In the Corner with Maftet in Bubastis

Here it begins: my long series of mytho-poetica inspired by two very talented writer-poet-bloggers ~ see below ~ one interwoven, multifaceted tale that would consume me for months. For those of my readers who have not read: Enjoy! (But you may want to begin with the two pieces that inspired me… Again, see below.)

qadesh2[1]What am I doing here in this drear room in Bubastis in doom of shadow corner, so many sadistic strange faces? And who’s the witch that paces back and forth like she’s the frackin’ dream queen?

“Yeah! That witch is the bitch of war, my dear,” voice at my shoulder, and I shuddered. “She’ll dance and prance, but blood lust is a must for Bast; she just likes to drown her victims in fine wine first before lunging for the kill.” Light laughter. “Yeah, it’s her thrill.”

And the cats; I like cats, but their purring was alluring. Slap! “Bitch! Wake up unless you wanna be her boy-toy! She’ll suck you dry and leave you to rot in graveyard lot! Stupid man! I knew you needed me here; your haven is craven fear, right? Right! No might, no sight, no fight… Pathetic! Come here… No! Near, my love. Why the hell do you have an ear if you can’t hear?”

“But who are you?”

“Maftet, wife of Ma’at, but why in God’s name do you want to know? Just shut the hell up and stand behind me, kind of like you’re scarred, because you are ~ like an infant ~ far from home.” Wide shoulders, strong as boulders, silken hair, back bare and luscious. “Look! Her next victim, so unaware! Listen to her dictum, and the man is so blind! Men have always been, and there’s the purr of her cat to allure! Gods! I’ll rip apart the cats and make hats of hell ere I tear into her and chime Shai’s death bell!”

Bast like feline and soothed among cast and crew of old tale spun, told anew, unheard by little bird, “ah! but his mistress sees now how he’s ready to bow! Good so far; maybe she’ll steal him for her own meal, if she’ll stop drinking Bastian wine so finely laced, not benignly … Is she stupid, too; so putrid! She still doesn’t see!”

“See what?” Trembling. Assembling courage, but so damn pitiful in mystical presence of pleasance of Maftet, my savage protectress so ready to ravage … who? One and all to maul? Maybe I should crawl…

“The stich, my love-dove, so weak and bleak! The stitch on the rich bitch-witch!”

“Where? I see no tear…”

Living_Ma__at_by_sphinxmuse[1]“Ha! No wonder! You blunder through life anyway; yeah! you need to stay with me, even after this day! You’re too damn blind to find your way; that’s how you stumbled into the gloom of this room in the first place, and with no trace beyond Ma’at … and she ought to have pity on you!” I moved closer to her back for lack of strength. Laughter, demeaning but preening, too. “Look! The stich covers more than a niche! At the bottom of her neck.” More laughter, this time cruel with some bloody drool. “You should’ve seen her before, just after… Star-knife slice and I made her a wreck!”

The man moved closer. His mistress pricked, gave an unseen kick. Ah! But Bast and Maftet noticed ~ it was really obvious ~ but the man was oblivious. And then the woman began to weave as something began to leave with spirit heave… And cat’s eyes turned green, so serene … hypnotic, exotic, erotic. It wouldn’t be long now…

Instinctively I grabbed Maftet for fear… “It’s alright, my dear, just stay near… We’ve played this play many times before, and it’ll not be you who hits the floor!”

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Note: This was all very gratefully inspired by the creative work of unbolt and Tony Single, specifically their collaborative work, the second part of which is entitled, Sekhmet. Thank you both for this fascinating, exciting new venture … not, mind you, an addition to their creative work. One might consider this an inspired ‘spin-off?’ Whatever the case may be, hope you (my readers) enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed imagining and writing it!

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SABL: A Golden Read

Very clear and lucid, yet completely fantastical, Sought After Blood Lines by Eva Xanthopoulos captures the reader’s attention from the very first page with an especially special, unique young woman bandaging her wounded left arm. From here the smoothly-flowing narrative moves at a clip, so one is not bogged down at any point in a slough of confusion or, for that matter, caught in a web of intricate, complexly-spun detail. SABL is an intriguing fantasy novel set within a world of magic, where good versus evil in an action-adventure that keeps the reader reading, especially, perhaps, the younger reader of adolescence and early teen years. While the level of quality — good in and of itself — may not meet that of, say, A Wind in the Door; nevertheless, the tone and tenor reminded me of the late, great Madeleine L’Engle. Certainly, SABL is as well-written as Dragon Quest, by Donita K. Paul … if not better.

cover_3d_render_transEva Xanthopoulos provides just enough to draw her readers into the main characters of the novel, yet not so much information is given that one’s imagination is left no room to wander, wonder and creatively flesh out the players as the narrative runs quickly and actively. The reader is also left at the end of SABL almost hungrily anticipating the next installment. (Yes, this is but the first in what might very well end up being a series. At the very least, one more volume is anticipated.)

