Jean C. Fulton
Everyone in Golab, even the little Sprits, knew that pursetending was serious business. If any of them also knew its joy, they never spoke of it. I never did. But from the time I was old enough to be off by myself, I'd go to the shore caves where the purses were kept and sit alone, enchanted, for hours. The Grownuns thought I was a dreamer, a vacant sort, a mind staring into the mist. Sure, I dreamed. But each time a purse was snapped shut deep inside the earth, my heart exploded.
These sea caves were the source of knowledge for those who lived Beyond. They didn't know it, of course. Even most of the Grownuns in Golab didn't know why the purses were in the caves. Pursetenders simply went to work each morning, like merchants or bankers, and came home to their families at the end of the day. Rather than talk about their work in the evening, these wise ones played with their little Sprits or helped with homework, ate a good dinner, and went early to bed. Although the families of pursetenders didn't know details, they did sense their chosen status. And no one felt the need to ask exactly what it was that a pursetender did.
Most pursetenders felt more at home in the caves than anywhere else. They would probably have lived their whole lives there if they could. But adding to the purses after dark was generally a waste of time. Few of those who lived Beyond were able to gather anything at night. They were completely asleep, closed down, gone. The rare few who could maintain awareness during sleep had special purses that only the strongest and wisest could tend.
Sometimes these rare few did unexpected things, like refusing to follow forward a train of thought. They'd lie in bed at night thinking about something, like anyone else. But instead of blending into sleep, they'd try to remember the idea that had come before, and then the one that had led to that. Returning to the source, this way, is as futile as trying to turn the tide. But it can disrupt the rhythm of the pursetender, putting up resistance against the clasp. If the clasp doesn't close smoothly, if the golden spheres scrape even the slightest bit, part of a thought will escape.
When a thought gets trapped like that, half in and half out, even a tiny Sprit like me is set to wondering. It happened only twice that I can recall, in all the years I sat by the shore. Both times, my world went flat. Others in Golab must have felt it too, because small knots of Grownuns whisked up to the cave entrance to wait silently, looking toward the horizon. Eventually, each time, the weakness crumbled and cracked. The elders then left slowly, one by one, up and over the hill like ants in a thin, black necklace. And, some sort of peace would settle.
Some sort of peace was sufficient for a small Sprit like me. I'd gather up a shell or two and wander back to play games with the others. But I know now that peace isn't enough for the pursetenders in the caves. Or for the ones Beyond. When a thought gets trapped like that, half in and half out, someone who lives Beyond is first startled, then puzzled. The sense of knowingness, just beginning to brew, shatters into the mundane events of the day. All that's left is the feeling of having come near (but not quite to) the heart of something. The kind of memory that isn't always noticed. The kind of memory that never completely goes away.
Like me and the purse caves. No matter how long I stayed away from the shore, I always came back. I'd watch the pursetenders come and go, singly or in twos and threes. They wore long, hooded, brown cloaks, with their heads completely covered and their feet hidden in the draping. To most eyes, these pursetenders looked alike. But, in the hourless days I had spent on that shore, watching and waiting for what I could not yet even imagine, I had come to distinguish even tiny sand fleas from one another, and birds that passed by. Although I couldn't see the faces of the pursetenders as they came and went, I could easily recognize them and give them names.
There was Rustle. Even before he became visible each time, I'd feel him moving closer. Suddenly, he'd be standing at the top of the hill, and the rippling inside me would cease. As he swept across the path and vanished into the caves, like in a clear mountain lake, I'd see my own reflection.
There was also Stillness. He seemed to come closer without moving. He'd appear, loom large, and become larger still. Then, all-at-once, he'd be gone. When Stillness disappeared into the darkness, my attention was left focused and alone -- just for an instant -- huge, familiar, unafraid.
Stillness Personified was the wisest of them all. I knew this, because Stillness Personified never seemed to appear or disappear. Stillness Personified simply existed, the brown cloak wrapped around life that was constantly forming, dissolving, rearranging, life that included me.
These three carried the future of my small Sprit self with them into the caves every day. Whether they ever noticed me studiously watching the sand by the shore, I do not know. They might have called me Seaweed's Shadow, for I sat there wrapped in its coolness, or they might have named me Sprit-Who-Waits. I like to think that had I been one of those pursetenders, we would have understood each other, the tall wise cloak of me and my small Sprit self. We would have spoken in some impossible way, and then taken our places back in the tableau. For I was as much a part of the setting as the sand and the sea.
