The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 4


November Twenty-Third, 1980


No boys met me in Halifax.

I called Carol. There was no answer. I frantically combed the small airport from one end to the other, then called her again. No answer.

I hung up and swept the airport, then called again. Her phone rang on and on like an insane asylum. I swept the airport a third time, then called again. There was never any answer.

After an hour, I gave up and took a taxi to the house. I rang the doorbell. No one answered. The door was locked. I checked the back. The door was open. I walked in and looked around. There was a book on child custody on the table. I sat down on the couch and read it, with increasing horror.

Half an hour later, I heard a key scraping in the front door. I ran to open it, catching Carol with Ariel asleep in one arm.

“Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” Caleb and Wren yelled from behind her on the sidewalk. I kissed her on the cheek, catching a whiff of the scent that had enthralled me for 11 years.

"Thank you," she said strangely.

I scooped up Caleb and Wren and ran to the couch. Wren was all giggles and wigglies. Caleb buried his head in my armpit and didn’t move.

Carol walked in tying on an apron. "You're welcome to stay for supper if you wish,” she said. “Please don't wake Ariel up. And, I should tell you now, if I go someplace I want to take him with me." She went back to the kitchen, leaving little eddies of tension in her wake.

I gave the big boys their presents, then settled the immediate squabble over who got what and whose was better. When they were busy playing with their new toys, I picked up sleeping Ariel and carried him into the kitchen. Carol was chopping carrots at the counter. I pulled up a chair near her and sang a quiet lullaby as I undid his jacket, slowly waking him up. He looked up at me in surprise, then buried his face in my chest.

"Ariel's had terrible screaming fits at night!" Carol said in a harsh voice. "He wakes up screaming! When you stay all night with the children, I'm sure you'll have to call me if he does that."

"Oh, I'd never call you if he had a fit. I know I could handle it."

I heard a loud drip-drip-drip. I looked up. Blood was splashing onto the floor from her cut finger. Her lips clenched white as she sucked it.

I went back to the living room, Ariel toddling along behind me. Wren climbed on my shoulders, then started a fight with Caleb ,who only wanted to hide in my armpit. Ariel sat on the floor and watched us, his mouth round like an “O.” I imitated his round mouth in between balancing the other boys, and each time, he burbled into giggles.

"Supper's ready!" she called in a voice like an axe. I sat down across from her. She never looked at me once.

"The food's good, Carol," I said as I finished, trying to cheer her up.

“I’m glad you like it,” she murmured to her plate. I took a second helping to prove I meant what I said.

Bedtime was daddy-tickle, back-rub and story time. Their little-boy bodies soaked up Daddy like dry sponges drink water. After I got Caleb and Wren to bed, I sat in the living room while Carol rocked Ariel to sleep. "Daddy!" he kept saying, sitting up and pointing to me, until she took him upstairs.

Alone in the living room, I filled up with sadness. I wrote her a poem about winding down our family like a bankrupt business. I read it to her when she came downstairs, weeping a little as I did. With obvious irritation she forced herself to listen, then scraped her chair noisily up to the kitchen table.

"Now then, this is a business meeting,” she said.

Embarrassed, I wiped my eyes and sat down across from her.

"These next four days are crucial in determining our next twenty years,” she continued. “Later, friendship may come. A motel tonight feels appropriate to me."

"Tonight!” I was horrified. “I thought tonight was one of the two nights I'd stay with the boys by myself, as we’d agreed."

Her face was like a chisel.

"Well, okay! I'll take the car."

Her expression didn't change.

"Is that all right?" I asked, incredulous. It was my car, too.

Her nostrils flared as she gave a stiff little nod. She bent her head to read from her notes. "Don't talk to the children about the divorce without telling me first. They know as much as they can handle right now. Don't make it worse. The credit union needs both of us to sign—"

"—I agree,” I interrupted. “It's not fair to tell them and then have me leave right afterward."

"—some papers, and you need to go through the mail for . . ."

I stopped listening. I looked at the top of her head as she droned on. She was so fragile. If I got angry at her strange behavior, she would shatter, and then I'd always be her enemy.

After she was done reading, I did the dishes to show her she didn't need to be afraid of me. She stood awkwardly several feet away from me, holding her list in a tight, white fist. I chattered on about Bonnie’s school.

"Amin's been just wonderful with the boys,” she interrupted. “All of them,” she added, pointedly. “They've all come to love him. You've got to be sensitive to my situation. I've been their sole caretaker for months, and you can't just return and claim them as if you'd never left. "

I worked on getting my breathing under control while I unplugged the sink and watched it drain all the way. I wiped the sink, dried my hands carefully on a dish towel, then turned to face her.

