Foreshadowing is a literary device that prepares a reader for future events in a narrative. A character is made to stumble before he trips before he makes a fatal fall. Commonly, plot events are used to implement this effect; but character dialogue, a change of setting, flashbacks, and titles are also used.
At times, a writer may add bits of foreshadowing that are not relevant to the story line. These rather unimportent, unrelated events may be used to intentionally perplex a reader, to add breath to the plot, or to add tension to the mix. This use is sometimes labeled sideshadowing, but it comes to the same thing. Dostoevsky used this ploy frequently in his novels. Life is full of inconsequential events, he thought, and he wanted his narratives to mirror this fact.
The device is not limited to literary works. Composers frequently add themes or bits of themes to prepare the listener for a climax to come or for a change of theme. Film directors also use foreshadowing, most often to lend credibility to subsequent events.
THE BLIND GEISHA
II - 8
A Meeting Place Of Manifold Ills
Ravens caroaked, one then another, as they circled above the firs and spruce on the hillside above Elizabeth's house. The woman stood with her long handled pruning shears in hand, poised to nip a tatty branch of the old laurel hedge. The birds were just above the tops of the trees, on the glide, riding the cooler air down to the flat apron of land that was mostly scrub and sand tending always on to the sea .
Portentous, ubiquitous birds. Poe's disquieting drivel. She snipped her branch, raised a hand to her brow to see the birds, a pair, caroak, caroak, as they cut across to the cedar in the corner of her yard.
"Humph," Elizabeth said. She sighted down the hedge. Up to no good, those fellows. "Secateurs. That's the word I was looking for." These clumsy old things, she thought, lifting the shears, are getting too much for me. "Grace gave them to me," she said softly, talking to herself. Christmas before last, those secateurs, though nobody here calls them that. Clippers we call them. Like scissors only more burly. "The perfect tool for this job if I could only find them."
Nestling the handles of her shears against her hip, she prodded and stroked the ball of her arthritic thumb. She had risen early, read again from the sutra of Vimalakirti; remained puzzled and skeptical. Watson had done a remarkable job of translating the piece. She had met the man, briefly, in a restaurant in Palo Alto. They were both enamored with Yeats and, she remembered, he had quoted the Irish poet's phrase in defense of his own translations:
A line will take us hours maybe;
yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
"There is a good deal more than a moment's thought in that sutra," she said aloud.
Caroake, caroake, called the ravens. More had come and settled in the trees at the corner of her property. Crows joined them screeching, it seemed, just to hear their voice.
"Up to no good," she said again. The creatures. Do crows have Buddha nature? she thought. Then chuckled. "What would the answer be? Like the mu koan. "Croak," she said. "Croak. Croak."
She arched her back, stretched. The pruning shears slipped quietly to the ground, unnoticed. He was quite the boy, this Vimalakirti. Rich, but traveled the alleys. Went to wine shops, brothels. Half think that's where Ikkyu got the notion. A deceptive fellow, this Vimalakirti. Healthy as a horse, but feigned illness so people would come to console him. Then, with this captive audience, he proselytizes.
Looking up to the birds, she recited what she remembered of the opening paragraph of the sutra:
"Good people, this body is impermanent, without durability, without strength, without firmness, something that decays in a moment, not to be relied on. It suffers, it is tormented, a meeting place of manifold ills."
"'A meeting place of manifold ills indeed'." She stretched the fingers of her hands, made a fist and stretched again. "Glucosamine," she said. I always forget. She patted her pockets for a tissue. The distant chime of her phone turned her head. "Now where in the world did I leave that gizmo?"
She ran fingers through a curl of hair, patted pockets once more, turned and walked to the house, listening. As she poked her head through the open top of the Dutch door, she saw the package that Grace had left. Off to ... where was that girl going this morning? Elizabeth turned her head, startled, as three ravens touched down behind her uttering their guttural cough, and rose up again as one.
"Oh," the woman said. "What in the world?" Silly birds. Carry me off one day. What was that Hitchcock thing? "You are," she said firmly, "just the common raven. You birds. Corvus corax. Ubiquitous. Proletarian. A bit vulgar, you are," she said. Boorish. "Croak," she said. "Croak." Bit of that myself, I am.
