The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 12: Traitors
My dear, you are the grumpy pollywog this afternoon. What a brash display of temper. You’ll scare the pants off poor Dominic, unless you exercise a tiny bit more control.
“He deserves to be frightened. You hear that you little thieving rat. You deserve it! I hope you’re shitting your pants up there. Because you better if your report isn’t thorough, all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. You hear me. Dotted and crossed.”
Dear, please, your language. It stings my delicate ears. Why, you haven’t been so distraught for ages, not since … but it’s best left to rest. Such sorrow, it is best left unspoken.
“That bastard. That bastard. When I get him … when I get my hands on him, I’ll strangle the wildness out of him. You mark my words, mark them, Iam, and remember them if you get any ideas,” her mother fumed amid billowing cigarette smoke that lent the impression her head was combusting.
Iam had only one desire: to escape into the attic room with Aunt Margie, close the door, climb into bed with her, draw up the covers, and pray they would be sufficient to block her mother’s current rage, and the worse rampage to follow when Sammy turned up with the car.
“What a fool I was, a goddamn idiot, not to hide the keys after that accident. I have a good mind to call the cops on him. See how he likes them pulling him over and hauling him off as a car thief in front of those friends of his. Friends! Hoodlums. And he’s the leader. I bet he is. Well, see how he likes answering to the cops.”
But she didn’t notify the police he’d taken the car, again, without permission, against the admonishment never to take the car without her express permission, which she would never give. Never, because she knew he’d crack up again or be down on Main Street trolling with the car packed with his kind, hoodlums, drunk hoodlums raising hell.
He wasn’t cruising, though, and he was alone. He parked the car on the street next to St. Mary’s Cemetery. He was in the section of the cemetery where rested the priests and nuns who years ago, in the time of Iam’s parents’ youth and before, had served the parish. The New York dioceses and town parish rewarded them with their own reserve in the cemetery, a secluded, quiet, contemplative garden for those few pondering a religious life, for those fewer who remembered the deceased, and for those fewer yet who fondly recollected and venerated these religious and their service. Sammy sat among these blessed on business, and after to seek his own brand of transcendental spiritualism, his own temporary release from his mortal coils. Business first: counting the cash from clients who sought the same deliverance from their daily bonds as he. He completed this to his extreme satisfaction in short order.
Second: his reward, the lustful powder that accounted for the brick of bills he secreted from mom but always fanned in Iam and Ruth’s faces, whispering, “The wages of sin are so, so sweet,” and laughed as Iam shook her head in disgust and as Ruth retreated, mortified, as if the devil manifested his evil self in each greenback—and not the freedom and power Sammy knew them to radiate—Ruth crossing herself, frenetically crossing and crossing herself. He held back enough powder for himself and he cooked it in a spoon under the flame of a lighter he sheltered between his legs, and sucked the bubbling witches brew into a syringe and pumped it into a fresh, throbbing, famished vein; and slumped against the stone of a nun who certainly would disapprove of his business and his pleasure, until the moorings of his world vanished and the world itself drifted away as he entered his eternal, permanent refuse.
The phone rang in the middle of the night, waking Iam. She crept from her room to the top of the staircase and watched her mother slip down the stairs, almost a ghost in her flowing white nightdress. She heard the groggy hello and the stuttered, suppressed exclamation of shock, the settling of the receiver onto the cradle in interminable time, as if her mother could not bare to release it, as if letting go meant sacrificing a part of herself; and what followed, the soft weeping, the undertones of cursing and recrimination against God, and, more vehemently, Sammy, Sammy, another man who had betrayed her hopes and dreams for him, Sammy for a final time. Iam did not need her mother to explain Sammy’s fate; it insinuated itself into her bones like the cold of a winter grave, and colder still, the frigid, desolate conclusion of its inevitability, it seeming to her to have been his desire and fate from birth.
She tiptoed up the stairs, entered Aunt Margie’s room, and slid in next to her.
