The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 22: THE DEAD LETTER
Iam sat on her legs weeping. Her tears dropped onto the newspaper clipping at her knees. Two, three, and four, each domed on the surface, as if the clipping had transformed over the years in the box into something closer to resilient flesh than newsprint. She reached down and gently brushed away the tears. She found she could not withdraw her hand; that she needed to stroke the clipping, to her feel its unexpected suppleness, and to speak to it, as if to a corpse. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I knew. I did nothing. I’m sorry.”
Poppycock, dear, you have nothing to be sorry for. Do you honestly believe anything you could have said would have persuaded a single person to leave?
“No,” Iam said, staunching her crying and choking back her regret, not Fabian, not a poor soul. How do you cure someone of an addiction? Or persuade someone her father is evil? Or convince him that truth is deception, or worse, a calculated lie? Or that trust is manipulation?
Of course not. Why, I feared you yourself would not heed your second sight and do the sensible thing. Fortunately, I was with you, urging you to save yourself, possessing by that time enough strength that you heard me. You know, I assured you many times I would be with you always; I would be like your guardian angel, in the background prepared to protect you.
“Thank you, Aunt Margie.”
Nonsense, you needn’t thank me. I love you, dear. I loved you the moment your mother teased me with her pregnancy. “Look, Margie, something else you’re incapable of, you nutburger.”‘ Well, I’ll grant you, she didn’t use those words exactly, but her meaning was clear, and cutting. While the wound festers still, fortunately, I’m not one to dwell. Water under the bridge is my motto. Naturally, I didn’t allow her torment of me to reduce the affection I had for you even as she carried you. No, I took the high road and resolved to love you with all my heart, to become a part of your life and give you what I knew she never could. Loving you saved me, dear.
Yes. You fortified me with courage and resolve and a future. Without you, I would not be here now.
“But you died. The truck.”
In a manner of speaking only, dear. I do apologize about the truck, but I did try to warn you. It came as a terrible shock to you, I realize, and put you off ketchup for years. Forgive my tittering, but the condiment and that Pater beast are simply too comical. It was a desperate period in my life and I saw no alternative. I would have rotted in that hellhole otherwise, with her visiting just to show and tell me everything I couldn’t have. I had to find a way to escape by hook or crook. Sadly, the truck was the best I could manage.
“Escape? To where?”
To the place I loved, the only place I wanted to be. To here, here with you. You were the only one who ever loved me, dear. You were the only one I loved for ages. You gave me more darlings to love and from whom to feel love, Billy, Dominic, and Dominica. But don’t fret, I still love you the most, and I know you love me best. I will always be part of you, dear. I couldn’t live without you.
“I don’t understand. How could you—”
Tsk, tsk, shame on you. I explained everything to you in the letter. Alas, it has been a dead letter all these years. It was my last to you. You didn’t open it; you’ve never opened it.
“I’m sorry. I should have. I wanted to. But I couldn’t. It hurt too much just looking at the envelope.”
Really, dear, you are making me cry. You know I abhor crying. My eyes puff so. My sensitive skin blotches horribly. And my makeup, what an unsightly mess. You know how meticulous I am about my appearance.
Iam’s cheeks dripped with fresh tears that fell on the clipping like rain. She rubbed them from her face with the heels of her hands and wiped them from the supple clipping.
Don’t you think it is time, dear, especially with the creature back?
Iam had picked up the clipping and was staring at the photo of Pater. He seemed to meet her gaze and implore her with his moist blue eyes.
Ugh, dear. Put that down.
Iam laid the clipping on the floor.
Forgive my insistence, but the creature, what it has inflicted on us, infuriates me beyond endurance. That’s better. Now, please, retrieve my letters and open the last one. I would have come to you earlier had you read it. If I reached you sooner, I might have prevented this.
Why, your suffering, dear, your sorrow over the deaths of those people. Thankfully, I’m here to prevent the creature from doing you more harm.
“Harm? He’s dead, Aunt Margie. It says so right here,” Iam said, pointing at the clipping. “He’s been dead for years.”
