The Inside-Out Woman: 20: Hegira

The Inside-Out Woman

CHAPTER 20:  HEGIRA

Iam charged into the living room.

Dominic took Dominica into his arms and sunk into the couch.  “Mommy, what’s wrong?” he cried.

“Nothing,” she answered, breaking stride, “stay there and watch your movie.”

Dominica burrowed her trembling self into him.  “What’s the matter, Dominic?”

“Sweethearts, everything is fine and dandy,” Iam cooed, standing in a jittery idle that conveyed the impression something was horribly wrong.  “I’m just trotting upstairs for a few minutes.  Watch your movie.  It looks delightful.”

“When’s dinner?” asked Dominica.

“In a little while, after I’m done upstairs.  Eat your scrumptious cheese and crackers.  Enjoy your movie.”

“We ate them,” said Dominic.

“I want more milk,” said Dominica.

“What a pair of fusspots.  Help yourselves, please.  I have to get upstairs, immediately,” she said, flying over the half bath debris to the stairs and bounding them two and three in a leap.  “Don’t mess up the kitchen,” she called back.  “We want it perfect for Daddy.”

On the second floor, she entered Dominic’s room and dashed to his closet.  She bent and picked up the box, and once in her hands the urgency of her undertaking subsided.  She staggered to Dominic’s bed under the weight of the box and dropped down on it.  She thrummed the top.  She understood removing the lid was a mistake; she understood removing it was imperative.  She would destroy the box and everything it contained, except for her keepsakes of Aunt Margie.  These she could not part with, never; her need to save them was an ardent compulsion.  No matter the danger the other items harbored, she had to save the remains of her aunt.

Concentrating on her task, visualizing each item in the box, the room and the storm vanished momentarily, returning with an explosion of lightning and thunder that rocked the house and shook the bed, startling her.  Her knees jerked reflexively in a violent spasm, launching the box into the air, disgorging everything as it arced its way to thumping upside down on the floor.

Iam whimpered, “Oh, no.” 

She scrambled off the bed in panic.  She retrieved Aunt Margie’s Jasperware, each piece of which seemed upon cursory examination to be intact.  For closer inspection, she gathered the cup, saucer, and oval box, and carried them to the lamp, where she studied each minutely.  Miraculous, for doubtless given their delicacy only divine intervention could account for the fact they suffered not a chip or even hairline fracture; they were as pristine as the day she’d taken them from Aunt Margie’s bedstead and hid them.

Determined to preserve them, she set the Jasperware on Dominic’s bed, at its foot.  She folded down the bedspread from the top twice.  She positioned the cup at the fold line.  Next she turned the spread twice more and placed the saucer in the same fashion.  She separated the lid and box and arranged them individually in folds of the bedspread, finishing with the collection well padded and safe. 

Lifting and cradling the bundle like a fragile child, she decided to store it temporarily on the top shelf of Dominic’s closet.  As she walked toward the closet, a lightning flash whitened the room.  Thunder followed, pulsating through the floor, causing her to falter.  She reconsidered the wisdom of putting the precious bundle where it might fall and test her packaging.  She pivoted.  She stared at the bed.  She went to it.  She knelt and slid the bundle underneath it.  Billy would say, “Even if the roof caves in, the bed will protect them.”  She smiled with relief that come what may Aunt Margie’s treasures would be secure.

She crawled to the strewn photos and envelopes and quickly sorted them.  She grabbed the box and discarded everything that wasn’t a picture of or an envelope from her aunt, tearing each before dropping it in the box, her mother and the hospital included, especially the hospital.  When she was done, there remained a stack of pink envelopes, one photo, and the newspaper clipping.  For a reason she couldn’t comprehend, she found herself reluctant to toss the clipping.  She sat on the floor, placing herself between it and her aunt’s things.  She picked up the photo and cupped it in her hands. 