“Are we having a storm?” asked Aunt Margie, momentarily befuddled, as she was Iam’s constant comfort from her fear of thunder and lightning, despite Ruth’s assuaging faith that it was merely loud heavenly games played by the angels.
“No,” she answered. After a pause, “Yes.”
“Yes. My goodness,” she said, switching her bedstead lamp on, eyeing her Kool’s with aching need, but resisting them, “then you’ve come to the right place.”
Aunt Margie said after a minute of silence, “My heavens, are we having a silent storm?”
Then a gale of wailing and swearing rumbled up the staircase and over them.
“Lands, dear, what is happening?”
“Sammy is dead.”
“Lovely little Sammy is dead? How sad,” she said, the perfect picture of repose.
Iam snuggled close to Aunt Margie, wishing she could penetrate her flesh and disappear into her peaceful, stainless world.
“But, Iam, dear, shouldn’t you have remained with your mother? You do realize, you are a great consolation to her.”
“I am not, and I wasn’t with her. I was in bed.”
“Oh my, my, my. And you knew.”
“How wonderful, Iam, how simply glorious.”
“Very sad. Very, very sad. But you know, dear, Sammy wasn’t content here. No, not fulfilled at all by life. His passing is for the best. That’s how we should look at it. He’s gone. It is for the best. He is in a better place. The best place of all. But you knew, Iam, you knew. dear,” Aunt Margie exuded, hugging her as if attempting to absorb her body and spirit, “you possess a special gift.”
“You have second-sight. Yes, that is your gift exactly. Second-sight. You can see things before others do. You can sense things.”
“I can. I don’t think I ever—”
“Well, dear, there’s a first time for everything. Oh, and to think you have come to me on yours. Oh, what a delight. You’ve paid me a tremendous honor, Iam.”
“I possess a similar gift.”
“I see people others don’t.”
Iam squirmed with discomfort. “Isn’t that, you know, what Mom says, crazy?”
“It’s your mother who is crazy. She’s crazy jealous she’s … she’s …”
“Ordinary. Run of the mill. Wonderless. Yes, wonderless, I believe, describes her best. My sister, your mother, lacks imagination, and always has. We special people, Iam, we really must pity those who can’t see.”
“Can’t see what?”
“What? Why pass themselves, Iam, pass themselves and what they take for reality, into their souls, Iam, and into others living and dead, and into the future.”
“You can do that, see the future?”
“Sometimes, yes, not always, but sometimes.”
“When you’re very quiet, scary quiet like you might be dead.”
“Dead. Pshaw. Dead, indeed. I’m more alive those times. I’m virtually tingling with life, dear. Positively goosepimply all over with it.”
“Yes, gee is precisely the word. Gee. And you, my darling, you show signs of possessing the same divine gift.”
“Well, let’s review, what awoke you?”
Iam shrugged. “I don’t know. I felt something?”
“You felt something. You sensed a disturbance. You received a message something was amiss.”
“I did? Who sent it?”
“You sent it to yourself. The part of you that exists beyond the mortal world. That self sent you the message. You awoke to find your mother …”
“And I knew—”
“I sensed something was wrong with Sammy, that he was dead.”
“You see, Iam, you are a little, darling second-sighter.”
“A second-sighter. Is Ruth a second-sighter, too?”
“Is she here?”
“No, she isn’t.”
“I feel bad she’s … she’s run of the mill.”
“Not at all, little one. She possesses another gift, and it is a wonder in itself.”
“Better than second-sight?”
“No, not better, a miracle in it’s own right. Can you guess what it is?”
Iam, resuming her attempt to merge into her aunt, said, “I can’t.”
“Ruth is a saint.”
“A saint like in heaven?”
“Well, dear, certainly not in heaven, yet, and probably not a full-fledged saint either. But definitely a saint in formation. Don’t you see the signs?”