"I do understand your position, Carol. My problem is that you may fail to see mine. I've been away from my boys for over three months. Think how badly you would want to see them if you'd been away that long."

"We have to be careful if we're going to avoid the whole adversary lawyer thing. That's why I'm being so clear right now."

"Oh, of course! I agree, I know we can avoid the—"

She turned decisively away from me and left the room. I gathered she was telling me to leave. I put on my coat, then waited at the door for a goodbye, but she’d vanished.

I left. As I walked down the front walk I heard a tap-tap-tap. I turned around to see a white, cold face and a lifted hand, hard to make out through the heavy glass.

“Hi!” Ariel said joyfully over his porridge when I walked in the next morning. I fixed myself a bowl. It tasted so good, I had a second helping, then another. Like Goldilocks, I'd eaten the porridge all up by the time she came downstairs, looking as grumpy as all three bears.

"Hi," I said bravely. "I think you should pay for half the taxi fare from the airport and half the motel room, since you didn't tell me in advance you expected me to take care of those things myself."

Her face went completely white. "Not now, later," she hissed.

She stayed in the kitchen, booming like silent thunder, while I got the boys into shoes and jackets for a trip to the playground. We'd only been there a few minutes when Caleb’s swing smashed into Wren's face. Blood poured from Wren's nose and mouth. He bawled in my arms all the way back home, the other two dragging behind. Carol and I got him fixed up without speaking to one another.

After a snack, I drove them out to Point Pleasant Park to play hide and seek between the trees. My boys looked tiny and vulnerable, and I had hardly enough energy to play with them, I was so worn down from no smiles and not even a direct glance from Carol.

We went back to the house for lunch. When she served the soup she spilled some on her pants and the floor. She stood looking at the mess with such a sad look on her face, my heart pulled me up to hug her. She was stiff as a board and so thin, so thin. She pulled away, almost crying. I quickly ate my soup while there was still enough love around to bless it, then gratefully left for the afternoon.

The boys were watching TV when I came back. I walked into the kitchen to say hello to her.

"I shouldn't have to leave my own house!” she spat. “I know I agreed to let you stay two nights with the children, but this is my house!"

She glowered at me, her whole body quivering with indignation. I turned around, went to the living room and sat on the couch.

“Supper’s ready,” she called a while later.

“I’m not hungry.”

I smoked a starving cigarette while my children ate. I'd been looking forward to being alone with the boys since the day I left Halifax, tonight more than ever because I’d get to be with them without her crackling in the background.

At least I got to put them to bed. I lay down with Ariel and sang quiet lullabies while he touched all the parts of my face, making sweet baby-love to me. I relaxed for the first time since I'd returned, and we both drifted off to sleep.

I woke up a few minutes later and went downstairs. She was sitting on the far side of the kitchen table. Her face was so distorted by rage, it looked like it was made of metal.

"I'm upset you'd even consider me responsible for your trip! I was afraid you'd consider this your home and that it owed you something, but it's my home! And I don't owe you anything!"

I quietly sat down across from her.

"Carol, I was only responding to your shift. You said before I came it was okay if I spent two nights alone with the boys. Same thing with the taxi and the motel. You never told me you wouldn't pick me up at the airport, and we'd agreed I'd spend the first night with the boys."

"That was before I realized this is my house! I shouldn't have to leave it. I even found you'd taken my book on child custody! And read it! Without my permission! As if you still lived here and had a right to do things like that!"

I spoke slowly and evenly, to help her see how irrational she was being. "I'm sorry I moved your book, Carol. But you didn't tell me about all this ahead of time."

"But it's my house! I shouldn't have to tell you!"

I let the fingernails-on-a-blackboard tone of her voice fade before I replied. "I understand what you're saying, Carol. I hear you. This is your house and you shouldn't have to leave it. All right? Now then. You didn't tell me this when we made arrangements, so I—"

"But it's my house! And I shouldn't have to—"

"Carol! Please don't say that again! Five times is enough!"

I glared at her. She glared back. A dangerous minute passed. Then I realized I’d broken my rule about never saying, “please don’t.” Only idiocy lay ahead. So I gave up, wrenched by the futility of dealing with her. I gave up on nights alone with the boys, on making her keep her agreements, and, last of all, on her noticing I'd given anything up. All I could think of was the boys, lonely for me.

I wasn’t going to cry in front of her again. I stood up to leave so quickly I nearly knocked over the chair.

"Okay," she said. "You can stay here tonight. You've been looking forward to it a lot, haven't you?"

"Yeah, I have," I said, collapsing heavily onto the chair.

We talked about my Christmas visit, then covered the following day's tight agenda. As we ended, she smiled at me. She touched her hand to her cheeks in surprise, then quickly tightened her lips. "Friendly will come later. We have to be careful now."

