The Brothers Dim by Corey A. Edwards

The house bearing the address I was given is a drab, neglected ranch, the yard littered with assorted dingy vehicles, tarp draped filing cabinets, and abandoned appliances in various states of repair. It is the kind of yard from which vicious dogs leap, not the manicured, peaceful zen garden of a new-age professional.

I exit my vehicle tentative with caution.

What the hell am I doing here? I hate this kind of thing; meeting new people is bad enough but interviewing them for an article in a spiritual newsletter is even worse. When I took the job as webmaster for the local, new-age bookstore, I never intended to have to pay this much lip service to the dizzying array of beliefs that are the store’s bread and butter. I’m a total skeptic, an unrepentant atheist, yet here I am, about to interview what amounts to a new-age faith healer.

I ease towards the house, avoiding anything in the drive that might rustle or snap. Is this the place or am about to be dismembered by the neighbor everyone always thought a little odd; cut apart and stored with care in individually labeled freezer bags next to last harvest’s corn and peas?

A sign, printed at low dpi and taped to the inside of a sliding glass door, catches my eye:

The Healing Place – Welcome!

Relieved, I return to the truck and fetch my tape recorder.

After a moment’s hesitation I let myself in, the door wheezing in its track. The space I enter has been converted from a carport to a waiting room. There is a clunky old desk with an unconvincing wood grain veneer, a serviceable couch and chair, a few magazines, and a table in the corner displaying brochures, a bowl of candy canes, and a faux quartz crystal lit from within by a low-wattage bulb.

From behind one of four doors I hear the voice of a woman talking to a patient. I cannot help but envision the subject stretched out on a black naugahyde couch, the therapist behind her in an easy chair, glasses up on her forehead, tapping her teeth with a black ball-point pen. The woman’s voice is quite clear in this outer room, indicating walls that are paper-thin. I make an effort to be silent.

Taking a seat on the couch, I peer with no real interest at the wildlife magazines arrayed there and congratulate myself on bringing the handheld tape recorder. The first two interviews I conducted for this newsletter were transcribed onto a notepad and I had a devil of a time discerning my awkward scribbles after the fact. This time I intend to make it a little easier on myself, even if it does feel a bit like a cheat.

I am feeling cheery, confident even. There is no reason to expect this to be difficult. There is nothing to be afraid of. These new-age people are all pretty easy to get along with and love the attention an interview brings. This should be a breeze.

The door leading from the makeshift office to the house opens and a handsome, older man of medium build enters the room. He is wearing slacks and an untucked dress shirt. His hair is white and neatly combed, the pleasant scent of aftershave following close behind him like an obedient pet. He has clear eyes, a strong chin, and a bristling moustache.

“You are late!” he shouts at me around a mouthful of some food, his Russian accent thick.

“I, I am?” I ask, taken aback.

“Yes! Is two! You were at one!”

“Oh! I’m sorry! I thought she said two, that she had an appointment at one.” I say, meaning his wife, whom I set the appointment with earlier in the week.

“No!” he shouts again, gesturing at the calm voice behind the wall. “Can you hear? She is now!”

“I, I’m sorry.” I repeat. “I could swear she said two. I must have gotten it mixed up. I am so sorry!”

He grunts and ushers me into an adjoining room. It is small and dominated by a massage table. A cabinet, low credenza, and small chair sit along the wall at the table’s head. There are posters detailing human musculature and acupuncture points hanging on the wall behind him.

“I am Pieter,” he says, gesturing for me to take a seat in the chair. “Your name?”

“Corey.” I sit and try to find room on the slim credenza for my recorder. “You want to do the interview now?”

“No. First session – then talk,” he replies, pulling a pillow from the cabinet.

“Oh, okay.” I swallow, eyeing the acupuncture charts, trying to determine if there are any points indicated on the figure’s helpless penis.

Pieter takes a slip of plastic from the cabinet, unfolds it, and begins fitting it over the stiff pillow, talking all the while.

Well, talking might not be the best description. Hunting would be more accurate. It is obvious that Pieter hopes to someday call English his second language but, at the moment, is in a bit of a transitional phase.

While he speaks, he fiddles with the pillow, picks his teeth, apologizes when his vocal ejaculations spray me with bits of carrot, and paces back and forth around the end of the massage table like a caged animal.