Ruffling her brow, nodding vigorously, she said, “Yes, yes, I do.”
“Oh what a joyful, joyful night tonight is, Iam.”
“But, Aunt Margie, what about Mom? What about Sammy?”
“Well, dear, you must sense that Sammy is at peace. Don’t you feel his calmness in you?”
Iam closed her eyes and sure enough she saw Sammy in a white place smiling and laughing. “He is happy, Aunt Margie.”
“As for your mother, scoot out of bed and go to her. Console her, Iam. And tell her, ‘Sammy is happy. I saw him at peace.'”
Aunt Margie kissed Iam’s hair and forehead and eyes and nose and cheeks and her ears and pert mouth, and whispered into Iam’s right ear, “We are special, Iam, and I will always be with you, and we will be one some day.”
Iam returned her kisses and skipped from the room, down the stairs, and found her mother in the kitchen at the table drinking from the scotch bottle she stashed in the cabinet over the stove.
Iam embraced her. Her mother patted the small arms encircling her.
“You should be in bed.”
“You don’t have to feel bad about Sammy, Mom.”
“Sammy? What are you talking about? How do you know about Sammy? Have you been spying on me, Iam?”
“No, Mom. It’s because I have second-sight.”
“You’ve got what?”
“Aunt Margie says because I knew Sammy died I’m a second-sighter.”
“You knew … what do you mean you knew? The police just called minutes ago.”
“I knew when you answered the phone.”
“Goddamn you, Iam, you were spying on me. You creepy little bitch. Sammy kills himself, kills himself to spite me, the little bastard, and you’re creeping around in the dark spying on me. And that bitch is upstairs in her throne room stuffing your head with all kinds of nonsense, and my life is shit, absolute shit, shit, shit. Get out of here. Get to your room. Don’t even think about coming out again and spying on me, you little bitch, you little bitch-bitch. I’ll take care of you later. You better believe I will. You’re going to get it. And as for you up there,” she screamed. “Yeah, you can hear me. You’re headed straight back to where you belong. You near me. You hear me!”
Marcella, why do you hesitate, when the turncoat is above you operating under the duress of heresy to foil the sacred plan, the destiny decreed by my Father? Do not be deceived by his benign visage, for our enemies are shapeshifters and liars, and his report will show how falsehoods have turned him against us. Deal with him, Marcella. Discipline him. Rid him of that which possesses him and make him a lamb. Time grows short.
“Yes,” she seethed, “you little liar. You little thief. You little spy. You little traitor, betraying me. Betraying the cause. Betraying the world. You’re getting yours now.”
She grabbed the banister knob, prepared to launch herself up the stairs and eradicate the vermin corrupting her son, her ears attuned to any movement the invader might make, when a knock on the front door froze her in place. Cautiously, she turned her head, focused on the door, trying to pierce it with her sight, with the second-sight she was said to have. Then came a second knock.
“Oh, my God,” she breathed. “My God, my God.”
In a flash, she crouched. “Shush,” she whispered, and clamped a hand over her mouth to insure her compliance.
A third harder knock assaulted the door, and she responded by tensing every muscle in her body, until every part of her retracted, until the energy contained in her screamed to explode in a fury of attack.
“The enemy,” she mouthed, “the enemy is at the gate. Pater, please.”
Five hard poundings followed with the reports of gunshots, concussive, rattling, booming blasts, magnifications of those she heard, no imagined, yes heard in her mind resounding through “Feed the World” on the day she’d saw coming, the day she’d ran from, the cursed day she had condemned all the beautiful, Anointed People to their deaths with her silence.
She drew in air rapidly, oceans of it fetid from the heat, from the rancid emissions of the kitchen, from the decaying residue of the pink lemonade molding on the counter, the poison of it in her, ravaging her, spinning the inside of her head like a mad top.
” God! Pater!” she whimpered, “how could I have missed their approach? God, why have you forsaken me in this hour of my greatest need? Why have you withdrawn your gift you blessed me with? Why must I face the enemy as merely a lone woman? Why, Lord?”
As she petitioned her God and her Pater, she envisioned the door vibrating under the enemy blows, and straining against its hinges, and pulsing in and out, and buckling, as if within seconds it would shatter under its own unnatural motion, failing utterly in the face of the merciless, relentless weight of the offensive.
In the heat of the onslaught, she saw the sun recede and the room gray with its withdraw, and sensed in the increasing dimness that the time was approaching, that the end of time approached for her.
Suddenly, there came a complete reversal, as if the enemy and the devil supporting them had misgivings. The blitz ceased and the door hung peacefully on its frame and the house rang with quiet.
Iam waited and gradually relaxed her body and steadied her breathing and wiped the wet fear from her face and listened. She heard footsteps progress from the porch to the outside and onto the gravel of the driveway and a car start and crunch out onto County Road 25 and fade into the distance.
She breathed thankfully, “It’s over.”
It struck her as prudent to ensure the enemy was no longer at the door. Slowly she stood and laid an ear again the wood. She heard nothing but the echo of her agitated blood. Carefully, as if the battered bulwark might fall from its hinges at her touch, she turned the latch and opened the door. She peeked through the crack fully expecting to find the smoky whiffs of battle dissolving into the air. Instead, at her feet stood a gift basket wrapped in yellow cellophane.
DANGER! DANGER! My Anointed People, our enemies will use every trick imaginable to dishonor us, to destroy us. We all, Council leaders and Swords and believers alike, must guard against their Trojan Horses. How sweet and how deadly are their deceptive temptations.
Swords were excused from farm work. They paroled the perimeter of the farm on ATVs and the living area of the compound on foot. Their tools were their handguns and their rifles with their sword symbols emblazoned upon their stocks and blessed by Pater. In the month she’d existed in “Feed the World,” she’d not witnessed a Sword so much as touch a farm implement. When she noticed two approaching the pavilion, where the Anointed People had gathered for an emergency meeting, carrying shovels on their shoulders like rifles, she nudged Osma and pointed at the unusual sight with her eyes. Osma touched her leg, a signal to disregard the Swords and direct her attention to Pater and the serious matter at hand.
Before the dais of picnic tables, Pater upon it perched on his lawn chair, his eyes large blue accusatory saucers, his face flaming with indignation, his voice choked with retributive fury, the Council members as intense, as consumed by the remonstrative urge, the assembly summoned so hastily that neither Pater nor the Swords wore their ceremonial robes, stood a man and a woman. Iam recognized the woman as a long-time member of Universal One and knew her to be a faithful disciple. The man was a stranger.
“Amita, I know who stands next to you. I have looked into you and discerned what he once meant to you, how he opposed your desire to immerse yourself in the true word of God and serve his True Delegate. He is more, Amita, more than you ever imagined, and I know how he has tempted you. However, rather than speak further of him, I will allow you to tell the story for the edification of your fraters and amitas as a warning to always be on alert, why we as the special community of believers must always be on the highest alert, why our Black Nights are essential to our survival. My People, attend closely on every word of our amita and come to understand the unseemly plots of our foes, exactly how they who cannot tolerate the goodness of my Father and His Delegate on earth, who is a son to Him, will stop at nothing to invade our ranks with the purpose of undermining us by learning, broadcasting, and exploiting our weaknesses—oh, yes, we have them; they afflict us in abundance; but we struggle every minute by our freely accepted labor and fervent worship to defeat them—and revealing our weaknesses to our enemies. This man, this person, this thing practices an ages old tactic, an effective deception, but we are alert to it. We are a united People, sworn brethren to the glorious work of the Father. Our amita is an example of the golden ribband that cannot be ripped asunder by the mischief of our enemies. Speak, Amita, we eagerly await your testimony. Who is this … this thing, what is it to you and to us?”