It was her favorite snapped by Sammy at her First Communion.  There had been many photos; of her; of her mother in her atrocious pencil skirt; of Sammy and Ruth; of her aunt, mother, and her together.  It was the only one she spared. 

“Why, my good gosh, dear,” Aunt Margie said of her mother’s photo afterwards on her bed shuffling dozens of photos, “she appears on the prowl.  How absolutely inappropriate for a First Communion.”  Iam had saved the pencil skirt photo as a reminder of what she didn’t want to be, though she couldn’t stand the photo and the scenes it conjured; she hated her mother’s façade, a feeble construction of delight; a translucent mask of cheap makeup troweled over her true expression of contempt mixed with boredom; a woman self-absorbed, self-pitying, always at the tipping point of rage.  Before she’d consigned it and everything to the basement vault, it was like every time she looked at it; in it she saw what she didn’t want for herself; like every time, she rubbed at the face, pressed and scrubbed, though, from previous times, she could barely see it was her mother; she rubbed something that could be anybody, something that was a meaningless figure in a tight skirt.  At last, she was able to tear it into irretrievable shreds and intern it under garbage at the bottom of box; and still it haunted her; and, worse, now the erased face was as it had been the day Sammy took the picture.  “Damn you,” she muttered, when she realized she’d been gawking at the box.

“I know, I know,” she said, weeping at the photo of Aunt Margie in her beautiful pink dress decorated with pink ribbon curlicues, her hair styled in bunched curls that resembled furry ear muffs and stringy bangs, the perfect homage to her idol, “‘Ladies are not vulgar; they are refined.  And their language reflects their propriety.’  I know.” 

She swiped her streaked cheeks and glanced at the newspaper clipping.  Again, why it was on the floor and not in the box mystified her.  She carefully set Aunt Margie’s photo aside.  She grabbed the clipping, suppressed her reluctance, and rectified her oversight by balling it and slamming it into the box.  She returned her attention to her aunt’s photo.  Before she could pick it up, the clipping summoned her; the ball expanded and crinkled, swelled and crunched; compared to its cannonade, the thunder, an ominously quickening series of blasts, paled as mere pops.  She watched as the ball grew like a deadly yellowed tumor, until she couldn’t resist and plucked it from the trash with the intention of ripping it like she had her mother’s photo and everything else.  But in her hands it seemed to come alive and transmit a mandate to unravel it.  She succumbed and stared at the mangled recounting of the demise of Universal One, not seeing photos or words; seeing, instead, the faithful, the believers, her friends, the Anointed People, who were the betrayed and dead; and she suffered, again, the agony of survival.

Sometimes, driving from Los Angeles to “Feed the World” in a white Universal One van, she wished the Church owned a convertible.  It had been weeks since she last labored in the fields.  She was back working in the Worship Temple offices, spending most of her time in the War Room defending the Church against ever more frequent attacks from media enemies and other churches envious of losing members to Pater.  She thought:  they damned him “poacher”; the converts praised him “savior”; the Church sung in greeting “The one who conquerors.” 

A coterie of newspaper and broadcast reporters, spurred on by the villainous and indestructible Harlan Johnson, purported to show the Church was exploiting its members, deceiving them with frenzied healing charades, stealing from them by tithing their income at rates that would make credit card executives blush, outright stealing their savings and property, and, most recently, isolating them on a farm, reducing them to no more than indentured laborers. 

Pater, in his wisdom, enlisted a couple of trusted lawyers, men, though of a hardhearted profession, who believed in his powers and his divinity, and were Anointed People.  In their faithfulness, they successfully defended Pater and the Church against every crafty assault its enemies could mount. 

