naked tree branches had been swaying all afternoon meant the events had already been in motion before she… before her. It was entirely rational. Her doctor would be proud. And yet, something deep inside of her winced at the lie.
That night, Eva slept with her hands compressed between her knees. She was afraid of what they might do should she not be awake to control them. Somehow, the noisy streets that usually kept her up and on edge, lulled her to sleep like a melodic comfort.
“My name is Eva Lassiter. We emailed.”
“Ah, yes. My dear, Eva. Please, come in.”
The woman spoke with a subtle Quebecois accent. Eva stepped up into the RV that had been converted into a home, and then into a business. It had been a mental strain to get to it, as it was so far outside the city, and Eva did not drive. But there had been a pertinacious voice in her head telling her it was a thing she had to do. She could always do things if she had to.
The woman, whose website advertised her as Madame Corbeau, L’Extraordinaire, had that way of speaking as though she was scolding you, even when she wasn’t. Eva obliged, settling into an old wooden chair that could use a sanding and a re-staining. It was something Eva would have loved to do. It was placed at a round wooden table that was much newer, but still rough around the edges. Madame Corbeau had scurried through a false doorway draped with beads. Their clanking was incessant now, drilling into Eva’s head like the cawing of a distant bird. With gloved hands, Eva reached out and delicately tapped a tarot card. It was still face down.
“Here you are.” Madame Corbeau returned with a pot of tea and mismatched cups. Eva did not much care for tea, but she nodded politely as the woman poured her a large serving.
“How should we begin?” Eva asked.
Madame Corbeau smiled. It wasn’t a full smile, nor one of amusement. It was one of pity. She adjusted her polychromatic, jeweled head wrap. Her bracelets clattered together, echoing through the nervous silence.
“I always say it’s best to start with a question. That’s why you’re here, no? To ask me a question.”
Eva nodded; hesitantly this time. Her chest was tightening, ribs squeezing her lungs together. She didn’t know how to ask the thing that needed to be asked. Seeing this, Madame Corbeau asked for her.
“You want to know if he did this to you.” She let a slight pause linger in the wake of the word “he.”
Again, Eva nodded. This time, as she did so, she felt her temperature rise; blood rushing to her cheeks and to the back of her neck. Was this a gift from a world beyond the veil? Or, a curse from a stranger?
“Neither,” Madame Corbeau announced, as if reading Eva’s mind. “The power, my dear, comes from within you. It is yours. Not a gift. Not a curse. A part of you ready to show itself.”
“I-I don’t understand?” Eva whispered, her voice barely audible. She could feel a stinging in the back of her throat, crawling up behind her eyes. Her chest felt as though it might burst open.
“Unleash it. Do not be afraid. I only need to see into your eyes to know who you are. You are power. Stop hiding behind it and let it be.”
The woman raised her tea to her tangerine-stained lips and sipped triumphantly. Eva left the trailer, a new version of herself. A better version. A version of herself that was no longer defined by a single incident. A version of herself that was no longer living only inside of a single incident. A version of herself that she could trust, for the first time in her life. And all it had taken was a simple spark. A bag of bagels on fire.
“When was the last episode?”
Eva stared into the doctor’s eyes. “6 weeks, or so.”
“And what did it feel like? Can you describe it?”
Eva sighed, less than eager to return to the bad place, but willing to.
“Like claustrophobia, I guess. Darla, the little girl, she was crying and screaming, but she wouldn’t take my hand.”
“And how did that make you feel?”
“Small.” Eva took in a deep, slow breath and closed her eyes. She could feel Darla’s tiny nails thrashing against her. She could feel Darla’s panic rising.
“Eva?” The doctor’s voice called her back.
“Small. But only for a minute. And then, I remembered that I was big. And strong. So, I grabbed her, Darla, and I pulled her out of the car.”
A wisp of regret floated out of Eva. “I couldn’t get the others. It was too late.”
“But, you got Darla.”
Eva could feel something tugging at the corners of her lips. Pride, she supposed.