Posted by <Toniann Fernandez> on 2022-02-15
WAH OOH WAH OOH WAH OOH OOH OOH WAH
Gina is a swaying speck on the steps of the mansion as I drive the long private road to Pacha-Mahwah Ranch. Her head and hand glide past each other, opposing pendulums moving against some invisible liquid that engulfs her as she waves. I get close enough to see that a strained smile stretches purple white skin across her skull. Black eyes bulge from the pressure of her expression and her ponytail. Silk bell sleeves spill out from the cuffs of the fringed leather jacket that trails behind her waving forearm. A translucent crescent moon is frozen in the icy gray sky.
From the car, the mansion and the snow covered grounds look more or less the same as the photos from the Instagram ad. Pacha-Mahwah Ranch was advertised to me after I googled, “Does your body force you to breathe if you try to keep your face in a bowl of water,” “Lethal dose of Advil,” and, “Acupuncture covered by medicaid” on the same day. The advertisement worked.
I park the car and walk toward the mansion past a stone fountain of a spitting cherub. An icicle drips from the cherub’s mouth forming a crystalline beard. When I meet Gina on the steps, she hugs me hello. She smells floral and peppery.
“It’s tulsi,” Gina says as she opens the mansion’s thick oak doors just enough to slip inside. “It counters metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and it has anxiolytic and antidepressant properties.” She waves me over to a reception desk in the foyer of the house.
A man with a gold “Tommy” name tag stands behind a desk in the front room. He stares just above my head.
“Hello Tommy,” I say.
Tommy does not say anything.
“Tommy is practicing silence,” Gina says. “He usually works in the barn.”
She shifts a loving gaze to Tommy, “But he’s doing us a huge favor filling in at the front desk today. Thank you Tommy!”
A sign behind the desk advertises “Pacha-Mahwah Wares” for sale. A wood and glass display case offers necklaces of pearlescent stone wrapped in metal wire that hang from strips of leather. Cotton tunics on a garment rack are arranged in a gradient from butter to maroon, and leather sandals in shades of red are stacked in crates beneath them. Atop the desk, clusters of mason jars labeled “Pacha-Mahwah Wax” hold creamy purple scented candles, and copper wine racks that coil into springy grapes are filled with red, pink, orange, and white wine. “Pacha-Mahwah Water” is embossed in gold script on each bottle’s textured ivory label. Below the script, “Biodynamic, NV” is written in beige.
“Biodynamic means the vineyard is a… holistic project,” Gina says, “and NV stands for non-vintage which means we use harvests from many years to produce the wine rather than one specific crop.”
Gina directs me to A QR code taped to the back of a tablet that stands on the desk facing Tommy. She tells me to scan it with my phone. I scan it. The code takes me to the Pacha-Mahwah Ranch App. Gina instructs me to download the App, so I do. When I open the App, I am prompted to create a login. Once I have done that, I must enter my credit card information. I take my card out of my wallet and enter the numbers. Then, I am asked how much Giovicoin I would like to purchase.
“The entrance fee is 6000 Giovicoin,” Gina tells me, “but you really should buy 7000 so that you have some to keep. It will appreciate…” she turns her back to Tommy and drops her voice to a whisper, “So in a way, you actually get paid to be here! But shhh…” She giggles and brings a finger to her lips, warning me not to share our secret. Her cuticle is bleeding and there is a dark brown crescent beneath her jagged fingernail. I buy 7000 Giovicoin.
We walk from the front desk past a dark wood staircase. The faint strumming of an acoustic guitar rings down from the second floor.
“Elmo lives upstairs,” Gina tells me, looking upward before leading me into a large room at the back of the house. “And this is the restaurant. It is open to the public on weekends, but the rest of the time, it’s just for us,” she says with a proud smile. Wrought iron sconces of beige and black marbleized glass line the restaurant’s taupe sponged walls. A matching chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Grayscale prints of the Eiffel Tower and a glass of wine looking over a balcony hang amidst driftwood signs that read “Simplify” and “Stay Awhile.” In front of us a few small tables set for two are heavily adorned with scented candles and dried hydrangeas tied with bows made of hay. We walk across the room to a long mahogany table. It sits in front of a grand window with a sprawling view of the frozen hills of black vines. They contort like skeletons slumped in the snow.
