The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 5: THE REPORT
A necromantic energy possessed Iam. She flung off the sweater, sprung from the sofa, and tore into the kitchen, dauntless under the gaze of the surveillant cat clock. She searched for Dominic, cast her eyes under the table, scanned the room frantically, not expecting him to be there, just acting, reacting, obeying, when she saw the remains of lunch on the sideboard, glasses, plates, and the pitcher.
Then an urge compelled her to howl for Dominic, but she could not open her mouth. She stopped and gripped the table. She struggled to open her mouth, but it was sealed. It was hot, unmovable, as if she’d shoved handfuls of tacky, flavorless black licorice into it and the heat of her temper had melted it into a sickly adhesive tar, and there existed no strength she could summon to break the caramelized lock. Her breathing deteriorated to short, noisy, panicked sucks through her nostrils. Spent, she sunk onto a chair.
That’s better, dear. You know running in the kitchen is dangerous.
She twisted in the chair. It creaked with her effort. She darted her eyes here and there, and finished at the clock, at the eyes that shifted back and forth, at the mouth that should have been a painted slit, a mere curved inanimate line, but that was curled in a living smile, at once benevolent and loopy.
Dominic is a sweet boy. He hasn’t misbehaved. You understand, don’t you, dear?
Iam fixated on the pedantic clock, on the mouth that smiled and moved and instructed.
You know that, don’t you?
Instinctively, she perceived the clock would not leave her alone unless she acknowledged it. She nodded, vigorously.
Good, dear. Now, please, calm yourself. Breathing deeply always helps me. Try it. Open your mouth and take deep breaths.
Tentatively, she parted her lips. Gone was the molten seal. She opened her mouth and gratefully drew huge, quick breaths.
Slow down, dear. You don’t want to pass out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself on the floor without a clue as to how I got there. But you recall, dear, don’t you?
“Yes, I do,” she said to the clock, projecting into its face a lovely scene, the perfect Christmas snapshot of the family in a circle, the decorated tree the centerpiece, the group awash in a sea of shredded wrapping paper. Lovely, yet, no one was happy, no one save Aunt Margie.
She and Ruth were young, and Sammy was living, all close in age, borne by her mother in rapid succession to get the job done, to dispense with the nasty business, to be done with the hopping in and out of clothes and bed, ironically to be finished with her father and his urges, a revelation her mother let slip years later in a fit, when she was pregnant by a lover. Sammy was discontented he hadn’t gotten the train set he yearned for. Ruth received the wrong doll; she demanded to know how Santa could commit such a tragic error. Iam was nauseous about portraying the virgin mother at the twelve o’clock mass; it was nothing more than a stroll up the aisle with Joseph and a baby Jesus doll, culminating in a brief tableau in front of the altar, but her mother had forced the role upon her, notwithstanding Iam’s hours of tearful opposition. Her mother and father were sulky too; Iam thought at the time because the children were acting ungratefully, or because Aunt Margie had been living with them for two months and she knew how unhappy her aunt made her mother; though later she understood Aunt Margie was a small part of the reason; that her parents were so disaffected with each other it spilled from them to contaminate everything surrounding them, reducing the denouement of family occasions like Christmas to, at best, melancholia, and sometimes lashing displays of vindictive epitaphs. Everybody was displeased, disappointed, or disturbed, save Aunt Margie. She sat primly on the edge of a floral club chair in her shirtwaist with the outdated crinoline skirts neatly and demurely smoothed over her tightly clasped legs. She beamed broadly and radiated such an intense pleasure that it warmed Iam and dispelled, for the intervals she glanced at her, the dread of the twelve o’clock mass. In her lap rested her present; she stroked the four cartons of Kool cigarettes as if they were living pets.
“Such a thoughtful gift, children,” she said merrily. “Are they your idea, dear?”