Pater also retained a public relations agency.  Those who worked for it were believers, but of a different sort, believers who worshiped at the altar of money.  Pater complained bitterly about them, denouncing them as bloodsucking leeches, as boils rotting the innocent flesh of the Church, as the very cancers he extracted from the bowels of converts.  Iam didn’t quite understand why he disliked people who obviously benefited the Church by portraying its good works in ways that not only defended it but attracted new members who believed in its social crusading and public works.  She expressed her bafflement to Osma early on, after she’s taken over as head of Countervailing.  “Notice when he is most angry with them,” she said.  “Usually the second week of each month, when their bill arrives.”  But he didn’t react similarly to the lawyers’ bills.  Osma laughed, “Because, Marcella, for one immersed in the countervailing efforts of the Church, you sometimes exhibit an astounding degree of naivety.  We have no legal bills.  They are believers and we are pro bono to them.”  Iam dismissed Osma’s tone as her natural cynicism, one hand washing the other; but she could sympathize, too.  Often, especially as she earned greater responsibilities and witnessed the inner workings of the Church, she had her doubts.  However, like Osma, she believed in Pater and the Church; she believed what the pro bono lawyers and the money grubbing public relations people said; she believed the dirty tricks she perpetrated on the Harlan Johnson’s of the world were the flaming sword of the true word wielded against ruthless enemies, the golden army of God against the black legions of Satan; she believed the end justified the means, the end was that worthy and good.

The current mission, though, didn’t involve the lawyers or the public relations firm.  It was too sensitive for them.  No, that was euphemistic.  They would never countenance Pater’s plans for inactivating the Church’s enemies. 

The hot wind blowing in the open windows transformed the van’s interior into a convection oven.  Iam alternated hands on the steering wheel, wiping them dry on her jeans. 

Maybe she was romanticizing the fields.  Maybe the warmth she remembered was more the heat between Fabian and her.  She’d suffered for her indiscretion.  It wasn’t the fire of Hell; it was the torture of being removed from God’s presence.  Some espoused true hell was never seeing God, an eternity of agonized thirst forever unquenched.  She conceded they might be right after Pater and the Church ostracized her.  For weeks following her release from Hell, Pater forbade her from being near him.  Those times when she was unavoidably in his presence, she was required to cast her eyes down.  She was a sinner and, therefore, unworthy to gaze upon the Delegate of God, a spawn of God incarnate.  The Anointed People shunned her.  They would not look at her.  Those closest to her would not acknowledge her when she tried speaking with them.  Osma was the cruelest, showing Iam her back and ritually spitting whenever each came near the other.  She slept on the ground behind the cabin.  She ate alone outside the pavilion.  She was forbidden the daily shower.  She was contaminated and a contaminant and treated as such.  After two weeks, a single thought preoccupied her:  winning back the love of Pater and the Anointed People.  When the day arrived, Pater summoned her to the pavilion.  Before the People, he asked whom she loved.  She declared swiftly, unequivocally, and repeatedly, “Pater, my savior.”  When she humbled herself sufficiently, Pater welcomed her return to the flock.  She supplicated herself prostrate in the soil of “Feed the World,” in the goodness of the Anointed People’s mission, and the assembled sung in praise of her and Pater, a hymn that rang in her head as she pulled onto the farm, “Glory to Pater.  Welcome to the cleansed.”

She slowed at the entrance gate.  The two Swords stationed there knew her; nonetheless, they scrutinized her as if she were a stranger; it was their duty and they were conditioned to it.  They waved her in.  She passed under the sign and pulled off the road into the area that served as the farm’s motor pool.  She parked next to the shed housing five of the Church’s excursion busses used to ferry members to the farm, a van bus for town trips, and another van identical to the one she drove for official business.  Combined with the half dozen busses, two van busses, and three vans garaged near the Los Angeles Temple, it was an impressive fleet and an all-cash investment in propagating the word nationwide on summer conversion crusades.

She climbed from the van and Maxima was beside her.  Maxima, and Fabrizio at the Temple, were the Church’s two master mechanics.  Pater had assigned them perfect names, for they truly worked miracles training reformed young men in a useful trade and maintaining the farm and city fleets. 

“Greetings, Marcella.  How was the ride?”

“Hot.”

“Nothing compared to Hell,” he winked.

