Perenna Fleming is psychic, but she’s not a psychic. That’s what she says. She’s a life coach now, relationship counselor, Reiki healer, energy aligner, that stuff. But it’s all in the present. The future is out.
No more telling fortunes of happiness or hardships or husbands. No more reading minds or talking with the dead. Fleming leans back in her armchair. She says it’s better that way.
“I could be a psychic,” she says. “I truly, truly don’t want to be.”
She works mostly from her home in Point Richmond. She has people over to her house sometimes, seats them on the couch, her in the armchair, talking them through it in her crisp British accent. She can align energies over the phone, too. $150 a session, a couple clients most days, plus she teaches classes and workshops—plenty, she says.
Sun streams through the big window looking out over the Richmond marina, throwing long shadows on the carpet. A pale carved cherub peeks from below a wooden bucket on one side of the fireplace. Another peers from the other side, holding out brassy cymbals. On the mantel is a picture of Fleming’s daughter, a shard of purple crystal, a barbeque lighter, some fool’s gold.
Most of her clients are referrals. People come to her because they’re hung up on the past, confused about the present, scared of the future. They believe what she tells them.
This is the story: Fleming’s a young girl, at her grandmother’s house in Scotland. “My grandmother, whom I adored, told me that if I prayed hard enough I’d see God,” she says. So that night she prays, and she prays, and finally she sees bright flashing lights and hears enormous sounds, and she knows she’s seen God.
“I told someone in the morning,” she says, “and some wonderful adult said, ‘Don’t be stupid, you’ve probably just heard a screech owl or saw headlights.” And so she tries not to be stupid and forgets all about it.
She grows up and moves first to Boston and then west to California with her husband, a chemical engineer, a very literal man. She’s a manager at a non-profit in San Francisco that helps drug addicts stop being addicted, helps released prisoners find work and houses. She isn’t psychic.
Then she divorces the chemical engineer and for a time isn’t sure what to do next. She likes working with people, so she decides to take a class to become a life coach. It’s 1998, and there aren’t very many life coaches, and there aren’t very many classes you can take to learn how to become a life coach. But she finds classes, and in one of the classes there’s a guy teaching about energy—chakras, auras, the shadows of spirit and soul. He teaches her how to be a life coach, and also how to find people’s internal energy. He teaches her how to shift the energy around and how to heal people with the energy.
And then, soon after, she’s back in Scotland for the first time in 25 years, sitting at a restaurant, near her grandmother’s house where she saw God all those years ago. Her daughter is there, along with her sister, a friend of hers and an old friend of her mother’s. “We were talking about North Sea oil, and then all of a sudden everybody to my left disappeared, and there was my mother, who had been dead for 20 years,” she says. “She was sitting there clear as anything, looking gorgeous—they always show up looking their best.”
Then her mother disappears and the people at the table say she’s got a funny look on her face, and Fleming starts crying. That’s the first time.
Now she’s a psychic. She begins to hear thoughts of people on the street, sees glimpses of futures, flashes of pasts. “You’d look at someone and almost know what was worrying them,” she says. Shakes her head. “Yuck.” She joins a psychic hotline. People call her, pay a dollar a minute to get their fortunes. But she hates it, all the misery and desperation and pleas for a quick fix—easy solutions, where none can be had.
Because there is no certainty, just shadows of truth and possibilities. The psychic world isn’t a seven-day week, she says. So there’s a pot of gold in your future. Okay. But when will you find it? Tomorrow? Thirty years from now? She can’t tell. But that’s not what people want. Their troubles and worries and cares are of today—their girlfriend left them, their cancer is terminal, they want answers for today. “What do you say to someone who’s going through hell?” she says. She quits after a month.
But she sees more dead people, first just on occasion and then all the time. She sees them standing around when she enters rooms—“It could be like a damn party,” she says. “I’d walk into a room and there’s all these spirits.” Sometimes they’re dressed in old clothes, sometimes talking amongst themselves, sometimes propped lifelessly against walls or sprawled on the ground. Sometimes she hears them talking to her.
