Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Article excerpt

It was a Tuesday afternoon in early June. School had been out for a week. Iris's husband, Aaron, had settled a lamb roast in marinade, then taken the dog, Lulu, for a walk on the golf course. When the doorbell rang, Iris was reading Harper's, working a toothpick rhythmically in and out of her teeth. From her kitchen stool, she saw two dark shapes through the wavy glass panel of the front door.

She rose and peered through the peephole, her line of sight issuing through the eye of the aluminum flamingo rampant on the screen door. Two bald heads tonsured with gray fringe swam into view, then two pale, placid faces and loosely knotted orange neckties framed by black lapels. "Yes?" she called through the closed door.

"Iris Hornstein," they said in unison. They were both slight, and looked vaguely Chinese. One was much shorter than the other.


The taller one opened the screen door, withdrew a business card from his pocket, and held it up to the peephole. Mr. Lu Chanandra Sama. An address in Topeka. No, Tibet.

"What do you want?" Iris asked. She was suspicious of the matching black suits and limp, featureless white shirts. Mormon missionaries? Collectors for some charity she had never heard of? She pictured Tibetan orphans trudging up a snow-laced alpine trail.

"To speak with you." Mr. Sama, the taller one, who seemed to be the spokesman, answered.

"I don't contribute to charities without reading about them first." The rehearsed line, used for years with solicitors. "Do you have a brochure you could leave with me?" Her voice trailed off without conviction.

"We don't want money," the shorter one said, less patiently.

"Do we need an appointment?" Mr. Sama asked. "Oh, goodness," he fretted. "You are very busy at the present moment?"

The man was blushing, apparently at the thought that he had interrupted something important. Aaron would be back in a minute anyway. "No, I'm not very busy." She slid the deadbolt back, opened the door, and gestured toward the rattan sofa in the living room. "Come in."

"We bring you happy news." A smile creased the taller one's face, rounded his cheeks with a shine, and hung there like a banner in a stiff breeze. Bowing slightly, the two men made their way through the doorway and sat side by side. The smiles broadened into parades. Their eyes glimmered.

"How can I help you?" Iris asked, genuinely curious by this point. Were they selling condo shares? Sweepstakes? Was there a Chinese lottery?

"We have an annunciation for you."

"You mean an announcement?" The correction was automatic. A speech therapist, Iris had spent her professional life listening to deflated vowels and blunted consonants, the pleadings of stutterers.

The men turned to each other, conferring with their eyes. "No. An annunciation," Mr. Sama insisted. Iris watched with some alarm as he unbuttoned his suit jacket and reached inside a narrow orange sash at his waist. It was the same brilliant shade as his tie, as those Buddhist monks who had immolated themselves-in Vietnam? Cambodia? Iris could not place the footage, but it played vividly in her mind, the protean orange of the monks' robe flying up in flames.

From the sash, he withdrew a colorful piece of cardboard, which unfolded downward, like a wallet pack of family photos. In a decorous tone, he began to read, glancing up periodically to make eye contact, as if he had learned public speaking from Dale Carnegie or the Toastmasters: "Based upon the words of the Dalai Lama, upon the sage writings of our Buddhist brothers and sisters, upon certain omens and signs given to us in dreams and in wakefulness, upon the mystical divination and divagation of soothsayers and mathematicians in Tibet, India, and Big Sur, California, and upon names and times written down with significance in his lifetime, it has been determined that Iris Hornstein is the reincarnation of the Great Adept, his holiness, the Saint Amarjampa. …

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