No, they were her mother’s, who wrapped them with the rest of the relatives’ and friends’ gifts two days before Christmas. Iam helped, handing her mother the paper and ribbons, tape and scissors. Her mother rewarded Iam by allowing her to affix a label from time to time, supervising closely to ensure Iam positioned them precisely, that she didn’t ruin the artful wrapping, guiding her with short, barked words as to where to place the glittering treasures under the tree as she finished with each.
“At least Margie’s easy to buy for. Not like some of the others,” her mother said, gathering cartons and binding them with a green ribbon.
“Smoking’s bad for you,” Iam said.
“It’s bad for you and me, but it’s very good for your aunt,” said her mother. “It’s like medicine for her.”
“It will make her better?”
“Sure, Iam,” laughed her mother. “Don’t you know what kills you cures you?”
Iam stared at her, surprised.
“Maybe I have it wrong. It doesn’t matter. These make your aunt happy, and you like seeing Aunt Margie happy, don’t you?”
Aunt Margie was the merriest person that Christmas morning.
“Darling sister, would you mind very much if I excused myself and brought my gifts to my room?” When she lived with Iam and her family, Aunt Margie stayed in a dormer room in the attic. It was the only place in the house where she was permitted to smoke, and only if she opened the window.
“Sure. Christmas morning’s over and I have to get the kids ready for church anyway.”
“Thank you, thank you for such a lovely Christmas,” she gushed.
Later, everybody stood at the front door prepared to depart for church, save Aunt Margie. Iam’s mother called up the two flights to the attic for her several times, but Aunt Margie didn’t appear, nor did she respond.
“Iam, go see what’s taking her so long. I’ll never forgive her if she makes us late, not on your big day.”
Iam ran up the two flights and knocked on Aunt Margie’s door. Aunt Margie didn’t answer. Iam turned the knob and peeked in through a blue haze, then threw the door back.
Aunt Margie lay on the floor on her back, arms at her sides, skirts properly down over her thighs, legs modestly together, by all appearances relaxing.
Iam went to her and saw her eyes were wide open.
Iam shook her. “Are you all right, Aunt Margie?” She shook and asked her if she was all right a few times, until her mother’s shouts brought Iam to the head of the attic stairs to yell down that Aunt Margie was sick.
Her mother was up in a minute. She shook Aunt Margie hard, growing angrier with each shake, screaming in frustration and resentment, “You’re not doing this to me, Margie. Not again. Not today.”
Aunt Margie didn’t wake up, not even when the people from the state hospital came for her in the afternoon and carted her away. Though Iam knew it was wrong of her, she was glad Aunt Margie had decided to lie down on the floor of her room and save her, intentionally or not.
Excellent, dear. Poor Dominic, you frightened him terribly. He ran outside with Dominica, and you know how she can be. You should go to them and reassure them everything is fine, peachy fine. I’ll be here, dear. I’ll stay with you to help. Go now. And be kind. Be understanding, dear.
She rose slowly and shuffled, like Aunt Margie had at the hospital, to the slider. It was pushed aside. She stepped through onto the deck and closed it behind her. The afternoon sun renewed her.
The children were nowhere in sight. She looked over at the old faded red barn, where Ben Wilson stored a tractor and seed, though the seed was already in the ground and sprouted, a waving ocean of nascent emerald leaves clear to the far, scraggly tree windbreak. The barn door was large, heavy, and locked; they wouldn’t be in there.
She descended the stairs into the yard. She should call the children. She wanted to shout their names, but she’d frightened Dominic badly; she knew raising her voice would worsen matters; that the children might not respond and she would accomplish nothing.
She walked to the edge of the house and turned toward the paint-pealed white work shed. Billy stowed his tools and John Deere in the shed. She kept her gardening tools and supplies in the garage, though plenty of room remained for them in the shed. Billy had cleared space and built a bench for her, but she’d told him she preferred the garage. The shed discomposed her; she saw it as a hut; she saw it as a box; she remembered a hot hut, a hot box. When Billy pressed her to use the shed and not clutter the garage, explaining herself would have exposed too much of her past, a past she’d carefully edited. She settled for claiming she was mildly claustrophobic. It wasn’t completely a lie, for she did not like confined spaces, especially with names like shed. Dominic and Dominica were forbidden to go into the shed by themselves, but they couldn’t have even if they’d wanted to; Billy secured it with a large Master Lock. No, they wouldn’t be there. She turned and walked to the garage on the opposite side of the house.