"Okay," I said, not minding anything now that I'd get to be alone with the boys. "Sybil's going to call me here tonight—"

She tore down the hall, grabbed her coat, and ran out the door. I hurried after her to say goodbye but she was already running down the sidewalk to Amin's. I wondered if she was jealous of Sybil. She used to get jealous when I talked to my houseplants.

In the morning I took Caleb and Wren to school, then picked up Carol near Amin’s. The daycare workers looked at me strangely when we both walked in with Ariel.

"Everyone else is a single mother," Carol whispered. As a father, I was breaking the rules just by being there. No, I corrected myself, I’m obeying the rules, because we’re splitting up. I felt sick: One more nuclear family down the drain.

We drove to the Bean Sprout in silence. As we walked up the hill from the parking lot, I took her arm.

“Why are you doing that?” she snapped.

“Because I like you.”

“It makes me nervous.”

I let go. We walked the rest of the way in silence.

I opened the big double doors to The Bean Sprout. Amin was standing right inside. He must have been waiting for us.

"Hello," he said.

"Hi."

I avoided his eyes and quickly walked past him to the office. It took me all morning to wade through a three-foot stack of mail for the dead bookstore.

Carol and I went out for lunch. I tried to be friends by telling her about Sybil and my poetry. She interrupted every single sentence until I finally shut up. We were silent for the rest of the meal. With nothing to interrupt, she had nothing to say.

As we got up to go, she said, "Oh, by the way, I lied when I told you I read your poems and it took me two days to recover from each one. After that first one I was so upset I put all your letters away unopened. We have to go to the credit union now, so we'd better get moving."

She stood up to put on her coat. I followed her out, too shocked to say anything. It was a long, difficult day after that.

I slept through the motel alarm the next morning and raced over to the house to make amends. I made breakfast and all the bag lunches, taking special care with Carol’s, then got everybody and all their things together and into the car. It was another busy, strenuous day of doing errands we could only do together.

"I don't like joint custody," I told her over tea that afternoon. "It gives you more power than me because you get to make all the little decisions. Those are more important from the boys' point of view than the big ones, such as which school they go to."

"I would never deny you access to the kids."

"Of course you wouldn't!” I said, confused. “I'm talking about power, not access."

"So what do you want?"

"I don't know . . . maybe each take them for a year at a time."

"It's not good for the kids to be moved around that much."

"If we lived near each other it'd be okay. In any case, I won't know what to do until I get out of school, and that's almost two years away. So let's put off the decision. I know we'll never disagree about what's best for the kids."

Caleb tried not to hear me when I told him I'd be leaving in the morning. He slouched on his bed reading a comic book, looking skinny. I made sure to check his list, entitled "Things To Do With Daddy When Daddy Comes Home," that he'd been preparing for over a month. The boys and I had a big paper airplane fight all over the house with lots of screaming and yelling. "Airplane Fight" was the last thing on Caleb’s list. I put them all soundly to bed.

As I walked downstairs Carol came home from karate with Amin. She banged open the door and glared at me.

With her coat still on and the door wide open, she said, "Amin has no idea why you want to meet with him. Why do you, anyway?"

"I don't know, Carol. Ask me after I've talked to him."

She shut the door behind her. "Really, he had no idea. What do you want to talk to him about?"

"I don't know, Carol. Ask me after I've talked to him."

"He said he didn't need to talk to you. Why do you need to talk to him?"

I didn’t reply until I was sure I could keep my voice calm, then said, "I `don't know, Carol. Ask me after I've talked to him."

"Ariel will come to look a lot more like Amin in California because of the sun," she said, finally taking off her coat. "It's going to become increasingly difficult for Amin to deny his son."

I heard the joy in her voice. "Is there anything you intend to do about that?"

"No. But he's not a Baker-Toombs. By the way, I don't know if I'll keep that name."

"Neither do I," I said, relieved she said it first.

"Amin really didn't sound like he wanted to meet with you. What exactly are you going to talk to him about?"

"I don't know, Carol. Ask me after I talk to him."

I grabbed my coat and ran out of the house barely in time before I got angry.

"Coffee?" I asked Amin. "This late?"

"We have to have coffee if we stay up and talk so late. Now then, Danny, what do you want to talk about?" His heavy five-o'clock shadow made him seem especially dark and foreign.

"Oh, just to talk." I sat down at the cheap kitchen table, awkwardly holding coffee I didn’t want. He sat down heavily in the other chair and put his elbow on the table. We looked at each other.

"So,” I ventured, “how are you going to manage without Carol while she's in California?"

