Be glad in the Lord at all times: again I say, Be glad… Have no cares; but in everything with prayer and praise put your requests before God. And the peace of God, which is deeper than all knowledge, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4.4, 6-7 BBE)
As for me, I will call on God. Yahweh will save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, I will cry out in distress. He will hear my voice. God, who is enthroned forever, will hear, and answer them… Cast your burden on Yahweh, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be moved. (Psalms 55.16-17, 19a, 22 WEBA)
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5.5b-7 ESV)
After the Scripture reading, Joy Brighterday stood behind the pulpit again, on a bright Sunday morning, yet not feeling so brightly inside. In many ways she had led several people through an excruciating, painful episode – an ominous journey from the purgatorial state in which they found themselves to at least the level of earth – to hope in new beginnings with bright, or at least brighter, horizons. Joy herself felt drained, even after three months, but not so much because of the precarious and chaotic journey; she felt drained by what she perceived as the desertion of her friends. Now that all was over with, maybe they were content to simply let God bury his Moses.
Over the past twelve weeks or so, Joy had learned the unfortunate art of scanning down the aisles to the back, the sides of the sanctuary and then just above the heads of the congregants in order to appear as if she were looking at her audience, yet without really noticing any of them. She did the same this morning, not having any desire to know who was present and who was not; wanting, instead, to simply get it over with so she could go home. Nothing extraordinary had happened, at least in her life, recently, and on the one hand she was grateful but on the other deeply yearned from something, almost anything, from her Shepherd-Lord, the Eternal One.
“Good morning to one and all,” she began as usual, “both to those who are here with us in our beautiful sanctuary, as well as those who are listening to our now regularly broadcasted Sunday morning service.” Most of the congregants responded with a hearty “good morning, Reverend.”
“Before we really begin getting into the meat and substance of the sermon today, let me say that these past months, or past year to tell the truth, has been beyond doubt the most tumultuous and trying in my life. In saying this, I am not comparing my trials and tribulations to that of anyone else. I am only speaking for myself so that I can make one point very clear, and that is: the Lord has, indeed, been my Shepherd, my Guardian, all in all. I could not, and would not have made it through were it not for the love and mercy … the grace and strength of our God, the Everlasting One, who did sustain me and did not allow me to be thrown to the ground, never to rise again.”
“Over the course of these past months, I have certainly changed. I hope and pray and believe I have grown and matured, but it was certainly in and through some degree of suffering, no doubt. There were, and still are, questions that haunt me; questions that I am unable to answer; questions about God and pray, pain and suffering; justice and injustice, and more. Yet eventually I came to realize that all of these questions and, yes, doubts are actually built upon an established, reliable foundation. As odd as it may seem, these questions and doubts grow out from the reality of God, the divine revelation of God, and the continuing, intimate intercommunion of God with the whole of the created order, most especially with humanity.”
“Without these three facts – God, revelation, and intercommunion – the questions and doubts would never arise, and this makes all the difference in the world, really, because we ask in anticipation of an eventual answer. In the meantime, we struggle, oftentimes horrendously, and this is the point at which we have to ‘come to grips,’ so to speak, with the care of God in this life, in this world. Here we labor to understand just how it is and to what degree God cultivates and nurtures creation; supports and encourages life; and more specifically, treats and nurses and heals humanity … that is, real flesh-and-blood mortals. Does God? Does the Everlasting One hear our voice? Does the One we call our Shepherd-Lord really care?”
“First of all, we need to make some observations that should be clear, except for the fact that they are patently not clear in our day and time, even among the religious faithful … believers. You see, God is not an automaton, not mechanistic; the Lord of the Cosmos is not an intricate mathematical equation to be understood only by erudite mathematicians. God, in fact, is not even the proper subject of scientific study, though the so-called ‘new atheists’ in science spend an enormous amount of time and energy trying to disprove the existence of this God in whom they don’t believe in the first place.” This drew a round of good-natured laughter.
“Of course, there are respectable, well-known and accomplished scientists of faith, who spend a great deal of time and effort answering the ‘new atheists,’ too. This does not change the fact that God as God falls outside the limited parameters of science. Really I don’t know that God is even the proper subject of philosophy or even – and I may shock some of you now – theology. I just don’t know anymore. God is God, sovereign and immanent; the same God who said very simply, ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ This God is Yahweh of whom the Hebrew people, even after being freed from Egypt, were terrified.” And, in what may surprise you, God told Moses they were right to be terrified.
Excuse me for being so bold this morning, but I think we have lost something valuable along the way in growing and maturing into contemporary culture. We have lost an ancient … an ancient ‘looking,’ if you will … the primordial intuition of the mysterious unseen … the numinous world filled with gods and goddesses, dæmons and wraiths, demigods and jinn and phantoms. And, no, I do not mean that we’ve lost our imagination, although I believe this is sadly true to an alarming extent; and after all, what does imagination really mean? It is the ability to form new ideas and to image, or conceptualize, something other … something not present to your ordinary senses.”
“Yes of course, it’s also the ability to be creative and resourceful, but if we’ve lost the ability to image, to conceptualize, the extraordinary other present all around us yet unseen, then we are most certainly impoverished … impoverished mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But as I said, imagination is not primarily what I’m talking about now. What I’m talking about is not so much imagination as intuition. And I very much like the definition of intuition as ‘the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning; known or considered likely from instinctive feeling rather than rational argument or cognitive analysis.’ You see, it’s not scientific, or mathematical, or whatnot. It’s what Rudolf Otto wrote about in The Idea of the Holy … instinctive sensation, spiritual impression, inner discernment.”
“This is the God, whom I encountered over these past months, and this – the very real and living God – is the One with whom we have to contend in all of our questions and doubts, fears and reservations, frustrations and anger, and so much more … our longing … you know, our thirsting and hungering from the depths of our soul for the gentle, heavenly whisper, the healing touch, the strong arms that enfold the universe, the divine kiss and heartbeat of One who will hold us and never let us go.” Some eyes in the sanctuary began to moisten, but Joy didn’t notice or realize she was driving through to the hearts of so many.
“It feels like hell sometimes … especially when you’re down in the trenches … when God seems so far away, or not anywhere at all … when the Everlasting One seems deaf, or doesn’t care enough to listen to your cries of pain. Yeah, hell’s an appropriate description, I think, especially since hell is precisely complete severance from God, in terms of relationship but even more, in our very being … an unbreachable separation. And you feel this way… I felt this way; again, not comparing my own experience to that of others who travelled with me, so to speak, and endured far more than I had to endure … yes, even worse than a bullet in the back.” Joy chuckled a bit. “But now, with all of this in mind, let me say…”
As Joy was glancing up and down the aisles, looking from stained glass window to stained glass window, and sight-brushing the tops of heads, her eyes just could not help but catch a corner glimpse of one very distinct figure: Angelica Graver. Joy faltered. Seated next to her was, of course, Morris, and on down the pew were Effete, Rue and Bane, Blue, Moxie and Able. In the pew behind them sat Captain Bernard Ruff and his dear wife, Suĳnwe and Grace, Drs. Pert Kibitz and Sage Wiseman, and Lucent Keener. Suddenly the Reverend Joy Brighterday was suspicious … happy to see them all in church, but suspicious.
“I discovered to be true what the Psalmist declared about Yahweh. Believe me when I tell you I cried out to God morning, noon and night! God was faithful to answer … sometimes in unsuspected ways, at other times in very mysterious ways, and at yet other times quite clearly and simply. I did, in fact, cast my burden on the Everlasting One, and found God to be an excellent carrier, who did sustain me. Why does it seem as if God does not do this for some other people? I don’t know … but should I? I’ve thought about this, too, and really I’ve come to the conclusion that, no, there should be no expectation for me to know because it’s completely beyond human capability. I would have to know each person and their situation perfectly.”