The woman hesitated, mulling Pater’s words, considering her phrasing, and said, “It is my husband, Pater, and it is our enemy.”
Pater thundered, “The enemy, my People. See for yourself the strength of the enemy. See what they send against us. What pitiable trash. Look at it. Sewer sludge, but, my People, but not to be underestimated; for like sewer effulgence, it is toxic shit.”
The congregated, among them the Inner Council and Iam, roared in unison. They screamed long and loud, “Shit.” They swiped their faces and their hands, as if cleaning firth from themselves and exhausted themselves with their effort.
Pater inveighed, “What a creature! It is a serpent. Like a serpent, it should crawl on its belly. Boo to the serpent that pretends to be like us, to be a divine creation of my Father. Boo to the deceiver. Boo, boo, boo!”
Iam could hear herself and the others vacuum wind into their expanded lungs and feel, as she did, her brain twirling in her head, thrashing every scintilla of reason, expelling vociferous booing in emulation of Pater; next mixing her booing, as they all did, with raucous laughs as a Sword kicked the legs from under Lucifer’s surrogate, and another Sword jabbed at it with his heavy boot until the serpent laid on its belly.
“Behold,” bellowed Pater, “our noble Swords know what an agent of the enemy deserves. A serpent slithers on its belly. It is God’s condemnation for its evil nature. Well done, noble Swords!”
The People drew more air that was fragrant with Pater’s words, words that were a drug to them. “Well done, noble Swords. Well done! Well done!” they chanted with their hands stretched high, reaching for the domed sky, to their promised celestial domicile.
“Go on, Amita. We apologize for interrupting you, don’t we?”
“Yes, we apologize,” came the chorus. “Forgive us. Forgive us,” sung with hands lowered and extended to the woman, from whose eyes sprung tears.
“Don’t cry, beautiful one. Receive the love of your People with joy. Wipe away the tears and smile. Smile, for you do the work of the Lord’s Delegate.”
Everyone surrounding her put their hands to their faces and with their fingers pulled up the corners of their mouths, men, women, and children alike, in a macabre mirroring of Pater that Iam thought, for a second, resembled, the ghastly grins of skeletons.
“He … my husband … it …”
“Please, Amita, let us not allow form to multiply your pain. Call this snake your husband. After all, are there not many husbands who also are snakes?” he laughed, with all joining in a hearty, detoxifying, roar.
“My husband contacted me last month through the Worship Temple. Amita Fidella handled the request personally.”
Pater arched forward to Fidella who sat at his feet. He gently touched her shoulder.
“Yes, Pater, the serpent professed a desire to reunite with our amita,” Fidella explained. “I invited the serpent to the Temple for an interview. The serpent had read many of our pamphlets and alleged an interest in further exploring the true path to salvation. I granted the request. The viper deceived me.”
Pater patted her shoulder. “Deception is bred in the agents of the devil. It is mixed in the sulfur they nurse from the devil’s tit. Do not flog yourself, Uxor.”
Fidella brushed his hand with her cheek, prompting him to withdraw it swiftly.
“Amita Fidella informed me of the accepted request. I protested, Pater. She told me, in her wisdom and kindness and desire to test if here was truly another of the Anointed, that she had prayed on her decision. She prayed for a week, Pater, and the Lord, your Father, our Creator, told her everybody, even the worse of us, deserves a chance at amends.”
“Observe how the devil preys upon the virtuous heart, my People. My poor uxor, your pain is a lesson for us all. This enemy warrants no mercy. No. Smite without mercy is our battle cry,” said Pater, thrusting his fist to the heavens.
The assembled took up the cry, for several minutes chanting, “Smite without mercy. Smite without mercy,” until their tongues numbed, when Pater said, “Please.”
“The serpent received a permit to spend a week in the camp, in the men’s quarters,” Fidella informed.
“As is our gracious way. A weakness, too, sometimes.”