All in all, Sought After Blood Lines is finely crafted and sure to please the fan of fantasy or, better still, the family-fans of fantasy. After all, it certainly is a story fully capable of providing fun, family reading, say, right before bedtime. Such is the measure of the author’s creative abilities, which shine through this, her first novel, quite brightly, indeed. Therefore, it is with utmost pleasure that this reader recommends Sought After Blood Lines as an exceptional purchase for one’s own pleasure, or as an appropriate gift for another, or both!

In the Corner with Maftet in Bubastis, Part II

“Step back into black.” Of course I didn’t understand, but waited for no reprimand. “So sad Sia’s not here for you, too, for sheer knowing’s sake to make you wise enough to devise your own escape.” Maftet turned and burned into my eyes. “I see the hole in your soul, and you’ve no idea what’s happening now and how the cow’s readied for slaughter to the daughter of war… Ah! And the claws on more than paws; you don’t see that either, do you?”

“No.” What blow to what ego left; most of it bereft now. Hell! I still didn’t know exactly where I was, and wanted to tear out my hair, and there was no escape, only the misshape of fanciful ideas of…

“Wake up, stupid pup! And take your place where I told you to hide!” She turned on me wild with mild smile, like mother to child and I was beguiled. Laughter. Shake of the head in pity in city so glum, filled with scum. “You’re too easy, ignorant, but not sleazy… I think I’ll end up buckling you to my belt like a whelp to help keep you safe from the strafe of Bast, my little waif. And you would like that, too, wouldn’t you?”

Beautiful. Vicious. Even malicious. Could I help but love her, especially under such fierce cover?

“You’re caught, my love-dove! You’re no good at hiding your thoughts!” Laughter again in kinder tone with knowing shake of the head. “Instead, just be honest; don’t try to lie, or you’ll die. I’m the companion-defender of Ma’at, who sought my skill to kill all untrue and those who skew… But look now! The slick black cat licks and pricks the incarnation of Bast, not to be lost, for revelation of blood, elevation of fixation on oozing red! It’s an exhortation to exploitation of unsuspecting fool, thickheaded mule; perhaps she should consume? He’d only resume his stupid ways in more dull days in disgusting brain-haze!”

Let him die? And not even try…

“Dammit, I told you already! Are you so unsteady in your own mind and so blind? I can hear you, dear!” Fierce look; soul pierce. I wanted to cower under her tower. “Shut up, now, and look! This is how she moves and proves her prowess, what behooves you to comprehend ere you bend to her feline ways on cloudier days in maze of confusion and dark illusion. I’ll not always be with you to correct, protect, and deflect all danger from the ranger of hell.”

Maftet grabbed and held me, nabbed my neck to beckon me listen, looking at glisten-face. “If I were to lie, my lies you’d believe just looking in my eyes, and you could not even try to resist what I insist… but why? You know so little, your spirit so brittle, but I’ll not belittle; after all, only last Spring did you sing your first babe’s song and sigh so nigh strong breast, sweet milk to drink to sink to peaceful sleep in protected keep. How, then, could you know, could you really see here what there is to see and the degree of malice from ages foregone, hidden behind devilish curtains drawn?”

“What don’t I see here in this place so drear? There is Bast; there is man; there is cat. There is dæmon cast, evil plan, and ghoulish feline rat! What more to even the score of what I know as I forego this awful trek bedecked in thin veneer under sneer of deities old and ere so cold?”

Kiss. Shockingly gentle. Smile … kind. “I am not blind but you I will bind to me to be mine at least till we leave the awful beast and grime-ridden place in Bubastis, however slow the pace. But look again and see; remember I said the claws are on more than paws? The two are one, and one is two; it’s true. Aton summoned Sekhmet and Bastet ~ her full name ~ in blame of war and violence, to deplore the double-whore of mindless defiance of peace, commanding all battles to cease; so they converged and merged, struck their blow upon Aton to show the power of unabated hate, and crash the tower and smash every bower of Ennead, but the champion of the pantheon was Ma’at, and she chose me as mate to satiate the anger of Aton and remove all danger of dæmons so loud and proud, who drain stupid men who cant think above notch of the crotch! Do you now more understand, your soul expand to see how out-of-hand is this deific grandstand of wretched whore-war band?”

Ah! But Bast moved again … surreptitiously, expeditiously, suspiciously, but oh-so obviously ambitiously. Ready for the thrill of the kill?

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Final Note: This is the second part of my own ‘spin-off’ inspired by the creative work of unbolt and Tony Single, specifically their collaborative work, the second part of which is entitled, Sekhmet. (You also need to back track to their first part, of course!) Now I will stand in my dark little corner and await (with Maftet) the next installment of their trilogy. In the meantime, I think I kind of/sort of promised something to Jesus and His Church, (also an excellent blog… the last two entries featuring guest writer Jonathan Kent Adams is very worthwhile to read in his Ramblings of a Sinner, Probably the Worst, Hopefully Getting Better: Part 1).