“At any rate, did my Shepherd-Lord allow me to be moved? Well, I suppose the first question really ought to be, should I be counted among the righteous.” This elicited some kindly laughter. “I will assume so since I number myself among the redeemed, by grace through faith. And so the answer to this question is to first expand upon and amplify the meaning of the word ‘moved,’ so the question becomes, ‘Did God allow me to be tossed about, to be shaken to paralysis, to stumble and fall (in a deep and fundamental sense), and to ultimately be defeated?’ All of these meanings are packed into the little Hebrew word môṭ and, ‘no’ is the final answer.”
“Now, was I glad at all times, and did I rejoice continually, or even praise the Lord God consistently during this horrendous period of time? No, I did not; however, by the grace of God and the ever-present Spirit of Life, my faith was sustained and I did make my requests known to the King of kings and Lord of lords. And again and again, throughout the tossing and turning, the tumult and agony, the supernatural, heavenly peace of God came … or, rather, I should say divine peace, which certainly defies human comprehension, was gifted to me … yes, even me, the unworthy servant-child in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Throughout all of this I was most assuredly humbled … numerous times. I would love to be able to stand here and tell you that I humbled myself, but unfortunately this was something God had to do in me, through me, and for me. It got done, though, and in the process I saw with frightening, crystal-clear clarity that God does, indeed, oppose the proud and so, consequently, the proverb is true that “pride precedes the fall.” I, however, was raised again from humility to an invigorated and more mature spirituality, to intimate understanding and communion I have never before experienced, to an appreciation of the exalted position of the servant of God … the one, true and living God; the real and, in the old sense of the English word, terrible God.”
“So, yes, I can and do testify that I was sustained, kept from keeling over; I was heard and answered, and throughout the hurt and dismay, I received and benefitted from the love, mercy, grace, and strength of this living God. No, perhaps I cannot answer those who claim that this same God has rejected their prayers, their heartfelt appeals during painful tribulation, but… as I said before, I would have to know each of those individuals personally and perfectly, as well as each of their unique situations, to even begin to be able to offer an answer. This is beyond my ability, but it is not beyond me to share my own testimony in truth, which I have done now.”
“It is also not beyond me to remind my listeners of the thousands upon tens of thousands of individuals who, down through the ages, have been marginalized, oppressed, persecuted and even martyred for the sake of Christ … willingly. These individuals form part of the cloud of witnesses that now surrounds me and applauds my own personal testimony because, you see, though much may remain inexplicable, the Everlasting One, the Ancient of Days, is through and through veritable, reliable, trustworthy and dependable, as well as empathetic, loving, caring, fostering and nurturing. This is the cumulative testimony of the ages, and it may not satisfy all doubts and questions, but it does defy all irreligious accusations and blasphemous assaults upon the divine character of God.”
“After these many months of purgatorial trial, I can say to you what I have said; I can declare boldly the veracity of my own testimony. I can invite you, too, to unrelentingly strive forward in your faith-commitment to God, by the power of the Spirit, in and through Jesus our Redeemer. Amen. And I can charge you as your pastor, your shepherdess, to “be glad in the Lord at all times … yes, rejoice and in everything, with prayer and praise, put your requests before God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all human knowledge, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Shepherd and Savior. Amen and Amen.”
There was really no way Joy could tell how her purgatorial companions had received her sermon, but the fact that they were all present and now smiling broadly, some with tears in their eyes, gave her an adequate impression. Something deep inside also told her she’d find out for sure as everyone gathered once again – the first time in a long while – for Sunday dinner in the Keener home… At least, Joy Emmanuelle Brighterday dearly hoped so; she was practically starving for the table fellowship with these very people, her people … her hard-won family.
“Dear God, now I know far more about that man than I ever wanted to know … and yet, there remains the question: Who or what twisted and perverted him into such an angry, hideous, and tyrannical demoniac? His father? Yes, he was surely one factor, but there was also his loving and nurturing mother on the other side. His church? Yes, the legalistic fundamentalism, but surely he met others and your Spirit, too. His whole environment? Maybe, partly, but Splinterbit is, all in all, an excellent and warm, friendly community, and he had dear Effete and two precious sons… You? But you ‘take no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ for ‘you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made.’ So … I still do not understand. Did it really all come down to his choice, then?”
The Reverend Joy Emmanuella Brighterday knelt at the altar of St. Gianna Church praying and meditating, mulling and contemplating … questioning. She stared at the attractive, rustic altar cross surrounded by primroses, courtesy of Mrs. Featherwit. Joy couldn’t help but smile. “Primroses again … and I could never be more thankful,” and I’m very thankful that so many of us still have something for which to be thankful, maybe even much for which to be thankful … I’m certain I do.”
Three months ago to the day, the same evening Joy lead everyone at Lucent Keener’s home in brief meditation and prayer, the Reverend Fen Sloughheart breathed his last. They found out the next morning. Emotions were mixed, though no one cried for his demise. Effete probably cried more from a deep sense of relief and final closure (of sorts), and the boys, Rue and Bane, just cried from youthful confusion, mixed emotions, and in solidarity with their mother, whom they adored more than life itself. At first, at least, Angelica and Morris cried out of anger; they cried for justice denied; they cried out of their own still-inadequately addressed, unrectified pain and suffering. Joy simply cried for everyone, in each of their unique situations.
Phoenix Rising presented their very well packaged, completely up-to-date booklet of investigation on Sloughheart – supplemented nicely throughout with excerpts from Dr. Sage Wiseman’s socio-psychological studies on legalistic fundamentalism, especially where it focused upon Ebenezer Bible Church and the Reverend Sloughheart – to Judge Love Fairman. She was impressed, to say the least, with the sleekly, self-published 123-page manuscript, and this most admirable woman read every page within 24 hours of having it in her hands.
Since Joy had adamantly decided not to press any charges against Morris Graver whatsoever, and considering all else in this sad, suffering young man’s “relationship” with Sloughheart, Fairman dismissed everything pending against Morris with the clear (and legal) understanding that for the next twelve months, he would continue counselling with Dr. Pert Kibitz on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for one hour each session. He would also volunteer eight-hours each Tuesday and Thursday with the Verdure County Civilian Core and, since his sessions with Kibitz would be early in the morning, he would also begin taking basic courses at Splinterbit College to the tune of at least 15-hours per term, with the goal of at least earning an Associate’s Degree.
From all reports, which hadn’t been many, he was doing as well as could be expected. The same was evidently true for his mother, Angelica, who was seeing Dr. Kibitz on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, all expenses (including Morris’) covered by Effete, who felt a deep, moral obligation to help the two anyway she could … and, indeed, she could. After all of the court expenses, taxes, fees and legalese, she was now worth around $400,000, thanks in large part to Phoenix Rising. Grace, Suijnwe and associates had rather quickly uncovered Sloughheart’s unethical, illegal stash of cash and investments, and they asked for precious little in terms of compensation. Angelica had also picked up a couple of evening courses at the college both to work toward her bachelor’s, but perhaps even more so, to travel the road of academia with her son, which was important right now.
Blue’s book, with Able’s illustrations, had been published. The Chords of Cilicia enjoyed a grand first showing and book-signing in a nice, little corner of the park last month. Of course, Effete was privileged to buy the first copy – and she insisted on the purchase – and to be the first in line to have it autographed by both men. With tome in hand, she practically glowed in Blue’s presence, and he in hers … but the two were taking it slowly. They both knew and respected the fact that Effete had a long road to travel in healing, so they opted for close, somewhat affectionate friendship right now, and both were very satisfied with that relationship.
