The Clairvoyant


Excerpts from Cartesian Sonata by William H. Gass

 a fictional story of Ella Bend Hess, The Clairvoyant


“It hadn’t been easy: becoming a clairvoyant. Ella’d had to refine the organs she already had past any range and tolerance printed on their ticket, create others out of nipples, belly button, warts and scars and finger ends, then even from thumbs and elbows, the most recalcitrant pieces of her body, making them receivers of signals never before known, and refining her general dialing and directional procedures, so that each hair was an antenna, whether stationed on her head or across her eyebrows, out a mole, underarm, above her pubes, down her leg, in her ear or nose; likewise her teeth were tuned, her sunken cheeks were dishier than a radar’s, and her lobes turned like wary eyes.” (27-28)


“When you were clairvoyant, as she was, you had to guard your entrances, but if you did not leave them open, if you fearfully closed them all, then you’d be alone in there…alone. It was a wet cold castle. Better to pass into any other thing, the most outlandish lampshade, and let hot bulbs beat against you, or flatten yourself in military garments, stiff at metal, or otherwise dangle in a drape or string, feckless and loose and gentle, or ooze through a wall like the damp in spring.” (34)


“She’d thought that when her mother laughed, everyone saw the needles, or the dark licorice stain that spread over her chest, sometimes when she talked. But these were isolated perceptions…Then there was the first time – she’d been fifteen – when she’d come on a piece of astral essence lying in a neighbor’s driveway.” (34)


“Space wasn’t space to Ella, it was signals. Everything was emitting: a flower its scent, a bat its ping, a file its roughness, a lemon its acidity, a girl her gorgeousness, a summer street its summer heat, each muscle its move; space has more waves than the ocean: X rays, radio and television transmissions, walkie-talkie talk, car phone messages, ultraviolets, microwaves, cosmics of all kinds, kids communicating on oatmeal phones, radiations from high-tension lines, signal boxes, transistors and transformers, gazillion pieces of electronic gear leaking information, earth tremors, jet planes, other wakes and winds; but beyond and in addition to that, the scent says sugar, the ping cries victim, the rough rasps a warning, sourness stimulates salivation…”


“Look at these eyes at the tips of my fingers. I can see in pockets or under suds in the sink.” (39)


“But she would never submit herself to any sort of physical examination. It was inconceivable. She knew she had a body of extraordinary kind, and that strange gray oblong organs would be discovered swimming like sea animals in the plate of the X ray.” (46)


“Edgar, you must know that by now, surely you do, you do, surely, and though paint slides from a brush sometimes in a way thats purely meditative, never mind, I have heard hush!” (53)


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