Checking the Checklist With Joy

JoySerious4Riding down the road with Effete early Tuesday morning with an important to-do list, Joy was certainly thankful Moxie had volunteered to watch the boys. Able had a couple of classes that day, but hers all landed on Mondays and Wednesdays this term, and Moxie kind of liked the idea of playing around with Rue and Bane anyway. Not that she really knew them – she didn’t – but Moxie could tell they needed some love and attention … and fun. She seemed more than happy to give it. Besides which, she thought she needed some time away from Able, and laughing and horsing around with a couple of kids seemed like an awesome way to spend that time.

Effete didn’t seem too sure about leaving the boys with Moxie when she answered the door in her rather scanty, black halter top and skin-tight sleep shorts. And, of course, the heart and thorns tattoo in the middle of her lower back didn’t help alleviate any of Effete’s concerns, but Joy told her Moxie had never been known to sacrifice before sundown, adding with a good deal of laughter that they’d be back well before night. Effete was not at all convinced but agreed anyway. After all, even a tattooed, barely-clothed girl had to be better than the hell they’d escaped. Besides, it was high time the boys got to know people outside of fundamentalist circles.

“Are you o.k., Effete?” Joy asked as they stopped at a red light. “They really will be fine, I promise you. Moxie’ll take good care of them, I swear.” And she couldn’t help but laugh again. “Really, it’s pretty early. She just got out of bed… They’ll be fine, o.k.? While we’re running around they’ll have a blast. Moxie’s just like that… Ha! She’ll probably have them flying off the roof in an hour or so…” Joy caught herself. “Just kidding!” She patted Effete on the leg. “Just kidding, but they’ll be alright and they’ll have fun. Meanwhile, we’ll do what we need to do today … every last, tough, boring, painful thing!” The light turned and she took off again.

“You probably think I’m being a real bumpkin or something,” Effete started. “I guess it’s just, I’ve never really left them with anyone before … not really. And someone I don’t know, or … ha! Never met, and … God! I’ve been in one place for so long … one stinking, super-strict, super-religious prison for so, so long…”

“It’s o.k., Effete.” Joy took her hand and gently squeezed.

“If you say they’ll be alright, then I know they’ll be alright. She just seems so … different than what I’m used to.”

“Oh yeah!” Joy erupted into a good belly laugh. “Yeah, she definitely is!” Joy could barely contain herself. “Moxie Keener is one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure… Oh God! You don’t know the half of it…” Joy looked over at the growing fear in Effete’s widening eyes. “And this isn’t really helping, is it?”

“No.” Effete shook her head slowly. “Not at all.” She shook her head a couple more times. “In fact, I think you’d do better this morning if you played straight-laced pastor … or I think I might jump the car and go back screaming for the very lives of my dear children.”

“Oh good heavens, Effete!” Joy chuckled. “No … Come on, I mean it. They’re alright and so are we.” She patted her leg again. “Now! Our checklist!”

“Ugh! I don’t think I can do this… Not all in one day.”

“It’s really not that much, and it’s necessary. Remember, we talked about this last night … far too late last night!” Joy looked over and winked. “Until you finally  rolled over and started sawing some logs!”

“I don’t snore, do I? Did I keep you up? I’m so sorry!”

“Effete! Quit that!” Joy teased her with a mock frown. “And, no, you don’t snore … much. Anyway! Item number one on the agenda. We’re going to see the attorney, Justin Case – good man, great experience, excellent reputation – and he’s a member of my church. Remember what we went over yesterday? I know you do. ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ Right? Be upfront and completely honest – don’t be afraid, I’ll be there the whole time – but keep it to-the-point. Summary of background and history, then ask about restraining order, then temporary custody, and finally divorce and full, permanent custody. In that order, and we don’t let him stray. Right?”

“Yes… Right.” Effete sounded somewhat uncertain and paused for a minute. Joy was just about to get discouraged when Effete nodded her head and said again, “Yep! That’s the plan. I’ve got it, captain!”

“Well, o.k. then!” Joy felt a rush of relief. It was bound to be a long day; she sure didn’t need Effete bowing out on her this early in the game! “Next, we make our way to Dr. Pert Kibitz – friend of mine from high school, actually – and you’re just going to … really just kind of get to know her today. She may, and I stress may, do an initial evaluation if  you both feel comfortable. But mainly it’s an introduction and opportunity to get to know each other, and you’ll love her! She’s very approachable and relaxing, not at all intimidating. And you’ll know right off the bat she wants you to feel as much at ease as possible… I really think it’ll be good.”

After visiting Effete in the hospital that first night, Joy decided she definitely needed an experienced, professional counselor in the loop. Especially if she was going to play the role of sturdy companion and faithful friend. Like her old mentor, Dr. Sharpman, had told her, it wouldn’t be wise trying to wear the hat of psychologist, too … and she wasn’t one anyway! So she’d called up her friend, Pert – now the respected Doctor  Kibitz – to ask for help.  Of course, Pert agreed and invited Joy to bring Effete over Tuesday morning and, best of all, it would be gratis. No charge, which made Joy’s already strained pocketbook quite happy.