Joy was fairly well out of the loop now. For three months, only Lucent had shown up on a handful of Sunday mornings. From what she understood, on Sundays Blue and Effete worked together on her classes, now that she, too, was enrolled in the College. By supplementing courses from Grand Oak, she was able to now pursue her Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and Ethics. Blue was also helping her put together her book, The Devil is the Shepherd: My Life in the Hell of Fundamentalism. This was good, Joy supposed, all good … but she missed seeing Effete and the boys. In fact, she missed seeing Blue Poorman, Able and Moxie. Pert Kibitz had visited a couple of Sundays, and even Sage Wiseman had popped in once. Suijnwe and Grace were evidently very busy and found it more convenient than ever to hop down to the nearby, country Methodist church, so she hadn’t seen them either. And is this the new Splinterbit? It’s still stunningly beautiful, warm and welcoming, yet at the same time it feels mighty, mighty empty. And the key in my possession? What was it, exactly? And was this, all of this, meant to happen this way? Did I, in fact, unlock that gate? Where now is my Guardian to answer my queries?
Mrs. Ileana Glumsurf had managed to escape any charges, but the old lady was summarily “retired” by the church, with an appropriate end-of-service appreciation party following one Sunday morning service. She hadn’t gone back since, from what Joy understood; someone had offhandedly mentioned her possibly attending Grim Brusque’s church which, interestingly (and happily) enough, was hardly an independent, legalistic, fundamentalist Bible church anymore. With approximately 500 members now, they had changed their name to The Word of Life and Hope Community Church, and had joined the North American Association of Non-Denominational, Evangelical Churches (NAA-NEC). Of course, Joy thought, Glumsurf was not without her own pain and suffering, and in all likelihood desperately needed help as well. Maybe, just maybe, the new and far more gracious Grim Brusque could administer some healing in her life. Joy prayed so, “and in mine, too. My God, you know I feel betrayed, and it hurts to the core of my heart.” And why am I hurting so much when those I helped are doing well … or at least, well on their way to doing well? Feeling sorry for myself, perhaps?
Of course, it also bothered Joy that she hadn’t ever been able to answer all of the tough questions posed throughout this blood-and-guts tribulation: Questions about the presence of God in pain and suffering; about the effectiveness of prayer … or the worthwhileness of prayer at all; about any real changes the death and resurrection of Jesus, if the resurrection even occurred, had made on the whole in life in this world, presently and not in the “sweet by-and-by;” evidence of the cosmic governing of an allegedly good and just God in the face of overwhelming oppression, victimization, marginalization, and injustice; about the seeming lack of any tangible presence of the God who is Love in the life (or lives) of individuals desperately reaching out to the divine…
“Yet here I am, Lord, at your altar once again. Why? Will you answers any of these questions now?” She paused and reflected on just how the ordinary primroses beautified the old, rustic altar cross as if for the first time. “Have you answered some of these questions already, and I’ve just been blind? Are you, maybe, continuing to answer, and I’m just not really paying attention … maybe because my own self-centered feelings have been getting in the way?” Effete and the boys were now definitely free of Fen Sloughheart, living their brand new and much better life in their own, brand new home. Blue’s book had finally been published, with Able’s illustrations, and was doing well, and Blue was on top of the world with his new, very real, and healthy relationship with Effete (and her two boys). Moxie and Able, now second-term sophomores, were doing extraordinarily well and even seriously talking about an official engagement (finally!). Angelica and Morris were both receiving the help they needed, and even beginning – just beginning – to enter into an authentically new and truly more enjoyable life filled with good people, including Moxie, whom Angelica especially liked and had formed an agreeable bond.
Fen Sloughheart had been buried rather abruptly, with only the graveside service, presided over by three of the deacons. Since the newspaper published absolutely as much as it could the morning after Sloughheart’s death, the Ebenezer Bible Church was quite ready to distance itself from his person. The article went into some detail about the conditions leading up to and probably causing death, then went on to review the divorce and charges of domestic violence. Effete allowed the paper one comment: “The charge was certainly not superfluous; in fact, it is one that could have been made long ago. I only regret that I did not make the decision to leave the marriage sooner, with full custody of my children. Fen Sloughheart was definitely not the righteous man so many of his congregants sadly imagined him to be in real life.” The paper then wrapped up its article by mentioning the beginnings of an investigation into at least two other cases of abuse, but with no further information, and also the report three unidentified individuals provided that Sloughheart had evidently been unethically, if not illegally, ensconcing funds away in various investments under an assumed name and, somehow, free of taxation. Other than this scanty mention of the fact, the paper could offer no more … and no one seemed willing to offer the paper any more details.
Alone in the sanctuary, Joy Brighterday suddenly shivered, and turned around to look over the room. Had someone come in? She felt an ominous, unnerving presence that sent chills up and down her spine. She hugged herself and whispered the ‘Our Father’ before getting up to walk around. No, she was not alone after all … but no one was visible. The air only cooled more until she was genuinely cold.
Well, if the atheists and skeptics are right, and there is no God … there certainly is the devil.
Finale … Magari
Grace and Suijnwe both approached Blue and Effete and made their greetings. Joy was sitting upright on the coach, fully alert and looking more her healthy self than she had in quite some time. Angelica and Morris Graver were also there, as well as Able and Moxie. Dr. Sage Wiseman was working late in her office, but told Lucent to please call her immediately with any updates.
“Oh my,” Effete murmured. “And the boys? They got here before we did… Do they…”
“I hope I wasn’t out of bounds, Effete,” Moxie began, “but they could tell something was up, and Rue asked right off the bat, ‘What’s going on?’ So I took them back to their bedrooms and sat them down on the bed, one of each side of me, and … I just told them … as softly and affectionately as I could, but … if I should have waited for you – and I probably should have – please, please forgive me, Effete. I didn’t mean to overstep my bounds.”
“Oh heavens, Moxie!” Effete looked like she was going to fall over. “You’re like their older sister… In fact, if you’ve adopted them, we’ve adopted you, too.” Effete just shook her head. “No, no, no. You had no idea, really, how long I’d be and they wanted to know… They needed to know, and without me here, you were the perfect person to tell them, so thank you, Moxie.” She stepped forward and gave Mox a great, big bear hug, which Moxie returned in like kind. Both were smiling but had tears in their eyes as well. “Where are they now?”
“I told them we’d probably be having some rather serious, adult conversation, mostly what they would consider boring anyway, so I put Bane to the task of cleaning up his side of the room and laying out his clothes for tomorrow while Rue takes his shower, brushes his teeth and gets ready for bed. When they’re both finished with their first assignments, they’ll switch and Rue will clean his side of the room, lay out his clothes for tomorrow, and Bane will shower, etc., etc.” Moxie smiled at her prompt planning and organization. “Then it’ll be bedtime for both!”
“Wow! Job well done!” Effete raised her eyebrows and exclaimed. “But how could I expect anything less from Moxie Keener?” She smiled and they hugged again. “Now on to the serious, adult conversation. Where does this leave us, if it changes anything at all?”
“Actually, it does make some significant difference,” Grace Caring answered, with Morris looking on like an anxious puppy dog. “First, the Honorable Love Fairman was informed of Sloughheart’s worsening condition this evening and the improbability of recovery. She has decided to sign off on your divorce decretal as well as the Riper-Case settlement on your charge of domestic violence, Effete, so this will be over and done with as far as those two cases are concerned. Of course, we were going to meet tomorrow morning with you and Angelica; it is imperative now that the four of us meet with Captain Bernard Ruff at 8:00 a.m. – early, but time is of the essence – and, of course, there will be one other investigator as well as an observatory social worker from the Verdure County Department of Human Resources. Each of you will be deposed separately, but Suijnwe and I will also be in the room with you.”
