. . . then it happened
Suddenly, without warning, we were enveloped in a velvet like cloud of heavy silence, that grew . . . and grew . . . seeming to wrap itself around the car like a smothering blanket. Even the hum of the car's engine sounded muffled . . . somehow distant, far away.
For a measureless time the silence remained, until it became uncomfortable. Finbar said nothing, his eyes fixed, staring ahead, unblinking. I tried to think of something to say to break the silence between us, and found I could not.
Ripping into the silence, a yellow streak of lightning snaked across the sky, accompanied by a crash of thunder that seemed to split open a mass of clouds overhead. The sun turned dark for one frightening instant, then shone forth again, as bright as before. No rain. Just a warning flash, the kind I'd heard sometimes comes as a sign that a storm is approaching in this high altitude. Still there was silence. I wanted to ask Finbar about the sudden thunderclap and bolt of lightning that seemed so disconnected with reality, appearing and disappearing as swiftly as they did. But I simply could not speak. Nor could he.
After a while . . . at last I found my voice. "Is it twenty minutes until the hour - or twenty minutes after?" I asked.
The car swerved slightly as Finbar quickly glanced at the watch on his left wrist, then swallowed hard before he replied.
"It's twenty minutes till three." He looked at his watch again. "Exactly twenty minutes till three," he repeated in a low voice. "Right on the second. How . . . did you . . .?"
Then I did that dumb thing I do sometimes, even though I'm not an Aquarian. I forgot Finbar's name. That kind of instant amnesia everyone gets occasionally with people they've only just met (except for Aquarians, who do it all the time!). I'm sure it's happened to you too. And you're embarrassed to ask, so you take a chance that you're right. When you're wrong, it's . . . well, you wish the ground would open up and swallow you, right? I thought I remembered his name. I was wrong.
I laughed. "I'm surprised to hear an Irishman [GREEN] ask how I knew the exact time, Michael," I said. "I thought all Gaelic people knew about the 'Sudden Silence' superstition. In fact, my own Irish grandmother, whose parents were born in County Cork, is the first one who told me about it."
Still the man beside me did not relax. If anything, he was even more tense, and his voice remained very low.
"Told you . . . about what?"
"About the strange thing that sometimes happens when two or more people are talking together. All of a sudden there's a dead silence, and no one seems able to break it for the longest time, no matter how hard they try. It's as though everyone's lips were sealed, or everyone had somehow been mesmerized into a trance. After the silence gets to be downright embarrassing, someone finally manages to speak, and break it. And usually, no one even comments on it aloud. Everyone just goes right on talking about whatever it was they were talking about before it . . . happened."
Finbar said nothing, but his sunburned, freckled hand tightened on the steering wheel. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks. Had he decided I was pixilated, the Gaelic term for not having it all together? I finished my story nervously.
"My grandmother (I called her my elf-mother) told me that when the sudden-silence thing occurs, it's almost always - at least about ninety-five percent of the time - either twenty minutes till - or twenty minutes after the hour. Any hour. I've tested it most of my life, since I was about fourteen years old, every time an unbreakable silence falls when I'm talking with another person . . . or a group of people. And she was right. Almost every time, that's where the clock hands point. Twenty till . . . or twenty after . . . whatever hour.
"There have been only a few times over the years, maybe three, that it hasn't worked. Day or night. When you ask the person or people you're with when it happens if it's twenty till or twenty after, and you're not wearing a watch yourself, and there's no clock visible anywhere, they're always shocked," I finished lamely. "Like you are right now."
Finbar remained silent, although he nodded, with a faint, polite smile.
"I've always wondered why it happened, " I went on, trying to fill what was now a different and definitely uneasy kind of silence in the car. "I mean, I've tried the experiment so many times, and observed how amazingly it
works, I'm sure there must be a reason for it. Maybe involved in the laws of physics. Or metaphysics. It obviously has something to do with the fourth dimension of time. I'm very much interested in numerology, but I've never found a solution to it in any numerology books I've read. I'm going to study it more up here this summer, maybe the Kabala too. I know I'm going to figure out the answer someday. Maybe in the mountains I'll dream the answer. Little mysteries like that intrigue me, and I can't rest until I've solved them."
Finbar cleared his throat, then spoke as if he hadn't paid any attention to a word I'd been saying.
"My name," he said, "is Michael." He paused. "Michael Finbar O'Malley. You had no way of knowing that. And . . . you knew the exact time, too, although you're not wearing a .... uh ... I guess you've more or less explained how you knew . . . but . . . are you what they call psychic?"
Once more the conversation had taken a wrong turn. I desperately reached for another subject-changer. As Finbar shifted gears, I shifted subjects, perhaps not too smoothly.
"No, I'm not psychic. That is, no more than everyone could be by just opening up the mind and allowing things to channel through. It's simply a matter of tuning in to a higher level of awareness. Anyway, the name was probably just a coincidence. I didn't realize I called you Michael till you brought it up."
A double lie. I had realized it. And nothing on this planet is a coincidence. Or on any other planet. Or in any Solar System or Universe. However major or microscopic, every event is linked to an unguessed, invisible, interlocked cosmic pattern. But this was neither the time nor the place to engage in the untangling of such complexities. I tried to sound cheerful and reassuring as I fumbled into an abrupt change of subject.
"Michael is a common name. Lots of people are named Michael." Then the briefest pause. "Where did Nikola Tesla live?"
"Mostly in Colorado Springs. Now and then, though, he stayed in Cripple Creek, when he was doing some things on Mount Pisgah or Tenderfoot . . . and Pikes Peak. But nobody seems to know for certain exactly where. Probably because he came and went for only a few days at a time, I suppose, when the storms were brewing."
Finbar's apprehension seemed to have returned momentarily, as he murmured, "It's funny you should ask."
"Why is it funny?"
"Well, maybe not funny. I guess the word is . . . strange."
"All right, then, why strange?"
"Because you anticipated something I was about to tell you . . . and because of the fact that . . ." He hesitated. I remained silent, waiting. It seemed the wisest thing to do.
"Well, there's a strong rumor that he sometimes stayed in a two- story RED brick house across from the school and gymnasium, between Third and Fourth Streets. The house was built in the late 1880s by a jeweler from New York named Gold-smith or Gold-blatt or something. Later, it was used as a kind of annex to the Old Homestead, when they had an overflow of customers on a weekend. After that, it was a boardinghouse that rented out single rooms."
"The Old Homestead?" Brief questions were decidedly safer. I remembered my friend mentioning the Old Homestead back in New York. Was it my imagination that Finbar was speaking faster than usual? As though he were trying to cover up words he wasn't saying?
"Yes. It's one of the oldest RED-LIGHT houses in the West. If you like, I'll drive you past there when we get to Cripple Creek. It's a museum now. You might like to go in and have a look around. They have guides there who give real interesting talks about the Madam, PEARL DeVere, and all the swinging' that went on there during the gold rush, like the bells over the beds the girls used to ring when they looked out the window and saw the COPS comin' up the front walk. PEARL's story has a sad ending, but I won't tell you now or I'll spoil it for you."
* LINDA GOODMAN'S STAR SIGNS - GHOSTS, GURUS, AND AVATARS *