The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 14: MOTHERS
“Mommy,” asked Dominica, “why are you breathing funny?”
“I’m excited, honey, very, very excited. I haven’t seen these since before you were born, before Dominic even.”
Very good, dear, you and I are quite similar. Two peas in a pod, we are. I am very pleased with you, pleased as pink punch that you delight in simple things. And see how wonderfully the children respond when we are our natural happy selves.
“Mommy, when everything was black and white?”
“That’s just old TV,” said Dominic. “The world was in color. Right, Mommy?”
“Sure it was. See, she’s in color, isn’t she?”
“She’s funny, Mommy,” said Dominica.
“She looks funny.”
Dear, I must take strong umbrage with her characterization of me. Disparagement is no fun. No, none at all. Well, I must say, you would have never said anything as hurtful.
“Christ, Marge, I don’t ask much for what I do for you. Can’t you at least wear one of the outfits I bought you? I mean wake up, will you? It’s not the fifties.”
“I’ll have you know I am perfectly comfortable and quite fashionable. Don’t you agree, dear?”
Iam took her hand and nodded. “I like the way you dress, Aunt Margie.”
“Thank the Lord for someone with fashion sense.”
“She’s a kid, Marge, not a fashion critic.”
“My experience is that children, not kids; she’s not a goat, you know; you aren’t, are you?”—to which Iam vigorously shook her head—”Excellent, you may hold my hand then. No, I’ve never been partial to animals; no, not even fluffy little cats. Sorry, dear, you’re kitten enough for me, aren’t you?—to which Iam nodded affirmatively—”Am I cat enough for you, dear—”
“What are you rattling on about anyway? Let’s get moving or we’ll be late for church. Come on, Ruth; take my hand. Where’s Sammy. Goddamn … Sammy!”
“As I was saying, in my experience, children are often the best judges of fashion.”
“Where the hell were you?”
“Around,” Sammy huffed.
“Straighten yourself up. What I need is another man skipping on me.”
“Children are born with an innate sense of what a lady should wear and how she should present herself.”
“Enough. I want to be in church before the goddamn gospel, if you don’t mind?”
“Must you always be so profane?”
“Yeah, Mom, shit, we’re going to church.”
“Enough from you, you little hoodlum.”
At church, during mass processing back and forth at communion, and afterwards, greeting the priest and milling in front on the steps, Iam noticed people pointing and staring at her aunt. Later, in the attic room, of Aunt Margie lying on her bed dressed as she was for church, blowing clouds of Kool’s smoke, Iam asked, “People think you dress funny?”
“Well, you’ve taken me by surprise, dear. How can you say such a thing?”
“They look at you funny.”
“Climb up here next to me, dear. Good. Get close. As for those people, they are admiring me and they envy my style. That’s why they stare.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No? It’s simple, dear. They wish they could dress like me, but, alas and aleck, they simply could never bring it off with any degree of finesse.”
“Mommy says you dress like a lost Mame somebody.”
“Your mother probably refers to the marvelous Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower.”
“I know who she was. President Eisenhower’s First Lady.”
“You are quite the bright little girl, dear. I am proud of you,” she said, squeezing Iam’s shoulders. “Mrs. Eisenhower, Mamie Geneva Doud by birth—remember that and surprise your teacher—Mrs. Eisenhower was such a gracious lady.”
“You knew her?”
“Oh no, I was a girl when Mrs. Eisenhower set the style for the country.”
“Set what style?”
“Why, the correct way women should dress. She had such exquisite taste in fashion. People admired her and tried to copy her.”
“Copy, dear? Heavens no. No, I embody Mrs. Eisenhower.”
“I am Mrs. Eisenhower.”
“Certainly. If we stood side by side this very minute, you couldn’t tell us apart, except, of course, I am considerably younger.”