“We will proceed, of course, to file two separate charges of second degree sexual battery and one first degree misdemeanor charge of criminal psychological manipulation – there is currently no higher charge accessible for criminal psychological manipulation – and if need be, Judge Fairman will put the two cases on the docket ASAP, even if it ends up being, and probably will be, a trial in absentia … that is, so long as Fen Sloughheart lives, in which case his attorney, or court-appointed attorney, would likely represent his interests. This is very touchy, though, and if it comes to it, may very well be struck down by a higher court as violating the principle of natural justice; that is, the right of the accused to be present to answer the charges. Of course, if he dies, well then … the cases die with him.”
“Dies with him?” Morris exclaimed. “What the hell do you mean, ‘dies with him?’”
“Morris, if there is no one alive to put on the defense stand, no one alive to face the charges, whatever they happen to be, there cannot very well be a court case,” Suijnwe tried to calmly explain. “I understand how frustrating…”
“Frustrating! Oh no, no, no, no… Not frustrating, Suijnwe; more like absolutely horrifying and enraging at the same time! Unforgivable, in fact!” Morris looked at Lucent. “Give it to me straight, please. Just what are his chances of pulling though this?”
“They’re giving him, at best, a 30 – 35% chance of living,” Lucent calmly answered. “However, even if he does pull through, there is now a greatly increased probability of some degree of brain damage, which would likely inhibit his ability to testify coherently.” They had all moved into the living room, now dubbed the Keener-Bat Cave, and were sitting in their usual places.
“But … But if he does live, and if the cognitive damage is minimal enough,” Grace interjected, “Fairman is determined to proceed as quickly as possible. No one’s sitting on this … at all, Morris. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have in the situation we’re in, believe me.”
Morris jumped up, flung his hands in the air, and walked out the back door. Blue motioned to Angelica to stay where she was, and he followed the young man out onto the porch. Morris liked Blue and deeply respected him; perhaps he could offer some consolation, or at least bring Morris’ understandable anger down a notch or two. How to do this was another question, but Blue was very much a man who believed that in situations like this, the right words would come … or, rather, be given, and those words would do the work they were meant to do.
“We do have some potentially good news from the around-the-clock work we’ve been doing,” Grace continued.
“And thank you, Grace and Suijnwe, for everything you have done and are doing,” Joy spoke almost apologetically. “You have certainly gone above and beyond the call of duty to help in every possible way … and no few people here appreciate that fact.” Angelica shot Joy a look that seemed to say, If you expect me to jump on the ‘Oh bless your hearts, you’re so wonderful’ bandwagon, count me out! I’m not kissing their feet when I know damn good and well they haven’t really done anything for us yet.
“You’re most welcome, and the good news comes in two parts,” Grace looked at Effete. “From our investigations it would seem, from fairly reliable sources and good circumstantial evidence, that Fen actually drew up a simple, straightforward will early on in your marriage, and had it notarized. He allegedly named one Portly Eatmuch as the executor, but Mr. Eatmuch died some six years ago. However, his widow, Willowy Stark, has agreed to allow us to thumb through all of his files, and she tells us he was a very well-organized man. She also vaguely remembers him mentioning something about the will and the fact that he simple proposed to leave everything to his dear wife, especially since he didn’t plan on dying anytime soon anyway, so it wouldn’t really matter. Well, we’ll have two people on it from sun-up to sundown tomorrow, if necessary, and the next day, too, but we will find that notarized will.”
“Wow!” Angelica exclaimed from where she was curled up in one of the easy chairs. “Looks like you might hit the ole jack-pot! Take ‘em to the cleaners!” Effete shot Angelica a look that definitely said, I’ve been through 10,000 times more than you have, and I’ve suffered far more than you can imagine at the hands of that swine, so don’t you dare pop off another smart ass remark about this, bitch! By the look on her face, Angelica got it and kept her mouth shut.
“Also, Ms. Ileana Glumsurf, secretary at Ebenezer Bible Church, evidently gave quite a long and revealing statement to the investigators today. When it all finally came down to it, precious ole Glumsurf knew an awful lot and was downright frightened by just how much trouble she might end up in for not coming forward to someone sooner – the church or law enforcement or both – and, of course, she was right … which Captain Bernard Ruff made quite plain to her. At any rate, her affidavit statement is quite revealing to say the least … just one more nail in the coffin lid, no pun intended.”
“We may as well tell you, too,” Suijnwe picked up, “that we have reason to believe Fen Sloughheart has been … shall we say, ‘squirreling away’ funds under an assumed name, evidently with the help of an unsavory, disreputable ex-FBI agent, who happens to be a member of his church. Of course, this fellow got his piece of the pie, but what was left for Fen might turn out to be rather substantial… We’re only just beginning down this investigative track, so no one hold their breath.”
“Speaking of holding our breath, it seems like most of us have been doing that for days upon days now. Maybe it’s time to exhale, you know?” Joy took the lead now. “Let it all out … try to center ourselves and calm down… I think we’ve all needed this for quite some time now, in my professional, pastoral opinion,” Joy smiled kindly, “especially as we continue wading through thick, traumatic waters, in the dark of confusion, on the threshold of despair. Now would be an excellent time to pause, take a step back, and prayerfully re-commune ourselves.”
“An excellent and, may I say, inspired suggestion,” Suijnwe agreed, while everyone else in the room assented with at least a nod of their head, except for Angelica. She got up and headed for the back door to join Morris and Blue, but Suijnwe quickly turned her plans around. “Yes, please ask Blue and Morris to come in and join us, Angelica. We all need to be together now.” Angelica did not look at all pleased, but she complied.
When everyone was inside and seated, Joy simply asked them to close their eyes, inhale and exhale, slowly and deeply, while focusing on something, anything peaceful and pleasant. After some time passed – who knows how long – Joy began praying intentionally, thoughtfully, tranquilly, and melodically:
“Great and ever-present, mothering God … Everlasting One …
“Spirit of wind and rain, earth and fire … Creatrix Eternal …
“Christ Lord and Redeemer … Food Angelic and Living Water …
“Come … Come spread your wings round about us …
“Come … Come overshadow us by your almighty hand …
“Come … Come drive all darkness, doubt and fear away …
“Fill us … And in your light let us see Light …
“Fill us … And in your love let us live Love …
“Fill us … And in your life let us love Life …
“Majestic and nurturing God … be for us what we cannot be …
“Mysterious and cherishing God … help us be what we can be …
“Mighty and adoring God … work with us in the work we do …
… … … … … … … … … … … …
“Mothering God … Shepherd Son … Sweet Spirit Holy,
“Ever One God … world without end … come to us in this hour …
“Do for us exceedingly, abundantly more than we can imagine …
“For your honor and glory … for the good of your people …
“For the blessing of the world … for the great benefit of those here …
“Great Physician … graciously work healing in our lives …
“Crystal Stream … mercifully feed the roots of our lives …
“Noble Captain … kindheartedly lead, guide, and direct us …
“Yes, this night … this night … and tomorrow … and tomorrow …
“And in all of our tomorrows …
Calm permeated the room. All was silent.
