Devaki Hannah had five dresses and four were flowing white. The fifth was blue, and her knees showed beneath the hem. Her mother wanted to throw it out but that was difficult because Devaki was always wearing it.
Since they had moved here from the Scottish coast, Devaki had only been out with her mother or with her father or with both of them. Her mother had mentioned in passing that a lunch shop not one block away was owned by an Aunt Nell.
“Does this stray aunt of mine have any children?” Devaki had asked. “Oh yes, quite probably,” said her mother.
Children! Not one block away! The lunch shop specialized in pies, apparently. Her mother loved anything done in pastry, but wouldn’t set foot in the shop. It was full of meat for one thing and for another they’ll project—whatever that meant. It had been months since Devaki had played with other children.
There had been a brief, tantalizing train trip through Europe, a tiny view of other colorful lives bursting madly by, waving tickets and wearing gloves and eating sausages. Then her little family had boarded the luxury liner The Eckhart Oldendorf—as staff. Her parents took custodial jobs in order to gain passage to America. That meant that Devaki saw staff only, and they were all too old. Though Devaki was nearly thirteen she still liked a good giggling breathless run around. A few icebergs bobbing on the ocean did not an exciting trip make.
Devaki stared out the window into the back yard. The house was surrounded by a sooty brick wall that you couldn’t even see over, but still, she was not allowed out by herself. Because, she thought wryly, she was not so much a girl as a consequence.
There were no more boxes in the living room. Everything was more or less in its place now. The volumes of books which in Devaki’s opinion made everything look so dark and feel so heavy were all around the walls. Prominently set between the works of Madam Blavatsky, Krishnamurti, Leadbetter, Steiner, and the channeled works of Hilarion, Dwajul Khul, and others were the identical thin bound volumes that Hamish Hannah, her father himself, had written. They were too small to catch the eye naturally, but set between two gilded elephant bookends, they seemed to call out to anyone hovering by the shelf to pick them up. The person who picked them up the most was her father.
The books were as follows: The True Nature of God, The Hand Unseen, Other Realities, Illumination, The Radiant Aura, Consequences, The End of Thought, The Violet Flame, The Nature of Nature, The Devic, No Man Alone.
Devaki hadn’t read any of them, but she didn’t have to. She knew that most conversations she had with her father contained direct quotes. “There’s no angry God, no emotion at all to God. God won’t take your side over someone else’s. God is a neutral energy. The word ‘god’ implies somebody but it’s no somebody, it’s everything—we just use it for short.” Her mother Vera’s conversation tended to extemporize around the same subjects: “It doesn’t care if you cover your head or if you hit yourself every morning with the toilet brush. It’s you who have to live with consequences. You eat cows, and one day the aliens will come to earth and round us up and stick us on farms and eat us. They won’t be able to live without a nice human rump and eggs for breakfast. And if you wear your hair in a beehive and never wash it, you are going to get a nest of spiders in there—true story whatsispants told me. Consequences. That’s why you are not wandering out alone in a strange city. Unless you suddenly become some great hairy man with a club, which I do not foresee.”
Devaki sat at her mother’s desk. It was crammed into the living room right up against the beveled glass doors of the dining room; there was no space for it anywhere else. There were little balls of foil from chocolates all about, random periods in a strew of sentences. Her mother’s strange emphatic logic hung around the desk like a perfume hammer. There were two pen sets, the good one and the one Vera actually used. Ink bottles, tissues full of blue-black stains. A rolling blotter with a snakeskin handle which was obviously too good to use for its intended purpose, and finally, scads of paper. One tidy pile typed on the Olivetti and a sea of blotty handwritten pages. The handwritten was Vera’s work and the Olivetti-written was Hamish’s latest, waiting for proofreading.
Her mother was out investigating schools today. It was looking like Devaki might have to go to the Catholic school (apparently the public schools were hopeless), so her mother was going to make sure that she didn’t have to say any of the prayers, sing the national anthem or go to the chapel. That she would have full exemption from anything religious.
