If you are consulting this guide, you live alone in the house at the end of the lane, and a sphinx has been haunting your overgrown garden. So far you’ve dealt with the sphinx by countering her riddles with Zen koans, or covering your face when you pass so she leaves you alone. You’ve told yourself you don’t mind the sphinx, because she keeps everyone away, even the mail-carrier. But despite your professed misanthropy, you miss the catalogs and junk mail that gave you a connection to the wider world.
The sphinx’s presence in your garden should come as no surprise. Sphinxes make their homes in the cracks between realities, which abound in overgrown gardens like yours. Now that she’s settled in, the only thing to be done is to follow these instructions.
First, go up to the attic and find an old mirror with emotional significance. Your great-aunt’s hand-mirror won’t do, it needs to be the portrait-sized one that belonged to your grandmother. Bring the mirror downstairs. As you dust it off, contemplate your reflection and how much you do or do not resemble your grandmother.
Go to your cupboard and retrieve a china bowl that’s been in your family for generations. Place the bowl before the mirror and sit. Gaze deep into your own reflected eyes and contemplate the ineffable beauty of impermanent things, such as:
- The rings of Saturn, which will be gone in the cosmic blink of an eye.
- The snows of Kilimanjaro and all the glaciers that will vanish within your lifetime.
- A flock of birds you once saw flying in a perfect V into the sunset. You will never see those same birds again, or that same sunset.
Collect all the tears you shed in the china bowl. To make more tears flow, also consider the following:
- All the people you have lost.
- Why you live alone in the house with the overgrown garden at the end of the lane.
- All the people you wish you could forgive, or you wish could forgive you.
When you’re done, go to the kitchen and pack some snacks into a shoulder bag. Add a notebook and a pen or pencil. Make sure to also wrap a dishcloth around your head to obscure your face.
Retrieve the mirror and the bowl of tears and carry them into the garden. The sphinx will appear. As a young sphinx, newly established in such a small garden, she will be about the size of a puma or a lion.
Place the bowl of tears on the ground. The sphinx will lap the tears from the bowl. When she’s finished, show her the mirror. Sphinxes are compulsive creatures, and will react to any human-like face. Photographs won’t work, and an older sphinx would be wise to mirrors, but this sphinx is young and won’t be able to resist asking a riddle. As she sees her reflection ask the riddle, the sphinx will be compelled to answer, and ask again, and answer again, over and over. She will start with something simple like, “What is the nature of a flower?” and work her way up to harder ones, such as, “What lies on the other side of time?”
Write down all of her riddles and their answers. This may take many hours, which is what the snacks are for. Once you’re sure the sphinx has exhausted her supply of riddles, and stands growling and thrashing her tail, dash the china bowl against the mirror, breaking the sphinx’s trance.
Remove the dishcloth from your face. When the sphinx’s feline eyes meet yours, show no fear. She will ask a riddle, but don’t react. Hold her gaze until a frisson of current runs between you, and she seems ready to pounce. Then answer.
She will wait for you to respond with a riddle of your own. Hold her gaze until you feel both your hearts beating in time. Then ask, “What is your name?”
She will tell you.
Ask another riddle: “What is my name?”
She has tasted the tears of your loss and the ineffable beauty of impermanence, and she has traded riddles with you. She will know your name.
Lead the sphinx into your house. She will appear from the interstices of space to curl up with you by the fire, affectionate as a kitten, loyal as a dog, loving as family, a friend for life. She will keep away the spectral rats that live in the walls between realities. She will guard your home from intruders, and invite in those who will bring you joy.
Throw the notebook of riddles into the fire. You won’t be needing it anymore. The ritual is not its result. The riddle is not its answer.
When you have done all this, scratch your sphinx behind the ears. Feel the rumble of her purr. Congratulations: you no longer live alone in the house with the overgrown garden at the end of the lane.
© 2019 Alexei Collier