The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 1


June 4, 1980


Carol’s father was sure I was a secret Negro. When Carol and I showed up on the doorstep of the family mansion in Pasadena, California, in August of 1969, after having spent the summer hitchhiking and hopping freight trains all the way from New York City, he sent Carol’s mother to the door to inform his daughter that she couldn’t come in the house if I was with her. When I met him for the first time at our wedding the following March, he eyed my foot-long white-boy afro and looked disgusted but vindicated. I felt terrifically flattered. Someone was finally taking me seriously. I was barely 21, a Canadian boy from the bland nothing of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who frequently got asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Being taken for black was a promotion.

Carol and I had been openly living together for a year, alarming both our families. We weren’t just breaking the taboo on premarital sex, we were flaunting a dangerous cultural and political permissiveness, the kind that led to communism or anarchy. The only one who didn’t know we were co-habiting was Carol’s father. Everybody was too scared to tell him.

My father, a United Church of Canada minister, officiated at our wedding. “This union,” he said gravely, “is different than most because it was in full bloom before the wedding.” Carol’s father started weeping, with a long, loud groan on the inhale. He was in his early seventies, and Carol had never seen him cry before. My father had to raise his voice to be heard over the jagged sobs of a bitterly humiliated old man.

We’d only invited her family—her parents, three older siblings and their spouses—because we were sure they wouldn’t show up. But our invitations were beautiful, with a square of Carol’s handmade batik cloth glued to the front, and inside, her exquisite calligraphy announcing, “At Leon’s Coachhouse.” That must have been California-ese for “fancy restaurant.” They probably thought Carol had finally come to her senses and was doing her wedding the right way. The truth was we had a friend named Leon who lived in the attic above a decaying garage that had originally been a stable. All of our friends thought it was funny to be going to a wedding in “Leon’s Coachhouse.”

Carol’s family didn’t. I watched the looks on their faces as they climbed up the rickety stairs and walked into the shabby firetrap of a loft. Our handmade decorations that glowed with love and joy when we put them up now looked like a juvenile attempt to disguise the hippie headquarters for drugs, disease, and miscegenation. We wore our best clothing, but that was the most riotously colorful, tie-dyed, batiked, handsewn raiment we could make. We took our vows seriously, but we’d written our own New Age ceremony based on Ecclesiates. And there weren’t enough chairs. The few we had looked like they’d been snatched from the jaws of a garbage truck. Which they had. My parents did their Canadian best to mollify and commiserate. Thanks to them, and I think in particular to my father lending an aura of respectability with his full-dress minister’s robes, Carol’s family stayed for the whole ceremony.

Ten years later, we didn’t have much contact with them. They didn’t know how to relate to just about anything about us, from our New Age beliefs to the facts of our life, such as how we could live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and raise our three little mulattos among the Eskimos.

We still hadn’t told them that after a decade of running our own business, the Bean Sprout Traditional Foods, the first natural foods store in Nova Scotia, I’d stepped even farther away from a normal image of manhood than the hippie they assumed I was: I’d switched roles with my wife. Every day, Carol dropped off 7-year-old Caleb at school and then went to work running Magical Books and Letters, our New Age bookstore. Amin Nasr, my manager, ran the Bean Sprout across the hall in a large Victorian building at 1588 Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. Amin was a Muslim and a refugee prince from Afghanistan. He was 5’ 6,” an inch or two shorter than me, with thick black hair, a 5 o’clock shadow at any time of day, and the dark skin of his homeland. We spent a lot of time on the phone. Even after several years in Canada, there were many things he found bewildering in English.

I kept the house clean, did the cooking, and took care of Wren, 4, and Ariel, 1. It was the hardest job I’d ever had. I had no time off and I never had the satisfaction of actually finishing anything. Plus I was intensely lonely. When I was running a retail business I spoke to hundreds of people every day, and each interaction was a validation. Now, when I told the rare adult who crossed my path that I was a househusband, they didn’t believe me. One man listened to me explain how much harder housework was than those 12-hour days 6 days a week, with a look of confusion on his face. Then he brightened and said, “Oh, I get it: You’re writing a book.”

“I don’t even have time to pick up a pencil,” I said, aghast. Being a househusband was more like being banished than being published. I took the job on as a Zen challenge. Either I framed it in spiritual terms or I would go crazy.

On the 4th of June, 1980, I stirred a mixture of cornmeal, millet, leftover rice and a dash of soy flour into boiling water, and worried I was making too much porridge for the three boys. Caleb, born in 1972, was small for his age, with big brown eyes like his mother’s and a shock of straight dark brown hair hanging down over his forehead. He was always getting hurt in one way or another.

Wren, our second son, was born in 1975. He had bright blonde hair, blue eyes, and a huge head that was always smashing into things. It was a good thing he looked cherubic. When he was in the Terrible Twos, the few things in the house he didn’t damage on purpose, he’d ended up smashing by accident. Carol and I were glad we’d waited until Wren was 3 and 1/2 to have Ariel. Even then, it had taken a year of hard parenting to get it across to Wren that even though we loved him, we wouldn’t let him kill the baby. Still, he was the one I was most attached to, despite the fact that every now and then he snuck up on me and walloped me in the nuts.