You promise something to God, it takes a witch doctor and sundry magicians to break. That’s why they want you singing anthems. So they can stuff you in a soldier suit and fire you out of a cannon because you promised God so every morning in school. There will be no pledging things to churches or nations. All nations are made of people and we are people. We are not in the business of pledging our lives into the hands of “countries.” When they say country they don’t mean the lovely land, they mean the government, and a government is generally just a synthesis of sickness. We won’t bother defending sickness with our lives.
Devaki swiveled on the desk chair a few times and drew her knees up when she got it going fast. The room blurred by and she saw a boy standing there. Abruptly she grabbed the desk to stop and looked around.
She swaggered up to the gramophone, already dancing at the idea of the Danny Kaye record. They didn’t have the Beatles and Lulu. They were of a “low vibration.” The Hannahs had Vivaldi, Yves Montand and Danny Kaye. Danny Kaye was supposed to be a very evolved soul, according to the “World Teacher” in London. He could have been an initiate. Devaki didn’t care about any of that. She just thought Danny Kaye was funny. “Stupidity, Cupidity, Manhattan and Vicinity . . .” She rattled off the recitative under her breath and did a little spin. And there he was again, standing there. A boy. There was no mistake this time. He was about her height with white blond hair and white blue eyes. He wore odd old-fashioned farm clothing with funny suspenders and mucky rubber boots.
Devaki lifted the arm off the gramophone, put it back down suddenly, charged out of the room, swung round the newel post and up the stairs; the boy followed her. She could feel it. Throwing open the door to her room, she jumped onto her bed, blue dress flying, and stared and caught him flash, flash, flash, with each jump.
“I can see you, you know,” she said disdainfully.
And then she could, even without moving fast, or looking out of the corner of her eye.
“Are you an astral entity?” she asked. The bed wobbled from her last bounce.
“In the name of the I AM presence that I AM, I command you back to the light,” Devaki proclaimed from on high, standing on her bed like a Shakespearean actor. The boy stood there and blinked at her. She cocked her head at him and then dropped onto her bottom on the bed. “Are you looking for the light?” she asked more kindly. “Have you passed on recently? Is there something you still need to do?”
“Well . . .” said the boy.
“—Do you need to pass on a message?”
“Holy doodle,” exclaimed Devaki, “I can’t believe there’s a boy in my room. My mother would have a conniption fit.”
Devaki bounced out of her room and slid down the bannister. The boy plodded down the stairs and followed her as if his socks were full of wet oats. In the kitchen, she tried to tempt him with a glass of milk and leftover poached pears, but he wouldn’t eat and just watched her with steady pale eyes as she gulped. He didn’t laugh when she made a milk mustache. Then Devaki showed him the house (it wasn’t big) and asked if he liked to dance. He looked down at the rubber boots on his feet and back at her.
“Can you not dance in boots?”
The boy stared at her a moment longer and then sat on the carpet. Devaki cocked her head. She thought he would probably cheer up if he heard Danny Kaye, and put on the record. She turned around to him, grinning widely, and did a few quick steps with a hearty dose of clown, just to let him know that whatever was going on, there were no hard feelings on her part, but when she looked up he was panting. He looked scared to bits.
Quickly she pulled the arm off the record, wincing at a scratch noise from the needle.
“What is it?” she asked. “We don’t have to dance. Go home if you want. I’m not attached if you don’t like it here.”
“I can’t go home. There is danger. Or you sing.”
“You want me to sing?”
“And you’ll be happy? —Hold on. You can’t go home. . . ?” She went still. “Are you a real boy?”
“You mean a boy?”
“A boy, like a human being, but boy.”
“Well, I hope I am like one, but no, I am not one. I am the Servant of the Song.”
“Look, pretend I am daft and spell it out for me,” she said, sounding very much like her mother. “What do you want?”