“Are you going to be there?”

“Well, of course…” Joy started to answer. “Oh, you mean in the room? Well … I’ll introduce you, and … I may stay for a couple of minutes, but the two of you need to talk privately. You’ll be alight, Effete, I promise.” Joy rubbed her leg reassuringly. “Pert’s a wonderful person. You’ll get along fine. Just remember what we’ve said. You have nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to feel guilty or down on yourself or humiliated or anything like that, and Pert Kibitz will not  do or say anything  to make you feel that way, either. Promise. She’s very understanding, and not only a good person but an excellent counselor, too. And you need that right now.”

“O.k.” Effete breathed out hard. “And then lunch, right?”

“Right!” Joy beamed. “But not just any lunch. We’re meeting Sage Mentor at that little hole-in-the-wall I told you about.”

“She’s the caseworker, right?”

“Yes, but more than that, Sage is just an all-round good adviser. Of course, she’ll want to set up a time to meet Rue and Bane, probably at home – my home … or, guess I should say ‘our’ home now,” Joy grinned and winked at Effete, who allowed herself only the slightest smile in return. “We’ll want to tell her about meeting with the attorney and counselor – and sooner than later put all three in touch with each other so they’re all on the same team with the same game plan, but anyway – we’ll tell her about the morning, then ask specifically about the boys. All the do’s and don’ts and what to be careful about. That sort of thing. And she’ll have some good advice.”

“I’m already exhausted.”

“Chin up, my dear, it’s still too early for napping.” Joy slowed to a stop at another red light in downtown Splinterbit. They could see the courthouse two blocks down, surrounded by mostly shady pseudo-businesses, like payday loan-sharks and bail bondsmen. It somehow seemed fitting to Joy, though, an uninterrupted landscape of exploitation and injustice. “Anyway, the afternoon’s an easy ride. We’ll go to the post office to have your address changed, but unlisted, and then from there to the grocery store … not  the one you usually go to, of course, but the other one I told you about last night when you were yawning in my ear.”

“I did not!” Effete cackled. “Did I?”

“The one just outside town.” Joy ignored the question. “It’s a fun little place. They’ve got a lot of organic stuff at some pretty good prices.”

“Good. After eating a big, fat, juicy hamburger and greasy fries for lunch we’ll be ready for healthy, right?”

“Right!” Joy laughed as she pulled her car into the left turn lane. “It’s balance. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. See? You just gotta be consistent. Consistency’s the key, my dear!”  They both laughed, especially Effete for the first time that morning. It felt good.

“Thank you.” Effete grabbed Joy’s hand. “For everything… I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you.”

“You’re certainly welcome…” Joy pulled into a parking space in front of an unassuming little office, then looked straight into Effete’s eyes. “More than welcome. It’s an honor to know and love someone as kind and wonderful and beautiful as you, Effete… And I mean that with all my heart.” She smiled. “And no matter how exhausting all this may be for both of us, we’re gonna make it.” Joy leaned in closer. “Now, let’s go in, meet Mr. Justin Case, and get item number one checked off our check list. Okay?”

Moxie and Joy Step Through Able Grief

MoxieSS4“Well, o.k. then! Prepare for incoming missiles of counsel!” Joy shifted on the couch and Moxie just laughed.  “Here it is, straight from Dr. Joy at no charge!”

“Wow! What a deal! Free session in the Brighterday clinic, and all to save my young love life. Can’t beat that!” Moxie leaned back in the recliner then, allowing herself to relax a little as Joy took a deep breath before the plunge.

“Well, first of all, if I had to guess, I’d say Able is going through something like grief. In fact, it’s probably very similar, although the steps, or stages, may be a little mixed up.”

“You mean, like, the stages of grief. Denial, anger, sadness and whatever else?”

“Yeah, whatever else.” Joy laughed. “Honestly, if he hasn’t hit them all, he probably will, because if you think about it, it really is like he’s lost somebody … in fact, a whole lot of somebodies, including his own life, in a way.”

“I get that…” Moxie turned it over in her mind. “Not that I’ve thought of it quite like grief over losing a loved one … but I guess that’s really kind of what’s happened. I knew it was serious when he decided to move out, leave his church, and essentially bid farewell to so many people he’s known for most of his life… Guess it really is  like death.”

“Yep, it is. And so don’t be surprised if you find him going through some denial, just like people do when they’re grieving. You know, the whole world suddenly seems emptier, and confusing, maybe even senseless. Of course, early in the whole process, denial is a kind of God-given survival mechanism that kicks in to help us cope. All the emotions raging around inside are just too much for us to take all at once and, so, we only let in a little bit at a time.”

