“You need support by any name.”
My mother’s words remained with me after she departed Tangier. I was left with the task of finishing a novel my publisher no longer wanted. My agent was frankly dubious that he would find another publishing house to take it, although he said he would try. For one thing, they would have to reimburse the original publisher for my advance, a hefty amount for a dark comedy about sex slavery, a metaphor for American imperialism set in a fictitious Arab country.
But I had gone too far to turn back. I couldn’t maroon my characters mid-ocean. If that sounds brave, I was often faint-hearted. With every page I typed I also heard a still, small voice saying, “What’s the point?” Mom was right. I did need support: an infusion of spirit. I’d asked Fatima the witch to get me just that: a spirit, a genie – a jinn – to provide me with inspiration for my book. Some flashes of genius would be nice, too.
My friend Mohammed, Karla’s husband, told me this joke: a man carries home a watermelon, which slips from his hands and shatters on the cobblestones. A genie leaps out. The man cries, “Genie, make me a house of rose marble with a gold roof and eternal fountains!” The genie replies, “If I had a house like that, do you think I’d be living in a watermelon?”
The spirits I got were the last ones I’d ever ask for inspiration. All they’d brought me were night terrors and rough sex. I was still trying to get them back in the watermelon.
It was at this time I turned back to my grandfather’s ghost. For the past five years he had been my invisible support, providing inspiration, protection, messages from the ether. Yet he had seemed to withdraw when I crossed into Morocco. He wasn’t there when I embarked on my reckless adventures with sorcery. He didn’t stop the supernatural mayhem I started.
Then I realized: it was I who had turned my back on him. You could say I was in the adolescent rebellion phase of my growing up paranormal, and I demonstrated my independence from Daddy by going on a joyride and wrecking the car. He stood by silently, with great forbearance and a pained expression, allowing the kid to make her own mistakes and learn from the consequences. Now I waited for him to post my bail and take me home.
I started talking to Grandpa again, hoping he’d make some sign he was listening. Even without a response, it was comforting as a ritual, reminding me of the years when I’d never felt alone, even in the densest solitude, because I’d believed he was always nearby, as if he sat quietly reading a book in the next room.
Where was he now? Would he forgive me?
Soon after I sent the flare out, I was woken before dawn by the sound of something lightly brushing across the carpet, too light to be feet. It was 5:30, the usual hour of my demonic visitations, so I waited in agitation for whatever would come next. But nothing happened.
It took a while to calm myself enough to sink back into sleep. Then, in the middle of a dream, I heard my name spoken by someone in the room.
I rolled on my back and opened my eyes blearily to the sight of the ceiling beam. Hearing nothing more, I began my descent back into the dream, when I felt a pair of gentle hands stroking my feet consolingly.
Then I knew: he was back. I remembered the first time he ever contacted me, at my parents’ house in Connecticut; how, as I was falling asleep, I’d felt my head in someone’s lap and a hand stroking my hair. Back then I’d been terrified, without any clue of what was happening. Now I was so happy I began to cry.
I lay there for those few seconds of astral love before his presence faded. I sat up, and promised him aloud, “You might leave me, but I will never leave you again.”
The following night at dawn, as my dreams faded, I was given a snatch of music, just like old times. A women’s chorus was singing; the notes seemed to twinkle, as I wrote in my journal, “like crystal bells dangling from the pines.”
(Twenty years later, my father recorded a CD of Grandpa’s music with amateur singers. I was reminded of that dream when I heard “Fresh Spring,” a quaint soufflé of a song composed in 1911 for women’s chorus.)
From then on my work proceeded with an ease and pleasure I thought I’d lost. As the fall months elapsed, the cold Atlantic winds surged upon the Mountain. I didn’t mind; it was just an excuse to stay indoors and write. I even began outlining my next book, all the while keeping at bay the thought that I had to leave Morocco in December. The prospect held no excitement. I’d stopped feeling I was in exile; I finally belonged here.
The sole positive was that I would be leaving the jinnoon behind.
All October and November, no demons plagued me. I assumed my grandfather had shooed them off.
Then, the week before I left, they made a last ditch effort.