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I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 44

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

Tom Hulce received the go-ahead to direct a workshop of my musical Sleeparound Town. Artistic director Andre Bishop gave his blessing, in his distinctive echoing-in-the-crypt bass voice. Playwrights Horizon was a hothouse of talents who would go on to rule the New York theater for decades to come. I should have been ecstatic.

Instead, I felt queasy. Following the New York Public Theater debacle, I had amputated my songwriting arm and buried the limb in deep soil, along with the show I’d secretly written with the help of a dead composer. There was the chance, in re-attaching the appendage, it might never work properly, and it would always carry the faint odor of past failure. If the show hadn’t worked back then, why would it work now?

While we auditioned prepubescent kids for the five roles, I had to write new material. I moved a rented spinet into my tiny apartment, poised my hands on the keys, and…

I couldn’t remember how to do it.

I’d always prided myself on venturing outside the pop norm to come up with unexpected harmonic changes. I used to let my fingers do the wandering. Now they didn’t want to go anywhere.

What to do? I thought of John Lennon, whom I’d known when he was at his creative nadir. He admitted that his process had sunk to copying chords from someone else’s song he liked, playing them over and over while groping for a new melody. (He even pilfered lyrics from a song I was working on: pretty low, if you ask me.)

I thought of another time, when I was at singer-songwriter J.D. Souther’s house in LA; I noticed his piano stand was empty save for a hymnal. “Cribbing chord changes?” I teased him – which I could see, from his expression, was true.

Now I sat at my spinet, swallowed my pride, opened a hymnal, and started stealing. I even stole from myself, putting new lyrics to songs I’d already recorded, back when I was afire with ideas.

Thankfully, nobody noticed I was running on empty. The workshop played well to an invited audience. Andre gave us a small budget to mount a workshop production in their little black-box theater, which was the next step before a full production in the big theater with critics invited. While Tom Hulce struggled with set problems, playwright Peter Parnell was brought in as dramaturge, to help me create a story through-line to connect the songs. We never found one.

Cast of Sleeparound Town

With persistent flaws intact, Sleeparound Town ran for a month to subscriber audiences. (the theater had no elevator: it broke my mother’s heart that she couldn’t see the show, unable to get up and down four steep flights with her crutches). Still, the response was good enough that Andre decided the show merited a full production if a new director could be found, since Tom was off to shoot Amadeus. And he had just the guy, a Playwrights Horizons favorite son, who had just co-written and directed a hit musical for them. This paragon had seen my show and was interested. He loved working with kids. As a writer, he could help me shape a book for the piece. Cute, too. Probably gay. Oh, he wasn’t gay? Even more fun.

However, he had commitments that might take a year or two. Andre was convinced that no one else could make Sleeparound Town shine at last. We would wait.

I rolled my eyes. This was exactly the situation I’d landed in at the New York Public Theater with Joe Papp. Joe wanted one director only, who was enthusiastic but constantly waylaid by other projects. I’d waited three years, but he never got around to my musical.

By my calculation, it has been almost thirty years that I’ve waited for Andre’s golden boy to direct my show. But the guy keeps being too busy.

In the meantime, I married him.

I never worked in the theater again. Indeed I’d never have gone near the theater at all if my grandfather had not disturbed my sleep with urgent music from the afterlife, prompting me to create the series of songs that became Sleeparound Town. Before then, I wasn’t even a theatergoer.

“What was it for?” I asked Grandpa, pestering him with this question whenever I thought back to all the madness and labor that went into the show – a waste of time, since it never got before the public. I didn’t actually expect an answer; everyone’s life has its portion of failures. But the answer did come.

In 2005 I went on a grueling four-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Each night my friend Barb and I would confide deepest secrets in our tent (it was pitched on a slope, so we woke up huddled at the bottom every morning from sliding down in our sleep). I told her the story of Grandpa’s insistent presence in my life, guiding me where I didn’t always want to go. “I never could figure out what, in the end, he wanted – why I had to go there,” I said when I finished. Then it came to me.

That trip through the Andes was full of eerie epiphanies and magical manifestations. There, on giddy high ground, I suddenly realized that my grandfather had not just been feeding me music; he also made a big poltergeist to-do whenever I took up with the wrong man. The music was meant for getting me to the theater on time, where the right man trod the boards. The show Grandpa prodded me to compose was the only way I’d ever meet my husband.

“Pretty neat trick,” I whispered to the ether as I continued up the trail. Then I uttered the two little words my grandfather had waited twenty years to hear: “Thank you.”

(To be continued.)

For anyone interested, here are two songs from Sleeparound Town.

This demo of “Bonnie Boudreau” was a home recording circa 1982. The first few bars came from the hymnal. In the show, Jason Underwood performed it along with a piteous clarinet solo.

Bonnie Boudreau

Bonnie Boudreau

She’s so…so…


I don’t know

She’s just Bonnie Boudreau

Pointing her toe

Floating away like a scrap of snow

If she ever thinks about me

Wonders who I really am

Of course she will ask her friend

Natalie Nan

Who will say, he’s a pain

A stupid jerk

A little rat

And that will be

The end of that

No hope, no hope no hope for

Bonnie Boudreau

Walking under my window

I watch her below

Like Quasimodo

Bonnie Boudreau

She says hello

And my eyes overflow

Through my tears she seems to glow

Bonnie Boudreau

“Wonderful Dog” is from the original five song suite. I recently re-recorded it. My dad always liked the music because it sounded like he wrote it.

Good dog

Dumb dog

Wonderful dog

Always waiting here after school

Never late or breaking the rule

Since you were a twinkle in your mom’s eye

You were my

Good dog

You can also be lazy and dull

Don’t have to live up to your potential

When I was a little thorn in my mom’s side

She said she cried

I don’t know

Why you love me so

Good dog

Dumb dog

Wonderful dog

My teachers think I’m stupid

From banging my head against the wall

They’d be overwhelmed if they knew what I know

From what I saw

Grandpa was took away in a zipper bag

Tuesdays they pick up the dirties

Fridays they deliver the cleans

Benedict Arnold was a traitor

He was buried in a garbage can

Don’t cross your eyes or

They will stay that way forever

You see now how I am cunning

I pretend I am a dummy

I think that is smart, don’t you?

Sure you do

You dumb dog

Once you learn to count you learn to beg

Go fetch a stick, go fetch somebody’s leg

I can light your ears and smoke your tail

And inhale

You dumb dog

Soon you will be old and biting babies

You’ll have bad breath and a limp and rabies

And when you get the electric chair

I will be there

You must say to God that you just did

What you were told

I don’t know

Why you love me so

Good dog

Dumb dog

Wonderful dog

Monday, October 8, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 43

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

Bottle of cognac, with pile of books to indicate size. Note the ectoplasm surrounding it.

When I was in my twenties and researching a book, I studied the dark art of fleecing men. This technique, and the con women who taught it to me, were the subjects of my novel, Dry Hustle. Promising or implying sexual favors, a dry hustler would take a guy’s money and then vanish without delivering the goods. In other words, I could play the ho without crossing the thin pink line into actual whoredom.

By the time I entered my thirties, however, I could forestall the inevitable no longer. I stepped across the line and became a prostitute.

The competition was stiff, the marketplace crowded: I stood elbow to elbow with fellow whores. It was the movie business, and we were screenwriters available for hire.

My new supine position was kind of restful. I didn’t find the writing all that hard. There was no pressure to be original. I wrote whatever someone wanted, and received indecently good pay for my services. The transaction wasn’t public usually (relatively few people will ever read a script). And like most floozies, I became numb to the degradation of it all. My emotions, my inner pain, which had fueled my work before, were wrung out and weary from overuse; they could now go to Club Med. Whatever I wrote belonged to someone else, anyway, so I didn’t have to care about it as much.

Writers often refer to their works as their “children,” which they carry to birth; then nurture, revise, and shape the little ones through the development process, fretting over their kids’ path to success or rejection.

I felt no more for my scripts than I would depositing my eggs in a bank.

My bank account, in fact, was my child. I enjoyed watching it grow. Once I even did a script rewrite for a couch. My agent had loaned me a sofa for years, then suddenly reclaimed it. I had nothing in my living room to get supine on.

By happenstance, a producer friend had lost a screenwriter right before a big deadline. He called me on a Friday; the finished script was due at the studio on Monday. He had two other drafts by previous writers. The director didn’t like either as a whole but liked bits of both. They paid me some money under the table to cobble the best bits together, writing new material to paper over the seams. For two days straight the guys sat in one hotel room with scissors (this was before word processing) cutting up scripts while, in the adjacent room, I sat with a typewriter, whiteout, and paste.

On Monday I came out from under the table and bought a couch.