"I often go over there to play with the boys after work."

"Well, thank you for helping Carol out." He shrugged.

I took a sip. The coffee was way too strong.

After an awkward minute, I said, "I can feel a lot of pain with you and Marilyn. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know."

"What can you do?"

"Well, I don't know," I replied, feeling belittled. "But if there is, just let me know."

He shifted in his chair. I looked around the tiny apartment. It was terribly messy.

"So, how's the Bean Sprout?" I asked.

“What?”

“I said, ‘How’s the Bean Sprout?’”

From then on we grew more and more deaf until we had to repeat everything we said, sometimes three times. The conversation degenerated until it consisted of him complaining about the business and me commiserating.

It was way past midnight when I got to bed. It still took me hours to get to sleep. . . . “Want to play?” Caleb asks me, knowing I don’t like him. His fingers are bleeding. Somebody stepped on them. My heart squeezes painfully.

I woke up. My heart felt bruised. I hurried to get to the house in time to wake and feed the boys before my flight.

“I’m really worried about Caleb,” I told Carol as I walked in. “He’s taking this the hardest. I want to make sure—“

“You don’t send enough letters!” she said, ticking off each item on her fingers as she listed it. “Caleb checks the mail box every day. You sent the wrong presents. Those wooden airplanes only frustrated them. Don’t send them things that frustrate them! And one more thing—“

“No!” I hurtled up the stairs to wake the boys.

Carol stayed away while I made them breakfast, then called me when the taxi came. The three of them lined up at the door for goodbye hugs. Ariel's face lit up with a sudden smile.

"I go Boston, too! On airplane wif you!" He wiggled to get out of Carol's arms.

"Just enough room for Daddy," I said, then turned and headed down the stairs.

“Oh! I forgot you!" I ran back up the steps to kiss Carol goodbye. I didn’t want the boys to think we hated each other. She turned a white, cold cheek to my lips.

It was evening by the time I finally made it to Sybil’s, only to find her gone. I left her a note so she could find me, and went to a restaurant for a cup of tea. I got out my journal and looked at the dream from the night before about Caleb.

The truth hit me like a cow pie in the face: Caleb was a symbol for my feelings and in Halifax I’d stepped on them until they bled. Anger exploded. With my hands trapped in soapy water, Carol had told me how much my children loved her lover. And I’d gone to him with my head in my hands like a pumpkin to thank him for making my children his friends. I wrote poem after poem of bitter rage followed by dirges for the boys I’d abandoned by leaving.

By the time Sybil showed up with her kind green eyes, I was frantic. Sex was impossible in my condition, but as soon as we got back to her apartment, desire ran rampant. She moved her hips like hunger searches for food and I gave her all I had. Her long, wavy, brown hair poured over my face like the perfume of lilacs.

. . . I'm trying to leave the house to get to Sybil, but I can't leave with the stovepipe smoking. Smoke pours into the room until I can hardly breathe or see. Frustrated and choking, I pound on the stovepipe, then run to the door to get fresh air.

I woke up gasping. The smoky house was the marriage. Only by leaving could I get fresh air, and I hadn't left yet. My head swelled up with omnivorous ache. It was late afternoon and lots of sherry and aspirin before I could even pick up a pen.

I don’t want to see Carol again for about a decade, I wrote. But the boys need me, especially at Christmas, and it’s time I told them about the divorce. Besides, I have some boxes of my stuff in her basement. In a dream they would symbolize feelings in my pelvis that she had control over. I have to go back to old Halifax.

I felt so hopeless after that I couldn't even stay mad at Carol. She was probably in more pain than I was, with three fatherless boys to deal with day after day after day.

In skeletal class the next day, I took off my shirt and lay down on the cold linoleum. "Your bones are so big and obvious!" my partner said as she palpated my ribs. I felt sexually criticized: I was too big and too obvious.

Elly lay down on the floor next to me. "It must be a breeze to work on you," she said, staring at my chest, "because you don't have any breasts to get in the way." Elly was shorter and younger than most of the women in Bonnie’s school, who were nearly all 28 or 29 years old. She had uncombed dirty-blonde hair and wore tough-looking clothes that were too big for her. During class, she would gaze at me for long periods of time. I had the funny feeling she didn’t know which gender she was, and staring at me was research. The whole time her partner, Ellen, was working on her ribs, Elly stared at my hairy chest.

Then we switched places with our partners. I gratefully put my shirt back on. I worked with extreme care to feel my partner’s ribs through her shirt without coming close to her breasts. Elly watched my hands like a bird of prey while she worked on Ellen lying on the floor nearby.