“No, indeed, young lady. If you asked us to speak a few words, we would sound alike, and our words would probably be the same, or very similar. When we talked, you’d exclaim, ‘My goodness, Mrs. Eisenhower, I didn’t realize you had a twin sister.’ And in the Ladies Room
—you know, dear, that’s were we ladies freshen up our makeup and hair and straighten our clothing to ensure we are always picture perfect—but where was I?—Oh, yes, in the Ladies Room, Mrs. Eisenhower would say to me, ‘Why Miss Margaret Anna Maria Andolini, you are more me than I am myself.’—I would, naturally, curtsey, and thank her politely for the high compliment.”
“You’re funny, Aunt Margie, and I love you.”
“Iam, I am a tad amusing, aren’t I? And I love you too smithereens.”
“Huh? I said funny, Dominica. Sorry, I was remembering her. Yes, I suppose by today’s standards you could call her appearance funny. But when you’re a big, grown woman with grandchildren, they might say the same about you.”
“I’m gonna be like Grandma?”
“You’ll be yourself, honey, an older you.”
“Will I look funny when I’m a grandma?”
“You’ll be a beautiful grandma. Your lady acquaintances will remark, ‘Oh my, I don’t believe for a moment, not a single moment, you are sixty,'” Iam pretended, pursing her lips and touching an index finger to her cheek. “‘My goodness, no. Evangeline, don’t you agree?'”
“What a funny name, Evangeline,” Dominic laughed.
“Well, I think Evangeline is quite a lovely name,” Iam said. “You know, Evangeline was a favorite of the lady in the picture. I think because she loved the poem, Evangeline—”
Oh, dear, dear, dear girl, I do love it so. Remember: “She, too, would bring to her husband’s house delight and abundance, Filling it with love and the ruddy faces of children.” Oh the tragedy, the heartrending end, the ghosts … I can’t bear it, dear. I weep for it. Thank you!
“What does Evanjaline say about me, Mommy?”
“Haven’t I explained, Dominica, interrupting is impolite? You, too, Dominic. Haven’t I?”
“Yes,” they murmured, the replies colored with the timbre of caution.
“Sorry. I simply want both of you to grow up to be polite people. We need more polite people in this old world of ours, don’t we?”
“Yes,” they said, settling again.
“It’s Evangeline, and she holds your chin like so,” Iam said, lips pursed once more, lightly taking Dominica’s chin between her thumb and fingers, turning it slightly right and left, “and says, ‘Mmm, mmm, mmm, forty, not a day more, and I am a remarkable judge of age. Oh, yes, dear, renowned throughout Sullivan County and, if I am not exhibiting excessive pride, the entire state of Indiana.'”
The children bent over laughing. Dominica said, “More, Mommy, more. You’re funny.”
“Iam, I am,” she said, “‘Why, beautiful lady, Erma—”
“Eeweu,” they exclaimed.
You are such a card, dear. You always were, you know. Erma, my goodness. Please don’t spoil our good time with another unladylike burst of pique. Erma, what would I say of such a name?
“Well, we all can’t be blessed with beautiful names like Dominica and Dominic.”
“Why not?” asked Dominica.
“Why not? Well, I suppose there aren’t enough beautiful names to go around. I mean, imagine if everybody were named Dominica and Dominic. Imagine if all the mothers in the world called all the children in the world to supper at exactly five o’clock. My goodness, what confusion. Children popping up in the wrong houses. And in school, why when a teacher called on Dominic to answer a question, all the boys would rise. My, my, that wouldn’t do. Not at all.”
“That’s funny, Mommy.”
“So, Erma it is. ‘Why, beautiful lady,’ Erma says, ‘the Sullivan Corn Festival Committee for the Honoring of the Most Perfect, Most Tender Ears of Corn depends on Evangeline to select the best examples of young, sweet, delectable, scrumptious Sullivan corn.’ ‘Indeed,’ Evangeline adds, ‘and as we all know, we grow simply the most spectacular, heavenly, desired corn right here in Sullivan County!’ To which anyone eavesdropping would certainly cheer, ‘Hear! Hear!'”
