Cult Illustration #41, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"

       This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

She felt his arms around her, holding her. His skin was soft and mushy. Yes, it was him. Strangely she felt sanguine and comforted. He brought his nose closer and closer to hers, not to kiss, she knew that. But to tell her something very important and intimate, persuade her to do something. It was as if he were conveying the information through his nose. She heard his question without words and she answered out loud, she heard herself reply

“I tried to help her, (the wife) but she did not want my help . . . . alright, alright, (with strained resignation turning instantly to enthusiasm), I’ll try again!”

Ms. X woke up in utter disbelief. It was the Guru! It had felt so sweet and innocent! Ms. X’s first thought was, I do not believe I had such a dream. Her second thought was, I would never do that again, and her third thought, which she uttered out loud with disgust was, “that was sick!”

What a strange dream, she mused, what could it mean? He never gave anyone his full attention and there was something virtuous about this, the way that he held onto his core so tightly, but there was also something unforgiving and selfish about it too.

Ms. X remembered how she had wanted, so ardently, to be able to hold unto her source in total confidence. But she was too keen on giving her full attention to the Guru and as long as she did, she could not be like him at all.

She remembered how the Guru was always trying to get back at people and he conveniently used Ms. X a few times to do this. The targets were usually women whom the wife became close with. Ms. X never liked doing his deeds but it felt empowering all the same and so she did it.

Now she was one of those women. The first week after her termination, Ms. X skimmed over the wife’s weekly blog. Without mentioning a name, the wife sketched a foul portrait of a seasoned initiate, turned weasel. Ms. X was astonished. The column was usually reserved for a bright uplifting story about new initiates, so bright they seemed familiar week after week. Ordinary things became epochal, never a word about the clients who spent the week drunk, or cheating spouses who let loose at the Concealment amidst their holy endeavors. Certain details were always omitted. Sometimes she might write an expose on herself, such as her miraculous ability to see atomic particles in every day stuff, a vision sort of thing. This too, Ms. X found stripped of essential details. Once the wife confided to Ms. X that it was probably the result of something the Guru gave her to drink years ago, a mushroom concoction. After that, her eyes never seemed to work right.

The Guru had decided to let the wife address the absence of Ms. X. She was the more sympathetic of the two. When she felt hurt or betrayed, members were inclined to agree with her. On the following week’s blog, the wife wrote about a new addition to her family, a puppy. Ms. X could see that the void she created was now filled. Cute photos accompanied the post.    

The dream was weird, but Ms. X knew exactly what she had to do, as she folded her blanket back and lifted her weary body from the bed. She would email the Guru and ask him to remove her name and photos from his various websites.  She didn’t care about her priest name or nicknames embedded in the Association's articles, and the Q & A database.  She did not even care about the products that were advertised with the help of her moniker. No one outside the Foundation knew her by those names.
Over a year had passed since she was ostracized and it had never occurred to her that she could, even should, ask him to delete her from the roles, but now it seemed innovative as well as essential. Since she left, she had no correspondence at all with the monarch pair and she was suddenly seized with the awful fear that he would find her request offensive . . . it made her pause  and consider his possible reprisals.

In the time that it took her to make her bed, she was sure that she must override this fear. She began to formulate the words in her head and then she put together sentences. It should be pleasant but not overly affectionate, to the point, but polite. It should not reveal anything personal and should not include the word hope.

Her heart beat like a boom box when she sat down and tapped out the message on her keyboard. How could such a silent duty be so loud, she thought, as she yearned for a cigarette that would placate her anxiety. It was one of those moments when one wished for a drug of some sort.
She waited for a long time, staring at the computer screen, making sure each word was spelled correctly and the sentences punctuated decently so that the meanings were clear. She scrolled down to make sure her edits had not left any stray words undeleted, any bits that betrayed her private thoughts or opinions on anything including the weather. When finished, she believed the terse note carried no ambiguous information. It simply said:

           Dear Guru, I trust you and family are well. I am writing this letter to request that you remove my legal name and photos from your websites. I am only concerned with my legal name and hope this is not too much trouble for you.
            Thank you, Ms. X.
She deemed it necessary to use the word hope in her last sentence. This was the only compromise. She waited for a long time and then she fingered the mouse and clicked on the send button.
As she went about her duties that morning, making breakfast, washing dishes, and tidying the cabin, she would obsessively break for the computer to check the inbox. She envisioned him cursing her as he read her message. She heard his vile retorts. She expected something obnoxious in return and then in the space of a moment she would imagine a kind-hearted reply.
One hour went by and then two. No answer. Ms. X wondered how much it would cost to get a lawyer to write her a letter addressed to him. Surely, she was in the right. She did not sign a contract. He could not appropriate her name and image, or could he? Was it possible? Another hour went by and Ms. X lost interest in the wait. She busied herself in the garden, pulling weeds and watering. She figured he might not answer her, she was not even worth a reply from him. She thought about waiting a week and then emailing the exact same message and then wait another week and email the wife and then wait another week and contact a lawyer.

“I’ll wait two weeks!” shouted Ms. X to herself as much as to the air. She began to think of words in her mind and then formulate them into sentences.

Since you refuse me the honor of a response  . . . no . .

Good character dictates that . . . no . . .