Ariel was born in 1978 with black eyes, black hair, and dusky skin. I told people I’d incarnated a Tibetan. Carol’s dreams were full of wonder and joy when she was pregnant with him, and we were madly french-kissing outside the operating room when he slid out, surprising the doctor. “Are you religious?” the nurse asked us, wide-eyed. People used to drop by the house just to hold him. One woman insisted she’d been healed of chronic pain by cradling Ariel in her arms for only a few minutes. But for the first year of his life Carol had to take him to a dark, quiet room to nurse, or else he shrieked helplessly from a hunger he didn’t know how to satisfy. Toilet training was a disaster. He hated the potty with a lunatic ferocity and screamed with horror and outrage to be wiped. My only explanation was that he was so spiritual that the animal mechanisms of the body—the taking in and the letting out of matter—were alien and insulting to him.

By the time the big boys came down, followed by Carol with Ariel in her arms, the bowls of porridge were lined up like steaming soldiers, spoons at the ready. Wren bounced in and out of his chair and all over the place. Whenever I told him to sit down he yelled, “No, Danny!” and raced around some more. I got irritated, as I usually did, when the boys called me “Danny” instead of “Daddy.” I could not stand to hear my name screamed. I made a mental note to work on my attitude. It shouldn’t matter to me what I was called.

Caleb had time for only one mouthful before Carol whisked him away to the car. She hadn’t touched her own porridge. I reminded myself not to be attached to the fruits of my labor. I stood at the back window and watched her walk up the driveway with Caleb. We’d sold our tiny condo a year before and moved to a rented house on the Bedford Highway. It was worth it just for the long gravel driveway, so that I could stand at the kitchen window and watch my wife walk all the way up to the garage. Carol was 5’6”, nearly 5 years older than me, and at the age of 36 still looked like Snow White. She had pale, smooth skin and straight, nearly black hair. She radiated an alluring, fragile goodness, and her long fingers and wrists made me want to take care of her. I saw she’d forgotten her bag lunch. Again. On those rare days she remembered, it came back untouched. One day I would make it perfectly, and she would eat. My heart soared at the thought.

Carol and I were still best friends, even though our marriage had ended five years earlier at Findhorn, the New Age community in Scotland, where we’d lived for nine months. In the spring of 1975, I left her alone for a week while I hitchhiked around England. It was the first time in six years we’d been out of each other’s sight for more than a day. My last ride left me off at dawn in the little town of Forres, so I walked the rest of the way. Every square yard of field, meadow, and ditch had a rabbit munching away: mammals, numbered like insects. I walked into the tiny trailer that we lived in, looked at her, and was stunned and dismayed by the knowledge. “It’s over,” I said.

“You’re right,” Carol said, her big brown eyes widening. Of course she knew exactly what I meant. She always had. Suddenly, two-year-old Caleb, crawling and whining along the back of the couch, fell asleep like he’d been hit on the head. At the same time, six-month-old Wren, bawling like a baby bull on the floor, stuck his butt in the air, laid his cheek on the rug, and started snoring. It usually took the two of us an hour to get the two of them asleep. I stood openmouthed at the miracle, until I saw an angel hovering over each child. Then I understood: God had sent the angels to take care of the children so we could have farewell sex.

For nearly seven years Carol and I had been so close we were like a Hindu Goddess, with four arms, four legs, and two heads. We used to say the same word, even whole sentences, at the same time. We could speak to each other across a crowded room and understand every word, while people sitting right next to us only heard a mumble. Even our bowels were one. We’d jump up and run to the bathroom at the same second, yelling, “Me first!” in chorus. No longer.

A few months after our marriage ended, we moved back to Halifax. There was even sex after farewell sex, which was deeply confusing. I decided our marriage was like an appliance that had just been unplugged. It was still winding down. We had to wait for the machinery to come to a complete stop.

We were still held up as a model by the community of our peers. Our marriage was proof the New Age worked, that a love based on spirituality could be financially successful as well as happy. But celibacy and overwork tore at us like predators. We knew this marriage had to end, but we didn’t know how. I was more stuck than she was: I didn’t know how to not want her.

At the end of 1979, my feet went on strike. I could not make them walk into The Bean Sprout to work another 70-hour week. This was right after the Canadian embassy had smuggled out some of the hostages in Iran. Americans were in love with Canada, and Greyhound had offered any Canadian a three-month pass to America for $99. I was the first in line. One of the reasons Carol and I both wanted me to go on a long trip was to free her from the burden of my unwelcome desire. I managed to do it once, near the end of the three months, with a 20-year-old in Iowa City. But Carol was still the only woman I’d ever wanted, even though she’d evolved past desire. She could go a year without sex and not notice; after a week, I was in pain and shame.