Only the deep reddish glow of the setting sun remained on the horizon now, beckoning forth Luna and her train of stars to sing in the night sky, shedding forth subdued light from the vault of heaven, speaking peace to the troubled world they served. The now-gentle breeze seemed to repeat the same tune in perfect harmony with an unseen celestial choir, as life flowed on with such variety and yet so much the same. Astonishing diversity in incomprehensible unity, all moving toward the one grand ocean of clear and free wholeness in mystic communion.
Effete purposely walked slowly, for the first time admiring the street lights and the newly restored sidewalks nicely bordered with freshly planted golden lotuses and dale’s strain, which tugged at her heart to become involved in the Splinterbit Beautification Committee; after all, as the environmentalist, Luther Burbank, said, “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.” Touché! And certainly Blue would understand and appreciate this.
“The flowers are exquisitely beautiful, aren’t they?” she queried.
“My, oh my, yes; one of the very real tangible manifestations of the intangible Form of Divine Beauty.” Blue pushed passed mere appreciation – again – into the more intellectual … but Effete didn’t mind at all. She enjoyed hearing … no, really and truly listening to the heart and soul of this man. This was simply Blue Poorman, through and through; who and what he was, no more, no less; and for all of that to be admired, appreciated, and valued. “Intuitively we know… we sense and deeply appreciate the icons of Beauty in all their myriad forms.”
Rue and Bane were running back and forth along the sidewalk, making Effete wonder just how much more energy they could possibly have, but it only made her smile all the more. Best of all, it didn’t seem to disturb Blue one bit. He liked the boys and they liked him, and they all got along swimmingly well. They were icons of beauty, invaluable soul treasures, and yet they had no idea just how they were so fundamentally important. She was thankful beyond words for the liberty they now enjoyed and the opportunities they had now.
“And what about Fen?” Effete asked abruptly. “What kind of icon is he? An icon of ugliness … at least I hope you would say.”
“Well, methinks you already know what my answer is, Effete. Ugliness, according to my perspective, is the depravation or absence of Beauty, just as bad – or in older parlance, sin – is the perversion of absence of good.” Blue then placed his hand in Effete’s without even thinking about it. She was surprised, to say the least, but elated. “Somewhere along the line, I can only guess, Fen made the decision, consciously or not – or, perhaps a combination of both – to warp whatever good was resident within him and within his reach. I don’t really know if Fen ever possessed an authentic understanding and appreciation for Beauty. He may very well have eradicated so much goodness in his life so early that he never had an opportunity to mature an appreciation for the aesthetic.” Blue paused, glanced at Effete with tenderness, and then continued. “Of course, he became, as he still is, an icon of the Ugly.”
“I know I’ve listened carefully, and I’ve tried to understand as best I can, but you’ll have to excuse me because I’m a bit rusty where intellectual/academic matters are concerned.” Effete squeezed Blue’s hand and guided him down a side road to make the walk home longer. He didn’t mind at all … and neither did the boys. They were close enough now; they could go on to Lucent’s if they wanted to anyway. “I think you equate Beauty, with a capital ‘B,’ with God, so do you see the Ugly, capital ‘U,’ as the devil, Satan, the Destroyer?”
“Very interesting that you should add the one descriptive of ‘Destroyer’ to the list of names and titles attributed to the Evil One – the Father of Lies, Lucifer, Rahu, Kroni, Satanael, Mara – but in this case the ‘Destroyer’ is very appropriate. And the simple answer to your question is, ‘yes.’ This personification of Evil is both Liar and Destroyer, who cannot create but only warp, pervert, undo, and steal.” Blue slowed his pace, as did Effete, and he looked at her intently. “Satanael … Mara … the Destroyer hates, absolutely hates, beauty and, if I may be so bold, this is at least an important part of the reason you, Effete, have suffered so much.”
Now it was Effete’s turn to blush. They had come to a dead stop and were simply looking at each other. “Hey, mom, we’re going on home, o.k.?” Bane’s voice carried down the sidewalk about 20 feet or so. “That’s fine, honey. You guys just stay together, and … I’ll be home shortly, o.k.? Tell everyone there’s no need to worry about me, o.k.?” The boys both laughed, and Rue answered, “Well, we know that; you’re with Blue!” Then they ran off, and both Effete and Blue looked down, slightly embarrassed, and chuckled.
“You are, indeed, very kind and overly gracious, Blue Poorman,” Effete practically whispered. “If you only realized just what a mess I am right now… I’m certainly no angel, and at best an horribly tarnished icon of Beauty… So much poison has been poured into my system, Blue, that I’m finding it extremely difficult to believe in the God of Beauty and Goodness… If you knew me really well, you probably wouldn’t like me at all.”
“Effete, listen,” and now Blue took both her hands, “I would be insane to think that you could possibly be an unrestrained, happy, go-lucky lady right now.” He kind of chuckled. “You have been terribly, tremendously wounded physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually and spiritually… How can you possibly recover and heal from that overnight? Or even in a few weeks, or months? I know this, of course, but may I say to you something very important?” Effete nodded with tears in her eyes. “The emanation of Beauty and Goodness that I see and sense in you is as divine as the song first sung by the stars in the first night sky eons ago. I’m not talking about some distant God when I’m talking to you – the God of philosophy, the God of theology, the God of silly intellectual debates – I am talking about the real and living God within you, who overflows your whole self and shines as brilliantly as the noonday sun. I am talking about the manifestation of Beauty and Goodness in Effete Mann, right here and right now, in this moment I’m so privileged to share with you.”
Now Effete had to wipe her eyes, but surprisingly Blue was ready with a clean, white handkerchief. Had he planned on her crying? Or maybe he thought he’d need it for the walk back home. He certainly had filled plenty of handkerchiefs with his own tears plenty of times. Not this night, though; this night the soft, white cloth was for beloved Effete.
“How can I possibly argue with you, Blue Poorman? You are as debonair and elegant as you are intelligent,” Effete laughed while she continued mopping her eyes. “My heavens, you’ve certainly turned this wonderfully mystic, enchanting day into something completely beyond my wildest imagination. I don’t have words to describe just how much you’ve turned my whole world upside down, and inside out in the short space of one late evening. And to properly thank you is impossible.”
“Your tears of gratitude are more than enough, but accepting the truth of what I’ve said would be even more deeply cherished.” Blue wanted more than anything in the world to take Effete back with him, to hug her and hold her and lavish her with all the love in possession of his soul, but he knew they had to be on their way to Lucent Keener’s home. Folks there would bound to get worried eventually, despite what the boys had said, so Blue began walking again with Effete by his side … this time with one definite destination ahead.
“Well, you most assuredly are a personification of kindness, gentleness, all-round goodness, and beauty, Blue, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
“Thank you, Effete,” Blue responded rather shyly. “I don’t know what else to say, except thank you. Coming from you, that means more to me than I can express in words; it really does. And that is my goal in life … and much of what I try to explain in my book, now with the very helpful illustrations of Able.” He smiled.
“Say, how is the book coming along? I haven’t heard in awhile.”
“Actually, it’s complete and now in the hands of a mid-sized publishing company, Semen Frank Publishing, who immediately requested the whole work after reading my précis, so … we shall see.”
“That’s wonderful, Blue!” Effete exclaimed as they reached the door. Before she could say anymore, though, Lucent was standing in front of her with an obvious look of mixed emotions on her face. “I hope I’m not in trouble for … being too late, maybe?”
“Hardly,” Lucent replied in monotone. “And hello, Blue, come on in.”
They both did, but didn’t get far before Lucent sprung the news on them. “I can hardly bring myself to say I’ve got ‘bad news,’ but then the professional nurse in me seems to militate against saying ‘good news,’ either. Besides, we don’t know what a monkey wrench this might throw into the works, but…”
“O.k. But what?” Effete was anxious for her to just spit it out.
