Monday, January 20, 2014

Oenone by Agatha Rae: Spotlight and Excerpt

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Evelyn Dax is in love with her new boss, Jeff Richards. She does not want to reveal her feelings because of their professional relationship, however when Jeff asks her to accompany him during a business trip, the two spend a passionate night together. Although attracted to Evy, Jeff decides to limit their relationship to business-related issues only, as he is afraid of any commitment. Soon after coming back to the office in Boston, Jeff faces a sabotage plot against him triggered by one of the board members of the company they both work for. He is given a difficult task to accomplish and if he fails, he will lose his job.

Laura Levinson, Evy’s best friend, learns she suffers from breast cancer and, with the support of her loving husband Bruce, she undergoes traumatic chemotherapy. While weakened and discouraged by the lack of progress with her treatment, she meets Alyssa, a healer, who miraculously helps her recover completely from her illness. Encouraged by Alyssa’s magic, Evelyn decides to seek her help regarding Jeff’s lack of attention. Soon the healer’s intervention is visible; Evy spends a passionate night with what appears to be an imagined entity introducing itself as Jeff. At the same time, the real Jeff’s feelings towards Evelyn begin to change drastically and the more often the intimate distractions, first pleasant, later on disturbing, happen to Evy, the more Jeff resents her.

Shortly after Laura’s recovery, Bruce is diagnosed with lung cancer. All of these strange events cause Evy to begin wondering who Alyssa really is...


Seven weeks had passed. Evy and Jeff were working very hard on his projects. Evy’s previous authors were given to the less experienced editors and she had edited four new authors for Jeff. She was swamped, but her mind was filled with work which was allowing her to have her thoughts occupied by something other than Laura’s treatment. Jeff was organizing the new academic publishing house, which he called OMNIBUS. All the paper work had already been done, he was waiting for few more confirmations and signatures, but it was only a matter of time before OMNIBUS would start functioning as WORDS’ official branch. He had hired two new editors, was in the middle of renegotiating new contracts with printing houses and was working on an advertising campaign.

Being entirely focused on the company’s issues, neither Jeff nor Evy had the time or will to discuss any non-professional topics. They had been eating lunches together, but during those moments she was mostly telling him about the authors she had been editing, and he was usually updating her on OMNIBUS stuff. They felt they had become a team and they both enjoyed it, but they were entirely focused on work and career. For Jeff it was all about surviving in WORDS, and for Evy it was the pleasant experience of creating something and it felt good that Jeff was consulting most of his decisions with her.

In the meantime Laura had undergone three chemotherapies. She was completely bald and most of the time she felt as if she was having a flu. Substantial problems with regulating her body’s temperature had appeared; she was either too cold or too hot. At night she either put an extra blanket on her quilt, or slept only in her underwear. She had an almost constant runny nose and by this point even her eyelashes had fallen off. Laura wore a wig whenever she was outside and at home she wore handkerchiefs on her head. Bruce kept telling her he didn’t mind her being bald, but Laura felt much more comfortable when she had her head covered. She stopped using perfumes as its scent would make her nauseous and used only cosmetics for babies now.

The smell of fumes drove her insane and she felt like vomiting every time she smelled them, so Laura stopped driving. She was very reluctant into going anywhere by car unless Bruce would promise to turn the A/C off and close all the windows so that no smells from the outside would appear in the car.

Because of her stomach being so touchy, Bruce stopped cooking and was trying to eat out as to not irritate her. The numbness in her fingers would come back from time to time and then she needed his help in doing such basic things as drinking from a mug or a bottle. She felt pretty bad about all this because her sickness did not revolve around her only, but interrupted his life as well; there, however, was nothing else they could do and he never complained.

Evy was now visiting her much less often since she was very busy with Jeff’s projects, although she would always come to Laura whenever she was back from the clinic and they had a regular phone contact. Laura was always waiting for those visits and calls because she was finding everything that was going on at work very curious and all the stories from there were truly entertaining.