Ever since the angels at Findhorn had ended our marriage five years earlier, we’d referred frequently to our coming divorce, but without any details. Now things were finally coming clear. I was in the process of selling my half of the Bean Sprout to Amin, and at the end of August I would leave for the States to train as a massage therapist. In two years I would come home to live next door to my best friend, no longer my wife, with three little boys running happily back and forth between our houses. In the meantime, I started a self-improvement program: I went to the movies alone. I was practicing being separate from Carol.

“Amin just left, Danny,” she said when I came home. She was sitting at the kitchen table looking gorgeous, her pale face framed by her long, nearly black hair. “The latest Dream was about publicity for Ariel. All I remembered was movie cameras, but Amin said we'd been exploring the future. There’s going to be lots of TV coverage and maybe even a movie about Ariel.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement.

Amin told us he was a member of a prominent Pashtun clan related to the king of Afghanistan, and that if he went home the communists would execute him. We met him and his Canadian wife, Marilyn, in the fall of 1975 when we moved into the duplex above them. Soon after that I’d hired him as a clerk at the Bean Sprout. The four of us became good friends, and a few years later we bought small houses next door to each other in a new housing development near the Armdale Rotary in Halifax.

Carol and Amin were spiritual partners as well as friends. Every night for three years now, he went to sleep, left his body, floated over to our house, and picked up Carol in her dreaming body. Together they would ascend to other levels of reality for lessons and adventures. The next day they’d meet to discuss the Dream they had the night before. One morning Amin had greeted me with, “That was not just a dream you had last night. That was really me.” He then proceeded to recount my dream verbatim. That was all the proof I needed that the Dreams were real.

One night they talked to Moses, Buddha, and Jesus about how to raise Ariel. This made sense to me. Even though I’d spent every Sunday in the front pew in my father’s small church in Carrot River, a small town in northeastern Saskatchewan, his mild Christianity never left much of an impression. As I grew, I left belief behind like a child’s toy. Until the New Age bloomed. After a few mystical experiences with God and His angels, I devoted my life to the perfection of the spirit. My conviction only got stronger when I lived at Findhorn, the flagship of the New Age. The first time I went there I quizzed members at random, hunting for signs of cultish behavior. All I met were independent, intelligent people doing what they wanted to do. There was a sanctuary for meditation, but it was optional. Most people accepted in some way the existence of angels, nature spirits, and spirit guides, enlightened souls who stayed behind to help the rest of us—such as Jesus, Moses, and Buddha. Knowing Ariel, it made sense they’d be interested in him.

“The woman in the movie had two men,” I said, sitting down across from Carol, “and that reminded me of me. I feel like I'm the ‘other man’ to you and Amin.”

She was silent. That was odd. “After we separate, will you have Amin's child?”

“Yes.”

“Will you marry him?”

“Yes.”

“Have you had sex with him?” I was about to apologize for acting like a husband when I noticed she was hesitating.

“. . . I won't say.”

“What?” I was baffled. We had no secrets.

“I just mean I don't want to answer that question.”

I walked stiffly out of the kitchen and crawled into my sleeping bag on the floor of the little room downstairs. I hadn’t shared a bedroom with Carol for over a year. It was impossible to sleep next to a sweet-smelling woman who didn’t want to be looked in a sexual way, or touched. We hadn’t had sex in several months.

I jerked awake. I’d slept an hour. I sat up in bed to meditate and found myself floating above the sweeping arc of sand called Crystal Crescent, the beach an hour's drive from Halifax where Carol and Amin went to practice being in their dream bodies before moving on to other planes. I fell into a memory from three years ago. . .

“Is it all right if I meet Amin at Crystal Crescent?” Carol asked. I was besieged with customers, and irritated she was calling me. “He says there's some reason we need to meet there in our real bodies. I have a sitter for Caleb and Wren.”

“Go ahead, go ahead.” Of course I was in favor of her spiritual growth. An hour later, I was deep in paperwork when the words, “I'm losing my wife!” ripped across my mind. I ran out of the store and grabbed the first cab that came by. As it pulled away, my throat closed. I couldn't breathe. I jerked from side to side, trying to inhale. Silently, I screamed, “Jesus! Help me!”

“D'you wanna smoke?” the driver yelled, shoving a pack of cigarettes in my face. I was so surprised I inhaled. I accepted a cigarette anyway. I hadn’t smoked in years. The driver even twisted around and lit it for me. I sat back and watched the world go by through a healing haze of smoke. Jesus had saved my life, and if He was involved, sex wasn't. I was ashamed of the impure thoughts I’d had about Carol and Amin. The cab let me off at home. My daffodils were blooming, the sun was shining, and the boys were fine. Carol drove up a few minutes later. “What did you and Amin do out there?” She smiled vaguely. “Oh, what we do in the Dreams.”


I went outside to meditate before anger corroded my spirit. I sat in a full lotus position beneath the evergreen tree in the back yard. The sun rose, warming my face, and I remembered a day a year-and-a-half ago, when Ariel was four months old.

