VCO: Chapter 23

"VCO" image

Chapter 23

I kept my walking pace at brisk. Everhet, dope sick, keeps saying he has to piss. Which evolved into needing to take a shit after several refusals.

“Can’t we just stop and chew a little gum?” Everhet says, “I’ll share.”

I ignored him until the next phase—when he became silent, walking with an expressionless face, almost tired.
The sun is nearly set. I open one of the eight doors of the Main Hall, and once Everhet heaved his own body weight inside I pointed to the nearest bathroom.

Delirious from withdrawal, Everhet tripped over himself crossing the bathroom door’s threshold slapping the lights above the mirrors on. Warm and clean nuclear energy powered the Arto’s East and West Estates.

“Take your time.” I shouted sincerely at the closed bathroom door after hearing it lock. 

It was like dropping a baby off at the highest rated daycare in the city. Those thoughts of being a father come back like I’m recalling a memory.

I walk down the dark hallway carpet then transition to the cold marble foyer toward the kitchen to get some water. 

And near the rear exit Morgen and Joselyn are standing with their arms folded. 

Above their heads, the ugly red EXIT sign with the breaker bar door beneath it. 

“Look who decided to show?” Morgen says in a way that makes me feel like she and Joselyn might have bonded over something. Probably some kind of inside joke about me. But if that’s what it takes to heal their relationship, so be it.

Disregarding her I say to Joselyn, “Are you okay?” 

Morgen gasps. Then we’re all three looking down at my hand grabbing Josleyn’s forearm. And I realized I’ve just taken a massive risk.

I recoil calmly but promptly and tell her how we went to the cabin but it had disappeared with hardly any material trace.

“Remember when I told you about the Virgin’s Cabin?” Joselyn says. 

This is something she does now. Interrogative verbal abstractions. As if the answers to all my inquiries were compacted on the stone wall of my mind like ice freed suddenly by dynamite. One quick rhetorical question and answers begin avalanching.

Some nights when I lay down to sleep a low-res filter projects onto the backs of my eyelids. I can see fuzzy fragments of scenes of the things we have done. 

There were many initiations to pass through. So the draught of forgetfulness was never fully out of my system.

I was suddenly reminded, less than a week ago I came across her cabin in a book called Ascetic Pilgrimages of the World by Giorgio Vasari. And while flipping through its pages found a picture of a cabin sitting on the edge of a cliff in a warm place, enough grass to be Italy, but not so much that it’s Germany. Somewhere around there. 

The cabin in the picture felt like it was speaking to me. So naturally I told Joselyn.

I was like, “Hey Joselyn I think this picture in this book is speaking to me.”

And Joselyn says, “Well that would make sense. You’re in that cabin right now.”

“But this book says it’s in Italy.” Then I say, “And they look nothing alike.”

“How it looks means nothing.” Joselyn says and kisses me on the forehead. 

Then says, “That one you’re looking at is just a replica. This is what the cabin looks like when it’s got no make up on.” She splits her index and middle fingers on the open page to draw my attention to the two identical triangles over the entrances of the cabin in the photograph.

Silently I mouthed Van Gogh’s Vase.

According to the accompanying text, the Santa Casa De Loreto is a small cabin considered to be the location where Gabriel met Virgin Mary in the middle of the night. Originally from Nazareth it is believed to have miraculously traveled to Loreto, Italy at the end of the 13th century with the aid of angels. 

Pilgrimage to the location is frequent to this day. 

“Everyone who goes in believes they are in the presence of the real thing.” Joselyn says, “If it was the real one or the replica, it wouldn’t matter.”

Which reminded me of videos uploaded to PPL. Took months to find original publishers of the content if we found them at all. A few written complaints have been mailed to my downtown office about leaked videos that compromise the safety of some of the users involved if certain people saw it. And we can’t guarantee something is fully scrubbed if its origin is obscured.

But this cabin of the Blessed Virgin is not the humble shack we currently stood in. There was no way. The outside of Joselyn’s cabin is dried panels of old grey and green wood. This one in Italy has life-size bronze statues by Girolamo Lombardo and Raffaele Sinibaldi. Superb mosaic work on the interior by Guido Reni and Domenico Sampieri.

The cabin did travel. But not by angels. It was Joselyn. 

While forced into the company of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem by King Henry of Cypress his caravan passed many infamous holy sites. Under the guard of the soldiers assigned to her, Joselyn visited the unassuming shack.

“Henry was nice. I didn’t mind him.” Joselyn told me, “In that time things were tumultuous. We were passed from monarch to monarch.”

The Malmuks made their ascension on Acre and this was Joselyn’s chance. She by whatever force drew the powers of the cabin to her and took refuge.

