Thursday, 7th. I am the one who pulled Cara out of the burning farmhouse, not Wesley Court or Catch — that figment of Charles Ally's diseased mind. I can't decide whether Charles wanted to be saved, or merely wanted me at the scene of a suicide-murder, to witness his revenge for the immense delusion he had built in his head. I have never known a man more ridden by guilt and failure.
At any rate, it was too late for Charles by the time I broke through the door. I had kept our appointment, but by the time I arrived the flames had already spread from the burning coals he had scattered about the house and had enclosed him where he sat at his Uncle John's old desk in the study, writing in his Journal.
As I stood in the hallway at the foot of the stairs I called out to him through a wall of fire, but I don't believe he heard me. I saw him close the book, lean over, and open the safe at his side. He put the Journal and a folder inside, shut the door, and spun the combination. Then he straightened in his chair and just sat while the fire began to crawl up his back. He never uttered a sound.
I can't be certain, but I believe he had finally lapsed into the state of catatonia that had been threatening him since he arrived here in Frankfort in September. I think — I hope he couldn't feel a thing in those lest moments.
I tried to reach him. I tried to push through the fire to get to him, but I couldn't make it. The heat was searing. My arms have still not healed completely.
It was then that I heard the sounds from the bedroom upstairs, and realized it must be Cara. The stairs were still relatively free of fire, so I went up three steps at a time and found her. When she saw me she screamed my name and struggled to get up off the bed. I couldn't believe what Charles had done, and I stopped in my tracks, staring, for just a moment, but Cara screamed again, and I ran to her. I fumbled at the knots for a few seconds, and then I could hear the fire in the doorway — there was no time. It was eating up the old farmhouse at an incredible rate. There were flames licking up through the vent in the floor from the living room below.
I reached for a pair of scissors on the bureau and began sawing through the cords. Cara was sobbing. Finally, the last one parted. I picked her up and turned, but there was no possibility of going back the way I had come. I carried Cara to the south window of the bedroom, kicked in the glass, and rolled her out onto the roof of the front porch. In a moment I was out myself. I lay on my stomach and eased her over the edge, holding her by the arms, and then I let her drop. It wasn't a big fall. Then f rolled off the edge too.
We lay on the lawn, trembling, exhausted, until I realized we were too close to the house, which was a great torch by then. We could hear the siren on the town firehouse wailing, calling the volunteers, but no one had come yet. Somehow I dragged Cara and myself out to the middle of the yard, between the two enormous blue spruces, and passed out. Later, I realized that was a stupid place to go — what would have happened if the trees had caught?
I don't know how much time had elapsed between my arrival on the scene and Cara's rescue, but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes, When I woke up, I was in the Gardiner hospital, eight miles down the road. It was the next day. My arms and face were bandaged. I asked about Cara, and they said she was all right — shock, mostly.
The flames hadn't really touched her at all. I was thankful for that, at least.
I'm not sure this is the right thing we're doing — continuing Charles' journal like this. It is morbid. Cara insists, however, and perhaps...perhaps.,.it will be therapeutic, If it exorcises a few ghosts, it will be good, but resurrection would be bad — very bad, I hope Cara sees what might happen.
Friday, 8th. Rafe doesn't know this yet, but the fire did spread to the spruces. They found us Iying between two
torches. I was too weak to move, and Rafe had slipped into unconsciousness. The trees bloomed with fire like two great poinsettias. Lyring on my back and looking up, I could see nothing but writhing red snakes against the night and the cold stars.
There was snow on the ground. Heat beat down on us from above, and chill rose up from the earth to freeze us, I had strength enough left only to untie the ends of rope from my ankles and toss them into the burning trees. I don't know why I did that.
