Monday, 26th. This morning I went to the post-office. There were a letter and a package waiting. Both were from Norine, postmarked the 17th, the day of the accident. The letter was datelined,
"October 16, 1970
"How entirely typical of you to resort to literary quotations when you wish to insult someone. You are never at a loss for words — provided, of course, they belong to someone else. You made such a good Professor of English. It is too bad you couldn't be satisfied with that — but, no, you must be a writer yourself. Isn't it a shame that willpower can't replace talent?
"If some of your allegations regarding me are true, dear, they were not always so. Do you remember our early years? The days when I was a loving and dutiful wife? Even then you could not be satisfied with a happy home, with good friends, a congenial occupation at an adequate salary. Comfort and security and pride in your vocation did not suffice, for you were already running after an elusive female — in this case your Muse, Erato, as you were later to chase Cara...and how many others? Were there others, Charles, to substitute for the Genius that evaded you?
"Well, no matter. You ignored us — Melany and me — to lock yourself away and make love to a typewriter. We sat together, your daughter and I, and watched television in the other room — how many commercials, how many children's shows, cartoons, soap operas, situation comedies, while you masturbated on paper.
"And if, sometimes, you came out among us, how often did you snap and act surly if we disturbed your interior monologue with yourself? How often did Melany go to bed weeping, asking as I sat beside her on the bed, 'What's wrong with daddy? Doesn't he love us?'
"I would lie. I would say, 'Of course he does, dear. It's just that he has a lot on his mind. We must try not to bother him.' We must learn not to disturb you and your bitch Muse as you chased her around your desk, under that painting of the nude and headless secretary.
"When was it I began to retaliate, Charles? When was it I decided, down deep in the center of my heart, without words, that if you could withhold yourself from us, I could withhold myself from you? I don't know. Perhaps you can pinpoint it. Perhaps you remember when I began to grow hard, to match and stand against your hardness.
"I mean even your hard cock, Charles, for I saw you only when your basic drives forced your mind to stand aside now and then. Food, sex, exhaustion. As those were the times we met, those were the times I could combat you.
"If I became a bad wife, it was you who molded my clay — you were a much better sculptor than you a writer, my love.
"But that's enough. I believe you know these things someplace underneath consciousness.
"Melany and I have gone to another auction, and we have found a small old painting we thought you might enjoy. We are mailing it with this letter — so look for it — and look at it, Charles. See it up close, and keep your distance.
"One last word: you are wrong about which of Jonson's witches I am. I am the one who says,
"'I went to the toade, breeds under the wall,
I charmed him out, and he came at my call;
I scratch'd out the eyes of the owle before;
I tore the batts wings: what would you have more?'
And Cara is the Dame who called us together.
I would not let Cara read the letter, but she watched as I opened the package, and her eyes showed wonder when she saw the painting. "It's beautiful," she said. And it was.
It was a scene of clouds and angels, rising and descending between heaven and earth. It was done in oils; the colors were not vivid, but a brightness suffused the entire canvas. We examined it closely together as it lay on my lap, Cara leaning over my shoulder to look.
"I'll hang it over the mantel in my room," I said. Cara came with me upstairs, and I took down the picture that was there to hang the new one.
We stood looking at it for a time, and then I crossed the room to the window to look out over the riveryard towards the water. Cara walked over to stand with me, taking my arm, and we watched the grass move in a cool wind, the limbs of the trees along the riverbank nodding slightly, the thin sun streaking high clouds.
We were quiet awhile, Cara silently comforting me with strokes along my arm, laying her head lightly against my shoulder.
After a period she turned to go downstairs. I heard, or perhaps I felt her stop, stiffen, and give a small gasp. I turned to see what was the matter and followed the direction of her stare — those lovely gray eyes were starting out of the locket of her countenance. There, hanging above the mantel, was a death's head in a frame looking back at us.
For a moment I could not move, and then I forced myself to step forward slowly. As I approached the picture I saw the outlines of the skull begin to blur and to resolve themselves into clouds and angels instead.
I turned back to Cara. "It's a trick painting," I said, "a nineteenth century memento mori. I beckoned to her. She came forward and saw.
"Take it down," she said, "and burn it."
I shook my head. "Norine knew me better than that. We'll keep it.