I have always been good at understanding the mush-mouthed and the foreign-tongued -a special talent that I think grew from early and lengthy exposure to British comedies on public television- and thus have no trouble picking out the English that Pieter bandies about. His lack of confidence, however, has him stating things three different ways in an attempt to make himself clear. The result is anything but and it takes him five minutes to complete a thirty-second phrase. The tedium is palpable and I am left struggling to come up with various ways of reacting to the same concept put forth time and time again. I nod so much I begin to feel like one of those novelty drinking birds of the seventies.

In the next room the quiet consultation comes to an end and we are jolted out of Pieter’s broken monologue by a woman’s strong voice which crashes through the intervening wall like a cannonball shot through crisp morning air: “Pieter he is NOT late!”

“Oh!” Pieter jumps and turns towards the door as his wife enters.

She is a heavy woman but not morbidly so. The skin hangs from her in gentle flaps like the bright, overlapping folds of cloth she chooses to cover it with. Her eyes sparkle with life and her blond colored hair, styled short, fires erratic off her skull like bolts of electricity. Her confidence, radiant, dominates the room.

“I told him to be here at two, not one,” she snaps before turning to me. “Hi! I’m Freita,” she beams. “We spoke on the phone. Don’t pay any attention to Pieter, he doesn’t always shout at visitors.”

Her voice is brash and American in a way that belies her Russian sounding name.

I shake her meaty, outstretched hand and note the sheepish if still aloof demeanor that Pieter assumes in her commanding presence.

Freita tells me a bit about the work that they do: she is a motivational hypnocoach and hypnotherapist; helping people through hypnosis to realize their goals, dispel their fears, exorcise their ghosts. Pieter is a remote healer and a medical intuitive. This means he can tell what ails you just by looking at or even talking with you and then, using only his personal will, drive the malady from your body. You don’t even have to be there, he can do it over the phone. Isn’t modern technology amazing?

Freita is proud but Pieter seems less so, muttering and looking around the room as if for his place in it.

During the conversation, Freita refers to a hand-held device, not unlike a calculator, whenever Pieter looks lost.

“Translator,” she says, noting my gaze as she hunts for a term. “It was the only form of communication we had during our first year of our marriage.”

“Yes.” Pieter grins. “Good machine!”

“So,” Freita says, “I think we’ll start with a hypnosession and then Pieter can do some energy work, okay?”

“Uh, sure.” I say, feeling not so. I follow her out of the room, wondering with real trepidation if I’m expected to pay for this unexpected ‘therapy’. Looking somewhat forlorn Pieter watches us go, the crinkling pillow clutched to his chest.

Freita’s office is in contrast with the rest of the rooms in that it is spacious and furnished with newer, nicer things. I note the lack of the black couch I imagined earlier and realize that, while she had been in session, it must have been over the phone.

You can hypnotize people over the phone? Huh. I shrug my shoulders.

Sitting on her desk is a hypno-wheel – a plate-sized paper disc mounted onto an axle and driven by a small, battery powered motor. Printed onto the front of the disc, in black and white, is a swirling design that, when rotating, produces a mesmerizing illusion of unending depth.

“A hypno-wheel,” I say with a smile. “I have one of those!”

“Yeah, they’re real popular with druggies,” she replies.

“Uh . . . yeah. I suppose so.”

She directs me to the chair in front of her desk and tells me a little about her practice then asks: “So, would you like to be hypnotized?”

I have been fascinated with the concept of hypnosis since I was a child, yet have never before found myself in the position to try it.

“Sure!” I answer with genuine eagerness.

“And what would you like to change about yourself?”

“To be honest, I’m really pretty happy with myself in general but, well, I’m not terribly comfortable, socially. I could use more self confidence.”

“Well, we can do that,” she says, passing me a clipboard and a pencil.

It is a standard form, exempting her from any liability should the hypnosis cause me to act like a chicken for the rest of my life. I fill out the relevant personal information, sign my rights away, and hand back the clipboard.

“Sorry for the pathetic handwriting,” I comment as she surveys my scribbles. This is a mantra of mine, uttered innumerable times over the years; my handwriting has always been sloppy.

“That’s a defense,” she says, startling me.