I follow Gina toward a glass paned door to the grounds. A wreath made of twisted wicker and plastic grape clusters hangs from its window so that each green and purple orb is illuminated by afternoon light. Gina pauses in front of it.
“I made this wreath as an homage to my favorite book,” she tells me. “I call it the Grapes of Wreath.”
“I love it,” I tell her.
“Me too,” she says, looking at me, then at the wreath with sincerity. She opens the door. Outside, there are a few small yurts, a barn, and a carriage house where she tells me I can drop my bags.
On our way to the carriage house, Gina stops, gasps, appears to be on the verge of tears, then screams, “THANK YOU PACHAMAMAAAA!!!!” She twirls in circles and reaches her face toward the sky, then laughs maniacally until she is out of breath. She beams at me with a look of awe that suggests that we’ve both just witnessed a miracle.
“Who is Pachamama?” I ask.
For a moment she looks concerned, but her face softens before she gestures above, then out in front of us, and says, “Earth Mother.”
She closes her eyes and takes three deep breaths before continuing ahead.
We arrive at the carriage house, and Gina opens the door to a long dark hallway with rooms on both sides. “This is where we stay,” she tells me. The darkness is broken by fuzzy light that hovers near each open door. A woman of avian stature in a white tunic drifts out of a nearby room and starts toward us. Her brittle tawny hair just barely covers her head. Her skin shimmers and she smells like self tanner. Her name tag reads “Gina.”
“This is Gina,” Gina tells me.
I hesitate, shifting my gaze from Gina to Gina, then at Gina again. “Hello Gina.”
“Gina is also practicing silence,” Gina whispers. They bow to each other, then continue down the hallway in opposite directions.
I must look uncomfortable, because Gina takes my shoulders in her hands, looks into my eyes and says “Your discomfort is your own. Only love for yourself can allow you to embrace the abundance that surrounds you. Once you love, you can accept, and once you accept, you can ascend.” She wraps her arms around her waist, and looking at me, slowly shaking her head yes, inhales deeply, then exhales a long, slow, “thaaaaannkkkk youuuuuu.” She continues to hold herself, nodding and giving thanks until I take my own waist in my arms.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Gorgeous,” Gina replies.
“This is your room,” Gina whispers, opening the door to a small bedroom. The decor is monastic in contrast to the main house: white walls, dark wood floors, a twin bed and a small desk. The dim early evening light reflects off of the snow and spills through a window above the bed, bathing the room in a neutral glow.
“Dinner is in twenty minutes back at the restaurant. See you there, Gina!” she says, then closes the door.
There is a legal pad and pencil on the desk next to a small glass vial filled with chartreuse oil. I take out the crystal stopper. It smells like raspberry candy and green tea.
The pad shows the top edge of a page ripped out, and the first blank page is indented with the curves of previous writing. The pencil is dull. I pick it up, turn it on its side, and gently rub the lead over the grooves. It says:
“IT’S ALL THE SAME ONLY THE NAMES WILL CHANGE”
WAH OOH WAH OOH WAH OOH OOH OOH WAH
The communal table in the restaurant is set for 12. Each setting has a crystal goblet with a unique charm around the stem, one gold plastic dinner plate, one salad plate, and a soup bowl. A place card sits inside of each bowl. All five settings on the far side of the table read “Tommy.” The five on the side nearest to me read “Gina.” The heads of the table are set for “Gina” and “Elmo.”
Two seats are empty. I sit at a place with a silver crescent moon charmed glass set for “Gina.” To my right, Gina sits at the head of the table. I am seeing most of the other guests for the first time, though silent Tommy sits across from me and still gazes over my head. I do not see silent Gina.
The mason jar candles on the table are lit, and emanate a peculiar aroma of sourdough and stewed fruit. In fact, the air is thick with scents. Each person at the table seems to have liberally applied a different perfume creating a warzone of candied fragrances. I can just make out Gina’s tulsi mixed with the smell of her leather jacket.