(I stayed on the project through numerous more rewrites, paid by the studio. My baby bank account outgrew three pairs of shoes. The script turned into Nine And a Half Weeks.)

A whore to the core, I avoided thinking about the children I’d left at home. Abandoned were the book manuscripts, song sheets, and the 1910 Steinway grand I’d stored in my parents’ house in Connecticut. The one thing I brought along with me was my eternal companion, my invisible mentor, my dearly departed Grandpa Kernochan. Actually I took one more thing: rummaging through the collection of fine wines and spirits left after his death, I came away with a huge bottle of cognac the size of my torso. (It took me two years to empty it.)

Ghost and spirits were both excellent company; ever tactful, they never commented on my fall from art, never joining those other voices in the shadows of my conscience who whispered that my new profession was somewhat less than respectable.

Sometimes the liquor would encourage me to wallow in nostalgia for the past. I would hoist a glass to my grandfather and ask, “What was it all for?” I was remembering our feverish collaboration on songs, the fragments of music and lyrics Grandpa had fed me through dreams. It had been four years since my musical about puberty, Sleeparound Town, had died stillborn at the New York Public Theater. “What we did was good. But nobody ever saw it.” I added petulantly, “You could have helped more, you know.”

I was hanging out with some film folk in Montreal when I got a surprise call from Tom Hulce. I hadn’t been in contact with him since he was eighteen; I’d cast him in an early workshop version of Sleeparound Town. Since then he had leapt to recognition as the lead in Animal House. He was hot, and already restless to expand. Playwrights Horizons theater had offered him a chance to direct, if he could come up with an interesting project.

“So I thought –,” he stuttered in that charming way of his, “I mean, the music – it always stuck in my mind – if you’re not doing anything with it – I’d like to – would you let me – I thought – I want to do that.”

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 42

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

After a year spent in the Third World, everything at home seemed strange: food, TV, supermarket, smells, weather, piano, and home itself, the studio on my parents’ property. But nothing was as strange as the man before me.

Upon arriving from Haiti, I fell immediately to retyping my book. I didn’t contact friends. I wasn’t ready for New York yet. Nevertheless New York came to me, as my formerly-married lover stepped off the train and got in my car.

I was reminded of those Haitian zombies wandering the back roads. He had the twitchy off-keel look of the re-animated, like a dead man surprised to find himself in motion.

His marriage had collapsed beyond repair after a year of trying to court back his wife, after she discovered his affair. No amount of apology, self-recrimination and groveling worked; even though he swore to her he’d broken it off for good, she was obsessed with finding out who the other woman was. His friends closed ranks and kept omerta. In the end, she went a little crazy and he couldn’t deal with her anymore. An acrimonious divorce was underway, the wheels of law and property grinding them both up. And then I came back.

I had long prayed for this moment, when we could finally, openly, be together. He was free, he said.

But it was hard to believe. He was free like a fugitive – eyes darting about, ears pricked for the baying of hounds. He certainly was in no shape for love.

Soon it became clear that he wanted to date me.

I pointed out, rather mildly, that it would be kind of bogus for us to go all the way back to flirting. Really, though, I was in my own kind of shock.

For over a year we’d had no contact. Without renewal, love inevitably becomes the memory of love, and thus takes up residence in the imagination. When face to face with my lover again, I groped for the old feeling inside, only to locate it in the home of illusions. I simply couldn’t remember if it was real, because for so long I had been reduced to imagining it.

I still loved him. Iron removed from the flame is still iron. But it is cool to the touch.

I tried to play along and go back to frolicking, but after one such date I wrote him a letter laying out my terms. When he was ready to give the whole heart and nothing but the heart he could tug on the rope and I’d pull him up. Until then I’d go my merry way.

By merry way I meant I’d go back into hiding. I said to my agent, sell the book; I’m off to Thailand to write another.

I got as far as Hawaii, where I lingered for a month of writing. Then I got a pair of calls that changed my plans. My agent reported that he was unable to sell my book. My accountant telephoned to say my money would run out completely before the year was up. “You’ll have to get a job like everyone else,” he told me bluntly.

Thus ended my life as a novelist, another in a growing list of short-lived careers. I flew back to my studio in the Connecticut suburbs and gazed around at my options. How could I make a living through writing that I hadn’t already tried? Books, no. Songs, no. Theater, no. Documentary filmmaking, no. Journalism, feh.

I hadn’t tried screenwriting. I did have an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, which I’d won at the tender age of 26. Surely that could still get me into someone’s office. I concocted a dark little story about a young woman, a professional psychic, who falls in love with one of her clients and pursues him obsessively. My agent got me a meeting at MGM. They bought my pitch. I now had a new profession, one that I couldn’t afford to fuck up.

Something else would have to change. The time had come to stop hiding. It was no longer healthy for me to live with my parents. I sublet an apartment in New York, leaving my Grandpa’s grand piano behind in the empty studio in Connecticut, the place where I’d churned out so much music, lyrics and prose. I never moved back.

Where was my grandfather during all this? After all, this is a ghost story.

After I moved away, my mother called to tell me that something peculiar had happened in my old studio. One of the sliding glass doors was found completely shattered, yet completely intact. An intricate web of cracks covered the entire surface. There was no center to the design, no locus of impact. No dead bird or fallen branch outside. If you pushed on the glass, it didn’t collapse but rather remained as sturdy as ever, up to any weather. Fractured and abandoned, but ever protective. Message received.

Anyone else would have replaced the pane. But my mother declared it was beautiful. The door stayed shattered until she became elderly, descended into dementia, and forgot she ever lived in the house.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 41

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I wanted to be sure that the priapic ghost behind me wasn’t local to Haiti and so, without turning around, I muttered the Muslim prayer I’d learned, “Bismillah rah’man rah’heem.”

The spirit and its hardon dissolved on command. This confirmed that my visitor was Moroccan.

Were they even allowed out of their own country? Wasn’t there some sort of astral law or checkpoint to keep paranormal parasites from crossing borders? I had an immigration problem. But who you gonna call?

As if in answer, the knob of an elegant cane rapped on my bedroom door.

“Qui est-ce?”

“Jolicoeur, ma chérie.”

Aubelin Jolicoeur, Monsieur Know-It-All, had learned from the hotel manager that I was sick. He’d come to inquire if I needed anything. I did, so I called, “Entrez.”

Keeping a respectful distance from my bed, the foppish little man stood against the wall opposite, leaning on his cane; his beady eyes glittered through the dim shadows. I wondered, not for the last time, whether I was placing my trust in the right person.

I explained that I’d contracted some bad juju in Africa and wanted it removed. Then I got an idea. Since the spirit was Muslim, could I get a Christian injunction barring its presence? I asked Jolicoeur: was there someone here in Haiti who did both juju and Jesus?

Mais oui, he replied. He knew just the person. He would make the appointment.

Several days later, a taxi threaded through the alleys of a shantytown in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-Au-Prince. Arriving at the address Jolicoeur had given me, I found a rickety little house bedecked with flowers and wind chimes. I waited in a tiny anteroom for “Lina,” who was finishing with another client.

I thought, here you are again about to plant your foot in another sorceress’ web. You really should be shot.

The woman who opened the door and beckoned me inside her bedroom had such a kind face that my fears vanished, replaced by relief. This was how far I’d come in a year’s time: gazing around at all the crucifixes and shepherd pinups on the walls, I was actually thrilled to see Jesus.

Lina listened patiently as I described my plight in French. I even told her about my grandfather, whereupon she interrupted to scold me gently: if you’ve had a guardian spirit since birth, it’s not a bright idea to conjure another spirit. Something maliféque had attached itself to the Moroccan witch’s spell and elbowed out anything good that was coming my way. Never mind, Lina could fix it.

Directing me to stand in the center of the room, she set a white candle on the floor. She poured some eau de cologne in a saucer, mixing the perfume with honey syrup while chanting a Christian prayer under her breath. Taking my hands, she bowed her head, still praying, and then crossed herself. Next she lit the perfume mixture to burn off the alcohol, and asked me to rub it on my hands as she recited a prayer from a slip of paper. This prayer (translated from the Greek, she said) specifically dispersed evil spirits.

After she spoke the last words, she paused and cocked her head as if listening to something. “I had a vision of a young man,” she reported casually. “He said, ‘Tell the blonde that she shouldn’t feel bad about the baby she lost. It’s all right because there will be a big change for her in 1982 or ’83, when she will meet a man who will be very good to mate with.’”

Returning to the hotel, I was quite shaken about this last part. Very few people knew I had gotten pregnant by the married man with whom I’d had a love affair. That heartbreak was one of the reasons I’d fled to Morocco a year ago. There I’d managed to distract myself with exotic adventures and work on my novel, but in a few weeks I would have to return at last to America and face my mess.

