COME RAIN OR COME SHINE
When Rosanna first met Blake she warmed to his genial jazz. She found it very easy to take. His admiration of Gerry Mulligan was pervasive but not obsessive. He was just as likely to have George Handel or Bernard Herrmann playing. Herrmann evoked memories of great Hitchcock movies.
Rosanna came to identify Mulligan's mellow baritone saxophone with the calmer, stronger aspects of Blake personality. The always-reliable Mulligan swing reminded her of Blake's open, boyish grin. He had given her a compilation of Mulligan performances and she played it often.
This night, attending to last-minute chores before bed, she played the Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen classic Come Rain or Come Shine, a glorious arrangement recorded by the Mulligan Concert Band. It left her introspective. Come rain or come shine, eh? What would the future hold?
I hope I live a fuller life than this. Can I have that with Blake? I'm sure he wants me, and everyone, to have all the chances we need to grow into the sort of people we can become. He seems to understand me. I believe in my bones what makes a man a real lover. And I'm sure that's what Blake could be.
All the rest would be just details.
In a little while she was on her side in bed, quite still, conscious thoughts gradually fading. She was staring ahead, focused on either the wall of her room or ... far beyond. She felt something uncanny.
Realization struck with the suddenness of a lighting flash. Her faculties of thought and perception had shifted from within, somewhere inside her head, and moved away to a point near the bedroom door. The awareness turned back in her direction. She was watching herself. Terror was near. She had no idea what produced this. Goose bumps prickled her arms and neck.
She recalled reading about something like this, but those people had been in traumatic states, perhaps near death or otherwise under unusual stress. She knew she had not been dreaming. The thought of death had not been troubling her. She had not imagined this experience. She had not been in a traumatized state. She was in good health, completely sober, not overtired or overstressed.
She was at a loss. She had never believed in astral travel, or any out-of-body experiences, though she reluctantly had an open mind about them. Put on the spot she probably would have said something like, 'I'll believe it when I see it. I'm open to be convinced.'
But now she simply knew what she knew. For the first time she had experienced being able to clearly move some part of herself out of and away from her physical body, and regard that body from more than a metre away. The spookiest impact was when she focused clearly and gazed briefly but unmistakably into her own eyes. She felt tiny, chilly needles prickling the back of her neck.
The experience had lasted probably less than ten seconds. It had left her at once dazed and perspiring, her heart thumping. For just a few moments she was barely able to breathe. Approaching death might be something like that. Hadn't some doctor written of patients undergoing major surgery, in which their lives had been at risk, who had reported looking down on their flesh being operated on?
What had seemed most convincing about those stories was that the patients had been anaesthetized and yet had been able to recall in fine detail the words and actions of the surgeons and theatre staff. That could only have been possible if those details had been acquired from above the operating table, the very point the patients had occupied while 'out of their own bodies'.
She wondered. It happened. I did it. I don't know how or why. I don't know whether everyone can do it, or even whether anyone else at all can do it. I don't know whether it has something to do with a person's makeup, mental, psychic, spiritual or what. Or whether some force from beyond has come into me and given me this faculty. Or whether the faculty has always been there, dormant, in everyone, and in my case some force has triggered the faculty into action.
Minutes after the experience her breathing and pulse returned to normal, the physical excitement had ended, and new excitement took her. What if I can move out of myself like that, but intentionally, consciously, by an act of my own will? I would be able to see myself as others see me. I would be able to experience my words and actions, not subjectively from within, but objectively from outside myself. I would know myself as clearly as my guardian angel knows me. What a marvellous opportunity for self-knowledge and personal growth. Heaven's above. What might be the limits of such a gift?
The next day she smiled as a sport coach said on TV that a badly behaving team member should 'take a good look at himself'. Only then did it occur to her to tell Blake what she had experienced. He might have a positive idea of what it all meant. The more she thought about it, the more eagerly she wanted to see him.
A TRICK OF PERCEPTION
The next Saturday she drove to Dolphin Bay. Blake was eagerly expecting her but was not sure what time she would arrive. She enjoyed the drive in the magnificent sunny weather, accompanied by the appropriately voluptuous Nuevo flamenco of Armik's Isla del Sol, a little louder than she usually would have it. The volume did not distract her driving concentration but cheerful thoughts did have a smile playing around the corners of her mouth. She could hardly wait to get there.
