The Many Faces of Lisa Adorn
by Matthew Kressel
Lisa Adorn came to my attention on the fifth of May, 1984, with classic symptoms of an acute panic attack. While her mother quite vehemently opposed my recommended prescription of anxiolytics, my notes clearly indicate that she had attempted to medicate her daughter with six hundred milligrams of acetaminophen, which upon administering to the child, and discovering after a period it had no discernable effect, brought her to my pediatric office then located in Farmingville.
I ruled out possible myocardial episodes which might precipitate such symptoms, and via careful inquiry eliminated the possibility of drug overdose or misuse.
The mother, in an aside away from the child’s earshot, offered to me that a boy from Lisa’s elementary school had recently died of spinal meningitis, and fearing a contagion in the nearby classrooms, the school board, in classic naïve hysteria, forced all students who had been in close proximity with the child to receive preemptive antibiotic medication, even though all students had been symptom-free for over a month. Lisa, however, did not share physical contact with the boy and never received such medication. I suggested to the mother that I speak to the child in camera, and she assented.
Alone, I reassured Lisa that she was not sick, that the episode would soon pass, and that it was a normal and completely healthy response to news of a classmate’s death. She merely nodded her acquiescence to all my questions, offering nothing further, and neither confirmed nor denied her mother’s hypothesis. Then the mother and child left. The total time of their visit was no more than fifteen minutes, and I never saw Lisa again for this particular incident, though she did return to my office on several occasions with mild upper respiratory infections and sore throats, but with nothing that would indicate that the panic symptoms of this particular episode had reoccurred. I hope that this answers your question.
It took me four hours to get home yesterday. It was horrendous. Yeah, because of the snow. The kids? They’re fine [sigh]. Lisa just got accepted into the Magnet program. It’s a course for gifted children. Once a week they get pulled out of their classroom and receive a special education. Lisa was very shy the first few times, but she’s gotten used to it. Right now they bus the kids to Dalton Elementary, because that school has computer labs and they do science experiments and [cough] — I don’t know — there’s just lots of stuff. Douglas knows more about it than I do [yawn].
Yes, well, the Magnet program, as my wife so eloquently has explained, exposes the kids to science, art, and literature at a young age. Lisa’s so far ahead of the other students that she needs something to stimulate her. She’s got a high IQ, unlike her mother.
I’m just kidding, Florence! You have a high IQ. It’s almost as high as that pickle [laugh].
But anyway, Lisa was reading by the time she was three. When she was nine she was devouring books on quantum physics. And she draws, too, though her technique could use some improvement. I just bought her some books on perspective and shading. But I suspect she’ll probably do something with science. At least that’s my hope. Who? No, I don’t remember her teacher’s name.
The perfumed valleys of Simia Dimora shine like brilliant jewels under her twin suns. The third sun has yet to rise. Raphael runs up to me, flower in his mouth, offering his blessing for the morning. His skin has browned since we’ve come to this world, his legs more agile, his fur more fair. He says, “Lisa, even this idyllic place will run out of sand. It’s time to move on.” But I ignore him, content to roll in the flowers and let the bees buzz around my head. I don’t want to think about the darkness that approaches, not now. Just let me be for a little while, I tell him. But Raphael, ever eager to be the swashbuckling hero, lifts me onto his back and gallops down the countryside to the First Prismatic Gate. Between its jaundiced columns I can see into the depths of Thallion and the cluster of Gayoo, the orange swirls of worlds spinning about one another. This beauty too will soon be no more.
We say goodbye to Simia Dimora, its florid fields and singing insects. It will be the last time we ever see this place. I drop a tear into the void as we step through the Gate and watch it spiral down into infinity and disappear.
