The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 6


February First, 1981


I moved in with Mary Jane, so full of melancholy I could hardly carry my cardboard boxes up her stairs. She was full of love and tried to hide her hope, because every time I saw it, I started talking about our inevitable ending. Whenever I did that, she kissed me, then took off her clothes.

As the days went by, it seemed that every time I turned around she was making love to me. She had loads of fun whether I came or not, which was the most therapeutic thing she could have done for me. The standing stone slowly began to surrender to feeling from sheer sensory overload. I felt like the pieces of Osiris collected one by one by Isis, who patiently knitted them together in her warm Egyptian place.

After the first few weeks of living with Mary Jane, I was so disoriented from all the sex I quit smoking to get my bearings. After one day without cigarettes I was carved hollow by grief and fell into sleep like an abyss. . . Carrying a nine-¬month-old baby who's just been weaned, l tear through a screen in the middle of my head and walk downstairs into my hindbrain. Dead bugs crunch under my feet. A glistening rain has killed them all. l step down onto the squishy floor of my brain and see my mother at the age she was when she weaned me. She is wearing white and shimmering with desire. I start to cry. The room fills up with my tears until I fear I will drown.

I woke up weeping. I quickly got up. I didn't like Mary Jane when I got out of bed. She had too much flesh. I knew that was a symbol for too much sex; I wished for a pale, skinny woman. Like Carol, I realized, and like all the reluctant ladies I'd always fallen for, who withheld sexual love the way my mother withheld the nipple. No wonder I fell for them. What kept me going for 11 years with Carol was the conviction that if I not-wanted sex badly enough she would give it to me. No wonder I was paralyzed with alternating grief and rage whenever I tried to deal with her. That’s what I felt the first time I was weaned. When Carol made her foreign lover my baby’s father, I was smacked right back to nine months of age, screaming for the milk I knew was there but none of it allowed for me. She’d given it all to Amin.

Knowing all this made the pain of no-boys much worse. I was disabled without boys or cigarettes. I could neither eat nor sleep. I gave in before I had to be hospitalized. My Daddy was breaking apart, and whenever that feeling overcame me the air would strangle in my throat unless I had a cigarette to help me breathe.

It was weeks before my need to hear them talk got stronger than the fear of the additional grief the sound of their little voices would evoke. I dialed fearfully, hoping Caleb would answer.

"Oh, hi," she said. "I've had a cervical cyst removed. I thought I'd tell you."

". . . May I speak to the boys, please?"

I didn't want to hear about her cervix. I wanted to end our dirty married days. But I couldn't, because of the boys. There was nothing I could do about it but smoke cigarettes.

At the end of the first week in March, my father flew to Boston for a conference. I went to visit him, going a few days early to stay with Cary, Phyllis and Asa, who were living there for the winter while Cary studied acupuncture. After we had supper I told them all about Mary Jane and Bonnie's school, which was so difficult to endure that out of 30 students from last fall only 13 remained.

"12 of us are women," I said, rolling my eyes.

"What about other forces in your life?" Cary asked.

"Well, there's the kids."

"Where are you at with them?"

"Uh . . . unsure."

"That's a fairly large area to be unsure."

“. . . Yeah,” I admitted, watching his little white-haired boy, Asa, climb in and out of his lap. I stood up in a hurry and insisted on going to a movie. As we walked into the theater, the screen lit up with nudity and blood to the sound of gunshots and screams as a man murdered his wife and her lover. It was a preview of coming attractions. Trembling violently, I sat down. After we left the theater I couldn't remember anything about the movie.

"It's so much fun to fall in love," Phyllis said the next afternoon, when Cary was at school. "And it sure is hard to avoid now that I'm married. I stay away from it by comparing myself to other women in the man's life then deciding no thanks."

"I avoid it by falling in love with reluctant women. Then I'm safe." I looked away from her eyes and couldn’t remember what color they were.

"Only I might not be so reluctant." Her knee bumped against mine under the table and stayed there.

"Me, neither," I said, jumping to my feet, then pretending I'd only gotten up to get more tea. As I filled my cup I saw the flicker of a migraine. "I always get migraines around Cary, I don't know why that is. You'll have to excuse me, but I have to go to bed right now. "

My head still hurt the next day when I went to meet my father for breakfast. His conference on student counseling was over and he’d arranged to stay an extra day to see me. I told him all about school and Mary Jane. We were on our second cup of coffee before I slowed down long enough to let him talk. After a polite silence, he asked, "How are things with the boys?"

"Oh, they're doing as well as can be expected in a new place and a new school. I'll go there at the end of the month."

"What's the news about the divorce?"

"Uh, well, nothing, I guess. We'll wait till Carol gets back to Nova Scotia in June."

"Have you discussed anything about visitation rights?"

"No, but I'm sure Carol would never come between me and the boys, even if only in her own self-interest. They'd never forgive her if she did!" I laughed, imagining how mad they would be at her, especially Wren. He was so feisty if you asked him to put on his shoes in the wrong tone of voice he would throw them at you.

He didn't smile. "Do you have that in writing?"

“. . . No," I admitted.

"Do you have anything in writing?"

"Well, we wrote out an agreement, of sorts, before I left Halifax last summer, and we both signed it."

"Has a lawyer seen it?"

"We were going to try to not go the adversary route."

"I've counseled divorcing couples," he said, then launched into a series of horror stories that made me hunch over my coffee in fright. Only steering him to a bookstore got him off the subject. We spent the rest of the day walking from one bookstore to another, something we both loved to do.

After supper he asked at his hotel for a room for me. They not only had no rooms, their last cot was booked. The clerk suggested we share a bed, and offered to waive the extra charge for a double. We rode the elevator up in silence. "Gosh," he said as he opened the door, "it's been thirty years since I've slept in the same bed with you."

"Seems like no time at all," I said, grinning.

After we got in bed we lay next to each other in silence for a few minutes, then I kissed his aging cheek, grazing his stiff little moustache, and turned over to sleep. I felt loved by his closeness.

I was woken in the middle of the night by a howl of agony filling the back of my skull. The daddy next to me had his boy with him. It took me hours to get back to sleep. . . I see a man on a treadmill who’s convinced he's done with divorce. "Look again, " I tell him.

I woke up with another migraine.

My father took a cab to the airport. I headed for a pay phone through a blur of pain. The migraine would kill me if I didn't talk to my boys.

"Hi," she said. "My father died. I think I killed him. The doctor said no one with a cold should go near him, and I did. He caught a cold and died a week later."

"Carol, it's not your fault—"

"She's not my child and I can prove it!" the man on the pay phone next to me yelled. "I'm not coming back to your whoring around!" He slammed down the receiver and stomped off.

"Sorry,” I said, “someone's yelling. . . What was I saying? Oh. I'd like to come for the funeral. I could see the boys at the same—"

"That's not a good idea! You being here would really complicate things! It's not a good time for the boys, either! It would interrupt their schooling!"

". . . All right, Carol. I won't come until the end of March." Anger rose, suddenly. "But listen to me. I don't know what you meant about my anger at Amin interfering with the children, but if anything was done to or with Ariel without my consent I would fly into a horrible rage!"

There was an ominous silence. Finally she said, "It's important you don't interrupt their schooling. It's been a real big adjustment for them and I don't want that interfered with. Here's Caleb."

I talked to the boys for a long time. The migraine only got worse.

Back in Northampton I buried myself in Mary Jane and body-mind centering studies. When the phone rang a week later I had such a strong feeling not to answer, I couldn't force myself to pick it up until the fifth ring.

"Hi," Carol said. "I have a therapist now, and she's been helping me a lot. I really feel so much better about everything. Now then, it's time you accepted that Ariel is only Amin's son. It is true, after all. I've told everyone in my family whose son Ariel is, and Amin has told Marilyn. You should get a therapist, too. Here's Wren."

"Daddy, when will you live with us again?"

"I don't know," I whispered. "I don't know," I said again, out loud. When it was Ariel's turn, I said, "I'm so sad I can't hug you, Ariel."

"I kiss you, Daddy, see?" I heard his lips smush the phone.

"I kiss you, too, Ariel, see?" I smacked a kiss into the phone. I had to say goodbye several times before he stopped kissing the phone. At least he still called me Daddy.

When Mary Jane came home from waitressing, I read her a few poems about divorce from the hundreds I'd written, and began to cry. "I'm sorry, I'm hating myself right now—"

"Well, you should! I'd hate myself, too, if I was you!"

Her scorn flipped me into fury. "Shut up!" Roaring like a beast of prey, I chased her all over the apartment. She strategically let herself be caught in the bedroom, where anger turned into desire.

I woke up incandescent with fury at Amin just as sky began to surrender the night. I jumped out of bed and strode naked around the house. I knew his whole plan now: first he stole my wife, then my livelihood, then separated me from my children, and now he was going to steal my son, the goal of his bandit plan from the beginning. I stood trembling with anger in front of the window. Dawn broke like an egg yolk over my hairy chest. I felt like an Afghani bandit, as ready to kill as to eat. I had no Christian cheeks left to turn, and if I didn't do something soon I would lose my nose as well to this foreign thief.

Suddenly famished, I made a huge breakfast. I took one bite—and could not swallow. My head bowed down beneath the weight of the boys who had no Daddy to hold them when they cried. I wept into my fried eggs. No way could I visit at the end of the month. I'd be a useless heap of tears the whole time. But I had to do something. I marked out dates on a calendar, waited until it was a decent hour in California, then called Carol and asked her how it sounded to her if the boys lived with me and Mary Jane for the summer.

There was a short silence, then she said, "I'm trying to make Amin Ariel's legal father, so his name will reflect the truth."

No, she isn’t, I thought. She’s testing me to see how much I care. So I chose my words carefully. "I'm not coming this week as I'd planned, because I feel my Daddy's been killed by losing his children."

"I think you should see a therapist."

I was confused. "Are you really telling me you don't want to be away from Ariel?"

"You could work out of my house, stay nearby, and see one boy at a time."

"Thank you!” I said, grateful for such a generous offer. “Let me think about that!"

I hung up and the room went black. If I got mad at her for threatening to take Ariel away, she'd take Ariel away. A car horn honked outside and I nearly leaped through the ceiling in fright. I spent the rest of the day in a fog, startling wildly at every little sound.

After midnight and still wide awake, I wondered what would happen if I interpreted waking reality as if it were a dream. The “fog” I had been in all day would be a symbol for dispersed and diffused anger. Then, just to see what would happen, I imagined what an angry person would do in my place. I wrote,I see a lawyer tomorrow

"We've got to get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do!" the radio burst out.

I went to bed, my self-esteem slowly rising. Getting mad at Carol might mean losing Ariel. But without anger, I lost me. If I didn't get angry when a son was stolen from me, I wouldn't respect myself enough to be a father to any child. My body flamed with heat. I jammed on my jeans and marched to the phone.

"Hello?" she answered.

"How can you say you won't keep me from the kids and then say no Ariel? How much does Amin have to do with this new position of yours? I won't stand for it! You fucked me over once and I won't let you fuck me over again! Do you hear me?"

My scream reverberated down the telephone wires. She hung up. Fine, I thought. Tomorrow I sue.

"Alimony? Damages?" the lawyer asked me the next morning. "From the wife to the husband? Never."

"Well, how about getting custody of the boys?" I asked, weakly. "Custody? That's impossible. You left."

"But I couldn't have stayed."

"That doesn't matter. If your wife had left you with the children for half a year, even she might not be able to get custody. Although that's doubtful, since the courts usually decide in favor of the mother. Besides, you have to do it in Nova Scotia. You say you've been here six months. You have to live in Massachusetts for one year before you become a resident and you have to be a resident before you can sue for divorce."

The skin tightened over my cheekbones. I went home and wrote to a Nova Scotia lawyer, describing the situation and what I wanted. I re¬read the letter when I finished. It had been written by a deranged person. I threw it out and phoned instead. He wasn't in. I went to bed that night in a sorrow so deep I didn't know if I'd ever wake up. . . A pathetic man is completely immobilized. I hold his genitals. The way he feels about them is the cause of his immobility as well as of his self-pity. A retarded boy sprays water at me. I have just discovered the movement that will make me whole.

I woke up highly irritated. I wanted my boys, not sex. Yet the dream was telling me that the movement that would make me whole was the spray of retarded-boy water: ejaculating. When I was 15 a retarded boy sat across from me on the bus with semen all over his shirt. I was disgusted by the smell, the mess, and his foolish grin, and ever since then thought ejaculating was something only retarded boys did. Because anyone with any intelligence wouldn't even have wet dreams, let alone make that revolting stuff come out on purpose. I didn’t understand why living with Mary Jane hadn’t cured me, then realized that even though I did it a lot, I still thought sex was retarded.

I got out of bed and called the Halifax lawyer. "So," I summed up, "I'd like to sue Carol for divorce and get sole custody of all three boys in a year."

"No way. You're no longer a resident of Nova Scotia. An absence of more than six weeks means you're no longer a resident of the province and can bring no legal action."

"That can't be true."

"It is. There is only one exception to that rule. Sailors who live in Nova Scotia can retain their residency if their ship does not dock at any foreign port or, if it so docks, the sailor does not disembark."

"You mean if a sailor sets one foot on the ground outside of Nova Scotia he's not a legal resident for another year?"

"I'm sorry, but that's the way it is."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"No."

I hung up. I looked bleakly at the phone. Amin's bandit plan was wildly successful. I went numb. I smoked cigarettes like a bonfire.

Cary came to visit me the next weekend, bringing Asa with him. I listened to his little boy, the same age as Ariel, call Cary “Daddy.” I watched him climb in and out of Daddy's lap. I said nothing about my children. Cary had a lot to say about Phyllis. I listened as best I could, but something happened to my neck as he talked. I felt like the crooked man in the nursery rhyme, my head stuck on sideways. It affected my ears. I had to ask him to repeat nearly everything he said. Finally he shoved his face close and repeated his last sentence in a shout.

"I'm sorry, Cary, I'm not all here." I told him what Carol was doing.

"God! That's awful!"

I hurried to the phone. His support gave me enough strength to call the boys even if Carol answered.

"Hello?" she answered.

"May I speak to the boys, please?"

"They have no-fault divorce in California."

"We both know whose fault it is."

"So sue me. This could get nasty, you know."

"Well, the boys come first, always."

"Maybe."

Maybe? The last piece of driftwood from the wreck of the marriage slipped out of my hands and I went under. Putting the children first was the one thing I could depend on her for. "Here's Wren," she said into my stunned silence.

"I've got a surprise for you, Daddy. When will you get it? When will you come?"

His voice ached with need. I was hurting this boy.

"I don't know, Wren," I said, hoarsely, "is Caleb there?"

"Hi, Daddy," Caleb said. "I made you a sculpture. But it's too big to send you. Well, unless the box was very very very very big."

"That's wonderful, Caleb! Bye for now!" I got off the phone in a hurry and wrapped up little pieces of chocolate and went with Cary and his little boy to the post office to mail them. I made it from one minute to the next and no farther.

Cary became alarmed at my condition. "I'm going to call Carol and talk to her about this," he said.

"Okay. I'll be in the bedroom. Come get me when you're done." I sat on the bed trying not to listen to his voice, indistinct between long silences. My body was congested everywhere, even in places it wasn't supposed to be, like ankles. I was ankle-deep in grief like old, sluggish blood. There was nothing I could do but smoke cigarettes, which only made me more congested. Cary came to the door with Asa in his arms. He looked at me, then looked away. I didn't want to know what they'd said anyway.

He left the next day with his little boy. I had to do something. I called a travel agent and made reservations to Los Angeles for the last week in April. I hung up the phone and felt even worse, because seeing the boys meant seeing Carol. The walls behind me closed in with a sudden movement. I whirled around to face them. They stood perfectly still, but the walls now behind my back wavered, malevolent, ready to jump. Frantic, I grabbed a pen and poured out poetry until the bedroom walls settled down. It was after midnight by then.

. . . “I'm going to take legal steps to make Amin Ariel's father in name as well as in every other way, " Carol says, slowly turning to face me. "He will, of course, want to raise him a Muslim."

I was disturbed all day. Late that afternoon the phone rang with an imperious, jarring sound. I had to answer it to shut it up.

"Hi," she said. "You're not Ariel's real father and I'm going to make it legal. I've told Caleb and Wren you're not Ariel's real Daddy. And when you come to visit them I want to make it clear you're coming to visit Caleb and Wren and not Ariel. Of course you can see him. You'll be like a favorite uncle."

Trying to get things back on track, I said, "How does one month this summer with the boys sound to you?"

"Why don't you send me your exact itinerary and then we'll see."

"Legal opinion is that children born into a marriage are of that marriage."

"Not necessarily, my lawyer says."

"Well, in any case I'm the number-one father."

"Amin's his blood father—"

I hung up, but not fast enough. Carol knew what children needed. She didn’t talk about blood like that. A real mother does not put a pedigree ahead of love. I couldn't move. I tried, but I was encased in ice. My lungs tightened as the ice got heavier.

With a huge muscling effort, I broke free then ran out the door and kept on running, running through the deepening dusk down the quiet, tree-lined streets of Northampton, running at top speed until I was so out of breath I couldn't even stand up. I leaned against a huge beech tree and slowly slid to the ground, taking great gulps of air. I heard Wren whisper to Caleb, "Daddy's not real for Ariel. Is Daddy real for me?" Carol should never have thought this, let alone said it out loud.

I had run so far it took me hours to drag home. I was careful to write down the phone conversation, as I always did; was careful to brush my teeth, as I always did; and made sure I got into bed, as I always did, even though I knew it would be no use.

As I pulled up the covers I saw her bony hands with the veins showing, her long skinny wrists sticking out of her red bathrobe. I was not real because blood is what counts. I saw myself in the Bean Sprout, his store that used to be mine, smashing him senseless, the barrels of organic flour filling up with his oh-so-significant blood—then I was back in bed, in the empty waiting for boys.

At dawn I got up, annihilated.

Late the next night and many cigarettes later I suddenly understood: I’d made Carol horribly angry. She was manic from pain and rage, yet even in her delirium she knew the best way to hurt me was by hurting the boys. She'd regret what she was doing for the rest of her life. I had to help her realize her error before it was too late. But I couldn't remember what crime I'd committed to make her so angry. I racked my brains, but couldn’t think of a single thing I had done wrong. There was only one possibility: I'd been correcting her when she called me Danny. That had to be it. I ran to the phone.

“Hello?” she answered.

"Listen, Carol, let's be friends. You can even call me Danny again. I just want to get back to basics here, a level we can communicate on."

"We need to sort this out first. Friends can come later. Maybe."

It was too late. I looked out the window and saw a giant striding across the street. I recognized him. He was Conan from the comic book, a man of gigantic melancholies.

. . . I have to go back to where I killed the hoodlum, because he was a symbol for myself. I have to die in his place. I'm so afraid of death. Reluctantly, l realize fear of death means death is what I need to feel. I woke up in the middle of the night, full of fear. I went back to sleep, feeling sleep as death . . . l am making love to Phyllis. We hear Cary coming and quickly separate. She is pregnant with my daughter. I awoke, terrorized.

A few days later, visiting them in Boston again, I sat her down at the kitchen table. Her brown, wavy hair framed her face like a Renaissance painting. "Listen, Phyllis. We've been doing a little sex-charge thing between us and I want to unhook it. I need to tell you I really don't want to follow through on this."

"Oh, good. I've been worrying about it, too. I don't want to follow through on it, either."

We talked about sex charges and other things for a few hours, then felt so good about each other we stood up and hugged. Her mouth was open so I licked her lips in fun. Cary walked in. We leaped apart. He strode between us without a word and went straight to the bathroom, leaving the door open.

"Don't French my wife!" His voice boomed out above the loud hiss of his pee.

Phyllis and I looked at each other. We didn’t dare move. He came back into the kitchen like a German tank and stood square between me and Phyllis with his back to her. "Do you want to fight?" he snarled, glaring at me with pain-filled eyes.

"No." I held his tormented gaze.

"Then you're not the one," he finally said, and turned away. I stayed rooted. "I'm on edge," he added. I relaxed, a little. He started making a fresh pot of coffee. "When I was visiting you last month a man stayed all night in this apartment trying to seduce Phyllis. She says she turned him down. I don't know why she let him stay all night. When I walked in the door the first thing I saw was his red shirt hanging on that chair. I call him Charles Red Shirt. I don't know if she would have told me if I hadn't seen his shirt."

Phyllis sat down at the table, looking severely chastised. "Listen, Cary, Phyllis and I had this little sex-charge thing going on, but we just unhooked it. We were kissing because we'd succeeded."

"Yeah, but right when you unhook a sex charge is when you start thinking 'what if.’”

". . . Damn! You're right. God! You're my only man friend."

"So don't walk on my ice. It's thin." He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down. His anger faded, but his wife-pain didn't. We sat in silence around the table. Asa played quietly underneath it.

I changed the subject. "Carol says she's going to make Ariel not my son legally. She thinks it's time I accepted the truth, that blood is what counts. Like with horses."

"Oh, God," Phyllis said. "That's Amin talking. He wants to raise Ariel a Muslim, right? And he knows you wouldn't let him."

"Hey, I just had a thought! Cary, I never reacted to Carol and Amin the way you did just now to me and Phyllis. Maybe that's why she's doing it: She's mad I never I loved her enough to get mad." He avoided my eyes and began ranting about Charles Red Shirt.

As soon I got back to Northampton, I wrote Carol that I had definitely loved her enough to get angry about Amin when she was with me. I knew if we got "us" sorted out, she wouldn't feel the need to do such terrible damage to the children just in order to get me back for not loving her enough. Then I wrote her mother and asked if I could stay at her house when I saw the boys at the end of the April. That way I'd be close enough to share or maybe even take over the daily tending, which was what I really wanted. I felt better than I had in weeks. Finally, I was doing something about the boys.

Nancy and I laughed and hugged when we ran into each other on Main Street a few days later. I invited her over, and we shared stories the way we used to in the car to and from massage school. Her coarse blonde hair reminded me of a lion’s mane, and she walked like a predator. Soon we were kissing, we liked each other so much.

The phone rang right as we got hot. I picked it up and said hello. Mary Jane murmured sex talk into my ear. I looked at Nancy glowing on the couch and nearly fainted. By the time Mary Jane said goodbye I was filled with the fear of death. I was about to ask Nancy to leave when I remembered my dream: the fear of death means that death is what I have to feel. The truth was as clear as a factory whistle: sex was the death I had to feel.

"That was Mary Jane," I said gravely.

"Is that a problem?"

“. . . No."

"So come on over here, honey." She patted the couch.

I didn't move. "She gets off work at 8:30 tonight."

"What time is it now?"

"8:30."

"Oh. Let's go to my place. I'll drive you back."

". . . Okay.”

Somehow I managed to complete the act of sex. Afterward I was so eager to get back to Mary Jane, I couldn't stand still.

"Daniel! Quit dancing around the living room!" Nancy yelled as she got dressed. She was so mad at my guilty anxiety, she wouldn't speak to me on the drive back.

Mary Jane was watching a movie on TV. I collapsed into a chair with my coat on and in monosyllables and grunts asked her about the movie. I watched it through to the end, drugged with panic. We didn't make love that night, the first time we'd gone a day without sex since I moved in.

The next evening she was really hot. So was I, to my surprise. As we lay in bed afterward, she got sarcastic, as she frequently did. This time it was about how I didn't do enough dishes. Usually I would coax her to acknowledge her real feelings. This time I blew up.

"You’re avoiding me emotionally! Sarcasm is anger! And this is not about the dishes!"

"You're projecting! That's all! You're projecting!"

"If you don't want to talk about what you're feeling you have to sleep on the couch! This bed is for a couple!" She left, dragging a blanket behind her. I was so scared of her anger I couldn't relax until I got up, put my pants on, then got back in bed.

Hours later and still wide awake, I understood. I’m not scared of her anger, I’m scared of mine. Sex with Nancy had given me the strength to be angry at Mary Jane. That was more loving, not less. I smiled in the dark and took off my pants. My love lay naked and waiting.

. . . "The emotions of this new dance are more important than life or death," the angel says, bending over my sleeping body. She's worried I won't understand this.

I woke up. I understood. I went to the living room and kissed Mary Jane, waking her up.

"I dreamed you told me I had to feel or die," she said.

"It's true. Because if you don't feel you're already dead. Come back to bed. Where the couple sleeps." We slept sweetly entangled, and made love again at dawn. I was filled with new strength all day.

That evening the phone rang like an air-raid siren. I answered it anyway.

"Hi," Carol said, "I got your letter but don't feel we have anything to talk about until we have a legal structure between us. Oh, I should tell you, Amin has visited me here and is sending me support for Ariel. He's talked to my lawyer and to my therapist. They both want to see you, especially my therapist. She thinks it would be good for everybody if you did."

"May I speak to the boys please?"

After a short pause, she handed the phone to Caleb. My forehead began to heat up as I talked to my missing children. An hour later I had chills and a raging fever. I undressed and crawled into bed thinking, I am sick, sick, sick of Carol's secrets . . . oops. Speaking of secrets . . .

I sat up. "Mary Jane, can you come in here for a minute?" She sat on the bed and looked at me. I felt how much I needed her, and how much I would lose, then took a deep breath and asked, "What exactly was our agreement about other people?"

"Who was it?" She examined her fingernails, looking bored. "Mary Jane, you're angry! Now admit it!" I yelled, leaping out of bed. I stood quivering with anger in the middle of the room, astonished. My sickness had vanished.

"All right. I'm angry. I admit it. Now who was it?"

"Uh, well. . . " I put on my pants. "What was our agreement about other people?"

"Who was it?"

"Nancy."

"I knew it," she said flatly.

I told her the whole story, then waited, expecting the worst. After a pause, she sighed and said, "We really haven't been too clear about other people. I don't have the right to get mad at you about Nancy."

"Anger is its own right. There's more, isn't there?"

"No, there isn't."

"Yes, there is."

I badgered her and wouldn’t stop, following her all around the apartment. Hours later she finally broke down and admitted, "Well, I guess I do want fidelity. Boy, my other lovers would be rolling on the ground to hear me say this. I've never been able to be with only one man before—"

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. I answered it. It was two of her old lovers, come to visit her at 11 at night and surprised to see me there. I invited them in. They were large, careless American men. They smoked a joint with Mary Jane and then left.

"I just realized something," I said. "You know why I was terrified of being monogamous with you? Because I was afraid you would turn into Carol."

"So get out." She glared at me.

"Cool it, Mary Jane! That means I have to be monogamous with you, since that's what I'm afraid of. So I'm doing it, right now."

"You are? Really?"

"Yes, really." Her eyes glazed over and her chin fell onto her chest. "Mary Jane? Are you all right?" Her arms went slack and her palms rotated up to lie like dead fish on the couch. I couldn't even tell if she was breathing. I sat on her lap and shook her, then started unbuttoning her waitress uniform. It took several orgasms to bring her out of catatonia, but that only got her as far as deep confusion. She couldn’t stand up by herself. I had to help her into bed.

I got in next to her, feeling just as confused, until it hit me that by becoming monogamous with Mary Jane I hadn’t turned her into Carol. I'd unmarried Carol. I felt a great deal stronger.

I woke up still feeling strong, and knew I had to go to Halifax to destroy the agreement I’d signed that said, among other things, "If we ever disagree about the boys, then the status quo remains in force." I exchanged my California plane ticket for one to Nova Scotia, and turned in despair for an invigorating anger. I called Derek to ask if I could stay with him in Halifax, and ended up telling him the whole story of Ariel. I was shaking with rage by the time I finished. So was he. "If Dianne ever took a boy away from me I'd kill her!" he said vehemently.

"I can understand that. I'll see you in Halifax."

After I hung up I was still trembling with fury. I turned on the TV for distraction—"If she ever took my little boy away from me I'd kill her!" JR on Dallas said vehemently. I turned off the TV, badly rattled.

I waited until I’d calmed down, a week later, then wrote Carol a letter. . .Do you remember the birth of this boy? August sunlight poured in through the labor room window onto you and me kissing passionately as he popped out unexpectedly in the labor room.

"Are you two religious?" the nurse asked, in awe.

“You might say that,” I replied. She handed the brand-new boy to me. I was the first to meet my son’s eyes.

Do you remember his toilet training? One time he threw a fit after I cleaned his bum. Nothing would stop the tantrum until I pulled down my pants and sat on the toilet. "Look! Daddy poop, too!" I yelled above his screams. "Can you help Daddy wipe? It's so hard to do." He stopped crying, ran to the toilet paper, and tore of long pieces of it, one after the other, and handed them to me.

“Aw done!” he said in triumph, when the roll was done.

Then we washed our hands together, Daddy and his boy.

Do you remember the year when I took care of him every day? One night when he screamed in terror of the thunder I wrapped us both in a blanket and sat down in the creaky rocking chair in front of the open window. I sang to him for hours about lightning and the reason for thunder. His dark eyes, big and wide, peeked out of the blanket to rest on my face. In the peace that follows storms, the sky slowly filled up with stars and we both fell asleep. How can you say you want to take my son away?


I was about to address the envelope when I saw Carol, her voice filled with scorn, reading the letter to her therapist.

I couldn't send it. I had to do more than plead for mercy.