After getting home from one of my usual 12-hour days at the Bean Sprout, I stretched out on the living room floor and fell asleep. I woke up a few minutes later to find myself looking at one of Carol's strange chalk drawings leaning against the wall. Amin said her drawings came directly from the Dreams. Once a woman burst into tears, then said, “That drawing makes me happy, not sad! Why am I crying?” Carol was careful who she showed them to after that. The one I was looking at was of her and Amin in some kind of happy joining, with a little fish of delight—obviously Ariel—emerging from that joining. The colors shimmered with sexual joy. “Carol!” I yelled in a sudden panic. She came running in from the kitchen. “You haven’t made love to Amin, have you?” She kneeled next to me, her big brown eyes full of love. “I don’t think I should answer that question.” I was so relieved to hear she hadn't, I went right back to sleep. When I woke up half an hour later I concluded Ariel's conception had coincided with sex between Carol’s and Amin’s higher selves in Dream. That explained why Ariel looked so much like Amin, his true Godfather.

I opened my eyes. My legs had fallen asleep. I remembered how proud I’d been when Ariel was born, his dark eyes, black hair, and dusky skin proof of my spiritual status. I thought of Amin's dark eyes, black hair, and dusky skin, and a beast of rage uncoiled in my lower belly. “May all negativity be washed away from me,” I asked, from the depths of my heart. I was above earthly considerations until that evening, when I was brushing my teeth. I looked in the mirror and suddenly wondered if I was related to my son.

Carol came in to brush. Disgusted, I spat in the sink and headed for bed. “Goodnight,” she said, following me into the hallway. I kept on walking. “Don't I even get a goodnight? I feel like you don't trust me anymore.” I stopped, but didn’t turn around. “I guess that’s a lot to ask,” she added, weakly. “G'night,” I mumbled, then hurried to my pallet. . . In a dark, wet basement overrun with rats Ariel is sitting on the floor, protected by his special spiritual power. I squish one rat to death under my heel, then flee in panic up the stairs and crash into overflowing garbage cans. Carol comes out the basement holding Ariel. He needed to be rescued after all. I failed him.

I woke up heaving for breath. It was 4 a.m. I piled on clothes and went outside to meditate. Sunday, the 6th of June, limped in on the heels of a gray, tired dawn. It began to rain. I started sneezing and couldn’t stop until I gave up and walked back to the house. Carol was sitting down to breakfast. The boys were watching cartoons in the living room. I stood damp and shivering in the center of the kitchen, then said, in a low, trembling voice, “This is the heaviest thing that's ever happened to me in my life. Our fragile system of winding down this marriage is based on a common assumption of respect, decency, and honesty. Regardless of what your answer to the question is, by not answering you leave me exposed as the only party to our agreement.” I slumped into a chair, exhausted by my speech.

Her brown eyes were huge and limpid. “. . . All right,” she said, quivering. “I'll answer the question. But first I have to take a shower and meditate.”

I stood at the kitchen window and watched the rain come pouring down. A few years ago it rained for 44 days in a row. The strawberries rotted before they could ripen, and the apples tasted like dishwater. Exactly one hour later, Carol walked in with wet hair and handed me a letter. I sat down at the table and slowly unfolded it.

“Yes, I have made love to Amin,” the letter began.

I looked up at her. “Is Ariel my son?”

“. . . Read, please,” she said anxiously.

I scanned the letter for the word “Ariel.” It wasn't there. The letter ended with, “I didn't tell you before now because I was afraid it would distort our relationship.”

“Is Ariel my son?”

“I . . . I don't know,” she whispered, looking quickly at the floor. Dark strings of wet hair dangled around her pale face.

“When did you first have sex with Amin?”

She swept her wet hair back. It fell in front of her face again. “Around the time Ariel was conceived,” she said quietly to the floor.

The air wheezed out of my lungs. I struggled to inhale. “Have you made love to him since then?”

“ . . . Yes.”

“Lots?”

“. . . No, but sometimes.”

“When? Where?”

“I don't want to go into the details.”

“I can't believe it, Carol. Please! I need the details!”

With trembling hands she took a cigarette from my pack on the table. She hadn’t smoked in ten years. It took her three matches to get it going. “Once when you were on your three-month trip this winter,” she said, exhaling smoke as she spoke. “And once again in April, after you got back. I don't remember, three or four times in all.”

I carefully put the letter down and walked to the window. The new canes in the raspberry patch in the back yard were bent down to the ground by the heavy rain of an ordinary Nova Scotia summer day. The green on the new growth was so bright it made my eyes hurt. I remembered every single time we’d made love in our 11 years together. I turned to face her.

“What do you mean, you don't remember?”

“I just don't remember, that's all.”

“How could you not tell me?”

“You never asked. I never lied to you.”

“Oh, come off it!”

“What's the big deal? You made love to someone else, too.”

“But you sent me off on that three-month trip with instructions to do exactly that! Because you didn't want to and you knew how badly I needed it! Just as long as it wasn't with anyone in Halifax or Nova Scotia and preferably not in Canada!” She leaned against the counter to hide her trembling. “Besides, I told you! Don't you remember saying you couldn't make love to me because all you could think about was my penis in someone else's vagina?”

“. . . Yeah.”

“Well, didn't you think I might feel the same way, knowing Amin's penis had been in your vagina?” I shuddered. Once I’d said it out loud, I believed it.