"You're a fool, Charles," Cara said. As she stepped away to go downstairs I could see her face was very pale, and her hands trembled. I went to the library and looked up the speech of the Dame who, Norine had said, was Cara:
Yes: I have broughte, to help your vows,
Horned poppie, cypress boughes,
A fig-tree wild, that grows on tombes,
And juice that from the larch-tree comes,
The basiliskes bloud, and the vipers skin;
And now our orgies let's begin.
The Book of the Black Heart is falling to pieces.
Tuesday, 27th. This morning, when I awoke, I saw that a demon perched on my chest was regarding me with yellow eyes.
"Who are you?" I asked.
It flicked its black tail. "Come now, Charles, you know me well enough. I've been with you a long time."
As I recall, I felt nothing, not even surprise. I shook my head. "No, I don't know you."
The demon sighed. "Playing dumb isn't going to help, you know." It cocked its head at me, but I said nothing. I did not attempt to move.
The demon rolled its eyes. "Okay, then, I'm Asmodeus, your familiar. Now do you remember me?"
I nodded but said nothing. The demon nodded too and began to laugh. "That's right — the marriage demon. I deal in lechery and complaints of the mattress. We're good old companions." He continued to look amused as I tried to recall when first we had met.
"You should be able to remember that," he said. "I had visited you a few times, without your knowing, but when I took possession I whistled."
I remembered. It was before Norine and I had been married. We had been out on a date, and I had brought her home late — her parents had been asleep upstairs, so we sat and petted awhile on the couch. Suddenly, we had both gotten serious — for the first time. I said, "Take off your clothes."
Norine had simply looked at me, quite calmly, then gotten up and stripped while I sat there watching. She had stood before me, naked, and I sat looking at her. I had made no move to disrobe myself — she simply stood, and I sat, and then I reached out to touch, to feel her body — her breasts, with their hard nipples, her stomach and thighs, the hair upon the Mound of Venus, the dark, moist hollow, which I explore with my finger.
I remember a sense of power and possession — and something else: a condescension, or a feeling of superiority: she had taken her clothes off as I commanded, and now I sat doing as I would.
"That was my work," Asmodeus said, yawning. His teeth were sharp in his black jaws.
Then I had risen, slowly, my eyes fastened to Norine's, and taken off my own clothes. We each watched, in the depths of pupil and iris, the swelling dawn of conscious purpose in the other. There was nothing about the act that we did not foresee.
Norine reached and stroked my standing member, and I put my finger into her again, pulled her toward me. We kissed each other gently, then we parted, and Norine lay down, spreading her legs, her knees bent upward.
I went in, deliberately, my eyes open. Norine closed hers, and as I reached full stroke she gasped once, and began to moan.
And then...a sharp whistle!
Asmodeus laughed and dug a claw into my chest, pricking the skin.
Norine and I had frozen, our muscles utterly rigid. The whistle had come from so close by — a piercing, shrill sound — that someone had to be in the doorway just at the head of the couch.
I had finally forced myself out and off. I had pulled on my clothes hurriedly and gone to look — no more than a few seconds could have passed, though it had seemed longer.
No one was in the doorway, nor in the kitchen, nor on the sunporch. I had gone outdoors to circle the house — no one. Nothing had moved, we had heard no other sounds, and the whistle hadn't wakened Norine's parents.
"You were really upset," Asmodeus said. "I laughed till I feared you'd hear me. I was sitting on the arm of the couch all along. Ah, I love a good joke." He flicked his tail and dug in another claw.
Norine and I had sat for a long time after that, listening to our hearts begin to settle and alarm abate.
"It must have been Walter," she had said.
Norine had nodded, and I had agreed as chagrin filled me. It would be Walter's style.
Asmodeus said, "You waited a long time for Walter to say something, to toss you a snide hint or a dirty leer."
"He never did," I said. "I'm glad you told me. That's been a mystery for years.
"Well," Asmodeus said, "now you know. Here she comes."
From the doorway Cara said, "Who are you talking to, Charles?" She looked at Asmodeus. "Oh," she said, and walked over to us. She reached down and picked him up. I didn't turn my head but kept staring rigidly forward.
"How are you, you sweet black thing?" she asked. "I've never heard you talk to Wesley before, Charles."
I forced my head to turn and saw Catch folded into the crook of her arm. He was purring.
I have not told her the truth.