“I said, go. You’re free to go,” Devaki said, scrunching her brow. She wasn’t in the business of holding hostages.
“Well, I need the song.”
“The Actam te Hyewariat.”
“Never heard of it.”
“But you sang it. Someone sang it. I am bound to it.”
Her eyes widened in comprehension. “Ohhh. Gotcha. That would be Hamish or Vera. The parentals. They are always into things. They don’t always know what they’re into. What’s the song do? Does it make sure that someone guards their daughter in case ravening Americans get her?”
“Uh . . . I am bound to protect the young life whatever that entails.”
Devaki understood now the rubber boots, the suspenders, the old-fashioned grey mud-stained clothes the boy wore, the faint smell of manure.
“You can speak German?”
“If you would prefer.”
It was the boy who had saved her father’s life during the war. Hamish must have borrowed his image in order to visualize someone. She’d heard her father tell the story many times. A German boy had hidden Hamish and parachute from his own family. So: not Sneaky Vera, Sneaky Hamish. But Hamish wouldn’t be home for hours.
“Can you do hocusy-pocusy things?”
“Uh . . . whatever is required for protection.”
Devaki looked at the boy and a naughty gleam came into her eyes. “Well, as I’m protected by you, mate, I’d say this spells ‘Safe To Go Out.’ I’ll just get my coat.”
Minutes later the two of them were walking down the street and Devaki was talking excitedly. “This,” she said, spreading her arms wide, “. . . is America! Any one of these gents could have a pistol and call me a ‘dame.'”
The boy looked around furtively. Devaki patted him on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to keep you around forever— that’s just rude— but I won’t be able to get your song until Hamish comes home, so meanwhile why not visit some relatives?”
“The Pie In The Sky! It’s like a circus front! Would you look at that!”
“Yes. Okay.” The boy obediently looked upward at the jolly red sign featuring a steaming pie and a pig wearing tartan tam.
Devaki marched in and straight up to the counter where a teenage boy slouched behind the cash register reading a comic. “I’m Devaki Hannah.” she announced over the din. “Is my Aunt Helen about?”
The teenager got up without a word and pushed open a double swinging door into a kitchen. “Ma . . . uum!” he yelled. Devaki noted an airline poster of the Moray coast, over the door. Home.
A woman waiting at the counter wore a green hat and was blowing smoke upward elegantly with each puff of her cigarette. Devaki watched her with interest. “You’re like a factory!” she said brightly.
“Muuuum!” the teenager was yelling behind the swinging doors.
A glass case that spanned half of the counter was filled with pretty sweets and savories. A family crowded around it in the throes of decision. Crumbs and cream, tablecloths and teapots littered the post-lunch scene. A man pushed his chair back, patting his belly with satisfaction, and took a last sip of tea. One of a pair of older ladies giggled mischievously as she as she wrapped the remainder of her bread in a napkin and put it in her purse. The little blond boy with Devaki stared at them as if they might attack.
At last the double doors to the kitchen opened and out came Neil and Nell, Devaki’s aunt and uncle. Nell’s arms were as full of flour as her eyes were full of tears as she hugged Devaki.
“Mum said she misses you so much and she loves you more than anything and she can’t believe what an incredible idiot she has been,” Devaki cried into Nell’s muscled mound of a belly. She was fully aware that she was digging herself into terrible trouble and that her mother would not thank her. Not one bit. Vera could go hard as a brick of old cheese at the mention of her family. At the moment Devaki didn’t care; the feeling of a big family was intoxicating.
“When’s Vera coming? When am I going to see the family nutter?” Nell said with obvious affection. Just as she suspected—her mother’s family hadn’t rejected Vera; it was the other way round. Devaki had expected her aunt and uncle to sound American, but their accents were as Scots as her own.
The Servant of the Song stood to one side, looking as if his arms were too long.