Dead? It is no more dead than I am. Please, calm yourself, dear. Deep breaths work nicely. We must be cool as little cucumbers if we are to turn the tables on that sly serpent. I insist you read the dead letter. I don’t mean to be stern with you, but it is imperative. I don’t think it a tiny bit melodramatic to say it is a matter of life and death.
The letter, dear, without further delay.
Iam retrieved the envelopes. The dead letter lay at the bottom of the stack. She studied the pink envelope, the script of broken loops, at her name, Miss Maryam Beatrice Maria Cardinale, admiring, as she did as a girl, the formality of it, the declaration in blue fountain ink and her aunt’s hand, once cultivated and crisp—still so in her memory—that she was important, she was somebody, not a girl without a father or a real mother, not the sister of a drug-dead brother and a mystical sequestered Carmelite; not alone.
She turned the envelope. Exercising the greatest care, she slid a short jagged nail under the flap and slowly pried it away from the envelope. She removed and unfolded the sheets. The stationery was pink. White and purple petunias woven into a garland festooned the top. Printed below the garland in a curlicue, nearly indecipherable script font Miss Margaret Anna Maria Andolini, and, significantly she always thought, nothing more, as if Aunt Margie was nowhere, or everywhere.
She lowered her eyes to the lines of writing, marveling, as she always did, at her aunt’s precision. Though the cursive was disturbed, sentences were straight, as always, on the unlined paper. She smiled, recalling the sight of her own sentences meandering up and down the fancy notepaper her aunt had given her. She guessed her aunt had used a ruler and she tried emulating her. But her pen bumped against the edge. When she examined what she’d written, she discovered all the descenders missing. Even today, she could not write straight without the aid of a printed line, and she again admired her aunt’s skill.
She raised her eyes to the top of the letter and lingered on the date, consumed by a wave of sadness that welled up from her soul, reconstituted by Billy, Dominic, Dominica, home, and love. Aunt Margie had written the letter a few days before she died and it had arrived the very day …
Iam shook her head and snuffled and read.
“I pondered the kindest way to break the news to you, and chose the most direct. I’m leaving, dear, today.
“My stay here will be quite long, maybe forever, which is why that despicable sister of mine will receive a phone call shortly about my departure.
“Yes, I know it seems terribly unfair that I am condemned to this place, as I am more mother to you and Ruth than she is. Undoubtedly, our closeness and my usurping of the motherly love she believed due her are responsible for my condemnation. I sigh with sadness as I write.
‘Dear, I simply cannot tolerate this place, not for the usual months, let alone some indefinite period, years, this time perhaps eternity, as she promises. It is dreary beyond words and filled to the rafters with the worst sorts of riffraff. I’m not speaking of the others confined like myself. For the most part, they are decent people. Yes, some may be pitiful weak heads, but they possess kind hearts. I believe their innocent sweetness counts for something, don’t you agree? The staff and the prison atmosphere make remaining here intolerable. The doctors constantly needle us with questions. The orderlies wrestle us between wards and offices and torture chambers. And if you are halfway attractive—well, dear, I will not offend your innocent sensibilities. Neither should you worry. Your aunt knows how to defend herself. These brutes are no matches for her.
“As a consequence, I’ve arrived at a momentous decision. I am leaving. Yes, simply strolling out, pretty as you please. Isn’t it wonderful, dear? I feel liberated for the first time in my life. Why haven’t I done this sooner? I suppose because the duration of my stays here were short. In and out, and I was back with you practically before you could blink an eye. However, this time is different: the bleak prospect of never being with you again is unendurable. I suppose the old saw is true: necessity is the mother of invention.
“Now, I must prepare you. I’m afraid my exit will not be attractive. Yes, it troubles me too. I truly wish there was an elegant way for me to depart. I’ve tried charm, in all its many guises (which you’ll understand when you are older), and it has failed me. I’m afraid I have no alternative but the method I’ve decided upon.
“Two promises from you before I tell you. First, do not break down. No crying. No screaming. No carrying on of any sort. Otherwise, you might spoil my plans, not just for me, but for us. (Oh, yes, you are integral. Honestly, as I’ve said, I couldn’t have worked up the courage if not for you. My love for you is that great.) Second, under no circumstances tell your mother. She is such a mean, spiteful, hateful thing; she’ll try to stop me. Release is the last thing she wants for me. My suffering delights her. My rotting here gives her a sadistic satisfaction. I may seem harsh, but, dear, you know her as well as I do. We cannot allow her to interfere.
