From the novel Blind Speed

. . . If you (the reader) have ever had your palm read, then you know it's not a thing to be approached without some fear. Paul hadn't come to this conclusion yet, and he had never even thought too much about what it means to have a palm read, because as far as he was concerned, palm reading was something done by ghoulish women wrapped in red, faded shawls, smelling of patchouli, who also read crystal balls at carnival booths or in seedy old brick basements in neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, where gay men might go for a lark, or where hippies might pay for an expert opinion on why nothing was working out in their lives. And did these hippies really need a crystal ball? He had nothing against hippies, but the reason nothing was working in their lives was because they never got their shit together enough to do anything except hang a bunch of potted plants around their rooms and close the shades to block out the bright, harsh light of day. They were lazy. He knew these might be simply ideas inculcated into him by a productive/production-obsessed Anglo-Puritan heritage. After all, he'd encountered plenty of other cultures during his travels around the world. He appreciated relaxation time. He was certainly not driven to endless work. But he believed in work, too, in getting things done, and for this reason he had an aversion to the idea of palm readings, because they seemed to him a fun but delusional waste of time, a pure gimmick, nothing to place any credence in.

Nevertheless, here he was in Buffalo Man's office at eleven o'clock at night, still his first day at the Rashna Retreat, waiting for his turn to have his palm read. He'd been a mess for a while after the yoga class, and he'd retreated to his cabin after thanking Zoe for the water, and around ten o'clock, as he was getting ready for bed, after taking an ice-cold shower, one of Buffalo Man's assistants had knocked on his cabin door and told him he'd been selected for the reading at eleven. Paul talked to the assistant wrapped in a towel. His whole body was pink from the coolness of the shower, and the sound of crickets played hypnotically in the background. "You know, thanks," Paul said. "I know it's really lucky to have been selected for the reading, but I think I might pass on that one," he told the assistant, Brad Rashnaji.

"Buffalo Man has told me to tell you that you are not the first to be uncomfortable with the idea of a palm reading. He knows you think the idea is fairly foolish and a gimmick, but he insists you come for your reading."

"He told you this just now? By telepathy or something?" It was like a bad C movie. The servant who insists, "My master calls you."

"No, of course not," Brad Rashnaji said. "Telepathy is something that is improbable. Although you never know. Some books call it a seventh sense. I simply mean Buffalo Man has already intuited what your response would be when I told you that you should come for your palm to be read. He said you would say it was a fluke, that you were never lucky and that someone else must have been fated for the reading."

"He came up with that, too?" Paul shook his head to get the water that had settled in his ear to fly out. He banged his temple with the flat of his palm like a coconut, not only to get the water out but because it was a habit when he was confused about a decision. Decisions were tough; multiple options always seemed at hand, all equally good and valid. If he stayed, he would certainly get the good night of rest he needed. The futon was only six steps away, soft and comfortable. And he might even have some fun looking over a few questionnaires from the gun show--a chance to chuckle at the heroic exaggerations the gun dealers indulged in when discussing their sex lives (mixed in, of course, with occasional hints they were a little more doubtful about their sex life than they let on). On the other hand, if he went and had his palm read, Buffalo Man would probably tell him something positive about his future. After all, he was a businessman, right? Keep the customer satisfied. And it would be a good chance to get to know Buffalo Man a little better before leaving in the morning. "What if I take a rain check until tomorrow morning?" Paul said. Maybe he could have his cake and eat it, too. Sleep + palm reading.

"That was the final thing Buffalo Man told me to tell you. Though you may think you can have your cake and eat it, too, there is no way to put off the seriousness of our decisions. While he will not, and cannot, demand you come to your reading, he wishes you to know there may be serious consequences if you delay."

And so, here he was in Buffalo Man's office surrounded by candlelight. He had made the walk to the central building on his own, forty-five minutes after Brad Rashnaji, following a path of neatly raked pebbles all the way to the office. The air was so humid as he walked--it had enveloped Paul's body and the cornfields that lay just along the border of the grounds of the health retreat, and the crickets and insects such as rootworm and cutworm that were cutting at the corn--so that all were unified and connected by the heaviness of the air. He felt instinctively the weight of the natural world and the weight of living. Buffalo Man seemed absolutely serious about this. Perhaps not about other things. But he must be serious if he insisted on performing the palm reading at eleven o'clock at night. For there must be other things he would rather be doing at that hour. Like forgetting the retreaters? What did a guru/businessman/spiritualist think about on his time off? Did he miss the people at the retreat? Or did he try to get as far away from them as he could, to a place like Orlando?