She’s terrified. She wants out. The ghosts of the past are just as bad as the specters of the future. So she calls her friend, an Australian psychic, who knows about these things, who helps her learn how to stop seeing ghosts and hearing people’s thoughts and futures. She makes the conscious choice, gives it up. Done. She’s still psychic, but she’s not a psychic.
Now. That’s the story, she says. You don’t have to believe it. But her clients believe in her. She can’t help them if they don’t. There was a woman once, she says, a skeptic, who from the start didn’t really believe Fleming could help her, only Fleming didn’t realize it right off. She grew to dread the appointments. “My heart sank every time the phone rang,” she says. “Finally I had to just say, ‘This isn’t working.’”
The belief is the important thing.
On the table to Fleming’s left are five Meissen figurines, delicate ivory women with flowery togas, one strumming a lyre, another chiseling a face from a marble block. Between them stands plastic Queen Elizabeth II in a pink dress. One arm holds up a black purse; the other is raised to shoulder level, palm out. Fleming’s daughter is in the solar industry, she explains. When the sun hits the Queen, she gives a slow, solar-powered royal wave.
Fleming doesn’t talk with ghosts anymore, and she doesn’t tell fortunes. It’s all in the present now, the healing, the consoling, the counseling. She says she still uses her psychic powers, though, her intuition.
Her clients come to her burdened, weighed down with life, some bent over by single failures, some by the ceaseless day to day to day. “People feel heavy,” she says. “They feel uncertain.” Her job, she says, is to lift the weight.
What do you wish your life was like? she asks them. “I’ll say to them, ‘If you could paint the canvas in any way you choose, what would it look like?’” she says. “People say, ‘Well, I’m really in an uncomfortable relationship, and I’d like to paint that relationship with light and sunshine and not heaviness.”
She unearths their bad energy, excavates guilt, exhumes sorrow. “We’re driven very strongly by our unconscious and subconscious fears, doubts, habits,” she says. “I identify what unconscious and subconscious fear is holding you back from being the best you can be.” The bad energy.
Packages of five sessions, the first with a special introductory rate. Not like a therapist, she says—“What’s different about what I do and about what a therapist does is, in therapy, you go once a week and you talk through the issues, but you don’t shift the energy of it. You’ve got to shift the energy. Talking about it isn’t always enough.”
She says she asks clients, do you feel the energy moving? Is it leaving your body? Do you feel lighter? “99 times out of 100, they feel it,” she says. “I have some great testimonials on my website.”
The thing about a person’s belief, Fleming says, is that once you have it, you’ve got to be careful with it. If you knew the date of your death, what would you do differently? If you knew about the blonde in the future, would you ignore the brunette in the present? “You see?” she says.
Nothing is really set, anyway. “The thing about us being humans, is we are of free will,” she says. “There’s always free will.”
Go ahead and choose the brunette.
She’s had clients come to her, she says, distraught, let down by another psychic’s errant forecast. Why didn’t it go right? they want to know. She purses her lips. There are remorseless psychics, she says, untroubled by the consequences of their casual predictions. Charlatans, too, outright fakes. Crystal balls and velvet curtains and a good act.
The top of Fleming’s coffee table is a picture of the Thames. On the table is a book called Healing Magnetism by Leslie O. Korth, and a napkin that says, “I used to think drinking was bad, so I stopped thinking.”
The divorce was hard, she says. Alone after decades together, she was lost at first. But she realizes now the chemical engineer was holding her back, suppressing her spiritual side. He only believed in facts and figures—“Poor man,” she says.
She’s got another guy now. He lives nearby, and she says he’s an enlightened, spiritual person.
Earlier in the day she’d been on the phone with a client; yesterday she spoke with a couple other clients. “One of the worst things about my business is I work myself out of a job,” she says, smiling. “Once they’re done, they’re done.”
She still gets a couple calls a week from people who want her to tell their fortune or speak with the dead for them. She politely turns them down, but it’s a little frustrating, she says, having to explain over and over and over—she’s psychic, but she’s not a psychic. That’s what she says.