One horrifying glance at a sneaky security monitor and Marlene Brown’s psychic core is thrown completely out of whack. Could that garish orange blob on the screen – that grotesque display of neck fat approaching the check-in desk – really be her?
It is her. Yikes. She could’ve sworn this shirt looked good this morning when she chose it. It does compliment her green silk scarf, and the scarf protects her throat chakra and is therefore non-negotiable. The orange linen usually makes her feel tastefully professional at her day job, but – news flash – this is not the medical records office, it’s the Spirituality Expo. The goal here is to look authentic, not efficient. Her outfit suddenly glares with a cringe-worthy Halloween campiness, and her already fragile aura feels like it’s cracking and fading into ever-darkening shadows.
A far superior choice, she realizes too late, would’ve been the magenta poncho she bought at the farmer’s market last weekend. Magenta is the color of raw visceral power, a color that mines the heart for untapped reservoirs of creative will, and she’ll need all the creative will she can get if she’s going to make it as a psychic healer. But, come to think of it, she hasn’t seen the poncho since she stopped for frozen yogurt down by the boardwalk yesterday. She must’ve lost it. A loss like that has got to be symbolic – in the time-space continuum, everything is symbolic – and the interpretation couldn’t be more obvious. If Marlene weren’t such a scatterbrained fat-ass, all her dreams would have a chance to come to fruition.
Discovery Plaza’s main corridor has been completely transformed since the last time Marlene visited it, in late spring, for the Effortless Wealth seminar. An arching jungle of wild ferns now decorates the entrance. As visitors walk beneath them, enchanting synthesized soundscapes flow through the PA system, and Marlene finds the ethereal melodies distant but familiar, like a dream she can’t quite remember from last night. Then it hits her; she owns this CD. “Timeless Tranquility,” it’s called. Or something like that. She got it in the discount bin at K-mart.
Warmth returns to Marlene’s tentatively hopeful cheeks. This just might be the welcoming wink from the Universal Spirit she so needs. Until now, she has dreaded entering this exclusive society of elite practitioners, assuming they’d scrutinize her methods and call her intuitive gifts into question. But all at once there exists a very real tenability, a prospect of being accepted without judgment into this community of timelessly tranquil beings. They, like her, buy their CDs at K Mart.
She averts her eyes from the offending security monitor – out of sight, out of mind – picks up her ID badge, and is off to space 34 E. It’s a corner spot with a fantastic feng shue position, she notices with delight. She sets up her card table and shakes out her indigo velvet cloth, smoothing it before her like a temperate and expansive sea. Confidence returns full force as she lights her candles and displays her calling card, a sign she whipped up last night on metallic gold cardstock:
Marlene Brown, Burden Burner.
The self-given title serves an important purpose, as it conveys authority, and Marlene Brown has only been cleansing auras for about eight months. She picked up the skill from her coworker at the medical records office, a gentle and mysterious IT expert named Prem with whom she shared a desk. He commented on her brownish glow one lunch hour as they both slurped microwave ramen at their desks; she said, “tell me more,” and what began as a cure for awkward silence soon became the part of the day Marlene looked forward to most.
She could use a dose of Prem’s wisdom now, she thinks, not to mention his unwavering faith in unprovable things. But she hasn’t seen her friend since before she took that singles’ cruise to Cancun last February. When she returned, her post-vacation buzz wore off quickly when she learned Prem had gotten fired for stealing prescription pads and had moved back to San Diego. He must have really needed a fresh start, she guesses, as her many attempts to reach him have met with disconnect recordings and bounced back emails. Oh, well. Sometimes a person just needs to cut and run. Marlene can relate to that.
It’s a source of pride that she’s continued honing her craft in the absence of a mentor. Fortunately, “How to cleanse your aura” yields no shortage of google results; it was simply a matter of experimenting with different combustibles and chants until she found the most potent combination. Through trial and error, she’s even come up with her own device for the task, sort of a cross between a Bunsen burner and a fondue pot. The Obstacle Torch® is what she calls it. Patent pending, thank you very much.
In the slow uphill stumble toward self-realization, it never hurts to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come.
Aura Purification by Marlene began with brief practice sessions in the break room and expanded into longer sittings at post-work happy hours and staff picnics. Eventually it made its way to the farmer’s market, where it complimented her other lucrative side hustle—hawking soaps and crystals from the home-based direct marketing franchise Soul Bath.
Her practice has changed little since its infancy. She still asks her spiritually encumbered client to write down what’s bothering them on a piece of paper, then places that paper in a wire mesh basket she calls the Misery Bowl. After sprinkling in some pine resin — it works just as well as Sage but cost less – she holds it over the flame while repeating her soon-to-be-copyrighted mantra.
“May burdens that invade this space be burned away with flames of grace.”
That’s all there is to it. Marlene never would have dreamed such a simple series of actions could create such powerful transformations, but there it is. Getting to see the lightened look on her customers’ faces serves as its own reward. The fifteen bucks she gets for each half-hour session is just a bonus.