"Welcome, welcome again," Buffalo Man said as he arrived at his office. "Have you had a chance to look around? It is important for you to feel comfortable in these surroundings so you will focus on what I am telling you and not on anything else. These objects around us are merely distractions, so please look at them at your leisure and then we will begin."

There was nothing too surprising about the room, though Paul was struck immediately by the number of books, and he was aware of Buffalo Man watching him closely as he walked around the room. Candles and oil lamps provided the only, flickering light and left the room aromatic, smelling like frankincense and myrrh. Rows upon rows of books, tightly pushed together, lined three of the walls, and in the darkness the whole room felt like an Egyptian tomb for a dead king's chief court adviser. The air was musty but holy, and it felt to Paul like generations of secrets were encrypted in the room. The title of a particularly fat book popped out at him: Shiva: The Destroyer of Worlds. There was a section of books on organic gardening and also one on chiropractic medicine. A real human spine, from the cerebral cortex down to the coccyx--held together by some glue and clear plastic wire--hung from the center of the ceiling, floating in the air, the white of the bones orange from the candlelight. Most of the room was dark, with shadows filling in the deep corners.

"It feels a little creepy in here," Paul said. "But neat. So neat. In my own work space, I always have papers all over the place."

"That's quite interesting," Buffalo Man said. "You can tell a lot about a person by their work area. So what do you think this room says about me?"

Did he really want an answer? He was probably watching Paul just to get some clues to make his reading more convincing later. Paul would be polite, but he wouldn't give Buffalo Man any information. Let him show his stuff, if he really had any powers. "I don't know," Paul said. "I wouldn't be able to make such a judgment."

"Hmm. That, too, is interesting," Buffalo Man said. "Well, shall we have a seat and begin our concentration together? This is really a two-person thing, you know. You must give your energy to receive energy back. It is like what I am sure you have read about--hypnotism. A person cannot be truly hypnotized unless they are willing to share what is inside of them. Likewise, I cannot truly read your palm unless you are willing to believe in the process. Simply try to give up your doubts for fifteen minutes. And as you work with me, I am sure we will get somewhere deeper and more useful than if you resist me."

Buffalo Man directed Paul to a small wooden table by his desk, carved out of sandalwood with the body of Ganesh filigreed into each of the ornate round corners of the table. Every inch of the table was sculpted. The two men sat on carved stools, with red cushions. Buffalo Man took Paul's palms and placed them face up on the table.

"One thing I do not look at is lifelines and that such thing," Buffalo Man said. He dismissed this notion entirely with a quick swipe of his hand. "That is an ancient Gypsy tradition which made its way to Spain via Romania. But to engage in that kind of palmistry you would need to see someone who is familiar with that tradition. I look at the entire palm instead, as I was taught by a teacher in Kashmir." He tapped Paul's palms lightly, warming them up. "So how do you feel? Ready?"


"Why skeptical, skeptical, skeptical? Skeptical is all I'm hearing, always, from you."

"I'm not trying to say this to give any offense. I'm just skeptical. I mean, I'd feel just as skeptical of a man in Florida telling me I could catch a big marlin, or if someone called me up and told me I'd won the lottery."

"You see, that is the problem so many of you are facing these days. The artificiality of so many things has made you disbelieve even in what is true. So since nothing seems real--even when you have attained all of the possessions you could possibly want--you do not believe you have attained true happiness. For when everything is a chimera, it can never be grasped in the hand. You have gone so far as to doubt even your own authenticity, to doubt whether you yourselves are real. But at some point in your life you must stop chasing after illusions and accept some things as real."

Buffalo Man continued to press Paul's palms. He touched some places firmly and others more gently. He ran his own palm against one of Paul's and looked in the air and concentrated as if he were trying to hear the sound of a mosquito buzzing. He grimaced and touched some more.

"I can see now you are trying to be more cooperative," he said, and he explored around the edge of the palm just beneath the beginning of the index finger, first on the right hand and then on the left. He rubbed and pushed in one spot alone now, and Paul felt a sharp pain, a pressure point that hurt so much as Buffalo Man touched it that he realized he didn't know so much stress could lurk beneath the softness of his pudgy, creamy skin.

"Ouch," Paul said.

"Shh. We are getting somewhere now. You must listen with me." Buffalo Man put his ear down close to the single palm he was rubbing now. He listened to the hand like it was a conch shell that held the deep sounds of the ocean. With his head to the side, looking horizontally away from Paul toward the books on the wall, he began to speak in a more subdued tone like a medium communicating a message from gods somewhere else on the other side of the universe, at the center of the mystery of all being.