My sister’s such a brat. It’s like, she gets all my parents’ attention, and they’re all raving like, “Oh, she’s so smart. Oh, she’s so intelligent.” What do I get? “Oh, you’re very beautiful.” Well, thank you. I know I’m pretty, but I just think it’s stupid how Lisa gets all the attention, that’s all. Plus, she’s so weird. I hear her singing to herself in the mornings sometimes. Not just like some song she’s heard on the radio, but like whole albums of stuff she just makes up. And she has conversations with herself in the mirror. And they’re long conversations where you just hear her talking to some imaginary friend. Her room smells too. I think she pees on the floor. No, seriously. I think she’s too lazy or crazy or something and instead of walking the twenty feet to the bathroom she just pees on her floor. I’ve heard it in the middle of the night. She must be schizophrenic. My Dad thinks she’s a saint or something, ’cause at the dinner table he’s always asking her all these scientific questions and it’s like me and my mother aren’t even there. He bought an expensive computer, said it was for the family, but I know it was just for her. And my Mom is just oblivious to all this. What? No, I broke up with him. Last week.
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Adorn:
What a wonderful and attentive child you have. Over the past six months Lisa and the rest of the Magnet students have participated in many activities chosen to enlighten their young and virginal minds. The advanced coursework we provide them gives the students a much-needed stimulus above and beyond the curriculum presented in the standard classroom. Our theory is that early exposure to complex subjects will give these children an edge not only creatively, but in their future lives. Already I can see this happening in Lisa, who came to us a shy and introverted girl, but now avidly shares fictional accounts of herself and her companion Ralph, an avatar of her hand-sewn puppet of the same name (So she tells us. She has yet to bring in this pet of hers), as they gallivant throughout the universe traveling from star to star.
Lisa has an incredible imagination. In our biology lab, when the children looked at skin cells under the microscope, she elegantly exclaimed that we are “a host to a thousand colonies of living things,” an incredibly astute observation for one her age. And her drawings, while still showing some of the distorted perspective typical of youth, display remarkable metaphors, such as a rendering of a capital letter “I” in odd relief with the subheader, “Help keep capital I alive.” Is this a subconscious call for help by her ego, or a more quotidian and humorous expression of her basic inner nature? That will be for you to ascertain, for my role here is only to stimulate and not to manipulate.
She does, however, fall inattentive for long periods, lost in daydream and fancy. I wonder, is this the wellspring where her ideas come from? A traditional teacher might see this as a negative, but I see this as more signs of the child’s burgeoning creativity. After all, Einstein is said to have been dyslexic, a daydreamer, and a poor student in his elementary years, and look what he was capable of! I can only imagine what would have been possible had Einstein had the early stimulus I am giving to your child and the others in the Magnet program.
To conclude, I just want to say that your daughter is a pleasure to teach, and you should be very proud of the accomplishments she’s made so far. I look forward to seeing her progress even further. Please feel free to write me any time.
If you look at it the right way, it’s almost beautiful. The swirling vortex of light spilling into it, the billion-colored rainbows exploding along its rim, the dancing beams of light as the void swallows all. Raphael doesn’t like to take me so close, but I have to see it for myself, and he is time-bound to obey. Only after one Cycle of Tendaric Ascensia will he be free to do as he pleases. But long before then, this universe will be no more. I want my heart to burn with warmth, like the days of old, under the Hegemony of Pa’ool Du Cept III, when the stars were close together, and the planets sang their poems out to the heavens. But now their songs are distant and seldom, and the spirit of their singing hearts no longer warms the night.
Raphael and I alight on Segovii, a ringed planet far from the maelstrom growing in the universal center. I try to leap, to dance, to smile at the way the planet’s blue rings catch the sunlight like a shimmering sea and cast it about the fields of swaying grain. But I cannot remove from my thoughts the growing void I have just seen. Raphael smiles at me, but it is a placating smile. Eons together have merged our minds. I can only but begin a thought before he completes it. I sense his distaste for this place, for he prefers the sandy beaches of Tobai, or the towering forests of Croon. But more so, he dislikes this place because, as a beast, he senses the trembling of the creatures slinking in the grasses, the quivers of the forests as their leaves cower from the coming darkness, the deep and querulous unease of the twirling planet below us as she drifts through the void, perhaps on her last orbit about her mother star. Together, we pray for her.