After Lina’s spell, I could sleep again. No more studly spooks poked me awake. My creativity leaped forward; I finished my book and immediately began another.

An envelope full of mail arrived from home, sent by my parents. Among the bank and credit card statements was a letter from my married lover marked “Please Forward.”

He had never written me a letter before, I suppose because he’d been afraid it would fall into the wrong hands and then his wife would find out. But she’d found out anyway. He had ended things abruptly with me, determined to mend his marriage.

Apparently he didn’t succeed. He wrote that he had left his wife. They were getting a divorce. He hoped I’d feel able to see him when I returned. And when would that be?

(To be continued.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 40

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I planned to stay a month in Haiti to finish my book, a black comedy modeled after one of my favorites, Waugh’s Black Mischief. In the denouement, my heroine brings her willful love slave to heel by removing his will. Much like Nurse Ratched has McMurphy lobotomized, my character bribes a Haitian witch doctor, or bokor, to turn her young man into a zombie.

I don’t remember now where I read about the medical doctor in Port-Au-Prince who had actually treated a zombie or two. (It was some five years before Wade Davis published The Serpent and the Rainbow, which revealed the secrets of the bokors in transforming healthy civilians into zombies.) I wanted to interview the doctor to find out if it was indeed possible to turn the living into the undead. No way did I want to hunt up a bokor or attend voodoo ceremonies. I’d acquired a healthy horror of sorcery in Morocco. I considered myself lucky to have left that buzzing hive of demonic spirits behind in Africa. Here in Haiti I could get some sleep, for God’s sake.

I unpacked my typewriter at the Grand Hotel Oloffson, a legendary funky retreat for freewheeling artists and celebrities. Fighting off the bronchitis I’d caught in Casablanca, I should have gone straight to bed, but first the bar beckoned. There, at any hour, one could find intriguing people as well as actual intrigue.

It wasn’t long before I met Aubelin Jolicoeur. Natty and suave, this small Haitian man flitted everywhere and knew everyone’s business. Whatever he did with that information somehow ensured his personal safety throughout the brutal regime of Papa Doc Duvalier. Jolicoeur frequented the Oloffson to schmooze, to pry, to overhear, and afterwards, perhaps, to report. (Graham Greene immortalized him in The Comedians as Petit Pierre, the charming snitch.)

Still, for my purposes, Jolicoeur did know everyone. When I asked him about the zombie M.D., he offered to put us in contact.

I came away from my interview with the doctor with a fascinating account of how legend, fact, and popular belief converged to create a classic monster. The Haitians believed in zombies because sometimes it happened that a grave was found open and the corpse disappeared, as if it had woken up and wandered off. It was said that the bokors’ magic summoned these bodies to half-life, taking them to their compounds for use as servants, or as dumb animals to work the fields.

The facts aren’t far off. Consider: someone slips a substance (in theory a neurotoxin, possibly from the puffer fish) into a man’s food, with the result that the victim descends into a coma; his metabolism becomes so slowed that his vital signs seem to cease. Believing him to be dead, his folks rush him to bury him before sundown (in a tropical country, corpses get stinky fast).

Now imagine the unfortunate man’s point of view. He is intermittently conscious but unable to move or speak; the drug has paralyzed him. He witnesses his familiars’ weeping and wailing around him, he feels the touch of fingertips closing his eyelids, he hears the coffin lid nailed shut over his face; he feels the impact of his pine box landing at the bottom of the grave; he hears the thump of dirt on the lid as his burial is completed, and the mourners’ fading voices as they return home to dinner.

Everyone thinks he is dead. And so does he believe he has passed away, waiting in the dark for the angels to come and take him away.

But the angels are no-shows; it’s the bokor’s assistants who retrieve the poor man. Earlier they had arranged for a small hole to be drilled in the coffin and a long reed inserted to bring oxygen from aboveground, so that their victim will not suffocate. In the dead of night they dig up the box, leaving it empty as they transport the hapless half-dead man to the sorcerer’s compound in the mountains.

By now he is probably brain-damaged from lack of oxygen, permanently slow-witted, with a depressed metabolism. Because he shares his fellow Haitians’ belief in zombies, he understands he has become one. That belief itself clinches his fate: rather than trying to escape, he accepts that he is now in the sorcerer’s spell. Further, the bokor keeps his slaves docile by feeding them a hallucinogenic fruit (concombre zombi, or datura), and a diet without salt resulting in hyponatremia: hence the zombie-like lethargy and glazed-over confusion (and hence the Creole saying, “If you feed salt to a zombie, he runs away.”)

The doctor told me that the patient he’d treated had wandered off the deserted compound after the bokor died. The refugee found his way home, but his family refused to accept that he was alive: he was a zombie, and they were afraid of him. The doctor concluded the poor man was mentally retarded, sending him off to an asylum where presumably he got some salt at last.

I remembered this story some 30 years later when, on vacation in Mexico, I got ciguatera poisoning. I’d unknowingly eaten a piece of fish containing a neurotoxin from algae that the fish had ingested off a certain reef. I lost my balance, then became mute and paralyzed while still conscious. My husband couldn’t get me to respond, though my eyes were open and staring. I had no way to signal I was conscious and alive. If I’d been Haitian, and sincerely believed the zombie legend, I’d have been certain I’d entered the ranks of the undead.

Back to the Grand Hotel Oloffson: having gotten the information I’d sought for my book, I took to my bed for several days, succumbing to the lung infection I’d brought with me from Morocco. The fever slowly passed. After eating my first full breakfast poolside under the palms, I returned to my room for a leisurely nap.

My sleep was broken by the sensation of claw-like fingers jabbing my ribs. Curled up on my side, I couldn’t see the inhuman body forming behind my back and pressing close. As it spooned me, I could feel its erection against my spine.

I was appalled. It turned out bronchitis wasn’t the only souvenir I’d brought from North Africa. The jinnoon posse had followed me into the Western hemisphere. I wasn’t rid of them after all.

A man’s voice laughed softly in my ear.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 39

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

The light of dawn began to fill the bedroom while I slept. Curled on one side, I woke to the sensation of a male body settling onto the bed behind me.

I’d read that if a jinn spirit approached you from the rear it was always malefic. I could have dispatched this one with my little Arabic prayer, but I wanted to let the visit play out a bit. I suppose I was curious. This would be my last encounter of the jinn kind, because I was leaving Morocco.

He sensed my consent, and I heard his deep voice laugh softly in my ear. I didn’t have the feeling, from his tone, that he was going to be trouble.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

His reply came in accentless American, yet it was unintelligible, a rapid spate of words that added up to nonsense.

I ordered him to come around in front of me where I could see him. He obeyed, his mass dissolving as he prepared to relocate. I wondered if this spirit was the first jinn, my very handsome almost-husband, come to say goodbye.

As in the very first visit, ten months ago, my lips didn’t move; our conversation was silent, telepathic. My eyes were closed, yet I could see the room – the bed I lay on, the wall, the chair in the corner, my half-packed luggage on the floor – everything bathed in a faintly pink tone as I gazed through the scrim of my eyelids.

The entity reassembled, facing me with his head on the pillow, inches from mine. But this one didn’t have a face, or had too many. His face kept changing, one rapidly dissolving into another – a pig, a scowling woman with glasses, an ugly middle-aged man – as if mocking me: “I can take any form. Take your pick.”

I’d already had enough teasing, tired of this crap. I recited the prayer, Bismillah rah’man rah’heem, in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate. The jinn faded.

Snapping my eyes open, I saw a shadow disappearing through the door into the study.

A few days later, on the plane back to the States, I pondered what I’d learned from my year of living dangerously.

My grandfather, before he became a ghost, had been a human being with a name, identifying traits, and specific personality. When he died, he transferred to a spirit world I thought of as adjacent to ours: the Other Side. In Morocco, I’d encountered the Lower World, home to sketchy spirits and demons that may never have been human yet eagerly attached themselves to living people. They could assume any form or gender, could play with languages, and had no identity as we define it. (I recalled asking one for his name, which made him laugh. “We don’t have names where I come from,” he said.) The last jinn had shown me: bodies and faces were illusions, words were laughable and meaningless, but he would play that game to entice me into playing his.

The jinnoon were also distinctly local. Their supernatural society mirrored Moroccan society. They had originated in Berber animism but, after the Mohammedan invasion converted the Berbers to Islam, pagan spirits also became subject to Muslim customs and laws. Thus they were compelled by my little Islamic prayer, just as Western demons were expected to quail before the cross.