“It is?”

“Yes. People who print do so to remain distant, to avoid intimacy.”

“Interesting!” I reply, not mentioning that I never mastered cursive as a student and haven’t attempted to use it since the classroom – not out of shyness but sheer laziness.

Freita then asks me several questions regarding my parents, childhood, and lifestyle - ten minutes worth of standard psychiatric questions. Using the meager data these few questions produce, she makes a number of blanket assumptions regarding the foundations of my personality, and then proclaims she is ready to cure my lack of confidence.

“Have you ever driven somewhere and not known how you got there?” she asks.

I have but don’t mention it because I was a teenager whacked-out on drugs at the time.

“No, but I have read whole pages of books without retaining a speck of information.” I reply, instead.

“Ah, yes. That’s ‘book-hypnosis’. The other is ‘road-hypnosis’. You’re a perfect subject. Are you relaxed?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ve always wanted to be hypnotized.”

“Really? I’ve never met someone so eager. This should be quite easy. Ready?” she asks, leaning back to click on an innocuous new-age CD.

I nod and she asks me to clasp my hands together, fingers interlaced, except for the indexes, which are to be held erect and apart. I am directed to stare at these two fingers and imagine they have magnets on them.

I do as she asks and listen as she talks about how the magnets are pulling together, my breathing is getting easier, I am getting heavier, etcetera.

I watch as my fingers begin to close, noting that, if I will them to stay open, they do so but otherwise they approach each other as if there are, indeed, magnets on them. Of course, it takes strength to keep them apart in this position -in rest they naturally fall together, with or without ‘magnets’. Still, it is interesting and, eager to experience a state of hypnosis, I am determined to keep an open mind.

Once my fingers are together, Freita starts the old saw about my eyelids getting heavier, does the countdown, the whole bit. When she says my eyes will close, I close them, yet I am as aware as ever. Am I hypnotized?

Once I am ‘in trance’, Freita tries her hand at inflating my ego. She tells me how smart and strong I am; how attractive, how virile. Her choice of words troubles me and I begin to fear what commands she may utter. After this, she directs me to call up certain parts of my ‘child’ personality that she feels are responsible for my confidence deficit. Then she asks me to have my ‘adult’ personality tell them, in effect, to sit down and shut up; very much traditional psychotherapy.

I try to do as she directs but there are numerous times I can’t think of what to have my ‘adult’ mind say to my ‘child’ mind and instead, both begin to wander around the landscape of my thoughts like the couple of idiots they are. I go through the motions, however, ignoring the unhelpful urge to open my eyes and say: “I don’t think it’s taking.”

After four or five rounds of my ‘adult’ giving my ‘child’ a lecture, she ‘brings me back’, telling me that, when I open my eyes, I will feel refreshed.

“Wow, I feel refreshed!” I say, feeling sleepier than when we began and hoping that my use of the word won’t tip her off to what it is I am shoveling.

“Good!” she says. “You’re a new man.”

I get the distinct impression that she is as skeptical of that statement as I am but neither of us remarks on it and, instead, we chat a bit about her past.

She has lead a colorful life, doing all manner of things, in all manner of places, married to all manner of men.

“I was married to a Barnes, you know,” she says, as if I should. “That’s Barnes of Barnes & Noble.”

“Ah.” I say.

At one point she hands me a portfolio of her watercolor art, a passion now long since expired, and I note, with a concealed smirk, that she once signed her name “Gladys Freitag”. Freitag - Freita. I get it now: a Russian sounding first name to match her latest surname.

“Now it is time to experience Pieter’s energy work,” she says, ushering me out of her office.

“I noticed those charts on his wall,” I say. “Does he do acupuncture?”

“Oh, heavens no!” she laughs. “That’d be illegal!”

Freita leads me to the waiting room and attempts to summon Pieter.

“Pieter,” she calls, her hands cupped around her mouth. “Pieter! Oh, that man . . .”

In a few moments he emerges from the depths of the house, lips smacking over some morsel yet raring to have a go at me.

“You have complaint?” he asks, looking me up and down.

I have to think a bit.

“Well, I do find myself fatigued a lot of the time, sleepy –especially in the afternoons- and I suffer off and on from canker sores. I think they’re brought on by stress.”