"Life," Buffalo Man began, "is a series of concentric circles, radiating outward of each being like the rings of growth on a tree. Each man has one ring for each decade. You are now in the third ring near the end of that ring. In this ring, I can see, you have already begun to give up on your true dream. What was once dearest and nearest to your heart you have now tried to paper over and cover with barbed wire and plywood and chains. The ring is therefore tight and suffocated, but at the end of the ring there appears to be some growth coming, a final warm growing season before the ring terminates. Perhaps, then, you will find your lifelong romantic partner soon. It is quite possible, even, she is here at the retreat, though that is not certain." He pushed his ear directly against the palm of Paul's hand. He listened to one hand and then the other, returning to the original palm. He pressed between the third and fourth metacarpals, and a shooting pain made Paul cry out and nearly fall from his stool. Paul twisted his body away from Buffalo Man, and he felt the need to get up and leave, but Buffalo Man held on to his palm, grasping it, and pulled him back down to his stool.

"Why must I go on?" Paul said.

"Because you want to," Buffalo Man said. "It is the desire of every man to know his fate, even if he does not want to know it."

Buffalo Man did not release the most painful place where his long, thin, bony fingers had been exploring before. He listened closely, again, to the palm. "In the fourth concentric circle of life, near the beginning of the ring, you will lose a brother. This, it is not clear to me, whether it will be a brother of blood or a brotherhood of deep friendship, but it will be lost entirely. No, wait! There are two brothers who will be lost. Each in his own way. One will leave you and another you will leave. This will be an unbearable pain, an agony that will force you to make a great decision you do not want to make . . . I feel also that the love from the third ring, your partner in life, will not reach the end of the fourth ring with you. The fourth ring will be thin and tight. It will not grow far. It will be like the tight ring of a juniper bush. And it will be . . . " Buffalo Man paused; he put his ear directly against the palm and pushed his ear hard against his fingers, which pressed ever more deeply into Paul's palm, nearly crushing him in pain. "And it will be . . ." Buffalo Man's voice continued in a flat tone, "it will be your last ring. From that ring you will cease to be burdened with the trials of life. You will end the cycle of life. What I cannot tell is if you will be reborn, or in what capacity--that is, whether you will be reborn as a dog or a cat or as a sheep or a goat or a cow or a man, or even, perhaps, end the endless birth and rebirth that trouble us all by attaining moksha."

"How can you tell me this?" Paul demanded. "You're sick. A sick man. A sick dude. That's obscene." He attempted to pull his hand away from Buffalo Man's firm grasp, but Buffalo Man wouldn't release his hand, and he was much stronger than Paul. "And what are you talking about in any case, goats and chickens and pigs? You just make this shit up. You're just a speculative con, no better than any of the rest of us."

"Who ever said anything about being better? This is simply what your palm says to me via others who know better. It is not me speaking, it is your palm."

"But you're supposed to tell me all sorts of good things, about how rich my fortune might be. Or about how many kids I'll have, and how I'm supposed to be blessed with fortune. Maybe not pure fortune, but mostly fortune."

"And what makes you think that? Because of some cheap fortune cookies made in Taiwan and New Jersey? This is not speculation. This is not tomfoolery. I am not claiming I can tell you the precise nature and timing of these events, but I am telling you they are inevitable. As inevitable as the sun's rising, heating the earth, and causing the moisture of the earth to rise and then fall as rain into the ocean. The rivers flow only one way. To the sea. You cannot force them to go other than the way they will flow."

Paul slumped in his stool, his shoulders bent so far forward he looked like a weeping willow with yellow leaves in the fall. He still didn't believe what the crazy man was saying. But what if it were all true? And why would he lie to him? There was no reason for him to tell him so much bad news. The only good news he'd told him was that he would find someone he loved soon.

"What is the name of the person I will fall in love with?"

"Oh, you think this is some kind of game, don't you? But think about the burden that I, too, face in telling you this news. It is simply what must be told. But there is always a reason for such a telling."

"And what might that be?" said Paul.

"Though there is no way to escape the future planned for us, we can change the way in which we choose to fight that future. If you choose to, now, you can begin a path that will bring you the greatest joy in the time that remains for you. I would suggest you relinquish all of your possessions and go to India and study with the man in Kashmir who has taught me the secret of reading the future."

"Go to the man who taught you how to see how miserable my future will be? Are you kidding?"

"Yes, you must do it if you wish to find any true happiness. Or at least give up all of your possessions. And enter the wilderness naked, until you find your true center. As long as you feel envy, you will never find true peace. As long as you look at the world as a distorted mirror and cannot distinguish what is real from what is false, you will walk in mazes. You will find no true happiness until you remove yourself from everyone who surrounds you, whom you are familiar with. Only then might you seek to attempt to avoid the fate you have been given."