I hear footsteps coming down the stairs, and everyone rises. I stand with them. Gina is inhaling and exhaling sharply and lifting her heels from the ground in tandem with her breath. She smiles the pained smile and glances from me, to Gina, to Tommy, then back to me.
The footsteps get closer, then stop, and everyone turns to face the final dinner guest.
“Good evening, Elmo,” Gina squeals.
Elmo is a tall, commanding presence in a canary yellow, sleeveless, silk shirt. Its top buttons are half undone exposing a tanned chest and one of the stone necklaces I saw for sale in the foyer. His straight light brown and gray feathered hair appears intentionally tousled. His white linen capri pants are tied with a drawstring over half the hem of his shirt. Maroon leather sandals lace up his ankles. I look down and see that everyone else is wearing the same shoes, and there are small horizontal scars on all of their calves. The marks go up Elmo’s leg beyond the hem of his pants, and two Ginas in peasant skirts are scarred up to their knees.
“Gina,” he says in a breathy, soft voice. He looks each person on my side of the table in the eyes. “Tommy,” he continues, moving his eyes down the other side of the table. “Elmo wishes you a good evening.”
Some respond, “Good evening.” Others nod.
“We have a new guest tonight,” Gina says, gesturing toward me. Elmo’s eyes follow her motion and he looks at me.
“Elmo welcomes you, Gina,” he says with a smile, exposing a large mouthful of perfectly straight gray teeth. He extends his hand to me.
“Thank you, Elmo,” I reply. I take his hand. His hand is smooth with calloused fingertips. He closes his eyes, so I close mine too. He squeezes lightly, and so do I. We both inhale, and when he exhales I open my eyes. In unison, we say, “thank you.”
Elmo walks to his seat, and standing in front of his place at the table, looks around and says, “Why don’t Elmo and his friends tell Gina why we’re here?”
Four servers emerge from the kitchen with bottles of yam colored Pacha-Mahwah Water. As they fill our glasses with slightly effervescent, dark orange liquid, the dinner guests begin to speak in turn.
Tommy: On a night in September
Tommy: A rockstar by three names
Gina: entered the fermentation room
Gina: of his winery in Mahwah, New Jersey.
Tommy: The lid
Gina: of one carbonic maceration tank
Tommy: was left
Tommy: The grapes
Gina: in their skins
Gina: can not ferment
Tommy: amidst oxygen.
Tommy: Carbon dioxide
Tommy: and only carbon dioxide
Tommy: can lead
Gina: to internal transformation.
Gina: The rockstar
Tommy: by three names
Gina: took the lid in his hands
Gina: and peered into the tank.
Elmo: That man was mesmerized by those grapes, jewels glittering in a steel vessel… He had to look closer.
Gina: He fell into the tank.
Gina: The lid from his hands closed above him.
Tommy: He remained inside of the tank
Tommy: for three days
Gina: and three nights.
Gina: On the third day
Tommy: fermentation was complete.
Gina: He ascended from the vessel.
Gina: The vineyard
Tommy: became biodynamic.
Tommy: The wine
Gina: became natural.
Gina: The rockstar
Elmo: became Elmo.
Elmo: The winery
Gina: became Pacha-Mahwah Ranch.
All Tommies: We are Tommy.
All Ginas: We are Gina.
Everyone: THANK YOUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!
They collectively inhale. There is a pause at the top of their breath before they exhale, chanting “wah–ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–ooh–ooh–wah– ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–ooh–ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–ooh–ooh–wah.”
I join in the chant, ““wah–ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–ooh–ooh–wah– ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–ooh–ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–wah–ooh–ooh–ooh–wah.”
The chanting stops and Elmo, lifting his chalice of Pacha-Mahwah Water, says to the table, “We’re halfway there.”
Gina clutches at her chest and raises her glass. The rest follow suit. Some shake and sway ecstatically. All together they declare, “Living on a prayer.”
Everyone sips their wine. It smells like fake coconut flavoring. Iridescent dust swirls on its fizzy amber surface. Gina sees me eyeing my glass.
“It’s a skin contact wine,” she tells me, tilting her glass toward her mouth encouragingly.
I take a sip. It tastes like sunblock.