By the time the firemen arrived, almost nothing was left of the house. They found us and carried us to a stationa, and we were rushed to the hospital. I was treated for shock and stayed only the night. Rafe had to remain a few days longer because of his burns. When they released me, Iinsisted on seeing him privately for a few minutes, and because they were kind, they allowed it. I don't know whether they thought we were married or relatives, or what, but I managed to see him before the police questioned him, I begged him to tell them he knew nothing — merely that he had happened along at the right moment. He agreed, though reluctantly, I feel. For all that he is a minister, one of "the “new breed" that Charles so often maintained he despised — still, he is compassionate, and he agreed. There is no sense, now that everything is over, in raking over the coals of Charles' mania.
When I was questioned, I told the police I knew nothing more than that I had wakened to find myself surrounded by flame; that I was too frightened to move; that Rafe had appeared to save me. When they asked me about the ropes on my wrists and the scrape marks there where the ropes had cut me while I struggled on the bed, I told them that Rafe had put the ropes on my ankles to lower me as far from the roof to the ground as he could. Rafe didn't contradict my story.
These are good people. They suspect that something isn't right — I have heard rumors in the village that there is suspicion of arson — but no one is pushing it. They feel sorry for me, I know, although they are aware that Charles and Iwere "living in sin" when his wife and child were killed in the accident last fall. Charles is buried beside them now, in the little graveyard at the foot of Blind Man's Hill. But the townsfolk here in Frankfort v:ill never know the true story, for I was first to get to the Journal that Charles kept.
After I saw Rafe, was questioned, and left the hospital with the Frankfort constable — one of the parishioners of the church Rafe keeps part-time —, I was taken back to town and given over to the care of Mrs. Hall who lives on Blind Man's Hill not far from Rafe, Mrs. Hall, a middle-aged woman, acts as Rafe's housekeeper once a. week and attends his church on Sunday. Rafe had given instructions that f was to stay at his house until he was released, but Mrs. Hall would have none of it. I was put into a bedroom of her own home, and she fussed over me as though I were a child. There is no truth to the myth that the people of Maine are taciturn and distant, She put me into bed about noon. "Now, don't you move," she said, "until you are fit for company." And she bustled about making: me soup and trying to keep me comfortable, She made it extremely difficult for me to get out and recover the Journal, but I knew it had to be dome before there was an investigation. I refused to stay down for more then an hour, and Mrs. Hall as upset. "But the doctors said you must rest. You're recovering from shock." She stood before me, her greying head tilted in an attitude of mortification and helplessness as I got dressed.
"No," I said, "You've been very kind, but I'm used to making do for myself, and I can't stay here. I'll use Rev, Hawkins' house, as he requested until I can flnd a place to stay."
She was hurt and astonished. "You're stayln' in town?"
I nodded. "Where else will I go?" I had no job, no family — except one person — that I wanted to see.
"Could you drive me down to the farm so that I can get my car?"
Mrs. Hall shook her head. "Your car's all right. It's over at the Reverend Hawkins' place. I'll take you there if you insist."
"I do, please."
I had made my first real enemy in town, Mrs. Hall was very stiff as she let me into Rafe's house, My car was in the driveway — the fire hadn't touched it where it had been parked in the barn. She showed me the guest room and the rest of the house, but I knew where everything was.
"There's the telephone," Mrs. Hall said, pointing. I nodded. "•f you need me, call," She gave me a very hard look and turned.
"Thank you, Mrs, Hall." The door slammed behind her, and I heard her start her car and back out of the driveway. I was very tired, so I sat down for a few minutes in the overstuffed armchair in the living room, 'When I woke, it was with a start — for a moment I couldn't see. Then a few objects began to loom into shadowy focus out of the darkness in the winter moonlight that was falling vaguely through the window, I had slept for a long time.
When I turned on a light I found a supper tray grown cold laid out on the table beside my chair. Mrs. Hall had come and gone while I slept. The clock on the mantel said that it was nearing eleven o'clock. But I felt greatly refreshed. I took a sip or two of tepid milk and some crackers, and then put on my coat. I went out to my car, got the flashlight out of the glove compartment, laid it on the seat beside me. I drove down to the ruined farmhouse.