Wednesday, 28th. I am finishing Bodman's book at last. Catch is with me. Bodman says he had a final "dreadful conflict":
How it was with me now for two or three days, I cannot precisely tell: in a short time from this, I slept at my brother's with a Mr. Elizah Hayden, a very worthy, pious man. — Mr. Hayden rose early in the morning and left me in bed. — And about that time, or a little after, the glory of the God of Israel, seemed to fill the room; there seemed to be a light, somewhat resembling material light, while a fixed view, or vision of God, and the heavenly world, seemed to appear. Here were no voices, nor any communications: but my whole soul seemed as it were absorbed and swallowed up, with one vast abstract view of God, and the heavenly world.
It appeared to me that I was surrounded with holy beings, yet I heard them not; but they seemed to be employed in the same glorious work with myself; — contemplating the glorious perfections of God. They seemed to be — like moveless statues of wonder — ; filled with deep surprise, and a holy, heavenly air seemed to pervade the whole.
I doubt not that I was in possession of my reason at this time; —
"Of course," Asmodeus said from his position on top of Uncle John Putnam's rolltop desk. "Perfectly same."
— I thought within myself what an easy thing it would be to die.
"Easy for some people," the demon said. "In this particular case, Bodman lived to a very ripe old age. When his first book was published he was middle-aged — old, actually, by standards of those days.
"His first book?"
Asmodeus nodded. "He wrote all the time. He published another Oration."
I lifted an eyebrow.
"Oh, I was there, I was there too. Poor old Manoah. You should have heard the puns his neighbors pulled on that name, with that New England accent, you know. 'Ma-noo-ah,' they would say. 'Heah comes Ma-noo-ah fo-ah yo-ah gah-den.' They sounded just like your average Frankfurter today. They thought he was dotty, of course. I suppose your friend the Reverend Rafe would say he was an epileptic. But a rose by any other...."
It appeared to me that the transit, from the state I was then in, to join these holy beings was short. And I moreover, made one or two attempts to see if I had power to bring my affections down to the earth; or fix them upon any thing here below; but I found that I could not; for my soul made me like the chariots of Aminadib; and immediately to arise to holy wonder and contemplation. In this state I continued about three hours, for I was able to ascertain the time very nearly. — This was succeeded by another great scene of glory on the morning following. How long this lasted I cannot tell; it might be an hour or more. —
I now resolved to do my whole duty, and oppose Satan with all my might; and set myself about it immediately.
"Perfectly useless," said Asmodeus.
Can you believe, O reader, that I was now verging towards the most dreadful conflict with Satan, I ever had? It is likely that he knew my resolution, and determined to prevent my carrying it into execution.
"Right. You know what his main troubles were?"
I shook my head.
"First, his enormous fear of death. Just look at the title of his book: An Oration on Death. If it hadn't been for that, we'd not have let him suffer so long.
"Then, his lovely young wife. That's why I was there. He was full of lust for her, though he wouldn't admit it to himself, except in veiled ways. When she died, still a bride, he was filled with guilt, horror, and an opposing desire to join her. Except that in heaven they don't fuck, you know, and that bothered him. He never remarried — and that was the third thing. All those years, during the last part of the Second Great Awakening, so-called, he sublimated like crazy." Asmodeus lashed his tail. "There I go again, using these modern terms. I'm going to catch Heaven for that if I don't watch out. Anyway, he became an Enthusiast."
The same morning, after enjoying these wonderous refreshings from the spirit of God, as I believe, Satan again filled me with gloomy apprehensions, which was observed by the family.
My father and brother being a little distance from the house, taking down an old building, my brother came in first, I believe, and my father afterwards, and requested me to go out and divert my mind with what they were about; which I engaged, and intended to do. But in sitting at the table my gloom and melancholy increased, and the power of Satan came on me so strong, that I felt myself hardly able to move. I retired immediately, for the purpose of prayer; — but feeling as though there was no mercy for me, and that I must sink down immediately to destruction."
"Wishful thinking, again," Asmodeus said.
— I thought it would be a sin, for me to ask mercy for myself, — I inadvertently made an expression, that I had no thought of making; which, as I think, was wholly by the influence and power of Satan."
"They call that "Turette's syndrome" nowadays, don't they? Asmodeus said, purring and grinning. "Sounds a good deal like what those Putnam relatives of yours were doing in Salem in the old days, doesn't it?"
I remained in a very gloomy and melancholy state of mind all that day. My friends endeavored to comfort me. I said nothing of my attempting to pray. — In the evening I retired for secret prayer, as I ever had done — I was greatly beset by the Adversary, after going to bed. I believe that I prayed to God, and resisted Satan alternately the fore part of the night.