The garage had double doors hung on giant rusted hinges that squeaked each time she opened them to park the Dodge Caravan she drove, and nine-square panels of glass, which made the structure, and the entire farm, appear picturesque from County Road 25 that bordered their property and connected them to Sullivan five miles east. The building itself was white, like the house, and the panels were trimmed in a deep green, also like those on the house. Quaint was how she described the homestead, and she meant it in a warm, pleasing way that appealed to Billy. Like the barn door, the children really could not open the garage doors; they presented a challenge to her, too, which was why the Caravan spent more time in the driveway than inside the garage. They didn’t have to open the doors to enter, though. There was a side door they could easily manage.
She approached the door and peered in through the green-trimmed panel of windows but could see nothing in the spotty sunlight. She pulled open the door, stepped in, and switched on the light, illuminating the garage and her small storage and workbench space. Apart from her area, the garage was a large, open, bare expanse without the cars present. There was nowhere for Dominic and Dominica to hide and she was certain they were not inside. Nor were they behind the garage, when she checked outside.
In the driveway, she tried the doors of the Caravan. They were locked, as she knew they would be, but it did no harm to be sure. She leaned against the van and scanned the property. They had run outside, of that she had no doubt. She saw the open slider; the clock told her they’d gone outside. Though, of course, it couldn’t have been the ridiculous cat clock; clocks didn’t talk. It was her head, her brain, her mother’s instinct about her children; that’s what persuaded her they were outside. As for the rest, well, recalling Aunt Margie had upset her, nothing more. She was fine, maybe a little lonely with Billy gone the past few days; maybe a little angry at Dominic for stealing and hiding her box; maybe a little disturbed by the contents of the box; but who doesn’t get a little unsettled when reminded of certain things in their lives, things they regret, wished hadn’t occurred, would have avoided if it had been possible?
“I am fine, Iam,” she said, turning to her reflection in the big Caravan side window. “I am fine, just fine, actually quite peachy fine now that I think about it. When I find you two, I’ll say, ‘Everything is peachy keen, children, sweet and peachy like peach ice cream. Now wouldn’t it be really nice if we had a some delicious peach ice cream? Peach ice cream would be wonderfully soothing.’ First, though, I have to find you.” Iam laughed at herself. “How dumb of me,” she said to her laughing image. “It’s hide and go seek. Those kids, just like Mommy and poor, poor Sammy and Aunt Ruth, crazy for hide and go seek. And don’t forget Aunt Margie, oh, such a big fan of hide and go seek we couldn’t find her for days, for weeks, for years and years. Oh, and the best, Aunt Margie couldn’t find herself either. But I’ll find you two. I know where you are. Oh, yes, I know where you are now.”
Iam ran across the gravel driveway, over the front lawn, to the walkway leading to the front entrance of the house, a closed-in three-season porch encased in panels of windows trimmed green, singing lightly, “Come out, come out wherever you are,” repeating the line dozens of times until it assumed the cadence of a mantra.
On the top step, she crouched, giggling, bringing a hand to her mouth to suppress her giddiness. How she must appear from traipsing around the yard in the heat. She combed her hair with her fingers. She wiped her face with her hands. What a fright she must be: the great harlot, the whore of Babylon.
“A great whore prowls in our midst. She has defiled herself and us,” thundered Pater.
