Second Sight –
In the history of Jonathan's
family, the eldest child in each generation develops second
sight on the thirteenth birthday. But for unknown
reasons his mother didn't receive the
sight, and the last person who did abandoned the
family 40 years ago after being released from a
mental institution. His father isn’t sure what to make of all
this; his grandfather assures him he is fine the way he is, and
his mother hopes he will receive what she
didn’t. Tomorrow is Jonathan's
Jonathan sits in his yard, unsure about reading a journal
recently sent to his mother from an aunt he's never met, the
last person in the family to have second sight. Laura, a new
neighbor, enters the yard looking for her dog. She's engaging
and willful and cajoles the secret of his birthday from him.
She convinces him to read to her from the journal, which
describes the psychic experiences of his Aunt Joan. He reads an
unpleasant passage and is even more unsure about second sight
and what might happen to him.
Jonathan's grandfather Douglas unexpectedly drops by, and
Jonathan quickly hides the journal he shouldn't have in Laura's
pack. Laura leaves, and Douglas talks to Jonathan about his
unusual birthday, stressing that he is fine just the way he is;
he shouldn't feel he has to change. Douglas leaves and Laura
returns the journal. Jonathan wraps it up to return it to his
mother's closet, then he changes his mind and throws it far
into the woods instead.
Jonathan's parents and grandmother return. Tom and Sarah are
disagreeing about how to deal with tomorrow. Tom has ignored
everything relating to the odd nature of this birthday, and
Sarah calls him on it. But, he points out, he has asked about
what happened on her thirteenth birthday, and she has refused
to talk about that. Sarah says she can't. Tom hears more won't
than can't and leaves.
Sarah questions her mother about her birthday, something she
hasn't done since she was a girl. Mattie gets defensive and
says there's nothing more to say. Sarah knows there is, and
feeling pressured to know more so she can help Jonathan, she
remembers part of a scene—herself crying because tomorrow is
her birthday and Joan hasn't come to help her; her mother
offering little, turning to her father for help, and him raging
at both of them. Sarah understands some of her past and her
Mattie, under pressure from Sarah and Tom, reluctantly talks
about her sister Joan for the first time, how she was difficult
even before she had the sight. How she was arrested for using
the sight, lost control of herself, and ended up on a
psychiatric ward. When she was released, she abandoned the
family. It's more than she's said in the past, but clearly not
the whole story.
Tom goes out back to start the barbecue with racing gas.
Jonathan enters and asks his mom if its ok if nothing happens
tomorrow, if he doesn't change. She can't quite see his concern
through her own expectations. In her room, Mattie relives the
scene where Joan was arrested many years ago. It took place at
a coffee shop, in front of her and Douglas. Joan gave a reading
to a plains clothes detective and was arrested, screaming at
him, kicking him, then screaming at Douglas, as if he was
involved, but she was acting like a madwoman, repeating herself
over and over.
Laura comes to the door. She's told her parents about
Jonathan, not his birthday, but how she sort of messed up
meeting him. Her mother has suggested she come over with
brownies to make amends, although being in a hurry, Laura
hasn't actually finished making them. Jonathan, a bit angry at
being forced to read the unpleasant journal, feels better now
that he's thrown it away, and he's glad to see her again. She's
the only person he's really been able to talk to. He invites
Laura to dinner in front of his mom. It's an awkward moment for
Sarah, because the thirteenth birthday is a private affair, a
secret. When his mom says no, Jonathan fakes that it came to
him psychically to invite Laura, how he saw them all eating
brownies. Sarah relents.
Douglas returns. In the ensuing conversation Sarah learns
that her husband and father have been undermining her emphasis
on the birthday, planning special gifts to make the day special
in case it isn't in the way she hopes. She also becomes aware
that her father has been talking to Jonathan, prompting him not
to change, and some of what Douglas says begins to open her
Into this conversation arrives Joan, having decided she
should be there for Jonathan, so he might have an easier time
of it than she did. The last is supposed to help the next. She
felt prompted to come, even though she didn't want to. She sent
the journal hoping the feeling would go away, but it didn't, so
she's come to find out why. Finding Douglas there is a huge
shock to her, but she must talk to Jonathan. When Mattie walks
into the room, Joan can barely keep her feet. It's the coffee
shop again. She rushes out suddenly.
That evening Jonathan takes food to Joan where she is camped
by the stream near the house. Joan decides to have the talk
then and there instead of waiting until tomorrow. Jonathan
believes/hopes nothing will happen; Joan thinks something
already has. She recounts the history of the family and second
sight, and because he isn't very receptive, settles on telling
him just three things he should know to get started. First,
that it is possible to know things. Watching him respond to the
call of a red-winged blackbird, Joan helps him see that the
bird was communicating with him, and that he knows it. He
understands, but quickly doubts himself. She continues with the
second thing: that people can't hide their true intent, and the
third, that some people see awareness as a threat and will want
to stop him. She explains what the journal is and gives him
another one, a blank one, for his own use. He accuses her of
trying to make him hate his family like she does. They push and
pull but finish their discourse. Having done what she thinks
she came to do, Joan leaves.
The next morning Joan unexpectedly returns to talk to
Mattie. Joan explains why she left and never returned—she
maintains Douglas was involved in her arrest, and that Mattie
knew. Mattie denies it, but the sisters reconcile to a degree.
Joan agrees to stay for the birthday. That afternoon she, Tom
and Sarah, Douglas, and Laura cook out in the back yard. (Laura
has brought the thrown journal back to Jonathan—found by Max,
her dog.) After a bit Mattie excuses herself to rest for awhile
before the cake.
Joan does a bit of psychic reading for Tom and Laura, which
prompts Douglas to question what she's doing in a dismissive
way. Douglas's views become clear, as does the reason Joan left
the family. As Sarah listens to her father's words, she
remembers similar words and begins to understand the influences
that made opening impossible for her. She asks her father about
what he said to her when she was young. He downplays her
memories as imagination.
Douglas turns the conversation to a book he's heard may
exist, part of their interesting family history, a chronicle of
the experiences of those in the family who supposedly had this
second sight. If it exists, he should like to read it, he says,
to study the philosophy of it. Perhaps he could learn from it.
Jonathan asks his grandfather why he would want to see it, and
listens to his answer. Then he says there is a book, a journal.
He leaves and returns and gives his grandfather the journal to
look over—the empty one. For me to write in, he says, if
something happens, if I open. How nice, Douglas comments,
admiring the fine leather binding.
Jonathan excuses himself to check on his grandmother,
followed shortly by Joan, who finds him outside her room,
unable to enter, experiencing something he can't explain. Joan
helps him remember that two years ago, when his best friend
died, he saw something. Mattie hears them and calls them in,
and they talk. Mattie gets through her denial and admits
Douglas was involved, and she knew to some extent. She and Joan
remember some good times, finally drawing closer again. Sarah
comes in and listens. Then Joan notices Mattie is still, not
breathing. Joan calls for Jonathan to get help, but he tells
his mother and Joan that Mattie doesn't need help. She's fine.
She's gone. He watched her go. She waited until Joan came, and
then she was done. It was her time.
After the funeral, Jonathan walks down by the stream where
he and his aunt talked. Laura finds him there. She compliments
him for being able to stand up at the service and tell everyone
about what he saw. A red-wing blackbird calls, and Laura ask
him if sometimes birds talk to people. He asks her what she
thinks. "Sometimes," she says, indicating she too is developing
the sight. "Sometimes," Jonathan answers.