I conjectured that Moroccan spirits were so, well, Moroccan because it was the local culture that gave them life. The people’s belief animated them; they were too weak to manifest without it. The energy of human superstition added fuel to the low fire of vagrant spirits: as a jinn might say to a believing human, “You complete me.”

In the beginning, I hadn’t believed. Nevertheless, in a moment of playfulness, I’d extended an invitation. Like the vampire who is powerless to cross your threshold unless you ask him to come in, my jinn had to wait for the summons before he could roar to life. I was the hand rubbing the lamp, without which the genie could not appear.

After nearly twenty encounters with the jinnoon, I left knowing that there was more to the ethereal realm than ghosts of dead people. In Morocco I’d traveled to the Other Side’s other side of the tracks, the slums, the mean streets, the back alleys of the medina where energy-impoverished demons swarmed the tourist, begging for a human handout. In the oceanic infinity of the Beyond, these were the bottom feeders.

Now my adventure was over. I was on a plane back to America and homegrown safety.

Except I wasn’t headed there. My trip to the States would last no more than a three-hour layover in Miami. From there I was going to Haiti.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 38

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

“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.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

At Home with a Ghost - 37

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I used to visit a fortuneteller named Mahjouba in the Marrakesh kasbah, not because I put much stock in her predictions, but because her method fascinated me. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

It was hard to find her house, which had no street number. I had to pass through one of those narrow alleyways that sometimes turns into a low-ceilinged tunnel, forcing you into a crouch. The first time I quickly got lost. Luckily I knew the Arabic word for fortuneteller; all I had to say was ‘shuwafa’ and the street urchins pointed me to her door.

I would bring French pastries along with her fee, even though she was hugely overweight. Her grateful smile contained about three teeth. She spoke no French, so her daughter interpreted the readings for me.

First, Mahjouba placed lumps of lead in a ladle, then held it over the flame of a Bunsen burner. The lead melted and bubbled. Her daughter placed a big bowl of cold water on the floor and directed me to stand over it with my legs apart. Mahjouba poured the liquid metal into the bowl; when it hit the water with a burst of sizzle, the lead instantly solidified, creating unusual shapes. Plucking each shape from the bowl, she ran her fingers over their gnarls and bumps and finger-like projections, then proceeded to “read” them, babbling away in Arabic.

This was always the disappointing part. All the fortunetellers recited more or less the same thing, from the shuwafa manual I guess. The daughter translated, “Watch out for a dark man.” (Morocco was crawling with dark men to watch out for.) “Much money will come to you. In five years you will marry a good man who loves you, and have many sons.”

This was never going to be my fate. I was not going to marry. I’d settled that in my mind a long time ago. However, “much money” sounded good: my publishing advance was going to run out after the New Year.

Once I’d moved from rowdy Marrakesh to the quiet villa in Tangier, my writing picked up speed. I felt confident that I could finish the novel by January, submit the manuscript and collect the second half of the advance.

With my eye on that deadline, I didn’t welcome interruptions as I typed away. However, in late July my mother arrived from Paris for a few days’ visit.

I have mentioned that Mom flew about the world with tireless gusto, her disability be damned, planting her crutches on five out of seven continents. Perhaps because I was the first child she birthed after polio had wrecked her legs, she taught me from the earliest time that independence was everything. Life was a bid for freedom. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

So that became my banner, too.

In time, I turned around and gave her the same speech. When most of her five children had left home, and women’s liberation was ascendant, I encouraged her to get involved with the United Nations, an institution she loved and believed in. She volunteered at UNESCO, gradually making herself indispensable until at last they gave her a contract and sent her off on her travels. She toured schools from Senegal to Guatemala to introduce her curriculum for teaching children global awareness.

My father did not react well. He hadn’t “signed up for that kind of marriage,” he said. The more she dove into her job, the more he brooded, withdrew, and turned stubbornly deaf whenever she tried to talk about her experiences. Their relationship was as fraught as I’d ever seen it; they were both miserable. She rolled on anyway, unstoppable. Mother had an almost pathological tenacity. People were always calling her a “force of nature,” and I thought that was accurate if you had in mind a Category 5 hurricane. Never let anyone tell you you can’t do something.

From the moment she arrived at my villa, it was apparent something was wrong. She was, to put it gently, out of her tree. I learned that on a recent trip to China she’d had a violent allergic reaction to some locally produced antibiotic: hallucinating, raving.

By her account, she also experienced a life-altering epiphany. She saw clearly that she had never been herself. She had played nice for too long, acted the complaisant slave to her husband, lied to everyone about her deepest feelings, had even used her polio to gain sympathy – in short, she announced she was a phony and a fraud.

What she observed in China was a purity of endeavor. It inspired her to find a way to be purely and uncompromisingly true to herself. My dad might not like the new her, but, she declared, she would sacrifice her marriage if need be.

As the first step, she’d decided to redesign their house in suburban Connecticut in the manner of a Chinese pavilion. Sitting on my terrace she muttered manically to herself as she sketched the architectural plans on stray bits of paper, trying to reconfigure our 50’s modern home into a traditional Chinese dwelling without having to raze the place. I could only imagine how the Republican neighbors would feel about tiled pagoda roofs, or how my father would feel about having to pay for it.

Also, she wasn’t interested in sleeping or eating. I worried that she was still tripping on the bad Chinese drugs. Maybe she’d been brainwashed; maybe what I had here was the Manchurian Mom.

The phone rang. This in itself was a shock, because the phone in the villa never rang. Only three people had my number: my parents and my agent.

I lifted the receiver and heard my agent’s voice, faint and crackling through the oceanic transmission. He was calling from New York with catastrophic news. My editor, who had signed me to a major publishing house, had left her post. Her replacement examined all the pending projects, glanced over my opening chapters, and summarily cancelled my contract. Null and void: I owed no book, and was owed no more money. I could keep the advance I’d already received and stop writing.

For me, the news was the coup de grace – although I believe that French expression means finishing off your downed opponent as an act of mercy, whereas this latest turn of events seemed merciless in the extreme. I’d fled the States because my failures were there – the ruptured romance, the stillborn recording career, the cancelled musical, the doors of Hollywood firmly closed on my filmmaking ventures… I was grateful to have one avenue still left, a promising future as a published novelist. And now the message was: stop writing.

After hanging up, I burst into tears. Suddenly I was tired to my core. The cycle of trying and losing, trying and losing, over and over, would never end. My helpless sobbing got my mother’s attention away from her own work of obliterating her house. I sat next to her and wept as she stroked my head.

At length I quieted down enough to tell her what had happened, concluding with, “I just don’t have it in me anymore. I’m going to pack it in.” I added drily, “I obviously can’t support myself, so let someone else do it. I guess I’ll have to get married.”

My mother was always the last to pick up on a joke. “Mom!” I said. “I’m kidding!” But she was already considering my statement seriously. In the pause, I realized that I really was serious. More than anything, I was tired of being alone while failing at everything.

She said, “I think you need support by any name.” She looked down at the crumpled sketches in her lap, and her own mood changed. Her elation was subsiding, epiphany fading; she was coming down from her trip. I could tell, the way she sagged, that she would never build a Chinese pavilion or leave her marriage.

She lifted her eyes to mine again. I knew that look well. It said: please. Stoop down, pick up the banner. Do it for both of us.

I knew I would get up the next morning and write. No matter if no one wanted it: I’d finish the book I started. And then I’d write some more.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 36

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

A force was urging me to rise from the bed and go out on the balcony. I gripped the sides of the bed so as not to be swept off. My will was draining away, as if my own blood yearned to join the tidal current, to be borne away…off the balcony. The irresistible lure was not to commit suicide, but rather to fly.

No, I had not dropped acid, or smoked the abundant kif passed around to the wedding guests, nor eaten the mahjoon (dried fruit, spices, honey, and hash buds), nor drunk whiskey or wine. My reason reasoned, quite reasonably, against leaping to my death. My body and being were desperate to obey.

My dear friend Karla still remembers being woken by the telephone ringing at five a.m. on her wedding day. “Please,” I begged, “stay on the phone with me. Something’s pushing me to the balcony, and if I go out there I’m afraid I’ll jump off.”

Karla drowsily suggested that I close the doors to the balcony.

I approached the moonlit doorway, my legs rippling like water so that I could hardly stand, fighting lunacy itself. It seemed to take my hands forever to grasp the door handles, and then, in a burst of determination, I swung the doors shut and locked them.

I returned to the phone. Karla was snoring on the other end. I hung up and slid back under the bedcovers.

As I lay there, the room filled up with unseen miasmic threat, an evil pressure I remembered too well from another hotel room, in Marrakesh. I muttered my little Muslim prayer, but it carried no weight against this tyrannical presence. Something crowded close, as if searching for points of entry; I could feel its intent to nudge my soul aside and take charge. I recoiled from it, hiding under my threadbare sanity while I waited, shivering, for the light of day.