Laura felt like a total mess. She underwent tests that showed the treatment hadn’t infected her tumor too much yet. Tessa kept telling her she was at the very beginning of the road to recovery, but Laura was miserable. She felt useless due to her inability to work. She wasn’t even able to work from home yet. She wasn’t able to recognize herself in the mirror and it was becoming unbearable to feel nauseous almost every time she smelled or tasted something. Laura was unable to imagine going through all this for next months and she felt that either something would finally help her really fast, or she would lose her spirit and determination, discouraged by the lack of results and control over her own body.

During one of the stays in the clinic she came across a brochure about natural methods of treatment. She never believed in such things like the healing power of herbs. Of course mint tea could calm a stormy stomach but, let’s not kid ourselves; a brewed combination of different kinds of grass could not cure cancer. She glanced at the leaflet, but never gave it a second thought until her third session at FEMINA. That was the first moment when she felt truly irritated and tired of her condition. Laura took one brochure from the table in the waiting room and when she felt a bit better after the chemo session, she took it out of a drawer near her bed and looked carefully through it.

It was about a woman named Alyssa. She described herself as a fortune-teller, an herbalist, a Shaman and a source of comfort, support and positive energy for everyone who needed it. It sounded tacky and the whole design of the brochure was corny with some ancient Greek symbols, but somehow, Laura was unable to explain it, the content of it felt oddly soothing. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” she sighed and shook her head with disbelief. About three months ago, which felt like eternity ago, Laura would never believe that she would take such things seriously, that she would even consider searching for this kind of help. She was about to tear the brochure and throw it into the garbage can when she looked at her IV stand. Was this the way she wanted her life to look like for the next months? And who says she would defeat the cancer anyway? Perhaps that was the scenario of the rest of her life? However long it would be anyway. She was lying weak in bed, feeling pain all over her body, hairless, cold, and scared. Perhaps a month ago she would simply ignore the brochure, but the Laura who was diagnosed and the Laura who was there in the clinic were entirely different people. The new Laura decided not to throw away the brochure, but instead, she put it inside her handbag which she kept on a chair next to her bed. Who knows, it might become handy one day. After all, a little bit of hope and herbal tea wouldn’t hurt anyone, right? And besides, this was the only brochure that was distributed in the clinic, maybe it meant the doctors did not see Alyssa’s work as charlatanism, maybe she was indeed helping their patients? Perhaps the hospital approved her work?

One day when Bruce was out, she made herself some chamomile tea, took out Alyssa’s brochure and sat by the computer. She hesitated for a minute and Googled “Alyssa Sadler, Shaman”. She clicked search and, in a blink of an eye, she saw dozens of pages related to Alyssa. The woman seemed quite popular, there were many forums where people posted about her, and there was also her official webpage. First, Laura decided to check the boards, because, obviously, Alyssa’s website wouldn’t say anything negative about her. She was shocked. Everyone praised the woman. It seemed that Alyssa had helped many people. There were patients cured of cancers of all kinds, Parkinson diseases, Alzheimer, Tourette syndrome, cerebral palsy, disabilities, and migraines. There was a user named Oliver_73 who swore that Alyssa’s single touch released him from the horror of headaches which he had been experiencing two—three times a week and which had turned his life into hell. Kinky_Sense_of_Humor was assuring everyone that drinking Alyssa’s teas and her therapy cured him of alcoholism, that he had never drank a single drop of liquor since he met her eight years ago. Among many other people there seemed to have been people of all different ages and problems. One lady claimed she was 76 and she had had an advanced Alzheimer and, again, Alyssa’s touch cured her. Laura looked through about seventeen different websites, read more or less 70 pages of posts overall and was really confused. Of course, one could say placebo, perhaps hypnosis, could help, sure. But so many people? Could it be possible that all of them were lying for some kind of profit just to help Alyssa gain patients? Laura was fighting with her in-born skepticism. She found it extremely hard to believe all those people, but the part of her that desperately wanted her life to be normal again, the part that hated herself whenever she looked into the mirror, that part pushed her to enter Alyssa’s website.