“Promise. Say you promise. I can hear you, you know. We’re connected for eternity.
“Brace yourself, for here it comes. I will exit my body.
“The rules of life will not allow me to leave my body while it lives. Goodness knows I’ve tried often enough to verify it is true. I often find myself in a lovely world of my own design. Contrary to what your mother and her so-called doctors say, it is a real world. Unhappily, though, it isn’t your world, dear, where I want to live.
“Sorry for the bluntness, dear. I must kill my body.
“You’re not crying are you? If so, stifle the tears, please, for both our sakes.
“Look at the bright side. I won’t be killing myself, just the physical part of me. (Sounds strange, but I will explain below). I won’t be in a place I hate. I won’t suffer the indignities of old age. I won’t be allowing nature to dictate how my body dies. I will be, for the first time in my life, the determiner of my fate.
“You are a child, my precious one, but I believe you are mature beyond your years. You do understand much of what I’m saying. Later, when you are older, you’ll understand everything.
“You see, just as you’ve learned in school, you are in two parts, body and soul. My soul will live after my body dies. However, instead of zooming up to Heaven, where I’m sure I will reside one day, for I’ve suffered my purgatory on earth (why, I don’t believe it presumptuous of me to say I have endured hell on earth), I will live for a while in the world as a free spirit. No, I will not exist as a ghost. I know you’ll think me odd, but I don’t believe in ghosts; that is, I don’t believe we spirits (I should say soon to be) are able to exist outside a body for any length of time.
“Where will I go? I will come to you, dear. I will fly to you. I will live in you until we both ascend to our eternal reward. That’s how I prefer living, with you, as part of you.
“Don’t worry, dear. You will not know I’m in you. I won’t make a peep. Swear. I’ll just lie back and observe. If you ever need me, though, you have only to think of me, think what you would say to me if we were snuggled in my bed. I will whisper a bit of guidance in your ear. Let me assure you, I realize it will be your life. You will live it as you see fit. I will never intrude, except to dispense little droplets of advice. This is my pledge to you. Your life is your life. You can live it as you wish, with the added comfort of knowing you will never be alone.
“So, remember, no carrying on and no telling your mother.
“I will be with you soon, dearest of dears, very soon.
“My love and my life,
“I don’t understand,” Iam said, staring at the letter. “It makes no sense. It’s—”
Crazy. Please, dear, hush. You know, you would have been more accepting if you had opened the letter when you were a little girl. Children are better believers than adults.
“I know I think about you often, Aunt Margie.”
All the time, recently, dear.
“Yes, today I can’t get you out of my thoughts.”
Remember the letter, dear. I’m in more than your thoughts.
“I don’t understand.”
Well, you can claim not to understand all night. If you do, however, the consequences will be dire.
“What? What do you mean?”
It, the creature, your Pater, is up to no good. The beast is inside you, too, and its presence is growing dangerously strong. We can stop it. But we must act as one without delay.
“Pater, in me? I told you. He’s dead. Osma killed him years ago.”
My letter, dear, have you already forgotten what I wrote about spirits? Its body died on the farm years ago, but the entity didn’t. Its spirit must have been powerful from the beginning. After all, it reached you up there in Paradise.
The beast is exerting itself in you, dear. It is here for its resurrection as a living being.
You know how. It told you. When Osma killed herself, she took with her its vessel. I know all about it, dear. I was with you that night, the night of the trinity. What a fake. Oh, how I wanted to intervene. Unfortunately, I was still a weak little thing, not like now. Now I can and will protect you.
“But from what? His child, the vessel, is dead. You said so yourself. And the others, Osma, the girls, they died on the farm.”
All except you, his Marcella.
“Except me? He isn’t real. He can’t give me a child.”
It is real, dear. It is as real as I am. And it doesn’t have to give you a child. You have one already.
One child, Dominic.
“No, Dominic isn’t his.”
What was the plan, dear? Think. You would have its child and when the time came, after the child had matured, to use its mumbo jumbo, God would plant the creature in the child.