“We just got a call about an half-hour to forty minutes ago informing us that Fen Sloughheart is now comatose.” She paused to let the news settle somewhat. “At this point, at least, it doesn’t look as if he’s going to make it.”
When he opened the door, Blue Poorman could not have been more surprised or delighted. There stood the lovely Effete (Sloughheart?) Mann with her two handsome, boyish boys, all smiling and simultaneously offering their “hellos.” He grinned from ear to ear and held the door wide open with his left arm extended straight toward the inside, graciously welcoming them with an elated, “Come in! Come in! What an unexpected delight to see you here! Please, come in!” They did, of course, with Effete leading the way.
“Mind if we make ourselves comfortable,” Effete boldly asked. She’s already decided that with the shy Blue Poorman the direct approach would be best.
“No, no. Not at all; in fact, I hope you will,” Blue answered, still grinning with a bit of a flush to his face. Effete noticed and rather liked it; he truly was gracious and just bashful enough.
“Hey! Can I get you guys anything to drink?” Blue courteously offered. “I have spring water, fresh home-made lemonade, unsweetened iced-tea, Sprite®, Gatorade®, and milk. And … that’s about it, I’m afraid, but it’s some variety at least.”
“Ha, ha, Blue Poorman,” Effete laughed kindly with a sparkle in her eyes, “you are, indeed, a gracious host … a bit self-deprecating, but certainly most kind and gracious. And, yes, I believe I’d love to have some iced-tea, and my boys could probably do with some Gatorade® after their hard play this afternoon. Thank you … Thank you so much, Blue.”
Blue quickly gathered the drinks and handed them around, then sat down with an iced-tea for himself. Now he was a bit nervous, not exactly knowing what to say, but oh-so glad they were here … especially Effete. He couldn’t manage to make it past the surprise of it all, but small talk was easy enough to begin with, so he opted for, “Well, it certainly has been an exquisite day, and I take it Rue and Bane had an exciting time at the park… I trust you found it … umm, restful and … uh, enjoyable, I hope.”
Effete kept her eyes locked on Blue and just laughed again, friendly and warmly. Blue suddenly felt stirrings in his heart and soul that he hadn’t felt for years as he looked back at this really rather strong and stately woman. She’d been through an awful lot – something, perhaps, akin to purgatory on earth – but she was very evidently recovering quite well. Blue might now have very well placed her in one of the spheres of Dante’s Paradiso, except he might very well have added one especially for Effete: the sphere of Courage, Humility and Beauty.
“The day was gorgeous, and still is, really,” Effete remarked, taking a sip of her tea. “You know, it was only a few short hours after school, I guess, but it felt so much longer, and … it was like it was unreal. I found myself sitting against a grand, old hickory tree wondering what tales he would tell if he could but speak to me. I seemed to be caught up in another, much grander world, and I enjoyed it except for one important, missing part … you. When it occurred to me that you hadn’t come that afternoon, I felt a pang in my heart and suddenly wanted you there … to immensely enjoy what I was enjoying … the superb, mystical unreality of it all.”
“Nebulous streams flow through an exotic day, uninvited but welcome, and the unseen dances with reality re-creating our world into one rooted in the numinous, overcast by the barely audible chanting of seraphim, shot through with glorious mystery and peace beyond what we could ever ordinarily know…”
“Yes,” Effete answered with tears welling up in her eyes. “Yes, Blue, that’s it exactly, and put so poetically. I just wish…”
Rue and Bane had already left their half-empty glasses on the coffee table and shot out into the backyard. They liked Blue very much but, after all, they were little boys who, as of yet, had little interest in deep philosophy or theology, and still less in esoteric mysticism. Normally, Effete would not have been all that interested either, but today she was, and she was even more interested in Blue Poorman. And she liked being with him, and looking at him, and listening to him. Did this make her feel uncomfortable? Not in the least. Point in fact, Effete had decided she had never been married – not really – and had never really had an intimate relationship … and had never really had any truly meaningful relationship in her entire adulthood! So why not spend time with Blue and build an agreeable, beneficial, healthy relationship … wherever that might lead sometime in the future? Blue seemed mighty open to the possibility.
“I’ve had a few extraordinary experiences like that,” he reminisced. “Very rare, but very exquisite … and they actually ended up being powerful inspirations for my book, The Chords of Cecilia: Aesthetics and the Soul of Humanity, believe it or not.” Blue suddenly felt embarrassed talking about himself, so quickly changed the subject. Effete thought it was quite cute, even endearing. “So tell me, I know you graduated from an Episcopal school, Lancelot Andrewes, I believe; did you pursue anything beyond high school … if you don’t mind my prying, of course.”
“No, you’re not prying, Blue Poorman; you’re just getting to know me, and if I minded that I wouldn’t be here,” Effete smiled and winked, which caused Blue to blush. “Yes, I graduated from Lancelot Andrewes Episcopal School magna cum laude, then in keeping my promise to my greatest hero and man of my life, my father, I did attend junior college, where I at least managed to earn a General Associate’s Degree. Oh, but if I had it to do all over again,” Effete laughed sardonically and shook her head while looking at the floor.
“Why don’t you?” Blue inquired. “Why not go back and earn that Bachelor’s degree you evidently wanted to earn, what, twelve to fourteen years ago? It’s entirely possibly, you know. You’ll have the funding and an excellent network of support, and the College here has an upstanding reputation… You just have to nail down what it is you want to major and minor in, and as an aside I’d encourage double-minoring. So, what do you think you’d like to do, Effete?”
“Oh, that’s easy!” she responded with enthusiasm. “Actually I’d like to major in ethics, and double-minor in creative writing and French.” Effete’s face glowed in sharing her dream. “The French part is really a tip-of-the-hat to my dear father; besides, I love the beauty of the French language, and I’m sure I could clip a couple of courses. Anyway, so far as writing is concerned, I have all the material I need for my first book, and more, and I’ve started arranging it already.”
“Wow! Will you let me in on it?” Blue was excited now and truly curious.
“Sure will,” Effete laughed again. “In fact, I wouldn’t have brought it up if I hadn’t wanted to share it with you, and you’ll be the first.”
“I’m privileged, Effete … really and truly. I’m humbled.”
“Well, it ties in with my wanting to major in ethics, if I really do have an opportunity to go back to college. Anyway, the title of my book summarizes the content quite well: The Devil is the Shepherd: My Life in the Hell of Fundamentalism.” Effete let her announcement sink in. Blue only whistled in reply. “I believe I’m a fairly good writer anyway, but I do know enough to realize that I need further education and training. Beyond this, I also need to work the book into a clear, coherent whole that is not only interesting but provocative. And if I have my wishes in the end, I’d like the Reverend Joy Brighterday to pen the forward, and Dr. Sage Wiseman to write an introduction. Finally, if I can convince you after the work is completed, I would like you to offer an appendix specifically upon how the Ideal of Beauty qua Beauty interrelates with the lack thereof – or Ugliness – of the whole subject matter just presented.”
“My heavens! I’d be more than honored, Effete! And there’s no question in my mind that you’re a capable writer.” Blue exclaimed. “You’re certainly intelligent, well-spoken, and elegant…” Blue caught himself in all his excitement. He blushed again, but Effete only smiled and chuckled.
“Hey, it’s kind of late and I don’t particularly like the kids and me walking home alone. Do you think you’d mind escorting us, Mr. Blue Poorman?” She smiled and winked again.
