The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 13: ANOTHER ENEMY
Marcella, the traitor infiltrating your gift to me and the world awaits the merciful, corrective hand of God. You must apply it quickly. You know what to do, as you have witnessed the treatment my Father warrants traitors and heretics. Now, Marcella, thwart the Trojan Horse who oppresses us from above. Turn the patch of thorns into an orchard worthy of bearing the fruit of my life.
Iam verged on flying to Dominic, when the envelope dangling from the yellow cellophane captured her attention.
Danger, Marcella, danger. It is a trick. Do not touch the enticement. Turn away from it, or it will steal your soul. It will weaken your resolve and divert you from your righteous mission.
A vapor of malignant inquisition infected her reason, compelling her to disregard every distraction and devote herself solely to the mission; yet her eyes and heart continued coaxing her to reach for the shining, beckoning temptation, just to peek at its content, at what allurement the agents of evil had devised for her. Did it not only make good tactical sense to fully comprehend the enemy, especially one backed by the wily devil?
Unreason and emotion warred within her as, gingerly, she reached her hand for the envelope; withdrew her hand; reached again and came within an inch of it; withdrew again; closed her eyes against whatever horror might engulf her and snatched the envelope.
“So far, so good,” she whispered.
He swung her head right and left, reconnoitering the porch and the outdoors, the fear surging in her that the basket and the envelope were a diversion, and they might be sneaking up on her. Just because she saw nothing meant nothing, for the enemy might be lurking, camouflaged, advancing like the enemies of a tragic majesty—this time lead by the serpent prince cloaked in the divine offering of her son—were wont to do. She pricked up her ears to catch the rustle of clothing, the scraping of feet, the clicking of weapons, the supernatural advancement of a phantom forest. Just because she heard nothing meant nothing. The enemy was at the gates and the certainty of their presence glowed in the yellow caldron at her feet and burned in her hand.
“What is it you want of me?” she muttered, shaking the envelope. “What bribe will you offer me not to undertake my mission? We will see, won’t we? We will see.”
She slid an unsteady finger under the flap and pried open the envelope cautiously, afraid of explosion, fearful of white powder, on guard for any sort of attack.
She blew a long breath when nothing more happened than she exposed a folded note painted with a wash of white cartoon flowers reversed from a yellow background. She went rigid at the sight of this subterfuge of cuteness, for beneath, compressed like a bomb, she imagined all manner of horrific consequences.
Well, dear, you’re familiar with the old saying: “In for a pig, in for a poke.” Shall we see what evil lurks inside the lovely, cheery, flowery card?
“Yes,” Iam said, fortifying herself with a gargantuan breath.
Carefully, as if cordite was woven into the fabric of the note and pulling it from the envelope would trigger an explosion, she extracted the note. She released the forgotten breath, uttering, “Whew,” the way she did after laboring hours in the field under a sun that always seemed not in the sky but nested between her shoulders. She ran a hand across her forehead to prevent the sweat from stinging her eyes, blinding her and rendering her defenseless.
Resigned to the danger it might harbor, he opened the note, and there, before her, appeared the trickery:
Dear Familia Brick,
For your good work, your participation in God’s work, and your help to me. God sees the good in your heart and soul.
With my gratitude,
“The priest,” she breathed.
Simply delightful, dear. Delightful and thoughtful. Your Father Mario cares very much for you.
My Father Mario. My Padre Chapas. The man is a priest sworn to celibacy, and I am married to Billy Brick, and I am a mother, and he moons over me; he fawns over me because I spoke to him in his language once; and I made the mistake of doing it again, and again, and again; and now he pursues me.
Marcella, what self-indulgent schoolgirl pride. I would have never expected such of my mighty warrior. Chapas is an agent of the devil. He is willing to betray his own vows for the demon’s promise of your flesh. This is a deception sent here to sidetrack your mission. Go. Go immediately to deal with the infiltrator upstairs.
She spit on the unholy note and shrieked, “Chapas, tú cerdo.” She tore the incarnate sin once, twice, three times, until she could rip no more. She pitched the scraps into the air. She yanked out the wine bottles in turn and smashed them on the floor, fanning the air against the sharp fermented flumes that smelled to her like gasoline spilled from Molotov bombs. She kicked the yellow cellophane witch’s basket around the porch and stomped into oblivion what potions spewed from it. When she finished, crushed boxes, shredded paper, crumbs, and cracker mud encrusted the floor in much the way she imagined debris marked the aftermath of a battle.
She was fierce as a loosened warrior charging up the stairs, vaulting two and three at a stride, marveling at her agility, energized to complete her mission with efficient speed.
She burst into Dominic’s room, and halted dumbfounded in its vacancy. She searched frantically with her eyes around a room as neat as she had left it in the morning.
She dropped to her knees at the bed. She groped under it for the box. It wasn’t where she had placed it, where Dominic had originally secreted it.
She sat and leaned her back against the rail and listened, and heard Dominica whimpering. She thanked God for Dominica’s weak girlishness and understood why He had given her such an annoying weakness.
She tiptoed to the closet and pulled the door with such force it flew from her hand, bounced off the wall, and shut itself.
She slapped the door and grunted, “Damn it,” and pulled it open again without another accident.
Dominic and Dominica huddled under the hanging clothes. Dominic cradled the box. On the box was a sheet of paper.
“Give,” she said, extending an arm and flapping a hand. “Give, now,” she commanded, when Dominic sat petrified.
He clamped his eyes shut and lifted the box toward her.
“Not the box, the report. Open your eyes, you little …”
He opened them, and handed her the paper.
She glanced at it.
“You call this a report?” She read singsong, “‘Dear Mommy, I found your box. I looked in it. I put it under my bed. I’m sorry. Looove, Dominic.'”
