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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Answers

A Novel

Catherine Lacey

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



I’d run out of options. That’s how these things usually happen, how a person ends up placing all her last hopes on a stranger, hoping that whatever that stranger might do to her would be the thing she needed done to her.

For so long I had been a person who needed other people to do things to me, and for so long no one had done the right thing to me, but already I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s one of my problems, I’m told, getting ahead of myself, so I’ve been trying to find a way to get behind myself, to be slow and quiet with myself like Ed used to be. But of course I can’t quite make it work, can’t be exactly who Ed was to me.

There are some things that only other people can do to you.

Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, PAKing—what Ed does to people—requires one person to know and another person (me, in this case) to lie there, not-knowing. In fact, I still do not know what Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia really is, just that it made me (or seemed to have made me) well again. During our sessions Ed sometimes hovered his hands over my body, chanting or humming or silent while he supposedly moved or rearranged or healed invisible parts of me. He put stones and crystals on my face, my legs, sometimes pressing or twisting some part of my body in painfully pleasurable ways, and though I didn’t understand how any of this could remove the various sicknesses from my body, I couldn’t argue with relief.

I’d spent a year suffering undiagnosable illnesses in almost every part of me, but after only one session with Ed, just ninety minutes during which he barely touched me, I could almost forget I was a body. Such a luxury it was, to not be overwhelmed by decay.

Chandra had suggested PAKing, called it feng shui for the energetic body, guerrilla warfare against negative vibes, and though I was sometimes skeptical of Chandra’s talk of vibes, this time I had to believe her. I’d been ill so long that I’d almost lost the belief I could be well again and I was afraid of what might replace that belief if it disappeared completely.

Technically, Chandra explained, PAKing is a form of neuro-physio-chi bodywork, a relatively obscure technique either on the outskirts of the forefront or the outskirts of the outskirts, depending on who you ask.

The problem was, as always, an invisible one. The problem was money.

I needed a minimum of thirty-five PAKing sessions, at $225 each, to complete a PAK series, which meant a complete treatment would cost me the same as a half-year’s rent on that poorly lit and irregularly shaped one-bedroom I’d had for many years (not because it suited me—I detested it—but because everyone said it was a steal, too good to let go). And even though my paycheck from the travel agency was decent, the monthly credit card minimums, student loan payments, and last year’s onslaught of medical bills were all reducing my bank account to cents or negatives each month, while the debt always seemed to grow.

One dire morning, starving and cashless, I ate the last of my pantry for breakfast (slightly expired anchovies mixed into a tiny can of tomato paste) and I often Hare-Krishna’d for dinner, leaving my shoes and dignity at the door to praise Krishna (the god, as far as I could tell, of cafeteria-grade vegetarian fare and manic chanting). By the fourth or fifth Love Feast, white tilaka greased on my brow, pasta wiggling around the metal plate as if independently animate, I knew that the boundless love of Krishna would never be enough for me—no matter how hungry or broke or confused I became. It was a few days later that answering that ad for an income-generating experience tacked to a bulletin board at a health food store seemed like my only real option, that somehow giving away the dregs of my life might be the best way to get a real one back.

For a year I’d had no life, just symptoms. Mundane ones at first—tenacious headaches, back pain, a constantly upset stomach—but over months they became increasingly strange. Persistent dry mouth and a numb tongue. A full-body rash. My legs kept falling asleep, stranding me at the office or in a bath or at a bus stop as the M5 came and went, came and went. At some point I somehow cracked a rib in my sleep. These strange lumps began to rise and fall on my skin, like turtle heads surfacing and sinking in a pond. I could only sleep three or four hours a night, so I tried to nap through my lunch hour, forehead to desk, on the days I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment. I avoided mirrors and eye contact. I stopped making plans more than a week away.

There were blood tests and more blood tests, CAT scans and biopsies. There were seven specialists, three gynos, five GPs, a psychiatrist, and one grope-y chiropractor. Chandra took me to a celebrity acupuncturist, a spiritual surgeon, and a guy who sold stinking powders in the back room of a Chinatown fishmonger. There were checkups and follow-ups and throw-ups and so on.

It’s just stress, someone said, but they couldn’t rule out cancer or a rare autoimmune disorder or a psychic attack or pure neurosis, all in my head—just don’t worry so muchtry not to think about it.

One doctor said, That’s just bodies for you, sighed, and clapped my shoulder, as if we were all in on the joke.

But I didn’t want a punch line. I wanted an explanation. I hesitated at storefronts for palm readers and psychics. I let Chandra do my tarot a few times but the news was always bad—swords and daggers and demons and grim reapers. I’m new at this, she said, though I knew she wasn’t. I held my spasming legs to my chest, chin to knees, and felt like a child, dwarfed by everything I didn’t know.

I came close to praying a few times, but everything felt unanswered enough and I didn’t want another frame for the silence.

Something in the genes or a consequence of ill choices, one might rationalize, but it could have just been a hefty stroke of bad luck—senseless, or a karmic bitch slap—somehow earned. My parents would have said it was just a part of His plan, but to them, of course, everything was. How someone wants to explain catastrophe isn’t important—that’s what I know now. When shit happens, it doesn’t really matter what asshole is responsible.

Copyright © 2017 by Catherine Lacey