The Mills of God
“I was twelve when I realized I was a ghost.”
So says Constance Fairchild, an eccentric poetess who is heiress to a fortune—and a girl who, from an early age, has believed that she had been reincarnated.
Orphaned at the age of 14, when her parents die under suspicious circumstances, she is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, a country that had haunted her dreams. Here, she makes her first real friends and stumbles on clues to her past life.
When several of her friends die under suspicious circumstances, Constance has reason to believe that her legal guardian may be responsible. What possible motive could her guardian have? Searching desperately for the answer, Constance only uncovers further questions that convince her that she may be part of some grand conspiracy. Who keeps planting listening devices in her dorm room? Why were people following both her and her friends? Why did her dead grandfather require emails from him to contain an electronic signature that was lost when he died?
Spanning two lifetimes, this conspiracy—involving pieces of the puzzle that Constance must strive to unravel through her instinctive knowledge of virtual reality, cryptography, and the Internet—threatens to destroy everyone she knows and loves.
Pursued across Europe and New York, Constance searches for answers and tries to survive. With the help of her friends, she manages to expose the conspirators, turn their tools against them, and by the novel's end, she solves the greatest mystery of all: Her reason for being.
“Damn!” he muttered, colliding with the front door. “They could have at least left a light on.” Is Raffles here? he thought. The place looks deserted.
The door opened and a wizened Raffles led him into the darkened house.
“Pardon the mess,” Raffles said when they reached the study. “We’re painting and remodeling.”
Painters’ tarps covered the floor and a burly man in baggy white work clothes stood quietly in a corner.
How can they still be painting a house at night? he wondered. The only light is a desk lamp!
Casting a sidelong glance at the painter, he handed Raffles the packet of material.
“Excellent!” Raffles said. “It does everything you say it will?”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course! It wasn’t that difficult, actually. I’m a bit . . . embarrassed to accept $300,000 for such a tiny job. It’s more than I make in years . . .”
“That’s pocket change for me,” Raffles cut in. “As I explained before, the $300,000 is contingent upon confidentiality. You have maintained strict confidentiality, haven’t you?”
“Absolutely!” he quickly replied, relieved Raffles had not asked whether copies of the report existed: He had stupidly lost the original, forcing him to reprint it after a fruitless search.
“I haven’t told anyone,” he added, “not even my wife. She doesn’t know I’m here.”
“I believe you,” Raffles murmured, removing his hearing aid and nodding to the painter.
The man’s gaze followed Raffles and watched, awestruck, as the painter produced a revolver.
“Is this some sort of joke?”
His sentence ended with a gunshot.
Lenin wrote that Zürich had the finest public library he’d ever seen. That bit of trivia kept running through my mind as I tried not to cry. It was as though focusing on it would bring order to my world—would undo the previous day.
But, no—I shut my eyes and relived it again:
It happened two days after my fourteenth birthday. I’d just come home from school and spotted two strange men in the living room, talking to Nanny.
One man wore a policeman’s uniform and the other a gray suit. The man in the suit made notations in a tiny notebook and sniffled, as if he had a cold.
“That’s the daughter?” he said, glancing at me.
“Yes, that’s Constance Fairchild,” Nanny replied, nodding. “I’ll tell her.”
“Tell me what?”
Nanny shook her head and sobbed. Finally, she clutched me to herself so hard it hurt. When she released me, she said, “They’re both dead, my dear!”
“Who’s dead?” I asked, although I had a sickening feeling I knew whom she meant. “What are you talking about?”
“Why, your parents. There was a terrible accident on the Van Wyck expressway.”
“On route to Kennedy Airport,” the man in the gray suit added without looking up from his notebook. “You sure she wouldn’t know why her parents were leaving the country?”
“They never told her anything, Mr. Richards,” Nanny replied. “Last year, Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild spent Christmas in Paris without telling anyone except me.”
“They didn’t take her with them?” Detective Richards asked.
“No,” Nanny replied. “On Christmas she had to ask me where they were.”
“And this time they didn’t even tell you?”