“All I can say is that it felt separate.”

“You have only one vagina!” I said in a high, tight voice.

“It felt separate.”

“How could you not tell me?”

“I decided I would, if you ever asked.”

“So how come it took you almost two days, once I did ask?”

“It was harder than I thought.”

Disgusted, I marched to the study and unearthed my dream journals from years ago. I always made a note of the red-letter days when we had sex, they were so infrequent. After an hour of careful reading, I discovered that Ariel had been conceived in the middle of a six-month period marked by nothing. I went back to the kitchen and put on my rubber boots. “I'm going for a drive,” I announced. I didn't tell her where I was going so she couldn't phone to warn him.

A year earlier he and Marilyn had sold their little condo so she could live in the country. Now she lived in a farmhouse an hour outside of Halifax with their three little girls, the same ages as Caleb, Wren and Ariel, while Amin kept a tiny apartment in town. I drove at 80 miles an hour, shrieking all the way.

“Danny! What are you doing here?” His Afghan eyes went wide.

“Let's go for a walk, Amin.”

Marilyn appeared behind him. She was blonde, Canadian, and hefty, while he was small, dark, and wiry. They'd met in Toronto soon after he fled Kabul. He spoke just enough English to read her palm and prophecy she would marry him. At the time she’d told him that was a pretty poor line, but she laughed about it when she told the story. She started to speak, but he waved her quiet. In silence we watched him put on his boots and raincoat. I walked out the door and kept on going into a field of stubble. At the top of a low rise I turned. He stopped several feet away. “So. You've been making love to my wife.”

His dusky skin turned pale. “Carol told you?”

“Yes.”

“What else did she tell you?”

“Is Ariel my son?”

“Yes!”

“In what way is he my son?”

“In all way!”

He swatted violently at the mosquitoes. None were bothering me, to my intense satisfaction. I loomed over him, even though at 5’8” I was only a little taller.

“Don't talk now,” he said, shifting his feet. “Tomorrow, we sit down, all of us, you, me, Carol, and talk.”

“Are you Ariel's father?”

“Ariel is your son!” His black eyes were unreadable.

“You didn't answer my question, Amin.”

“Let's talk, please! Tomorrow, the three of us! Then I tell you everything!”

“Didn't you think about how dangerous your affair was? For you?” He was a night watchman when I hired him. His English was so poor that was the only other job he could get.

“Let's talk, please! The three of us, tomorrow!”

I studied his Afghan face under attack by Canadian bugs. Shortly after I'd hired him, the rest of the clerks began helping themselves to both money and goods. If it hadn't been for his loyalty, I might have lost the store. I fired eight people one after the other, until Amin and I were doing everything. Just when things were starting to turn around, customers started shoplifting, like vultures pick on a wounded cow. Once again, I might have lost everything but for his Third-World eyes. He could spot a shoplifter a block away while I didn’t notice even when they did it right in front of me. I'd made him my manager for good reason. Although he wasn't lying about having royal blood. On his first day at work he tried and failed to pick up a 100¬-pound bag of flour. It was obvious he'd never lifted anything heavier than a teacup before. He acted as though he had a responsibility to remain unsullied in the eyes of his subjects. One time, after he used three flimsy excuses in a row to cover up for some minor error, I blew up at him, in front of other clerks. The next day he told me, “There is no one else in world I allow get angry at me!” He said it like he was giving me a great compliment.

“No wonder you had so much trouble with me as your boss. You were having sex with my wife!”

“Oh, no, you wonderful boss! You best boss anybody ever have!”

“Amin, I'm in no mood for sweet talk!”

“Please, do me just one favor. Wait till tomorrow.”

“I've already done you enough favors, including my wife.”

“No, please! Tomorrow I tell you everyt'ing! Everyt'ing!”

He was so scared he was losing his “th.” I considered his request. He was borrowing the money from his mother-in-law to buy me out. One word from me to Marilyn would make him a night watchman again. “. . . No lies?”

“No lies! Only trut'! All of it!”

“. . . Okay. Tomorrow at ten at my place.”

His relief was enormous. We headed back to the house. “Will you have lunch with me and Marilyn, so she won't think anything wrong between us?” That seemed reasonable, so I agreed. We sat down with their three little girls. I made it through lunch, ignoring Marilyn’s odd, heavy glances. It wasn't until I pulled out of the driveway that I realized he hadn't answered the question, “Are you Ariel's father?”

I screamed all the way home at 80 miles an hour. The house was dark and quiet when I staggered in. She’d kidnapped my babies and fled! “Carol!” I shrieked.

“What?” she yelled down from her bedroom.

I trudged upstairs. Wren and Ariel were in bed on either side of her. I'd woken them all up from a nap. I wondered what she'd done with Caleb. “I sent Caleb to the store,” she said. Our telepathy was still functioning, like a ghost in an empty house.

“You have broken God's law! You have broken man's law! You have broken the law of Danny-and-Carol! And you have b– b- ¬broken my heart—” A ragged sob tore out of my throat and then I froze like a chunk of ice. She pried herself loose from the boys and hugged me. I stood stiff and unyielding. Wren clung to her pants, peering anxiously up at my face. Ariel started to cry. She let go of me to pick him up.