Buffalo Man released Paul's palms and clapped his hands together, bowing his breast to his palms in namaste greetings.

"But that's something even you haven't done," Paul said. "There are possessions all over this place. Your whole retreat is an expensive money retreat. Most of the people around here are completely false yogis. What kind of names are Jennifer Rashnaji and Brad Rashnaji? How can you tell me I must do what you don't even come close to doing?"

"That's the dilemma, isn't it? We can know the medicine but find it impossible to swallow." Buffalo Man bowed his head and walked quickly toward the door. "Tomorrow will be a better day. We will meet again tomorrow."


Fated to die? Before the age of forty? Most likely even earlier? To lose his two brothers? Paul walked into one of the cornfields next to the retreat. The moon was half full and yellow like the tears of a lion. He had left the retreat behind. The central building of the retreat, a large wooden structure with the check-in desk, dining hall, and meditation center, was empty and hollow as he left the building, the high ceilings cavernous, the heavy wooden beams looming and lit only by a vending machine that sold green tea and mango juice. He was away from all of the buildings now, away from the mowed lawn, away from the cabins that, viewed from the air, formed the shape of the Sanskrit word om, away from the pool behind the main building, away from the massage rooms. The cornfield he walked into was the one he had seen earlier, a hundred yards beyond the Zen rock garden. He came up to the edge of the wall of corn, where it met the lawn of the retreat, and the July corn towered over him. He would have to go back to B______ Community College soon to begin his second year of teaching. Inside the cornfield, the palm-frond-shaped leaves dangled from side to side between pregnant ears on the stalks and drooped beneath the weight of the humidity. He was surrounded by corn, and the leaves rasped his cheeks as he walked. From the moment he entered the corn he lost his orientation. He simply followed the path of a furrow, never straying, walking relentlessly and mechanically at a plodding pace, his feet slowly pounding the moist earth. He had seen a group of Indians at a powwow once, eight men around a drum, each banging a slow death dance, a low lamentation played at a funeral, pounded and pounded as the men all chanted together in high, coyote-like cries, "Ai ai ai ai," "Ai, ai ai." He thought of that rhythm now, that lamentation for defeated warriors, as he walked steadily through the corn. In the indoor tennis court where he saw the powwow dance performed, the chief had explained the Native Americans had played it when the white man had come in his fast choo-choo train, in his Iron Horse that brought soldiers shooting buffaloes out of train windows to starve the Indians and just for fun.

He didn't even know if he believed any of what Buffalo Man had told him. His mind told him Buffalo Man was full of shit; but why, then, did his body feel so heavy, so dejected and weighed down like the corn? And why did he walk away from the retreat following a single row of corn, surrounded by cornstalks that made him feel claustrophobic and that almost guaranteed he would get lost? Was he prepared to spend the night in the cornfield? Now and then a cry of crickets suddenly rose in unison, warning the heat away, warning the producer of the sound of footsteps away. Every animal, Paul thought, lives only to avoid death. And he had been told his death was appointed, fated, written in the books of the heavens sooner rather than later. So what the fuck was he going to do about it?

He walked on. He had no idea how far from the retreat he was, and in front of him, somewhere not only forward but oddly below, perhaps another fifty yards ahead and down, he heard a whir and grinding of some kind of engine that startled him. The engine whooshed! and moved, zooming like an aural sore through the air and was gone. He continued forward, deep in the corn, and then the corn stopped abruptly at the edge of a sloping precipice, a slanted gash into the earth that led down to a cross-country interstate: I-80. At the edge of the slope, twenty yards above the concrete roadway--which spread in two long bands below in either direction toward what seemed like nowhere--he sat down, and a large semitrailer, an eighteen-wheeler, rushed past, its light bar trailing a white streak that cut into the blackness of the night like a barrage of tracer bullets.

But how exactly would he die? And when? Could he die at this moment, falling down the slope of the ugly, rough, dirt clod-covered artificial hillside that fell down to the interstate and washed into a concrete rain gully? Could he fall and be hit by an oncoming truck rushing across the nation from California, or returning from its delivery of fruit with a large electric generator to power the baseball lights of a stadium? Or because he was fated to die soon, but in the next decade, did that mean he was invulnerable to death now?