“And right in our own backyard,” Dominic said.
“‘Indubitably, young man. You, my young sir, know your corn.'”
“Evangeline talks funny,” Dominica said.
“Yes, I suppose she does. Well, maybe everybody will talk her way where you’ll be in the distant future.”
“You’re silly, Mommy.”
Iam smiled a beaming smile that shot from her heart directly to her face, so big her face couldn’t contain it and it leapt to the children, who beamed back smiles as bright, as pure, natural and easy, and peaceful, and they were free, for an instant, of the past, the present, and of any dread of what might be coming, of what might be lurking in the phantom forest.
Iam breathed with a calm she hadn’t felt since Billy left, maybe forever, “I love silliness. Phew, I love it.”
“She’s a pink lady,” said Dominica.
“Pink is a girl’s color,” said Dominic.
“Pink,” Iam said, “was her favorite color. She always wore something pink, even if it was only a pink ribbon in her hair.”
“Was her bedroom pink?” asked Dominica.
“No, I’m afraid not. But she did keep the pink cup and saucer and the small box in the bottom,” she said, showing them the Jasperware. “She kept them on her nightstand and sometimes a vase with pink flowers in it.”
“She was a very nice grandma, I bet,” said Dominic.
“Oh, no, she wasn’t my grandma. She was my aunt.”
“What’s her name?”
“Was. She passed on many years ago.”
“Is she in heaven, Mommy?” asked Dominica.
“Absolutely. I have no doubt she is sitting next to Jesus at this very minute and enjoying our fun.”
“And telling Jesus nice things about us, too?”
“Without a doubt.”
“Did she have a beautiful name?”
“The most beautiful name of all. Margie. Margaret, really, but everybody called her Margie most of the time. Aunt Margie.”
Dominic and Dominica agreed that Margie was a beautiful name.
“You know, Aunt Margie was like a mother to me.”
“She was?” said Dominic.
“You had two mommies?” said Dominica.
“No. Well, yes, in a way, I suppose I did. You see, children, Mommy was almost an orphan.”
“Really?” Dominica said with unbridled awe.
“You mean like Father Chapas?” said Dominic
“Yes, but I didn’t live in an orphanage like Father Chapas.”
“Father Chapas makes it sound sad, and fun too,” said Dominica.
“I’m sure if Father Chapas had a choice, he would have preferred a mother and father.”
Marcella, your Pater warned you about the power of this necromancer, but like the wife who defied God’s commandment, you surrendered to weakness and looked. Now your warrior’s resolve is as pitifully weak and ineffective as a sword fashioned of salt. You have permitted a sinner, a violator of vows, a sacrilegious disciple of Onan—your instinct confirms it—to divert you from your mission. Marcella, my return waits on you.
“Mommy, are you sick?” asked Dominic.
Dear, I love when you say I was a mother to you. I do believe I would have made a model mother, if I’d been blessed with you. You say yourself I was a splendid mother to you in my—our, I should say, in our little world. I am so very grateful to you, dear, for, in a manner of speaking, providing me the chance I missed. Let’s be happy, darling, not angry like some old grump. I can’t imagine why you … well, I lay it at the feet of my sister. There was a woman who simply did not have a motherly bone in her body. Sometimes I wonder about the good Lord. I do.
“I’m fine, Dominic. It’s the darkness, dear. The sun’s gone, and the darkness worries me a bit, what with your father …”
“I’ll protect us, Mommy. I know what to do in a tornado.”
“There’s nothing to worry about, Dominica. It was such a beautiful day and now it’s cloudy. Mommy’s just silly. That’s all. Now what … yes, I was almost an orphan, like Father Chapas. I was lucky, though. I had Aunt Margie.”
“What happened to your Mommy?”
“It’s a very, very sad story.”