Lisa’s been such a handful lately. I don’t know. I try to reach out to her but she’s always so angry. She’s ten. Four years younger than her sister. No, but sometimes she curses and says “Fuck you,” to me. It’s terrible. I’ve tried that, but she just slams the door to her room. Sometimes she just screams and screams. It’s making me so upset. No, Douglas doesn’t see it half the time. He’s always at work. I tell him, but he just shrugs it off. No, that’s the way he is. I suppose Lisa’s just going through a phase. I hope that’s all it is because this is making me crazy.
I’m worried about my sister. She doesn’t say anything at the dinner table. She barely eats. Sometimes she gets into these crazy fights with my mother. I tried to talk to her the other night. She said I wouldn’t understand, but I made her talk anyway. She told me all about death, that everything she knows and loves is going to die. And I was like, “Yes, that’s part of growing up, realizing that we’ll all die, one day.” Yeah, it’s deep and freaky for a ten-year-old, but that’s my sister. And she couldn’t take it when I told her this. She put her head into her pillow and cried, holding her little stuffed animal. Well, it’s not really even stuffed, more like sewed. I think she made it in art class. I don’t know what to do. What can I do? Let me get going. I’ve got homework to do.
Lisa’s withdrawal and anger are normal responses to a lack of proper mirroring. Her parents suffer from classic narcissism. Though on outer appearance they may seem to provide for her wellbeing, in projecting their own beliefs and desires onto the child without proper acknowledgement of Lisa’s own beliefs and feelings they have essentially neglected the inner core of her being and it has withered. Lisa therefore has invested a large amount of emotional energy into creating an internal fantasy world as a response or an escape from her turbulent and lacking outer experience. This emotional cathexis, as a survival mechanism, is not faultless, and at times she glimpses the fantasy for what it is: a protection of the inner terror of her experience, and thusly she reacts in panic, or alternately, in outbursts of anger to avoid feeling these overwhelming emotions. I’ve suggested to the parents that they come in with the child on a weekly basis to resolve these issues before Lisa’s emotional state is further degraded; however, after my refusal to see the child without the parents present, Mr. and Mrs. Adorn have neglected to respond to my phone calls.
They say the universe was formed from the cosmic egg, a great sea of emptiness that divided itself and thus created reality. And that is why, in the unfathomable universe of being, there is always paucity. In order to create, the Creator had to limit herself. At least, that is what the Pontifex of the Emerald Gallows tells us as we dine with him, his honored guests regaled with one last meal before the final destruction. We smile as pages come in from time to time, politely bow, and whisper reports into the Pontifex’s ear, reports of civilizations lost, of the growing, ravenous darkness that will soon consume us. But after they leave the Pontifex smiles again and offers us some more of his green Adjudicating Wine, a rare treat indeed, and even more so because of the state of the cosmos.
Outside the window his fleet of a trillion ships lies idle, their formation visible as gray specks among the blackness of space. They take the shape of the Merkabah, the twin inverted pyramids, a symbol of eternal life. Raphael and I are not even sure the Pontifex has ever truly believed, but the display is comforting. By the window, seven of his wives sprawl upon the couches smoking durnab, and even in their inebriated state, I can see the tears forming in their eyes. They know this is their last night to taste the root’s pleasures.
“Raphael and I are deeply honored,” I say, “that you should have us as guests during such a … time.”
“It is we who are honored,” says the Pontifex, his crystal eyes glittering like starlight. “For how could I possibly face the end of all without my favorite muse and her consort by my side. Tell me again how you defeated the great Qly, how you saved a billion races from death through your singular act of heroism.”