“Hm . . . About 10:30,” Detective Richards murmured, flipping through his notebook. “Mrs. Fairchild shows up at the office—something she’d never done before. Mr. Fairchild leaves a meeting, telling them he’ll just be a minute, and then they head for the airport. Any idea why they’d do that?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Nanny shrugged. “They never confided in me—or Constance.”
* * * * *
“You haven’t touched your dinner,” a flight attendant said. “Was there anything wrong with it?”
“No,” I replied, handing him the tray.
I used the restroom and returned to my seat; grateful I had the row to myself.
The cabin-lights dimmed.
* * * * *
After they told me of my parents’ deaths, I ran to my room, refusing to believe what I had heard, but knowing deep down that it was true. Nanny followed, asking whether I wanted a sedative. Although I’d always refused them before, I accepted one. I slipped into a dreamless sleep, not even changing out of my school uniform.
I slept until eight, when Nanny roused me.
“Wake up, honey. It’s time for dinner,” she said. “And there are some very important people for you to meet.”
“Yes, my dear. Everything will be explained to you.”
In a daze, I staggered into the bathroom and washed my face. I was still too exhausted and in shock to dress for dinner, so I plodded into the dining room still in my school uniform.
A single place was set, at the head of the table. For me, alone. I’d usually dined with my Nanny or Mother, at least. I ate without a word, without tasting the food. When I finished, I quietly pushed my chair back, stood, and walked into the living room.
Two strangers occupied the couch, talking—a man and a woman. The man was discussing severance pay with Nanny, who looked up at me, awkwardly. The woman stood and introduced herself.
“I’m Joyce Mantell, personal legal adviser to your father,” she said, flashing me a pained smile.
“We must all be strong at times like these,” she continued.
“Did they suffer?”
“Suffer? What are you talking about?”
“My parents. Did they suffer?”
“No! No!” Ms. Mantell said, almost reassuringly. “Death was instantaneous.”
“I’m glad they didn’t suffer.”
“The important thing now is that you don’t suffer. Other children’s lives might be destroyed by a tragedy like this, but you’re a Fairchild. And your grandfather will not allow you to go wanting.”
I said nothing.
“We’ve been discussing your future,” Ms. Mantell continued. “We—I mean, myself, your grandfather, and your Aunt Augusta—feel you should go away to a boarding school. A place where you can meet other girls your age. Your grandfather has spared no expense. Nothing but the best for a Fairchild!”
I just stared at the woman, and she became more nervous.
Coming to her rescue, Nanny hugged me and said, “Constance, dear. They felt it would be best if you had a change of scenery.”
“It’s one of the most exclusive schools in the world,” Ms. Mantell added. “We all want what’s best for you.”
“Call me Connie,” I said to Nanny.
“Okay, Connie. You may call me Sylvia.”
“What a bizarre child!” Ms. Mantell whispered to the man, not quietly enough. “Like a creature from another planet!”
* * * * *
I thought of the life I’d lost and the people I’d never see again.
Marge, our cook, was a tall, thin woman with a wonderful laugh. Her delightful way of talking always lifted my spirits.
“Girl, she looked like a smacked ass!” she said once—I’d overheard her talking on the phone. No doubt I looked the same right now. I felt it.
Nanny—Sylvia—was a sweet, middle-aged Irish woman with wire-framed glasses and chestnut hair. She was the last in a long succession of nannies. Years ago, I made the mistake of calling nannies I liked ‘Mom,’ thinking or hoping they were, and Mother fired them. I learned to keep loved ones by keeping my distance.
As a teenager, I no longer needed much supervision. Sylvia was my companion at dinner, though, and during my book-hunts in the city. She called me “Her little professor.”
Father had been an imposing man of few words who wore a suit except at formal events, when he wore a tuxedo. One felt he even wore a suit to bed. I’d been in awe of him.
Mother was beautiful and voluptuous. She’d given up an acting and modeling career to marry Father. I could almost smell her perfume and hear her telling Marge what to cook for dinner. My parents spent a great deal of time planning and attending parties and receptions.
Were they ashamed of me? I wondered. Often, I felt like an unwelcome guest or, at least, a disappointment to them.
Mother had always complained that her pregnancy with me had ruined her social season that year. “The sort of season,” she’d add, “that comes but once in a lifetime.” During their frequent parties and receptions, my parents sent me to the library or asked me to stay in my room.