The servers come around the table again, this time holding frosty silver pots. They ladle thick spoonfuls of cold mauve soup into all of our bowls. Dark, frozen oblong chunks swim in the muted purple slop. Elmo leans forward, places both hands on the edge of the table, smiles, and says, “Elmo’s hungry. Let’s eat.”
WAH OOH WAH OOH WAH OOH OOH OOH WAH
A whiny screeching sound pierces the frigid silence as I walk back to the carriage house from dinner. It is coming from the barn. I follow the sound through snowy footsteps in the moonlit rows of vines. Empty umber husks of grapes hang deflated from twigs of the same color. The screeching grows louder as I approach the barn and a large shadow of a creature comes into view.
A horse stands in front of the barn doors. It is hairless. Its oily bordeaux skin reflects a mirror image of the crescent moon on the taut hills of muscle in its thigh. The horse neighs and bucks, and the moon’s reflection moves across its body to its chest. I step back in fear, and the horse comes down to all fours again. I carve a wide, indirect arch toward the barn to avoid disturbing the horse again. The moon stretches over its body like a saddle as I pass.
Inside, the barn glows a flickering sepia that dissolves into darkness before reaching its vaulted ceiling. It smells like manure and iron. A work table holds a lit oil lamp, shoemaking tools, and wooden feet wearing unfinished sandals. Strips of drying hides hang from above. The ground is a mess of hay and leather scraps.
I look to my right and see that Tommy is the source of the screeching. He is sweeping the barn, but the broom in his hands is upside down. The head of its handle grinds against the wooden floor. Back and forth it moves, drudging loudly through an indented arch carved into the ground by Tommy’s continuous labor. He pauses for a moment, and the screeching stops. I walk toward him and reach out my hand to take the broom. He grunts, pulls away from me, and robotically resumes the sweeping motion with a deafening screech. His eyes are wide and filled with tears that begin to roll down his face.
I approach him slowly, afraid to jostle him from his state.
“Tommy,” I offer gently, “the broom is upside down. You’ll never clean the barn this way.”
He freezes. For a few moments, he looks into my eyes and there is silence.
Then he resumes sweeping. “I know,” he whispers sharply amidst the screeching, “but the sound of resistance brings me peace.”
I’M A COWBOY
In the morning, I wake up to Gina standing at the foot of my bed in her fringed leather jacket. She tosses a white cotton tunic and a pair of sandals onto the bed. They land on my neck so that the tunic covers part of my mouth.
“Are you ready?” she asks me, excitedly tapping her toes on the ground.
“For what?” I quaver from beneath the tunic.
Gina giggles with delight and purses her lips. Her eyes roll up to the ceiling, and she brings her open hands, fingers spread wide, above her shoulders. “Ascension!”
I close my eyes again. Sleep feels so near.
She does not wait for me to reply, but brushes away the tunic, takes the glass vial from my desk and drips the yellow green oil onto my forehead, chest, and wrists.
“Set an intention before we go,” she tells me, gesturing to the pad of paper on the desk.
The walk across the grounds is cold in the tunic and sandals. The shoes Gina gave me are too small, and I look down to see that my wet toes, bulging through the leather straps, are turning purple. We arrive at one of the yurts and Gina guides me through a doorway.
The walls and floor inside of the yurt are a fresh coat of pure white. There is a mirror on each of its seven wall panels. A massive cylindrical steel tank stands in the center of the room. It must be ten feet tall. A white wooden staircase leads to a circular hole in the tank’s roof. Everything is bathed in fluorescent light.
Gina begins to untie my sandals, gives me a calm but serious look, and says, “There are seven steps to the process. You will remain inside of the tank for three days. Calcination will begin immediately. The parts of yourself that are blocking your happiness will begin to break down. Dissolution will follow. You will take responsibility for your faults, face your traumas, and inner tensions will rise to the surface to begin your spiritual awakening.
On day two, separation will occur. Your thoughts and emotions will become isolated from each other and your physical being. You will begin to approach authenticity. You will forget what comfort and resentment are. Conjunction will follow. Your body will simmer and your old self will bubble out of you to create space to hold your authentic self. Juice from previous cycles will be pumped into the tank to support you. Your fermentation will begin on day three. This is the beginning of your rebirth. Your former self will decompose and fall to the bottom of the tank. You will let go. As you ascend from the tank, the first light you see will be the dawn of your enlightenment.”