Usually, when the cloud of brown cloaks drifted out in the evening, I was still outside the caves. Rarely did I see Rustle or Stillness depart with the others. And I saw Stillness Personified leave with them only once. These three were the most experienced pursetenders, looking after those Beyond who could benefit from knowledge at night. But despite all the time I spent in such devoted vigil, I was none-the-less unprepared when my own turn came. I felt a swirl of unfamiliar emotions, and a responsibility for something I did not yet understand.
It's been a long journey -- from that Sprit on the shore; to the pursetender in the caves; to this man sitting today on a park bench. It is my choice to live Beyond now. And it is my responsibility to remember.
I donned the brown cloak when I began training as a pursetender. I would have liked it best if Stillness Personified could have conducted me into the caves that first time. It would also have been fine to walk behind Stillness or Rustle. But it was for me to follow the newest pursetender, the one called Eratad.
That day, as I swept through the entrance with the others, we were told nothing. Eratad didn't even look at me. When we penetrated the underground darkness, an eagerness began to stir. I felt more like the small Sprit on the shore than the Grownun I had become. Soon, I would be given a purse. I would learn to feel the time and create the scene. Then, when all was ready, to slip knowledge into the purse, slide the clasp shut with no hesitation, and transmit Beyond. There, the one whose purse I tended would instantaneously think, reflect, or intuit something. But where the knowledge had come from? Only a few would bother to ask.
But I was unaware of all this, as I followed Eratad through tunnels that grew smaller and smaller. We finally stooped to enter a hollowed-out room that could have been in a mountain cave anywhere. No purses, no importance, no times or scenes or pieces of knowledge from which to create. I waited for someone to speak or give a sign. I gazed at Eratad and the pursetenders who were leading the other two Uncertains. No one acknowledged my wondering. We all just stood lined up, single-file.
I took refuge in my robe, withdrawing into the folds and the realization that it had entered the caves before and would no doubt do so again, always sheltering pursetenders. Comforted by this legacy, I rejoined our silent chain as it moved further into the darkness. We entered more tunnels and passed through two large rooms, stopping each time to rest but not to talk.
The only light was what we carried ourselves. My nostrils opened to the ancient smells until I felt safe in their embrace. And as I shuffled over the rough floor, it began to feel polished, worn smooth by footsteps that increasingly seemed to be mine. It was quite a journey that day, for we were not only going into the purse caves. We, three new Uncertains, were experiencing the crystallization of what before was just a vague feeling. We were coming to know who we were, who we would be, and who we, no doubt, had always been.
I came to know well the one Beyond whose purse I tended. Even before I could fully anticipate the stretching times, to feel when I had done enough or when I could and should slip one more bit of knowledge into the purse, I imagined. This one was thin, I felt. Tall, with brown hair, given to periods of solitude. This one had been growing for a long time, and was beginning to harvest the fruits.
Yet there were still difficult moments. Sometimes I would slip something into the purse -- just at the proper time and in the proper sequence and form -- and this one's mind would close. I tried to tempt, trick, push, but finally learned just to let it be. As time goes by, pursetenders come to establish their own intervals for preparing and sending. Most of those Beyond adjust to the pace. But I seemed to be at the mercy of this tall one. It was his schedule we followed, no matter when I thought it was time to offer the coup de grace.
Eventually, albeit a bit grudgingly, I developed an admiration for this one who would suddenly require knowledge in the middle of the night, just as I was attempting a bit of rest myself. I never failed to provide, of course. For I was a pursetender by trade and temperament. It was unusual for someone new to be able to handle such a strong clasp. But I had no problem. From what seemed to be an endless supply of knowledge, I gathered what was needed, made it digestible, and slipped it gracefully into the purse which I snapped shut in one motion. No disturbances, no doubts, or second thoughts.
I had been trained well. As an Uncertain, my favorite subject was "Fundamentals of Preparation." We were given a basic list, so simplified that we laughed even then. But it provided a solid foundation upon which we later learned to improvise. The desired effects and directions for preparing them read as follows.
1. Grand Realization -- a logical thought that is the culmination of a rational, intellectual process. It is necessary to have an ample supply of ideas ready, building one upon the other. Most should be written clearly, with proper punctuation. Occasionally, a visual image may be used. Delivery is all important here. Timing is everything. Slide individual thoughts into the purse slowly, setting up a steady rhythm, then quickly slip in the grand realization and snap. If this is done gracefully, the one for whom the thought is intended will feel no pain.