“So…” Joy continued. “One day pretty soon – maybe even tomorrow, who knows – Able may wake up flying high as a kite, saying, ‘Oh my God! Everything’s wonderful! Life is great!’ But then, you’ll know everything’s not  wonderful, and that’s where you’ve gotta be careful. Take it as it comes, of course, but soberly … almost with a grain of salt. This early in the game everything is far from being wonderful. It can’t be; not quite yet.”

“Then there’s the anger, I suppose,” Moxie anticipated the next stage. “Like we talked about before.”

“Yeah… And Moxie, that could end up being the most difficult for you. Not to scare you off, o.k.  Please believe me, I don’t want to do that, but… He’s feeling adrift right now, or to use an old cliché, like a ship without a rudder. And like we’ve talked about, too, he’s probably dealing with some fear… Well, eventually you get to the point where denial’s not enough; it just doesn’t cut it. One very natural reaction is anger.”

“And with this, you sometimes get some fist-shaking, which is what you’ve got to be ready for.” Joy leaned forward. “Mox, I’m just telling you this so you can be on your guard, or … bolster your heart, so to speak. Because we humans have an innate tendency to blame, especially when we’re uncomfortable and everything seems chaotic and confusing, or just not-right. You know, it’s the old story of Adam blaming Eve, and Eve blaming the snake.”

“And that’ll be Able blaming me, of course.” Moxie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Great! So I get to play Eve now… Ha! I may end up being the subject of some fundy’s sick-ass sermon!”

“Yeah, that might happen,” Joy eyeballed Moxie seriously. “And that’s what I mean. Feelings can be overwhelming, no doubt about it, and disorienting. Able may wake up tomorrow feeling great, then he may wake up next week wondering what the hell is going on and asking whose fault it is, and when he rolls over in bed, who’s the first person he’s gonna see? The very one he left home, church and family for… You. Moxie Keener.”

“The Jezebel. The serpent. The great temptress. Yeah, I get it!”

“Maybe. But, then, maybe you and other people, too. Maybe you and his parents and the church and the college and God, along with his … first grade Sunday school teacher, who knows?” Joy threw her hands up. “It may not be very logical, o.k. But all of the stress and confusion and feeling disoriented could send him into a kind of tailspin. And anger is … well, how do I put it? Strange as it may sound, it’s like a strengthening … like you’re muscling up your inner core.”

“Ha!” Moxie’s eyebrows shot up. “Never heard it put like that before!”

“Well, yeah.  I know it sounds crazy, but anger can make you feel strong … sort of.  God, if I had the words.” Joy shook her head. “But it’s like you’re pulling all of those different, warring feelings together into one emotion and giving it direction.  And for awhile, at least, this sort of grounds you … which, when you think about it, is necessary … especially in the grief process. Now, of course, anger’s not a good place to stay! But at some point, it can be healthy…  It’s just in this case, it may be pretty damn miserable for you!”

“Yeah!  I think I got that, Dr. Joy!” Moxie chuckled sarcastically. “Me bad; my fault… Burn the witch! Great, but let’s just say I survive, and move on to the next stage, huh?”

“Moxie Keener,” Joy smiled and wagged her head. “You’re the one who drove into this thing a thousand miles an hour. I’m just trying to put some road signs in place to hopefully keep you from driving headlong over a cliff… You’re not  bad, o.k.? Moxie Keener is not  the wicked witch, or the serpent, or any other nasty character.” Joy laughed now and shook her head again. “But you are unique … and  exciting and beautiful and intelligent, all rolled into one.”

“Thanks.” Moxie had to look away, but Joy could just see her barely blushing. “Hope Able still feels that way,” she almost whispered to herself.

“And, you know, after all is said and done,  I really think he will.” Joy scooted over on the couch closest to where Moxie was sitting and leaned toward her. “But … we said something before about him possibly going back … and that’s part of this process, too.  Maybe it’ll happen; maybe it won’t.  But at some point, especially when he’s exhausted the anger – and that happens, by the way, because sometimes you just get plain tired – then he’ll start bargaining with himself.”

“Bargaining? Like making a deal? Hadn’t heard that one before.”

“Yep. Deal-making’s a pretty good way of putting it, actually. He’ll start reasoning with himself. You know, like, ‘maybe things weren’t so bad after all. Maybe, just maybe, some little changes here and there would have been enough. Maybe leaving and cutting ties was too radical. Maybe it wasn’t necessary, and I just jumped the gun.’  And, of course, the big one, which is something like, ‘Look! I’m worse off than I was before…’ Even though it’s not true.”

“You really think he could forget that easily?”

“Of course. Remember what we said about comfort in the familiar? His life in his world … the only world he’s known? And now he’s out in a much bigger world, totally different, with all these conflicting thoughts and emotions whirling around inside, and anger only gets him so far… Yes. Hell yes! He could very easily sit down one day, totally spent – and I mean exhausted, wiped out – and start asking these questions, seriously thinking about a return voyage.”