He watched the cars and trucks speed by below him, sometimes a single car, sometimes a group of cars, but even grouped together the cars seemed alone. Everyone makes his journey to death alone. The engines of the cars roared; the wind by the side of the road caused tall weeds to sway, gripping forward toward the pavement, trying to break their way into any crack of the concrete. The sheer speed, the pressure of the windshields of the cars and trucks, cut through the muggy air. They would push their way through the ether all the way to their destinations. So would he die unnaturally then? Be cut down by a bullet? Hit by a train? Or by the propellers of an airplane sucking him into a jet engine? Would he be crushed by the weight of a falling building? Would he fall from the loop of a roller coaster as it reached its zenith? Would he die falling on the tracks of a subway as the train came into the station, or accidentally trip and be electrocuted by the third rail and incinerated to a crisp? He had no idea so many fears lurked within him, just below the surface. He had never had these images before--singly, yes, of course, but never one after the other--a parade of death flashing through his mind at a rate that felt to him like a blind speed. The images flashed one and then another. He saw a red Porsche on a bright blue day, a test car racing around a track in Germany, hugging the curves as it flawlessly maneuvered around one corner and then another at two hundred miles an hour, and then round another corner, until the wheels suddenly slipped out from under the driver, sending the car diagonally, away from the centripetal force that had held it in place so that it hit a side wall and broke into pieces, first a wheel flying off, then blue smoke and a burst of flames, or was it the flames before the smoke, they all seemed to go together in one combustion, and then the front of the car was smashed; the car twirled and hit the side wall again at the end of a turn and, ricocheting, came into the cleanly mowed green lawn at the center of the track, where it ultimately came to a stop. The blueness of the sky shined on, indifferent.

There were pumps keeping patients alive now, respiring while the patients' hearts and lungs could not. There were EKGs monitoring the heartbeats. There were diodes keeping track of the pulse. There were waves of electricity flying along high power lines, into the hospital to deliver power to these patients. And what if the towers failed, somehow fell down? A single tower. Would the patients die? No, a generator would kick in. The power would resume. But even then, the power was precarious. The potential hole exposed momentarily to the engineer responsible for the power system in the hospital.

He, himself, had always tried to go with the rapid flow of everything surrounding him. That was the way he was educated and told he could best breathe and prosper. Though he did his best to seem nonchalant, rebellious; though he had gone the path of a band, at first, as if to say he didn't care about the normal fast path and constructs of engineers and businessmen. Yet hadn't he also tried to take his own part in the rich speed, hoping the band would bring him a piece of the rapid nirvana? Hoping it would give him protection from the pitfalls of bad speed, the possible crash against a wall on the side of a California highway, a crash against the walls of destitution. The balance between good speed and bad was always unstable. And here he was, minutes after having his fortune read, where a stranger had told him such foolish ideas of balance were impossible unless he threw off all of his possessions and went to study with a guru in India. Well that, too, was impossible, wasn't it? He would and could no more go to India and buy into that kind of overly simplistic cure than he could bring back the balance between the good speed and the bad. He felt now he was flying blind. He had been born with so much seemingly endless promise the day men first landed on the moon--July 20, 1969.

From behind him, he heard the rustling of something coming through the corn, moving directly behind and then past, a little further away. In the yellow moonlight he saw a deer step out of the corn, to his right, and perch on the edge of the precipice. Whether it was a male or female he couldn't be sure; but he thought it was a male. The deer had a small rack of thin, pointed horns. It stopped at the edge of the dirt and looked at the traffic below. The eyes of the animal glowed faint amber. It ran quickly down the hill without zigzagging from side to side, stumbling slightly on the looseness of the newly cut dirt, moving powerfully forward. It reached the edge of the concrete and froze. The deer looked up the road, and bright lights of trucks lit up the animal and it stood still. It moved forward, ready to lunge in front of a truck, and then at the sound of a truck's engine, turned quickly backward. It jittered its legs up and down, the white of its tail revealed, the animal stretched as tight as its puckered anus. It seemed to want to cross, and then it turned momentarily away again in fright.

Paul wanted to yell something down at the deer to tell it to get away. He tried to make a sound that would make it aware of the danger it faced. He stood and waved his arms. But the deer looked up the highway into the lights, moving its legs in place, otherwise paralyzed.

He threw a stone at the deer, but he couldn't get it to move. So he went into the corn. He didn't want to see what would happen to the deer. He wouldn't be able to take it if it made the wrong choice and ran onto the road. What difference does it make if I can save the deer or not? he told himself. But it did matter, so he went back to the edge of the highway. And when he got there, he saw the deer was finding another way around his obstacle. It was running to the right, down toward a culvert that ran beneath the highway. It ran into a wide metal pipe and disappeared into a black hole.