2. Cognition -- a flash-out-of-the-blue that delights the host and is felt to be auspicious and most timely. As you can imagine, those most skilled in sending the cognition know a great deal about the ones for whom they tend purse. A cognition may be dispatched with great skill and flourish. But it will only be appreciated if it seems connected with someone's current truth. Wonderful cognitions have been lost forever because they were slipped into purses for whom the time had not yet come. Cognitions are generally best when sent visually. Just select the proper time, and slip the cognition into the purse. No other preparation is needed.
3. Echo -- a form of cognition that gains energy as it reverberates. Although echo thoughts resemble the cognition in technique, they are always sent in short written form. If you attempt this mode, and it does not create the proper impression, wait some time before trying again. Send each echo a maximum of four times, at intervals. Otherwise, whose for whom we tend purse spend unnecessary energy in doubt and confusion.
4. Intuition -- a glimpse of the wholeness of thought. To enliven this level of awareness, all material must be at your fingertips. Depending on your manual dexterity, two delivery methods are possible. The first is to assemble the parts of knowledge and stick them tightly together. Sequence does not matter. Relationships will become clear as they separate, and the overall effect will be profound. Do not overdo. Use only three or four fragments at a time for someone unaccustomed to this level of functioning. Those who are more experienced can usually accept ten or even twenty fragments at once. The second method of delivery is more complicated. You must snap the purse separately for every part of knowledge. This creates an ever-deepening sense of recognition that can be used to advantage by the experienced pursetender. But, if the timing falters, the effect will be destroyed.
You can see how elementary the guidelines were. Still, we started like this. As we came to know the ones for whom we tended purse, we learned to rearrange boldly, creating combinations and permutations. I became quite expert. I'm told that little Sprits even sat by the shore to catch a glimpse of me, floating over the hill in my brown robe. For I had followed Eratad into the wisest of professions. And there did come a day when my purse was placed right next to that of Stillness Personified.
There also came a day when I slid knowledge into the purse for the last time. The one for whom I tended had begun to wonder about the thoughts that were appearing, with no exertion, just from the quiet desire to know. Soon, I realized, this one would no longer simply accept what was given. This one would need to understand. Still, I continued for a time to do as I had always done -- select a proper piece of knowledge, form it according to circumstances, slip it deftly into the purse, and snap the clasp with no delay in space and time. Until one day, when the wondering was ready to end.
Merging is not the sort of thing that a pursetender does in the presence of others, even other pursetenders. It is a rare and sacred task. Patience must be cultivated so that no one ever knows for sure. As I accepted what was stirring Beyond and curving back to this shore so far away, I looked for the time to make my move. One evening, after most of the pursetenders had left, I found my supply of partial knowledge was exhausted. My hands grasped the shiny clasp of the familiar purse. I opened the mechanism of knowing, and I entered into the terms of the contract that had been written so long ago. I slid myself into the purse.
That is how a pursetender comes to be Beyond. Anyone passing by this afternoon would see just a man sitting in a park, writing in a notebook, and occasionally looking off into the mist. But within the boundaries of that human form -- still thin, a bit stooped now, hair going gray -- totality is awake.
The man is not the only one. Pursetenders have been making this trip since the beginning of time. They make no sacrifice in coming. Indeed, it is the culmination of all that has gone before.
Pursetenders who merge never have to go back. Over time, the opposites of in and out, of here and there, of me and them strike a balance. Then, unity creeps on bit by bit, from where it is to where it does not yet seem to be. Ultimately, totality becomes everything. This is occurring within the physiology of the man today. And it will be the case, eventually, for everyone.
You can't tell by how we look or what we do. We may bag groceries or make decisions that become our nation's laws. We may be teenage athletes or wrinkly little old maids. Our individual journeys will always be different, but the goal remains ever the same. Now that the one has become many, let the many become one.
Try looking deep into the eyes of a friend.
In keeping with the contract, at first we know but cannot tell. Then we tell, but only others who already know can hear us. Finally, it comes time to speak out plainly once again. In Golab, no one ever asks after the disappearance of a pursetender's pursetender. But, after the sands shift and the seas settle, someone, somewhere on Earth, writes this story.
Jean C. Fulton resides in Putney, Vermont, where she writes and teaches at Landmark College.
Her fiction and poetry have appeared most recently in THEMA, 100 Words, and Oklahoma English Journal. Her ongoing research into writing as an expression of the self-referral structuring dynamics of consciousness has also resulted in many conference presentations and articles in journals such as Teaching in the Community Colleges and Virginia English Bulletin.
Jean may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published by permission of the author.