“Convinced it’ll be much better and brighter, I’m sure, but making a goddamn fool of himself!” Moxie was practically in tears again just thinking about the possibility. Joy reached out and put a hand on her knee.

“Moxie,” Joy leaned in a little more and spoke softly. “It may happen; it may not. All you can do is prepare as best you can … be there for him, love him, encourage him … but also keep yourself steady and healthy.  This is big.” Joy paused for emphasis. “Right now … at this point in time, difficult as it is, you’re the anchor…  If he’s at all like a ship without a rudder, he damn sure needs an anchor and Mox, you’re it… But there’s danger there, too.”

“Figures.”

“Well, this pendulum can swing from one extreme to the other, my love. One day he may be angry and blaming you; the next he might be clinging to you for dear life… It’s turbulent waters you’re sailing right now, and there’s no way around it, Mox. Both of you will drive straight through, or he’ll turn around and head back for the home harbor. But if you make it through the worst of the storm, the quieting down could be a very sad time for Able.”

“When we’ve made it through, he’ll be sad?” Moxie sounded perplexed.

“Not necessarily, but it could happen, just like in grieving.” Joy took Moxie’s hand and gently squeezed. “When he realizes that there’s no going back, or at least no good reason; that that life, that world is truly behind and he’s out on the open sea, so to speak, charting an unknown course, well… at first it may not matter how calm the waters are. In fact, the relative calm and quiet may actually seem … melancholy, you might say.”

“I think he’s already there, actually. Like I said, he seems down all the time now.”

“True, but … that may be – and I’m saying may  because none of this is written in stone – but it may  be just the beginning. And, anyway, remember that none of what we’re talking about right now is an exact step-by-step process. These are just things to be aware of and prepare for, at least as well as you can, so you’re not caught completely off-guard … for your sake and  his.  But, hey,  if that ship sails through the storm and you make it through the melancholy waters, too, the last is the best.”

“And what’s that?”

“Living. Call it ‘resurrection.’” Moxie looked up at Joy and Joy smiled. “Life after death. And that’s not like saying, ‘well, o.k.’ or ‘it’s alright.’ No. Able may still have a sense of loss, maybe some sadness … but you’ll turn that ship toward the setting sun to chase the light into the dawning of a new world, the world you call your own … together.” Moxie’s eyes watered and her lips trembled. Joy gently placed a hand on her cheek. “Are you ready for this, Mox?”

Moxie Presses Joy on Relationship

MoxieSS3a“Of course I love Able to death,” Moxie explained from the recliner in Joy’s living room. “It’s just, he seems so conflicted and depressed since he broke it off with his parents and that … his church.” Moxie remembered her pastor’s whispered admonition to avoid any mention of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church. Joy had said just enough to let her know the two little boys in her home were somehow connected.

“Well, yeah, he probably is  conflicted and confused, even afraid, Moxie.” Joy eyed the normally very lively young woman. “I mean … Moxie, he’s taken a really, really big step.  And even if it was necessary and ultimately good and healthy – and I certainly think it was necessary and good – still, this is huge.  It’s like you said just awhile ago, he’s leaving behind an entire world, his world. For good reason, sure, but still it was his life in his world, and that can be traumatic.”

Moxie had called Joy Brighterday not long after morning service at St. Gianna’s, not only to find out why she’d “gone AWOL,” but also to see if she could stop by to talk. And while her pastor failed to satisfy her curiosity about being absent that morning, Joy had invited her over to her house. So after Moxie sent Able on his way to dinner with Blue Poorman, she drove to Joy’s place, feeling a little guilty about having a clandestine meeting at which Able was the subject but knew nothing about it. Still, she had to talk to someone…

“Yeah, I know that. I mean, I really do, but…” Moxie paused, obviously frustrated, then looked back over where Joy was perched on the couch. “I’ve tried and tried and tried everyway I know how to make him happy again, and laugh like he used to… You know, to see life like an exciting adventure, to relax and have fun, and not be so serious all the time. And especially not be so hard on himself… God! It’s like every time I turn around he’s beating himself up about something. I just… Jesus! I don’t know anymore. I mean, I’m really starting to think maybe it was a mistake.”

“What exactly?” Joy frowned. “What are you thinking might have been a mistake?”

“You know… us being together.” Now Moxie sounded like she could cry, which was unusual for Moxie Keener. “He’s always told me I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to him in his life, but he sure as hell doesn’t act like it! He acts more like he’s ready for the grave … and it hasn’t even been that long, you know?  I mean, my God, is it that difficult for him to cut the umbilical cord? I mean…”

“Moxie,” Joy sounded stern. “Stop. Just stop … take a deep breathe, and listen to me.” Moxie complied. “Let’s take a step back and look at this again … a little more sympathetically. O.k.? Able has just left behind his whole world, as we’re calling it, and cut all ties … at least for the time being. But not only that, he’s moved into another, very different world … your  world. And that may be an exciting, fascinating, wonderful world, but … it’s also very new, very different, and so it may be very frightening, too … at least sometimes, especially at first.”