“All that a woman can be is what she must be,” some inspiring woman had once said. Or maybe that was a line from Soul Bath’s welcome packet. Whatever, it was inspiring. And on this cold autumn day, as the first attendees of the Spirituality Expo start trickling in, Marlene has begun to understand – at long last – what it means.
But suddenly, something ugly begins stabbing into her energy field.
She can sense the presence of someone who wants to speak ill of her. In her peripheral vision, a skinny man with blonde dreadlocks nudges his heavily pierced female companion while nodding in Marlene’s direction, and Marlene turns up the volume on her Miracle Ear in time to catch his words.
“Hey, check it out,” he says. “The Great Pumpkin is here.”
Marlene clutches the green scarf to her neck, closing the top of the orange shirt with her fist. She hastily collects all her crystals from the table, writes a note that says “back in ten” and retreats to the restroom for some privacy.
Psychic work can be a murderous undertaking at times. Occasionally the practitioner needs to take a moment to get grounded in the purity of her ritual. To do this, Marlene begins by recalling the moment at her desk when Prem first recognized her keen spiritual insight.
“Wow,” she remembered him saying. “You’re good at this.”
There does exist, she must admit, one minor sleight-of-hand maneuver in Marlene’s innovative new breakthrough methodology. After her clients write down their troubles, she doesn’t burn the exact sheets of paper they hand in. She replaces them with identical pre-soaked slips. The real “burdens” she tucks into a red velvet bag under the table.
Here’s the thing. Marlene’s AA sponsor used to always tell her to stop comparing her insides to other people’s outsides. “It’s like playing your outtakes and bloopers alongside the other person’s highlight reel,” the older woman, a former model, used to say.
How was that even possible, Marlene used to wonder, when all you ever see of other people are their outsides? Even at the meetings, you never really get to the unmasked truth of human suffering. They call themselves Alcoholics Anonymous, but the first thing they make you do is stand up and say your name; it’s all a big show, in other words— in those windowless church basements just as much as everywhere else.
If ever Marlene could get an unfiltered inside look at people’s struggles, she used to think – their “outtakes,” so to speak – such ability would serve as a magic healing balm on her own wounds. With such powerful medicine at her disposal, she would no longer need to order three long-island iced teas every time she went to Applebee’s. She probably wouldn’t need the extra dessert either. Her journey of self-healing would at last be complete. Then, only then, could she embark on her mission to help humanity (the noble path she’d always known to be her true calling).
The best way to find yourself is through the service of others, some great famous do-gooder – Gandhi himself, maybe – had said.
And so, in the convention center’s handicapped bathroom stall, the hand dryer roaring in the background, Marlene pulls out three pieces of paper – three being her lucky number – and begins revealing the secrets to herself one by one.
Those unexplained account withdrawals, the first one says.
Interesting, Marlene thinks. She crumples it up, wedges it into the trash bin on the wall, and pulls out the second.
The kid isn’t mine, and no one knows.
Hmm. Her mood hasn’t changed yet, and for a moment Marlene fears that the magic balm of others’ grief might have lost its ability to renew her. What will she do then? She wonders. What on Earth could she possibly find to replace it?
She closes her eyes and slowly raises the third paper up to eye level, refusing to open it right away until she has taken three deep breaths.
She counts to three, takes three more breaths for good measure, then opens her eyes.
I’m beginning to suspect my birth was a mistake, the third scrap of paper reads. Not only a failure of contraception, but a cosmic misfire of epic proportions.
“Whew,” Marlene says under her breath as she wedges slip number three into the trash bin with the others, reties the velvet bag and tucks it back into her purse. This sorry lot has made her own problems – slow metabolism and burgeoning credit card debt – feel like a pleasure stroll down easy street.
And then, miracle of miracles, it happens; in the bottom of her oversize handbag, she glimpses a tuft of crumb-covered fringe and gasps. The poncho she thought she’d lost at the boardwalk is not lost after all.
What more proof does she need of the Universe’s divine encouragement? She drapes herself with the cloak and emerges from the stall to stand admiringly at the radiant magenta vision in the full-length mirror. Find yourself in the service of others, Mother Theresa or whoever had said, and Marlene Brown is standing – standing tall as ever – in that truth.
And now she is walking in that truth. She walks in that truth all the way back to booth 34 E, her head held high, a brand-new woman, all creative will and raw visceral power.
She searches the crowd for that snaggletooth lowlife who insulted her to his human pin-cushion sidekick earlier, but the freak show has left the building, thank Goddess. Chased off by her impenetrable force field, no doubt.
Marlene Brown, Burden Burner, unpacks her crystals and repositions her proud gold nameplate, the affirmation I was born to help others playing in a continuous and transcendent loop on her mind’s inner CD player. She leans back, takes a whiff from a lavender-scented candle, and waits for the tortured souls to arrive.
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