“Come on, boys,” she said, holding Wren’s hand, “Let's go downstairs.”

Numbly, I followed them down the stairs. She got the boys started on a game in the living room. I sat in a corner of the kitchen trying to understand. A few minutes later she walked in looking guilty.

“You'd better get used to the idea of not having any children,” I snarled.

“Is that a threat?”

“At least I'm telling you first!”

The door banged open and in walked Caleb, back from the store. Wren and Ariel started yelling at each other. Everybody needed attention. I insisted we play the traditional Sunday game of baseball in the back yard. The grass was still sodden from yesterday’s rain, and the game soon broke down in hungry-boy arguments. I shoehorned everybody into the car and drove to a restaurant. The boys made quick work of their meal and got down from the table to run around. I looked at her and smoldered. “It took you thirty years to forgive your mother for raping you with enemas! And what you did to me was worse!” I stood up to go. We left the table littered with uneaten food. “You stole something from me!” I said as we drove home, not caring about little boys' ears. “You stole the best thing I ever had: my best friend! You tricked and you lied and you cheated!” It was quiet in the car for the rest of the ride.

At home I plugged the boys into the TV, then faced her in the kitchen. “Give me the details, the whens and the wheres.”

She lit a cigarette. So did I. We stood on opposite sides of the kitchen, separately wreathed in smoke hanging heavily in the humid air. She cleared her throat. “The first time was in a motel on the Bedford Highway in 1977. That Christmas when we went back to Findhorn to visit, I told the other Carol I didn't know whose baby I was carrying. She treated me funny after that, so I never told anyone else. The next time was when I got your letter telling me you'd made love to that 20-year-old in Iowa City. I went for a long walk with Amin, and we ended up at the little church in Bedford where he teaches karate and we did it there.” She took a deep breath, then said rapidly, “And a week or two after you got back, in the office of the Bean Sprout. He withdrew to avoid conception.” My lip curled up to one side all by itself. My office, my employee, my wife, my son, my family, my spiritual purpose that Ariel was the proof of . . . nothing in my life was unstained. Or even mine anymore. A fight broke out in the living room. Walt Disney was over.

While she was upstairs reading the bedtime story, I got out the chalk drawing of her and Amin in some kind of happy joining, with the little fish of delight that was obviously Ariel emerging from that joining. I looked at it; I just looked at it. When she came downstairs, I said, “I refuse to let you phone Amin before he comes over tomorrow, and tonight you have to sleep in the car.”

“Your behavior is bizarre.”

“Mine!?” My eyes bugged out. “Look at yours! Normal would be suing you for divorce and custody, not selling Amin my half of the store, firing him, and telling Marilyn everything!”

“Why do you have my drawings out? That's my property and it's not proper.”

“Not proper! How could you come home to me after you did it in the office? With his sperm in you!”

“You're talking like a crazy person,” she said crisply, like a nurse.

“If you don't go to the car right now I'm going to throw you out.” I rose to my feet, muscles tensed.

“Will you not burn my drawings?”

That hadn't occurred to me. She'd put my life to the torch, and these drawings weren't even people. Although it could be argued they were alive. “Okay, I won't.”

“Okay. I'll sleep in the car tonight. But you'll have to let me back in for a cup of tea if I get cold.”

I exploded in shivers. My teeth clacked like castanets. Grunting with the effort, I forced out the words, “I . . . need,” and the shivers became a quaking so violent my legs gave out, sending me sprawling on the linoleum floor. Thrashing helplessly on my back, I choked out, “. . . to have a hot bath with you.” Sharp barking sobs gutted me from throat to pubic bone and the shaking increased until I was flip-flopping on the floor like a dying fish. I looked down at myself from the ceiling and was embarrassed. My body had never behaved this badly before.

She half-dragged me to the bathroom, gently undressed me, then helped me into the tub. I watched her small, soft, lovable breasts as she undressed and got in the other end. Our nightly hot bath was the only place I was allowed to see her naked. I collapsed, sobbing. She hugged her knees, miles away from me. After a while I snuffled to a stop. “If you'd known it would hurt me this much would you have done it?”

“No.”

“I can't understand, Carol.”

Her brown eyes filled up with pain, and she wept. I wondered if my own tears were done. Tears meant everybody got to live. So I said, “I . . . need—” and then the rest was there: “—you to make love to me again.” I took a deep, ragged breath, and said, “I . . . forgive . . . you, Carol,” then wailed like a broken child. When I finally stopped crying I thought I'd filled the whole tub with my tears.

She led me by the hand to the living room where I squatted on the floor like an autistic boy while she lit a fire in the wood stove. She spread out a heavy quilt on the foam mattress, then lightly touched my arm. I lay down stiffly next to her. She went to sleep. I watched the dark slowly increase with the dying down of the fire.