“Absolutely … of course … don’t mind a bit, just let me grab my wallet, and … and whatever.” And off Blue dashed to his bedroom. Effete went to the backdoor and called the boys inside. Old Father Time had, indeed, given her another slice, a damn good slice, and the simulators, whomever they were, had just gone up another three or four notches in her estimation. This was good… Just plain good.
The sun was starting its descent toward the now-faintly reddening horizon, while an animated breeze frolicked in and around the trees, over the rolling green, sending leaves into a lively dance. Families and couples were slowly making their way to cars, bicycles or sidewalks leading home. The air was filled with smiles and buoyant laughter, peaceful and harmonic. Everyone had someone, and someone seemed to have everyone they wanted. Mystic communion of souls in celestial love, joined by indissoluble bonds of the unseen numinous. It might have been Zhuangzi’s dream of the butterfly, for all Effete knew … or cared.
Was this really real? This time here … in this place, on this majestic day? Her two greatest blessings were lying spread-eagle on the playground now, looking up at the translucent sky, quietly re-imaging the few clouds floating by into objects of their lively imaginations. Had someone told her she was but an illusory item in an artificial simulation being conducted in an advanced laboratory somewhere, Effete would simply have said “thank you” to the simulators. She might have asked to live in the simulation indefinitely, perhaps in this very place and time, with the sun frozen in course. She could not imagine a more alluring vision of heaven. The simulators could be her gods and goddesses; they had, indeed, fashioned an extraordinarily wonderful day. Or if in the dream of a butterfly, Effete prayed the butterfly would sleep just a bit longer … just a bit.
Angelica was home now with Morris, probably talking over his meeting with Judge Fairman. Able and Moxie were in evening classes at the college, and Lucent was doubtlessly talking to Joy while preparing something exquisite for her newest resident. Sage, Suijnwe, and Grace were probably at their homes, or on the way, and Blue… Effete suddenly felt a pang in her heart. She wished Blue were here with her and the boys. In fact, she felt sad that he had not met them all at the park that afternoon. Of course, she knew why and that made her feel more disquieted, even on such an amazingly delightful day. Blue Poorman was one of the kindest, gentlest men she’d ever known, and he deserved to be treated with dignity and respect … and affection.
This day was made for Blue Poorman – at least as much for him as anyone else – yet in the unreality of it all, Blue was not made for this day. He had been unmade the night before, and so this beautiful dream did not include him. He had faded away at the end of another, all-too abruptly. Like someone suddenly awakening, Blue was gone, leaving behind only an indistinct shadow and vague, dying echoes of an illusion grown in the soul of the sleeper. And where now was this tender man, so full of knowledge, endowed with so many gifts so often overlooked by so many people? Had he ensconced himself away in some dark hole, afraid to be seen by the world? Was anyone looking for him? Wanting him? Needing him? Everyone this day had someone, and someone had everyone they wanted … except Blue Poorman.
Effete noticed a millipede crawling along her left leg, her one left leg with its thousand legs. So much more for so much less, and yet breathtaking in the fascination of the tapestry of life. And the buckeye butterfly flittering around the grass just in front of her, perhaps just awakened from dreaming an entire world now vanished. If the grand, old hickory against which she rested could talk, what tales might he tell? Doubtless sagas of sorrow and romance, intrigue and justice, fighting and playing; legends of the splendid forest that once claimed this land, and the myriad creatures that scurried about, and the people of different skin, who came and left, lived and died. He would tell tales of millipedes and butterflies, and days like this day.
“Are you ready to go home?” Bane called.
Home. Where was home now? Joy’s home had been their home for a little while, but Joy’s home was now at Lucent’s home. Was Lucent’s home their home? They had no home, yet for Rue and Bane home really was where the heart is, and their hearts were wherever Joy Brighterday, Moxie, and the rest of their new family happened to be at any given moment. Home for Effete was the park, this park, this day, and she didn’t want to leave … but it was leaving her. Someone or something was waking up. The dream was ending, or was it beginning again? Had she, perhaps, just spent an afternoon and early evening in reality? If so, she’d rather not fall asleep again to reassemble the nightmare reality she’d been blessed to leave for such a sliver of time … sacred time. She had none; time had her, and she coveted the peelings Father Time doled out for the rest, peace, and joy she had rested and enjoyed this day. Would he give her another such morsel?
Would the Grand Old Man throw some crumbs of warmth and serenity and love to Blue Poorman? Or might the divine simulators create an enjoyable day for such an enjoyable man? Perhaps enter another mockup appropriate for someone so lonely? Could they engineer a soulless soulmate for another soulless simulation? It would drive away the loneliness, at least for a sliver of time … for a sliver of time. Effete gently placed the millipede on the ground, stood and stretched. Her boys ran to her with arms open, and she held them tightly … relishing yet another sliver of time that passes all too quickly, and more so when we try to hold on. But Effete held on for as long as Rue and Bane would allow, and that provided enough satisfaction for the moment because she knew there would be other moments, and they would all be real enough to her.
She started in the direction of the Keener home – their home, Joy’s home, Able’s home – but then turned abruptly at the moderately-sized granite statue of the Archangel Raphael, the Healer, and headed toward the residence of Blue Poorman. Rue and Bane should have asked why, but the day was strange and different and so they said nothing. They just walked silently, contentedly with their mother, who was going to visit a now-cherished friend without any idea of what she might say, or how she might explain their abrupt presence at his door … and he might not even be home, but Effete knew he was, and so she marched on to somehow share the dream, or reality, she was still enjoying so thoroughly.
If Father Time would only give her one more sliver of time this day to sail the tranquil waters of peace and rest and joy … with a dear friend.
Rue and Bane were having an after-school blast playing at the park on every piece of equipment available for fun. Their squeals of delight could probably be heard from one end of Splinterbit to the other, and Effete couldn’t be happier. She was sitting against an old hickory tree, with an old plush pillow under her buttocks for added comfort, holding an old book in her hands that she was only casually reading as she watched the two greatest blessings in her life having the time of their life. It was an extraordinarily beautiful day – not too warm, not too cool – with wispy cirrus clouds meandering across the pale blue sky. What an enchanting, peaceful day, she thought. Kind of like a good, ole-fashioned family movie after watching some grotesque horror-thriller.
Morris was with Grace and Suijnwe in the chambers of Judge Love Fairman, along with Captain Ruff, the district attorney and Sage Wiseman. Morris had opted against having his mother present at this particular meeting. He said he would rather her talk more extensively to Grace, Suijnwe and Dr. Wiseman first, and then to the authorities. Everyone concerned agreed that this would be the better, healthier course of action for her; besides, Morris wanted to walk into the court and judge’s chambers without seeming like he had to have his mommy with him. So…
Able, Moxie and Angelica were making their rounds on the walking path bordering the boundaries of the park. Blue had opted to stay home for some “alone time,” as he said, but Able and Moxie knew he felt jilted and offended during their late-night dialogue, and really Moxie felt badly. She knew Blue could be overly sensitive, but he also deserved courtesy and respect. If she had disagreed with him as passionately as she apparently did, then they should have had an unobtrusive tête-à-tête on the back porch, or somewhere out of the way. After all, Blue was only answering Morris’ question, and he answered honestly and intelligently according to his convictions, and did so without insulting her. Why the hell do I pull that kind of shit? She shook her head, which the other two noticed even though they didn’t say anything. What the hell do I feel like I have to prove, anyway? Why the hell do I turn into the intellectual bitch ready to put somebody’s head on a platter? Moxie felt like kicking herself, and Able knew and he knew why … but it would be o.k.
“You know, you kind of know us, but we really don’t know you,” Able turned to Angelica. “It may sound rude, or something, to just up and ask you, but we’re interested in, you know, the life and times of Angelica Graver.”