Suddenly Ellen sat up and took her shirt off. She caught me looking before I could tear away my eyes, then lay down on her back again. Elly palpated Ellen’s ribs, probing around her large, soft white breasts. My heart skipped a beat, then accelerated, pounding loudly in my ears. I had to use more pressure on my partner’s ribs to hide the trembling in my hands, knowing she was aware of how close my fingers came to her breasts.

Elly was mesmerized. Her wide-open eyes clung to my hands moving so closely to my partner’s bra-less breasts. Every now and then she would check to see what she was doing with Ellen’s ribs, then like wild mice her eyes would dart to my eyes, to see if the man in the class was looking at Ellen’s big bare breasts.

My forehead heated up like an oven. I focused on the anatomy of the ribs, ignoring the swelling Snow Whites in the periphery of my vision, the dark brown nipples crinkling a little from the cold, jiggling with every breath Ellen took. My eyes burned and watered from something in my throat that clutched my vocal cords with a grip like death. I couldn’t even swallow, let alone talk.

Class ended. Ellen put on her shirt. Elly left. Breathing heavily, I crawled across the cold, hard, mental hospital-gray floor in the direction of my boots, surrounded by the unavoidable, unavailable Female, as I had been for eternity. As I laced up my boots, a screeching orange alternating with bolts of black and violent green commandeered my vision. I collapsed against a wall. The last woman to leave turned out the lights. I sat alone in the dark.

The pain of the migraine came quickly this time, like a slow dentist's drill through the center of my left eyeball and deep into my brain. My neck and shoulders went into spasm, and I hung on the edge of vomiting and diarrhea at the same time. I closed my eyes, fell onto my side and huddled against the wall.

Hours later, I was able to walk, and went home to bed. . . . A tall, sexy woman walks into a crowded room, the nipples of her large breasts showing clearly through her thin shirt.

"Look!" Elly says. "Nipples, dark brown nipples! And her dark brown eyes! The eyes of Christ!"

"Dark brown eyes are just dark brown eyes!" l say loudly, then go over to the wall next to the sexy lady and take down a picture of a baby being born. He's in agony from the operating room lights, a violent assault on his newborn vision.


I awoke to the light of a new day streaming in through the windows, assaulting my eyes with pain. The regular headache that always followed a migraine was unusually severe this time. I closed my eyes against the sun and saw Jesus on the cross. The sun was hot on my closed eyelids, as it had been on Jesus while He hung around waiting to die. I slowly realized that I'd always felt crucified, just by being alive. Being imprisoned in a body with feelings was the same as being hung up on a cross and not allowed to die.

Sybil and I went for a long walk through Emily Dickinson's graveyard the next afternoon. It was dark by the time we got back to her apartment. I picked up a book on modern dance. She stood around in her nightie for a while, then gave up on me and picked up a magazine.

An hour passed. I finished the book.

"Cunningham's pretty old to still be dancing," I said.

"Martha Graham's even older, and she's still dancing."

"Yeah, but I hear she's got terrible arthritis."

"Arthritis is a dietary problem."

"What do you know of the how and the why of other people's diseases?” I thundered, jerking to my feet. “This is an unforgivable obscenity of a conceit! Look not at the ills of others! Look at thine own, woman!"

An electric current of condemnation ran down my arm and out my accusing finger. I was pointing at Sybil like the Holy Inquisitor. Her eyes went wide. My words echoed in the silence.

“Just leave,” she said, jumping up. “Go. Leave this room!”

I was so surprised at the way I’d spoken, I couldn’t move. She ran into the bedroom and slammed the door.

Not knowing what else to do, I ran a bath. As I lowered myself into the water I saw the distortion in my left field of vision. Another migraine. The light shot black arrows into my eyes. I turned off the light, then sat in the tub in the dark and tried to figure things out. I agreed in general with what I'd said, but I didn't know why I'd used archaic words or pointed at her like that.

The pain came like a jackhammer against the back of my eyeball. The water got cold. I got out and tiptoed into the bedroom.

Sybil was asleep, her face to the wall. I lifted the covers.

"Sleep in the living room," she said quietly to the wall.

"Why?" I froze, half in and half out.

"You were wrong to say all those things about me!"

"What things?" I asked, slipping under the covers.

"That I was evil."

"I didn't say you were evil!"

"You know what happened to me once?” she said, rolling over to face me. “I went to Catholic Mass and the priest held out the little wafer and put it on everybody else's tongue, then walked right by me. I had my mouth open and everything. I knew I had to be really evil if a priest rejected me. I went up to him afterward and he said it was because I hadn’t been baptized, but his tone of voice and way of speaking—that's exactly the way you sounded tonight."

"I don't know why I talked like that," I said, reaching for her breast. "It gave me a migraine."

She jerked away from my hand. "I'm sick sick sick of taking care of your sexual needs!" She turned her back and buried her head in the pillow.

I curled up as far away from her as I could get, consumed by sexual shame. I almost slept, then broke into a coughing fit that made the migraine pummel the back of my eye with hatred. I went to the mattress in the living room to cough, so I wouldn’t wake Sybil up. She was already mad enough.

I closed my eyes and fell into a long tunnel of blackness, down, spinning down, spinning down. . . . I am awake twice: I’m sleeping on the mattress at Sybil’s, and I am also lying in a coffin, dead, in a room with a high, white ceiling and arched windows with stained glass at the top. Seven men in red robes with white fur trim are looking at me. l am 79 years old. I have just died and I am dry, very, very dry.

I exploded into a fit of coughing so relentless I gagged. I ran to the bathroom and hung over the toilet, retching dry heaves. The dead man was an Archbishop of the Church of England in the 19th century. His fluids were gone and his chalk-white face wrinkled in death long before he died. He had no friends, alive or dead, and he was so dessicated I could not inhale without coughing.

I stumbled back to bed, both hands holding my aching head up. The migraine was getting worse, not better as it should have with sleep. My neck felt broken. I drifted like a shipwreck on top of the sea of sleep, never going all the way under. In my half-awareness, I felt my mother all around me, in the air, in the blankets, suffocating me. I jerked awake into a raucous, painful fit of coughing. I was drenched in sweat, my shoulders were freezing, and my anus horribly itched. I huddled under the blankets, covering my mouth with the sheet and breathing in careful little gasps until dawn, when I snatched a nap from the arms of my dead, dry Archbishop.

"I hate you! I hate you! Get out!" Sybil screeched as she ran into the room. I collected my clothes, strode into the bathroom, locked the door, and sat on the cold toilet lid, dazed.

“I don’t hate you,” she yelled through the door, “but you have to go.” I got dressed, then walked out of the bathroom.

She arched away from me like a cat and hissed, “No, it’s true! I do hate you, abandoning my bed in the night! You’ve crossed my limit—that’s my limit! I’m angry angry angry!”

I looked at her, uncomprehending. My throat was parched like a dead man’s, and my socks felt a century old. I laced up my boots, then picked up my pounding head and left.

The dry religious tickle of my dead Archbishop was a curse upon my throat for weeks.

"In case anybody hasn't heard yet," a woman said in class. "John Lennon was shot and killed last night."

My dry throat went thick. He’d been full of hope, just like me. We'd both been murdered. He got off easy; he got to keep his hope. I was walking around dead.

“What’s going on with you and Sybil?” Elly asked me at the Christmas party.

“She’s thrown me out, just like I had to throw out all my Halifax clothes. I’ve spent a $1000 in charge-card money on clothes since I came here.”

“A $1000? On clothes?” Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“I had to. All my Halifax clothes had the image of a witless cuckold sewn into them.”

“You’re not just a. . . a ‘witless cuckold,’” she said, mouthing the odd phrase. “Why are you so hard on yourself?”

“I think it’s time I went home,” I said, my voice husky with the desire to cry in her arms. I went right to bed.

. . . The wolf puppies have finally been born, that I plan to breed for use in the Intelligence Service. Suddenly they’re full-grown and dangerous, running loose all over the house. Amin gets out of a coffin and uses New Age spiritual phrases to justify having sex with Carol.

Angrily, I see how I've subjugated myself to him, then follow him out the door, wondering what he's going to have me do. The white wolf, the mother of the pack roaming the house, leaps for my throat. I throw up my arms to protect myself, but she isn't attacking; she's trying to prevent me from leaving with Amin. She needs something from me. Urgently, I ask, "What does the white wolf need from me?"


"Her human son," I answered, leaping out of bed. I threw on a pair of pants and a t-shirt and ran outside into the freezing air. I dropped onto all fours and loped through the tall dead grass. A wolfish growl tore out of my throat, low and lethal. In one great bound I soared high above the grass and landed with my front paws pinning an imaginary rabbit. I snapped its neck in two with one bloody bite.

I stood up, shaking. I’d scared myself. My jaws buzzed and tingled, and my hands and bare feet were stained green from grass.

I went inside the house and gobbled some food. Bonnie had been teaching us the movements of the animals that underlie human movement. I’d loved doing “wolf” so much I’d written an anger poem then recited it for the class while loping around the room like Lobo. That was the wolf in my dreams that I’d bred for use in my “Intelligence Service.” My anger was smarter than I was.

I grabbed a pen. My hand jerked with rage as I scribbled, I’ve tried to see Amin’s adultery as best for me in the higher order of things. That’s abandoning my animal feelings. That’s suicide. The Mother Wolf was only trying to stop me from destroying myself around Amin the way I did when I visited at Thanksgiving. Why did he chase me away from my children? I wasn’t a bad father. Tears flooded out of my eyes.

I wiped my face dry. He’d fucked my wife, period. No shining light around the act, no Jesus in disguise for my greatest good, nothing.

I stood up, resolute. I had to tell my parents about the divorce, but not about Ariel. My mother couldn't handle that. I picked up the phone.

"Hi. This is me. I'm calling to tell you that things are much more serious than you thought. We're probably going to get divorced."

There was a heavy silence. "We don't understand," Gordon finally said. He began to weep. Tears dripped down my cheeks like blood to hear my father cry.

"Well!" Mary said, from the other extension. "It seems to us you've just run away to have a fine time all by yourself, leaving Carol with the kids. She tells us you're hardly sending them any letters."

"What will you do? What are your plans for the boys? How often are you going to see them?" Gordon asked in a gruff voice, the angriest I’d ever heard him.

"I don't know yet," I said hoarsely, "I just don't know. Carol and I are going to try to work some of that stuff out at Christmas."

"We worry you're just roaming around following your fancy," Mary said, "picking up one thing as long as it interests you, then dropping it when you get bored."

"You know I'm far more likely to be too much the other way.

Running a business every day for ten years is hardly following my fancy."

"That's why both your behavior and the divorce don't make any sense to us," Gordon said. "To tell the truth, we already knew. Carol told us a few weeks ago. We were just too angry to call you. Why can't there be a reconciliation?"

"It's over, that's all."

"Did you think of going to a marriage counselor?"

"No. If we had he would've recommended we split up. It was that obvious."

I was getting tired of this conversation. So were they. We said goodbye and hung up. I didn't understand anything anymore, especially why the one who committed the crime got to keep my babies.

I opened my door to go fix a lonely little supper, and slowly realized I wanted my housemates, Beth and Sully, to feed me. Irritated with my neediness, I marched into the kitchen.

“Happy Birthday!” Sully said. “We’ve been waiting for you to come out!” Beth stood next to him, grinning. They gave me a present: two coffee mugs. They were the first dishes I’d ever owned by myself. When I was 19, I moved out of my parents’ house to live with Carol, without any time in between to own my own dishes. Contradictory feelings pillaged my body, so I demonstrated “wolf” and “baboon” for them. The cat fled in terror. Beth and Sully applauded.

It took days of delicate negotiations with two designated go-betweens, but Sybil and I finally made up. When I made love to her soft lips and softer skin, I felt folded back into the batter of humanity.

But the next morning she took my unwanted and unnecessary morning erection for an invitation, and straddled it. I tried to accommodate her, but as I moved beneath her, the sound of my toenails scraping against the sheet sounded like the roar of the plane taking off for Halifax. I went numb as a piece of wood and shrank to nothing. She leaped out of bed.

"Guilt,” she said. “Your monk got the better of you."

She was right. I had to do something about those guys, especially that old dry Archbishop. I closed my eyes and imagined throwing him out of my house and slamming the door. Success! I thought, until I realized I was standing on the front doorstep while the Archbishop walked back and forth inside my imaginary house. I tried again and again, but every time I threw him out I ended up being the one on the outside.

Stumped, I contemplated him. I opened my eyes in surprise: He was contemplating me! This wasn’t in the past; this was now. Nervously, I picked up a pen and he spoke: People, I disliked. “Poor wretched sinners,” I would mutter as I closeted myself with books and papers and pens. “If only I could get this Church in order! Then I could die in peace.” At the instant of my death, I knew this: a life without love is nothing.

I lifted pen from paper in awe. The Archbishop was gone. I had a flash of the grand scheme of things, and of a grander me who would choose to spend over 79 years in pain and loneliness in order to have one single deathbed realization.

I still refused to believe in reincarnation. Even if it was true, it wasn’t important that it was true. How I dealt with a “past life” was what mattered, not whether it was historically real. And real or not, I still had to integrate that life, like a sub-self that needed to come home.

The next Saturday, it was completely dark by the time Sybil and I finally trudged back to her apartment. Only when we got inside did I understand why I’d wanted to go for such a long walk in the first place: to stay away from her bed.

“I think I’ve kind of gone somewhere, Sybil. I’m sorry.”

“I know. You’ve already left for Halifax. You’ve disappeared into celibacy again.’

I gazed at her, sick with longing, and she grew Satanic horns! I inhaled in fright and they vanished. I sighed, miserable and rattled. I’d hallucinated the Devil onto her just because I was refusing to feel my desire. I felt like a black-and-white drawing on a piece of cardboard, two-dimensional next to her rich roundnesses. The vibrant waves of Sybil’s long chestnut hair, her glowing moss-green eyes and her curving body were an oasis shimmering just beyond my reach. My prostate felt swollen with gritty sand.

“Take your time,” she said kindly, seeing how upset I was. “I’ll be here when you come back.”

A few days before I left for Christmas in Halifax, Sully drove me and my belongings to Northampton, the town next door to Amherst. Elly wouldn’t be back until January, and I’d rented her apartment until then.

I walked in and out of the rooms for hours that night, chain-smoking in the dark. I kept thinking about the boys and what I liked about each of them: Caleb sighing with relief to be cuddled and read to, Wren punching me to get a good brawl and a tickle, and Ariel falling asleep on my tummy. I bandaged my grief with reams of poetry. It took most of the night and lots of cigarettes.

Sybil took pity on me and came over the night before my flight. I was so eager to see her, I grabbed her breasts as soon as she walked in the door. She retreated to the bathroom to change into her nightie.

When she emerged, I was naked and wagging my erection. I dropped to all fours and ran around her on my knuckles like a baboon, butting my head into her legs and making animal noises.

“Your eyes are so bright!” she said. She climbed under the covers and hid.

I was overjoyed to be the one who was not scared of sex, for once. I crept under the covers and popped up in different places, peek-a-boo teasing her eyes to meet mine. She started to get turned on, and leaned close to me to kiss.

I turned my face away. She reached out to hug me and I found myself in a fetal position, terrified of her touch. Alarmed at my behavior, I jumped out of bed, got dressed and lit a cigarette. I relaxed with the smoke, and my legs switched off. I was numb from the waist down. I pounded my thigh with my fist. It was like hitting stone.

“God!” I shouted. “Celibacy is so deep in me!”

“You just need to have sex with a lot of other people, that’s all,” Sybil said. My mouth went slack with shock. I was in terror of her jealousy, and for good reason. “Then you’ll appreciate what we’ve got,” she added, weakly.

I paced, smoked and looked at the empty space next to the beautiful long-haired long-legged green-eyed woman in my bed.

“My body does not like being numb!” I announced. I stubbed out my cigarette, stepped out of my clothes, and lay down next to her like a wooden plank.

Sybil went to sleep. I was brilliantly wide awake, like a light bulb with no off switch. Hours later, I realized the problem was that if I went to sleep, my desire might wake up. I got up and wrote until dawn, when I was too tired to notice I wasn’t alone in bed.

Before Sybil left the next morning, I meekly asked her, “Do you have any spare change? I’ve changed all my cash into Canadian money and I need to buy cigarettes.”

“You’re so self-deprecating!” she yelled. “You’re already acting the Halifax way and I just hate it when you’re like that!” She looked at me, then lowered her voice and added, “As far as I’m concerned you went to Halifax several days ago, and even though I miss you I will wait until you come all the way back before I see you again. Goodbye.”

I gazed longingly at her. Even her voice was curvaceous. She turned and left. Her wavy brown hair looked more alive than I felt.

I hid out in my room all day, smoking to the point of nausea. As soon as I lay down that night, emotions stampeded over the exhausted prairie of my body like buffaloes in the dark. Each one needed me to get out of bed, turn on the lights, separate it from the herd, and calm it down with a poem. I’d lie down and the stampede would start all over again and drive me frantic until I got up and put another buffalo into words. I didn’t fall asleep till dawn, two hours before I had to get on the bus.

. . . Carol is extremely unstable. Once she jumped up in a movie theater and kicked and bit my wife.

I woke up violently shuddering. I lurched into my clothes and ran out the door, with one suitcase full of Christmas presents for the boys, another with my clothes, a full knapsack, and a brown bag with a carton of buttermilk and a bag of granola. The buttermilk leaked through the bag, exploded on the sidewalk, and splashed a sticky white mess all over my pants and shoes. I kicked it under a mailbox and leaped onto the bus just as the doors began to close.

Breathing heavily, I sat down and thought about the dream: I was so unstable, I used Carol as a symbol of my anger at her as my wife. I stared out the window at the gloomy day. The movie theater in the dream was Halifax, where the rerun of the marriage was still playing. I wondered if I would be trapped in a rerun for the rest of my life.

In the airport lobby a priest walked up as if to tell me something. At the last minute he veered away and sat down in the chair next to me. I was just getting over my surprise when another priest sat down on my other side. I looked around the room. There were lots of empty seats. Like handcuffs, the black-clad arms of priests pressed against mine. I was too frightened to move.

A few minutes later, my flight was called, and I left their black embrace for the blacker one of the plane to Halifax.