“And he would become the child and grow up to be Pater, as he has for centuries. My God, I have to stop him,” she said, springing to her feet, ready to oppose Pater, but unable to move forward or backward, or to form a single thought of how to defeat him.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fight him.”
Calm down, dear, I’m here to help.
“I’ll get Dominic. I’ll hold onto him. He won’t get him if I hold onto him tight enough.”
You can’t protect Dominic like that. The battlefield isn’t in the living room. It’s here, in you. Here is where we fight the beast.
Iam grabbed her head. She pulled her hair. She hit herself. “It’s crazy, Aunt Margie. He’s dead.”
It’s the spirit, dear. It’s in you. It has been in you since Paradise.
“It’s me. I’m losing my mind.”
Listen to me before you fly off and rush headlong into disaster. Will you calm yourself and listen?
“Yes, yes, I’m listening.”
I am here, aren’t I?
“Yes, you are. I loved you so much. I could never forget you.”
I’m more than your memory of me, dear. I am myself. Or, rather, I am the spirit of who I was. But I possess all the properties of my physical self.
“That’s crazy. And I’m crazy for thinking it.”
Would you allow me to prove it?
“How? You’re a memory. You aren’t real. Aunt Margie, you’re dead, too.”
I can persuade you otherwise, if you agree. Grant me your permission.
“But I don’t want to go over the edge, Aunt Margie, not like you. I feel so close. I have the children, Billy, I can’t.”
Dear, time is running short. It is a powerful spirit. I feel the creature’s presence. There’s a tension I sense. The time is almost right, and it will take control of you very soon. Through the tension, I see images. They are disturbing, frightening.
“What are they, Aunt Margie? What do you see?”
I see two images repeated again and again. The first is of a man in white, cinched at the waist in gold, descending. It can only be the viper as it envisions itself.
“Yes, a part of God, a second son. And the other?”
It pains me to tell you. It is Abraham placing Isaac on the altar. Abraham is different. He wears white with a gold cinch. And his hair isn’t white; it is black, iridescent, like a raven’s.
“Pater. What about the child?”
It isn’t Isaac.
He is a blur, dear. I’m sorry.
“It’s Dominic. But why?”
I’m sorry. I can’t see more. But knowing the beast, it can’t be good.
Again, Iam cried, “Why?” Before her, gripped in her hands, held tightly as if clamped the shoulders of a man, was the clipping; and the photo was animated, the blue eyes alive, burning into her like ice.
Leave her to me, you meddling crone. Marcella, don’t lend credence to her blasphemous prattle. I am preparing to do the work of my Father. I am returning. My Father tells me it is the time. I return to conquer the world in His name. You will help me, as I foretold you would. I am the seed. Dominic is the blessed soil from which the new world will spring in the form of me.
“No,” Iam screamed. “No. Aunt Margie, hold me. Protect me. Take me.”
Dear, destroy the clipping. Destroy the photo.
Iam shuddered. She attempted tearing the clipping, but it resisted her, like resilient flesh.
Try harder, dear. You can do it. Rip, rip, rip that evil face to shreds.
Resolve and strength surged from Iam’s mind and heart, uniting in her hands. She tore the clipping, the photo of Pater, the haunting horror of her betrayal, into yellow, desiccated flakes, and flung them away from herself.
Mere paper, Marcella. My vessel, it awaits me downstairs, and I will not be denied. The world awaits me. My Father decrees these are ripe times. I will lead the armies of His believers in the final battle against His enemies. He and I are one and We will be reborn and live as We always have—forever and ever. Take me to my vessel, Marcella. Then, most faithful one, welcome my return, and assume your position at my side as my mighty little warrior and my mother.
Iam rose stiffly. Shots of thunder, and more, the swirl of the entire world, of every wind from everywhere around her filled her ears. Lightning and what it illuminated, trembling walls, pulsing windows, and beyond Sullivan County ascending into the sky, as if stirred into earthen batter by the finger of God, filled her eyes. And these and the memory and the urgings of Pater propelled her from the room and to the vessel she’d propagated and given the Latin name Dominic, one belonging to God.
COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, JULY 20, 2015: CHAPTER 23: ABRAHAM’S TOOL