In their lives, I was as out of place as the picture on my bedroom wall: Hieronymous Bosch’s Hay Wain. It critiqued the peasant-saying, “Life is a wagon of hay, and we run after it grabbing as much as we can get.”
The painting’s central section depicts a mob chasing a hay wagon. Women prostitute themselves for the hay and men kill for it. At that section’s right edge, people mutate into the animals they’d behaved like, and at the right section, they enter the gates of Hell. On the rare occasions she entered my room, Mother called it “That disgusting thing!” I often wondered if she saw herself in the Hell-bound mob.
Mother said it was unnatural for a young girl to spend all her time writing poetry and reading books on philosophy, history, and the sciences. She said there was something terribly wrong with a girl whose favorite book was The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
I was twelve when I realized I was a ghost.
In my quieter moments, vivid impressions or conversations had run through the back of my mind, too fast to capture, like half-forgotten dreams. Or, I’d been haunted by intense but undefined moods or images, and recurring nightmares I barely remembered.
At the age of twelve I read Stevenson’s monograph Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation—and I knew.
When I confided this to my nanny at the time, Mother sent me to a psychiatrist. I told him what he wanted to hear, once I figured out what that was. Afterwards, I kept my secrets to myself.
Would my parents have learned to love me? I wondered. Would they ever have been proud of me?
It was too late. I would never know.
They were my biological link to the rest of humanity, tenuous though that link had been. They loved me once. They must have—although no written records from that era survived—and I must have loved them. I was crying for the family we could have been, and now would never be. And, perhaps, I was crying for myself. For my former life had ended, and I faced a dark and uncanny future.
I rested my head against the pitch-black window.
* * * * *
At some point I must have fallen asleep, because I was startled awake by bright sunlight shining in my eyes. The captain announced we were crossing the Irish coast.
I looked outside.
A low-lying fog clung to the ocean like a translucent white film, and a gray, rocky crag stood in the midst of the water, guarding a mist-shrouded coastline.
I’d never been to Europe. It looked like a ghost-continent. Perhaps it was fitting that I, a ghost, was traveling there.
The captain announced it would be another forty-five minutes to Zürich.
“I gave you some extra muffins,” the flight attendant said, setting up my breakfast tray. I thanked him and devoured the food.
I examined the travel plans Mantell had scribbled on a yellow legal pad. Below them, she’d added, “The Lucerne Academy for Girls is one of the most exclusive schools in the world. So, behave in a manner befitting a Fairchild. And, last but not least, remember to have fun!”
I looked over the passport in my purse. I realized that shipping me off to Switzerland might have been my parents’ idea, and that the others might merely be following through with it. Mother had taken me to a photographer a month ago.
Six months ago she’d asked me where I’d go, if I could go anywhere I wanted in Europe. She’d popped this question out of the blue one evening, at dinner. I’d all but shouted “Switzerland!”—surprising even myself. The subject of travel was dropped and forgotten.
Father had made periodic business trips to Zürich—I’d overheard my parents discussing them. And, for years, I’d been haunted by recurring dreams and nightmares about Switzerland.
Was that why I blurted out ‘Switzerland’?
I turned to a blank sheet of the legal pad and wrote a poem:
palette is times and places,
As the plane began its final approach, I caught a glimpse of snowcapped mountains and a large body of water. Before long, we were on the ground.
As I walked down the jetway, feelings of unreality assaulted me—as though I’d fallen into a different realm of existence—as if the world were an unsteady movie on a screen less substantial than tissue paper. I staggered on. This strange feeling grew, becoming mind-numbing when I reached the terminal door.
I leaned against the wall, dazed and terrified. Visions assaulted my mind, blotting out my surroundings: Images of myself in front of a large room full of people watching me intently as I stood at a green chalkboard: talking; drawing odd diagrams with yellow chalk; and the letters, “ETH,” in all capitals.
I’m losing my mind! I silently screamed. I calmed down—eventually—recalling similar episodes I’d had over the years, although this was infinitely more vivid. Like the others, it passed.
I jotted “ETH” on a scrap of paper. I felt these letters were significant.
Then I spotted an elderly woman holding up a handwritten sign bearing my name, so I walked over and introduced myself.