It’s a sweet little apology, dear. You can see that Dominic didn’t mean any harm. He had no clue the box was precious to you. After all, you practically tossed it in the trash by putting it in that damp old basement. My, I don’t know if I much appreciate my photograph and letters to you in a dank old cellar.
“Mommy,” said Dominic, “I’m sorry. I did my best, Mommy.”
Iam couldn’t hear him for Aunt Margie, though Aunt Margie never spoke much above a whisper. Even when Iam’s mother ranted at her sister, blamed her for ruining what little life she had, accused her of stealing the affection of her children, condemned her as a nutburger, a raving lunatic, wished her dead and buried and out of her life forever, even in the face of these onslaughts of hate, Aunt Margie spoke softly.
“Aunt Margie,” Iam asked many times, “how can you stand it? I just want to scream at her.”
“Dear,” she answered in her gentle fashion, sometimes patting Iam’s head, or straightening a misplaced lock, or stroking a cheek, or employing any number of other customary motherly displays of affection and understanding, “what kind of little ladybird would you be if you raised your voice?”
“You can’t yell back ever to be a nice little ladybird?”
“My gosh, shouting and carrying on is simply awful behavior. When you give in and yell, you’re admitting to the other party they are winning.”
“Most certainly. And there’s another reason you should always maintain your composure no matter how badly you want to strike out at a bully.”
“Mommy’s a bully?”
“Now I didn’t say that, dear, though, you must draw your own conclusions on the matter of your mother’s … peculiarities.”
Iam had long before drawn her own conclusions about these. She spent most of her time with Aunt Margie in the smoky attic room when her aunt was there and pined for her return when her mother banished her to the hospital, what her aunt called variously The Big House, The Lockdown, The Power Plant, or, most often, that Horrible Place Filled With Vile Creatures.
“What’s the other reason?” Iam asked.
Aunt Margie laughed deep down in her throat as if the laugh stuck on the way up. “It infuriates the other party.”
“Yes, and they put on a simply delightful display. Quite amusing, actually, superior to television, I think, and without those annoying commercial messages. You know, like gorgeous fireworks. Oh, I do enjoy those moments.”
It was years before Iam understood. When she did, she discovered Aunt Margie was mostly right. Iam didn’t take pleasure in another’s unleashing of rabid emotion, not as Aunt Margie admitted to; but she appreciated that people’s rage would usually consume itself, and when they stormed away, it did feel something like victory.
“Mommy, are you all right?” squeaked Dominica. “Mommy?”
Dear, you are complementing me. It is quite nice, isn’t it, to disappear for a while into your own world? Personally, I can’t abide the past. No, mine pains me too much. I prefer my own little world. It is beautiful, dear, beautiful. It is everything I wished for. Everything. But now isn’t the time for me to be prattling on about myself. You’re frightening these poor babies just standing there like a statue. And Dominic, he tried very hard to please you, dear. Why not be kind to him?
“Dominic, I’m sorry,” Iam blurted, springing alive, lunging for him.
“Mommy, no,” he cried, shoving the box at her and scurrying around her legs on his hands and knees. “No, no.”
“Dominic, I’m sorry. Please, I won’t hurt you. Dominica, you know I love you, love you both.”
Dominica hadn’t moved, but had burst into loud, choking tears.
Dropping to her knees, Iam gathered Dominica into her arms and kissed her mangled hair, her tear-bathed cheeks, and her quivering mouth. “No, what sort of mother would I be if I hurt my own children?”
She turned to the room and extended an arm to Dominic. “I didn’t mean it. I wasn’t myself. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happened to me.”
Dominic edged to her and finally settled in the embrace of her arm.
“No, it’s not like me to race around the house like, I don’t know what.”
“It’s the box,” said Dominic.
“The box? What about the box?”
“It did something to you.”
“Maybe it’s a monster, Mommy,” said Dominica, through snuffles.
Iam released the children, picked up the box, and reseated herself between them under the clothes with it on her lap. “Hmm,” she said, “I don’t know about that, Dominica. Wouldn’t a monster jump up and roar if I shook it like this?”
It was an inconsequential shake, but still Dominica scooted back over shoes, under clothes, laughing tentatively when the box did what boxes usually did, nothing.
“Let’s open it, why don’t we?” said Iam, bringing them closer.
“There’s bad stuff in there,” said Dominic.
“No, Dominic, there’s nothing bad in here. There are good things, like pictures of my favorite person.”
“More favorite than Daddy?” asked Dominica, mildly startled that anybody could be better than her daddy.
“No, Daddy is my favorite. But I loved this person before I loved Daddy.” Into blank faces, she added, “When I was a child, like you two.”
“I’m afraid,” she said, when Iam began lifting the top.
“‘Fraidy cat,” said Dominic.
“Mommy, Dominic’s making fun of me.”
“I—” catching himself.
“Let’s stop the teasing and settle down and have a pleasant time looking at the pictures.”
Iam removed the top and the yellowed newspaper clipping fluttered. She removed it and placed it in the lid. She flicked the lid into the room with her foot.
“We don’t need to see that ugly old thing. Here’s what we want, and look how neatly everything’s organized,” she said, glancing at Dominic, noting his fleeting expression of discontentment, the same look he used whenever Dominica disturbed his neat arrangement of toys or books, or anything they shared.
Oh dear, oh dear, someone has tampered with Dominic’s delightful handiwork. Well, that must disturb his little engineer’s soul. And I suspect we know who tinkered with it, don’t we? Control yourself, sweetie, be your charming self. Smile. Deep breaths and self-control. Remember, composure.
COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, May 18, 2015: CHAPTER 14: MOTHERS