Elysian Vestibule

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Jennifer Pantusa


Many windows
Photo Credit: Lorianne DiSabato

Marcia yawned as she stood at her cashier post by the gift store entrance.

“How wonderful to work at such a spiritual place,” gushed a Norwegian tourist.

“Awesome,” Marcia replied, as she tried to smile to make up for the traces of sarcasm that saturated her words. It is hard to sell earnestness when you really do not aspire to earnestness.

Olga (the Norwegian tourist—yes, that was really her name) politely ignored the sarcasm. Olga was a physician and secretly pitied everybody without an advanced degree, prestigious job, and blonde hair. She masked this superiority complex with exceeding friendliness and a lovely Nordic smile.

Marcia reflected on her luck. She had been trained to avoid the hot spots. In her teen years, Marcia’s great aunt had secretly been a teleporter and had disappeared into a hot spot. The rest of the family avoided the hot spots as if they were telemarketers (the hot spots not Marcia’s family).

Yet here was Marcia working at the landmark hot spot, the granddaddy of hot spots. Some savvy developers about a generation ago had found the spot and christened it the Elysian Vestibule in the hope of creating a destination for pilgrimages and tourist visits. Pagan spirituality was very big at the time. In twenty years’ time, the site had become huge.

The vestibule itself was lovely. The plain slate floor in the center was surrounded by various shades of highly-polished rock flooring. Petrified wood benches provided seating in the pseudo-forest of potted trees that surrounded the sacred tourist destination. The roof opened up to a tall skylight in the center of the rotunda. Fountains splashed down from the walls surrounding the rotunda into small koi ponds. Birds filled the air. Marcia had to admit it was lovely. Except for all the friggin’ tourists.

The developers had added the obligatory learning piece for the intellectuals who felt the need to justify their curiosity with the excuse of cultural importance. Well-meaning parents brought their children dutifully through the exhibits about the history of teleporters in the region and the world, about the dark days of their persecution at the hands of our very own now-enlightened government, about the folk history and tales of teleporter culture, and about the now famous teleporters who had broken through those stereotypes to succeed. Meanwhile the children longed to splash in the koi ponds, feed bread crumbs to the koi (or the occasional M&M causing a koi riot—hugely entertaining—but I digress), chase the birds, and run through the sacred hot spot. Yes, the hot spot was open for all, but it was not really a problem. Due to the fact that the teleporter culture had largely been exterminated, Marcia had only ever seen one person teleport: Wayne Haguebak, resident teleporter.

The coup de grâce of the developers had been to hire a real live teleporter to consult on staff. He could answer visitor questions and, twice a day, Wayne would teleport for the entertainment, enlightenment and edification of the visitors. The developers had found a golden goose. Wayne had found a headquarters for his fan club.

Wayne had written six novels milking the pain of growing up the outsider, the teleporter, the special one, the only sensitive and literate boy in his high school. Scores of adoring middle-aged women showed up at the readings that accompanied each new release. There is nothing quite so hot as a man embracing his status as a geek. He had finally cut off the embarrassing ponytail. It is harsh to say that the novels “milked” his pain. The truth is, Marcia loved his writing. It was funny. It was specific yet universal. It showed instead of told. It made her laugh and cry. All the clichés about good writing applied.

Marcia’s writing was goopy.

This train of thought was cut off by Wayne’s greeting from the door as her boss Marion swooped in to fawn all over him. Wayne winked at Marcia and then flirted with Marion until Marcia’s stomach could take no more. It seemed that the stacks of books at the rear of the store needed dusting, urgently.

“Do you have any more copies of The Viking Vestibule?” a tall blonde man asked. Another Norwegian.

“We are sold out. But I can give you a web address,” Marcia replied, wondering at the vast popularity of this insipid publication touting a connection between the hot spots and Scandinavian culture.

Marcia went to the counter to find the information card for the customer who thanked her, commented on her good fortune to work there, and left.

Wayne sauntered in and leaned on the counter. “How’s the thesis coming?”

“Tremendous! At this rate, I will have a full paragraph by next month, ” Marcia replied, surprised and gratified in spite of herself that he remembered about her graduate program.

“You know, you are the only person I know who has not asked me about teleporting.”

