Monday, October 24, 2011

SEVENTEEN: You Your Emily Dickinson and I My Robert Frost

            "Derek said they’re sad.”
            “He said she pissed herself in school.”
            It was late. They were sitting at the kitchen table. She had made a pot of tea. Derek and Patti had finally gone to sleep after he promised he’d stay overnight. He and Lydia had been talking for more than an hour. He told her how he had come to crash into the mailbox on Starke Street and she told him how she’d gone with Patti to Lake Wildemere. How they had sat on the dock and talked. How they had cried together. No, she hadn’t thought to notify the school.
There were silences when there was nothing more to say or when they both realized that the next thing either might say would be hurtful. At least, he thought, they were trying to be unhurtful. It was nearly midnight. He was exhausted but he wanted to talk as long as she wanted to. They hadn’t mentioned Diana and he was hoping they would not.
Lydia had taken off her hair band and with her elbows on the table she held her hair behind her ears.
“Do you love her?” she asked simply and he could see--or rather he could sense--the effort it was costing her to ask openly and without accusation, without implication.
He couldn’t answer her as straightforwardly as she had asked.
She waited.
Finally he said, “I think I’ve been wondering for a while now if you ever loved me. Really loved me.”
She closed her eyes a moment. “We will talk about that,” she said, again simply, “if you want. But just now we need to talk about you and Diana Heard.”
You and Diana Heard. There it was. Clean. Direct. Unthreatening. She almost sounded concerned for him.
“Do you love her?”
In his lap under the tabletop he clasped his hands together. “Yes,” he said. And then, “I do. Yes.”
She touched her teacup with the fingertips of both hands. It was her grandmother's wedding china. Her hair fell on either side of her face.
“My father didn’t like you,” she said. “He didn’t trust you. He thought you were arrogant and manipulative.”
He had heard these things before, but they were always said with her quiet, wounding precision. And then he would hurl something ugly at her and slam the door as he left to show that violence was a reality even if it wasn't an actual option. But tonight something was different. She was not attacking. She was asking questions truly, engaging him truly.
“Though I remember,” she was saying, “that he did appreciate your telling him my sense of humor was delightful. I think he thought he was responsible for my sense of humor. Mother liked you well enough, though she never said so to him.” She took a deep breath. “I thought you were brilliant. Not in a bio-engineering way. In a creative way that neither I nor either of my parents could approach. Mother long ago had taken piano lessons. Father said that any field of science was a more imaginative pursuit than any art. And I...”
She pulled her hair back again. “I didn’t care that you were manipulative,” she said. “I was better at that than you were. I know you’ve always thought I manipulated you into marriage. I know you think I tricked you about my being pregnant. And I’ve let you think that. I’m not sure why.”
He'd never thought he was tricked. He had always believed she'd been pregnant. Hadn’t he? But if that was true, what had he resented all these years? What did he still blame her for?
“Maybe because it kept you off balance,” she was saying, “as if it were a source of power—for me, not you. I don’t know. But it isn’t true. I was pregnant.” She looked directly at him and said, “Yes, I loved you. I really loved you.”
She spoke deliberately, easily. “I had spent my life surrounded by intellects and artists, or at least academics. And always one or another of them trying to find his way in to me—a new faculty member or the son of an old faculty member. Or once or twice a daughter.” She almost smiled. “And every one of them reminded me of my father. Only less so. They were always, finally, lesser. You, though, you were dangerous. You had been to places and not the obvious ones and not just to do research for your next deadly book or your next pointless conference presentation. You respected my father no more than you had to. You dropped consonants purposely when you spoke and you made it part of the power of your language. There was danger in your muscles and in your eyes when you got angry. When you swore you really meant it. And when you were tender, you were like a child or a…I don’t know, an acolyte or something. Devoted, careful, aware. You tended my heart. You…uplifted me.”
She looked at her fingers touching the empty cup. “Yes, I loved you really.” 
She put the band back in her hair and she poured herself more tea. “I hated coming here. I don’t think I liked Chicago all that much but I hated coming here and for a few years I believed it would be temporary. I am aware that that hatred closed off a part of me to you. I am aware that the delightful sense of humor of my youth has lost its delight and much of its humor. That it has been replaced by a…honed rancor that has…diminished me. Perhaps I have not been aware just how much…damage…it has done.”
She sat still.
He knew he was supposed to say something now, but he also knew it mustn't be the wrong thing.