Hours later Ariel cried. She went upstairs to take him into bed with her. Shiny objects winked scornfully at me from out of the dark. I rushed upstairs to sleep next to her and the baby. It was three in the morning. I set the alarm for six, in case Amin tried to manipulate me in my dreams. I reluctantly closed my eyes—then leaped out of bed, ready to kill. It was one minute to six.

I got dressed then meditated on the little couch on the landing at the top of the stairs, and fell into a memory from only a month ago . . . I cut three perfect daffodils, then drove to Amin's tiny apartment to tell him I would to sell him my half of the Bean Sprout. I arranged them in a jar on his kitchen table and filled up with sadness. Selling my half of the store that had been “us” for nine years was the same as giving up on the perfect “Carol&Danny” that was always just around the corner. “See these three daffodils?” I said, misty-eyed with how much I was giving up. “How two of them fall together, while one stands alone? I'm the one apart.” He said, “We're just good friends, me and Carol!” I was irked. I hadn't been talking about sex!

I stormed into Carol’s bedroom. “Remember when he told me you and he were just good friends? There I was, gracefully surrendering, when what I was surrendering was already stolen and plundered! How could he have lied to me like that?”

“I . . . I don’t know,” she said, waking up with messy eyes.

Nobody felt like eating anything. Especially not porridge. Caleb started to mope, then confessed he'd snuck a bite of an ice cream cone the day before. His cheeks were already flaring in the allergic reaction he had to wheat. Diarrhea was the next stage. He couldn't go to school. “I could stay home with Caleb,” I said, “but I can't let you take Wren to school because you might drive to see Amin.”

“Danny, I won't go see Amin. I'll drop Wren off and come right back.”

“If you break this agreement I may never let you in the house again.”

She looked at me sideways, then left with Wren and Ariel. We were both scared of the way I was talking. But I had to keep them from talking to each other until I had them both in front of me. I had to know if I was still being lied to. Caleb lay down on the couch with some books. I cleaned up the kitchen as meticulously as if I was preparing for a wake. Only the corpse is missing, I thought. No. Here I am.

Carol walked in an hour later with Ariel asleep in her arms. She put him down on the couch, then sat across from me at the kitchen table. We didn't speak. Half an hour later I walked to the window. He was just getting out of his car. The small, dark man from Afghanistan who'd torn my life apart strolled down the long gravel drive past my foxgloves reaching for the sun but not in bloom yet, past my hundred daffodils fading and bedraggled as they began to die, past the plum tree with blossoms falling off like petal tears, then up the stairs to my back door. I opened the door before he could knock. He shoved a bunch of flowers into my hand, then hugged me. Inch by delicate inch I pushed him away. My hand vibrated on his chest with the effort it took not to kill him. “I am very, very angry at you, Amin,” I said in a voice so quiet he had to turn his head to hear me. “I'm in no mood for flowers or sweet talk—”

“Mommy!” Caleb shrieked from the living room.

Carol ran in to see what he wanted before he woke up Ariel. I put the flowers in the sink and sat down at the kitchen table. Amin sat across from me. He looked at me. I looked at the ashtray. I couldn't even smoke. Carol came back and sat down. I lifted my eyes to his hawk-nosed face. “Now then. I want the truth. An outright lie is called a lie of commission. A statement which only leaves out the truth is called a lie of omission. For example, when I asked you if you were Ariel's father, you replied, ‘He is your son.’ That was a lie of omission. No lies. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me the story of your affair with Carol, and include all the details.”

“You mean the sexual?”

“No! I don't care about that! I mean the whens and the wheres.”

He glanced at Carol, then cleared his throat. “It started before the Dreams. I was alone on the beach at Crystal Crescent in the summertime, when a man about 30 years old walked up to me. From his looks I think he might even be from the Middle East like me. We said a few things, about the weather and so on, and I don't think anything of it until right after he leaves. I turn my head to see him go, but he is gone! And I only turn my eyes away for one second. A long time later I met him in the Dreams. The man was Ariel, grown up, and I would give him to Carol to have. So Ariel made us do it, in the motel on the Bedford Highway.”

I breathed in and then I breathed out, then I said, “So, the only purpose was to conceive Ariel?”

“Right.”

“And then?”

“When you were on your trip. She is upset about your letter telling her you made love to somebody. It was a way of caring that made her feel better.”

“And where did it happen?”

“I forget—no, I remember! It was in the church I used to hold karate classes in.” He stared at the ashtray for a minute, then looked guiltily up at me. “The third time it was a mistake and I am sorry.”

“Where?”

“The Bean Sprout.”

“In the office?”

“Yes.”

I looked at Carol. She looked at the table. I thought of all the years I’d worked for Carol&Danny in that office. I thought of how much trouble I'd taken to train this recalcitrant foreigner, in that office. I thought of them having a quickie, in that office, while I was worrying if she'd like the supper I was fixing for her, with three children—some of them mine—clinging to my pants. While she had hers off. In my office. I was bitterly humiliated to cry in front of him.

“Danny, I'm sorry,” Amin said, when I finally stopped.

“I believe you, but I don't know what the word 'believe' means anymore.”

“That last time was a mistake, and I'm sorry.”