Billy said similar, when she revealed her story over wine in her new apartment. She had to tell him something, she reasoned, and the story was less tragic than the truth. “Oh, my God, Iam, it’s too sad for words,” he said. “I don’t know how to console you.” She resisted telling his parents but couldn’t avoid it when she accepted Billy’s proposal. His father said nothing, simply nodded, which she appreciated. His mother was effusive with disbelief and regrets and even suggested a second of silence at the wedding mass in remembrance of them, and it required enormous effort on both Billy and her part to dissuade her. And, after the birth of Dominic, finding the story too sad still, Billy made her promise not to tell Dominic, and later Dominica, until they were older; but they never settled on how old was old enough.
“I don’t know if this is the best time. Why don’t I read you a letter Aunt Margie wrote to me?”
“Tell us, please,” they clamored, with Dominica adding, “I promise I won’t cry.”
“Okay, but no tears. It is sad in parts, but it does have a very happy ending.”
“Like a fairytale?” said Dominic.
“Exactly like a fairytale. Ready?”
“Yes, Mommy,” they chimed.
“Well, I grew up in a wonderful place.”
“More wonderful than Sullivan?” said Dominica, as if such a place couldn’t exist, except, perhaps, in fairytales.
“Nearly as wonderful. My family was almost like ours. I had a brother and sister, a mommy and a daddy.”
“But your mommy wasn’t very nice,” said Dominica.
“No, my mommy was nice most of the time. But, you know, mommies can get upset about things.”
“Like spilling drinks at dinner,” said Dominica.
“Yes, but how about you let me to finish the story, otherwise we’ll be in this closet the rest of the day.”
“Okay,” said Dominica, timidly.
Iam noticed, and stroked her hair before continuing. “Most of the time, everybody was nice to each other and happy. My brother was the oldest. I was in the middle, and I had a younger sister.”
“I wish I had a sister,” said Dominica.
“No, a brother,” said Dominic.
Iam ignored them, lost in the telling. “We were like you. We were smart children. We did very well in school. My brother was the smartest of all and when it came time for him to go to college, well, he won a scholarship.”
“A what?” said Dominica.
“A very big college admitted him for free.”
“Wow,” said Dominic. “I’m going to get a scholarship when I go to college.”
“Your father and I hope both of you do. I was a young girl when he went to college.”
“I was older, around fourteen. So, the big day came, the day the entire family was to drive my brother to his college, when I got sick.”
“Real sick, like missing school sick?” asked Dominic.
“Yes. So sick, the doctor said I had to stay in bed.”
“Were you sad?” said Dominica.
“I cried when my mother told me, and that she’d stay home with me. Then, guess what?” She held up and flapped Aunt Margie’s photo. “She came to the rescue. She told my mother she would nurse me back to health and to go, go and not miss my brother’s big day. So the whole family got in the car and accompanied my brother to his college, and my Aunt Margie stayed to care for me.”
“That’s sad and happy,” said Dominica, but by Dominic’s expression of disappointment, he wasn’t in agreement.
“I wish, Dominica. But no.”
“What happened?” asked Dominic, his interest renewed.
“My brother drove. He was a very good driver. My father taught him. He was a safe driver, always kept his eyes on the road, followed all the rules, but …”
“But what? I know, somebody shot him because he was going to slow,” said Dominic.
“Really?” said Dominica.
“No. But it was very bad. The car hit a train.”
“A train? Wow,” said Dominic.
“Where they okay?” asked Dominica.
“I’m afraid not.”
“When a train hits you, you’re dead,” said Dominic.
“Sorry, but it’s true.”
“Why?” asked Dominica.
“Why the accident? You know the lights that flash and the stick that warns you a train is coming?”
“Some crossings don’t have them. It was nighttime and very dark, out in the country. You know how dark it gets around here.”
They nodded again.
“It was that dark. When the middle of a train is crossing, it’s hard to see. They had the windows up. My mother got a new hairdo for the big college trip and she didn’t want the wind mussing it. They didn’t see or hear the train. My brother drove right into it and they all died.”