It is more of a recitation than a conversation. I count the steps that Gina outlined.
“That’s five steps,” I say.
“Oh, yes. Step six and seven occur after your ascension.”
“What are those steps?”
“Distillation and coagulation. These steps are more of a byproduct of the process. Don’t worry about those. Up we go!”
Gina guides me to the top of the stairs.
“This mask is attached to a tube in the tank’s lid that will allow you to blink and breathe inside of the tank.”
Holding the mask in her hands, she looks up for a second.
“Wait, what was your intention?”
“Huh?” I ask.
“I told you to write an intention this morning.
“Oh, I’m a cowboy.”
“I’m a cowboy,” she says back to me.
“I’m a cowboy,” I tell her.
“Yes, remember that.”
“I’m a cowboy.”
“Exactly. Oh, and snort this, it will help with the feeling of weightlessness.”
She hands me a short bamboo straw and extends a palm containing a teaspoon of white powder. I snort it. I feel it drip in the back of my throat.
She places the rubber, steel, and glass goggles on my head, covering my nose and pushing the mouthpiece past my lips. She attaches a hose to the nozzle in my mouth, and threads the other end through a hole in a large steel circle. I lift my goggles and look into the tank. It is filled with a dark chunky sludge that glitters in the fluorescent light. It smells gamey and sweet with an acidic edge that makes my eyes water. I look at Gina.
“We must descend before we can ascend,” she says assuringly. She adjusts my goggles, takes my hands, and lowers me into the tank.
“I’ll be right here when you rise,” she says. She screws the lid onto the tank, covering me in darkness.
ON A STEEL HORSE I RIDE
I immediately start coming to grand conclusions, as if that will make this end faster, as if Gina or Elmo or God might be out there monitoring my thoughts, and the moment that I confess that I want to be a mother, I’ll be lifted, spinning, out of this tank while balloons and confetti fall from the ceiling, and they’ll show me a mirror, and I’ll realize I’ve been perfect just the way I am this entire time.
Is the reason I can’t stop thinking about having a baby because I am 30 and I left my boyfriend to come here after I started bleeding and we realized that I was no longer pregnant?
I exist kicking and screaming.
This is the least suicidal I’ve felt in a while, which is probably because it feels like I could definitely die in here.
I have been feeling calmer than usual since I arrived at Pacha-Mahwah Ranch. I realize now that this could be because I assume that at least one of these loony fuckers is going to try to kill me in my sleep. They keep talking about ascending. They do mean my soul once it separates from my lifeless body, right? Because they’re going to kill me?
The center of the venn diagram between people that I respect and people that have committed suicide is a well populated section.
It’s pleasantly warm in the jam. Floating, I feel like I am consciously enjoying sleep.
I usually think bringing a child into this world is a pretty fucked up thing to do, but maybe it’s worth it to suffer for 80 years just to have the experience of being a baby. Is that what the antiabortion people are saying? That it’s so comfortable being a baby in utero that– who cares what happens after that?
I love being dead.
I’m wanted, dead or alive.
I’ve pissed the tank at least six times.
It has gotten very hot in here and I’m getting tired. Slightly dizzy, I extend from the vertical position I’ve maintained since entering the tank and arrange myself horizontally. My body is fully supported in jammy equilibrium and I fall asleep.
I’m awoken by a light rumbling like jacuzzi jets. A cool liquid moves up from below. It feels refreshing. I’m thirsty. I take the nozzle out of my mouth, open my lips, and suck in some of the broth. I do this a few times, replacing the nozzle to breathe between sips. It’s all texture, no taste. Urine is sterile. I love it here. I can’t wait to die. I fall asleep again.
I wake up with an urgent desire to go deeper into the tank. This is the first time I have wanted anything since descending. The voice in my head has cut language out of the equation between intention and action. Thoughts immediately become feelings. I dig in the direction that I think is down, scooping handfuls of pulp behind me in the pitch darkness.
