The bright gold bracelets on her wrists reflected Keri’s face back at her. She brushed stray hair out of her eyes, suddenly embarrassed at how she had let herself go. The woman sat across from her, sipping coffee. Keri had invited her in, or she had simply entered. She had shown the woman to a chair, or the woman had told her to sit. However it was, Keri rolled the desk chair away from the computer table and swiveled it around to face the rocker that the woman occupied. Keri noticed that her robe had slipped down, baring one shoulder, and hastily adjusted it, suddenly reminded that she was naked under her tattered robe. I ought to excuse myself and get dressed she thought, as she sat down.
The woman extended one leg casually, and Keri felt the firm flesh of a nylon- clad calf pressing against her bare leg. She started to draw away from the contact, but the woman raised one finely drawn eyebrow and smiled. The expression in her eyes conveyed more irony than apology, and had the force of a command. Keri relaxed her leg and allowed the touch
She is using Jedi mind tricks on me! Keri thought, laughing inwardly at the absurdity of her fear. Yet her voice had quavered as she spoke to the woman, and her hand had trembled as she served the woman a cup of coffee that hadn’t been asked for. How did Keri know that cream and sugar were unnecessary?
“Thank you,” said the woman, accepting the cup with cool grace. She seemed slightly amused by Keri, and not at all surprised, as though this hospitality were simple tribute, only her expected due.
The bracelets emerged gleaming from her sample case shortly after the woman sat down. Keri hardly heard the sales pitch, if that was what it could be called. She wasn’t even sure what the woman’s stock in trade was. The woman babbled on about enhancement, enrichment, and fulfillment, the words a meaningless blur. It was her eyes that spoke directly to Keri.
I know, they said. I understand. I can help. She toyed with the bracelets as she spoke, idly, twirling one in a sliver of sunlight just above Keri’s eyes.
“Aren’t they beautiful? You should try them on.”
Keri wasn’t even aware of the precise moment when she extended her arms and watched as the bracelets were clasped around her wrists.
“They are very pretty,” Keri murmured. “They look like…” she almost said “shackles,” but was frightened by what that word might reveal about her. Perhaps no one else saw the world the way that she did. She felt like the man in the old joke who insists that his doctor is showing him pornographic inkblots. Don’t tell me I’m sexually obsessed, Doc. You drew those dirty pictures!
“Barbarian ornaments,” she said finally.
In fact, they did look like shackles, wide and thick with heavy hinges and clasps. Four rings dangled at the compass points of each bracelet, places to hang charms perhaps. Keri squirmed in her chair, made restive by emotions she refused to identify. Ninny! She admonished herself silently. She was suddenly desperate to have them off. With mounting irritation, she struggled for several moments to open the catches. A vague and swiftly growing sense of alarm threatened to spoil the easy dream she had fallen into. She quieted it with a deep breath and held out her wrists.
“Can you help me with these? I don’t seem to be able to…”
The woman smiled, displaying the quiet power that Keri was already beginning to find attractive. The emotion confused her, since she had never felt anything sexual for another woman.
“Shush! Leave them for now. We have magic to work first.”
Keri felt a chill in her spine that had been forgotten with childhood. Magic! It always worked in the stories. Why couldn’t she make things right again by believing hard enough? Wasn’t Tinker Bell saved by a simple assertion of faith?
The woman rose and strolled to the window, where she stood looking out briefly before closing the blinds. Keri watched curiously.
“What should I do?” Keri asked.
The woman turned. “What you need is a simple ceremony of transition, an end to old ways of seeing and doing. You hate what you have become, but you cannot change without help.”
Keri nodded, feeling a trifle disappointed. For a moment she had dared to hope. Now it seemed that this mysterious stranger was simply another charismatic new age charlatan.
“Cross your fingers and close your eyes,” ordered the woman.
She didn’t say Simon says thought Keri, obeying anyway. She sensed the woman moving behind her. When hands touched her head, she stiffened with surprise. The hands seemed unusually hot.
“Relax,” cooed the woman. “You’re full of negative energy. We have to release it.” She massaged Keri’s neck, and the girl began to let go of her tension.
“Ummm! Is this the magic?”
“Soon now. Wishes are like secret prayers. You make public prayers with your hands before you. Secret prayers are made with the hands hidden. Place your hands behind you and clasp your fingers together. Wish your greatest wish.”
Keri’s first thought was that wishing for the impossible was a waste of time and energy. Then she told herself that her greatest wish was for the love and forgiveness that Alan refused her. Yet the image that arrived unsummoned was one resurrected from childhood. A picture she had studied until it was burned into her mind. She had believed it was long buried and forgotten.