“No,” she said, reminded that transgressions were more easily forgiven than forgotten.

“Returning tonight?”

“I don’t know,” she said, but doubtful as meetings with Pater could run for several hours, often into the next day.

“I’ll have it checked, washed, and gassed for you tonight, in case you need it.”

“Thank you, Maxima.”

“My duty, and my pleasure,” he said.

She slung her satchel over her shoulder and trekked the quarter mile into the heart of the encampment.  She carried the result of a month’s work.  It represented hours of eye-searing computer research, dreadful garbage can searches, and boring surveillance on foot and in rented cars.  Uncovering compromising information was the purpose.  The objective was to render the foe Harlan Johnson inactive.  The folder in her satchel bulged with discarded writing, receipts, and photos, much already familiar, none of which that would please Pater; they could use none of it to discredit the man.  In addition, contained in its own folder, she carried a two-week surveillance report marked “SPA,” Subject Pattern Analysis.  Osma’d taught her how to prepare them before an inactivation mission.  She devised a dozen missions herself, after having executed two under Osma’s guidance.  One with Osma had involved tossing a sink bomb into the home of a television reporter when they were certain the house was empty.  The reporter had disparaged Pater in a report on voter registration.  Inactivation, she learned that night, was a Church word for physical intimidation, and worse.  She expressed distress afterwards, but Osma put the mission into perspective for her.  As distasteful as she might find the assignment, if she believed in Pater and the Church, the end justified the means.  Then, Iam was an avowed believer.

She approached Pater’s cabin with misgivings.  She’d participated in three Johnson inactivations since she and Osma composed the mistress letter in the War Room.  Johnson would not back off, even when through artful subterfuge they’d nearly gotten him fired from his newspaper.  In the face of their failures, she could only imagine what Pater might be devising, and it frightened her.  Having been away from him for several weeks, her devotional adore had cooled, had been corrupted some might say.  In his mail, phone calls, especially in couriered top-secret correspondence containing reports of almost daily Black Nights, he impressed her as irrational.  More disturbing, he seemed dangerously paranoid, obsessed with the notion Harlan Johnson had organized and spearheaded a vast national conspiracy aimed at defaming him and Universal One.  It encompassed the media, FBI, CIA, and betrayal by political friends scared by the reporter’s power to tarnish them.  Pater sent her and her countervailing team on numerous fruitless forays for proof of Johnson’s Machiavellian maneuvers and raged, fortunately from afar, when they produced nothing. 

She watched the door open, recalling the night not long after she first arrived at the farm, when she heard a noise in the night, the disquieting noise always in the back of her mind.  Osma embraced her and whispered in her ear, “Afterwards, I have a secret to share with you.”  She squeezed Iam and led her into Pater’s bedroom.

Pater reclined on the bed dressed but, unusual for him, sloppy.  His feet were bare, his slacks rumpled, and his shirt open.  Iam contained her shock well but Osma, holding her arm, sensed her muscle’s tense.  They shared a glance and Iam saw Osma’s eyes flare in warning. 

“Pater, look who has arrived.”

Pater raised his chin off his chest and squinted in their direction.  He lackadaisically waved for them to approach.

“Marcella, we have anticipated you and your news.  Come, give your Pater a kiss.”

Iam laid her satchel on the bed and sat beside him.  She leaned and pecked his cheek.  His skin was yellow.  He smelled sour.  She pulled away.  He patted her hand and then tugged it.  He motioned for Osma to join them.  He turned from one to the other and smiled. 

“My lovely trinity,” he slurred, his lids drooping over his eyes.

Osma nudged him.  “Pater, we have work.”

“Work?  Yes, work.  Osma, please, my medicine.”

Osma slipped off the bed and went into the bathroom.  He was quiet, nodding Iam thought, as if in a stupor. 

Osma returned with three ruby and clear capsules Iam recognized as Dexes.  She looked at Osma sharply, as Pater washed them down with wine from his crystal goblet. 