Chuckling, she turned, opened the door and walked through to the kitchen.
"Time to put the kettle on," she said. That comforting phrase. Put the kettle on. How tea came to be such a panacea is a rather odd piece of business, I think. "It's bitter taste really doesn't recommend it."
Into her mug she drop a pinch of loose tea, centered the kettle on the burner, and stood listening for the waves as they went about their eternal business. A shake of head. "Eternal? Not the word I wanted." Joyce's word. 'In' something. She eased herself onto a chair beside the table, opened the manila envelope, and slipped out the brief manuscript. Someone---where had Grace found this? "Can't remember," Elizabeth said.
Robin song; then again. Then a flurry in the shrubbery and strident calls.
"Those jays. After her nest again." Why they build them in such obvious places ...
Turning her head, she listened for the boiling of the kettle. She took up the manuscript.
"1968," she said. "So long ago." The saddest year. She slowly turned the cover page and read:
A Paraphrase Of Vimalakirti
6 june 1968
Curious. There was no preface, no introduction. No by-line. Edited by that fellow in Corvallis. "It just starts off and hammers home its points. Not the elegance of the original, or fluidity; but effective for all that. Grace doesn't care for the mix of allusions, but Socrates, I think, would have found a fellow traveler in Mr V. She read:
Nothing remains but my vial, my needle. Asclepius has been paid for his cock. Much better, this vial, than merely waiting around to die. I have decayed in a moment. Or so it seems. This body now tormented suffers in its weakness, and my impermanence would now torment me. Save the vial, eh Crito.
Never put your money on this sack of bones and flesh. Your body is a product of random selection and chance mutation. Never doubt it. Your body is a flicker of your imagination. Your body is a shadow, an echo, with no more substance than dream. All men of sense and wisdom of every age have come to this conclusion.
She had gone to bed early, downstairs. Her bedroom. Not her favorite room. Drab, it was. A bit musty. The rear corner of the house suffered from dry rot. "And too many memories." We shared the bathroom between the two bedrooms, Micki and I. Oceanside now Grace's room. The way she wandered about brushing her teeth, spouting incomprehensible words through a mouth full of foam. Quoting her French poets. Pirouettes from room to room.
Elizabeth had gone to bed early; and Grace, returning from Corvallis sometime after eleven o'clock, had found her still awake.
"Run the fellow to earth, did you, dear?"
"I did." Grace had leaned against the door jamb, package in hand. "Shall I leave you be? This will keep."
"No, no." Elizabeth patted the bed. "Come show me," she said.
And Grace had read from the pages.
"Sounds familiar doesn't it," she had said.
"The Vimalakirti Sutra, paraphrased. A section anyway. Yes?"
"Yes, indeed. The Body Section. 'Good people, no person of enlightened wisdom could depend on a thing like this body.' From the Burton translation. Is it plagiarized?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "Enough change. Different perspective. Same message, though." She took a tissue from her sleeve and patted her nose. "Where in the world did you come up with this?"
"A grad student at Oregon wrote his dissertation on Vimalakirti. I scanned through and found, in the bibliography, a mention of a paper by a professor at Oregon State. Tracked him down. One of the professor's students had dictated the piece in one sitting. Terminal cancer patient, he was. Wanted anonymity. After the fellow died, the professor put out a few copies under his name as editor. Caused some ripples in the philosophy department, but didn't get much notice beyond Corvallis."
"My my," Elizabeth had said.
The robins and jays had declared a truce, but gulls were squawking and her fox squirrels were querulous and noisy. She scanned the manuscript, reading silently, then aloud:
Your body, objective, carnate, mortal. Where does ego arise? Wind, fire, water ... have they awareness of themselves. Not likely. An unnecessary encumbrance, awareness. Ashes, ripples on the sand, rush of wind through the trees: never singular, these things. Nor plural either. Wind, fire, water ...
Wind, fire, water, she thought. That covers one's mortality nicely. Between life and death, gossamer. She stumbled as she stood, leaned heavily on the table, and moved slowly down the hall. Tears welled in her eyes.
"Pfui," she said. Stupid old woman. Have to pee. She smiled, still softly crying. "Have water coming out of both ends," she said. Yes, that was it: Ineluctable.
On the stove the kettle hissed and steamed and quietly whistled.