I’m digging as fast as I can. I thrust lower, kicking my feet behind me and reaching forward until I hit something smooth. It’s the steel bottom of the tank. I run my hands over the metal limit of the abyss. It’s covered in a thick layer of gooey pebbles that spill over my hands, obscuring its surface again each time I swipe them away. I scratch the bottom with a fingernail, then all of my fingernails. I have to go deeper. My eyes are wide open and the darkness is glowing. Blobs of gel and swirling oils move across my vision. I look up and see my own bloody fingers, massive clouds in a scarlet sky above me, digging, two handfuls at a time, willing me deeper. I feel my fingernails breaking. Then my chin jerks upward. I start to rise. I’m reaching lower with all of my strength but my head is rising against my will, and with it, my neck and shoulders. I start to cry. I am desperately trying to hurtle myself downward but I’m rising despite the struggle. I spit out the breathing tube and launch myself back down again. A hand grabs one of my ankles, then the other. I’m flailing and howling as I feel cold air grip my toes. Arms wrap around my waist and I take in a gust of air before the goggles come off and I’m blinded by the harsh white light.
IT’S MY LIFE AND IT’S NOW OR NEVER
I thrash against Gina as she carries me down the stairs and places me on a woven mat on the ground. I feel searing hot pain on my ankle and shoot up onto my elbows, slipping in the crimson slime that covers me. Gina is holding a metal guitar string in both hands. It’s white hot between her thumbs.
I give up fighting and lie moaning on the ground. Gina wipes my face with a linen cloth, cradles my head, and tries to comfort me, “Shhhhh… shhh shhh shhhhhhhh…”
I whimper, breathing hard for a while before I calm down enough to look her in the eye. She is wearing a white tunic stained red by our struggle.
“Gina, you’ve ascended,” she tells me. We look at each other in silence for a moment. She smiles and wipes a tear from her cheek.“Thank you,” I whisper.
“Thank you,” she whispers. “Lie here as long as you’d like. Then go back to your room and clean yourself up. Get some rest, you must be tired.”
I nod yes. She leaves my side and walks toward the tank. The spout at its bottom is oozing viscous scarlet liquid into a large, white plastic tub. Gina unscrews the spout and pearlescent stones spill from the tank, tinkling against each other into the tub. The flow ceases and she screws a cap over the hole. She moves the tub carefully to a table near the wall that holds racks of mason jars and a large wooden cask, then places a clean, empty tub beneath the tank.
She walks to the top of the steps, looks at me, and recites her intention, “It’s my life, and it’s now or never.”
“It’s my life, and it’s now or never,” I reply.
“It’s my life, and it’s now or never,” she says again, clasping her hands at her heart.
She pulls the bamboo straw from her pocket and snorts a bit of powder from her palm, then picks up the lid to the tank, and climbs inside.
“Gina, the goggles,” I say, beginning to lift myself from the floor.
She shakes her head no, presses her lips into a humble smile, and sinks lower into the tank. Her fingers slide from the edges of the lid, and she disappears. The lid clicks into place.
Walking across the vineyard, I look up to see a waxing crescent. There must have been a new moon while I was in the tank. The snow glows an arctic blue. A trail of gory footsteps stretches from the yurt to my place in the twisting vines and frozen grape clusters. I extend a garnet stained hand to touch a withered grape, then squeeze it between two fingers. It bursts into a puff of brown dust. I hear the screeching coming from the barn in the distance.
WAH OOH WAH OOH WAH OOH OOH OOH WAH
I move in and out of sleep for a few days. It’s nighttime when I finally rise to full consciousness. Snow is falling in the halfmoon light outside my window. My soaked tunic is gone from the sopping pile on the floor where I left it, and someone has mopped. A bowl of red hard candies and a glass of honey colored wine sit on the desk. I lift my feet from beneath the sheets and look at my legs. They’re the color of a bruise, and there is a scabby, horizontal line above my ankle where Gina branded me.
I walk to the desk and run a finger over the candies. They are stuck to one other, forming a tacky prism whose structure is not disturbed by my touch. I swirl the wine around in the glass. Oily legs of the viscous liquid form on the inside of the vessel’s bowl. I bring it to my nose. Floral and peppery aroma. I take a sip. Leather.