When she walked down the path at the side of his house and into the back garden, as he had suggested when she phoned, he wasn't pottering around among the plants. He was standing barefoot on the small area of sun-warmed lawn, wearing only jeans turned half way up his calves. His face and chest were bathed in sunlight and he was juggling silver balls that looked like they belonged on a large Christmas tree. Each ball was about the size of a tennis ball.
She had no idea he could juggle and her surprise showed. He glanced at her and flashed a quick smile, but kept on deftly juggling the three balls, which were made of stainless steel and heavier than the decorative ones they resembled.
'Oh, wow' she said, 'what's this all mean?'
'What does it look like?'
'I mean, why?'
'Well, what do you see?'
'I see you juggling three balls.'
'Look more closely,' he said, concentrating on his task.
She looked more intently and realized she needed to concentrate on his hands. Startled, she clearly saw that his fingers were not merely moving in the expected rhythm of any juggler simply juggling three balls. Clearly they were not merely opening to receive each of the three balls as they fell, and opening again to toss them into the air.
As well, his fingers were also opening, closing and tossing again very quickly in the time between when one ball was tossed and the next was caught. She had to watch carefully to notice these tiny variations, but was convinced Blake was juggling six balls, but only three of them were visible.
She felt a shiver up her spine, the hair on the back of her neck seemed to stand on end, and she felt chilly goose bumps on her forearms. This was just as she had experienced in her 'out of body' experience. He let the balls fall onto the lawn. She had an intense expression.
'How many balls were you juggling?'
'How many did you see?'
Her voice now had an insistent edge.
'We've had this bit already, Blake. Tell me.'
He put an arm around her waist and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
'It's great to see you, Ros. Come inside.'
'But I want to know. I need to know.'
'Yes, I'll tell you. But first, what's new with you?'
Once seated inside the house, she began by saying, 'Blake, promise you won't laugh at this, but I've had a very strange experience.'
He promised, and she told him the whole story of her strange experience. He just nodded, apparently not at all nonplussed or even surprised. At the end, she looked him full in the face and was a little embarrassed to ask, 'Am I being silly about this? Could it be real?'
He answered her calmly.
'You're not at all silly, Rosanna, but I don't think there can be anything very serious about it. I don't know, but I can't imagine there's more to it than a trick of the mind, something that can happen anytime to any perfectly healthy intelligent person. It's just one of those things we can't explain.' He smiled. 'A little bit like the trick with the juggling.'
'Yes,' she said, 'what was that all about?'
'I've been able to do that for years, Ros. I just practised and practised till I was able to add a little trick to simple juggling. Just adding a little bit of shaking and twitching the fingers gives the impression I'm doing more than juggling three balls.'
'And you weren't? There really were only three balls?'
'Sure. It's a little trick of perception. Nothing to it. Nothing more than using people's imagination to make them believe they're seeing more than they are seeing, or at any rate different from what they really are seeing. It's like the message game. You know, start with a couple of dozen people; whisper a simple message in one person's ear; that person whispers it to the next in the same way; and so on.
'By the time the message does the round and is back where it started, it is likely to be completely distorted or even replaced. A word here, an inflection there, and the sense gets changed a little bit each time.
'People think they are passing on what they hear, but we don't always say what we think we're saying, or hear what we think we're hearing. Or see what we think we're seeing. Police and courts have this trouble all the time. Witnesses to accidents get information confused. The car was black/red/blue/green/grey. Sense impressions are just very unreliable.'
Rosanna was thoughtful.
'So you don't think I'm silly, but maybe my senses, plus my imagination, played a trick on me?'
'Something like that. But also maybe you've been a bit more stressed than you think. How have you been eating and sleeping?'
She was unsure how much she should reveal.
'Well, mum reckons I haven't been eating enough, and I have been sleeping a bit differently. Sometimes I'm awake for hours, thinking. Other times I sleep like a log for longer than usual. But I'm okay. Have missed you, though.'
Blake was a little relieved to hear her describe just what he, too, had been experiencing over recent days.
'Me too,' he said. 'I have missed your smiling face.'
Rosanna was glad she had decided not to say anything about the nonsense of the 'blessings' the Norrises and their animals had received. It didn't seem amusing any more, merely ridiculous. It just wasn't the real thing. And that 'out of body' thing and the trick with the juggling weren't of any real importance, either. They just didn't rate when compared with what she saw as significant issues.
