Secret Lives, a novel by Barbara ArdingerI started writing Secret Lives on a typewriter in the mid-80s. The novel is 27 interrelated stories about a group of elderly women, their daughters and granddaughters, their husbands and boyfriends, an apparently ageless Neolithic shaman, the Green Man reincarnated (and so sexy I almost let him take over the novel), three villains (the residence managers and a heartless doctor), a homeless woman named Coyote, a lost goddess in disguise as Red Riding Hood, a ghostly Inquisitor, two mainstream metaphysical ministers, the Norns (who come to California and start a weather war when our women reject them), and a talking cat named Madame Blavatsky (though why the founder of Theosophy decided to transmigrate into a cat I’ll never know) who reads children’s literature and argues with people. They lived in Anaheim, California, but when I moved to Long Beach, I brought them along with me and moved the Center Towers Retirement Residence, too. I can drive you to where most of the characters live.

Notice the little witch on the cover Because I didn’t want to rip off anyone’s art and just use one of my collection of witches, I asked my brilliant daughter-in-law to make me a witch. She (the witch, not my daughter-in-law) is still sitting on the bookshelf in my living room, just like you see her in the photo. I also created a Reader’s Guide to give background notes for each story. It’s free. Just send me an email and ask for it.

One of the main characters is Bertha, their resident comedian and trickster. The cat lives with her. After another character makes friends with a member of the Psychic Spiritual Church of Abundant New Age Light and Love, they go there to attend a psychic fair. Bertha and the cat are up to no good….

Then the candles—every candle in the room shot up into the air and whizzed overhead in a pyrotechnical stampede that threatened to scorch the acoustical ceiling. Then, still lit, the candles huddled briefly in one corner and, at an inaudible command, fanned out again in formation across the room, showering all below with sparks and flashes and flashy sparkles. Within minutes, tongues of flame were bouncing in rhythm above every person’s head.

Rev. Debbee couldn’t help but hear the commotion. She rushed out of her office and grabbed the first person she came to, which was Gwennie. “What’s going on here? Who started this?”

But Gwennie had no reply, because now the card tables and metal folding chairs were beginning to march around the room in a metallic grand promenade.

Rev. Debbee posed on the top step, one arm outstretched like Charleton Heston parting the Red Sea. “Halt!”

Six of the tables began to dance little jigs, two more began an eight-legged pas de deux, and the rest bounced into a polka whose music only they could hear until some invisible hand suddenly turned up the sound: the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. Soon half a dozen chairs began warbling and pirouetting to Waltz of the Flowers, while a lone chair across the room broke into Gene Kelly’s big dance number from Singin’ in the Rain, using a dried-out bromeliad as its umbrella.

Bertha had disappeared. The cat was sitting calmly, transparently, in the center of Rev. Debbee’s altar.

All the tarot cards in the room—a dozen packs of seventy-eight cards each—broke free and, like a demented marching band at halftime in hell, began arranging themselves in intricate patterns in the center of the floor, taking care (of course) to keep well out of the way of two hundred and eighty-eight unrestrained furniture legs.

Books now came marching out of the bookstore, each reciting its table of contents in an appropriate voice or accent. Dodging through their ranks, Brother Melchizedek caught a volume of Gurdjieff declaiming in a thick Russian accent and tackled a grimoire chanting in medieval Hebrew. Rev. Les snatched up a yodeling Celtic songbook and tripped a whispering Dion Fortune novel, which fell flat on its back cover.

A brave young psychic tackled a howling White Goddess, another psychic picked up a rocking Seth book, and still another captured a soliloquizing Masters of the Far East, Vol. 5. Wendell neatly plucked up a droning Alice Bailey volume on white magic and threw a handful of paper napkins over Isis Unveiled. Someone else scooped up a whole parade of Edgar Cayce paperbacks as they wafted by.

Rev. Debbee forced her way through several copies of The Unobstructed Universe and The Quimby Manuscripts and reached her altar. There she stood, alone, facing kaleidoscoping tarot cards, orating books, clacking crystals, and frolicking furniture.


For all the effect her voice had, she might have been speaking into the wrong end of a wind tunnel.