In the door panels materialized the Council, ten women and two men, convened in the living room of Pater’s Los Angeles Temple quarters. They, the most loyal and committed believers, sat cross-legged on the floor in a semicircle at Pater’s feet, comical in gold-toe black stocks. He sat above them, staring down at them from his leather recliner. Osma perched in a low chair on his left and Fidella, perpetually jittery, on his right. They had been discussing, among other Church business, logistics for the weekend mission to San Diego, formulating a roster of members who would ride down in the Church busses to seek converts in Balboa Park, the Gaslamp district, and the Seaport Village shopping center. It was midnight and they’d been laboring for five hours and were relieved to be nearing the end, their backs stiff, their minds worn and drifting, when Pater’s proclamation jolted and focused them on him.
“Yes,” he declared, “a great whore is among us. She is present in this room. I have waited patiently for her to reveal herself, to explain herself. She is tearing me apart. She is hurting me inside and I can bear it no longer.”
He moaned and leaned forward, almost as if he was about to tumble from his chair. Osma and Fidella both grabbed his arms and eased him back. Fidella stroked his brow and Osma offered him a glass of water, which he accepted, gracing her with a limp smile. In the silent attention of the Council, he emptied the glass in a single swallow.
He returned the glass to Osma. He patted the hand his wife had ministered him with. He turned his gaze on the faithful, his expression now placid and sad. Then he raged, “Whore, you know who you are. It is time to rise and confess your sin. Confess now, transgressor, and I will show you mercy. Force me to identify you, though, and I will rain harsh punishment upon you. Stand, you great whore.”
The lull and abrupt change was a scorching, disorienting Santa Ana that swept through the Council ranks. All eyes bulged. Every head swiveled, seeking the sinner. Each woman prayed she wasn’t the great whore.
Pater’s flared eyes skipped from woman to woman, and settled on Iam, burning into her, until she was aflame and could no longer sit. She jumped to her feet, swaying, bewildered, mad with fright and embarrassment as all eyes gaped at her.
“Marcella, my faithful warrior, how have I offended you that you should pierce my heart with a dagger of infidelity? My sacred heart bleeds,” Pater cried, tears in profusion spilling down his cheeks.
“I am sorry, Pater,” she wept in sorrow and terror, “if I have—”
“IF?” he shrieked. “IF? You HAVE, Marcella. You have. Confess now to your fraters and amitas. Now!”
“But, Pater,” she said.
“Your love, Marcella,” he ranted. “You can love only one. Put none before Him, it is written. How could you betray the love of the only Delegate of God? How dare you stand before me, before us, and deny it? You are a great whore, Marcella. A great audacious mother of whores.”
Tears and sweat shone on Pater’s scarlet face. His beautiful pure black hair, always high and big and perfectly combed back on his head, hung forward in thick greasy ropes. Osma and Fidella clasped his arms to calm him. He shrugged their hands away and bellowed at the door, “Bring him in.”
The door behind the assembled opened. Two men entered, a Sword and a young man christened Lukas in the Universal One tradition of renouncement and acceptance. Pater dismissed the Sword. He gestured, in the exaggerated manner of a gallant greeting a rival, for Lukas to stand next to Iam.
“Aren’t they the cutest couple? Look, look everyone. Aren’t they too adorable?”
As the faithful obeyed and directed their gaze on Iam and Lukas, Iam’s head spun; she was sure she would faint dead away.
“What do you say? What?” he mocked. “You two are such a cute couple. Cute, cute, cute, too cute.”
In unison, the Council chanted, “Cute, cute, cute, too cute.” At Pater’s urging, they recited it again and again, until he slashed the air and they fell quiet.
“Do not be deceived, my People. These two are the whore and her whoremaster. Cute! They are transgressors. They have broken the commandments of our beloved Church. They have driven a searing knife into my heart. I can hardly bear it. Worse, the whore Marcella refused to come forth of her own and admit her offense. She obligated her Pater call her on it.”
“Pater,” Iam begged.
He struck his leather lounger with a fist. “Silence. You have not been granted permission to speak. Your time has passed. Lukas, what is the law of Universal One on cohabitation?”
“It is forbidden,” he answered, “unless you have blessed it, Pater.”
“It is forbidden, unless you have blessed it, Pater,” echoing Lukas.
