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.

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