“A mistake? If you kill a man by mistake, is he still dead?” I rose to my feet like the wrath of the Lord. “I welcomed you as a brother and you came to me as a thief—” I froze. An angel was standing behind me, urging me to forgive Amin. My mouth was stuck on open, ready to say things that could never be taken back. I used all my will power, and forced myself to sit. My aching jaw muscles were as hard as stones. The love the angel had for me warmed my back like happy sunshine. Amin and Carol sat silent and uncomfortable. A minute passed. My jaws slowly relaxed, and to my surprise the urge to forgive Amin rose up from inside me, as my own. I stood up, then got stuck, amazed at what I was about to do. I filled with an overwhelming feeling that doom was in store for everybody, including me, if I failed to do this. I had to act fast: there would be no second chance.

I turned to Amin. He stood up, so nervous he nearly knocked his chair over. I hugged him, and burst into tears in his awkward embrace. When I could speak, I drew back and looked in his eyes. In a hoarse whisper, I said, “I . . . forgive . . . you . . . Amin,” then grabbed his head and kissed him on both cheeks in a ritual that would make my forgiveness inviolable. Instantly, the heavy clouds of a Nova Scotia day parted like Pharoah's heart for Moses. Sunshine flooded the kitchen and in that moment I knew the truth. “You two have given me a gift,” I said in a husky voice. “I hope it hasn't harmed you in the giving.”

“I should be getting back to the store,” he said nervously.

“I need the three of us to talk again. Come over tomorrow at ten.”

I lay down for a nap . . . Amin and Carol are king and queen on matching thrones, looking at me with endless wisdom and compassion. They've given me something of great value at enormous cost to themselves, only out of love for me.

I woke up shuddering violently. I went to the mall for a haircut. The waiting room at the barber shop was overflowing with sons and fathers. There were no empty chairs. I stood in a corner, opened a magazine, and the image of Carol and Amin having sex washed over me like dirty dishwater. My chest locked up. I paced the crowded room, clutching the magazine like a life preserver, whispering, “Breathe in, breathe out. Each breath is the only one that counts.” When a chair opened up I sat down, opened the magazine, and the image of ugly sex returned in waves that left me gasping for air. I jerked to my feet, paced, and counted breaths. It happened over and over again. By the time I made it into the barber's chair I'd spent a year in the trenches in World War One. I had my hair cut shorter than when I was little. I couldn't afford one single hair over my ears that might blur the sound of incoming artillery.

The cool air of evening was electric on the raw bruise of my scalp. When I got home I found our friend, Jerry from the country, come to spend the night. Carol picked up my signals and started bantering in the easy, clever way that we both loved to do. I basked in his admiration. In the backyard baseball game, the first ball Caleb hit smashed me on the end of my nose. Blood poured out both my nostrils. I ran in the house and hung my head over the kitchen sink. Bright red blood dripped onto the bright white porcelain. I was oddly soothed by the gore. This blood was visible.

Jerry left to do errands in town. I fed the boys supper then parked them in front of “Sesame Street” and called Carol into the kitchen. “I don't want you to go to karate for these two weeks, or at least for tonight.”

“But I've been working a year for this!” She'd joined Amin's class in reality after he started teaching her karate in the Dreams. Today was the start of a two-week workshop when the instructor from the Shotokai Karate school in London would be teaching every day.

“I worked for ten years for something you destroyed.”

“This is different. What good does it do to keep me here?”

“I need to be around you, not alone in a dirty house with a phone to Marilyn in it. And I don't want you to be with Amin.”

She sighed, looking resentful. “But I have to call him and tell him I won't be there.” I put my ear to the outside of the receiver.

“Is very difficult?”

“Yes.” Sudden tears filled her eyes.

“I thought he is finished.”

“No” She looked at my face two inches away and hung up.

“He thinks I'm finished? Just like that?”

Jerry walked in. Time to act normal. After the boys were in bed, the three of us sat around the table and talked and laughed for hours. Jerry turned in early, like the farmer he was. “What a relief normality is!” I told Carol.

“That's why I wanted to go to karate! I wanted to be around normal people! Instead of feeling like your prisoner!”

“What if my parents knew what you did?” She walked out of the room. I followed hard on her heels, biting her with questions.

“Sleep, please!” she begged, hours later, sitting on her bed.

“Cuckold is contempt! Tears are contempt, in his eyes!”

“In your eyes! You have to forgive yourself before you can forgive anybody else.”

The truth stunned me. She turned out the light and got under the covers. I stood like a statue at the foot of her bed. After a while I got tired of standing in her room in the dark.

I found a pen and paper, then sat on the little couch at the top of the stairs and wrote out the story, starting from the night I came home from the movies. All the words Carol, Amin, and I had spoken since then were still running around my head. I'd lost my present and my future, but I could have history. And if all I could have was history, it would be accurate. I could never remember what people wore, and I frequently forgot what they looked like, but the words that came out of their mouths were distinct and unforgettable.

I went to bed at four in the morning, feeling tiredness as defeat. Surrendering to sleep was the same as surrendering to Dreaming Amin.