In a moment, his lids snapped up and his eyes brightened.  He pushed himself upright in the bed and said, “Let’s see the fruit of your labors, Marcella.” 

Iam stacked the contents of her satchel on the bed.

“An impressive lot of stuff.”

“Yes, Pater.  Sadly, as previously, none of it is worth anything to us.”

“Let me have them,” he said, snapping his fingers at her.  “The devil is a dirty and foul creature, Marcella.  Try as he might to hide his filthy intents and deeds, it is impossible.”

Iam and Osma watched apprehensively as he swiftly shuffled the papers.  “What, no bribes, no whores, no little boys, no debts, or bar bills, or sneaky travel?  What?”  He tossed the month of effort at the foot of the bed, where it scattered as flotsam on the bed and the floor.  “You’re telling me Harlan Johnson, the fucking devil, is really a goddamn saint?”

“Pater,” Iam said, “it is as always.  We looked everywhere—”

“Everywhere.  Nowhere.  If you looked everywhere, I would have the bastard by his balls, Marcella.  I’d be squeezing them as we speak and he’d be hollering like the demon he is, bellowing like a stuck pig.  I want to destroy him, and you bring me, what? nothing, paper that means shit.  I expected a sword.”

“I’m sorry, Pater.”

“Marcella, he is the head of the great red dragon, a giant hydra.  We cut off the heads and the dragon dies.  We’ll be free.  We’ll accomplish the task God has given us.  And all I get from you is useless paper.  It’s good for nothing, Marcella.”

As he ranted, his face, neck, and chest reddened.  Iam feared blood would gush from his ears and mouth any second. 

“I’m sorry, Pater,” she repeated, as Osma attempted comforting him, stroking his chest and kissing his cheek.  But he would not be comforted and knocked her away, nearly off the bed.

“It’s shit, Marcella.  Yes, for shit.  Osma, gather it up and take it to the toilets.  Let the people wipe their asses with the little warrior’s useless paper.”  When Osma hesitated, he commanded, “Do it.”

Osma scurried after the papers.

“See the result of your efforts, Marcella.  Your amita debases herself cleaning up your shit.”

“Pater, I have more.”

“More shit?  I don’t need more of your crap.  I’m … Osma’s crawling in it like a pig.”

Iam reached into her satchel.  She removed the folder and presented it to him.  “SPA,” she said. 

Pater leafed through it, muttering, “He hasn’t changed much,” and smiling.  She was afraid to say more, but when he finished he regarded her with urging eyes. 

“We can frighten him,” she offered.

“The devil frightens, Marcella.  He is not frightened.  We tried.  Stop it, Osma.  Fill my goblet and lie next to me.”

The room was silent as Osma obeyed and nestled next to him. 

He sipped his burgundy and eyed Marcella over the rim.

Weakly, she said, “We could burn his car.”

He smiled and sipped.

“We could firebomb his house,” she said.

He sipped again.  He hugged Osma and kissed her passionately.  He turned his gaze on Iam.

“Continue.”

“Pater, I don’t know.”

“Apparently I gave you the wrong name.  Osma, what might we do with the information Marcella has provided?  How might we wield it against the general of the black legion?  How will the general’s army attack without the leader?”

“We return him to Hell,” Osma whispered.

“Louder, my overflowing vessel.  Our little warrior cannot hear you.  See how blank her face is.”

“Return him to Hell,” she shouted.

“Back to Hell with the fucking bastard.  Did you hear that, Marcella?”

“Yes, Pater.”

Muted sounds from outside—of voices moaning about aches and pains, exhaustion and hunger, the heat and thirst; of tools dragged; of motors puttering and surging; of children laughing and squealing—drifted into the bedroom and filled the silent void that seemed to Iam to last an eternity.

“Well?” Pater demanded.

“Well,” Iam mumbled.

