So, as some of you know, I’ve been presenting Crystal From The Hills, my psychological fiction, as a story about an accident, a disappearance, a trauma, and a mystery. On one level (perhaps the only important one), these descriptions refer to an incident in which Chris “Crystal” Leavitt inadvertently drives his truck into a lake; the result in which he emerges from the quietly lapping surf but his friend Weed doesn’t; the fall-out that is his dissociation, wandering avoidance of life, preoccupation with so-called shadows, and faultly memory of the event; finally, and plainly speaking, the mystery of what really happened with the accident at the lake, and why.
But, if you’ve been paying any attention at all to these pages, or if you’re one of the handful of people who have managed to sit through all ten or so minutes of my YouTube videos, you’d be gleaning that the accidents, disappearances, traumas, and mysteries of my novel are not only multiple in number, but multi-layered. The dissociated syndrome of Chris Leavitt unfolds over the course of the story, and his supporting cast–his friend Sweet, his girlfriend Jill, and the autocratic Aunt Jenny, are his would-be therapists, or life coaches, if you prefer that sort of thing. Meaning, they confront, encourage, advise, boss him around, and witness. But they don’t see him, not really. They miss his sensitivity to abandonment. Then there’s Costman, a wildcard character inserted about two-thirds into the action (or inaction, as Kirkus reviews would have readers believe). I haven’t written much about Costman prior to this point, haven’t said much. He is, as my drive-by readers might suppose, something of a random character whose meaning is elusive; possibly enigmatic, if one was feeling sympathetic. To review the plot point: Costman is a gardner who works for Aunt Jenny. He’s sort of a societal drop-out, kinda like Chris, or maybe like what Chris might become if he gets his drop-out act together. Thing is, he and Chris have known each other for several years, which is unusual for Chris, as most of his relationships have been short-term or peripheral. Costman is in the latter camp, but nonetheless knows stuff about Chris and his past–he knows enough, at least.
Chris figures he knows enough about Costman also. Like myself, he imagines the gardner is someone who can be taken for granted; can be overlooked and not spoken of, or written about. He further imagines that Costman is undisturbed by such things. Above all, Chris believes that Costman is no threat to him, that he is enviably disinvested in others’ lives. Costman won’t reveal any of Chris’ secrets, neither to Aunt Jenny, the police, or to anyone else who might be interested. He will listen to Chris’ soliloquys, his delusions about shadows, paranoia about authority, and respond with an indulgent chuckle. But ultimately, Costman, whose name is a play upon his one-time job in a money market, will offer little of substance in terms of advice, encouragement, or straightforward provocation. Surprisingly, however, Costman offers what few have given Chris so far in his life: at once a jolting yet mirroring experience, one that helps him feel not alone in feeling alone. How does this come about? Well, Costman, it seems, was once a most unlikely consumer of psychotherapy. Turns out he knows something about others’ disappearances. Read:
“Alright, so he wasn’t always professional. That part was bullshit. The last time we met—our last session—he fell asleep on me. Actually, I think he’d been holding back for some time, I’m not sure. For a while I thought he had this sleepy look in his eye—this lazy kinda drooping—in previous sessions. Then on our last meeting, I was talking, don’t remember about what—probably about my wife’s cheating—and I guess I didn’t look back at him for some time. In fact, it wasn’t even his eyes that gave him away, come to think of it. It was a snort—ya know, like a snore?” Costman let out his latest burst of laughter; a release following his punch-line, designed to preempt reaction. Unflinching, and without any pretense of matching the gardener’s effortful jubilation, Chris ventured another question:
“What happened after that?”
“Nothing really,” Costman replied, quieting his amusement. His tone and his body settled, like a raucous wave being gradually stilled. “I think I waited for a bit,” he said quietly, frowning. “Then I got up and left,” he then said chirpily.
“What? You just left without saying anything?” Chris intuited the latter piece, having pictured the scene.
“I didn’t wanna disturb him,” Costman offered, incredibly. Chris’ jaw dropped perceptibly, eliciting yet another round of laughter from the gardener. “I know,” he uttered amid chuckles, “I guess I should have said something, huh?” Before Chris could respond, Costman stretched out his arm in a gesture of self-defense: “But can you imagine the look on the guy’s face—what he must have been thinking—when he wakes up and sees that I’m gone? Can you picture the ‘Aw shit!’ expression on his face? I didn’t pay him for that session, either.” Costman lay back, continuing to douse the memory with comic emollient. Chris let his head drop.