It’s around Thursday when my best friend Bea decides to have a Victorian séance.
“I think it’ll be fun,” she says.
Bea defines the world in terms of ‘fun’ and ‘not fun’. She is the kind of girl who throws wilfully obtuse theme parties, such as a ‘Reproduction’ bash that involved vases of eggs and barricading the door to the college dorms with pink and red papier-mache. At the climactic moment of the party (i.e. when the most number of people were watching), she burst through the door and screamed, “I’VE BROKEN THE HYMEN!” Bea’s standard for ‘fun’ is set pretty high.
“One of the campus police officers has a niece who does it for a living,” she informs our friends. “She’ll do our futures and speak in funny voices and everything. Also,” Bea lowers her voice, “I think somebody might have killed himself in my room. We could talk to him.”
I start warming to the idea. This lady speaks in voices, communes with the dead, reads our auras, our futures and maybe we’ll get college gossip from beyond the grave? It’s like one of those 2-for-1 meal deals, except supernatural. My miserly sense of curiosity is piqued.
Everyone turns up to the séance dressed like Victorians, as Bea ordered. In my friend Joe’s case, this means turning up with a plastic cane modelled on a Harry Potter prop. The psychic turns up with her husband, Bob. She is in a sensible cardigan. She has a clipboard. Her name is Roseanne.
“The Other Side is a real place,” she recites from her clipboard. “We must respect it. It is not a joke.”
Joe adjusts his fancy-dress cravat as Roseanne pauses dramatically.
“I cannot guarantee what will happen tonight. But don’t worry, I have a spirit guide.” She pauses again. “He is Native American. White Feather and I will both try to protect you,” she emphasises the word ‘try’, “but you must be prepared for anything.”
Roseanne starts by reading some of our past lives, none of which are very flattering. She sees an image of Joe reading by candlelight. “You were a very austere man,” she decides.
“Maybe I’m a rector?” Joe suggests.
“What’s a rector?”
An atmosphere of mild embarrassment begins to pervade the room. What are we doing? This woman is grasping at imaginary and highly non-specific straws, and the worst part is she actually believes the straws are real. I start watching her husband out of the corner of my eye. Apparently he is here to “make sure nothing bad happens.” Is Bob indulging his wife’s fantasy? Did he let her watch The Sixth Sense one too many times?
Roseanne is a crackpot, but she’s not dumb. She knows when she’s losing an audience. Bea has now climbed on top of her desk and started to film the entire thing on her iPhone, but it’s proving too uncinematic, so she starts wafting a scented candle underneath her mobile and making ‘whoooo’ sounds to enhance the smoke effect.
“I can read objects as well!” Roseanne says desperately. “Do you have something that belongs to someone else? I can tell you about them!”
This is slightly more interesting. In my possession, I have a hat from a boy I’m in love with. I actually have multiple items of Donnie’s clothing, mainly because he keeps leaving them in my room every time he decides to come home with me. Then he usually freaks out and runs away, leaving me increasingly sexually frustrated but also in possession of several erotic reminders that imply if he runs away from my room enough times he might actually run out of clothes and have to stay. So I give her the hat.
“Ohhhhh,” Roseanne says, holding the Gap beanie like it’s the Shroud of Turin. “He has dark hair.” Yes! The boy I am in love with does have dark hair! “He’s very musical.” OH MY GOD – he plays the violin! “He is very intense.” I am fucking gobsmacked. I am on the floor having religious epiphanies, Teresa of Avila style. And then my phone beeps.
It’s Donnie, who’s up late at night, and what I am doing? I’M IN A SÉANCE, I text back excitedly. YOU SHOULD COME. There is a text messaging silence of about twenty minutes, in which Roseanne reads my friend’s aura (purple) and predicts her past life (“I see you on a horse, dressed very smartly. I think you’re a noblewoman”). Then there’s a knock on the door.
“You came!” I say, closing the door behind me.
“Um, are you actually having a séance?” Donnie asks.
“Yeah, we’ve already tried to contact Joe’s dead grandmother,” I say. “You should join. It’s pretty funny.”
He starts looking panic-stricken. “I thought you were just watching The Exorcist.”
“Oh no, we are contacting the dead for real!” I inform him. Sort of. Joe’s grandmother isn’t actually dead.
“I’m not sure my therapist would encourage this.” Donnie starts shifting from foot to foot. He had a breakdown about a year ago and is on anti-psychotics. I attribute his bizarre ability to stare intensely into your eyes and simultaneously look right through you to the medication. It’s part of what makes him so attractive.
“Oh come on,” I whine. He starts backing up against the wall, which I take to be a come-on. “It’ll be kind of hot, in a creepy Victorian way.”
Keenly attuned to the erotic possibilities of breaking through to The Other Side, I have dressed for the paranormal: I am in a black lace gown wearing too much eyeliner. I have also opted to not wear a bra, reasoning that one needs to be untrammelled—physically and psychically—in order to truly contact the Great Beyond.
The night is starting to expand in possibility. We’ll talk to the spirits, I tell myself, then we’ll finally—FINALLY —have the sex that we’ve been building up to and he’s been running away from for months. Maybe he’ll be possessed by some sex demon from the third circle of Hell. Maybe we’ll start spewing ectoplasm at the point of climax. Hot! Hell is so much sexier than Heaven. I’m so glad I’m not a Christian anymore, like I was when I was twelve and afraid of the Apocalypse because I read my brother’s copy of The Bible Code.
“Hey, are you there?” he asks. I snap out of it.
“Are you coming or not?” I ask, slightly lasciviously. Maybe we’ve broken through to the spirit world and I’m channelling a mid-19th-century Parisian prostitute. Maybe she was attracted by my choice of outfit. I can never tell when I overstep the line between ‘classy goth’ and ‘gothic whore’.
“I c-c-can’t,” he stammers. There’s a sound from the room. Roseanne has started chanting. Donnie looks mildly terrified. “I really really can’t.” His eyes keep darting towards the door of the room, as if any minute now it might fling open and release the Kraken. “I need to go!” he says, in a strangled voice, and then flees.
I lean against the wall and sigh.
Later on, we make a table levitate, but it isn’t half as fun as I thought it would be, especially when Joe later confesses he was using his foot to do it. “I just got bored waiting for something to happen,” he explains. You and me both.
We pay Roseanne eighty pounds. She doesn’t even remember to take her clipboard when she leaves.