The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 8


June 6, 1981


When I woke up on that day one year later the air was so loaded with Mary Jane’s insatiable longing for me I felt obliterated even as she lay sleeping. I went to the library and wandered through darkened library stacks feeling like a hidden book. I walked out into dazzling sunshine and had a flash of longing for Halifax Danny, always running around with a beaming smile—a piece of glass cut deep into my foot above my thongs. The blood slowly dried as I limped from one restaurant to another, drinking endless cups of tea and writing for miles, keeping a furtive eye out for Mary Jane, and trying to work my way through this difficult problem, this fawning, frightened, two-dimensional feeling I always had around women. I felt like a pencil sketch on the backs of their blouses.

I was sitting in the lawn chair out back when Mary Jane set her suitcase down in front of me like a bomb. She spread her legs like a wrestler's, crossed her thick arms, and glowered at me exactly like my mother used to. I didn't dare move.

“I feel like you're ending this relationship,” she said stonily.

“Feels that way to me, too.” I held her gaze, terrified. She finally stomped off, lugging her suitcase. I went upstairs, relieved.

The phone rang a few minutes later. “I just wanted to tell you how much I care for you, Danny, I really do, I—”

“Mary Jane! Don't call me that name!”

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean—”

I hung up. It rang immediately. I jerked it off the cradle, ready to yell.

“How's the divorce going?” my father asked.

I exhaled heavily. “Not well. I'm not a resident of anywhere, so I can't take any legal action. Carol can't either, though, so I'm safe. She can't file in California because she has to be back in Halifax to move to a new house by the end of June. I have a ticket to Halifax for Caleb's birthday in July, so I'll see the boys then. I'll sue in September in Massachusetts. Until then all I can do is wait.”

“They need their father most when they're little,” my mother said.

“I know, Mary. I know, I know, I know.”

I hung up. It rang immediately. Warily, I picked it up.

“Hi, Daddy,” Caleb said. “I want to be with you because you're my friend.” My heart lurched. He was desperate.

“That's wonderful, Caleb. I'll see you in Halifax for your birthday, okay?”

“I wish my birthday wasn't so far away.”

“Me, too. Bye for now.”

The phone stayed quiet the rest of the day.

I dawdled over my porridge the next morning. Mary Jane and I could last a while longer if she claimed her feelings. She'd have to admit she was wrong in order to do that, however, and in the five months we'd lived together she’d only done that once. It was when we had an argument over where Indonesia was and the atlas backed me up.

Not knowing what to do, I threw the I Ching: “Waiting in blood! Get out of the pit! Bloodshed is imminent!” I slammed the book shut and packed up all my stuff like a whirling dervish. Mary Jane was about to burst in the door with a butcher knife to stop me from leaving. Half an hour later, sweating and trembling, I hid my suitcase and boxes under the bushes, then hauled my dirty clothes to the laundromat.

As I pulled the hot, clean-smelling clothes out of the dryer I filled up with love for Mary Jane. She'd made love to me more times in five months than Carol had in 11 years. Then I remembered my massage school diploma. I had to go back, even if she was lying in wait with a carving knife. I'd lost so much, I had to retrieve what was mine, starting from my infancy and ending with Ariel, or die trying. I hid my bag of clean laundry in the bushes, then walked up the back stairs.

“Mary Jane?”

No answer. I walked to the center of the living room, then clapped my hands once in each direction. With each clap the net of my imperious hands collected brilliantly colored memories like butterflies. The lights suddenly dimmed. I held my hands as if in prayer, then stabbed the memories into my heart. The lights brightened. I took the diploma off the wall and left forever.

I didn’t know what to do next. I stood next to the bushes and waited . . . and Debbie walked through my mind with her colorful, blousy, all-cotton clothing, no bra, and long, free-flowing blonde hair. She’d worked for me at the Bean Sprout years ago, and after her divorce had moved to Northampton with her little girl, Melissa, now five years old. The two of them lived in a little house outside of town. Debbie was clear-headed and reliable, yet enough of a hippie to be able to handle surprises. She worked on Main Street at a natural clothing store. Both she and the store were the way Northampton loved to see itself: sexy, loving, bold, and all woman.