Joy paused and both she and Moxie could hear delighted shouts and squeals from the backyard where Rue and Bane were playing some made-up game with the football and frisbee.

“And anger,” Joy continued. “Don’t be surprised if he sometimes seems angry. All of the confusion and fear and other emotions whiling around inside, and not knowing what to do with them, can easily lead to an awful lot of frustration.”

“Yeah, he definitely seems frustrated … frustrated with me.”

“No, actually, probably not, Mox. Remember what you’ve told me about Able. Remember that he’s not coming from a home and church that’s built him up his entire life; just the opposite. He’s coming from a background of, at the very least, emotional and spiritual abuse. He’s coming from a world, like we’ve said, where he’s been torn down and ripped apart. He’s just now coming out from a community in which he was taught, first and foremost, that there’s nothing good about him and nothing he can really do to change that fact.”

“Able’s just now leaving an environment that cultivates continuous, ongoing self-doubt and guilt … so, of course, he’s doubting himself now and probably even struggling with guilt feelings, and by the way,” Joy arched her eyebrows, “he may – and probably will at some point – feel a tremendous pull back to that environment.” Joy thought of Effete just then and, once again, steeled her mind against the very real possibility that even a woman so abused and broken could very well feel the same tremendous pull. “It’s been known to happen.”

“I don’t understand. I really don’t.” Moxie ran fingers through her long reddish-brown hair. “How he could ever be attracted to that … that garbage … hellhole again.”

“Safety. Security. Or at least feelings  of security, no matter how detrimental it may actually be… Some people – and I know you know this because you’re really intelligent – some people will choose an environment that’s familiar, even if it’s miserable, over the unknown precisely because it is  unknown, and it’s frightening and they can’t seem to get their bearings… They go back to what they know, even when they know it’s bad, just because it’s known, you know?  They know what it’s all about – kind of, sort of – and they know where they fit in.”

“Yeah.” Moxie leaned forward and stared blankly at the coffee table. “Safety and comfort in the familiar … and I’m not familiar enough, not yet anyway … so he may go back after all. And if he does, he’ll probably blame me for all the trouble, too.”

“Well, if he goes back, and I’m by no means saying he will, but if he decides to go back he’ll have  to blame you. It would practically be required in order for him to be accepted again and reintegrated into that community … that world. You know, condemn and totally renounce the evil influence that led him astray – you, of course – with the added commitment never to have anything to do with you again. Unless, of course, you decided to convert, and then…”

“Ha!” Moxie came alive again. “Not a snowball’s chance in hell, pastor dear! They’ll just have to plug a stake in the ground and light the fire, cause this witch damn sure isn’t giving up her broom!” Joy practically doubled over laughing. “No way! It’s hard enough for me to keep up the ‘Christian’ part of ‘Christian agnostic,’ much less going fundy! No … we’ll just have to work on keeping Able on my side of the tracks.”

“Yeah, o.k. Well let’s do that, then.” Joy was still laughing. “So, o.k. there’s a few things I think you gotta know – even though I’m not  an expert here, and please keep that in mind – still, there’s just a few things I think I need to mention.” Joy leaned forward and assumed an ‘affected,’ humorous tone. “For your erudite consideration, my bright and talented, Christian agnostic philosopher.” They both laughed.

“Yeah, alright… Hit me!”

Able, Blue Talk Fundamentalism Over Chinese

chinese-food“No, you’re right, Able. An awful lot of people naively criticize without knowing what they’re really talking about, but…” Jim Blue Poorman interrupted himself to take another bite of egg foo young while Able nibbled on the last of his spring roll. “I think using words like ‘conservative,’ or ‘militant,’ or ‘rigid’ in any definition of fundamentalism is really not helpful. In fact, it may actually say more about the people using those words than it does about the term itself.”

“Well, yeah, that’s what I mean,” Able agreed. “Not that I even consider myself ‘fundamentalist’ anymore – and maybe I never really was, but anyway – I know I was never militant  or rigid.  At least,  I don’t think I was… O.k. maybe rigid, but not  militant.”  Able chortled at this. “Moxie’s always telling me I’m not assertive enough, let alone militant.” He laughed again as he took a spoonful of won-ton soup.

Able had met Blue Poorman that morning at St. Gianna Church, where he attended service with Moxie, who was disappointed to find out that Joy Brighterday had gone “AWOL,” as she put it. Even still, it was a new and somewhat gratifying experience for Able Dilettante, who’d never seen the inside of any church other than the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church. And he immediately liked the “substitute preacher,” Jim Blue Poorman, which is why he’d spent a good half-hour talking to him after church, which is why they were now eating dinner together at a local Chinese restaurant.