Nell suddenly noticed the boy and pulled back, a fleeting expression of mistrust crossing her face. “Who’s your pal?”
“Oh, this is . . . this is . . . Hans . . . our . . . uh, our gardener . . .’s son. He’s watching out for me.”
“He’s German? Christ on toast! Don’t tell your uncle Jock,” Nell blurted ungently.
Devaki smiled goofily, thrilled by her aunt’s swearing. “He’s very nice. He’s taking care of me.”
“Sorry ’bout that, lad, old habits, wha?” Nell apologized to the Guardian and then seemed not to see him again.
Neil stepped in to clap the boy on the shoulder with one giant hand. “Good with gardens, the Jerries,” he said, and swung him round to come and look at the displays in the glass cases. “Anything you want to eat, free, you just pick something. Never mind how much. The cream cakes are the most expensive.”
Two hours later Vera came home to an empty house. Her heart began to pound and her mouth dried out. She did some breathing, connected to the divinity, and called the polis. She rang London long-distance to ask her friend Adelaide who was clairvoyant and clairaudient for help, but it must have been the middle of the night because Addie didn’t answer. Finally, shaking like a leaf, she got into the “wrong” side of the giant American station wagon and drove all the way to the laboratory where her husband worked as a chemist.
Now Devaki was at a large, fixed table in the back room. Around her sat four little girls who shared identical straight red blond hair and bright frank eyes: Iris, Daisy, Rose and Vera! Above them on a ceiling rack hung pots pans and utensils, including a giant cleaver with a nasty blade. The girls were dolloping jam into tarts, pinching the sides with a scalloper. On the counter behind them sat a big blob of raw meat, tied up in string and poked with cloves. Devaki had to turn around several times to look at it. She bit her lip involuntarily but the other girls were unconcerned. Briefly she wondered about the consequences. “Hans” was sitting on a stool in the corner, newspaper under his boots, forbidden to walk around for all the mud on his person. Uncle Neil had tried to send him home, but the boy wouldn’t go.
“He’s got to watch me, da said,” Devaki had intervened. “It’s okay. He’s fine, aren’t you Hans?”
“I am fine.”
“We can get you home ourselves,” Uncle Neil insisted.
“Nope, has to be Hans, da said.”
Uncle Neil promptly forgot the boy.
Nell came bustling back in from the front of the shop. The Beatles were playing on the radio: “All you need is love.” Nell bussed Devaki demonstratively on the top of the head and said in one breath, “This kitchen’s as full of gorgeous girls as a lamb is full of lamb chops. Look at you, my little cutlet, with the odd foreign name. I shall call you ‘Pickles.’ Least I can say that. Right, Pickles? Pickles? I need sandwiches, sandwiches, sandwiches. Robert! Jock! Neil, get that meat cleaver down from there. It’s waiting for a disaster. That’s the Titanic’s favorite iceberg, that is. That your head or a brick? You gone deaf?”
Neil, holding a big jar of strawberry preserves under one arm, leaned over the heads of the girls, reaching for the cleaver. Little Iris squirmed as she tried to get a strand of hair out of her mouth without getting flour on her face, then jerked back, blowing out “Pth! Pth!” Her arm hit Neil. The jar of preserves slid out of his arm. The almost fully grasped cleaver dialed round in the air, suddenly free. There was a blur of grey cloth, a smell of manure, a crash, glass, and syrupy berries, and Hans was suddenly on the table lying across Devaki with the cleaver deeply embedded in his neck. Very obviously dead.
“Well if it’s supposed to be a protector, where the blazes is she? It must be a dark entity. How could you call up something you weren’t sure of and leave Devaki with it?”
“I must have been giving off fear. . . . It’s the only thing I can think of. Perhaps I mispronounced it. It’s hard to tell with dead languages. Surely the intent would carry it through.” Hamish ran his hand through his energetic mop of black. “If you would calm down, Vera, I could tune in to my ajna.”