“And I never left.” She says, “I flew away and landed here. And I met Hans. The one people are seeing is just the marquetry.”

She pronounced it, “mar-ket-ter-ree”. With a French inflection.

King Henry of Cypress set the creation of an impressively bedecked basilica to surround the shack, but by that time Joselyn has already fled with its real core structure. For the next two-hundred years more frescoes and altars and decorations were added in hopes of creating an international landmark, and this goal of making the most popular religious-based tourist attraction, that they didn’t even notice its true spiritual interior had been evacuated.

“The Holy House is a ritual room.” Joselyn says, “You think all Gabriel and Mary did was talk?”

Thunder crash. 

Bright light zap.

Avalanche over. 

And I’m back in the East Estate kitchen with Morgen and Joselyn. 

I massage my palm and say, “We were there when we were supposed to and you weren’t.”

Morgen blows out through pursed lips just bordering on a whistle. Flicks her eyes to Joselyn, who looks back at Morgen, and I realize I just accused them of something, but I don’t know what.

“What?” I say toggling my eyes between them, “What?”

“That cabin is attached to me.” Joselyn squats slowly and places her palm on the stone tile floor. “A divine being and a human bridged the yawning gulf, and now her spirit is infused in every board. That’s why the temperature is always perfect.” Still looking down meditatively as if she were trying to connect with a signal. Seemingly dissatisfied, as if comparing this cold, sterile kitchen to hers in the cabin. 

Joselyn rose from the floor. She straightens her posture and her eyes snap open like a rubber band popping your neck, “If you were unable to approach the cabin it means one or both of you is unworthy.”

I instantly registered the familiar palette of passive-aggressiveness my own speech was founded on. And I know something of what she’s saying must be untrue. She hid it somehow.

“You want me to tell him he’s unworthy? How do you expect me to tell him that?” I ask.

Joselyn shrugs.

She says, “He’s your friend.”

I say. “We can just meet somewhere else. We have the downtown office.”

“That’s impossible.” Joselyn says. And the reason is still unclear to me.

“We can’t bend everything for your friend.” Morgen chimes in, clearly brown-nosing, and not in the cool way.

“He’s the reason PPL even exists.” I say with the most genuine skepticism I could produce.

Both Morgen and Joselyn raise their eyebrows and pull their chins in.

“Is he now?” Joselyn says. She points to herself and says, “Are you forgetting something?”

Morgen looks at Joselyn. She says, “Are you forgetting something?”

Joselyn’s eyebrows, arms, and shoulders dropped as she somehow stood up just a few more hidden inches. As if she was absorbing the chaos in the room into her body, and now utterly dominated. 

“I have to go.” Joselyn says, “This house has a weak soul. It’s cold, and there is too much space between the floor and the ground.” Joselyn once explained that standing on the ground barefoot, through the mycelium, I could connect to another human being anywhere else on the planet who was also barefoot standing on the ground. And those houses built on supports with too tall of a crawl space sever my connection to others while I’m in the house. She claims this one of the leading factors of why a quarter of the population of the United States have sleeping disorders.

Joselyn was facing the exit door of the kitchen, without turning to look she tells Morgen, “Have Butler convert the drawing room into a board room and we’ll have our meetings there from now on instead. Then we don’t have to worry about this problem.”

He’s not a problem.

“Hello.” Everhet says now standing in the doorway of the kitchen. Less fidgety and glossy-eyed behind his stainless-steel glasses. Looking well, like the cool natural self I remember from the first time I saw him.

Joselyn’s eyes flick back and down but she does not turn her head to look at Everhet. Then she walks out leaving him unacknowledged in a way that was purposeful. 

I keep my gaze down as she exits. 

She says nothing to comfort me. 

The door crashes closed behind her and all of the approval I had accrued toppled like ocean waves dissolving sandcastles.

“That’s Joselyn?” Everhet asks in the same way you ask “That’s all? Was that it?”

I pivot on my heel and grab his shirt on the waist seam. And I whisper-bark, “Shut. Up. Everhet. Shut the fuck up. Please.” 

His body remains planted but he pulls his head back to gain a better vantage point on my eyes. 

“Dude.” Everhet says. Pushing on my gripping fist, “Stop.”

“I’m serious” I say leaning closer to his ear, “Don’t put me in a position where I can’t help you.”


James Jacob Hatfield is a displaced engineer, a painter, and many other contradictions. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Barely South Review, Chaleur Magazine, Havik, and others. His ekphrasis poem “torrents of lahar, No. 36” was anthologized by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He is a Sterling Fellow and a Weymouth Fellow. He is the creator and curator of the Gemini Sessions Substack. He lives in Durham, NC.

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