I flew back to Tangier six days later, after surviving the mother of all Moroccan weddings. A package from New York was waiting for me. It was from anthropologist Vincent Crapanzano. I didn’t know him at all, but I’d read his book about a Moroccan spirit cult. Crapanzano’s accounts of their ecstatic dancing and possession by the jinnoon struck a chord of familiarity with me. Impulsively I wrote him a letter describing my own experience of “marrying” a spirit; how the jinn faded away, only to be replaced by supernatural horndogs, jinnoon who woke me before dawn, digging their fingers into my ribs and assaulting me from behind.

I didn’t expect to hear back from him. His answer did arrive, in the form of a manuscript. He wrote that he was startled by the synchronicity of my letter, since he had just finished writing a book about an illiterate Moroccan tile worker who claimed to be married to a jinniya (female spirit). Crapanzano had interviewed the man over the course of a year, and had grown very fond of his subject. The anthropologist in him had to maintain a scientific objectivity, and render a scrupulously academic analysis of local mythology. Yet, another part of him wanted to believe the man’s story and descriptions of the world of the jinnoon. My story had matched the tileworker’s in tantalizing ways that suggested our experiences were actual.

I read Vincent’s manuscript eagerly. For a while the tileworker’s story seemed very remote from me, though poignant: he was probably mentally ill (he’d been hospitalized for depression) and thus more likely to find a superstitious explanation for his instability.

Then I came across Crapanzano’s mention that, according to Moroccan belief, a sleeper is considered to be particularly vulnerable to demonic influence just before waking.

Very strange, I thought: that’s just the time when my tormentors made their move. How many times had they waked me – as recorded in my journal – at 5, 5:30, 6 a.m.?

I resumed reading until I came upon another detail that freaked me out a bit. The tileworker declared that a jinniya intent on seducing a mortal first approaches him in the guise of someone beloved. The victim thinks he’s sleeping with his crush. After that, whenever the jinniya reappears, she drops all pretense and the mortal realizes, too late, what he’s in for. He may never be rid of her now.

I must mention here that when I first saw my husband-jinn, in that indelible dream about our wedding, he resembled a man I’d been deeply, horribly in love with, four years before. The resemblance was close enough that I didn’t hesitate to rush down the aisle and say, “I do.” I was still hot for him after all those years. That is, until he lifted my veil and dug his fingers hard into my ribs, and the pain woke me from the dream, and from then on I was toast.

Whenever I doubted myself, thinking I’d made up the whole thing, I would remember that dream and how the jinn looked an awful lot like my heartbreaker ex-boyfriend. Then I’d tell myself that the dream was simply wish-fulfillment, and what happened after – when I woke to find an immense studly body on top of me – was a hypnopomic image (psychologists’ term for a hallucination generated by a sort of cross-current of sleep and consciousness).

Reading further in the manuscript, I saw something that took my breath away. The tileworker said that whenever the jinniya visits her victims, “she will come to them at night and tickle them – pinch their bones.” Crapanzano added, “Pinching bones are a symptom of demonic attack.”

Here is my journal entry from earlier that summer, when I was visited once again by jinnoon: “Dreaming I had an experience of sheer physical torture – in the usual 5 - 6 a.m. hour-of-the-wolf – it was a murderous tickling, and not tickling but a gouging in the ticklish zone, under the arms, and I had to thrash my head from side to side on the pillow, trying to create enough discomfort to wake myself and escape those fingers under my arms.”

Crapanzano was amazed by this coincidence, too. His tileworker had grown up steeped in the myths and legends of his native country. The man unconsciously reworked these into a personal myth: his marriage to the jinniya. But how could a tourist from New York, with no prior knowledge of the specifics of Moroccan superstition, report the same details? Unless the spirit world was real, and our stories true.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 35

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

A high singing note penetrated my ear, bored through my sleep and pulled me into the vague light: the hour before dawn. Here they were again, after my blood. Even when I pulled the sheet completely over my head, they wouldn’t give up, whining around the shroud until I was forced to come out for lack of air.

They were even worse than the jinnoon, those lascivious sex-crazed spirits who had waged a tireless campaign to annoy my sleep ever since I was fool enough to invoke them. But the jinnoon only arrived sporadically, whereas the mosquitoes tormented me every night of summer except when the wind was high.

There was nothing to be done. The villa’s doors and windows had no screens, and to close them meant to suffocate in the heat. At least it was cooler here than down in the kasbah. During the summer months the wealthier Moroccans and white expatriates moved to higher ground, into the villas and compounds that dotted the tall hill they called “The Mountain.” From November to May, the raw winds from the North Atlantic blew in, battering the mountain, and the Mountain folk went downhill, so to speak, to their houses in town or back to Europe. I stayed.

I loved Tangier. I’d rented a gorgeous little walled villa from a friend I’d met at Sarah Lawrence. A luxurious life style in Morocco was still cheap by American standards, and my publisher’s generous advance easily covered the seven months’ rent until December, when I would have to leave.

Naíma continued to cook, shop, and clean for me. She was lonely on The Mountain and missed Marrakesh, finding it hard to adjust to the quiet and solitude I preferred, as well as my ascetic writing routine. In the mornings I would shut myself in the study to work on my novel; afternoons I took the bus into the kasbah to visit friends; nights I’d take a cup of soup into the study and write late into the night. I think she grew to hate the sound of typing.

Once in a while, her mother the witch visited from Khouribga. Naíma would turn over her salary to Fatima, and then I’d throw in some more money for her magic services, even though I didn’t need them. I felt safe here. My book was going well, and the jinnoon were obnoxious but manageable. Sorcery couldn’t help with the mosquitoes, since they probably hailed from hell in the first place. So I smiled indulgently as Fatima puttered about burning herbs in all the rooms; and I sat stifling yawns as she read my cards. She delivered the usual upbeat news: a rich handsome man was coming, I’d have lots of money, uh huh. The witch even cagily added that my book would be a great success.

I knew better than to be complacent about the spirits, however. I was by no means out of danger. Even though the pattern of their visits had become familiar, I still woke with the same terror and dread when they came; when, in the dawning light, I heard the faint hissing, like sliding sands, as the energy gathered into human form behind me, tightening its arms around me and laughing in my ear. A prayer might send them away, but I worried they could be the advance guard for something bigger.

That evil made its second appearance in Fez.

Hamadsha trance musicians

The occasion was a double wedding. Four friends of mine were tying the knot: Karla (from Idaho) and Mie (from Denmark) were marrying Mohammed and Majid, shopowners in Tangier. Moh and Majid were the eldest of fourteen children from a large mercantile family based in Fez.

Hundreds of guests had convened in Fez’s vieille ville for the weeklong celebration. Oddly, the festivities kicked off with a circumcision party. It was a matter of killing two birds with one stone: as long as guests, family and musicians were gathered for a wedding, why not snip off a foreskin for good measure? One of the youngest sons had just turned 7, the age when Moroccan boys turn away from the world of women and are deemed to be men, symbolized by the emergence of the unwrapped penis.

The operation was done in private; afterward the boy, tears running down his cheeks, holding his djellaba so it wouldn’t brush against the wounded member underneath, arrived to the ululations of the crowd. The players whipped out pipe, oboe, and drums, and then launched into a pounding, squalling, tangled mess of music. Everyone, including the Westerners who had smoked kif, got up to dance.

The dissonant sound was maddening. It invited you to lose it, or flee. Losing it, though, was the point.

Before joining in, Majid told me, “When I dance to this music, I lose control, I forget everything, I leave myself. I wake up after, and I feel like I’m new, I’m a baby just born.”

But I wouldn’t budge. I’d read about these musicians in a book I’d found at the villa: they were trance musicians, a pagan Berber version of the Sufis. In their rituals you danced to the point of ecstasy, then surrendered your mind and body to the jinnoon. You moved aside and the spirits took you over – similar to the loa riding Haitian voodoo dancers.

So I prudently held back, and watched everyone else go crazy. The last thing I needed was for the scuzzy spirits who tailgated me all over Morocco to take the wheel of my being. Demonic possession was not my idea of a party.

Later, back at my hotel room, I opened the doors and went out on the balcony to appreciate the full moon, the labyrinthine city below, and the distant yowling of cats, dogs, and musicians. I went to bed congratulating myself for staying out of trouble.

Just before dawn, when the moon lay low, a nearby mosque’s PA switched on. The call to prayer droned over the city: “La ilaha illa Allah, As-salatu – ” etc. The prayer got mixed up in whatever I was dreaming; it sounded like “Anyone seen Ally Harris?”…

And then I was awake. And instantly wished I was not.