I showed up just as she was about to leave for lunch. It had been a while since we’d talked, so we had plenty of news to share. “How would you feel about having me as a roommate for the next month?” I asked her as we finished.

“…Okay. Melissa likes you a lot. When do you want to start?”

“How about tonight?”

“Oh!...That’s okay, I guess.”

“Could you pick up my luggage on the way home?”

“Sure. Meet me when I get off work.”

I wrote in my journal at the little desk behind the darkest stack in the library until it was time. Then I met Debbie and we drove to Mary Jane’s. I leaped out of the car, dragged boxes, bags, and suitcases out of the bushes and into the trunk, then leaped back in.

“Daniel! It might have rained on your stuff tonight! What if I'd said no?”

“Reality is enough for me to deal with. I can't relate to 'what ifs.'“

“What would you have done if I'd said no?”

“You said yes.”

“Did you have a place to stay tonight?”

“No.”

“Did you think about what you'd do if I said no?”

“No.”

“But then what if—”

“Debbie, I have no idea what would have happened if! Though I admit it doesn't look too good.”

“That’s for sure!”

After I settled in at Debbie's I overflowed with sorrow. I didn't even leave Mary Jane a note. I’d left the sink full of dirty dishes. I didn’t know how to thank her. I asked the l Ching for advice: “Shock! Repeated shocks!”

I leaped to my feet. Carol! A California divorce! If she did that I'd change my name and move to Australia. I couldn't do that. I sat down. What else could I do? I stood up. A mixture of impotent rage and grief burbled up inside me and I got acid indigestion. I drank two large glasses of water, then threw the I Ching again: “Misfortune has reached its peak: the house and its occupant are completely destroyed.” I threw the stupid book down and marched to the phone.

“Hi, Daddy,” Caleb said. “Will you come here for my birthday? We're not going home until the end of July, so I won't have my birthday in Nova Scotia . . . Daddy? Daddy?”

“Uh . . . I don't know Caleb, I just don't know yet.”

“Oh,” he said sadly, and passed the phone to Wren.

“Hi, Daddy. I want to come through the phone to be with you. Please send me lots and lots of things and I will send you 13 pictures of me!”

“I wish you could come through the phone, too, Wren. Bye.”

A California divorce. She’d won. She was going to take my baby. I slowly walked outside to the striped cotton hammock strung between two trees overlooking a field of squash, and curled up in the gently rocking cradle of despair—a crow to my left shrieked danger. My spine stiffened. I got out of the hammock. I would go back to Halifax and destroy every picture of myself in all the family albums. Weight lifted off my shoulders. I would grow blurry in their minds without photographs, and my boys would only remember a magic-loving deep-hug Daddy from when they were very young. How much more I gave them with that memory than with the knowledge their father was a man so craven he would sell one son in exchange for Sunday afternoons at the zoo with the leftover ones.

As I went to bed I called out to my babies to come be with me in the dreamtime, but all that came was loneliness like liquid black horror, trickling into my heart a little bit deeper with every passing second. Hours later, near insanity with grief, I went upstairs and woke up Debbie. “Can I sleep with you?”

“Sure,” she mumbled sleepily. I relaxed into the pinkness of her presence. “You're just like a little kid the way you snuggle,” she said, and went back to sleep.

Hours later, I wondered if I was repressing desire. An hour or so after that, I realized I might not know desire if it bit me. Two or three hours later, I decided Debbie would probably know, but if I wanted to find out I'd have to ask her. I braced myself for disgusted rejection and nudged her awake.

“Do you want to make love?”

“… Not now, dear. I have a headache.”

I exploded in gut-wrenching laughter and could not stop until I went outside for a walk. It was almost dawn on a wet, gray, Nova-Scotia-cold-and-lonely kind of day. Crows called repeatedly from a dark stand of spruce beyond the tobacco barns. I stood at the intersection of two roads and didn't know which way to walk. I chose one—and stepped into the thought of never seeing rambunctious Wren again. I backed up, carefully retracing my steps all the way to the house. I asked Mr. I Ching what he thought of me going to Australia and never seeing my boys again: “Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent,” he said. I put the book away and decided not to ask it any more questions. Or to think about the boys. Or to talk.

The days budged slowly through my intestines. I spent my time having long, detailed conversations with the I Ching. I could think of nothing but the boys. I hardly said a word.

“I see you made it,” Bonnie said, two weeks later. It was the first day of the workshop on the fluid systems of the body. Other people came running up to me. It turned out Mary Jane had phoned everybody to tell them I'd gone crazy with grief, that I really needed her, so please give her my phone number. They were all taken aback by the difference between the way I was and Mary Jane's description of me, and went on and on about how my eyes and skin glowed with health. I was as surprised as they were.

Mary Jane was waiting for me after class. “Danny! I'm so glad to see you! I know what you're going through. Can't you just give me your phone number?”

“No.”

“Why did you leave?”

“If you don't know I can't tell you.”

“Well, you have to come back to the apartment right now. We have bills to pay! They're not all mine!”

When we got there my body refused to go in. “I'll stay here,” I said. “You go get them.” I sat down in the lawn chair. She brought them down and we sorted them out.

She started up the steps to go in, then stopped to ask, casually, over her shoulder, “Could you come up for a minute? I really need to show you something.”

My body reacted like the rabbit when the wolf invited him over for dinner.

“No. I'm leaving now.” Her face turned red and she started yelling about the dirty dishes I'd left behind. I left without looking back.

In a safe place I opened the mail she'd saved for me. It was another letter from Carol's lawyer. It finalized her proposal into the official divorce filing and asked for my counter-proposal. It looked so official I popped out in sweat from head to toe, every single pore. “…agrees that Ariel is not his child but is the child of…”

When I got back to Debbie’s I sat in the hammock with paper and pen and tried to come up with a counter-proposal to the proposition that I was not only not a father, I had never been one. I couldn't even grasp the concept and she was making it legal reality. Proposing that she was not a mother for one or all of them—and had never been—was all I could come up with for a long time. Finally I managed something vague about waiting another year until I was done with school. I quickly mailed it then went for a walk, wandering quiet country roads for hours, flying up into lunatic fury then falling down through grief into a dying despair. The cycle repeated over and over again until I finally came to rest in a place where every feeling was aborted.

Only Bonnie's workshop got me flowing again. I nearly drowned every day in the tempestuous work with the fluids that shipwrecked all my systems. I was one of only a few men in a horde of over 50 women in summer clothing so scanty their breasts were already almost free, except for the little moving bumps of the nipples which occasionally erected as they thrust against cotton.

A few days into the workshop the thought of never seeing the boys again was driving me gaunt. My pants hung loosely on my hips and I was plagued by images of begging for food on the street. After class I collapsed in Debbie’s hammock and threw the I Ching: “The superior man is oppressed from both above and below.” “I already know that!” I yelled—but a bubble of fury had burst. I raced into the house and quickly scribbled notes to the boys, before the anger changed to grief or worse. As I sealed the envelopes, the phone rang.

“I just wanted to know if you want to work anything out at all,” Carol said.

“The letter’s on the way. May I talk to the boys please?”

“Daddy, Daddy, please send me something, anything, anything at all, I love it when you send me things.” Wren's voice howled in my ears with a crippling need for Daddy. The floor tilted under my feet and I slid toward an abyss. Without thinking, I snatched my spirit back. I felt like a reptile devouring his young, but it saved me from the pit. Then it was easy to listen to him without grief tearing my eyes out.

In class the next day Bonnie led us in a guided meditation on the venous system, the steady drain of blood back to the heart that nourishes the center with self-love from the edge. I found a clot of blood pooled behind my thymus, and no sooner did I contact it than it began to flow, releasing old blood like stale tears down into my heart.

I was in the embrace of an ancient sorrow by the time I got home. Father's Day cards were waiting for me. “In the vegetable garden of life you're one sweet potato!” Wren’s said. I fell into a chair and into a grief that shattered my mind. My head toppled over to hang between my legs like a rotten vegetable.