Angelica bent over and laughed. “The life and times of Angelica Graver? Oh my God! You must be desperate! I hope to hell you’re not planning on making this a feature piece for the newspaper, or something, because it’d definitely go in the bottom of bird cages!” She laughed some more.
“No, really,” Moxie chimed in, especially since she wanted to get her mind off of Blue. “We’d like to hear more about you … honestly.”
“Hmmm, do I have to be honest?” Angelica smirked and winked at Mox. “That’s really boring, ya know? But o.k. What the hell?” She sighed and looked up at the sky just a bit before continuing. “I love this park. It’s the closest place around here to reminding me of home… I grew up out in the country about, oh, five miles or so west of Grand Oak. So not exactly out in the boonies, but it was definitely country. We had a few acres of land, three or four head of cattle, a couple of horses, and chickens. My folks never wanted anything to do with hogs, but anyway… We had a fair-sized pond, pretty well stocked. Sooo, this girl grew up gathering eggs, horseback riding, fishing, pond swimming, even doing some trapping with my grandpa and dad. And, oh, I had one brother and one sister; the brother was older, my sister younger… Guess I should say I have one brother and one sister; they’re not dead!” Angelica laughed again. “Neither are my parents, for that matter.”
“Any-who, I went to the little country school down the road and loved it and did well. In fact, believe it or not, I was an A/B student all the way through my senior year in high school.”
“Wow! Good for you,” Able remarked.
“Yeah, two thumbs up for Ange!” Moxie threw her hands out, thumbs pointing up.
“Yeah, yeah, right! But anyway, I was kind of a tom-boy, obviously, but I also loved reading. One of my favorite things was when the mobile library would come by. You could check out up to three books for two weeks, and I always did…” She shook her head at the nostalgia created by the memory. “Yep, I read and read and read. Somehow, before and between and after all my other chores and activities, I read. Ha! The Wind in the Willows, Five Children and It, The Secret Garden, The Heart of a Dog, The Hobbit … oh my gosh, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Angelical laughed an infectious laugh now. “And, oh, Black Beauty, Heidi, and The Jungle Book. Wow! Damn sure wish I could go back to that… Oh well, never mind. I also liked going to the ‘big’ library in Grand Oak anytime we had a chance, and the museum there fascinated me. It was a long time before I realized just how small the place really was, but at least the city upgraded and expanded it instead of just tearing it down! I’m glad for that… I just really need to take Morris sometime.”
“Well, what else? Hmmm … you probably know my name hasn’t always been ‘Graver.’ Duh? Right?” They rounded a bend in the path just then and caught sight of Rue and Bane. The two boys looked like jack rabbits on the sky-builder max-play. Moxie smiled widely and was tempted to run over and join them. “My name, which I’m probably going back to, was Gaieté … French, of course. I was Angelica Céleste Gaieté.”
“Very beautiful name, Angelica,” Moxie said sincerely. “By all means … I wouldn’t blame you a bit for going back to that name, not at all.”
“Well … when I have the chance. Anyway, there’s not too much more to tell, really. I got married when I was 16-years-old to my lifelong boyfriend, I guess. He was 18 and we had our first and only child the same year. We got along well enough … but, then, it wasn’t really ever a marriage anyway. We were two adults who lived together and were able to cooperate, and … that was it. He worked and did his part, I guess, and I did mine, including taking care of Morris as best I could. Two years and some odd days ago, he died. We had a short, non-descript funeral without any tears, and that was that, as they say. Since both of you are in college, and so obviously intelligent anyway, maybe it’s worthwhile mentioning that I graduated high school cum laude and went on to earn an Associate of Arts Degree in Home Economics. Not much to brag about, really, but hey! There ya have it! The life and times of Angelica Céleste Gaieté!”
The three companions opted to rest at the next park bench, nicely positioned beneath two oak trees offering plenty of shade. They stretched and sat silently for a few moments, simply enjoying the peace and beauty of the day.
“So, if you don’t mind my asking, how did you and Morris get caught up in Ebenezer Bible Church?” Able had been chomping at the bit to ask for quite awhile, so now he just plunged ahead.
“No, I don’t mind. Really there’s not much to tell there, either, at least in the beginning.” Angelica raised her eyebrows and thought for a moment. “After my husband died, three families brought by food and sympathy cards and, of course, invited me to their church. Now, I’m upfront and honest with folks, so I thanked them for their kindness but told them we probably wouldn’t be coming to church. Hell, I even held their baskets, or whatever, back out to them so they could take back their food. They didn’t. They just smiled, offered their sympathy again, and went on their way … except the third couple.”
“The man kind of threw out some bait when he said, ‘Well, that’s o.k. But if you ever get bored, and especially if you like learning, we have a deacon in our church who’s going to present an eight-week series on the Middle East during the time of Jesus. He’s an excellent speaker, who won’t bore you a bit, and educated. He earned an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Zion Christian University and an M.S. in Biblical Archeology from the John Phagee Institute for Christian Studies. Anyway, he’s spent I don’t know how many years trooping around the Middle East, mostly in Israel, but he knows an awful lot, and every time he makes a presentation it’s enthralling, just enthralling, so … it’s not a church service, really, and so … maybe something you might enjoy.’”
“That grabbed me, because I really wanted to break my routine and I loved learning and the folks I’d met so far seemed warm and friendly enough, so guess what? I went for it! I took the bait! After that, it was young people being especially friendly to Morris, which didn’t last a helluva long time, but it was damn nice and worked its magic well enough. And so, since Morris decided to start going to some of the youth meetings, I thought I’d try their Tuesday morning Martha Guild meetings, even though it meant getting up an hour earlier! But it was coffee and donuts, or bagels, and other little pickings along with nice, fluffy, meaningless chatter … but friendly enough, and I thought I needed that kind of socialization for my own good. And actually, this is how it was for about a year… I mean, that was really the extent of our involvement in Ebenezer Bible Church.”
“But then…?” Able couldn’t help pursuing.
“Morris got ‘saved,’ and that was pretty much it,” Angelica threw up her hands. “I had grown up nominally Catholic, so I didn’t really understand everything that was going on, but… Well, he then got baptized and, all of a sudden, he was a full member of the church. After that, what can I say? Morris was at Ebenezer every time the doors were open, and I felt compelled to at least go each Sunday morning to support him and … well, to pick up the pieces when it all fell apart, like I knew it would. The whole hell-fire and brimstone, come to the altar, pray the ‘sinner’s prayer, and get-ye-baptized thing seemed hokey to me from the get-go. You know, getting together with some quirky but friendly ladies each Tuesday morning for coffee was one thing, and Morris making some friends and participating in activities was o.k., too, as far as I could see. All the rest, though? I guess I made a really damn big, fat mistake ever getting us involved at all. Period! But I did and, well, the rest is history. Right?” She hung her head and started crying. “Or really it’s still history in the making…”
Moxie pulled Angelica into a warm, strong hug, and Able reached his arm around Angelica’s shoulder.
“You know, most of what you’ve shared with us – I mean, your ‘history’ – is really interesting and good,” Able offered. “And the history that’s still in the making’s not something you’re writing alone; you’ve got an awful lot of people who love you and Morris with pens in hand ready to help you guys write one of the best, most exciting, rewarding chapters ever! And you know what? Every one of us want you and Morris to help us write our histories, too.” Angelica looked up and both Moxie and Able smiled.
“I wish it were that easy,” Angelica whispered through tears.
“Yeah … we do, too,” Moxie, now crying as well, softly answered, “but we’re with you all the way… all the way.”