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This afternoon, James and I ended up smoking in Tori’s bedroom. Neither James nor I particularly take pleasure in being stoned. James talks a lot after smoking, as if his mind were trying to persuade itself that it was not cowed by the marijuana. He prizes the Protestant power and clarity of his mind, and he assumes that the marijuana is an alien force, casting weird debilitating spells over his intellect. The pleasure which James would prefer to take from marijuana is, I think, similar to the mild relaxation which one derives from a herbal bath. I enjoy smoking marijuana but not enough to spend serious money on it. I find it agreeable to occasionally hitchhike on somebody else’s wagon.

Tori’s husband, Ricardo, was lying on the bed, wriggling occasionally to keep his head within a bank of pale sunlight which was edging slowly away from him. Tori was standing by the window, watching the tide agitating aimlessly at the rocks below the castle. It was James who noticed the board propped up against the far wall, behind boxes of old books and rows of dusty stuffed toys.

“Is that a talking board?”

Tori laughed. “It is indeed.”

“I can imagine you chatting away with Shakespeare and Lord Nelson and Elvis Presley. I can see you as a teenager, drinking cider with a pack of smelly Goths around the board.”

“I was a Goth, but tastefully. I lost my virginity to a very pretty Goth boy on his grandmother’s grave. The funeral had been a few days beforehand and it turned him on to desecrate the grave in this way. We climbed over the cemetery wall and kicked all the flowers off the grave and then… well it was fairly rudimentary.”

“I can see James wants to give the board a spin,” I said. “But we’ll need a glass.”

“Maybe your beer?”

I reached for my glass protectively. “This is a pint glass. You don’t use pint glasses on a talking board.”

“Same here,” James added, nodding in indication of his Guinness.

“Very well,” Tori conceded. She downed her gin and tonic sharply. There was a lot of noise and struggling as she retrieved the board from the back of her bedroom.

We all sat down around the board. Ricardo was ordered off the bed and he looked mildly amused by the prospect of the séance. Tori took a can of furniture polish and sprayed away the dust from the board. It now shone in golden oak, its beautifully hand-painted letters and numbers framed by a starry sky, domes, minarets, flying carpets, and infidels with flashing scimitars. Tori’s glass was placed up-ended in the centre of the board.

“I hope we don’t have to say a prayer…” James said grumpily.

“James is an atheist,” I explained. “He would not believe in ghosts even if one came up and danced about naked in front of him.”

“I am an atheist for entirely pragmatic reasons. The world seems a lot less complicated and demanding without a God, an afterlife, and all those tiresome immortal souls.”

“Right,” Tori said. “I want you to quieten down, relax, and place your fingers on the glass.

Angel of God,
My Guardian dear,
To whom His love
Commits me here,
Ever this night
be at my side,
To light and guard,
to rule and guide
Amen.”

“I suppose that’s the condom now on,” James muttered.

“Ignore him, Tori” I said.

Tori casually addressed the entirety of human history. “Is there anybody present?”

We all sat dumbfounded as the glass veered towards Y, as neatly as a mechanical mouse.

“Break the circle,” I said quickly.

Tori overruled me. “Don’t be alarmed. Just take it easy. I’m sure the spirit will be happy to wait for us to get some questions together.”

“Are you messing us about?” I snarled unpleasantly at James.

“I think it’s Ricardo,” James laughed. Ricardo was grinning.

“Christ I need a drink,” I said.

“Did you ever know any of the circle?” Tori asked.

Again the glass veered neatly towards Y.

“Ask the spirit if it’s an atheist,” James suggested.

“What’s your name?” I demanded.

“Ask the spirit if it died very horribly.”

“Your name,” I insisted.

The glass shot suddenly towards M. It then paused, like a small child frightened by the sensation of first riding on roller skates. The glass remained uncertainly on M…

“Mum?” James yelped.

“Your mother isn’t dead,” Tori reminded him.

“Maybe she died this morning,” James reasoned.

There was a little jump and the glass landed on A.

“Mark? Matthew?”

“Matilda, maybe” Tori said pointedly.

“Mandy?”

The glass was off again. This time it settled on R.

“Not a Mandy,” James said.

In a great arc, the glass arrived at C.

“Shit,” James said stupidly.

For several seconds, I did not know what I was doing. I kicked over the board, and then flung it at the wall. There was a crash of broken glass. Tori screamed shrilly. I was punching and roaring, but then Ricardo and James got my hands behind my back and forced me down beside the bed.

“It wasn’t me,” James protested, his voice high and wobbly.

“For Christ’s sake!” Tori sounded furious. “Just calm down.”

“These things are all psychoanalytical,” James was jabbering. “One of us was moving the glass subconsciously. It’s a subconscious thing.”

Ricardo was remonstrating with Tori. She shouted back at him to shut up.

“Come on, these things don’t mean anything. It’s just a parlour game.”

“You’re bleeding James,” Tori said. “Your forehead.”

“I’ll get some toilet paper.” James left the room hurriedly.

“How silly!” Tori scolded me. “I was scarcely more sensible when I played the board as a teenager.”

“I’m sorry Tori. My nerves are shot to fuck.”

“Maybe you should lie down for a bit. In my bedroom. We’ll go downstairs.”

“If he was dead, somebody would have told us, wouldn’t they?”

“Enough,” Tori said.

“He’s more than alive. He’s more alive and real than anybody I know.”

Tori was shooing her husband out of the room. “Take it easy,” she told me. “Finish your beer.”

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