“I guess I’ve never wanted to admit how much you...hate…living in Falkes Hollow,” he said. “I was so happy when I got the job. I didn't think I’d finish college let alone get an MA. And they hired me without a PhD, what were the chances of that? I guess it didn’t occur to me until too late that you weren’t happy.”
“I don’t know that I still hate it,” she said. “Some time ago it became…tolerable. Reality.”
“Some time ago we stopped liking each other.” He brought his hands together on the table top. He hadn’t touched his tea. “For lots of reasons.”
"Ah," she said.
“We stopped wanting to understand each other,” he said. “Or believing there was something to understand. I think."
            "We stopped caring.”
She let a moment pass before she asked, “What do you want to do?”
He hesitated, then said, “I don’t know.”
“Have you been staying with her?”
“No.” He tried to read the look in her eyes.
“I have been past her house. She rents the little apartment on the top floor, yes?”
“It’s small, though perhaps not for those who live on love." She caught herself. "No. No wicked tongue tonight.” She took a breath. “If not with her, then where are you staying?”
“I’m all right,” he said, “It’s temporary.”
She acknowledged the evasion with a nod. “What are we going to tell Derek and Patti?”
“I can’t stay here,” he said. “It won’t work. It would be worse for them to be in the middle of that--you know what would happen--than to…deal with this…with us being separated.”
“Terrible things could have happened today,” she said. “When the hospital called,
“Yes,” he said.
“They each could have been killed.”
“Yes,” he said. “I know.”
“Or worse.”
He was quiet.
“Do you want a separation?” she said. “A legal separation?”
“I don’t know, I guess not yet, I mean--”
“A divorce?”
He was beginning to feel the way he felt just before he lost control of the car. “It doesn’t have to be decided by tomorrow, does it?”
"What will we tell them?"
            "The truth. That things are up in the air. They’ll understand.”
            They sat looking at their teacups.
“The daybed in the study is still made up.”
“I can’t stay tonight.”
“You promised them, you told them--”
“I would have told them anything. I’ll be here first thing. Classes start tomorrow. I can miss the morning faculty meeting. My class is at two."
She got up slowly and put the teacups in the sink, came back for the teapot and put it on the counter. He saw suddenly that she looked exhausted, too.
“Can I take your car?" he said. "Should I call a cab?"
            She gave him her keys and she walked him to the door.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thanks for coming to the hospital.”
She nodded.
“For talking.”
She nodded again.
“I’ll be here before they wake up. They don’t need to know I didn’t stay the night. How about seven-thirty?”
“They’ll be up before then.”
“Okay, seven?”
“Do as you need to do,” she said.
After he left, she sat at the kitchen table for some minutes. Then she switched off the lights and went upstairs. She opened the door to Patti’s room and she looked inside. The bed was empty.
There was a twinge of fear. She checked the bathroom. Empty. She opened the door to Derek’s room and stood in the doorway. In the near darkness she could see them sleeping in each other’s arms.
She didn’t move, made not a sound, but he awoke.
“Is Dad here?” he said.
“No, sweetheart,” and before he could say anything else, “but he’ll be here first thing in the morning and we’ll all have breakfast together and we’ll talk, okay?”
He was a shadow on the bed and she was a silhouette in the doorway. “Sometimes I hate him,” he said without hatred.
 “I know, sweetie.” She went into the room and sat on the bed and she touched the side of his face with one hand and with the other she smoothed Patti’s hair as she slept. “Sometimes I hate him too.”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

SIXTEEN: Un--, Im--, Ir--, Dis--, Perv--

            Diana had crouched so low behind the yellow rose bushes as Father John Nepomucine and the young girl came down the path that she could no longer see them. Her heart was thumping. She was barely breathing. She had read somewhere that in trauma the body feels less pain if the lungs aren’t working and so during fearful situations you hold your breath. 
            It wasn’t until later that she laughed at her fear. What would have happened had she simply stood up and said, “Father Nepomucine, may I please speak with you? Would you prefer to be dressed or shall I just walk along with you and…?”
            And the child. Diana couldn’t tell what he and the child were talking about because they weren’t speaking English. Was it Italian? For a moment she thought it might be Church Latin. Was it French? She’d had one semester of French in high school but Mrs. Joy—ah, the irony of the name!—who was actually the Spanish teacher, had taken over the French class when the French teacher, Monsieur Krickowski, had suffered a heart attack during the home room period and had died on the way to the hospital. Mrs. Joy pronounced French the way class clown Alex Rosenfeld did when he was making fun of the way people who had no gift for languages spoke French. And Diana had no more gift for speaking French than did Mrs. Joy. Still, Diana was pretty sure that Father Nepomucine and the little girl were talking to each other in French.
