"You will. I promise. Trust me. I know. What's true never changes its tune. He heard it, once."
"Ambrose heard it with you?"
"And you're wrong about why he's wrong. You and Steelritter are both wrong. I'm no postmodernist, or artist. I can't lie. But I still know the center you want isn't in classes, or categories, or even in what kind of religion you choose to genuflect to. It's here." She doesn't gesture. "Wherever you are. It's all around you. Every minute. That sound you hear when it's quiet, without sleep. Or awake, listening. A great silence." Her eyes roll up toward her receding hairline, toward memory. "He used to love that silence. He'd just surrender, listening." She looks at Nechtr. "That was before you were even born. Before he wrote anything anyone but he and I would ever buy."
"Before Mr. Steelritter turned him on to meat and oil and metabetrayal?"
She smiles orangely, smooths her limply askew hair with a fatigue-sleeve.
"And what's true never changes, is what he said. From B.C. to this Very End you kids seem to worship. I believed in him, as an artist. I loved him very, very much. Enough to trust him even now.
"If you want," she says, "your whole life in the adult world can be like this country. In the center. Flat as nothing. One big sweep. So you can see right to the edge of where everything curves. So everything's right in front of your nose. That's why I sometimes throw cards. To show me my nose."
"You throw cards?" Mark says, making a face with his rosy face. "Jesus, D.L. throws them." Mark distrusts thrown cards: all those arcane categories, vague meanings, wish-fulfillment as prophecy. "I don't trust them," he admits. "They just tell her what she wants to hear. They're just vague enough so you can make them say what you want to happen or are neurotic about happening." He almost sneers, if there's such a thing as a numb sneer. "And then you and her psychic call it prophecy. It's obscene, is what it is."
Magda looks at him baldly from her side of the broken-armed cross in military surplus. The rain around them is letting up. The real heart of the sudden storm has moved off East, seeming coolly to strut, a bit tiptoed.
"Your lover doesn't throw cards," Magda laughs. "She carries them around probably wrapped in silk, probably even with a souvenir crystal; and she shuffles them and closes her eyes and spreads them out, afraid to look, the way people who make wishes are scared to tell you the wish, for fear the magic is fragile, sensitive to light."
(Again, I feel an obligation to say that this is synopsis, and not true to a voice I'm afraid I just can't do.)
"She tries to use them," Magda (more or less) continues. "She invests them with a power to change what they can only reveal. She wants shelter, a structure. A house of cards, with tiny furniture. Not the kind of great blind sweep you get when you throw" She makes a throwing gesture that's surprisingly deft and slight. "Not a mirror, that just shows you your nose." She looks at Mark. "When's the last time you saw your nose?"
FOREGROUND THAT INTRUDES BUT'S REALLY TOO TINY TO EVEN SEE: PROPOSITIONS ABOUT A LOVER
Maybe because she's never, never once, been made to be anything other than what others see, Magda Ambrose-Gatz has vast untapped resources of virtue and smarts and all-around balls. D.L reads painted Elkesaite cards, knows her own rising sign, and consults media. Magda, who's been seen so often her face is pumpkin-colored, is never called on to see others, or to speak from the heart. So she listens. And sees, inside. Never called on to speak, she can actually love her own tongue, as those born to subjection may love their skin, ears, eyes. She can count the hairs in your head, hear the cries of my cells expiring. She can see. She can spread the whole outside flat, inside, throw the kind of colorless cards that reveal what cannot change. She does so for Mark, and does not condescend when the boy protests that she has no Tarot cards, only a regulation flight-attendant's skirt and a faded fatigue jacket taken from the superfluous figure suspended above them and wrapped around her against the bland chill that always follows a storm's third act.
I am sorry. I have such respect for this woman that I just cannot show her to you in the light her shadow deserves. I am lovesick, and ungrown, and know no trope or toponymic topoi, no image worthy. I have to play the supplicant here; ask you simply to eat some raw bare propositions I can't prepare or flavor enough to engage your real imagination. We're all quite tired, and deprived, and it's getting pretty clear that we'll probably be asleep by the rime the actual revel gets started; so I'm going to cease all fucking around and just tell you what Magda tells Mark — what she knows, from just her senses, which are never in demand.
Magda knows that the water D.L. finally boils will not be for any labor. Magda knows that D.L. will emerge, in time, unMarked, as the single best copywriter J.D. Steelritter Advertising has ever used. She will rise through the adman ranks, assume a management position, eventually marry J.D.'s atonally ambitious harlequinned son (who'll be a sensitive and surprisingly gentle father), and be the lone female pallbearer when the most creative mind in the history of American advertising finally succumbs to carcinoma of the lower lip and is buried in a plot that requires no floral embellishment. Drew-Lynn will, in time, become J.D. Steelritter Advertising, and discover that the key to all ingenious and effective and original advertising is not the compelled creation of all-new jingles and images, but the simple arrangement of old words and older pictures into relationships the consumer already believes are true. She will take root, blossom, and mature in an environment of responsibility, and will do her late mentor true honor in continuing the masterful orchestration of the two long-term, brand-building campaigns J.D. will die proudest of. She will live to see Ray Kroc's one little Collision concession stand truly become the world's community restaurant. She will see to it personally that Dr. C— Ambrose's one flat gutted Maryland Funhouse comes truly to offer a whole new dimension in alone fun, become the discotheque where America can be themselves. She'll impose her will on awed, sleep-deprived, travel-weary clients with a dispassion born of an oracular instinct for What the People Want. A grown D.L., cardless, will divine a nation's post-postmodern economic future. Funhouses will eventually allow patrons to toast the idea of toasting with actual drinks: the consequent rise in patronage, consumption, Demand, and thus price of admission, will meet the Supply curve at profit. McDonald's will eventually suspend its free-food-forever-for-com-mercial-alumni policy, unmoved by scattered reports of hungry former actors wandering, pressing gaunt noses to windows warm as flesh — and will, in consequence, suspend its emblazoned pronouncements about how many trillions of burgers have been served since the beginning of franchisee! time. The public will interpret McDonald's new silence about the number of meat patties served as the kind of modest reticence only the world's true community restaurant could afford to display. P.R. And it shall be good.
Magda's Tower- and arcana-dominated reading of Thomas Stern-berg I'll skip, out of respect for limitations of time and a general repulsion for all those like us. Know, though, that he'll eat what cannot be food, be prurient, have ideas, believe he wants to heal and act, neither heal nor act, will putter all his adult life around the house his dead parents leave standing, and generally become the sort of Back Bay neighborhood presence with whom you Do Not Fuck.
Mark's field of time is harder to survey; because, since he is, at root, still an infant, his future is not yet something that cannot change. He believes there's some simple, radical difference about him. He hopes it's genius, fears it's madness. Magda knows it's neither. She knows that in truth Mark is just a radically simple person, wildly noncomplex, one of the very few men she's read for who's exhaustively describable in fewer than three adjectives. She predicts he will, in the Eleemosynary period following a scarred divorce he wants to be depressed about, give away a detergent fortune to the United Redemption Charities Corporation. That he'll travel without cease — not in the way of his father or J.D. or Ambrose, who steer exclusively by their rearview mirrors, but with the forward simplicity of a generation for whom whatever lies behind lies there fouled, soiled, used up, East.