“All her life in the community around totally reliable people and now this. It’s loud, it’s filthy . . . the thought-forms all around are so dark . . . she doesn’t understand . . . I should never have left her. She’s been so restless. She’s not equipped.” Vera paused, and managed to breathe. “I sound like my mother. Devaki’s perfect. Everything’s perfect. Sorry. Sorry, love. It’s my fault. I’m sorry. It’s me I’m cross with. I’ll be quiet. Whoo. Ahhh. Whoo. Ahhh. Whoo. Ahhh. Whoo. I have to pull over.”
They pulled in to a Howard Johnson’s.
A little while later, a man who peered in at them saw two people with their eyes closed, breathing through rolled tongues. “Get a load a that!” they heard him say to someone. Calmer now, Vera asked, “Anything?”
“Nothing. I just heard ‘family.'”
“Just ‘family,’ och, you nit, why didn’t you say? It’s Nell’s! She’s always been curious about Nell.”
As they rounded the corner where Pie In The Sky stood, the sound of sirens met their ears. “Oh god, oh god Hamish! Something was off with your Actam Te Hyewariat, take it back.”
Quickly Hamish chanted the song at an incredible volume to cover the sound of approaching sirens. When he finished, the sound of sirens dimmed as the polis car that had been behind them pulled out ahead of them and sped away.
Together they rushed into Pie In The Sky.
“Where is she?” Vera screamed to one and all.
“Oh good lord, oh Crispy Christ on a cracker!” Nell dusted her hands off on her apron and approached her sister, tears virtually vaulting out of her face.
In the background the phone was ringing and Robert, Nell’s son, bemused, eyes on the reunion, picked it up. “Yeah?” the teenager answered, somehow managing to make the single word drip irony.
“I’m here, Vera! I knew you’d come one day, I knew you couldn’t stay away from your fat sister forever,” Nell wailed.
“Have you seen Devaki?” Hamish interrupted.
Neil came forward to join Nell, mirroring her expression of confusion. “Have we seen what, man?”
“Oh, their daughter with the funny name, is it?” Nell said, and flicked a tea towel at Hamish. “What kind of name is that for a kiddie-winkie? So you’re the ramrod that stole my one and only sister. Aren’t you the handsome thief? Hells bells, how should I have bloody seen your girl, Vera? You’d have to bring her round for that,” she managed in one breath.
“Your kid’s on the phone,” Robert yelled from the corner, his accent pure American.
Hamish rushed to take the Bakelite receiver from the teenager. “Devaki?”
“Hi Hamish. The guardian-spirit fella was here and we went to see Nell and a cleaver dropped on his neck and he died and everyone was panicking and the polis were coming and then suddenly he disappeared and I was home alone.”
“Oh sweetheart. You know he wasn’t a real person.”
“Of course. He was an energetic construct composed mostly of your own energy, I believe. He didn’t have much personality of his own. You know dadda, this is the first phone call I have ever placed. I quite like it.”
“My energy? Really? It wasn’t an actual other entity?”
“Well, I cast out entities and he didn’t go.”
“And you saw him? Everyone saw him? He was corporeal?”
“Saw him live, saw him die. A butcher thing right through the neck. Right in it. Right on top of me. They don’t remember, do they? Didn’t think so. You know, Hamish, if I were anyone else I’d be in the mental for life. Right in his neck. Quite grim. Have you met the girls? There’s one called Vera. How’s mum doing with Aunty Nell? Is she projecting? I think she’s funny.”
“You’re a fine little catalyst, aren’t you?”
“I’ll have to ponder that. Are you going to come and fetch me?”
“I’ll be there tickety.”
“Thanks, Hamish. Oh, and dadda?”
“Yes, Rabbit, anything . . .”
“If no time has passed, I expect Auntie Nell still has some bikkies in the oven. They’ll burn if they don’t come out. Would you tell her?”