Suddenly five-year-old Melissa, Debbie’s daughter, grabbed my arm and would not let me go, commanding me to come play with her, pulling me out of the chair and terrible danger, then all way the out of the house to the sand pit behind the squash field. Whenever I drifted off into thoughts of the boys she yelled at me and made me play with her dolls.

Bonnie led us in a guided meditation on the cerebrospinal fluid. Within 90 seconds Ellen was shrieking, and in a few more minutes other women were crying and moaning. I sat perfectly still in a full lotus position as women collapsed all around me, collecting a coterie of eager soothers as the collapsed always did in Bonnie's school. The cerebrospinal fluid was about the nourishment of the essential aloneness. The women lost their chronic hunger for support and freaked out, which was why the helpers gathered around the moaners like vultures around equally eager carrion: to eat their lack of need and give them back their hunger. As class ended in chaos, women flowed around me like water around a rock. In the essential aloneness nothing more could be taken from me. I was nourished by perfect peace.

A letter from Carol was waiting for me when I got home. I felt the stiffness of a photograph through the envelope. I'd asked her for a picture of the boys a while ago. I remembered trying to sound casual, so she wouldn't guess I was afraid I was forgetting what my children looked like. I opened the envelope and looked at a photo of Caleb and Wren with an empty spot next to them. She couldn't even center the two boys in the frame. She must have told them she was taking a picture to send to Daddy, because there was a hopeful but uncertain look on their faces, as if they were not sure they were the kind of boys Daddy would love. And Ariel…Ariel was not there. I started shivering. Within a few seconds I was vibrating uncontrollably as all my perfect peace shattered into hell. It wasn't just a photo. It was the worst thing she had done to me so far, this picture of two little boys and a blank spot. Within a minute sounds were muffled by an upholstered silence and a strange darkness ate my vision. I was freezing cold and could only breathe in shallow little puffs. With a desperate burst of energy I tore out of the house and forced myself to keep moving. Sight and hearing and heat returned, along with an awareness of death like broken glass in my mouth. I sped up as I walked until I was leaving a long trail of agitated dust behind me as I zipped down the dirt road. I walked until I was almost too tired to make it back, but at least I knew what to do. Instead of going to California to see whichever of my children she decided at the time were mine, I would go to Halifax to incinerate my past.

… A riderless horse thunders down the road in front of Debbie's house. I wake up in the hammock to the pink and blue light of a dawn miraculous with hope. A car on fire careens down the suddenly snow-covered road. My three suitcases fall in flames from the open trunk and burst into blood on the snow. This means death. I rolled out of the hammock, and changed: I didn't have to decide never to see the boys again. All I had to decide was the right thing to do for now. A rush of strength lifted me to the phone to hear their sweet little voices. “Oh, hi,” Carol said. “Your letter was not a real counter-proposal. There's still time to send me one.” She paused, then added delicately, “Though we're still so far apart you'd have to appear in California . . . so, I'll be filing for divorce on the First of July, and I'll have to stay here another month in order to finish that. I've had a friend move all our stuff to the new house, just a block away.”

“Are the boys there?”

I was patient and loving with each of them. After Wren was done talking, I said, “I'm only going to be able to phone once a month now.”

“Ohh! Why!?”

“I don't have enough money to call more often than that. Bye for now.”

I hung up and walked outside. I shivered. A brisk north wind had just blown away my children. Shaken, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot between two rows of squash. The hot, dusty earth burned my feet, the fat leaves of the squash scratched my ankles, and the rye in the next field turned to gold from green. Wren was wrenched out of my gut like an abortion. ”Daddy, Daddy!” he cried out in the air all around me, “Why don't you love me anymore?” A quail exploded out of the rye right in front of me. I watched the fat bird disappear then walked the burning dirt back to the house with no son named Wren.