They were quiet for a moment, then he broke the silence.
'Maybe we should give ourselves a little treat tonight. What do you say to a Thai banquet for two? With just a little wine, perhaps?'
She didn't need to be asked twice.
Before that, though, they had time for an afternoon beach stroll.
Rosanna felt relaxed and confident now.
'I've been having strange dreams lately.'
'Really,' he said, a touch of excitement in his voice. 'You too?'
'Yes. But you can tell me yours first if you like,' she said.
So he told her as much as he could remember, which was a lot, about the dream of when he was an infant, seeing those male saints in the desert scene, and then the women saints. Then the one he had after the ski-paddling accident, and about heaven or whatever it was.
'Gosh,' she said. 'Mine are all much simpler. There's probably a perfectly simple explanation for them. I'd rather just forget them.'
He thought of mentioning the 'light event' he had experienced when sitting in his car outside the church, but that made no sense without the link to Lipton's talk and his own decision. The full story would have to wait. After that languid afternoon, they were looking forward to sharing nothing less than a superb evening.
'I reckon we deserve it,' he said with a smile.
The restaurant was small but elegant and the food, prepared by the owner's family, seemed to Blake and Rosanna as delightful as if they too were members of the family.
'Great taste,' she said, 'and I don't just meant this wonderful food. You have an eye for quality.'
'Of course, that's why you're here.'
'Oh of course.'
'That was really nice with your folks the other night,' he said, 'but funny the way your mum came out with all that stuff about Terry and her mum.'
'Wasn't it? I was stunned.'
'Yes, you looked it.'
She took a sip of wine.
'I hope I don't have any more dealings directly with Mario while he's roaming around on the loose,' she said. 'He could be a pest.'
'You're telling me? With any luck he'll direct his stupidity at someone else. Just so long as it's not you or me, thanks.'
They both laughed.
'But that news wasn't as stunning as Peggy's phone call. I could hardly believe that.'
'Yes, a shock all right,' he said. 'Hope you have better luck with the next priest. I hope he's more appreciative of your playing. Funny the way things have turned out.'
'Isn't it? I was thinking about that earlier. It all seems a bit too good to be true, the way things have fallen into place.'
'Hmmm. You know the word for all of that?'
'Well, it's all a matter of perception. It's either a kind of serendipity or just plain old coincidence. Take your pick.'
'There is another explanation.'
'Well, bad things test our patience, don't they? Why can't good things come along as the blessings we were meant to get? I mean, we don't always expect our prayers to be answered the way we would like, but maybe sometimes they are. Things seem to work out right in the end for the saints, don't they? Maybe sometimes that can be true in a small way for little people like us, too. Why not?'
'Oh absolutely. You could be right there, Rosanna. Either way, we can be thankful for the way things seem to be turning out.'
They clicked their glasses together. Now he knew the time was right so he began by telling her how Des Lipton's talk had got to him.
'The images of my mostly happy childhood came flooding back. Nothing like the scenes of desolation in the lives of the kids Lipton spoke about. Boy, that hit me.'
'I can well believe it. I heard him speaking once about his work. He's a very impressive man. He deserves all the encouragement and help he can get.'
That was all Blake needed. There would be no problem with her accepting his plan. But he wanted to talk about something else first.
'You know Ros, those things like your "out of body" experience and the juggling thing should be easily put aside when considered against the really important things.'
'Well, you know, our faith, our spirituality.'
'Oh, right, of course. Yes.'
'Yeah. The sacraments, prayer. The basics.'
'Yes,' she said, remembering what her old school friend had been saying lately. 'Not like Trixi, poor thing. She's gone right off the rails. She's become really superstitious and now she's studying what she calls white magic.'
'Oh boy! Stay away from that. It's just a distraction. Or worse.'
'Of course. But it just shows how easy it is for ordinary people to let themselves drift off the path, doesn't it?'
'Sure,' he said, 'we can easily let sense perceptions delude us and cloud our faith. But we won't. Will we?'
She felt a tingle. It was the 'we' that did it. She smiled and put her hand on his.
'No,' she said, 'we won't. I'm sure we'll stay on the path. Wherever it takes us.'