“My name is Frieda and I’m the headmistress of the Lucerne Academy for Girls. It is so nice to meet you, my dear! I would like to offer my sincerest personal condolences on your terrible tragedy. We will become very good chums!” If she thought it odd I was shipped off to a foreign land the day after being orphaned, she betrayed no sign of it.
She spoke with a precise, clipped voice, with a trace of a German accent. She took me by the hand and led me to the baggage claim.
She continued, “Kurt and Johann will pick up your bags, but you must point them out to us. They told us you had a lot of baggage. You really won’t need much in the way of clothing at the Academy, as the girls all wear uniforms.”
Kurt and Johann were young men, probably in their twenties. Good looking, in a rugged way.
Frieda barked something in German and they waited by the baggage turntable. It turned out I had nine large suitcases and a garment bag. Kurt got a hand-truck and they hauled everything to a small dark-green bus waiting at the door.
It was emblazoned with the Academy’s name, which appeared to be in German: Lucerne was spelled ‘Luzern.’ Would the classes be in German? If so, I’d be lost. I was beyond caring. Besides, Mantell or someone else must have considered this point.
I was the only passenger. Frieda said the Academy officially opened two days later, and most of the new students would arrive then. So I’d have time to get settled before classes begun. That suited me fine.
“And we have found you the ideal roommate, too.”
“She is one year older than you and very fluent in English and German. She is a true cosmopolitan.”
* * * * *
Although the drive to Lucerne took more than an hour, I wasn’t conscious of time. I leaned my head against the window. Outside, a surreal world of soaring mountains and blue lakes sped past me. We careened down a two-lane road that wound a serpentine path along the water’s edge.
The constant turns made me nauseous. We passed odd houses with window-boxes of bright red flowers, and colorful paintings on their walls.
Finally, we rounded a bend and I caught my first glimpse of Lucerne. It was a beautiful city of low buildings on the edge of a lake. Everything in this country appeared to be on the edge of a lake.
We passed through the city into a valley beyond. The Academy was a complex of white stucco buildings with steeply sloped slate roofs, and a small church.
The bus went through an ornate cast iron gate and pulled up in front of one of the buildings. Frieda said something in German to Kurt and Johann, who opened the bus’ cargo bay and carried my bags into the building. Stiff from a long day of traveling, I staggered outside and strolled around the bus.
The Academy complex stood in a mountain’s shadow and it was almost twilight, but I could see the setting sun’s yellow glow reflected off the mountaintops.
As I walked, something became abundantly clear to me: I was not merely in a different country, I was in a different world. A world of overpowering silence.
Even the voices of Frieda and the others vanished in the vastness of this valley. The only sounds I heard were birds, the rippling of a mountain stream running past this building, and the throb of my own heartbeat.
The air was clear and cold, and carried an unmistakable scent of pine. The forest line came to within a hundred yards of the Academy complex, a phalanx of Christmas trees. Tiny trees carpeted the ground, new trees planting themselves.
I gazed up at the mountain peaks, transfixed. I no longer knew who or where I was, nor did I care. Unseen winds forced clouds over the mountains, shredding them like tissues into swirling eddies of mist tumbling down like a ghostly avalanche. Or the breath of God.
“Come along, Constance!” Frieda said, tapping me on the shoulder. “I will show you to your room and you can dress for dinner, Ja?”
I stumbled into the building as if my ability to walk were a newly acquired skill. The room was on the first floor and looked cozy. One of its white walls held a gilt-framed full-length mirror. It had two beds and two massive freestanding cabinets, a bathroom, and a window opposite the entrance. The cabinets looked like oak refrigerators overlaid with delicate carvings of deer, birds, and flowers.
The desk by the window was piled with books, what looked like one of those new Crystal music-players I’d heard of that transmit sound by nerve-induction, several music sticks, and a violin case. My suitcases sat beside one of the beds—I assumed it would be mine. The window faced away from the rest of the Academy, so all I saw from it was the mountain stream and forest.
“This is one of our finest rooms, my dear,” Frieda said. “Most of our dormitory rooms do not have their own toilette and shower.” She opened the door to the bathroom, as if to prove it was there.