“Well, she says.  Well, well, well, is this our head of Countervailing?  Is our trust and faith misplaced?  Do we have before us a weak soul?  Or do we look upon a soul in the full armor of God, ready to do her duty for her Maker, her Pater, and her Church?”

“We inactivate him.”

“How?  You’ve attempted inactivation many times, and you have failed miserably, Marcella.”

Iam screwed herself up.  Tears welled in her, begged for release; she repressed them. 

“We inactivate Harlan Johnson … permanently,” she said, with as much conviction as she could muster.

Pater sat bold up right, dropping Osma on the bed.  He jolted them with his cachinnating.

He raised his goblet.  “Brava, Marcella!  Brava!  You are truly worthy of your name.”

“Thank you, Pater.”

“The details, Marcella, let’s hear the details.  How will you achieve the permanent solution to that slime Johnson?”

“Pater …”

Osma thrust up beside Pater.  She wrapped an arm around him and played with his raven hair.  “Pater, perhaps the details are best left unsaid.”

“What?  I want to know how the asshole—”

“Pater, they may be listening.”

“Listening?  How?  We check for bugs twice a day.  We’re clean.”

Osma pointed at the ceiling.  “The sky, Pater.  They have airplanes with ears.”

“Shit,” he shouted.  Then he whispered, “Shit, Osma, do you think?”

“No, Pater.  And even if they did overhear us, you have said nothing incriminating.”

“Thank you, Osma, my filled receptacle, my life.  Thank you.”

“I think it is best if Marcella and I go outside.  Marcella, we’ll go to the motor pool shed.  It has a metal roof that will prevent their probing rays from reaching us.”

“Excellent, Osma.  Excellent.  Attend to it now.”

“You rest, Pater,” she said, lying him back. 

She went to the bathroom and returned with two red bullets. 

“You should rest, Pater.  Take your medicine.”

He accepted the pills and took them, emptying his goblet.

Osma and Marcella, standing side by side, waited a few moments in silence, waiting until he faded into sleep.

“Let’s walk, Marcella,” said Osma, finally, taking Marcella’s hand.  “He’ll be like that for a couple of hours.

Outside, Osma said, “First things first.  Do not undertake the Johnson mission by yourself.  Consult with Armand after we talk.  Plan something soon, Marcella.  You see how he is.  Once we’ve dispensed with the Johnson problem, I know Pater will rest easier.  Things will be like they used to be.”  She tightened her grip of Iam’s hand.  “I need them to be like they were, Marcella.”

Iam embraced her.  “I know.”

“Marcella, I’m fulfilled.”

“Are there others?” Iam asked.

“You mean those silly bitches?  Please.  Pater lost interest in them soon enough.  Even the young aren’t so fertile that a romp or two will do it.  And, you saw, Pater is not his old self.  I’m afraid his potency is somewhat diminished.  So, yes, I am the only one.”

“I’m happy for you, Osma.”

“Thank you, Marcella.  I take it you haven’t—”

“No, Osma, no.”

“Good.  I am the only one, for now and for always.  We are leaving soon for the house in Ensenada.  It will be a vacation, maybe a long one.  We’ll watch me grown big.  Do you want to know what it is?”

Iam nodded.

“It’s a boy, Marcella.  I went to the hospital for an ultrasound.  It’s a perfect boy.  A girl would have been a problem.  I worried about it.  A girl could not be chosen to carry on the mission, you know.”

“Osma, you don’t …”

“Do you believe, Marcella?”

“I do, Osma.”

“Then there is nothing to explain.  Be happy for me, for Pater, and for our Church.”

“I am.”

“Tears?”

“Of joy, Osma.”

“Now go, and succeed.  You must.  You see how Johnson and his clan of hate mongers are destroying him.  If you fail, I don’t know what will become of us.  You won’t fail us, will you, Marcella?”

Iam answered by staring deep into Osma’s eyes, and left her.