Laura clicked on the link and it was pure magic. The website was glamorous. Emerald background, delicate, chill-out music, it was all soothing and relaxing. The green color brought an immediate association with peace and calm. Alyssa’s picture was nowhere to be found; there was however an ‘about me’ bookmark, which Laura, clicked. The note was very pared-down.


It all sounded fabulous, but Laura couldn’t tell if she was convinced or not. It all sounded too good to be true. She had always been a skeptical person, she had never been religious and her illness had not made her change those views. So far at least. Alyssa’s website seemed very tempting, but Laura felt deep down that the sensible part of her soul had not been convinced. She added the website to her favorites and went to the kitchen to prepare herself another portion of tea.

Laura passed a big mirror in the hallway, the one she used to use to see if the shoes fit the dress and the one in front of which Bruce and she had made love many times, turned back and looked at herself carefully. She gently took the scarf off from her head and for the first time faced herself in day light. It was high time to confront the reality. She put the mug on the floor and undressed. She looked really bad; pale, skinny, hairless, with grey shadows around her eyes. No eye brows caused the lack of any facial expressiveness. The lower part of her body, with no pubic hair and such thin legs that the outline of her knees was visible, looked as if it belonged to a little girl rather than a grown-up woman. The upper part, on the other hand, seemed to have belonged to an elderly person with sunken stomach and breasts and colorless skin. She turned around and saw her shoulder blades and spine horrifyingly outlined on her back. Disgusting.  In complete silence, Laura dressed up again, went to the kitchen and put the kettle on. When her tea was ready, she came back to the study, this time avoiding the slightest glance at the mirror, and clicked on Alyssa’s website. She searched for the contact information and found the phone number. Laura took her cell phone and hesitated for a minute. What was she doing? Some months ago she would knock herself on the head at the very thought of seeking supernatural help to solve her problems. Right now she saw nothing crazy about it. After all, it could not get any worse, right?

She dialed the number on the website and a woman answered.

“Good morning, Laura, it’s Alyssa Sadler speaking, how can I help you?”

Laura was totally surprised she actually got through so quickly and, apparently, it was the Alyssa speaking to her, not some assistant, or a secretary. And how, for the love of God, did that woman know who was calling?!

“Um, yes, hello. My name is Laura Levinson, I am calling—”

“You need help, I can tell.”

Laura was totally taken aback.

“Well, yes, I mean I wouldn’t be calling if I didn’t.” She smiled nervously.

“Of course, how can I help you, Laura?”

“I found your brochure at the FEMINA clinic and I’ve looked through your website.”

“I’m glad you’ve reached me.”

“Me, too,” she answered and she meant it. It was very awkward, very surprising; but somehow, she felt that Alyssa was a very good and helpful person. Laura had no idea how she was able to feel it after a few seconds of the telephone conversation, but deep down, something inside her was thrilled that she was talking to Alyssa. Her voice seemed calm and very soothing and all of Laura’s doubts had vanished. She actually felt agog at meeting her.

“I was wondering if perhaps you have a moment to see me and, hopefully, help me.”

“Of course, I have time for everyone who is in trouble.”

When making the appointment, Laura made sure to check Bruce’s schedule to know when he would be away from home. She did not want to tell him about her idea; it still seemed pretty dumb for her. She decided not to let him know about it until she knew whether it helped or not.  Looking at his planner, she realized he had a dentist appointment the following day. It turned out Alyssa was available at the same time and they had arranged a meeting at 4:00 p.m. When Laura hung up, she was beaming. Deep down she knew it was irrational to put her trust into someone who claimed she could heal people’s spirits, but for the first time since the diagnosis, she felt as if life was returning to her veins. She was thrilled.

Meet the Author

Agatha Rae is living in Gdynia, Poland. She has published several books, including a book for ESL teachers "Teaching English Through Culture, Teaching Culture Through English", a collection of essays analyzing popular culture "Popkultura - pop czy kultura?" and her debut novel "Oenone". Agatha's articles have been published both in English and Polish in numerous Polish magazines, for example: Forum for World Literature Studies, The Teacher, Top Guitar, Kino and Perkusista. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Gdansk.

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