“Where are the closets?”
“We use wardrobes,” Frieda said, pointing to the massive oak cabinets.
I nodded, bleary-eyed. For all their elegance, the wardrobes only heightened this place’s strangeness to me.
“I could not find your roommate,” she continued. “Perhaps she is in the library. You’ll meet her soon enough. Of course, once classes start I’ll know where all my girls are all the time.”
“Is it possible for me just to skip dinner? I’m very tired.” I was more than tired.
Frieda took a deep breath and thought for a moment. It was as if I’d made an extraordinary request, one that demanded profound soul-searching on her part.
“That is highly irregular. We normally maintain a very strict schedule. I suppose we could make an exception, just this once. The kitchen will prepare a dish of food for you and leave it on your writing table.”
I thanked her and she left. Truthfully, I’d have preferred they didn’t prepare a plate for me; I wanted to be left alone. Frieda’s remark about following a strict schedule disturbed me. It made the place sound like a prison.
I made a cursory check of my luggage, bag by bag. My God! Mantell hadn’t packed a single one of my books or notebooks! All nine suitcases and the garment bag held nothing but clothes! There were evening gowns, casual wear, sundresses, bathing suits, and a large assortment of coats—much of it clothing I’d never seen before. Had they bought me new clothes? I had no use for most of it.
Perhaps I could donate it to the poor. Did Zürich have poor people? Of course, every place had them. What use would they have for evening gowns, though?
Numb with exhaustion, I found a nightgown, changed, and fell into bed.
* * * * *
A distant moan reverberated, and another responded.
What’s that sound? I wondered. Alpenhorns?
“It’s about time, sleepyhead!” a melodious voice chimed.
A girl stood by the desk, inspecting a plate of food. She had blond hair in a long braid and electric blue eyes. She wore a forest-green school uniform with the Lucerne Academy’s name on it.
“Good morning,” I croaked. “Or good whatever-it-is. I’m Constance Fairchild.”
“Smashing! I’ll call you Stanzi then! My name is Monika von Sachsen-Coburg. I’ll be your roomie.” In spite of her German name, she spoke with a British accent.
“For Konstanze, of course! I don’t mean to be nosy, but I couldn’t help noticing you’ve got so many beautiful clothes here! And I even think we’re the same size! Could I borrow some? Just on special occasions, of course.”
“Sure.” I’d never shared clothing with anyone, and it sounded unsanitary, but I decided to be agreeable. I felt wretched. I had a splitting headache and missed my room in New York, and Nanny, and Marge.
“I hope this wasn’t your bed. I would’ve asked you, but the Headmistress couldn’t find you yesterday.”
“Well, I was on a drive with my dad. He’s leaving on a business trip and won’t be back until a week before Christmas. That’s one of the reasons I’m here, you know. Dad is a darling, but so very overprotective! He thinks fifteen is too young for me to be on my own. Can you believe that?”
“So, what brings you here?” she continued. “The academic program? It’s supposed to be first-class.”
Again, I was at a loss for words. I suppose I could’ve given her a nicely sanitized lie. For instance, that I came here because the place had an excellent reputation.
I blurted out that both of my parents died two days ago. As I began to add that the few relatives I had didn’t want me around, I broke down crying halfway through the sentence. Summoning every ounce of willpower, I tried to stop. It didn’t work. If anything, I cried harder, bawling like a little girl.
This upset Monika, who stammered something I couldn’t understand. She even had tears in her eyes, and exclaimed, “My God Stanzi! That’s about the saddest story I ever heard! My mother died of cancer two years ago. It was horrible! But to lose both parents at the same time. It’s . . . it’s unimaginable!” She hugged me, impulsively.
When I calmed down, I staggered into the bathroom and showered.
“You have a German name,” I said, as I came out and dressed. “Are you German?”
“Yes, although I’ve lived in London the past six years.”
“Does you father have business dealings in London?”
“I’d say! He was the German ambassador to the Court of St. James.”
“What’s he doing now?”
“He’s on a trip to Russia. Trade talks with the Russian president or some such rot.”
* * * * *
In the next week, Monika became the first real friend I ever had. Having a friend was a new experience for me. Why did she choose to be my friend? I wasn’t a particularly friendly or charming person. Was it out of pity?