            It wasn’t until they'd gone past her that she felt she could breathe and shift position enough to be able to watch them through the rose leaves. Father Nepomucine’s black hair curled farther down the back of his neck than she had noticed at Moira’s memorial service. And he seemed taller, though that might be because he was naked and the top of the girl’s head came only to the top of his hip. His glutes moved rhythmically in the late afternoon sunlight. “Jesus,” Diana said. Saint Cecilia’s Rectory must have a gym.
            The girl was thin and light and agile, as balanced and graceful as a dancer. She skipped alongside Father Nepomucine and she faced him and walked backwards and one hand pulled at her shiny black hair and she executed a ballet step or two as they walked and talked. She laughed pipingly in response to his bubbling liquid baritone. 
            They came to a turn in the path and Father Nepomucine leaned over and lifted her and she straddled his neck and sat on his shoulders.
Diana’s thoughts were not so much racing as careening into one another. Her heart was pounding, but it wasn’t simply from fear. Or at least not from the simple fear of being discovered. It was fear of what she was thinking. And to think clearly, she had to get out of the garden. She had time enough to slip through the hedge and creep among the apple trees along the side of the house before Father Nepomucine and the child could walk around the periphery of the garden and come back to the entrance from the other side.
If she met Gardener Leatherface, she would hurl herself into him and then bolt.
            The brick driveway in front of the house was clear and empty. She walked purposefully but unhurriedly as if she had just left a business meeting in the rectory. When she got to the gravel road, she jogged down to the foot of the hill, through the gate and to her car.
            Which wasn’t there.
            She had parked it just outside the gate, hadn’t she? She couldn’t be mistaken. Had it been stolen? Why would anyone steal a nine-year old Datsun?
            “This is private property,” said a voice from behind her. She turned to see Leatherface standing some way up the gravel road behind the gate. He was holding the psycho killer garden tool. “And if you park on private property, you’re just liable to get yer car towed.” 
He stood looking at her. She wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, she wanted to rip the tool out of his hands, she wanted to pick up a rock and at least throw it at him. But she stood helpless and open-mouthed.
He turned and walked up the gravel road toward the rectory.
What to do? The Bradish Towing lot was out on Harbour Road on the other side of town past where last year the mall had been built. And here she was, standing on Old Harbour Road on this side of town. She couldn’t yell after Leatherface and ask if she might use the rectory phone to call the police or the towing company. Or a cab. Or a friend. And, oh yeah, why the hell wasn’t Les here with her?
It was only a couple of miles to town and there was still enough light in the sky to walk to a phone. And it would give her time to think. She walked, staying just at the edge of the macadam. There were few cars.
In the late afternoon light the Saint Cecilia Rectory garden had been Maxfield Parrish beautiful. Summer fragrances hung in the air. Father Nepomucine was beautiful and the little girl had danced around him beautifully. In the late afternoon sunlight their bodies had moved beautifully and something of the interplay between the two of them—like a muscled planet orbited by a spritely moon—was all grace and beauty.
But Maxfield Parrish was also creepy and Father John Nepomucine was a man and Spritely Moon was a prepubescent girlchild and they had been walking naked together on the graveled garden pathway. Something behind Diana’s heart tensed and held tight to its discomfort. Something in her wished it had something outside her against which to contextualize what she was thinking. (All this happened before the sex abuse trials of places like the McMartin pre-school of Manhattan Beach, California, and before the explosion of sexual molestation charges against Roman Catholic priests.)
Some distance ahead of her Diana saw where the road bridged over a shallow tributary of the Schuylhanna River, marking the beginning of town. Across the bridge was the Falkes Hollow Lutheran Care Center that only a few years ago had been a family dairy farm. She remembered her aunt Louanne (her mother’s oldest sister) sitting in a wheelchair on a side porch at the facility, a blanket over her knees, her head lolling forward, her eyes unfocused beneath the brow, her mouth hanging open.
Who was this child sprite? Was she living at the rectory? Was she related to Father Nepomucine? They had been comfortable and easy walking together. Ohmygod, what if she was his daughter! Well, what if she was? What difference would it make to whether what they were doing was right or wrong? What was Diana to do? Who should she talk to? And what would she say? I saw the priest at Saint Cecilia’s Rectory walking naked in his garden with a child? Was that illegal? Was it immoral? It was at least suspicious, wasn't it, even if it wasn't inherently wrong or necessarily indecent? Did she really believe that? Or was she--
“Diana! Diana Heard!”