“What means ‘cank . . .’?” Pieter looks to Freita.

“Canker sore.” Freita repeats but it is clear Pieter remains baffled.

“Canker sore. In his mouth,” she says. “Sore. Hurt, wound.”

“Bump, hole.” I say, pointing at my mouth but Pieter isn’t getting it.

Freita is stabbing at the buttons of the translator again and trying to think of other words to shout at Pieter.

“Gash,” she tries, “pustule, eruption.”

Pieter knits his brow, muttering in Russian.

“Owie?” I venture.

“Herpes!” Freita cries.

“Herpes?” Pieter asks, looking at me with suspicion and backing a pace.

“Yes . . no!” I blurt, my hands held up in warding. “Like herpes –but not herpes.”

“Ah. Lesion!” Pieter smiles, raising an index finger in triumph.

Freita sighs and drops the translator to the table. “Okay, then. I’ll leave you to it. Remember Pieter, he’s no virgin –he works at a new age bookstore.”


Freita departs and Pieter asks me to lie on my back on the massage table. My head rests on the plastic wrapped pillow, a rolled up towel behind my knees. Pieter holds his hands over me; lips pursed, eyes closed in apparent concentration.

After a moment of silence, he takes my right wrist as if counting my pulse. Then he changes position to cup both hands over my heart, leaning on me with light pressure, again as if counting the beat of my heart.

He then takes out a pair of special tuning forks, designed for vibrational therapy, and smacks them together until they’re humming. These he sets with some uncertainty on the knobs of my wrists. The vibrations run into my bones; a deep, not unpleasant buzz. Having done this, he removes them and smacks them together a few more times before setting them on my skull; one on my forehead and one on my chin. The result is the sense that, somewhere, deep in the meat of my brain, someone has an electric shaver wrapped in a towel. He repeats the process two more times, setting the forks with varying degrees of surety on my sternum and then the caps of my knees.

It is enjoyable and I hope he will continue but after the one round he puts them away, satisfied with whatever data or effect they produced. I am tempted to ask if I am flat, sharp, or natural but decide it would be both inappropriate and misunderstood.

“You like music?” he asks, walking around the table. “Calm? Soothing? You see Winged Migration? Is good movie, good music. Calm.” He reaches behind my head to the boom box on the credenza and, with the push of a button, the strains of a symphony swell and Nick Cave begins crooning about the migratory habits of waterfowl.

Now it is back to what I’ve decided must be some form of pulse taking. He tries a new position that involves cupping and applying simultaneous, light pressure to both my forehead and chin. It is not uncomfortable, just odd. I imagine my skull pulsing like some character in an early Star Trek episode. Pieter, I think silently, can you heeeaaar me?

The song is only half over when, distracted, he shuts off the boom box so that we can better talk, patient to doctor. He asks me questions about my life habits and tells me little stories with morals as he alternates from my wrist to my chest to my face and back again, always seeming more than a little uncertain about what he is doing, what he is looking for. Then, without warning, he is done.

“You are healthy!” he proclaims.

I sit up as he shakes my ‘energy’ off his hands into the corner of the room.

Who’s gonna clean that up? I wonder. And how?

“Need get outside more. Exercise, sun, fresh air, breathe” he says, taking a deep, exaggerated breath and whooshing it out between his lips, “then, you not so tired.”

I nod at what is not only sage but rather timeless advice.

Now why didn’t I think of that? I ask myself, getting down off the massage table.

“What about the canker sores?” I query.

“For mouth, iodine. Drink but not swallow. Kill infection. Sore go. Sting means good!” he shouts, clapping me on the back.

When I arrived the sun was strong but now the light is waning and I still haven’t begun the interview proper. There are no clocks but I am certain I am going to be late to the dinner I promised my wife I would attend this evening. As usual, the thought of attending a crowded social event is curdling in my stomach. As if on cue, Freita appears: a stack of multi-colored, self-help books in her arms.

“I have a radio talk show and these are just a few of the people I’ve had on,” she says, placing the stack in my arms. She begins to name them and then stops herself, saying: “But I don’t need to tell you! You work at a new-age book store!”