Asmodeus yawned. "It's getting late," he said. "Let's go to bed. You can work on that stuff some more tomorrow."
Thursday, 29th. Cara has been telling Rafe things. She has told him I have been talking with Wesley Catch; that I go into the library and sit among the books all day, seemingly doing nothing; and that in the evenings I sit downstairs at Uncle John's desk copying things out of old books. I suspect she has also told him I will not touch, or even go near her.
This morning when Rafe came, Cara again did her vanishing act, so I knew what was coming. He began in a roundabout way, but as I was taciturn, he finally came directly to the point.
"What is it, Charles?" He rapped his knuckles nervously on the tabletop. "Is it Norine's and Melanie's death?" He looked at me hard. "You can't go through life blaming yourself for that."
"Why not?" I asked.
He continued to stare at me. "What was in Norine's last letter? Cara's told me about the painting. I think you should get rid of it."
"Don't tell him," Asmodeus said menacingly from the doorway.
But before I had time to think about it I said, "I am in the possession of Asmodeus."
Asmodeus yowled. Rafe started at the sound — so he can hear it too!
"I think your cat has to go out," Rafe said. He got up, went to the middle door, opened it. Asmodeus shot out of it like smoke.
"Now, what's all this b.s.? Some more of your literary and mythological allusions?" I could see he was inclined to take my remark none too seriously but was somewhat uncertain about it. He looked into my eyes piercingly, and he saw I wasn't joking.
"Wesley Catch is Admodeus. He is putting you and Cara on, but he talks to me."
Rafe shook his head in wonderment. He leaned on the table as he stood opposite. "You really believe that?" But he needn't have asked.
"Okay," he said, "time for drastic action. Cara's told me about those screwy home remedies she's been brewing up for you because you won't see a doctor. But I'm no doctor. Do you trust me?"
I looked at him. There seemed to be an aura of subdued light about him — the sunshine through the window, perhaps, but in looking at his fair countenance and the strong body with its posture of strength, I felt a deep sense of trust suffuse my blood, and I said, "Yes."
"Good!" Rafe said. "I've told Cara to lay off the old wives' brews. Will you take therapy with me?"
"What kind of therapy?"
"I'm a trained psychologist. It will be hypnotherapy, and I've got to have your absolute cooperation. All right?"
"Charles," he said, "I can get rid of Asmodeus for you. But I've got to have your confidence."
"All right, then," Rafe said in a gentle voice. "We'll start Saturday night. I want to look at some books of my own tomorrow." He held out his hand, and I took it. His grip was warm and strong. "Tell Cara I'll be seeing her." And he left.
In the evening, as I was picking up Bodman's book, Asmodeus jumped upon his perch. "You'll be sorry for that. Mark my words," he hissed.
I did not reply and began to read. Asmodeus settled down and stared balefully at me. I tried to ignore him, and to some degree I succeeded,, but whenever I chanced to look up I saw his eyes burning into my skull.
Satan would now suggest to my mind distressing ideas of my guilt, in one or two inadvertent expressions. He then seemed to demand of me whether I had not expressed myself as he stated, in another case. I answered him that I did not know anything about it, and seemed to subjoin, that I did not care. He made answer in this way, — There's clear malice. — And upon this, he made me believe that I had committed the unpardonable sin; or very much fear that I had. Upon which a shower of blasphemies was suggested to my mind, such as I never before heard of, or even conceived of, though I have no idea that I uttered any thing aloud.
This greatly affrighted me. He would endeavor to make me think that I was as much a blasphemer, as he was; and would string out his blasphemies, and call them mine: and try to make me think that I spoke them.
"Turrette's syndrome," Asmodeus said.
My distress was so great, after all this, that I believe that I sunk into a partial delirium. For, I had somewhat confused ideas of the place where I was: still, I was afraid — in my delirium — that I was undone forever.
But Satan continued to cloud my mind with the most frightful and gloomy apprehensions; and dealt out his infernal suggestions with a liberal hand; for he overcame both body and mind, and caused me once more to sink into those dreadful agitations and convulsions of body, and distress of mind which I had before experienced, or, still more distressing than any thing before.
This caused loud groans, and perhaps, strange noises, to break from my lips, while every part of my body was most violently shaken. And can you believe, O reader, that during all this time I had not any bodily pain, to my knowledge. O the great kindness of our God! How unsearchable are his ways!"
"Unsearchable as Hell," I heard Asmodeus say.