As you are a person of brutal honesty . . . no.
Once back in the cabin, Ms. X checked her in box. He replied! Ms. X opened the message and read it almost too fast to comprehend it:

       Funny, I was thinking of you a couple of days ago . . . I have felt badly that the single issue that was at question has caused your apparent total withdrawal from the Foundation. You have a great deal to contribute, and your observations, posts etc. are missed. Hopefully, you may find yourself comfortable enough to at least "dip your toe back in the water". . . and even more hopefully, to find it worthwhile to once again become one of the significant assets of the work we are all trying
to accomplish. I shall forward your request to our IT guy (it is beyond my technical abilities)            
                          Are you in Cincinnati?
                          How are you doing?
                          Love and blessings,
                          Your Guru.

She studied the message for the underlying messages. The first line about the single issue at question was a contrivance, she gathered, to get her to describe the reasons why she slunk away. She knew that this was something that bothered him deeply for his own reason, the need to understand why. And "you may find yourself comfortable enough" could be an accusation that she was not, formerly, comfortable with herself. Very clever. Did she comprehend his other words correctly? Was he inviting her back into the fold? Yes, it would seem. Yes, he missed her and she was needed once again. She felt a warming, a flattery beyond anything she imagined from the Guru but deep inside came a visceral “NO!” She was almost sick with it though, the ebullient feeling that his message gave her, the unnatural high that stayed with her through the day each time she considered that he had asked her back and she could actually go if she chose. It kept her awake for two nights in a row, for three days it was her predominant thought and then, thankfully, it ebbed away.
But the part that did not fade were the words “the work we are all trying to accomplish”. She asked out loud to the air, “Who is we all?” and even more pressing what exactly is "the work"?
She emailed him, however, that same day. She composed her message carefully, telling him that she was in Florida and very busy with her teaching and volunteer work and she thanked him for his kind words. She did all this in the same cold, polite way that she began the correspondence. It was necessary.
It took three days before her photos and biography disappeared from his site. She was disappointed to learn that when her name was googled, the same text appeared despite the revisions. The information was still there, permanently, on every search engine she quizzed. Worse yet, there appeared two new headings with her writings from the Q & A database. These would pop up from time to time over the years, but she chose to believe that they had disappeared for good until this very moment when they stared her in the face like a long lost lover. 

Her writings talked about negative energy and witches, blood, and the ancestors, and skimming over the articles she found them quite profound. Years back, she had foolishly signed her name to them, feeling proud about the work, feeling entitled to the accolades this nudity would produce, yet now she only wanted them to vanish. She thought about emailing the Guru again, renewing her request. She knew that he could make the changes, somehow, but she hesitated. Something of the old pathos kept her immobilized.

Over the years, she had preternaturally “caught him at a good time” (his own words), when asking for small favors. She was always extremely relieved to know this but as she sat at her computer wanting badly to fire off a note, she also had a foreboding that another “good time” was like a patch of quicksand hiding in the lagoon.
She thought about how she might respond if anyone in the school district googled her name, discovering the plethora of gruesome information regarding her past.

Ms. X imagined herself saying,

“I was investigating cults, for the FBI, went undercover and had to fit in.” (No, no, no, that would be too hard to believe).

“I was posing as Satan’s devotee to collect first hand knowledge, so I could write a journalistic article” (No, that would lead to too many more questions and the inability to maintain the ruse.)

“I was a sinner,” she decided to say, “but now I’ve found the Lord. I’m saved!”

She laughed at herself. She could do that, convincingly. She knew the role. In fact, she could use it on anyone.

Ms. X had been visiting the Chamber of Commerce, which was fortuitously located across the street from the high school. Here she met frequently with Dr. Glover, a retired Nuclear Physicist and wealthy philanthropist, the second distinction unbeknownst to Ms. X. He had a great interest in the volunteer work Ms. X had begun at the community center. He liked her and her ideas and was  advising her with contacts and details on how to cultivate relationships with certain institutions around town. He even gave her his phone numbers.

Ms. X had read in the newspaper that Dr. Glover was providing guidance to  budding entrepreneurs. She noticed that  proprietors under his fatherly care achieved great success. Secretly, he was jump starting businesses for worthy people, giving them rent free spaces, and helping with funds for material needs.

Ms. X wanted to open an art center for senior citizens and people with disabilities, it was a dream that she could almost taste. She contemplated giving classes in her cabin, but Dr. Glover advised her that there were plenty of community centers in the region that she could travel to and establish ties with before launching her business.

Her last meeting with him was a reversal of sorts. He looked at her that morning with scorn, but he always wore that expression. She was accustomed to the peculiar weight of privilege and cloud of authority that hung around his being, like a gray man in a gray funk, staring out at the world with a cyclops eye. Everything appeared normal as she began in her usual way, proffering, enthusiastically, her most recent breakthrough with an elderly student.

He merely retorted that it would be a fine thing, as long as she did not try to heal her students with some airy fairy hocus pocus voodoo crap and he had no further recommendations. Those were the magic words that severed their bond, invisibly and irrevocably.

Airy fairy hocus pocus voodoo crap.

Ms. X was speechless as she sat back in her chair staring at him with raised brows.  One second, two seconds. Somberly, she thanked him and gathered herself and almost bowing, stepped away backwards, retreating from his condescending gaze.



  Cult Illustration #62, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"


© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved