Phenomenology at the Precipice


Dawn breaks.

I blink a few times, finding myself in bed alone. There’s a fan turning and turning above me. It’s slow, just enough to churn the perfume of the room. Kayla. Everything about Kayla. Our sweat. Acetone on my morning breath. Possibly bacon downstairs?

The covers leap over me all on their own. I react and try to throw them back, but they insist on wrapping around me.

Get dressed and come to the kitchen. We have a lot of work to do.

“What, did you hear me thinking about you?” I ask aloud.

“I knew you were awake! What’s it matter?” She shouts from the kitchen below now. “Breakfast is hot, let’s GO!”

I throw the blankets back over me now, finding an outfit laid out for me.

“You could’ve just dressed me yourself, you know,” I shout back down to her.

“Part of the work is learning when and why to be frivolous,” she shouts back. “Come to the kitchen!” I dress myself, wondering what else she has planned.

“Ooh, eggs! Bacon and toast too?” I ask, coming into the kitchen. Kayla is already dressed. Made up. Hair pulled back and done up. Whisper thin designer jeans and a sort-of glowy lime green blouse.

“Yeah! And I didn’t break any yolks. You like rye?” She says.

 “People still eat rye?” I ask. “Are you sure you’re from this century?”

“Those jeans fit you,” She says, ignoring my jab.

“Yeah,” I say, “You know, they really do.” I notice something odd about them. “Did you just…have these around?” She nods.

“Guy I used to see,” She says. “About your height.”

“His loss,” I say. She laughs as I admire myself in her dining room mirror. “Wait.” Twilight-zone time again, though I’m getting used to it now. “These jeans are mine.”

“Speaking of loss, last chance for rye…” Kayla stands in front of the loaded side of a four-slice toaster.

“Don’t change the subject,” I tell her, scoping out the meat product in the skillet on the stovetop, which is neither ham nor bacon—nor exactly sausage. What is this?” I ask. She pushes down on her toast and smiles as she takes control of the frying pan—by hand.

“Pork roll.” She says.

“Roll?” I ask.

“Taylor ham?” She says.

“That’s not ham.” I say. “And, wait—my jeans! Don’t change the subject!” Kayla starts laughing.

“You changed the subject! Yes, that is called pork roll AND Taylor ham! Yes, those are your jeans!”

“Wait, can you teleport objects?” I ask.

“Probably,” She says, shifting the rolled-pork or whatever around. I did rematerialize your joint, which was something I’ve never actually done before. I don’t know if a situation ever called for object teleportation…though I suppose I could’ve produced your key if I really wanted to.” She means when we met. I didn’t bring the key, but I don’t doubt she’s right.

“In terms of energy use, it seems like moving a lock would be more appropriate than teleporting or producing matter,” I say. “You know, technically.”

“I dunno if it matters in the way you’re thinking,” She said, “But having things move on their own is usually a pretty direct solution to a problem if you’re thinking about the problem the correct way.” I’m about to sit down, and Kayla follows with the skillet, dropping half the meat…thing on my plate.

“I’m not a ‘pig-whatever’ guy,” I say.

“You are today. This is a North Jersey delicacy.” She looks me in the eyes. “This is a day of many firsts, Wes. It’s this or Rye toast. Coffee?”

“Only after I eat,” I say. I sit down in the chair at the breakfast nook. “Thanks.” At the end of the nook, there’s a little letter with a picture in it. I absently unfold the letter to get a look, and I see a red-haired girl who has hiked at the top of a hill or mountain or something, a wide valley stretching below her. I glance at the letter.

can only say that I want
crazy that all of our lives
believe this is happening
happy to be here and still

“Hey, don’t read that!” Kayla says. The letter and the photo shoot straight off the table and into her hand, startling me a little bit. “I’m sorry—I just shouldn’t have left it out. Private stuff.”

“No, I’m sorry I didn’t ask,” I say. “Old friend?” Kayla seems to hit tremendous sadness for just a moment, but she shakes it off and wiggles her head at me, smiling a little.

“Not exactly. Let’s just say it relates to the job, and there are certain things I can’t tell you.” I don’t feel like she’s hiding anything from me, but I feel like I’m throwing her off-balance by being curious about certain things. “You meant to ask about your jeans, didn’t you?” She chuckles.

“I mean…I did, but I’m not trying to bug you about everything,” I say, eating my eggs. “Nice job on the yolks.” She’s done something with the letter. Now she’s buttering her toast and joining me at the table.

“I want you to know that it’s never that you’re bugging me,” She says, clasping a hand over mine. “It’s that there is a system here that I have to work within, but I don’t have access to the rulebook, you know?”

“I don’t,” I admit.

“You don’t now, but you will…because you’ll pretty much have to,” Kayla beams, rolling her eyes a little. “Oh god, please take that the right way.”

“I’ll take it like I take my pig roll,” I say, forking off a piece of the loose-sausage looking stuff. “Without comment.” I have a bite, and it’s actually... “Not too bad.”

“Told ya,” Kayla says, forking some of the other components onto her toast and taking a bite. “Pork roll.” I know she can’t stand when I watch her eat, but it’s crazy to see this woman done up like she’s about to go to a trendy bruch, hair pinned back, drinking coffee and scarfing some breakfast meat I’ve never heard of. And she’s magical. And she had my jeans.

“So…I’m allowed to ask about the jeans?” I say.

“Sure. Are we continuing our game?” She asks.

“Sure. Where did you get the jeans?”

“From you,” She shrugs, grinning. She laughs like it’s an inside joke. “Will you follow this rabbit hole no matter where it takes you?” She shoots back.

“What do you mean from me?” I ask. She shrugs and continues eating breakfast. “No, really—obviously you got them from my house, but when? You didn’t teleport them?”

“That is like three forfeited questions from you all at once,” She says. “No follow-ups, and answer my damn question!” The rabbit hole. I keep eating, hoping my frustration isn’t showing as much as yesterday. Kayla bursts out laughing. “Once you answer the first, here’s forfeiture #1: do you think it’s easier or harder to read your mind after we finally did that last night?”

Will I follow this rabbit hole no matter where it takes me? I look at the woman next to me at the corner of the table again, and I know the answer.

“Only for you,” I say. “Only for this. Only if it means this is forever.” Kayla stops eating for a second and looks into my eyes. I’m sure it’s love I’m seeing. I’m feeling.

“We can love a lot of people,” Kayla says. “A lot of things. A lot of memories. This goes somewhere deeper.”

“So…it’s obviously easier to read my mind,” I say. “You know the most frustrating thing about this is that it feels like you’re just fucking with me on purpose?” I shake my head. “Wait, what did you mean by ‘finally’?”

“No, see…that’s what is so funny about it. You and I will have these same exact moments where we’re sort of in…reversed roles, and even though you have no idea what I’m talking about now, you will know EXACTLY what I’m talking about the MOMENT it happens to you.” Kayla smiled. She put her fork down, put her hand up to her mouth and shook her head, as if she’d been struck by a vision.  “And the infinite sense of humor of the universe is such that you will absolutely not be able to make me understand it.”

She had to be elusive for some reason. I could sense it now—the frustration from her side was real. This wasn’t just lady coyote toying with me. She was tangled into this. It was the reason she didn’t want me to see her on a pedestal. As some kind of goddess, or nymph.

“EXACTLY. THANK YOU, WES!” She says, grabbing my arm. She looks relieved. “You know how you thought you were going to fuck all of this up yesterday?” She continues, “You’re not alone, okay? And…oh my GOD is the universe’s sense of humor so fucked up. Thinking about it fucks with my head, Wes. It FUCKS WITH MY HEAD. But do you know how much better I feel after last night? Holy shit, Wes.”

I don’t know what to say to all of this, and I’d better not think for a long time about that.

“Good breakfast,” I tell her, going back to my food. “Good mystery pork,” I smile. My physiology reacts when I think about last night, finding Kayla still looking at me. She bites her lip.

“Taylor ham. And thanks for all the nice words. Inside and out. But let’s move on, because that is just…really distracting.” Despite her request, I think about her again—lighter than air, her touch like electric. “Wes…” She wants me to stop, but her form was almost liquid. Almost animal. She was deep into the wellspring of magic the entire time we made love, and I could feel it surging through her. Commuting to me. “Commuting through you,” She says, smirking.

“What’s the difference?” I ask.

“Not your turn,” Kayla says. “But that one is a mulligan. I still get two more forfeitures.” She plays around with her food for a minute before continuing to eat. I’m about to stand up, but I feel force in my shoulders pushing me back down. “What do you need?” She asks. “I’ll get it. You answer my questions.”

“Oh, I was gonna get my coffee now,” I tell her. She shrugs. She keeps eating as one of her porcelain mugs appears upright on her counter.

“That answers that question,” She says. A cupboard door pops open, and I look back at Kayla, astonished as she quietly counts.

“Yep, teleported like 6 feet, but teleported is teleported,” Kayla says. “That’s sort of neat, but I like the extra fun spookiness of having things move around on their own.”

“Am I learning the ‘why and when to be frivolous’?” I winked, eating my last bite.

“You are, actually! To get someone’s attention, but ONLY if what you do will ONLY disrupt your intended target.” The coffee mug levitates now. It turns in the air while the carafe jumps from its heated pad, levitating up. “We do not draw the attention of outsiders to ourselves by using our magic, but with our targets? I get the impression we’re allowed to be frivolous. Extravagant.” I watch, totally blown away as the liquid does a small spiral in the air, flowing into the cup like it’s going through an invisible straw. “Make it art. Just remember your purpose for being there, and it is NEVER publicity.”

When she says all this, I’m reminded of all the details in our time at the department store yesterday.

“No one saw any of that,” Kayla says. “You get good at knowing what people will react to, and these days people are in a techno haze. The important part is that you sort of don’t have to know what’s acceptable. The magic knows.” Kayla waves a hand at my cup, and my coffee drifts over to me. “Not to mention that feeling up my targets and getting half-undressed with them and messing around in dressing rooms…starts and ends with you, cowboy.”

I’m reminded of the car ride for a second. When she asked me to jump out of the vehicle when it was moving. I really could have done it.

“Then let’s make that number two,” She says, reading my mind again. “How different would you see me if you had leapt out that passenger side at speed, Wes?”

I just answer honestly again. There’s no point in thinking about my answer first.

“Maybe that would have been too much for me to handle,” I tell her. “Maybe I would have come to some conclusions a little bit faster, but I don’t think I’d see you much differently. Now that I know you eat rye bread, on the other hand…”

“Oh, shut up!” She says with a mouthful of her toast. “One more,” She says, finishing what she’s chewing. “Could I have saved you if I wasn’t magic, Wes?”

I know she’s listening now as I consider the question, so here goes. There’s a right answer and a wrong answer to any question like this from a woman who cares about you, and it’s a question of security. It’s a question that goes something like ‘would you still be x if I didn’t have y’, but I don’t think Kayla is asking about her job. I think she’s asking about us.

“And I think I’d be in love with you either way,” I tell her.

She’s nearly crying when I say the words, and I put down my cup of coffee to get out of my seat and stand behind her, draping my arms over her and hugging her. This beautiful woman I don’t really know anything about. I’m in love with her.

“Deep in love with you,” I say. “In a way that doesn’t make sense to me…” I laugh a little. “It’s a bit fucked up that we wouldn’t have met if I didn’t consider offing myself. Right?” I ask. “WAIT, THAT’S NOT MY QUESTION!” I tell her quickly, making her laugh a little again, though I can see the weight of the glassiness in her eyes. “I’m in love with you, Kayla.”

“We never meet if you don’t consider offing yourself,” Kayla says. She lets her fingertips drift along one of my arms. “Things have to be a little fucked up for you to really appreciate perfection, Wes.” She grabs both my wrists in her hands and pulls me closer, and at the same time, I feel her fingertips run down my forearm again—even while she’s holding my wrists with both her hands. The small wonder of soft invisible fingers running down my flesh, brushing aside the fine hairs and dipping the flesh with soft indentations…

“How does one learn magic?” I ask. She holds on to me and takes a deep breath.

“Now that is a question. But, hilariously, it’s a bunch of clichés.” She practically huffs the words, as if it’s tedious trying to answer. “It’s an awareness beyond your senses. Part of your intuition, sort of a limb you didn’t know you had.” She snaps. “Waaaaait. I know exactly how to put it to you.

“It’s a concert you’ve been preparing for. It’s something you try to do over and over, but for some reason it eludes you, and you can’t figure out why, because you know the ability is there, but you just can’t get a clean execution of the action.

“You know, in your mind—what you want to do. Your ear knows what it should sound like, but every time you try to work it, something goes wrong and knocks you off-balance. Something won’t click.

“But on the night of the concert…when it really, really matters—you just surrender. You say fuck it, you let the chips fall where they may, and you belt. You belt it out at the top of your lungs and you hit everything. And when it happens, it’s not effort. It’s not strain. It’s not taking your lifeforce for you to do it. It just…flows out of you. Like it’s meant to. Like you’re meant to. You feel aligned with destiny, like there is no better place or better time for you to be…

“Except…from there it keeps flowing. The doubt gremlin doesn’t come back to perch on your shoulder the next day, after your magic moment. The moments keep happening, which in some ways…is scarier than the doubt and self-hatred…because those, at least, are familiar. With the magic, you just have no idea. Sometimes it takes you really close to the ledge, and sometimes it flies you a little higher than you’re comfortable being…but once you’re in it like this, the flow doesn’t stop. It only asks you for more faith in yourself.”

As Kayla tells that story, I know that deep in the recesses of my mind, there is such a concert. I sang in high school. Went to college singing, though I majored in something far more boring. My moment of glory came in a blazing ball of light in my junior year. I had a solo. I worked over and over at the piece, just a shade too deep into tenor range for my baritone.

I didn’t ever get it right in practice. Not 100%. But the night we were on, I was there. I was in it. I felt my accompanist, my timing, my breath—everything was dead on. It wasn’t me ‘totally killing it’ or something. It was me just being in the music. Part of everything happening, pushing and pulling on everything precisely. I was letting it happen.

“You really are good at reading my mind,” I say. “That’s something I haven’t thought about in a very, very long time.”

“I didn’t read your mind this time,” Kayla says. I pull my arms away gently and crouch so that I can meet her face to face.

“Then how would you know about that?” I ask. She kisses me on the lips. A little peck.

“Not your turn, my love,” She smiles. I pull back and stomp my foot a little, but it’s all played up from melodrama.

“Ah ha--it IS my turn because you didn’t answer my question!” I say. “You tell a good story, but you did not tell me how to learn magic.”

“I totally did!” She says. “You already know it. Not only do you get how to learn it, but you know how to do magic RIGHT NOW.”

“You’re saying all this because I’m not allowed a follow-up question,” I say.

“No, you are this time,” She says. “But it has to be about the magic. You can’t follow-up on anything else.”

“Will you show me how to do the magic I can do right now RIGHT NOW?” I ask. Kayla practically jumps out of her seat.

“Yes, right-exactly-now!” She says. “Like I said, we have a lot of work to do.” She heads to the living room in front, and I follow. When I turn the corner, I see a pair of black patent ankle boots walk up to Kayla and present themselves to her, unzipping and allowing her to step into them.

“Get your shoes on. Annnnnd we should both probably have wallets.” She sees me staring at her feet as her boots zip themselves. “Geez, Wes. You like boots?”

“Well, listen…” I can’t help blushing. “There’s something sorta sexy about a pretty girl who can make PEOPLE do whatever she wants…but THINGS? I mean, I’m doomed.” She shrugs it off like it’s not a big deal.

“You try. Tell your sneakers it’s power-laces day. Tell them you need them.” I break away from Kayla’s shiny boots to make a face at her.

“I’m sorry, tell them I need them?”

“Like…not out loud, but yeah. Communicate to the things around you. The limb you didn’t know you had, remember? Just try.”

I stare like an idiot at my sneakers for a while. Then I sort of repeat what I want them to do in different ways in my head. Then I try, like, staring real hard. Nothing happens.

“Not this time, rookie,” Kayla pats me on the back. “Come on, put your shoes on the hard way.” I do, but not without a little protest.

“The hard way was sitting here staring at them. And hey, you said you’d show me how—”

“Listen, we’re figuring out what it is you can do right this moment,” She says, tapping a boot. “Charming your shoelaces might be a little advanced for now. We need something a tad more abstract…maybe something you won’t disbelieve while you’re trying to do it.” I huff.

“Wait, are you really saying I didn’t believe in myself enough?” I moan. She beams a smile.

“Yes, exactly! Like I said, a bunch of clichés!” She heads to her coat closet door, presenting it to me with a flourish. “I have a plan!” She says. “What do you need from this closet?” She asks.

“Uh…I don’t think anything?” I say.

“Maybe you don’t know what you need! My coat closet is going to show you…if you ask.”

“Again with the asking,” I sneer.

“We are always ASKING the universe for things,” Kayla responds. “Every choice you make, you are asking the universe to respond in a certain way, aren’t you?”

“Ooh, now it’s THE SECRET,” I laugh.

“Man, you are sitting there mocking me when you KNOW you just saw my little black boots walk out and slip on me like they had minds of their own.”

“Maybe I’m jealous,” I say.

“You certainly are, but you’re also impatient. I want you to march up to this door wondering what you need, and believing—REALLY BELIEVING that it will show you.”

“What I need?” I ask. Well, I’m frustrated now, so I’m going to really mean this. “I need something that will make this magic 101 conversation make the least bit of sense. The least. That is what I need. Can you show me that?” I walk up to the closet and pull the door open, expecting something to fall from the shelf above.

A wholly bizarre urban street scene meets my eyes, like I’m at the top of a stoop at some dense ground-level point in a major city. I see a taxicab, and a loud honk makes me slam the door again.

“Holy shit, Kayla!” I shout. She is practically rolling with laughter.

“Holy shit is right! That’s a damned portal, Wes!” She looks through a crack, looking excitedly at me. “I’m pretty sure that was Brooklyn!”

“How the fuck should I know?” I ask. “I’ve never been to Brooklyn.” I try to look through the crack too, but I don’t see anything. I can’t hear any sign of the scene behind the door. “Is it…is it still there?”

“I don’t know. You have to open it,” She says. “Let’s see.”

I open the door again, slowly, and the scene is still there. It’s New York, for sure. I see the license plates, and looking around confirms the feel of it, but it’s unreal. This is Kayla’s coat closet.

“It’s Park Slope! I think.” She’s about to pull me in, but I try to stop her.

“Kayla, it’s…” She’s standing on the stoop now. She’s on the other side of the door, and it’s…real. “It’s really there.” Kayla nods.

“Wes, I promise that this will get easier. You just have to learn to keep walking forward.”

“Kayla, what’s in Brooklyn?” I ask.

“Something you need. ‘Something that will make this magic 101 conversation make the least bit of sense’ to you,” She giggles.

“Well, I shouldn’t have put it like that,” I say. “What if we get stuck 800 miles from home?”

“Wes, come here.” She pulls me through the door and kisses me, looking into my eyes. “There is always another door.”