The barn stood silhouetted against the stars, not far from the cellar hole with its cargo of charred timbers. Here and there a wisp of smoke still rose, over twenty-four hours latter, from some piece of charcoal. I opened the barn, drove the car inside, got out, and closed the great sliding door.
In the light of the flash I could see many car tracks and footprints in the muddy snow. Mine would be lost among them. I felt sure the officials had had little time to sift through the debris. There was a rope strung around the house on stakes, with signs spaced around it: "No Trespassing. Investigation Area. Unauthorized Personnel Keep Out."
I knew where I wanted to go. In my mind there was a blueprint of the house, and I knew the safe would have fallen into the cellar just beneath Charles' study. I circled the house until I found a way down into the foundations and made my way carefully to where I was sure the safe would be buried.
There was evidence that a hand had already searched the area because debris had been cleared where I was standing. But who would it have been> for a moment I was frightened – who would know about the safe besides Rafe and me? They had surely been looking for Charles' remains only, to this point. I began to clear away another layer of charred boards, and in a little while I found it — a corner of the iron safe lying among fallen plaster and a timber, I saw no signs of Charles' body, so they must have found it and stopped digging. But I was terribly tense and apprehensive as I searched. I prayed tbe safe hadn't fallen on its face, for I couldn't have turned it over by myself. I began to tremble. I heard a car come up the road from the village -- its headlamps struck upward through the night as it topped the rise just in front of the house after the road had passed over the culvert of the stream below and begun the long curve up to Blind Man's Hill.
I froze and stooped down. The motor paused as the car drew abreast of the drive. My heart paused also — and then I heard the acceleration, and the whine of snow tires fading toward the cemetery,
I was very fortunate: the safe had fallen straight down and was standing on its stubby legs. I found the door, cleared away in front of it, and discovered it to be absolutely unharmed, though the metal was discolored from the heat,
I had seen Charles open the safe several times, thought I could remember the combination. It took me several tries, but the door opened, finally, The Journal Charles had stuck inside at the last moment lay there on a narrow shelf. There was a file folder containing some sheets of paper stuck into the journal, and in other compartments and spaces there were all sorts of family papers that stretched down the years, from Charles' Uncle John's time back through the generations of Putnams who had lived in this house, in this village.
I took the Journal, with the file folder, and touched nothing else. After closing the safe, I stirred things around to disguise my having tampered, and I climbed out of the cellar. I went to the barn, got out the car, and took an old swatch of hay to mess up the tracks. Then, without light, I drove away. In a few minutes I was back at Rafe's house.
Before I opened Charles' Journal I took off my clothes, found the washer, dropped in everything but my coat, which I put into a plastic garbage bag. I would have it cleaned in Gardiner when I went to see Rafe later next day. The coat was an old one — it must have belonged to Mrs. Hall. She would want it back, or I would have destroyed it. I cleaned my shoes — sneakers someone had lent me, I assumed, and took a shower.
By the time I got out, the clothes were ready for the dryer — they were my own clothss, the ones I had been wearing when Rafe found me in bed. I would have to buy a new wardrobe. I was exhausted when I had finished, and I wanted to be awake by the time Mrs. Hall showed up in the morning, so I put off beginning to read the Journal and hid it instead in a closet. I set the alarm for five A. M. and went to bed as I heard the clock strike one.
The next morning — Monday — I got up, ironed the dry clothes, and dressed before dawn. I made the bed, washed the dishes of the supper Mrs. Hall had made me the night before, and fixed some breakfast. When Mrs, Hall arrived around seven, I was sitting in the living room reading a magazine. It was barely thirty-one hours since the fire.
"Well!" Mrs. Hall said when she came in. "You look peaked, and no wonder, but otherwise one would hardly know...," She broke off her sentence, and a look of pity crossed her face. "Oh, I'm sorry, Miiss Cara. Forgive me."
"It's all right, Mrs. Hall," I said. "I feel well. Please sit down," She came to sit beside me and took my hand, I conquered a reflex to pull away, "Will you have some coffee?" She seemed mildly astonished as I reached over end poured her a cup from the pot.
She shook her head, "You're an amazing young woman," she said with a strange note in her voice. "Have you already eaten?" I nodded. "I didn't have the heart to make you last night. I hope the supper wasn't ice cold."
''It was delicious,'' I said. I lit a cigarette. I’ll be going in to Gardiner to see Reverend Hawkins today,"
"Would you like me to come along?"
"Thank you, no, I can manage. I'd like to be alone as much as possible. You understand. I have a lot of thinigs to get used to,"
She dipped her chin once, looking hurt, "I understand,
Miss Cara," We sat silently for a little while. "Those sneakers you are wearing belonged to my son. I hope they fit all right."
I said they did, and that I'd have to stop at the bank today so that I could buy a few things, "They're just old clothes, Miss Cara. There's no need to return them, even. No rush at all," She stared at the floor. "But could you tell me one thing?"
"Of course," I said, "How did you get that burncd place on the left one? And they look so clean. You must have washed them."
"Yes, I did. I dropped a coal on them when I fixed the fire last night." She looked at the fireplace where the logs were stacked neatly on the andirons, above a clean hearth. I finished my coffee and offered her another cup.
Saturday Jan. 9th. Cara told me nothing of Charles’ Journal when she came to see me that Monday, nor did she mention it till after I was released on Thursday. I had been rather badly burned, though at the time it had happened I hadn't realized it. I felt rotten, even with pain killers. When Cara came into the room I was amazed at how calm she looked, though the way she was dressed you'd think she'd been on relief for a long time — the sneakers and an old pea-jacket of mine.
Cara acted calm too, It was hard for me to believe she had lost a lover, escaped a murder, and here she was reaching out to touch my cheek, walking around as though nothing had happened. I found out later how wrong that impression was. It was sheer will- power that was keeping her going. I have never met anyone who had more pure determination.
She sat down and looked at me with those great gray eyes, the dark hair outlining her face like an old-fashioned picture frame. "I haven't had a chance to thank you, Rafe."
I shook my head against the pillow. "No," I said.
"Don't stop me. I owe you my life...." She stopped, musing, and a distant look came into her eyes. She gave a short, sharp laugh. "Maybe you're right," she said, "maybe I shouldn't be thanking you after all," She glanced at me.
What she could see of my face must have looked hurt.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. You're a brave man as well as a good one, and I couldn't appreciate what you've done any more than I do. Truly." She leaned over and brushed a kiss against my cheek. "How are you?" she asked.
"I'll be all right, but I'll be honest and say I feel lousy right now."
"I won't bother you for long, Rafe," she said. "But you've done so much for Charles and me, I wonder if you wouldn't mind doing another favor for both of us — all three of us, really," she stopped and looked at me straight. I nodded.
"Please, don't say anything to anyone about this, no more than you've already told the police."
I suppose I shouldn't have agreed, but I was too tired, and felt too sorry for Cara, for Charles — for us all, And it wouldn't have done any good, I felt, to rake up the embers of what had been consumed in the fire. I still think that' true, even now that I've read the Journal.
But I do have a good many reservations and qualms about what Cara has gotten me to agree to since. It is morbid. Before I became a minister I was trained as a psychologist. It was one of the great insights of my life to discover that modern psychology is nothing more nor less than the old religion, theology, in a new dress. It occurs to me now that I've read Charles' journal that writers such as Charles — failure though he felt himself to be — are psychologists and theologians too. All great writing is inquiry into the nature of man and the Universe, and being a psychologist, perhaps I oughtn't to use a literary term to describe what I consider to be Cara's present state, though Preud used terms from literature, and so do many others, though not necessarily from Poe, but I can't think of a technical term that more adequately defines Cara at this point: she exhibits what I can only call a "Ligeiea syndrome." Excessive morbidity. She may be in danger of following Charles into his delusions regarding witchcraft and supernaturalism.
Cera will read this, as I will read what she writes, so perhaps what we are doing here will help clear away the shadows, rather than reinforce them, as I fear may happen.
By the time I was released from the hospital on Thursday, Cara had moved out of my house and into an old trailer up the road a bit on Blind Man's Hill, nearly across from Mrs. Hall's place, though hidden down a dirt drive among some trees, She had bought it outright for $800.00. It had been owned by summer residents who had gotten too old to keep coming back, and Cara had made a good bargain. It had ben kept in excellent shape; it had been winterized, and an acre of land went with it. There are a septic tank, a good well, and decent heating and cooking facilities. It was electrified, and Cara has a phone installed. The old man had even built a carport, which gave a little protection against the Maine winters.
When I got back hone, Cara was the first to call on me after Mrs. Hall, who drove me back in my own car, It was then that Cara told me about the Journal and showed it to me, along with the file folder that went with it. The folder contained a narrative Charles had written about the Salem witch trials, a lot of notes, and two hand-written pages of the novel he had been working on when he died.
Cara left the material with me — it did a good deal more than astonish; when I think of it, I can feel the prickling along the nape of my neck still. And when I think of what I am doing right now, with this pen…, I can only fight down my feelings and hope that it will all come out right at last, and pray that Cara ill become truly more like the woman she presents as a facade to the public, less like the thin and wandering wraith in Poe's absinthian dream.
Sunday, Jan. 10th. There is such a thing as true grief. There is nothing wrong with mourning the death of a lover. Charles and I were more than lovers — we would have been married at last, if he hadn't been ruined by his frigid wife Norine, and haunted by her death end the death af his daughter Melanie lest October. Perhaps I should have told him, but he was so ill, in such a state. I was waiting for better times. We had been lover and mistress for two yeare by the time I graduated from the college where he taught. I left carrying with me more of Charles than he knew. It is agony to think that, if I had said omthing, he might still be alive. But it is as likely that it would have changed nothing, or sent him out even farther, into catatonia maybe.
When I heard he had left his wife just before this school year began, I dropped my studies in graduate school and followed him here. I found him terribly ill, and I tried to cure him, but I failed,
Norine had already emasculated him to the point of impotence — and then the accident finished the job of destroying his brilliant mind. It ruined him as a writer just as his sense of guilt had destroyed hie manhood. It nearly destroyed me, too, and often I wish it had.
The inquest is over — what a nightmare, another one. Charles is Iying low now with his wife and first daughter in the little graveyard near the farm, There is no marker yet on his grave.
Rafe was released from the hospital just in time to conduct the burial service for Charles, as he had done for Norine and Melanie. Again, except for Mrs. Hall, Rafe and I were the only mourners present on that cold December day. At first, the undertaker had said the ground was too frozen for digging, but I found a way — it was I who made the arrangements, for Charles who has no living relatives. At least, none he knew of, so I arranged for his cremation — what little was left of him to be cremated. I feel a sense of,,.well, irony, when I think of the fact that he underwent trial by fire twice. It was possible to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the small urn of ashes in the cold Maine earth.
As Rafe said the words "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," I saw a black shadow skirting the graveyard in the snowy dusk. I have seen it since, in the woods around my trailer. It is Charles' cat, Catch, I am sure, gone wild. I leave food for him on my doorstep each evening, and it is gone in the morning. I hope it’s Catch who is eating it. I will take care of him, if I can, as I tried to take care of Charles.
I did not open the Journal until Charles was decently entombed. When I had finished reading I was shaken. I wish I had realized how far his obsession had gone. He had needed institutional help, not merely the help Rafe and I tried to give him. I wish, now, I had read his Journal while it was being written there, in the dim rooms of that ancient farm.
How could he have believed I was a witch, and that
Rafe was a warlock? How could he have come to think that his dear old pet, Catch the black cat, was a familiar, the incarnation of Asmodeus, demon of the bedchamber? And how could he have imagined that Rafe and I were having an affair, that Norine and Melanie, and the people of Salem village — his Putnam ancestors and their victims in the witch hunt — had come back to claim him as one of their own?
That last scene in the Journal — that Black Mass out of De Sade, where Rafe was the priest and I the altar — I shall never be able to forget it or understand in what way reality was transformed in his imagination into so dark a nightmare, I am glad, no, extremely glad that I stole the book. No one must ever see it other than Rafe. Charles Ally was nowhere near the failure imagined himself to be, his writings will live a long while, and nobody must know how his mind had been destroyed at the end. One day he will be recognized as the genius he was, and I will do what I can to save his image and memory.
Monday, Jan. 11th. When Cara gave me The Journal of Charles
Ally I asked her where she got it. She sat in my living room on a blustery winter evening. Heavy snow was falling. She said, "Before I tell you that, please read it."
I began to leaf through it and saw what at first looked like a hodgepodge - diary entries; notations from old books; portions of Charles' biographical novel, or perhaps "prose epic" would be a better phrase, that Charles had been working on, copies of entries from a childhood scrapbook Charles had kept. And a long narrative of the Salem Putnams' involvement in the celebrated witch hunt. This last was separately kept in a file folder stuck into the journal, and two final, handwritten p8ges of the novel, The Book of the Black Heart, were in the folder also.
Evidently the Salem narrative had been pieced together from original research in the books by which Charles had slowly been swallowed down on his Uncle John's homestead, and to judge from the notes and fragmentary account his uncle had himself put together over the years: everything is in the folder.
The effect of the Journal, just at a glance, was one of confusion — all those overlapping narratives and pieces of history, together with the diary entries and some old letters copied out. I saw my name and Cara's cropping up, often, together with Norine's, Melanie's, and Catch's. The letters seemed to be from someone named Wesley Court, and they had nineteenth century dates; Charles seems to have believed this person, who had originally lived here in Frankfort, was somehow more real than the people who live here now, for there was almost no mention of local persons beyond a reference or two to the postmistress.
This initial confusion, however, was to dissipate as I read the book later on. Cara said to me, "Don't read it right now, take your time over the holidays. You've got to let it sink in slowly, as Charles sank into it."
It was a strange thing to say. I looked at her as I laid the book on a table, and I was startled by the haunted look in her gray eyes. Her whole face seemed shadowed. "I'11 take my time," I said, "there's no rush." We sat for a while. I tried to get a conversation going, but had no luck. Cara seemed abstracted. At one point she looked up at me. "How is the investigation going?"
"I understand they found an old safe with its con tents still intact." This seemed to interest her.
"What was in it?" She got out a cigarette and lit it. While she smoked she nervously kept tapping it over an ashtray, her eyes moving restlessly, but never meeting mine.
"Papers, Family papers, dating back to the 18th century, some newer ones. A will among them."
Cara jerked her body forward and looked right at me for a change, "A will? By Charles?”
"What was in it?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know, it's been turned over to the courts."
"When was it dated?" Cara asked.
"I don't know that, either. Why?"
"No reason." She sat back and was quiet for a long time. As she waa leaving, Cara said, "I didn't know Charles had made a will. So he had a secret too."
At the door I said, "I realize all this is new and hard to bear, Cara, but you've got to take it easy. I don't like the things I see in your eyes. You've got to begin to accept it,"
She turned to me and touched me gently on the shoulder.
"You're a good man," she said. "I owe you a good deal, and so does Charles. Do me a favor — one more favor'" I nodded again. "Don't worry about me so much. I'II be all right, I promise. No matter what, please don't worry,"
"Okay, Cara," I said, and let her out. I watched her get into her car. She backed out through the falling snow, The tail lights turned the air red, and the flakes in the headlamps looked like a crystal curtain falling.
As it turned out, I was too busy at the college during the next few days to get to Charles' Journal. The Christmas holidays were upon us, and the snow was so heavy I had to spend to nights in one of the dorms, as I couldn't get back to Frankfort twenty-five miles away. Usually it was easy to commute —the Maine highway people know how to deal with winter. It was just as well, though, that things turned out as they did — a number of the students needed extra counseling, as they often do when they have to return to family situations after a few months away in comparative freedom. Too many of them get to thinking they are free, adult at last, and when it dawns on them that no one is free — a temporary revelation, until they come back to campus again — they have a struggle with conscience and guilt. It’s hard to feel snug again.
Wednesday, January 13th. As soon as I got Mrs, Hall's note I drove up to the trailer, which is quite small. At one end is the “living room," which is not separated from the kitchen. The kitchen table sits beside the door, up against the little heating unit. Separated from the kitchen-living room by a sliding plywood door is a small compartment with a bed in it — Clarissa's quarters, it turned out. At the other end of the trailer is Cara's bedroom — hardly big enough to hold the double bed. I had been inside the trailer only once before, just after Cara bought it.
"Where in the world have you been?" I asked her — and stopped speaking as soon as I saw the cat. Cara noticed the direction of my stare. I confess to a creepy feeling as I gazed at Catch — he had figured prominently in Charles' journal.
"He's come to live with us," Cara said, and I immediately felt foolish for being influenced, even for a moment, by a fantasy.
Clarissa was certainly no fantasy. I wish Mrs. Hall had prepared me a little. Cara's daughter came out of her alcove and stood looking up at me while I tried to focus my eyes on her. That weird feeling returned. Cara introduced us, and I sat down on a kitchen chair. I could think of nothing to say for a little while.
Clarissa is a beautiful child — dark- haired, brown-eyed, a slight frame like her mother's but with features that remind me strongly of Charles, a very feminine version of Charles. There is no doubt in my mind she is his daughter. Clarissa went over to sit on the couch with Catch and a doll, and Cara poured me some coffee.
Gradually, I came out of my daze or shock or revery — whatever it was -— and listened to Cara's story. Charles had never known about his second daughter. She had been born after Cara had graduated and her affair with Charles had come to an end. At the time of Clarissa's conception, Charles had gone on a month's reading-tour of colleges in the Middle West and had taken Cara with him,
When Cara had found she was pregnant, she had considered an abortion, but in some kind of romantic undergraduate agony, had decided to have the baby, which was born in August, 1968. Cara had kept silent about the child.
"Then," she said, "last September, when I heard that Charles had left Norine, I decided to come here and tell him about his other child." She sipped her coffee, which was getting cold — I had hardly touched my own cup,
"Why didn't you tell him?"
She shook her head, "When I saw the state he was in — all eaten up by guilt and his sense af failure as a writer and as a man — I felt I had to wait until he got back to some kind of normalcy. Then Norine and Melanie died, and he got worse instead — and then the fire...."
I couldn't think of anything to say.
"Well?" Cara looked at me. Her eyes seemed defiant or something — I couldn't place it, I put my hand over hers as it rested on the table. She flinched as I did it, but I kept my hand where it was.
"Why don't you get the hell out of this town?' asked. "Go back to grad school. This is no place to bring Clarissa. Sooner or later you're going to have to begin to forget.”
' She took her hand out from under mine, leaned for-ward.
"Forget?" She was squinting, "How am I going to forget?" Without moving her eyes from mine Cara pointed to the couch, "Her name Is Ally. When she wss born I told them I was married to, Charles Ally — and was, for a months; and I: was again for a little while this fall, even if nothing was legal, But I was more his wife than Norine ever was.'
She sat back, still defiant. 'They're going to recognize that fact before I leave, if I ever do — Mrs, Hall and all the rest of these back-country New England blue-noses, Clarissa is Charles Ally's heiresss, and I can prove it, I will prove it, Charles left something behind besides a few poens and pieces of prose. He left flesh and blood. And he left me.” Cara began to cry softly.
I knew that Cara would need a job, so I made some inuiries in the biology department. I gave them her qualifications, and it looked rather hopeful that there might be a need for a lab supervisor next semester. No sooner had I gotten back to Frankfort the day vacation began, than Mrs. Hall showed up and came hustling into the house.
"Rev. Hawkins," she said, her matronly figure planted in an agitated posture in the middle of the living room, some kind of hostile worry on her face, "I've been hoping you'd get back soon."
I looked at her, She paused for a moment, and then she said, "Miss Cara has disappeared."
The trailer etood empty through the holidays while I read Charles' journal, not once but over and over, returning to pasaages to ponder them, Or, alternatively, to find my mind sliding off the page before me to wonder about Cara and her whereabouts. No letters came, no Christmas card even; she had left no note — that was the strangest Christmas I ever spent. For a while I began to think, sitting in my chair on Blind Man's Hill that I was beginning to sink out of sight into the pages Charles wrote there at the foot of the road, just as he had slowly sunken into the woodwork of his ancestors, into the old books that lined his library walls, into the 19th century and then into the 18th, and at last all the way into his delusions, guilt, sex-obsessions — you name it.
It was very hard for me to accept Charles' portrait of me as it rose off the blue-lined sheets to grin into my face like some distorted funhouse mirror caricature. I came off as a blonde, hip, tennis-racquet-swinging phony churchman out of a latter-day campus activist revival.
Even using all these adjectives doesn't begin to describe the cartoon of me Charles carried around in his head. He also saw me as his rival for Cara's affections, and in the end I was a priest in an orgiastic Satanic ceremony straight out of the most fantastic fiction available in a Forty-second Street paperback bookstore.
And he believed it all — or conned himself into believing it so that he could commit murder and suicide by rationalizing that he was ridding the world of a witch and of his own possessed soul.
But even that isn't certain. Perhaps — I think he must have — wanted to be saved in the end, and he wanted Cara to be saved too. Why else would he have arranged it so that the fire got underway just before our appointment for a second go at hypnotherapy? It is a fact that he imagined it so even though, according to his last pages, he thought my pounding on the door was Wesley Court returning to Frankfort from a 19th century stay in Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, only Cara was saved. Charles was possessed. His trauma ran so much deeper than I had thought it did. He should have been institutionalized, and I feel tremendously guilty that I did not realize it in time. Maybe Charles was right about me in some ways. Perhaps I was blinded by pride and vanity into my own delusion — that I was capable of helping him because of my training in psychology.
And the portrait of Cara that emerges! Somehow, I managed to bring my mind back to reality for brief periods — long enough to conduct the Christmas services at the local church, at least. If it hadn't been for Mrs. Hall, I'd have forgotten to eat half the time.
I remember w perplexed she was at my behavior; how, at one point, as she was dusted she picked up the Journal, and I snatched it out of hor hand and mumbled something about neding to write a sermon in it. There was worry in her countenance, but something harder than that, too.
"You needn't worry so much about Miss Cara," she said, shaking her feather duster into the fireplace. "She can take care of herself, I'm sure."
I began to reply — not to what she had said, but to the tone of her voice, but thought better of it and left the room. Nothing I could have said would ave made sense to her. And it was true — I was worried about Cara. She was as much my concern as Charles had been, we were too closely involved with each other's histories to keep the distance Mrs. Hall would, I assume, have thought proper.
New Year's day came and went. School began again, and then, on the evening of Monday, January 11th, I got home and found a note from Mrs. Hall. It said that Cara had returned. "You'd better go see," she had added at the bottom of the page.
Tuesday, 12th. Catch has come to live with us in the trailer, when he got back we found him sitting on the step, He was as big and black as ever. While I was away f had worried about him a good deal. I hoped he hadn't gotten too dependent on the meals I had been setting out for him, and I was relieved when I saw him. when we had gotten out of the car Catch let out a great meow of welcome and came over to lean against our legs.
It was chilly inside, but I had left the heat on enough to keep the pipes from freezing, and soon it was warm again.
“Mommy?" Clarissa said, "I'm hungry." Her smile was as bright as Christmas candles.