(To be continued.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 34

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

It was pretty amusing to witness a gay clairvoyant appraising the young men who passed by our table. They would linger a beat, catching Desmond’s eye to see if he was interested, before moving on. Desmond would give each one a psychic scan, murmuring, “He has a spinal defect since birth,” or, “I’m getting a lot of negativity around that one. Pretty sure he’s killed someone,” or, “Poor boy. He’s going to have a terrible time of it in jail.”

Desmond had his choice of companions, due to one of the stranger hypocrisies in Moroccan society. Their custom kept young men and women from mingling until marriage; their religion reviled homosexuality and discouraged masturbation; but everyone knew that boys were brimming with libido and, if they couldn’t afford prostitutes, they had nowhere to spill their seed. Thus it was widely accepted that at a certain age a young man would couple with other men until he got married, at which point he could revile homosexuality just like the other adults.

This could turn into a bigger game in the cities that were tourist destinations. Rich tourists offered not only a sexual outlet but also cash and gifts. The jackpot was, if you got a benefactor to fall in love with you, he or she might sponsor your visa out of the country. (With high unemployment, most young men wanted to leave Morocco, but the King clamped down on emigration and made it next to impossible to get a passport.) The boys never saw themselves as prostitutes, but rather as astute entrepreneurs.

Desmond took a casual fancy to a sweet sunny youth who wanted us to call him John Travolta after Desmond bought him a three-piece white suit. Desmond didn’t like his restive, sour friend Ahmed, but they came as a pair. John Travolta had never been south to Agadir, a resort on the Atlantic, so Desmond treated them both to a plane trip, bringing me along as translator.

A trip to the beach was a welcome respite from work on my book, which still wasn’t going too well, and from my hungry-ghost problems. In retrospect, it seemed to me that my spirit contacts had taken a turn for the worse when I relocated to Marrakesh; so maybe I’d tapped into a local blend of exceptionally rude and crude jinnoon. It was a relief to leave them behind to fly to Agadir.

Upon our arrival, we found all the waterfront hotels unexpectedly booked. I called my friend Mohammed who ran the Hertz office in Marrakesh; he in turn called his friend Hamid in the Agadir branch. Hamid pulled some strings and scored us some excellent rooms. By way of thanks, we invited him for drinks in the hotel disco after he got off work.

Hamid turned out to be a nice-looking young man, pleasant and proper; he and Desmond and I shared mint tea while John Travolta and Ahmed slurped whiskey and danced. Hamid allowed he couldn’t stay long because he was meeting his fiancée later; they would marry next month. His English wasn’t very good so he and I chatted in French while Desmond’s attention turned to his butt-shaking duo.

And then I saw Hamid’s face change. His features seemed to shift and resettle. His eyebrows thickened, lifting like black wings. I sucked in my breath. I knew those distinctive eyebrows: they were the jinn’s.

Mesmerized, I wondered: is it the light? Is this the same guy? Or is it him…

The effect only lasted a second, whereupon Hamid’s face returned to normal – except for his eyes, which focused intently on me, suddenly gleaming with desire. His polite conversation turned to blatant come-on.

“What’s going on between you two?” whispered Desmond, who had turned back to us. “I’m getting these waves of heat.”

“I – I think it’s – ”

“Him?” As usual, Desmond guessed my thought. He glanced back at Hamid, vetting him with professional intuition. “Yes, that’s what’s going on, but don’t worry, he’s harmless. Just go with it.”

I don’t know what sort of dressing-down Hamid got from his fiancée when he failed to show up for their date.

The next morning, all hell broke loose. John Travolta did a fade, leaving his friend Ahmed to pounce on Desmond. Feigning outrage, Ahmed threatened to tell the police that Desmond raped him, unless Desmond paid him 2000 durhams and also signed some visa papers Ahmed just happened to have in his pocket.

Desmond was quaking with fear as I translated what Ahmed was saying. Then I pulled him aside to add in English, “Don’t you dare give him anything. He’ll never go to the cops.” I was used to Marrakeshi-style cunning. “It’s a hustle. Call his bluff.”

But Desmond was already forking over all he had, 300 durhams. I glared at Ahmed, warning him in French, “He’s not signing anything. Now get out of here, or we’ll go to the police ourselves and report you robbed him.”

“I knew he was trouble,” moaned my clairvoyant friend after Ahmed fled.

Desmond calmed down after a few drinks on the plane back. “Thanks for rescuing me,” he said. “And how was your night with Hamid?”

“Fun,” I said, fatuously.

“Fun?” Desmond chortled, with that look that said he was watching psychic replay images in his head. “I know what you did.”

“He apologized afterwards. He said he didn’t know what came over him. Desmond…Do you really think it was – ? ”


I shook my head, sighing,“What next?” For any other friend it would've been a rhetorical question. But if your friend was a psychic, you could actually get an answer.

"I'm on vacation," he replied.

(To be continued.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 33

Myself in Marrakesh
(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

The witch left her daughter Naíma with a supply of spices to burn and beaucoup incantations for warding off evil spirits. And she had taught me a little prayer in Arabic to repeat, whenever some particularly nasty jinn plagued my sleep: Bismillah rah’man rah’heem, “In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.”

Naíma and I settled in nicely to my new apartment in Marrakesh. She cooked, cleaned, shopped, made friends, while I began work on my new novel. I hoped to put all the drama of the past few months behind me but, in spite of the spice bonfires Naíma set at bedtime, filling up the place with smoke, it didn’t take long before the nocturnal visitors returned.

I recorded each encounter, with times and dates, in my journal.

March 16, 12:15 a.m. Two shapes slid into my bed, one in front and one in back. An unfamiliar male voice spoke in my ear.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here.”

Suddenly I was being forcibly kissed. My eyes snapped open. I saw the room but the man-form helping himself to my mouth was invisible. The second form pressed against my back; squirmy and hyper, he started roughing me up, squeezing my breasts and the flesh on my waist.

I turned my head away and chanted, Bismillah rah’man rah’heem.

They evaporated.

March 30, 6:30 am. I woke, sensing movement on the sheet behind me; I felt a man’s shape attach to my back; a huge pair of arms wrapped around me.

Frightened, I whispered, “Who are you?”

“Your jinn.” His answer contained muffled laughter, as if he was having a joke on me. His hand slipped between my knees and moved up my thigh.

Bismillah rah’man rah’heem!

And he was gone.

April 3, 1 am. I lay on my back, just drifting off, when I heard the by-now-familiar faint hiss of something manifesting on the side on the mattress. On my guard, I demanded: “Who is it?”

I heard a man speak, but it was nothing but gibberish, like a tape running backwards.

“Speak English,” I insisted.

He replied in French, which was too fast and garbled for me to understand. Then he tried to nudge me onto my side to make more room for himself on the bed.

This time I didn’t bother with the prayer. “Go away!” I snapped. Then I got up and went to the bathroom. Returning to an empty bed, I read for a few hours until I was tired enough to get back to sleep.

5:30 am. I was dreaming I was back in my childhood bedroom in Connecticut. A fierce wind blew open the windows; I ran into my parents’ room. They weren’t there. I flung myself onto their bed for safety. Unseen hands attacked my ribs, fingers pinched my skin violently. I twisted away, crying out, rising to consciousness…

I woke in my bed in Marrakesh, turning onto my back with a groan. Someone’s shape materialized on top of me; a pair of hands cupped my face, lifting it gently for a kiss.

“What is your name?” I interrupted. I’d read that, according to superstition, if you possessed a jinn’s name he had to cede control to you.

He replied evasively, “We don’t have names where I come from.” He continued preparing my body for ravishment.

I tried a ruse. “I need your name so I can call you when I want you.”

He tried to ignore me but I kept asking for his name. Finally he said, “Neil.”

“What?” I wasn’t sure I heard him right.

I felt him bow his head to my ear. He repeated the name carefully, “Neil, N-E-I-L, Munne, M-U-N-N-E,” pronounced like “money.”

A jinn named Neil Money? How stupid did he think I was?

Bismillah rah’man rah’heem.

He faded away. This prayer was nothing if not efficient. I issued a mental warning to all jinnoon: If I don’t like your act, you get gonged.

I was gradually losing my terror of these sketchy spirits. At the beginning of my adventure, I had gone in search of a magical connection, only to wander into a bad neighborhood. Scenting a victim, the locals stepped from the shadows, and soon I was surrounded by horny lowlifes – the scum of the cosmos – who taunted and toyed with me before attacking.

What a hoot they were having at my expense. I felt humiliated after every encounter. The whole next day I’d be disoriented, dreading the next bedtime; but worse was my anxiety over the question: am I cracking up?

“No, you’re not.”