After we turned out the lights at night, Monika would want to talk, sometimes for hours. A great deal of this conversation involved topics like hairstyles and clothes, or boys. Subjects alien to me.
I wasn’t sure how to respond when she expected me to say something. Small talk was never one of my strong points. Her good-natured cheerfulness rode over my silences, and she’d abruptly change the subject.
* * * * *
“What do you plan to do with your life?” Monika blurted out one night.
“My career adviser says, by now, we should have a good idea of what our future career will be.”
“I don’t know.” I replied. “Maybe a psychologist or philosopher.”
“Those aren’t very related!”
“I have my reasons for being interested in both fields,” I said.
“Dad would like me to go into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Follow in his footsteps, you know. He can probably pull some strings for me.”
“I’m sure it’s interesting work,” I said. “You’d travel all over the world.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” she sighed.
“What do you want to do?”
“I think I’d like to play the violin.” Then Monika got out of bed, pulled a violin from her wardrobe, and played a Paganini caprice.
When she finished, she said, “That’s what I play when I want to impress people.”
“It worked. I’m very impressed. So why don’t you become a violinist?”
“Dad says it’s very hard to get a job doing this.”
“He’s probably right,” I said. “But I think there are always jobs for people who are really good.”
“Do you play an instrument?” she asked.
“No. I wanted to take piano lessons, but Mother wouldn’t let me.”
“Why?” she asked, incredulous.
“She thought the sound of my practicing would bother her. We even had a Steinway concert grand piano, but it was pure furniture. She never even had it tuned.”
“What a ghastly waste!” Monika shouted, aghast.
“We had a party one evening, a fund raiser for the Julliard School of Music, Ignat Solzhenitsyn was there, and he sat down to play something. The piano was so bad he quit after five minutes.”
“God! That must’ve been positively mortifying!”
“Yes, I suppose Mother was embarrassed,” I said, remembering how for a whole week, Mother barked at anyone unlucky enough to cross her path. Father stayed away for two days—the demands of his job, you know. When Father returned, the matter was dropped, and, like so many others, never discussed again.
* * * * *
Monika helped me in my first weeks at the Academy, having done several other stints there over the years. Luckily, the language of instruction was English, although they had courses in German, French, and Russian. We were required to take at least one language.
I took German, since it was the language spoken in this part of Switzerland, I’d have to learn it if I ever wanted to wander outside the Academy grounds. On the advice of her father, Monika signed up for Russian.
The Academy had an interesting and liberal policy regarding the courses one could take. Students could take any courses they wanted as long as they eventually took certain advanced courses in each of the required fields.
Consequently, I signed up for Advanced Calculus. If I passed it, I wouldn’t have to take any other mathematics courses. Monika thought that cocky of me and said I’d regret it. I also signed up for Ancient History, English Literature, and Biology. I also had to take a Gym class. I’d always despised these; I was the clumsiest person I’d ever met.
The first day of classes, Ms. Rienzi, my Ancient History teacher, announced there would be a three-day field trip to Rome. A pleasant surprise! Monika signed up for instruction in the violin, and a music composition course. The teachers were an international group: Ms. Rienzi was Swiss, from the Italian speaking part of Switzerland; Mr. Hoffman, the English teacher, was American; Ms. Lovejoy, the Biology teacher, was British; and Mr. Bentner, the German teacher, was German.
My initial misgivings about Frieda turned out to be justified: the place was, indeed, like a prison. Even calling her ‘Frieda’ was verboten most of the time—it was one of those insincere pleasantries she used in front of parents or when greeting new students. On all other occasions, we were to call her ‘Headmistress.’
Every meal, every class, was planned in excruciating detail. Breakfast began at 7:00 A.M.—and consisted of hard rolls and an egg in a tiny eggcup. The day’s first class was at 9:00 A.M. and classes ran until noon, when there was an hour lunch in the main dining room. After lunch, there was a study period until two, and then classes resumed until five. We were free until 7:30 when dinner was served. Lights had to be out by nine. The teachers always took attendance and unexplained absences could result in expulsion.