Accepting the loss of Wren made me able to claim the boys all over again. It was not time to leave them yet—and might never be, I reminded myself, and wrote, “Boy jumps up, says, “Can't catch me,” but I faster than any old daddy can be¬, then there's another boy, zippin' past, running so fast he's like the Flash, and there goes a little one, shakin' his ass, disappearing quicker than Daddy can ask, “Now where did those three boys go?” There they are! All three together! All piled up like big fat puppies, inside the coat closet underneath the boots. “I'm comin' in! Gonna get you out!” Blow tummy blow tummy blow tummy blow!” I spent the rest of the day in the hammock singing songs and reading children's books onto tapes. Next spring I would send the boys a few letters from Australia, then cease altogether.

The light in Debbie's bedroom got brighter as the darkness increased. If I went in to brush my teeth I might have to say yes to sex. By not brushing my teeth I said no to the opportunity to say yes or no to sex. It was getting off on a technicality, but I hoped it would prevent the migraine that followed repression. I lay wide awake in the hammock with dirty teeth long after she'd turned off her light. The mosquitoes yelled in my ears like Jehovah's Witnesses. I gave up on sleep and walked naked through the squash field to the sand pit shining dimly in the moonlight, and buried myself up to the neck. Hours later the migraine came, with a stomach-turning silver-green next to a bright, noxious burgundy. I unearthed myself and lay down in the hammock in the least painful position: head hanging off the side as if decapitated.

I got stuck in town the next day, and I was down to the pennies at the bottom of my pack. I decided to hitchhike. A car pulled over before I got my thumb out. It was the man who ran the commodity fund where I'd invested my borrowed money when I left Halifax. He handed me a check for $1600 and drove me home. I’d been bugging him for months to give it back. This was the last of my money.

I woke up on July First to see clouds suffocating the low mountains that rimmed the valley of Amherst-Northampton. A piece of cloud lay like an unhatched egg in the hollow of the squash field. Only the burning lip of horizon said dawn. It faded into gray as I watched. A racket of crows announced the day when Carol would file for divorce and take my babies.

. . . I run from a man who's murdered his three children in an orgy of blood. I go into a house with a woman. As soon as I open the door the room explodes in blood. I bolted awake, gasping. The dream meant it was a mistake to move to Australia.

That morning in class I was thinking how even if I did change my name and had no fixed address, as long as I was in school I could still be traced. I looked up. Bonnie's husband was standing in front of me. He was a huge, kind man. “Your father phoned me last night to tell you to call him collect.”

“How's it going?” Gordon asked, deeply concerned.

“Carol's going to get a California divorce,” I said in a dull voice. “That means she gets everything she wants, even Ariel. Even if she can't unmake me his father legally, sole custody means she can abuse my visitation rights any way she pleases.”

“My response would be to kidnap all the boys,” he said gruffly.

“I'm in so much chaos I can hardly take care of myself.”

We talked at length. When I hung up I felt the pain of Ariel not being my son as if the knife had just gone through my heart. Allowing that feeling was like prying open the spacesuit of a man who thought he would die from exposure to air. I cut class and went to a coffee shop to write. I needed a break from breasts anyway.

“Carol is an assassin, and her weapon of choice my own despair. Disappearing is suicide: her victory.” Sudden sunshine poured in through the window. My whole body shivered in relief. By disappearing I would've been in exile on a leash. No matter how far I flung myself around the world I would have had to return to Halifax sooner or later to bathe myself in old, old blood— “Danny, we can't go on like this,” Mary Jane said. I looked up, amazed at her timing. She didn't even know there wasn't a “we” going on anymore. Particularly with anyone by that name. I walked out of the coffee shop. She didn't follow.

The next day before class started I was sitting on the floor hiding a more sustained than usual morning erection when Susan Peffley walked up to me. She was slight and pale, with confused brown hair. She shoved her thick, dirty, scotch-taped glasses higher up on her nose and said, “I wondered if you needed a place to stay until the end of August. I drove the last roommate crazy and he had fits and moved out.”

“Why?”

“Oh, stuff about my mother. It means I cry and scream a lot.”

The next Saturday I took the bus out to the condo in suburban Amherst. Susan's roommate, Bonnie, a large, friendly, pink-skinned woman, showed me around. As soon as I saw the tiny monk's cell squeezed in between two women's rooms I knew it was mine. Just to make sure, I opened the closet door. A huge black cat with yellow, malevolent eyes stared at me from out of the dark recess. “That's Yasu, Susan's cat.”