It was nice to hear someone say it, even though my dear friend Desmond was not what you’d call a down-to-earth guy. Desmond (not his real name) was a well-known and well-paid gay psychic from New York. Arriving in Marrakesh for a few weeks’ vacation, he looked me up; I poured out my tale to him, figuring he wouldn’t reject it out of hand, since he was in regular communion with his own, much nicer, set of spirits.

I finished by asking, “Do you think I – ”

“No, you’re not.” I didn’t even have to say “crazy.” Being friends with a telepathic meant that conversations were often condensed.

“I mean, is this really – “


We were sitting in a café; he had one eye out for the cute Moroccan boys cruising the avenue. Marrakesh was an open-air market for gay tourists. As we waited for our coffee to arrive, Desmond did my Tarot cards. Being friends with a clairvoyant often meant free readings.

“You should be on the lookout,” he warned playfully. “Your jinn is going to take a human form. The man whose body he takes won’t know what’s going on – he just won’t feel like himself. But you’ll know.”

(To be continued.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 32

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I was shivering violently. The atmosphere in my hotel room was thick with malevolence; it was like inhaling pure venom. The force nailed me to the mattress and blew up my thoughts, replacing them with pure panic. Anyone glancing in the window would have seen nothing. My antagonist was invisible and pervasive. But so is wind. Suddenly evil seemed as natural to the world as weather. And it waited for me to do something.

“Why don’t they just get the fuck out of there?!” There always comes that moment in a haunted house movie when the viewer mutters that question. No doubt the actors wanted to know, too, when they read the script: “What’s my motivation for staying?” To which the director replies, “It’s a movie.”

This was not a movie. Not a dream either. Why didn’t I make an effort, break through the paralysis, rocket out of bed and flee the room? Human beings were out there. I had no room phone, and the front desk was closed, but there had to be a night clerk I could rouse, or someone out on the street. So what if I was naked? And what would I tell these people? What were asylums like in Morocco?

A tiny point of intuition pricked through the storm in my head. It said that if I made any move, the unseen force would invade me; I would irreversibly forfeit my body and self to an outside entity. I think I am talking about demonic possession here. The stuff of cheesy Catholic fright-night flicks; you could sneer in the West, but here in Morocco, who knew what was possible? I had nothing to fall back on but instinct. Its voice was plain: don’t budge or make a sound.

So I held myself rigid with resistance, fighting the evil at my borders; and I marked the slow beat of time until daybreak, when the room would fill with light.

No one in the world who cared about me knew I was here, except Khadija, who was long gone, back in Casablanca by now. I prayed to God to protect me. I prayed to my grandfather, too. But I knew I had removed my protection, all on my own. I had invoked strange spirits in a strange country by black magic, without having any handle on the rules. I didn’t believe in the Devil, except as archetype. But this thing in the room existed, in the now, living and real. From here on I would believe in demons.

At that moment I heard a loud thumping.

It was the muezzin, somewhere in a mosque minaret, tapping his microphone. Testing, testing. And then his amplified voice lifted and soared over the neighborhood, issuing the call to prayer. What a sweet song that was to my ears. The horrifying presence in my room ebbed; filtering back to the underworld, it vanished.

The daylight arrived. I checked out of the hotel and hauled my suitcase to my new apartment. The electricity was on. Telephone service was too expensive; without a phone, I had to walk to the local Hertz office to speak with the manager, one of Khadija’s distant cousins who spoke English.

I asked him to recommend someone to teach me Arabic. My new housekeeper, Naíma, was arriving today by train from Khouribga with her mother, and neither one of them spoke French or English. He said he would ask around. Then I begged him to teach me a few phrases on the spot, because I needed them right away.

Witch and witch’s daughter arrived on schedule. I nearly knocked Fatima over, flinging my arms around her. Of all the people in the world I wanted to see today, she was the one. Naíma’s eyes shone with excitement; it was her first trip to Marrakesh, and the first time in her life she’d be off her mother’s leash. She held out her hand and spoke timidly. I already knew those three words in Arabic pretty well: “Give me money.”

While Naíma went off to the souk to buy food for dinner, Fatima and I sat in my living room, which was bare except for the two mattresses I’d bought to serve as couches. The sehúra whipped out her cards to read for me. I whipped out mine. This was how we communicated.

Fatima dealt a few cards and tapped one depicting a man. “Jinn!” She mimed: “He’s coming! You smile! Very happy!”

I slapped down one of my cards: Le Diable. “Bad,” I said in my few words of recently memorized Arabic, “No more jinn. Please! Jinn goes away.”

She looked taken aback.
I laid some cash on the devil card. That she understood. She stuck the bills in her bodice. “Wakha,” she said. Okay.

Please, I prayed, make him – make it all – go away.

(To be continued.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 31

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I completed the roll to my left side and focused through the dark.

Nothing there; the spirit had gone, dissipated. “The line was dead,” I wrote later in my journal.

It was as if the jinn couldn’t hold a long-distance connection long enough for us to come face to face. The first time when I’d had such a solid sense of his physical body. On this second encounter, he came through weakly, not even touching. Only his voice – tender, respectful, hinting at a romantic nature – had been utterly clear.

It can’t be an easy trick for a disembodied spirit to weave a manifestation that can be perceived by a living person. I told myself that next time I should keep still, in case my movement had disturbed the delicate mesh of ether that was my jinn. I reasoned (though some might say I had long since departed the realm of reason) that with each contact he should get stronger, as my energy gave fuel to his: a sort of interspecies bundling.

Or would he continue to grow weaker, fainter? It might be a good idea to have the witch perform some kind of booster spell.

I still wondered why his voice sounded different from our first contact. Was it the same spirit? Did it matter?

I fell asleep mulling these things. In my dream, I found myself standing alone in the middle of a vast concrete parking lot, a skyline of factories beyond. Shadows collected along the edges: a gang of toughs. I looked around for help. In the distance I saw my jinn walking behind a row of trees. His eyes followed me but he was powerless to come to my aid, the trees forming a boundary he couldn’t cross. At last he vanished into some woods. I was left by myself to deal with the punks, who clearly had nothing good in mind for me.

When I woke I recorded the dream in my journal hurriedly. Khadija and I had to be off to Marrakesh, so I didn’t pay it much attention.

Now, though, when I read what I wrote, I recognize it as an explicit omen.

Heading south, we detoured to Khouribga, where Fatima stood ready to take some more of my money for some more of her magic. She promised to fiddle with the reception so that my jinn could come through more clearly on our next rendezvous. She also planned to bring her daughter Naíma to Marrakesh as soon as I found an apartment. Naíma would be my cook-housekeeper there.

Although I’d made the trip twice before, the approach to Marrakesh as one descended from the Atlas Mountains was always stupendous. The terracotta color of the soil and the buildings that rise from it appear like the passing configuration of a cloud at sunset. Outside the pink walls surrounding the medina was the “nouvelle ville” – the modern section built by and for the French colonialists as well as upwardly mobile Moroccans aspiring to be French. This was the neighborhood where a single white female American novelist would be safest.

We found an apartment right away through a Jewish realtor. (She invited me to her home; I experienced my first Sabbath in the middle of a Muslim city.) The place was unfurnished so I had to buy a couple of mattresses and a desk – the bare minimum since I was only planning on staying for three months. It would be another day before the electricity was turned on; Khadija left me off at the Hotel du Pasha before driving back to Casablanca.

It was a relief to stretch out in a proper bed, all alone with a good book, after a month of camping in Khadija’s living room and reading her Tarot cards every day. I was truly on my own; that is, until Naíma arrived. Tomorrow I would explore my new neighborhood, the grand souk, and the medina. But first, a bit of private bliss: a good sleep.

Dreaming, I found myself once again on that concrete floor, only this time I was flat on my stomach, my body pressed into the grit by someone unseen. There was muffled laughter behind me. A hand yanked my head up, forcing me to look up. Hovering over me an enormous wedge-shaped monolith. It rose steeply to its apex where the crude outlines of an animal’s face at the top stared down at me, a living idol waiting for the next sacrifice.

My head was pulled back farther, my back arching until I thought it would break – and then hands attacked me, pinching my waist painfully and probing between my ribs. Trying to squirm away, I used all my strength to twist around, to see my assailants and fight off their hands.

I managed to flip onto my back. I was now awake and staring at the hotel room ceiling. The attackers had faded with the dream, though I still ached from their fingers. Night was giving way to dawn.

But I was far from safe. The room I woke to was suffused with a presence of evil, flowing into every corner and blocking out consciousness of everything but itself.