The voice came from a car that had just passed her and had pulled off the road about twenty yards back. 
Diana went to the car. There were two people in it.
The driver was Tammy DeBardeau. Diana hadn't seen her since, incredibly, she had recited a poem that Moira's brother had written for Moira's memorial service. 
“Wanna ride?” she said.
            On the passenger side sat Douglas Wrythe. In the days following Moira's death, he had been the primary object of Tammy’s delight in saying aloud what others dared only to think. And here he was in Tammy's car. Or maybe she was driving his car. And maybe it wasn’t so incredible after all that he had asked her to recite the poem at the memorial service. In truth, she had delivered it beautifully.
            “Get in,” Tammy said. “Where are you going? What are you doing out here?”
            “I think my car’s been towed.”
            “Well, let’s go find out,” Tammy said.
Diana got in the back seat and Tammy drove back toward town.
“Where did it get towed from?” Tammy asked.
            In the passenger seat, Douglas Wrythe had turned and was looking at Diana and he was smiling with a delight that Diana knew she wasn’t meant to share.
            “Do you know where the auto towing lot is?” Diana said.
            Tammy laughed. “I’m from West Tilton. Practically a townie. Been to Bradish Towing many a late Saturday night and Sunday morning.”
            “Towed from the side of the road, eh?” Douglas said still smiling, still ungenerously.
“Yeah,” Tammy said, “were you out picking mushrooms after work or what?”
            “Not worth talking about,” Diana said. “Where were you two going?”
            Tammy laughed. “After a long day teaching Falkes Hollow’s lonely needy middle-aged wives to play tennis--among other things I’m sure—" (All this happened before the word 'cougar' referred to anything other than a wild cat, a sports team, or an automobile) “--Pro Wrythe here needed a little distraction and ‘DeBardeau’ is French for ‘little distraction’, n'est-ce pas?”
            Douglas looked out the side window. “I was just telling Tammy how worked up Professor Overchord was this afternoon,” he said and Tammy said, “Speaking of lonely needy middle-aged women, right?” and Douglas said, “He was pretty intense about trying to find out where Lydia was.”
            “‘Lydia’!” Tammy hooted. “Half a tennis lesson and it’s ‘Lydia’ already!” Then to Diana, “She knows about you and Les, right?”
            “Oooo wow,” Diana said, “maybe I should’ve just taken my chances on deserted Old Harbour Road.”
            “Hah!” Tammy said.
            Diana couldn’t stop herself from asking, “What was going on with Les?” Maybe he did have good reason for baling on The Mystery of the Naked Priest.
            “Lydia’s in the middle of her lesson,” Tammy was saying, “which Pro Wrythe tells me was going very well—and we all know what that means--when little Patti comes crying onto the court and suddenly Lydia and Patti are leaving and a few minutes later Les comes in all frantic and he wants to know where they are—“
            Douglas was still looking out his window.
            “--and he storms out and I come and get Dougie to go for a drive in the country and then there you are walking along the side of the road picking mushrooms or something—“
            “Maybe she'd just gone to confession,” Douglas said.
            “Confession?” Tammy said.
“Maybe for penance she had to walk along the road and say three Hail Marys and fifty Our Fathers and let her car be towed.”
“Do Catholics still go to confession?" Tammy said. "Are you even a Catholic? Is there a church out here?”
            “Or maybe she was pulling a Charlie’s Angels,” Douglas said.
            “Did you find out what was going on with Les and his family?” Diana asked.
            “Nope,” Douglas said and he chuckled and rubbed the top of his buzz-cut.
            “Seriously,” Tammy said, looking at Diana in the rear-view mirror, “what’s up with you and Les? Does Lydia know?”
            “Tammy, I don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m gonna leave it at that.”
            Tammy laughed. “Whatever. And by the way, what would Charlie’s Angels have to investigate out on Old Harbour Road?”
            “Who knows what intrigues, both venial and mortal, bubble and brew at the far ends of those gravel drives,” Douglas said, looking at Diana. 
“Which Charlie’s angel do you think I’m most like?” Tammy asked.
“Who knows what kinky exploits flower along the walkways of those mysterious walled country gardens,” Douglas said.
Diana looked directly at him and did not blink.
"I'm thinking Farrah," Tammy said.