“I'll take it. Not the cat. The room.”

She laughed. “Susan should be awake in a minute and she'll handle the details.”

Bonnie left. I sat on the quiet couch in the living room and waited for Susan. It was past noon. Half an hour passed. Suddenly she was standing in front of me in a yellow negligee with no underwear. Her dark nipples stuck out as taut as punctuation. A boa constrictor of desire seized my belly. “We rotate clean-up jobs,” she said, then went on and on about rent and utilities. “Trash is picked up Thursdays,” she said, then turned and walked to the plate glass window. Sunlight flashed like nitroglycerin and completely vanished her nightie. She looked out the window at the sere lawn of August, naked from head to heels under a shimmer of yellow gauze. She turned to face me, then listed the details of access to the neighbor’s washer and dryer, spreading her legs slightly and working her bare toes into the rug as she talked, making her hips sway slightly back and forth. Her voice hummed like parched earth when it first begins to rain. I didn’t hear a word. “Did I miss anything?” she asked a long time later, absentmindedly strolling toward me, her lush dark pubic hair approaching my face like morning in the Garden of Eden. I sank back into the too-soft couch under the weight of the stone rising out of my pants to drag me down from the freedom of celibacy into the hell of needing a woman. A wasp stung me dead center in the chest. Pain like a sizzling rose blossomed from nipple to nipple above my heart. I exploded to my feet, ready to scream—“You can move in on Monday.” Susan walked ahead of me to the door and opened it. God billowed behind her like a negligee.

A few days later I was putting my things away when Susan appeared in the doorway in panties and a white cotton singlet that left her luxurious armpit hair showing and the sides of her small breasts bare. “Come on in and talk,” she said, smiling, then retreated to her room. My erection leaped up so hard and fast it hurt. Susan packed more sexual electricity than a water buffalo, even though she was not much more than five feet tall and 110 pounds.

I walked in to her room and lay down on the bed next to her. I could hardly breathe for the field of lightning connecting our bodies. She suddenly contorted her body and face as if in orgasm. After a minute of full-body writhing, she stopped in mid--contortion to say, “I have a lot of emotion to come out.” She let loose with a long, loud moan, tossing her head back and forth as if in a fever of desire. I cautiously held her hand. It was like sticking my tongue in an electric socket. She went back to moaning and thrashing. She had as much unconsciousness as she had desire, and she had enough desire to melt metal. This was perfect. If I could walk the tightrope between sex and celibacy with a sexual dynamo like Susan, then I'd never have to deal with sexual need again. I watched her pubic hair straining against her thin, torn panties as she rhythmically tucked and arched her hips, the lovely small mounds of her breasts under the nearly see-through undershirt as she writhed and groaned in a strange emotion-creating ritual . . . and I fell asleep.

“Go to bed,” she said, waking me up. I went back to my room, but couldn't sleep. An hour later she poked her head in and saw me lying naked on the mattress. “Don’t you want a sheet? Here.” I stood up. So did penis. She didn’t notice. I accepted the sheet, vibrating. Sleep was impossible after that.

A few hours later I opened her door. The streetlight coming in through her window made everything dimly visible. “Hi. I can’t sleep. May I come in and just cuddle?” I waited, naked, erect, and quivering, for a full five minutes. Finally she said, “Okay. But just to cuddle.” I backed into the room so she wouldn’t see it, then lay down on my side in front of her so it wouldn’t press against her back. Carol always hated the feeling of it pressing against her. I wrapped her arms around me from behind and breathed a deep sigh of relief; woman-touch was so deeply satisfying. She tickled my tummy, and I was tickled pink. “Sex isn’t us, you know,” I said, in case she misunderstood.

She went to sleep. I would learn from not having sex with Susan how to satisfy sexual need without masturbating. Once I was free of need, I would never be betrayed by a woman again.

An hour later the sun came all the way up, hot and yellow. I got up and packed for Halifax. Where there were no boys.