Your mother could tell that you were by her side when she was in a coma. She couldn’t speak, but wanted you to know she was there. Oh, and congratulations, there’s a baby on the way for one of your daughters. No, none of you will know about it yet — but a baby is coming.” When I signed up to see a psychic, I was thinking it would be all incense, spangled shawls and a woman with a husky, brooding voice telling people their darkest fantasies and intoxicating predictions about their futures.
What I did not expect was to walk into a brightly-lit room in the Marriott hotel filled with mainly middle-aged women, or to be greeted by a bubbly barefoot blonde called Paula. She sat in the room for half an hour, unnoticed, whilst it filled and people slipped in and out to get glasses of £8 white wine, then stood up and started talking…
She would pluck a name, or a fact out of the ether, and keep saying names and facts which came to her until it correlated with those of a dead relative of someone in the audience. Her amazingly empathetic, friendly, beguiling personality, like that of a trusted godmother, was absolutely crucial for this. She spoke in a soft, smiling voice as she told psychic ‘truths’. I was and still am a slight sceptic about the whole thing.
She started out relatively tamely, saying that she could feel the presence of the dead mother of a woman sitting at the back. She asked the woman and her two daughters to stand up. “Your mother had a head issue before she died, didn’t she? She couldn’t speak, she was in a coma, or she had a brain tumour?”. The woman nodded and spoke softly, begrudgingly; “Yes, she was in an artificial coma. She couldn’t speak for the week before she died.”
“You didn’t know this, but your mother could hear everything you said to her. You were on her right-hand side, weren’t you?” The woman nods impassively. Paula has an almost evangelical way of conducting her show. In an Evangelical church, the pastor often gets the audience to switch emotive states very suddenly – going from repentance, sorrow and prayer to jubilant hymns, from hymn to prayer and back again. This is similar to what Paula did, and it created a very emotionally fraught atmosphere, you could feel the tears building behind the eyes of the people in the room, anxious to hear from their loved ones.
Paula would switch from talking about something so sorrowful, softly murmuring about how someone’s relative just wanted to say goodbye one last time (you can hear the catch in her throat) to saying something like “He’s still a cheeky bugger in heaven, you know. Did he used to swear all the time like he does now?” The audience laugh frantically, desperate for an emotional release.
I have to admit, this got me at some points. I welled up when she spoke about certain things that struck a chord with me, a name that was close to the name of a loved one I know who has died, even though I am a staunch sceptic. O’Brien then notified the family that one of the daughters was pregnant. As she dumbfoundedly shook her head, Paula chided her. “I’m never wrong!”
She then moved forward to the next row, saying another spirit was calling her from heaven. The whole, large family stood up. There were about seven of them. Spirited, rowdy, unlike the murmuring, shy, almost disbelieving family behind them.“Your parents seemed like they never loved each other, didn’t they! They argued all the time. But they did”
She somehow nailed their personalities; the family nodded, one of them, the main woman she was addressing, the daughter of the man who died, smiling ruefully. Paula may not be a psychic (in my opinion) but she can gauge a personality extremely quickly and possesses an inhuman level of empathy.
“I can feel that there are three more babies to come in the family, soon.” They sighed, “We hope not”. Paula addressed the daughter of the man who died. “You need to find yourself, he says. I don’t want to be rude, but are you lazy? Do you put things off? You need to go to Cuba, where your family live, according to your [dead] Grandma. You have been putting it off.” More rueful nodding.
“There are five of you, aren’t there? You don’t all speak to each other anymore, and that breaks your mother’s heart”. The woman nods again. Paula is hitting a lot of truth home runs here, it’s getting pretty deep. All I could think was how charismatic she was, bringing us into the lives of the people she was talking to and about, capturing the family dynamic in a few sentences.
After the interval, we find Paula sitting at the front of the room, inconsolable. “I’ve had a visit from someone. He’s in the room now.” She can barely get any words out. It’s someone’s son. He died in hospital after overdosing, failing and then hanging himself with his bedsheets. It’s the son of someone in the room.
“He has apologized. He didn’t want to live on the Earth anymore, it was too hard for him and too hard for you. He sacrificed himself”. The mother of the dead son was crying. He was 22 when he took his own life. Paula sobs. “You were the best mother he ever could have had”.
She starts to smile “Did he like being naked?” I start, this is a crazy change in tempo. Apparently he was very proud of his body and always looked at himself in the mirror. “He’s taking his clothes off now, he’s happier naked […] Get his ashes out of the wardrobe so that he can see everyone even when the door is shut.” His mother smiles through her tears.
There has been a woman in here the entire time, shaking her head. Muttering, drinking, tears in her eyes. Paula has had enough of her: “You are being very negative. You are ruining this for everyone” Her voice shakes, she looks at the audience. “I’ve felt her bad energy since she sat down. I’m about to do something very brave.”
She walks forward. “Get up, get out and leave. I am not going to make apologies for who I am and what I do.” The audience erupted in applause, heckles. “Hurry up!” “Get out!” “Stop ruining it, move faster.” Paula says; “How brave am I!” She winks at the audience conspiratorially. “We will laugh at her bad review!”
We’re back to the large family with the dead grandfather again. Paula says “There’s a baby here waiting to speak to someone. She was going to speak earlier, but she wanted some time to herself, she wanted to be in the spotlight.” The previously smiling woman is ashen. “You knew two days before you got the scan that showed she was dead, that there was something wrong, didn’t you?”
Slowly, the woman nods. “We can’t change anything. Everything happens for a reason. But she’s telling me that if you went to the doctor’s two days earlier, your little baby might have lived”. If Paula is knowingly making this up, if she isn’t a real psychic, I think that this is despicable. I felt a bit sick at this point. It’s difficult to write.
“She’s so tiny, so perfect. You could fit your little finger in her hand”. Paula does her tiny, beguiling smile again. “She is the most amazing angel that I have ever seen.” This really means a lot, to a lot of people. A lot of the women in the audience are crying about now. Some have been crying the entire time.
The show ends, I get the bus home. I feel so emotionally drained that I sit in the shower sobbing for half an hour before I can get into bed.