“No, you certainly don’t strike me as the militant type,” Jim chuckled. “Anyway, fundamentalism in any form can be militant, and often is, but I think a better and more applicable description would be ‘defensive.’ In fundamentalist groups you often find a kind of ‘fortress mentality,’ but even this really doesn’t get at the heart of fundamentalism.  I mean, my grandmother, God rest her soul, was not militant and I don’t think she was even particularly defensive, certainly not in a mean and nasty way. In fact, she was one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people I’ve ever know… ‘salt of the earth,’ as some would say; a real saint.”

“Well, o.k. then, how do you define ‘fundamentalism,’ and why aren’t you one?” Able smiled and continued, “I know you’re not a fundamentalist, of course … but why? I’d like to hear your … take on it all. What’s the real heart of the problem with fundamentalism and the church I’ve left? Too narrow-minded and restrictive, I know, but…”

“Oh, well, wait a sec,” Blue Poorman cut in. “There’s nothing wrong with restrictions, generally speaking. I mean, my God! One of the most restrictive books in the world is not the Bible, but the dictionary, and we would hardly call the dictionary ‘evil.’ No … there are plenty of restrictions in life, necessary restrictions. We couldn’t live without them, at least not very well, so I don’t think it’s restrictiveness, per se,  that’s really the problem.”  Blue lifted his tea cup and took a sip of steaming chai.

“So … what words come to mind, then? What’s the ‘Poorman definition’ of fundamentalism, and why’s it so bad?” Able lifted his own cup then and waited.

“Well, really the one word that’s always come to my mind – and I think it’s a good place to at least begin some kind of definition – would be ‘oversimplification.’”

“Oversimplification?”

“Yes, oversimplification,” Jim Blue answered before taking another drink. “Religious fundamentalism really comes down to … to an aversion, or even loathing the idea that an infinite God cannot be fully understood by a finite mind, that … things divine are really rather mysterious and to some extent, at least, beyond the grasp of earthly creatures, you might say. It’s … well, an attempt to fit all of reality into nice, neat little boxes, so to speak. So – and I know you’ve seen this, you’ve experienced it – the mistake of fundamentalism is, at heart, really an intractable kind of oversimplification.”

“You know,” Jim leaned back then, clearly enjoying conversation with his newfound friend. “The fundamentalist gets some ideas in his head … usually just a few.” They both laughed. Able could scarcely disagree. “And, of course, he just knows these ideas are very obviously true, and he interprets all of reality according to this narrowly defined ‘truth.’ For the Christian fundamentalist, this usually involves only a select number of scriptures or, more importantly, the interpretation of those scriptures, even when other scriptures seem to teach something different.”

“You see, even though she may not consciously realize it – and most fundamentalists probably don’t – she, or he, has been … well, indoctrinated to believe that … hmmmm, that specific interpretations of only a portion of Scripture is definitive for all of life and the whole world. It’s the fixed  idea, or ideology, that becomes an inalterable lens through which he looks at everything, literally everything. And this is the downfall of fundamentalism – again, in whatever form or fashion, wherever you find it. It’s not only an oversimplification; it also rests on a very, very shaky foundation. And from what you’ve told me, I take it you’re finding this out … or, I guess, you already have!”

“Yeah,” Able looked down at the table now, pondering. “Yeah… It seems like my whole world, or the life I’ve always known, has just been blown away.  I mean, I haven’t really liked church, the preaching, fundamentalism or whatever for a long time now, but … when I finally decided to leave it all behind, you know, for Moxie and her  life and her  world… I don’t know.  I just feel so lost, crazy as that may sound.” Able grunted out a low harrumph. “I mean, it was my world … my family, my friends, church… Sometimes I wonder how my folks ever got sucked into it.”

“So you weren’t always in that church?”

“No, actually we didn’t go anywhere when I was really young. Then suddenly we started going … but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mom or dad ever saying why.”

“Maybe it was security,” Blue offered. “It’s not unheard of … people attracted to fundamentalism, or cults, because it feels safe and secure, and it feels this way precisely because it is simple and seems so solid, even though it’s really a house of cards just waiting to crumble. For awhile, though, some people enjoy feeling … protected, and they enjoy the usually tight-knit community, which makes them feel even more secure. Could be something like that was going on with your parents, I don’t know.”

“Me either.” Able looked back up at Jim Blue. “But I know I’m glad I decided to go to college, because I’m glad I met Moxie. God! She’s like an angel … little rough around the edges, mind you, but…” They both laughed. “Well, o.k. Maybe she’s not ready for the wings, but I think she’s saved my life. And I’m really thankful for that, even if it is kind of uncomfortable and scary and confusing.”

“Well one thing’s for sure,” Blue widened his eyes and smiled. “You didn’t just leave one world for another. You left for love, too … hers and  yours.  From what I’ve seen and heard, which is admittedly not a lot, it’s genuine love and genuinely shared in really healthy companionship – or, some would say, communion – and that’s pretty damn important.” And something for which Jim Poorman had longed his entire adult life. “So it may be scary, I don’t doubt it, but  probably worth every damn bit of it!  Just hang in there… Oh, by the way, you never told me why she couldn’t make it this evening.”