I smile as I recount the story of the great Qly, a plant grown so large it swallowed a galaxy and all the civilizations inside. I tell the Pontifex how I swooped in and slaughtered the beast in the cyclopean dimensions of Tier Two, and how the Qly was a mere pea in that realm. I tell him about a great battle, how I was able eventually to crush the overgrown beast under my foot. But these stories are mere hyperbole. In reality the Qly was no more intelligent than a kitten. I merely led it away with the promise of warm milk. It lives somewhere on the outer rim, ignorantly awaiting the fate that will soon consume us all.
The Pontifex loses his smile as he solemnly asks, “My dearest Lisa, slayer of mighty beasts, traveler of the cosmos, why can’t you smite this demon that devours all, this destroyer of worlds, this Nihilo that hungrily awaits to pounce at our doorstep?”
And I feel Raphael’s heart grow cold at the Pontifex’s words. For the man has never in his billion-year reign over the Heavenly Cathedral at Nei uttered an expression of fear or doubt. But we can see it in his face, the terror of one who believed he was immortal, only to find out now that he too is fleeting.
I stand and walk to the window, the wives looking at me quizzically. “There are forces in the Cosmos,” I say, “that even I have no power over. Dear Pontifex, will you pray for us? Will you lead us in one last glorious prayer?”
My sister is crying in her bedroom. Screaming. I don’t know what’s wrong. Should I go see what’s wrong?
I wonder if Lisa’s started reading that physics book I bought her? I’ll ask her when I get home.
My daughter makes me so angry! Why can’t she be like her sister!
Lisa’s stopped telling us her wonderful stories in Magnet class. Perhaps she is thinking of new ones to tell. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
We stare out the window as the first wave of ships buffet, break, and explode as the void swallows them in its ever-growing mass. For a moment, their glowing debris spins about the black orb like rings about a planet. But soon the expanding mass sucks even that into its depths, and it is no more.
The Pontifex is singing, and we sing along with him, a prayer older than the Seas of Valea, though those blue vistas are no more, a hymn more mournful than the Praise of Praises, though that prayer is the most solemn, a song more meaningful than any I have yet heard, or will ever hear again. Even the wives have stopped their smoking to stand and look out the window. Raphael grabs my hand. “I’m scared,” he says.
“So am I,” I say as the Pontifex clasps my other hand.
The ships explode in great conflagrations as the Merkabah formation loses ships by the millions. Only seconds now and the universe will be gone. Here we sit, the last survivors at the end of the universe, with nothing but each other to hold onto.
At the last moment the Pontifex turns to me and says, “Don’t forget us, child. One day, you’ll have a voice again. And when you do, tell your stories. Tell about the Steaming Seas of Sujatee, of the Galactic Mountains of MaranDour, of the conquests and triumphs of your empyrean soul. In your words we will live again.”
And then it hits, the hell of hells, a deeply primal horror only just conceived of in dreams. My being is frozen in ice, is rent into a thousand shreds, each with their own little piece of my consciousness. And I shiver and shrink until I am nothing but a speck of dust in infinity, and then I am further reduced to that simplest of sentient forms where I am merely a human body sleeping upon a bed, a girl of ten who, surrounded by the ignorant yet well-meaning efforts of her family, is now forced forever to endure a mundane existence.
I open my eyes to find them wet with tears, to see my room in only three dimensions, in just a few colors from such a small spectrum of the rainbow. Raphael is no longer the leaping beast offering me flowery nectars and his eternal love. Here he is only Ralph, a little red piece of cloth with googly eyes and a mouth penciled in. He sits motionless on the pillow, the life flattened out of him. There is a knock on the door.
“Hey, kiddo,” my Dad says. “How was your day?”
Matthew Kressel’s work has appeared in Apex Digest, Alien Skin Magazine, The Hudson Current and Sybil’s Garage, and will be appearing in the upcoming anthology Revelations by SpecFicWorld.com.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish