The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 7


April 16, 1981


Mary Jane slammed the door when she came home from work, making me jump. I was meditating on a small, handwoven rug inside a triangle of three strangely made candles.

“What are you doing with those things?”

“I found them in the back of the closet. Why?”

“I brought them back from India . . . wait. He's here.”

“Who's here?”

“My Punjabi. He shows up now and then to tell me things. He has something to tell you.” She changed out of her waitress uniform, then sat cross-legged on the rug and closed her eyes. After a few minutes she spoke in an odd, gruff voice. “Amin is neither very psychic nor very powerful. All the power you think he has is the power you are giving him.”

I felt so inspired, I called the boys while the candles were still burning. As I listened to their dear, little voices, grief snuffed out my anger. Maybe I should go to California instead of Halifax. I would have to act like a saint around Carol, but the saint would get to see his children. I couldn’t decide, so I turned on the TV. The Stepford Wives had just started. When the housewife’s robot duplicate moved to kill and replace her, I knew that playing the saint for Carol would get me killed and replaced by the Jesus robot I used to be, in one more rerun of the marriage. I turned off the TV. Both movies were over.

Landing in Halifax on May Day was like waking up from a 10-month-long dream of paralysis in the face of danger. Norman picked me up at the airport. I told him the whole story of Ariel, finishing just as we drove into the city. He took me right to Amin’s new store, a suburban branch of the Bean Sprout. Derek was working it alone. His hair was newly shorn, and his white apron went below his knees. There were no customers. I walked around, looking it over. It was more like a 7-Eleven with a case of mistaken identity than a natural foods store. Amin walked in. “Danny!” he said, surprised, and walked toward me, hand outstretched. I looked steadily into his eyes and didn’t move. He dropped his arm and glanced at Norman. Norman looked away. Amin took a step closer and asked, quietly, like it was just our secret, “What are you doing in Halifax?”

“I came to look at your new store!” I boomed out.

He took two quick steps back. “Go ahead, look around.”

“I already did.” I stared at him. His black, bushy eyebrows rose, but he met my eyes. A minute passed. Derek and Norman busily looked elsewhere. A hideous yellow flared all around Amin. The silence lengthened.

“You have gray hairs in your moustache,” I said without dropping my eyes.

“I'm getting older.” His voice shook, but he met my gaze. Then there was only the glaring, sickly yellow as the tension rose higher and higher. After another minute he looked away, awkwardly shuffling. My eyes bored into the back of his head. Derek and Norman said a few things about dogs. The subject quickly exhausted itself, devoured by the deadly silence between me and Amin. He looked everywhere but at me. Minutes passed with no movement or sound from the four of us. Finally, magnanimously, I looked away.

“So, how's the natural foods business treating you?” Norman asked Amin.

“Oh, it's okay,” Amin said, glancing at me fearfully.

“I'll see you tonight, Derek,” I said, then walked out.

“Intense!” Norman shouted as we got in his van. “I worked for you for three years, and I've never seen you angry! God, I thought somebody was going to get murdered!”

“Not me,” I said, though my heart was hammering. He dropped me off at Carol’s house.

“Danny! What are you doing here?” Carol’s house sitter asked.

“I have some income tax stuff to retrieve, that's all.”

“Well, come on in. Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Thanks, I'll get right to work.” I went up the stairs two at a time to the filing cabinet. The folder labeled “Agreements” was empty. I went through all the other folders, looking for it. In the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet was a shopping bag heavy with family photographs and negatives from the past few years. My heart leapt to see Ariel in the family photo, then shrank to see Carol standing next to him. I found Ariel's birth certificate listing me as the father, then a large manila envelope stuffed full of old love letters from me, as well as rough copies of love letters from her to Amin. I took them all, feeling like a thief.

Derek slowly peeled the label off his Molsons that night. His hands were calloused and capable. “Carol’s trying to have Ariel declared not my son,” I said. “That’s why—”

“Amin said you'd told his wife after first agreeing not to tell anyone. That's why he'd broken his agreement not to interfere with Ariel.”

“I never told Marilyn.”

“You mean Amin lied?” His face sagged in shock.

“I don't know how Amin does it, but he gets people to treat him with the respect due the Ayatollah.”

“I'm going to have to get another job. He'll think I'm a threat now.”

“You are. You know he's a liar.”

“Amin just went crazy after seeing you! He kept telling me to tell you that he just wants to talk to you, that he really needs to talk to you.”

“No way! He'd say things I'd like to hear, get chummy, tell me he'd take care of things with Carol, that I should let him do the talking because she was ‘upset.’ Then with her he'd be on her side against me. He plays relationships like Middle East politics. I have nothing to hear from or to say to him.”

* * *


Back in Northampton I felt like a gangster, and Mary Jane looked like my moll with her saucy stance, round, freckled face, big, firm breasts, and bobbed, dark hair.

. . .“I'm going to sue as soon as Carol goes back to Nova Scotia,” I tell her mother on the phone. “So that's what you're up to!” Carol crows. She was listening in on the extension. “I’ll just have to stay in California for a full six months, so I can file for divorce here.” I woke up feeling sick. With enough money, a Los Angeles lawyer could do anything, including break a birth certificate. Becoming stronger than Amin was a big step, but I was still Carol’s victim. I needed new information.

The next time I called the boys, they were intent on watching TV and didn't want to talk to me. I stood holding the empty phone and grieved. I couldn’t remember any good times with them, just the times I’d failed them or wasn’t there for them. I used grief as a guide to my understanding of the world. It was time to change.

In a long, dim passageway between two library stacks, I reached up to get one of Carlos Castaneda’s books—a spark sizzled from my hand to the book. I obediently checked it out. Apparently, in order to be whole, a man has to put his left hand on his children’s heads and snatch the edge of his spirit back; they don’t need it, and he does. I shut the book with a bang and phoned the boys. While Wren was talking, I imagined my fears, hopes, and wishes for him returning to me. Something came fluttering into my heart, and a small chunk of the endless sorrow lifted off. He sounded as chipper as ever. When I took my spirit back from Caleb, joy came pouring back. From Ariel came back the perfect spiritual person I was always about to be. After I hung up the boys felt boy-sized, not monsters of grief as they usually did.

When I woke up the next day, I felt larger than Mary Jane, which meant that, up until then, I’d felt smaller than her. As the days went by, she began to change. Now all she talked about was me leaving.

“You're incapable of accepting an ideal relationship,” she said after a long, frustrating argument over whether something had actually happened or not.

“It's your ideal relationship, and there's no room for me in it.”

“See? You're going to leave me.”

“Your fear I'll leave is driving me away. I can hardly breathe in here.”

“Is that why you never do any dishes? Because you smoke so much, you can't breathe?”

Rage crackled up my spine. “I just stopped smoking.”

“When?” she said, scornfully.

“Now.” I ran to the library, throwing out my cigarettes on the way.

I didn't know what to do with her. I opened Castaneda at random. “Explaining yourself is lying.” I shut the book, surprised. It was only fair people should know where I was coming from and why. But Mary Jane never heard anything I said except as a threat to leave her. I may as well have been lying. So I stopped.

The days passed by in deafening silence. I hadn't realized I talked about almost nothing other than myself, her, and our relationship. It was easy to go without cigarettes in the quiet. After three days I stopped tiptoeing around the house in anticipation of rage or tears. After a week it felt normal.

“You haven't been tearing things down the way you used to,” Mary Jane said. “You've been so quiet lately. Is everything okay?”

“Yep. I think I talked too much.”

“Boy, that's for sure! You know, your body has changed in the last week or so. You used to have this old-man belly, and now you're, like, beautiful. Did you make love to anybody?”

“No.”

“You're so different.”

I only smiled.

After a few more days in the silence, Mary Jane came home from work, crossed her arms, and glared at me. “You've done a complete personality change! You must be really messed up about your kids, or else you really want to leave me and you're not saying so.”

“I just stopped talking about myself, that's all.”

“There's more to it than that.” Her voice was full of pain. I'd turned not talking into a thing and become attached to that thing. That was an error.

“You're right. There is more going on. I gave up on you ever changing, because whenever we talked about feelings, all you did was deny you had them.”

“That's not true. I have feelings. I feel you don't do as much dishes as I do, and I think we should talk about that.”

“I think you'd rather lose me than deal with your feelings.”

“The dishes are both our responsibility, and you never—” I walked out.

The next day she called in sick. Around mid-morning I got back from the library. I stood in the doorway to the bedroom and asked her how she was, sprawled out on the bed. She looked up at me with such a heavy gaze of yearning for sex, I didn't even want to enter the room. I turned on my heels and left. I didn't feel safe until I got back to the library. I filled with guilt. How could I explain my selfishness to the poor woman, sick in bed? A book was lying on the table. The back of the jacket said, “He communicated his deadly information not through speech but through surprisingly effective action.” There was the answer. Though not to the question I was asking.

I went back to the apartment. Mary Jane was up and fixing dinner. I sat down at the table. She banged the plates down, then slopped food on them, yelling, “You have no compassion for a sick person!”

“I'm not going to fake it just because you are, lying in that anger-polluted bedroom all day.” She lifted a full plate of food over her head and smashed it on the floor. Chicken and salad and pieces of china went flying all over the kitchen.

“Violence is childish. That's not what anger is.”

“You fucking bastard, you fucking bastard!” She ran crying to the bedroom.

I cleaned up the mess, then stayed in the kitchen and wrote. When I finally went to bed, Mary Jane was stretched out luxuriously, taut nipples poking up under a thin sheet, one leg tantalizingly bare up to the belly button, and a lurid shine in her eyes I knew she thought was love. I slowly got undressed.

“Would you wag your balls for me, please?” she asked in a throaty voice.

A hot blush flamed my cheeks, but I wagged my balls, then grabbed my clothes in horror and ran to the kitchen. I wrote until long after she fell asleep. I slept with a pillow between us.

“I'm not coming on your vacation with you,” I told her the next day. My body relaxed, which meant I'd said the right thing. She went to work without a word. I made sure I was asleep by the time she got home that night. . . . My mother is a pool of blood on the floor. I woke up rattled. Yesterday Mary Jane told me I should wear underwear. My mother was the only other person who felt she had a right to talk to me about my underwear.

She came into the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth and rubbed her bare breasts against my back. “My cunt got no teeth,” she said softly in my ear. I ignored her. I still had tooth marks on my breath from the last time she came near me.

And tomorrow was the anniversary of the day I found out about Ariel.