A week or so later we came in for dinner and the pipes in the walls were squealing like they always did when the taps in the upstairs bathroom were wide open.
“That’s Wesley,” Petra said.
When he came down, the wide moustache and the fringes of his hair were flattened wet against his narrow head. It made me think of that time he drove all over the road like a maniac.
Norbert said, “Almost rented out your space.”
Wesley was holding one hand behind his back and then like a magician he whipped out a bundle of bills and tossed it on the table.
We all stared at it. It seemed like a miracle, that thick cash sitting there.
“For the next two weeks,” Wesley said. “Plus the past month. Plus some for the past year.”
Petra picked it up and counted it.
“Sold my tape deck,” Wesley said.
“That clunky old machine?”
“It was a rare model. German. And I collected some debts around town.”
“I thought you owed everyone else,” said Petra.
“Vicious rumour, here laid to rest.”
“You’re not writing another book, are you?” said Norbert. “Ripped off another advance?”
“I don’t write for money now.”
“Long as we don’t have to read another one of those.”
“That phase of my life is dead and buried. This ain’t the sixties no more.”
“I wish people would stop saying that,” Gus said.
“Get over it, man,” said Wesley. “Forget revolution. Humanity is entering the era of personal evolution.”
He spoke like a preacher and now he leaned forward with his palms on the table and dropped his voice like he was letting us in on a big secret.
“Look around, people,” he said. “The gurus have a part of the truth that works for them. And see over there? The old Western religions have a bit too. And over in this corner scientists play with another small piece of the puzzle. Like blind men trying to describe an elephant. One says it’s like a tree trunk. No, it’s a snake. All of them thinking they have the whole picture and none of them putting all the pieces together.”
“Ah, Wesley,” said Petra. “You’ve been reading again.”
He held his hands up like stop signs. Then he leaned forward again, almost whispering, like this was just between us.
“We once had all these incredible flowers blossoming, East and West meeting, mixing, blooming in every direction. And we saw that it was beautiful. But now.... Now this is the gathering together. We’re at the start of something new.” He nodded at Petra. “What is it your Mao says? A single spark starts a prairie fire? But this is greater than any pretend cultural revolution. More than the peace movement. More than the Marxisms and the Trotskyisms and the thisisms and thatisms. And it’s beginning right here with us. Pockets of individuals starting to put the pieces together. It may take a few years or it may take fifty, but sooner or later we’ll all be part of it. First real shift in human consciousness. Starting with each of us.”
He pointed directly to each of us, one at a time, in dramatic fashion. None of us had moved except Petra who got up to put the money in a jar in the cupboard.
Gus finally said, “Huh?”
Picket said, “Really.”
Roger said, “Oh, noooo. Too much.”
Petra ran water in the sink to start the dishes. “You’ve still got your theatrical smarts, Wesley.”
Wesley blinked. I realized then he’d hardly blinked the whole time he’d been talking.
Petra had killed the spell. Roger was still going “Too much” but he was always out of it these days. I think he was on hard stuff now — speed or smack. Like there was a movie being projected in his head on the back of his eyeballs and he was seeing that mixed in with whatever was getting through to him from outside. So he was only ever half responding to what was said to him and half to something else.
Wesley shook his head. He turned and headed down the basement stairs singing that song about if you carry pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone.