Friday, 30th. During this period of distress, the family were called up;
and were much alarmed at my situation. This was in the dead of night; and it appeared to me that Satan would immediately tear me in pieces; which he seemed to threaten to do; and I was really afraid it would take place before the morning light. — My mother standing by my bedside, it now appears to me, was earnest in prayer — she asked me if I could pray for myself? when, I believe, I made an attempt to pray.
But still I was afraid to have my brother leave the chamber, for fear I should be torn in pieces in his absence.
And thus I waited in a kind of dreadful expectation of the solemn event. — But when I had waited a long time, and experienced no harm, my mind became more calm; and Satan's power for that time, was evidently arrested. — O how ought I here at least to set up my Ebenezer and say, Thus far the lord hath helped me. Can you believe, my friends, that some time during this dreadful night, I had again been in conversation with my supposed deity, who had been declaring to me my lost estate, and making out the sentence, that he would pronounce upon me at the great day of accounts. He seemed to declare to me, and in some measure, made it appear to me, that I was the worst person that ever lived on the earth: that I never did a good deed in all my life. That all that I ever had done was through pride, and to procure a higher seat in heaven.
I begged him to spare me, and believe that I promised to reform; but he refused, and said, he would make an example of me. He seemed to bring up the case of Francis Spira, as an instance of it.
"Do you know who Francis Spira was?" Asmodeus asked.
"No," I said.
"Why not look it up?"
I went upstairs to the library. I began to reach for Uncle John's old Americana, but Asmodeus shook his head. "There's no entry. Try this one." He walked on all fours over to the shelves and poked his nose at A Universal Biographical Dictionary, which I hadn't used since I wrote the Salem narrative.
SPIRA, Francis, an eminent Venetian lawyer, in the 16th century. He was supposed to favor the tenets of the reformation, and compelled to make a recantation to save his life, which had such an effect upon his spirits, as to hasten his end. He died in 1548.
As we walked back downstairs to the study I asked, "How do you suppose Bodman knew that?"
"He was quite a reader, a lawyer himself, and had literary aspirations — you've seen all those poems in the Oration, scattered around and at the end of the book. Rather fancied himself as an intellectual and as a writer. Sound at all familiar? — no pun intended."
I did not reply but reseated myself and went back to Bodman's narrative. Asmodeus chortled.
But in declaring my eternal misery, he seemed to make a mistake: — for he coupled my misery with the name of another person; and upon my interrupting him and saying, Did you say, that such an one should be miserable? To which he answered, O no, you, you! — This gave me some little relief, for — it now turned in my mind, that it might not be the Divine Being. But still my mind was clouded, and the Adversary, as I suppose, still kept up his dismal suggestions. As he told me, in his way, that if I had not done a certain deed, which he named, he never should have drove me on, — to commit the unpardonable sin. — upon which I answered, I did it because I really thought it was my duty; and was directed to do it by God himself. To which he answered, you might have known it was the Devil.
"What was the deed?" I asked Asmodeus.
He twitched an ear. "On her death bed he made love to his wife for the last time. She asked him to — but more out of pity for him than out of her own desire. Ah, how I remember that scene," Wesley Asmodeus Catch said, flicking his pink tongue across his lips. "Unfortunately, she was a truly good woman, like Cara, and he couldn't hold onto her for very long — but she really slipped that time."
And besides, he seemed to inform me, that when I was attacked in my bed, if I had got up, and got my father up, and put him to praying for me, and all the other christian people, and had exhorted myself to the utmost; I might have been kept from committing the unpardonable sin: but I had committed it, and therefore there was no hope for me.
Can you believe, my friends, that a person should be so lost, under the power and terror of Satan, as to receive all this as coming from the "Supreme Being"? Thus I spent this dreary night, and the next I believe, was much like it in many respects; for I was filled with gloomy apprehensions, and dismal forebodings; appearances of frightful creatures were brought up to the imagination, and, indeed I may say, that Satan wrought more powerfully on the imagination this night than ever before. Though I was free from those convulsions, yet there was every thing frightful to the imagination, that Satan could present. And from what I have experienced, I believe I can say, and that without a doubt, that Satan can bring up to man's imagination, any being, or thing that ever came within the ken of his knowledge.
O what a world of counterfeits, can he impose upon our defenceless race! —
"Perfectly true," Asmodeus said, "except — what's a 'counterfeit'? A fake dollar will buy real goods if the seller thinks it's real. Right, Charles?":
"Am I real, Charles?"
I nodded again.
"Attaboy," Asmodeus purred.
Saturday, 31st. This morning I woke up early and dressed. Cara was still sleeping. I did not see Asmodeus anywhere. When I had thrown some cold water on my face I went to the library and took down a book I hadn't looked through before: an 1818 edition, published in London, of the Christian's Best Companion, containing The Whole Book of Common Prayer and Administration of The Sacraments, and other Rites and ceremonies of...the United Church of England and Ireland. I opened it to a page near the beginning and read a "Morning Prayer":
O all ye works of the Lord; bless ye the Lord; praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye heavens, bless ye the Lord; praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O all ye powers of the Lord — praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye sun and moon, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye showers and dew, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye winds of god, — O ye fire and heat, — O ye winter and summer, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye dews and frosts, — ye frost and cold, — ice and snow, — ye nights and days, — light and darkness, — ye lightnings and clouds, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O let the earth bless the Lord: yea, let it praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye mountains and hills, — O all ye green things upon the earth, — ye wells, — seas and floods, — ye whales, and all that move in the waters, — all ye fowls of the air, — beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord: praise him, — O let Israel bless the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye priests of the Lord, — O ye servants of the Lord, — O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, — ye holy and humble men of heart, —
O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever.
Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.
When I had finished reading, I put the book down and walked up to the cemetery. The day was overcast, and a wind was blowing out of the east. I had forgotten to wear a jacket, and the rawness of the day chilled me, but I hardly noticed. I walked through the graveyard looking at the stones with the local family names: Putnam, Hawkins, Court — my eyes swung away and came back to those latter stones, and I scanned them. Some of the older ones were illegible, but then I saw the one I was looking for:
May 2, 1834
Nov. 7, 1980
The phoenix shall rise from the Fire
So he had come back from Lowell to Frankfort after all and had died a young man. I felt a brief sense of sorrow, as though I had been deprived of a friend. I thought — confusedly, for a moment — I'll get no more letters. Then I shook my head to clear it and realized what I had been thinking.
I went to stand beside the two raw patches, without markers still, that adjoined Uncle John's gravesite. Leaves scattered and rustled across the dirt, and I heard a whisper, then a voice.
"Hello, Charles," it said. "Well, here we all are, together at last."
"Mommy, can I pat the kitty?" another voice asked. I looked and saw Asmodeus sitting on Melany's grave.
"Yes, dear. Say hello to daddy."
"Hello. You look kind of sick."
"He is. That's because he's going to try to get rid of us tonight," Asmodeus said.
"That won't work, Charles," Norine said. "You'll never be rid of us."
"Why does daddy want to get rid of us?" Melany's voice carried a note of hurt. "Why did he go away that time?"
Norine answered. "Because he found somebody he liked better than us."
"No," Asmodeus said. "Himself."
My limbs began to tremble violently, like alders in the wind blowing over the fields. My stomach clenched over a stone.
"Poor daddy," Melany said.
I forced myself to turn away — it was like walking into a wall built of gales.
"We're coming with you, Charles," Norine said. "We have nowhere else to go until you come with us."
I didn't turn around but walked in slow motion over leagues of blue clay and stony ground, back to the house. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Catch padding along beside me, each paw frozen in air at every step.
When finally I opened the door, I found Cara in the kitchen. She took one look at me and blanched. She reached into an apron pocket and took out something.
"Rafe gave me this to give you if you needed it," she said. She handed it to me and filled a glass with water, handing me that, too.
It was a large capsule. I took it with water and swallowed.
"That will only help a while," Norine said. "Nothing will really help."
"Anything, even for just a while," I said.
"What?" Cara looked at me peculiarly, a suspicion of fright in her eyes.
I shook my head. In a few minutes my stomach relaxed, and I felt drowsy.
"How about some lunch — did you have breakfast?"
I shook my head again. "I can't eat anything today. But I'd like to sleep." I went upstairs and lay down. Just before I closed my eyes I saw the death's head looking at me from the mantel.
When I woke, it was evening. I sat down and wrote this. It is now nearing ten o'clock, and I hear voices in the kitchen. Rafe has arrived.
Sunday, 1st. I have, I believe, been purged, although Rafe says the "hypnotherapy" must be continued. I understand I was to be left with the post-hypnotic suggestion that I remember nothing of what occurred, but in fact I recall everything vividly, although Cara, for some reason, swears that what I remember, and what actually happened, are entirely different from one another.
The first thing Rafe did was to take down the clock from the living-room mantel as I and Cara watched. He set it on a table, took a small can of some sort of luminous paint and a brush, and painted the disc of the pendulum. Then, leaving the panel open, he started the pendulum swinging again.
Next, he took a small lamp with an odd-looking bulb in it, plugged it in, and asked Cara to turn off the lights. He then arranged the lamp so that it caused the pendulum disc to glow — the lamp itself cast no glow at all. "It's black light," Rafe said. "Most coffee houses have them The paint is da-glo."
When he had things arranged properly, he asked Cara to turn the lights back on. When she had done so, he asked me to help him place a Morris chair in front of the clock, which I did. He then told me to sit in it.
When I was sitting, he asked me to tell him when my eyes were on an exact level with the swinging pendulum, and he commenced to adjust the back of the chair. When I was leaning back at the correct angle, I told him so, and he dropped the rod into place in the notches to make the chair-back rigid. He asked if I were comfortable, and I nodded.
Now Rafe moved another chair into position just slightly behind me and to one side. He signaled Cara who doused the lights, and, from the sounds of her movements, I could tell she settled onto the couch.
"Okay," Rafe said in a quiet voice, "I want to you relax now — tell every part of your body to relax, and I want you to keep looking at the pendulum as it swings. Follow it with your eyes. Let yourself sink into the pendulum and the chair and the darkness. Listen to the ticking of the clock, and, when I speak, to my voice."
For a long time he said nothing except, now and then, "Relax." My eyes followed the swinging disc. In the fireplace I heard the sound of wings, and, outdoors, the rushing of the water past the ruined mill. I heard Rafe's even breathing near me. At first I was very tense, but I did as he asked, and gradually my limbs began to lightedn and to tingle, and the disc grew larger will it was very big, like a moon. Then Rafe began to speak.
"It is the moon, Charles Ally," he said. "it is filling the room. Nothing is here but you, the moon, and my voice. Let it take you, Charles. I am here to protect you and help you. Your eyes are growing wide and wider, to swallow the moon, and all you can hear is my voice and the ticking of time.
"Your limbs are growing heavy, heavy, and you see only the moon, only the moon, only the moon."
I could no longer feel my limbs tingling. I was lying on the softest place in the sky, and the moon rose up in my eyes till it was enormous.
"And now you are growing very sleepy, Charles, and your eyelids are heavy. The moonlight is hurting them. Let them close against the light, Charles, let them close and listen to me. Are you sleepy, Charles?
"Yes," I said. "Very. The moon is hurting my eyes."
"Now, Charles, you are asleep, and you hear nothing but my voice. Is that so?"
"Yes," I said. My eyes were closed, but I could see through the lids. The moon was very pale among the scudding clouds.
"Are you asleep?"
"What do you see?"
"The dim moon in the night sky, and I am in the sky too."
And now the voice became hollow, like a hevy gong. "Rise up and face me. Rise up, Charles Ally." I felt myself rise and turn. I was standing on nothing. I saw, with my eyes still closed, a priest in robes and cassock, darkly in the moonlight.
I, Raphael, minister of God, command thee: Speak! Who are thou that hast taken this man?"
A great groan burst from my lips. Coils in my boweld, knots and scales.
"In the name of the Father, speak! In the sane of the Son, speak! In the name of the Holy Gost, speak, viper!"
A great voice, deeper than any well: "I am Asmodeus."
"And I am Raphael. How didst thou enter? Speak, in the name of Christ!"
"I am Asmodeus, of the Order of Seraphim fallen. I came into this man through his organ of procreation."
"Are there others with thee? Speak!"
"No others," said the deep voice.
"I, Raphael, command thee in the name of the Lord. What others are there with thee in this man?"
"In the name of the Father — "
Coilings and lashings.
"And of the Son — "
A babble of voices in my lungs.
"And of the Holy Ghost — "
"I am here," said a soft and haughty voice. "Belias of the Third Hierarchy, Prince of the Order of Virtues fallen. I entered through his mind and have clothed him in the raiment of arrogance."
"I entered with Belias," said a towering voice. "I am Beelzebub, of the First Hierarchy, Prinde of the Order of Seraphim fallen. I have pierced his heart with the lance of pride."
"I, Verrine, of the First Hierarchy, Order of Thones fallen. I entered with the point of the lance, and poisoned his blood with impatience."
"And I, Gressil, of the First Hierarchy, Order of Thrones fallen, came in the the haft. His heart is impure."
"Carrow, of the Second Hierarchy, Prince of Powers fallen. His heart is stone. No one may remove the lance."
"And I am the last, Carnivean, of the Second Hierarchy, Prince of Powers fallen. In the mirror of glass he sees me when he commits fornication with women."
The babel ceased. In the darkness was the ticking of the moon.
"Are there others? Speak? In the name of the Trinity, I, Raphael, command it."
Silence again, as before lightning and thunder.
"Why hast thou possessed this man?"
And the deep voice answered: "He wished it. He forsook his father when he was twelve, after baptism. He heard no voice when he addressed the Throne of Grace. He commanded, and heard not the Word, and called out, crying, 'Thou art gone from the heavens, and I am forsaken. Therefore will I forsake thee.' And we began to enter."
"How long wilt thou possess this man? What is thy term?"
"Until the final hour," said the softest voice.
"I command thee, then, Vipers of the spirit, Wyvern and Serpent, the Worm that destroys the flesh, in the name of the Judge of the quick and the dead, of the hosts of Firmament and Earth, of Heaven and Hell, begone!"
Again in my bowels the mortal terror; coilings and knottings; the scent of smoke in my nostrils. I felt a hand laid upon my head, and it was cool.
"I conjure thee, Princes of Seraphim fallen, of Cherubim and Thones fallen, in the name of thy Maker, begone!"
I fell and twisted, writhing in the dark air, but felt no pain; my limbs were as cedars in the winds.
"I conjure thee, Princes of Dominions fallen, of Principalities and Powers fallen, in the name of the Most Holy, begone!"
Terrible noises in my throat. The hand was ice on my forehead, and I shook in every part, as though torn by wolves.
"I conjure thee, Princes of Virtues fallen, of Archangels and Angels fallen, in the name of the Lord thy God, Adonai, begone!"
I cannot describe the storm that now shook me, the voices that shrieked and cursed me, overwhelming me so that I could hardly hear Raphael.
"Beelzebub, in the name of thy adversary, St. Francis of Assisi; Asmodeus, in the name of thy adversary, St. John the Baptists; Verrine, in the name of thy adversary, St. Dominic; Gressil, in the name of thy adversary, St. Bernard; Carrow, in the name of thy adversary, St. Vincent; Carnivean, in the name of thy adversary, St. John the Evanngelist; Belias, in the name of thy adversary, St. Francis de Paul — all ye that possess this man, by the power of the Holy Church and of the Lord of All, I, Raphael, command thee to go fort and enter not again."
As he named these names, each and every one, I felt part of a burden go with great wailing. And, at the last word, there was silence. Then, the bell behind the moon pealed twelve times and I opened my eyes. The room was suffused with a fiery glow from the fireplace.
Suddenly, with a yowl of rage, Wesley Catch tore out of the shadows, into the fireplace, and I heard his c laws scratching the chimney as he ran upward among a burst of wings that faded into the night above the farm.
I remember that Rafe and Cara helped me upstairs and into bed. Cara kissed me goodnight.
I am too tired, now, to continue the narrative. I have not seen Catch all day.
Monday, 2nd. When I awoke yesterday morning, after the exorcism, I lay in bed and listened. I heard nothing but the lonely sounds of Maine in late autumn: the wind, the water, the occasional distant sound of a car or truck on the Gardiner road. I looked around the room and everything was in its place — the hallseat by the wardrobe, the fire, died to ash, in the fireplace. Everything but the picture over the mantel. I got up, went to look at the spot, and then I looked down into the grate: I saw the outline of a frame laid in ash. The canvas was entirely consumed.
I dressed and went looking for Cara. She was in the basement, just coming up the stairs as I entered the dining room. Without words, we greeted one another, and I kissed her. While she was making breakfast, I went up the the library and got down The Book of Common Prayer. Opening it to "All Saints Day," I read,
"And I saw another angel ascending from the east, and having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth, and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, will we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed; and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand, of all the tribes of Israel.
"Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Reuben, were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand.
"Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
"after this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried out with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen; Blessing and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen."
Rafe joined us for breakfast, and he patted Cara's hand as she served us. "Everything okay?" he asked. Cara nodded, and he turned his eyes on me.
"Yes," I said. "I think everything's all right now."
"Good. But I want to continue the sessions for a while, just to be sure." I must have looked alarmed, but he laughed, holding out his cup for Cara to fill.
"Don't worry about it, Charles." He pushed the hair out of his eyes. "The first is the worst. From here on out, it's just insurance. I'll be along next Saturday night, and we'll have another go."
When Rafe had left I went out for a walk in the fields. Cara was on the porch, calling for Wesley Catch. I came up to her and asked what she was doing.
"Calling the cat, of course."
I felt a cold shudder run down my spine.
"Whatever for? He can't come back — not after last night."
Cara looked strangely at me. "Charles, what are you talking about? You're not still —"
"But you were there too," I said. "Didn't you see hum run up the chimney?" I could not understand why she began to look frightened.
"The exorcism," I said. "It worked. Asmodeus is gone."
She took me by the hand. "Charles," she said, very gently, "there was no exorcism. What are you saying? Rafe put you to sleep and tried to make you see for yourself what was bothering you. He didn't let you remember consciously this time, but he'll start to next time, now that he knows, and slowly you'll be able to — oh, Charles. He told me all about it. You can't remember anything."
But I told her what I remembered, and she is feigniong surprise. She must be. I have worried about it all day. A while ago I cited as proof that Wesley Catch has disappeared.
"He's just run off," Cara answered. "Toms will do that now ant then, you know. I just hope a fox hasn't caught him."
When I came into Uncle John's study to write this evening, I found a letter lying opened on the desk:
"Lowell, April 10, 1860
I received your letter last week, but I trust you will excuse me for not answering it before, I had to write hom last Sunday & was too lazy to write any more. Miss Lydia Buckford arived here last week. I have not seen yer yet I was to see the Harris Girls last Sunday evening had a nice time. Ellen Harris is coming home in about three weeks I presume you will be happy to see her. William Martin was here about three days ago I did see him. As I was looking over the Boston Journal I saw that Mrs. Moffatts house has burned last Saturday. I think you had better have some fire engen as they have one here that goes by steam. Charles we will have a nice excuse to go over to the river since Louisa has mooved I shall stop over there when I come home. Wont that be nice
"Charles is Srah Allen in Lowell if she is let me know it I should like to see her. How are all the boys in Frankfort. have they began to think about shading yet. it smells kind of fishy here sometimes when the factory girls are out
"Today business has been very good for a rainy one we have taken $150. on the cash sales besides what we have charged. I had a letter from Laura Jack last week of Richmond Me. I here the steamer Easter Queen was burnt at her harbor. I suppose they will have another on the river prety soon Give my respects to all the girls & boys.
"You will have to excuse me for not writing any more it is all most time to shut up
Tuesday, 3rd. I am overwhelmingly relieved to be rid of Bodman. Tomorrow I will try to get back to my novel.
THE BOOK OF THE BLACK HEART
Chapter six: The Gunner
It was the Gunner's mount the sailors were using that night to spin their sea stories on, as the carrier plowed through the star-bitten Pacific, and it was the Gunner's turn.
"Looking back on things," he said, "I guess life had been pretty good, at least for me, until my old man kicked the bucket. I might've even been able to live with that if I hadn't've found out how he died one night when my mother thought I was asleep and got yakking to her best friend, somebody she'd known since she was in school.
"Dad used to take me out to the lake for a day's fishing. We'd float around out there, just dangling our lines and hauling in the black bass. When we got tired we'd lie back in the bottom of our big, flat-bottomed scow, pull our straw hats down over our eyes, and let the sun beat down on us. Man, that was the life. We'd be stripped to the waist and sweating like horses. I could feel the sun soothing the muscles where they ached from being bent over the side of the boat. The smell of the fish we'd caught mixed with the pinewood smell of the scow. It was sort of like a nice form of ether and made me doze off.
"Every now and then a shore breeze would blow by, and we could smell the woods that bordered the lake. The breeze would rumple around our heads for a few minutes, and just as we'd be getting used to it it would stop and the sun would beat down as hard as ever.
"Once in a while a horsefly would buzz around me and finally decide to land. You have to slap 'em fast or they get away and pretty soon come back to pester you again.
"After a while the breezes would start to come up more often and the sides of the boat would block off the sun, and we'd know it was time to go home. Dad would row all the way to shore while I sat and watched the last of the sun glint on his skin. There would be purple splotches in the sky over the wood, and the ripples in the water were gold.
"I was always first out of the scow. I'd sprint over the side, splash into the water, and wade the last few feet to the beach. The sand felt good. And then I'd watch Dad as he got our gear out of the boat and walked toward me. Before he caught up with me I'd stretch till I felt my bones creak, and then lead the way along the path through the woods.
We had to walk along this pine-needle path to get to Dad's jalopy. Sometimes we'd stop and listen to the wind in the big trees, or look for animals or birds. Sometimes there was a stray bee on its last trip back to the hive.
"But then he died. I was there when they brought him in off the lake. After that I used to have a hard time getting to sleep. I'd go to bed and just lay there listening to my heard pump blood. If my mom checked on me I'd keep my eyes closed and make like I was in Dreamland.
"One night I heard my mother in the hall whispering to somebody, and then she opened the door a crack and I heard her say, 'Doesn't he look cunning, all curled up in bed like that? Oh, you wouldn't believe what an imp he can be sometimes, not when you see him like this, the little angel. You'd never believe he has bad dreams sometimes, poor dear, ever since his dad died in that accident.' I heard her sigh.
"'Poor Sally,' her friend said — I think her name was Smith, Alice Smith. 'You've had a hard life, but it's coming out all right, isn't it? You've hooked another one, haven't you? That's why I dropped in. I'm dying to hear all about it.'
"'Oh, all right,' I heard mom giggle. 'But you've got to promise never to tell anybody. Some people might misunderstand, but I know you won't. I stirred. 'Sshh,' she whispered. "Come into the living room before he wakes up. Honestly, I never get a minute to myself any more. Come on. I'll tell you how I reeled him in.'
"When they closed the door again I got up and snuck out to the hall. I heard them in the living room, so I eased on down to the doorway and listened.
"'Beer?' mom asked, 'or something stronger?"
"'Stronger,' Mrs. Smith said. I chanced a look around the corner and I could see them sitting sideways to me. I could see Alice was all ears. 'What's he like?' she asked.
"'Oh, he's great!' Mom got up to mix martinis. 'He's a big brute of a fella, with fat freckled cheeks and a grin as wide as a pound of bacon. Rrrufff!'
"'Tell me more! Where'd you meet him?' Alice took her drink as mom settled into the scatter pillows on the couch. She rolled her eyes and faked a look around her for spies. I ducked.
"'Don't tell a soul, now promise?' Alice gave a nod full of quick breaths. 'Actually,' mom said in what was supposed to be a low voice, 'I met him before big Mark died. Oh! He swept me right off my feet one day at Danny's Lunch downtown. He just up and sat down at my table — the place was crowded, and the next thing I knew, his knees were nudging me so cute-like while we ate our noodle soup. Oh,' she laughed, 'he's such a card. Just like a little boy, even though he's so big.' She rolled her eyes again. I sat down on the floor in the hall and didn't look at them any more.
"'Goodness, that's so romantic,' Alice Smith said. I could imagine her teats bobbing and her face flushing. I didn't have to see. 'How I envy you!' she said in little breaths.
"'Till then I'd just been feeling like any old sack. Mark never paid any attention to me, you know. All he ever wanted to do was take junior fishing. Honestly. Two ten-year-olds in the house was too much.' She giggled again and was quiet while she sipped her drink. In the corner the teevee belched and flickered — I could see the shadows coming out into the hall. Then mom said, 'So, while my two boys were out fishing, Harry would come visit me. I fell for him hook, line, and sinker.
"'Well, this went on for about a month. I was getting about ready to get a lawyer when what should happen one day but Mark — big Mark I mean — walked in the door early from work.'
"'No' said Mrs. Smith. I took a quick peek — the one eye I could see what as big and bright as a light bulb.
"'Oh, yes,' said mother, 'and there we were all over the parlor rug, my skirts up around my hips and Harry huffing all over me, snorting like a....'" The Gunner stopped a minute to listen to the sea. Then, "Bull," he said.
"'In a minute it was all over,' mom told Mrs. Smith. 'Mark got all red in the face and Harry got up. He was laughing. Oh, he knows how to take things. He zipped himself up and got ready for a fight.'
"'Then what happened?' I heard Mrs. Smith gasp.
"'Nothing. Mark just walked over to the closet and got his rod and things.'
"'Rod and reel.' Mom was quiet for another second. Then, '"I'm going fishing," Mark said. In his business suit, no less. '"In your business suit?" I asked. By this time I was decent again. But he didn't answer. He just walked to the door and out, and that's the last I saw of him.'
"'Alive, anyhow.' I heard mom sip her drink and saw the flare of her lighter as she lit a cigarette. 'After big Mark left, about ten minutes later, maybe, little Mark came in just as Harry was about to leave. He just barely missed us finishing up the job big Mark had interrupted. I think he suspected something anyhow. He gave Harry a funny look and said, "Pop home yet?" I told him he'd gone fishing.
"Without me?" Then he was out the door like a flash.' "I got up and went back to my room then," the Gunner said. "I slammed the door — I didn't give a shit if they heard me. Mom came in 'What was that door slamming?' she asked me, but I didn't answer. I just kept laying on the bed staring and remembering that day. I don't know how long mom stood there asking me how much I heard, I didn't even do anything when she shook me and bounced me up and down in the bed and slapped me. She finally stopped screaming and crying, and after a while there was the lake again, and it was late in the afternoon. something was wrong. I'd been running, or maybe pedaling my bike. I don't know how I got to the lake, because it was quite a way — I just knew I had to catch up.
"By the time I was standing on the strip of beach I could feel the night starting to come on — the moon was already up flopping around in the tops of the pines like a sunfish. My legs hurt, and I couldn't breathe — it was like there was water in my chest. I looked for our scow, and it was out there, but there was something funny about it. And then I saw — it was upside-down, and there were a bunch of heads bobbing around it, and another boat. I started in to yell, 'Dad! Dad!' but nobody paid me any attention. Only when I took off my shoes and started to run into the water somebody grabbed me and said, 'Stay here, boy. They'll have him soon.'
"But the moon was high before they brought him in, all soggy, and his eyes staring at me in the dark. His feet were all wound up in line and his metal gear box was caught in the line too. They all just stood around and looked at him, and sometimes they'd look at me too, and then away. I waited for something to happen, but nobody did anything. 'Why don't you all do something? Help him, help him! Jesus!' I said, but they all just shook their heads.
""'It's no use, son. He's been down there for three hours anyway, ' somebody said, a cop I think. 'The ambulance will be here soon.'
"But I looked at him and I saw something. 'No, no, he's alive, don't you see?' I said. 'Look, his heart's beating, his heart...'
"I managed to rip away from the guy that was holding me, and I fell down beside Dad and put my ear on his chest. I could feel it. His heart thumping, almost jumping out of his chest, trying to keep going. It was slimy wet against my ear, it was wriggling and squirming, even though you could see his face was beginning to bloat and it was all blue. I hugged him and looked up at them all standing around. 'Oh, Jesus, won't you help him!' I screamed. 'Look, his heart!' I tore open his shirt, still with his tie on.
"And you could see it squirming and wiggling, see it with your naked eyes, — a fish caught in his undershirt, a big black bass, fighting to cut loose but losing, its head stuck out near the armpit, its bulgy eyes like to moons staring down at me out of the sky, out of the pines that reeled off into a dark voice that said, 'I wonder what mom will say when we get home for supper.' And then no more dreams, nothing," said the Gunner, "except night and the smell of pine."