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
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 mother's behavior.
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
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 memories further.
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
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.