The dining hall was easily the most ornate room at the Academy. Darkly stained wood paneling covered the walls and ceiling, with carved spires reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral. Perhaps it had been a church once.
Meals were a religious ceremony, with Frieda as the High Priestess. They began with a prayer and an announcement, which she delivered from a pulpit-like structure suspended 10 feet above the floor. From this perch, she scrutinized us as we stood in front of our place-settings with heads bowed as if her hawk-like gaze could penetrate our skulls and spot the earliest signs of moral decay.
These rituals struck me as surreal, but the European students might have felt differently. I wasn’t used to dining with anyone except Nanny and Mother, and, occasionally, Father. Dinner for him had usually consisted of several martinis.
* * * * *
After settling into the routine at the Academy, I decided to continue what I’d always called my ‘research.’ I got notebooks and kept a diary of my dreams.
I told myself life would be the same as in New York City. That, of course, was a lie. In truth, I felt like a chess piece brought to life, ripped from my eight-by-eight square world and flung into life’s labyrinth, with its thousand opposite intensities.
I wrote a poem:
In sleep, we shed our garish masks,
Forsaking Day’s unfinished tasks.
My interest in dreams amazed Monika, who said I was the only person she ever met who recorded them. She frequently asked me to interpret hers.
Whenever I got depressed, I took long walks in the forest or the fields surrounding the Academy. It was possible to forget oneself in those fields. One was alone there, a singular soul confronting the universe’s boundless vitality.
Sometimes I saw farmers in the distance repairing a fence or digging a hole. I’d wave to them, and they’d wave back. Sometimes I saw mountain goats in the distance, clinging to the crags, or scaling hillsides, or deer grazing on sequestered Alpine meadows.
Monika showed me a place where I could see the city of Lucerne spread out beneath my feet, perfectly framed by the mountain and lake. One dreary afternoon, I wandered over in a rain slicker and stood there composing another poem in my head.
The gray mountain sentinels keep silent watch
Over the electric jewel box city below
effervescent will waits
Mr. Hoffman, my English teacher, liked it. English was one of my favorite classes. I also loved Ancient History. When I’d read Spengler’s Decline of the West in New York, I hadn’t understood many of the references it contained—I’d lacked the necessary background. Now, I could ask Ms. Rienzi. Ironically, I didn’t have a copy of that book any longer—Mantell had seen to that.
Monika expected to have trouble with several of her subjects, including mathematics. She was intelligent, but had trouble focusing. The only area of her life that she took seriously was playing the violin. I promised to tutor her in philosophy and mathematics, if she’d teach me German.
* * * * *
One day, Monika and I were studying during lunch period. I had an exam in my Advanced Calculus class the next morning. Naturally, this class assumed one already had the first semester of calculus. I found the text for that course and read it.
“I can’t believe you understand that stuff!” Monika said, watching me. “You must’ve had it in New York.”
“No. This place has much higher standards than the Falmouth School. We were just doing algebra there.”
“You just can’t learn calculus in one sitting! I don’t believe it!”
“Seeing is believing.”
I did a few exercises and got them right, checking them against the answers in the back of the book. Then I skimmed the rest of the book. It all looked familiar to me now, and I knew I understood it. When I reached the end, I slammed it shut and said, “So much for that!”
“That’s it?” she asked, still skeptical.
“I think so.”
“What’s your secret? Do you have some wickedly clever studying technique? If you do, I wish you’d tell me.”
I hesitated: Could I trust Monika? I didn’t know, but took a chance. She was my only friend. I’d certainly come a long way from wincing at the thought of a roommate.
Slowly and deliberately, I said, “This is going to sound very strange, but I think I lived another life once, as a mathematician.”
“Another life? You mean reincarnation?”
“Yes,” I said.
“What makes you think that?” she asked, squinting at me. “Is there something besides being good at math?”
“Every once in a while, I have vivid flashes of mental impressions or images,” I said. “Or feelings of déjà-vu. They aren’t quite memories, yet they feel like actual events that happened to me. I don’t know how else to describe them.”
“My God, Stanzi—I never suspected you believed in things like that,” she exclaimed, shaking her head. “This is just so mystical! Do you think I could have lived before?”
“The Hindus and the Buddhists believe everyone does,” I replied matter-of-factly.