The hefty collection of colorful, hardbound books reflects all the recent self-help and spiritual fads: stopping overeating, improving relationships, learning to say no, channeling the warrior-priestess within, contacting dead relatives, a ham-sandwich for the tater-tot soul.

Despite her confidence, I recognize none of the titles, none of the authors. The design schemes of the dust jackets, however, are all too familiar: bright and cheery colors on white with large, non-threatening, sans-serif titles; a more descriptive subtitle below for the less discerning reader; some abstract swoops and lines of color designed to excite and draw the eye, and, of course, the obligatory author portrait; smiling cheery through whitened teeth under a coiffure of perfection or glaring sagacious from beneath beetled-brows and a well-waxed pate.

“Wow!” I exclaim. “A radio show? I had no idea. Do you have to drive to Seattle or is there a local station.”

“Here, I’ll show you,” she says, leading me through a door I had assumed lead to a water heater –and it does- but also to a cramped, concrete space, bare and featureless but for a jumble of wires and computer equipment huddled together on a folding table.

“My internet radio show takes place every Wednesday night,” she beams with obvious pride. “I set this up myself.”

“Cool, wow!” I notice there is only one chair. “So the guests . . . conference call?”

“That, or chat –you know, with the keyboard. We do group hypnotherapy sessions and discuss spiritual matters; what have you.”

“Huh. Interesting.”

We stand in silence for a moment, allowing Freita to bask in the glory of her technological prowess, and then shuffle back out to the waiting room.

Freita and Pieter take their seats on the couch opposite me. They are joined by a small mop of a dog that stretches on the cushion between them in order to be in contact with both. They are the picture of the perfect, loving family: smiling and happy to be near one another.

“Rags has issues,” Freita tells me. “He comes from a broken home –his original masters, just up the street, divorced, so we took him in. The pet psychic says he has an anger complex.”

Rags rolls over on his back for belly pets, gravity pulling his little, fuzzy lips back to reveal a well-timed and toothsome grin.

“So, fire away Mr. Confidant!” Freita grins.

I don’t know quite where to begin. Freita has already told me so much about herself, yet I am supposed to be interviewing Pieter. I’ve already enough information to write a short story –but not quite the kind my boss had in mind, I’m afraid.

I click on my tape-recorder, verify that it is working, then begin asking questions.

Pieter does his best to answer but is impossible. The pauses between his words are seconds long and he is still repeating everything he says in three different ways, getting lost, digressing, glancing about the room as if the concepts he is trying to impart might be pasted somewhere on the walls or ceiling.

Freita tries to help but Pieter always interrupts, as if her voice has reminded him of the word he was looking for -but then he’s right back to where he started; shuffling, mumbling, ah-um-ing already fragmented sentences to death.

In short order, the interview spins out of control and, instead of imparting the tale of Pieter Rudnitsky, they are laughing about how he and Freita came to meet in Russia; to move back to the States; to end up here, in Washington.

“I was surgeon. Many years. Forty.”

“People would kiss his ring.”

“She was dating KGB.”

“A colonel but he was a drunk. I had to lock him out of the house sometimes. He’d be beating on the door and screaming but I wouldn’t let him in ‘til he was sober. Once I held a knife to his throat. Our neighbors respected me after that.”

“I miss Nome. The rain, the light.”

“God, I don’t. The insects, the dirt, the cold.” Freita shudders.

“I miss Russia, my sons. No banya here. Your TV, I can’t watch. Your culture! In Russia, sex is . . . evil! Here it is everywhere.”

“We had to escape, to sneak out under the cover of night. We left everything. I snuck $6,000 out in my boots.”

“Everyone in Russia is atheist. Acupuncture – illegal. Energy work – illegal. God – not exist.”

“His operations were always clean, no post-op infection. Ever. No one could explain it.”

“Boss says: clean. Your work clean.” Pieter shrugs.

“You couldn’t expect a secular society like that to acknowledge his special talent of the healing touch. He didn’t even know he had it. I had to tell him.”

“Yes, so: here I am. I don’t know what I do. How I do. I just . . . do.” Pieter throws his hands up and looks at me, scrutinizing, uncomfortable.

“See!” Freita laughs, leaning over to squeeze his shoulder “I don’t even think he believes it yet!”

Looking down, I see that my tape recorder has long since stopped working.

cae 2005