(To be continued.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 30

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

Going to sleep in a relaxed manner, as the witch advised, was almost impossible. After Khadija and her boyfriend went to bed, and her daughter and I retired to the banquettes, I lay awake in the dark and waited in vain for fatigue to draw me down into dreams. I didn’t know how or if my boughten spirit would come; with my hand on the knob to let him in, I was so torn between anticipation and dread that I really didn’t know which was my better instinct – to fling the door open or slam it shut – or if I even had a choice in the matter anymore.

Khadija’s daughter was dreaming plenty, tossing in her sleep. But my eyes kept popping open at every sound; my stomach spasmed; my heart lurched along like a wagon with a wheel off. Finally I fell asleep and had a perfectly farcical dream.

I had ordered a gigolo from an agency. They sent over a short gay guy who had no relish for his job and just wanted to get it over with. Furious, I called the agency. They offered to replace him at no extra charge. Would I please check the take-out list and choose someone else? I scanned the flyer in my hand. Bullfighter…Pirate…Hippie… Ah, here was a bargain: a Cowboy with a “chorus” of four more cowboys included. (For background harmony?) Anyway I was partial to shitkickers. But when they arrived, I found out the extra cowboys were rowdies, whose role was to hoot and throw beer cans while the Cowboy and I got it on. So I sent the chorus away. Just as I was about to settle in with my rented lover, Khadija popped up to remind me that I wasn’t supposed to make love to any other man before my jinn. So the Cowboy went, too.

I woke up annoyed, and took a Valium. I managed another couple of hours of sleep, waking when the maid arrived instead of the jinn.

The sehúra had said to be patient; his was a long trip. Maybe the jinn needed an extra day. He’d stopped off at a jinn motel.

I filled the hours renting a car for the drive to Marrakesh and picking my djellaba up from the tailor; meanwhile my obsession raged like a furnace. He had to come! And soon, before I headed south.

By evening I was exhausted from too little sleep the night before, and looking to go to bed early, but Khadija’s boyfriend arrived with his chorus of soccer rowdies and proceeded to throw a party. (They sent me out to procure whiskey and wine, which could only be sold to non-Muslims and foreigners.) Because of the noise Khadija deposited her daughter at the neighbor’s for the night. On and on into the wee hours the men stomped and sang and hollered. I kept glancing over at Khadija to see if she was going to throw them out yet.

One time I looked over at Khadija, her head was twisted away as she gazed over her shoulder at the wall. When she snapped back, her mouth was open; her shocked eyes met mine.

She fought through the crowd to join me. “I can’t believe it. I saw him!” she shouted above the music. “He was behind me, did you see?”


“Yes, your jinn!”

“I didn’t see anything.”

“I felt a pressure on my back like someone was crowding me behind. I thought it was strange because I was against the wall, and I turned – and he was there. Very tall, like you said, dark hair – w’allah, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!”

“Khadija, you’re drunk.”

“I swear!” she protested vigorously. “He had a little smile. And these amazing dark eyebrows.” She traced the swoop of the eyebrows on her forehead.

That stopped me. I’d never told her about the eyebrows.

“I’m not drunk, but now I think I will be.” Khadija left me to intercept a bottle of whiskey the men were passing around.

I felt like crying. She really had seen him. What was he doing, showing himself to her and not me? I was the one who’d been waiting, who’d placed the call, who’d ordered him from the agency…

Khadija passed out in her bedroom, while I had to wait for the living room to empty out before I could sleep on the banquette. The party didn’t break up until 4. I slid under my blanket, so pissed off: those assholes had stolen my dream time. By the time I fell asleep it would be time to get up again, when the maid arrived. There would be no time for a rendezvous with my spirit guy. Curling up on my side to face the wall, I started drifting off…

And then I became aware of a presence behind me. It wasn’t touching me but I could feel a vague turbulence of atoms, like fizz in a soda, on the skin along my back. In response, my whole body prickled with excitation.

I heard his voice next to my ear. As before, his tone was gentle and polite. “Do you know I’m here?”

“Yes,” I answered behind closed lips.

“Then you must be Sarah.”

I had a fleeting thought that something was not quite right. His voice was a little different from the first time, pitched a bit higher, as if it belonged to some other man.

“Yes…Can you understand me?” I wondered if I should move my mouth and speak to him aloud. No one would hear; Khadija’s daughter was sleeping next door.

He replied, “You’d do us both a favor if you looked me in the eyes.”

I opened my eyes, glimpsing the wall. He waited behind me. I gathered my body and rolled over, very slowly, afraid that a quick movement might disturb the contact.

(To be continued.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 29

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I knew what the naked entity on top of me was asking. Had I followed the rules? he wanted to know. Was I clean? Did I fuck anyone while he was away? If not, then he could proceed to consummate our marriage, which had just been sealed in the dream.

He waited for my reply. I was in a difficult position, pinned under a spirit and confronted with a choice. Furthermore I had woken up only seconds before; fear hadn’t yet seized me because I was still in the thrall of the dream. He was my beautiful beloved; I had accepted him at the altar, allowed his kiss willingly, in spite of his mauling my ribs. It seemed natural to give him what he wanted. This is what I usually did when in love with a man: I let him in.

In a word, I was enchanted.

And yet, some indestructible part of myself broke through the glamour. You see, I was always a bit of a contrarian. My sheer cussedness, which had always gotten me in trouble with authority figures, may have saved me with this one. So I talked back to my jinn, and gave him that defiant piece of my mind.

“You don’t understand,” I said. Strangely, my lips didn’t move as I spoke. I soon learned that when talking to a spirit, you are communicating essence to essence, with no need for the earthly apparatus of lungs, breath, diaphragm, vocal cords, mouth, lips or ears. The words that form in your mind manifest simultaneously – you might say wirelessly – in the consciousness of the other.

I forged on. “I need comfort and inspiration, not sex. You may hold me in your arms, but not replace men.”

There was a pause. Then I felt him fade slowly, evaporating into a light haze of disappointment…And then he was altogether gone.

I was left stunned, every cell aquiver; the delayed fear now took hold. The impression of his weight remained like a stone on my body. At length it too disappeared. I sat up on the banquette and glanced at the clock.

It was 5:45 a.m., the same transitional hour from darkness to light when my grandfather used to contact me, twining himself into the plot of a dream and then coaxing me into a semi-conscious state where we could work together. But with Grandpa, from the beginning I refused to cede control. Almost by force of habit, I treated my jinn the same way – standing up to him, firmly setting boundaries.

Good girl.

Everyone was still asleep, so I had nothing to do but lie there thinking. It wasn’t long before remorse set in. The feeling of his arms around me had not been unpleasant. He seemed respectful enough. Obedient, too. He didn’t press his suit when I objected. And – can I say it? – he was hot. But I’d turned him away, maybe for good.


Would it have been so bad to go all the way? It might’ve been fantastic, literally out of this world. I imagined us rolling around in the ether, me laughing, him tickling my ribs. By now, my imagination was running rampant, with my sense of humor close at its heels. An invisible boyfriend! Wouldn’t that be the last laugh! I’d never have to traffic with men if I had a secret, not to mention larger than life, lover.

But before our next encounter I’d have to work on my attitude. No more backtalk. I got up to see if there were any more herbs left in the witch’s pouch. There were. I waited for the maid to arrive and got her to light the coal brazier.

The burning smell got Khadija out of bed. Her jaw fell off its hinge when I told her what had happened. “I know this is crazy, but I want him to come back,” I said calmly, though I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. “At least take it to the next step. I’m ready for whatever happens.”

But would he come back after being rejected?

Khadija called Khouribga, dialing a neighbor’s number to bring the sehúra to the phone. Fatima was triumphant. She guaranteed the jinn would come back; just to be sure, she’d do another spell. And there was an incantation I should do myself, before going to bed. Khadija wrote it down for me so I could recite it phonetically, because it was in Arabic. I wasn’t sure why, when my jinn spoke English, but okay. What else did I have to do? Fatima replied: just go to sleep in a relaxed, normal way. Don’t be impatient because he is coming from a long, long way. Once you two are joined, then he will never be far from you.

Before she left for work, Khadija joked, “Tell him to give me 10,000 durhams so I can buy a BMW. No, I’ll buy a sheep! Then I’ll get a jinn bigger than yours!” She laughed at the idea of our two “husbands” getting into a quarrel, fencing with swords: “All right, children, take it outside.”

I practised reading the words of the incantation. “Ya m’lkee sheert aleek tasheera n’deer fee galbek taheera. Djinni farhan ay walhan. Ts’baya liya mabayghoo al weezara lee sooltan.”

I beckon you, my spirit, so that I may live in your heart. Approach me, genie, full of joy and goodness. Salute me as do the ministers and slaves their sultan.

I had the whole day ahead of me, but all I could think of was getting through it fast. Day was dull. Bring on the night. 

(To be continued.)