“And have I?”
“No,” they answered.
“No, I have not.”
Pater’s mood shifted abruptly again; he grew calm. “It is late. We are all weary from our work. I will not burden all the People with your sinful antics. You will be punished, after you describe your transgression in detail to the Council. At tomorrow evening’s meeting, you, Marcella, are to produce an exact written account of every disgusting act between you and Lukas. We want you to be explicit. Leave out no prod or poke or lick. Leave nothing out. I will know,” tapping his head, “I see anything you try to hide. Be thorough, Marcella, be thorough. You will read your report to the Council. That will be the first part of your punishment: wallowing publicly in the shame of your sins like a sow in her muck. Lukas, you will listen and affirm the veracity of her filthy behavior. Afterward, I will ask the Swords to administer the rest of your punishment. Now, the meeting is ended. I am weary and disgusted and need to take solace in my room, alone.”
The Council members rose and filed from Pater’s quarters. No one spoke or looked at Iam. In the room she shared with three others, the women prepared for bed without speaking to her. They believed something had happened between Lukas and her. Nothing she could say would dissuade them. After she wrote her report and read it tomorrow night, she would forever be branded a sinner, a betrayer of Universal One and Pater. Worse yet, Pater probably would relieve her of duties she’d worked hard to earn and she would face a long struggle to win back her position. The terrible injustice of it was nothing had transpired between her and Lukas, nothing but innocent friendship.
An hour after her roommates were asleep, Iam lay on her bed, having scribbled barely a page of her meretricious confession and reluctant to manufacture the extremely lurid acts Pater would want to hear the next night. She rested her head on her pillow and her eyes drooped, when a subdued knock came to her from the door as it opened.
“Osma,” she whispered.
Osma signaled her to leave the room.
“Pater wishes to see you,” Osma said, in the hall. On their way to Pater’s quarters, she said, “How could you do such a thing, Marcella? Pater trusted you.”
“Osma,” she said, “I did nothing.”
“Please, none of your lies. I’ll hear everything I need to know tomorrow.”
In Pater’s quarters, at the door of his study, Osma said, “Go in. He’s waiting for you.”
“Aren’t you …”
“No. He wants you, Marcella. Alone. Don’t anger him further by keeping him waiting.”
Iam opened the door and stepped into darkness.
“Pater? Pater, you asked to see me.”
From the distant blackness, he said, “Yes, Marcella.”
“The lights, Pater.”
“In a moment, my little warrior. Marcella, I know nothing physical transpired between you and Lukas.”
“You do,” she said, a mixture of surprise and relief.
“Yes, Marcella. You forget I am able to see into the minds of my people. I could see your pleas of innocence about what happened between you two was the truth.”
“Oh, thank you, Pater. It is. It is.”
“But it was still wrong. You know there can be no relationships without my permission, none of any sort.”
“When you left, I heard your thoughts, Marcella.”
“You did, Pater?”
“You thought, ‘What am I to write? That I talked to Lukas, I laughed with him, I was foolish, and I hugged him? Pater will believe me, but not the others. He will discern I am sincere.’ Weren’t these your thoughts, Marcella?”
She hesitated, for these were not precisely her thoughts. But that she wondered what acts to describe, that was true. “Yes, Pater.”
“Yes, I know. I am in His image, quick to anger and faster to love, and I will help you write your report. And what you describe will be truth. The acts will be true, I mean, and your physical punishment will be forgone, and you will continue as my mighty little warrior, after a small penance. Come to me, Marcella,” he said, switching on the light beside his chair, revealing himself naked, save for his funny gold-toe socks, in glorious erection.
They are inside. You know I am right. You must cleanse the boy of his bad ways and his repugnant heresy, Marcella. He must learn acceptance to provide the seedbed for my salvation, for the salvation of the world. In him will grow the fruit to save and to destroy. You must ready the soil by weeding from him what the enemy has planted.
“No,” she muttered. “No, no, no.”
Open the door, Marcella.