“Yes, Pater,” said the woman. “I saw the serpent in the fields and at breakfast and diner. After a week, it told me ours was the way and joined Universal One. Joy filled me to bursting. Last night, though, I saw the serpent sitting under a perimeter light writing in a notebook. I thought at first it was reporting on itself, emptying itself of its errant ways to make a better member. Later, more joy, when Amita Fidella told me the new member was getting on well. I said it seemed so and he was reporting on himself. Amita Fidella said nothing of her suspicion to me. She had a Sword search the cabin the serpent occupied. He found the notebook …”
“Yes, Amita, continue. You have all of us on the edge of our seats. Reveal what you discovered.”
“It hurts, Pater.”
“From your pain will emerge an invaluable lesson for our People. Continue.”
“She said to me this morning, ‘The one who is your husband and claims to be one with us is an agent of the enemy.'”
“Who is this enemy? Please, tell us, who is the diseased, foul rat who employs the scum on the ground, lower than a serpent, the shit of a serpent. Who is it?” demanded Pater.
“Harlan Johnson,” she stammered, nearly collapsing on the last syllable of the name.
The People wailed in shared agony, Iam and Osma among the loudest, at the nightmare of Johnson’s inimical deeds, of the bullet he fired through the heart of Universal One, of the suffering he personally thrust through the sacred heart of Pater. Their efforts had repulsed his assault but had not atomized him, and he was again engaged in his despicable prosecution.
Pater, his heart surely bleeding, alone did not keen at the name. He simply shook his head, conveying his pain and heavy sadness.
“It is a sign my People, a portend of the end, when an antichrist like Harlan Johnson can sneak a minion into the core of God’s chosen People. Soon seven blasts of the mighty trumpet with announce the end. And we, my People, we among all the inhabitants of the earth, will rejoice. We will rejoice. Rejoice! Rejoice!”
The People, the woman, and the Council jumping up, caught in Pater’s excitement, danced in their own tight circles, clapping and singing, “Rejoice!”
“I feel good, my People. Bliss fills me. It is excites my bones, my heart, my head. Therefore, I say to the Swords: Swords, show the serpent God’s mercy, the mercy he would bestow upon Lucifer himself. Take the serpent away, and let all of us go to our beds, rest for tomorrow’s work, and dream of reuniting with our Father.”
At Pater’s command, the People dispersed. Iam, following the crowd to the cabins, saw the Swords, when leaving preoccupied everybody, kick the serpent several times, then hoist it roughly and push it out of the living compound. She thought it deserved worse and should count itself fortunate Pater and the People were merciful.
Later, over the loudspeakers, Pater, as was his custom, signed on to pray a prayer with everybody and wish them a restful sleep, and added a preamble, “Tonight, my People, Harlan Johnson has done us a service. Yes, he has, for he has made us even more alert, ever more alert for Trojan Horses. The serpent who claimed to be the repentant husband was a Trojan Horse, for if its lies had reached our enemy, an army of terror would have responded to its hateful command and slaughtered us in our cabins. Let us heed the lesson well, my People. Pray with me.”
Iam prayed with her cabin mates and their voices and her voice and Pater’s voice over the loudspeakers raised a considerable din; and, yet, Iam thought she heard in the distance, in the east, away from Raisin City, deep in the fields, faint, almost too faint to register, seven pops, and, against her wish to believe it, she knew the apocalypse had arrived for at least one serpent who also was a man.
Iam kicked the basket aside, crouched and frog-walked to the porch windows, and satisfied herself the yard was empty; the first wave had spent itself and she was safe for while.
She stood and turned her attention to the basket, and saw it alone was sunny yellow; the sky had clouded and the day was pearl, fast fading to gray; and she saw God furious with those fixing to harm her.
Terrible retribution approaches, she thought.
COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, May 11, 2015: CHAPTER 13: ANOTHER ENEMY