“Okay—I never told this to anyone here before, but listen,” Monika softly said. “I went to the British Museum with my dad last year. We saw a bust of Nefertiti from ancient Egypt, and her profile is exactly like mine! Her face is even like mine! What are the chances of that happening by . . . by sheer chance?” She raised her head and turned so I could see her profile.
“I don’t know.”
“Not bloody likely, if you ask me! Even dad agreed with me, and he doesn’t believe in this stuff at all.”
Her enthusiasm was irresistible, and I could easily picture her father being incapable of saying no to his daughter. On the other hand, were my reasons for believing in reincarnation any better than hers? Not really. Maybe teenaged girls were predisposed to such beliefs.
“Well, it’s certainly possible.”
She beamed at me.
I told Monika about my experience at the airport, with the letters “ETH.” At first she suggested they stood for ‘eth,’ a letter of the Icelandic alphabet.
“Maybe you were a Viking princess!”
“No. I’m sure they’re three capital letters, like an acronym. I wish I knew how to check it out.”
Monika suggested something I should have thought of: Go to the library and look up “ETH” in the Zürich telephone directory! If it’s a place in Zürich, there might be a listing for it. Apparently, I have a gift for failing to see the obvious. We did that and, sure enough, there was an entry for “ETH.” It said to look at the entry for “Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule.”
When Monika pronounced these German words correctly, a chill went down my spine. They sounded familiar.
“Let’s call the place up and find out what they do!” I said.
“This is smashing!” she exclaimed. “Let me do it, please! My German is better than yours.”
I had to agree.
Monika dialed the number, said something in German, and covered the receiver with her hand, whispering, “I’ve got a receptionist or something.”
I only understood brief snatches of what she said. It sounded as if she were telling them an elaborate story about having to do a report for school on Switzerland’s institutions of higher learning. She was a surprisingly accomplished liar!
The people at the ETH patiently answered all Monika’s questions. It turned out the ETH was a university specializing in Architecture, Engineering, Mathematics, and Science. It also hosted visiting professors from all over the world, who would stay for weeks or months to do their research. They frequently had conferences there, too. The receptionist agreed to send us a brochure on the place and a list of upcoming conferences.
“This is like a detective film,” Monika exclaimed “It’s better—we’re solving mysteries from beyond the grave! Let’s go to the ETH and look around. Maybe you’ll remember something more.”
“It’s more than an hour away by car,” I groaned. “How do we get there?”
“Leave that to me! When we get there, I hope we can get in. They might have heavy security.”
“I don’t think so. It’s a university,” I had a strong feeling, almost a memory, that the place was very casual. “I bet we can just walk in the front door and pretend we belong there.”
“Suppose someone stops us,” Monika said.
“They won’t! We look harmless. That’s one of the advantages of being teenage girls.”
“Right!” Monika agreed, “and if they do, we’ll just say our parents are at a conference there.”
The thought of going to the university and trying to find something that I was certain would be familiar was making my heart pound. I was becoming anxious, and quite excited. Monika still had to make good on her promise to provide transportation, but I had a feeling that her resourcefulness would not let us down. The bell for the first afternoon class rang and we parted company.
* * * * *
After the Ancient History class, Ms. Rienzi pulled me aside and said I was wanted in the headmistress’s office. The headmistress told me my family was sending me $1000 per month for incidental expenses. She had opened an account for me at the Schweizer Landsbank’s Lucerne branch. It would take a week for each check from America to clear, but after that, I could write checks on the account, in Swiss francs or euros. This was an astronomical sum, since I didn’t have any expenses, except for notebooks and, for the first time in my life, tampons.
Review by: Mary Simmons, Book Pleasures
Review by: Eva M. Thury, coauthor of Introduction to Mythology: Contemporary Approaches to Classical and World Myths (Oxford University Press), Assoc. Professor of English, Drexel University
Review by: Araminta Matthews, Front Street Reviews
Review by: Barbara McDuffie, Breeni Books
Review by: Daniel Eskridge, Galactium
Review by: Mistar Fish, Mistarfish.blogspot.com
Review by: Sam Leonardi, Sammygadgetreviewblog.wordpress.com
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