Her hand griped the doorknob. At the command, she turned it and pushed through the doorway onto the porch.
“Found you,” she boomed at Dominic and Dominica, who crouched below the glass panels, invisible from outside. They pulled back at her bellowing.
“Where you playing hide and go seek with me? Well, the porch isn’t a very smart place to hide, is it? Is it, Dominic? Speak up. Is it?”
“No, Mommy,” he whispered.
“And why are you crying, Dominica? Oh, sad your Mommy found you so fast? Don’t like it? Hide better next time. Mommy knows how to hide, doesn’t she, Dominic?”
“Yes,” he whimpered.
“But not well enough for curious little boys like you, I guess.”
He blinked in surprise. Dominica’s crying intensified.
“You, little miss, are annoying the living shit out of me.”
Dear, ladies do not employ scatological language. It is from the gutter, dear, and should remain there. Please, mind what you say. Don’t forget: everything is fine, peachy fine.
“Mommy,” sobbed Dominica.
Marcella, you are a warrior, and you are raising new warriors to carry on our crusade, not sniveling snots, not backstabbers who will defect to help our enemies destroy us like before. I will not have my birthright taken from me again. Never again. You must punish the boy. Hard love, Marcella, hard, hard love teaches obedience, and will prepare the boy for his sacred role.
She spoke briskly. “Dominic.”
Sweeter, dear. You’ll get more cooperation with honey than vinegar. You know I’m right.
“Dominic, Dominica, Mommy’s not mad.”
“You are,” sniffled Dominica.
“I’m not mad at you, Dominica. Or you either, Dominic. No, Mommy is mad at herself.”
“Why?” asked Dominica, running an arm across her nose.
“I found something this morning. It’s … it’s important to me. A long time ago, I put it in a special place for safekeeping.”
“Like in a safe?”
“More like cold storage.”
“Dominic knows what I mean, don’t you, Dominic?”
“What, Dominic? What? Tell me,” Domincia urged.
“The basement, Mommy,” Dominic said.
“The basement is cold sometimes,” Dominica said. “I don’t like it when it’s cold. What was in the cold store?”
“A box,” Dominic said.
“What was in the box, Dominic?” Iam asked.
“What old stuff?” Dominica asked.
“Yes, Dominic, enlighten us. What kind of old stuff?”
“A cup and box. But I didn’t break them. And pictures mostly. Pictures of people, that’s all.”
“What people?” Dominica asked. “Mommy, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa, what people?”
“No, not them. I don’t know.”
“Can I see them?”
“No,” Iam said. “Nobody can see them.”
“It was okay for Dominic to see them.”
“No it wasn’t. Dominic took them without permission.”
“I didn’t know,” retorted Dominic.
“You don’t know that when Mommy puts her things away that means she doesn’t want anybody snooping in her business? Is that what you don’t know?” her tone gradually rising.
Please, dear, control yourself, and you’ll see the good in him finding the box.
Well, dear, I am here with you, aren’t I?
Marcella, you are listening to a crazy bitch. This boy betrayed you. He betrayed us. He will rebel against his duty. You know what to do. Make him confess. After, punish him severely, before he betrays us on matters critical for the entire world.
“Good?” Dominic said.
“Good. No, taking Mommy’s things is not good, Dominic.”
“But you said—”
“No buts. I should punish you, Dominic. I’m not though. All I want you to do is … is write me a report about what you did.”
“Just write down everything you did.”
“Like he went to the cold store?” Dominica said, dry-eyed and sniffle free.
“Yes, why you went searching for Mommy’s things, how you found the box, why you hid it, what was in it, that sort of thing.”
“Can I help?” Dominica asked.
“Sure. The two of you can go to Dominic’s room. But no nonsense. I want a real report. Okay, now upstairs, the both of you. I want it in one hour.”
They ran into the living room and bounded up the stairs, leaving Iam to wonder what Dominic would say, what questions he might have, and how she could continue keeping the secrets of her life secret.