“I assume you get tired of talking about it.”

“I think you just don’t like me.”

“Does it matter?”

“Do you like being disliked?”

“Why, who dislikes me?” Marcia made a big show of looking around in paranoia.

Wayne laughed and looked at his watch. “Showtime!” he announced and headed out into the rotunda.

Marcia watched through the glass doors of the gift shop as she did every day. A hush fell on the room as parents settled their children. The more spiritual in the group sat cross-legged closest to the center. Wayne touched his fingertips to his temples, stepped onto the slate, and disappeared. A murmur went through the room. Marcia wondered as she always did what it must feel like to just disappear.

A small child ran into the center of the rotunda, and his embarrassed mother pulled him back. There was a rumor that a small child had run through and disappeared in the early years of the site. As fascinated as everybody was with the teleporting, most were secretly glad not to be teleporters and avoided the absolute center on the off chance that they too would disappear. Very few teleporters managed to make money off of it as Wayne had. Most just went crazy.

Reflecting on Wayne’s work, Marcia felt he gave a very unsatisfactory account of his time beyond. It sounded so lovely—mountain-top gardens and views of fjords. Why not just go there and stay? He seemed to always come back so quickly. She was dying to ask, but she did not want to be one of them… although she did not quite know why.

Wayne had disappeared for a little longer than usual today. Marion was looking around with a forced smile. There was a certain length of time that was optimum for these shows. If he returned too quickly there was no tension. If he took too long, the tension that developed started to dissipate. Dissipation was definitely the order of the day. A few people had wandered into the gift shop and gave increasingly perfunctory glances toward the rotunda as they wandered further away.

Wayne popped into view. He looked slightly shaken, or maybe Marcia was mistaken. Wayne winked at one of the more surprised-looking women who blushed obligingly. The crowd erupted in cheers. All was right in the world. The afternoon proceeded as usual. Many purchased his book. Many obtained his signature. Many purchased bits of the “sacred” granite fashioned into jewelry or bookends or tchotchkes. Little time for Marcia to work on her reading for her thesis, the real reason she had taken this mind-numbing job.

Several hours later Marcia locked up. Marion had some pressing engagement and had again left Marcia with the keys. She headed across the rotunda to the exit, but paused when she heard a sigh. There was Wayne, sitting behind some of the greenery, his back against a tree. He held his temples, but not the way he did for his performances. It looked like he was trying to hold his head on his body. He was obviously deep in thought.

“I’m forty today,” he announced.

Marcia jumped. “Happy birthday,” she said.

“Gena is leaving me.”

Marcia looked around uncomfortably. There was a bottle of Riesling at home calling her name. And she had never liked his girlfriend Gena. Marcia felt for him, she really did, but looking at those searching puppy dog eyes, it just all seemed way too messy. She liked him a lot, they joked all the time, she enjoyed taking him down a few notches, and she liked the way things were. She did not want any deep insights into his soul. The moonlight was shining through the windows above. Marcia laughed at the irony. How many women would love to be in her shoes? And then she thought she thought how bitchy it was to be unwilling to listen just because other women would want to. She put down her backpack and headed over to sit next to him.

“Why?” Marcia asked. “Why would your girlfriend want to leave you?”

“She thinks I am a pretentious has-been who flirts too much.”

“Are you?” Marcia snapped back. “Sorry, I am not good at the sympathetic ear thing.”

Wayne laughed. “Actually, I realized today that she is right. I worry more about my ego than I do about anything or anyone else.”

“Wow, that must have been some trip to the fjords today.”

Wayne looked at Marcia oddly. “Fjords?”

“You know.” Marcia gestured to the circle.

“Have you ever tried?” Wayne asked.

Marcia realized that she wanted more than anything to know. She wanted to see the fjords. She stepped into the circle. The rotunda vanished. There was no mountain-top garden. There were no fjords. She was surrounded by mirrors, mirrors that looked into her mind and soul. She saw in those mirrors all the times she had spent joking with Wayne. She shifted uncomfortably as she realized how she felt about him. She had to tell him. She took a step back and the rotunda reappeared.

Marcia was just in time to hear Wayne saying, “I am so sorry” to Gena as they embraced.

pencil

Email: jpantusa[at]tcps.k12.md.us

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