Immediately, tears gushed from Dominica’s eyes.
“It was years ago, honey. You don’t have to be sad for me. Most of the pain’s gone.”
“It’s why I’ve got only one grandma.”
“I suppose you’re right. But there’s a happy ending.”
Dominica wiped her eyes and sniffled. “I like happy endings the best.”
“I like the good guys to win. That’s happy,” said Dominic.
“You both get what you want, because two good girls won. Aunt Margie made me feel better, and she got to be a mother like she always wanted to be.”
“She was your mommy” said Dominica.
“She wasn’t my real mommy, but she was a very good second mommy.”
“You miss her?”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, not sad. I’ll see her again one day. And she is always with me.”
“She is?” said Dominic.
“Yes. Here,” she said, touching her heart.
“She’s inside you?”
“Well … yes, yes, I suppose she is.”
Marcella, do you forget? “There was given unto the beast a moth speaking great blasphemies.” You allow a witch, a necromancer, a sorceress, an agent of Satin, to stay you from your mission, from the fulfillment of your promise, from the resurrection of God’s Chosen Delegate on earth? Oh, the anguish I feel, Marcella. Osma, who I loved and would bear me, betrayed the promise. And now my mighty warrior abandons me yet again? No! I will not have it.
Then the idea possessed her to push Dominic and Dominica out of the closet and into the room, without a word uttered as to the reason for their offense, as to what they should do after she pulled the door shut on them.
The children cried, “Mommy, what’s wrong? Are you sick? Mommy, don’t leave us.”
In the dark, she dropped into the rankest confinement, worse than a prison cell or a dungeon chamber, and the irony, the sweetly bitter mockery, was that the Anointed constructed the hut on her suggestion based on a scrap of cinematic history uttered to participate, to demonstrate loyalty, to convince the Council she too understood the persuasive power of cruelty.
“And were you surprised, little warrior, to discover yourself hoisted, as they say, on your on petard? Better than the fate of Monsieur Robespierre, don’t you agree?”
Pater could taunt; Pater could dispense cruelty so lovingly; Pater could teach so spiritually and physically; to him there could be but one response: “Forgive me, Pater. I beg your forgiveness and your blessing and the strength to execute your will.”
Here it was again as it had been in every torturing detail: the pungent, foul smell permeating the cell, and it blazing with oppressive heat as if it sat on the fires of Hell; and the walls closing in on her and the roof bearing down on her and the walls and the roof and the floor ringing like tin drums; and the enclosure stinking of punishment.
Then it was as if she had been there hours, days, a week, and the tears flowed freely and her only thoughts were of absolution, of Pater’s gentle caress, of the promise, of fulfillment, and of renewing the life of God’s Chosen Delegate on earth, His second son; and from her poured the mantra repeated for hours until her voice failed her and her scratching had to suffice.
On the other side of the door, in the neat room she had cleaned short hours before, in the darkening and cooling afternoon, in the wake of happiness, her children cried for her: “What’s wrong, Mommy? Are you sick, Mommy? Mommy, please, please.”
Iam answered with curdling shrieking: “Forgive me, Pater, I will create the vessel of God. Forgive me, Pater, I will create the vessel of God. Forgive me, Pater, I will create the vessel of God”; accompanied by terrifying pounding and scratching, as if the door was sealed.
And in those moments the darkened sky blackened and the air tingled with electricity, and lightning streaked across the sky and cast the room in white light that bleached the color from every object and from the children, and the thunder rumbled and rattled all the things that had been rendered in the blankness of death, Dominic and Dominica foremost among them who took refuge in a corner hugging each other, away from the window and far from the closet door and the cries and clawing of a woman who didn’t seem like their mother of hours earlier who had waited for them at church, had served them lunch, and had treated them to pink lemonade as the silly, cute cat clock watched, waited, and ticked what had begun as an ordinary Saturday afternoon into oblivion.
COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, MAY 25, 2015: CHAPTER 15: HELL