She walked quickly to the motor pool.  There, as his duty and pleasure dictated, Maxima had the van ready.  Pulling around the busses to leave, she noticed a rifle leaning against the first bus.  Driving out the gate, she saw two Swords had increased to four and each was visibly armed.  As she sped pass the perimeter of the property bordering the road, she observed more Swords, each armed with rifles.  Rushing to Los Angeles in the hot night, she rolled up the van’s windows and still she shuddered with a dreadful chill.

She was in her room located in the dorm annexed to the Temple less than an hour, when Armand rapped on her door.  He said he’d received a phone call from the farm to see her about a situation.  Her body begged for sleep and here was Armand eager to launch an assault on the Johnson gang.  She asked him to meet her in the War Room at eight a.m., that by morning she would have devised a strategy. 

After he left, she dropped onto her bed.  She closed her eyes and began to drift.  In the twilight of sleep, she had visions of herself with Harlan Johnson on his knees to her, staring up at her with eyes that had been pleading and now were vacant glass, eyes flanking a perfectly formed red hole, on a face without a skull behind it.  In her hand was a revolver, a huge block of smoking nickel-plated metal.  She awoke bathed in sweat stifling a scream.

She went to the War Room.  She locked herself in according to protocol.  She sat in the desk chair.  She stared at the member file cabinets for several minutes, until she teared, and understood, finally, that her belief was no longer strong enough to satisfy Pater’s demands.  She opened the lower desk drawer.  She removed a small strong box.  She opened it with a key on her War Room ring.  From it, she withdrew ten thousand dollars, as much as she thought she’d need and no more, and the title to a Temple-based van.  She spent several minutes changing the registrant to herself, smiling at the forgery, at her criminal expertise.  She stuffed the money and registration into her pants and in anger she emptied several boxes of copy paper.  She carried these to her room.  She filled them with her clothing and a cache of envelopes and photos she’d secreted under her mattress and the Jasperware Pater had allowed her to keep.  She carried these to the basement and set them in front of the War Room.  She went to the guard station at the Temple entrance.  She told the Swords she was on a mission for Pater, that Armand was aware of it.  She asked if one could help her move important papers to a Temple van.  After the Sword loaded the van, she thanked him and drove to the 5 and north.  South of Sacramento, when she felt safe and too tired to go on, she took a room in motel well away from the highway.  She slept several hours and left in the early evening.  She drove a while and came upon a used car lot.  She pulled in.  She traded the van for an old Ford.  The salesman helped her load her boxes into its trunk.  He taped the temporary registration to the read window and told her the new plates would arrive in about a week.  She said she’d call and pick them up, and she thought maybe she would or maybe not.  She resumed her trip north.  She saw signs for a town called Paradise and thought she could use a little of that.  In Paradise, she found a room, a job waiting tables in a family-style restaurant, and a guy named Johnny, who liked her to address him as Johnnieee and proved to fit the name.  It was in Paradise, in the restaurant, on the television they kept over the counter, that she saw a Sacramento station interrupt regular programming for Breaking News.  A family of five by the name of Johnson were found murdered in their beds in Los Angeles.  She dropped an entire service at the report.  The owner saw she was too distraught to work the night and sent her home, attributing her wrought response to a sensitive nature; he knew her as a kind-hearted soul.  By the time she reached her room and turned on her television, the station was breaking for news from the Fresno area, dozens dead in a mass shooting; dozens that later reporting tabulated at one hundred forty-five.  A day later, when she could bear to read about it, she bought a copy of the Los Angeles Times and read the details of the “Mass Execution.”  The following day, she returned to the restaurant.  That day, and for a week after, she saw people she knew.  She saw Nessa and Lotta, Fabian and Maxima, Fidella and Osma.  She fled the restaurant and Paradise when she saw Pater, and he approached her and said: 

You betrayed me once, Marcella, and see the havoc you wreaked.  You stole my Isaac from me.  I will have my due and my resurrection, and you will not betray me again.

COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, JULY 6, 2015: CHAPTER 21: THE EXORCIST

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